Friday, 12 February 2016

How to Knit Socks that Fit - Book Review

"Ooh, look Elinor, Storey Publishing have sent me another book to review."
Having hurried to see what the postman had brought, my companion now turned on her hoof and sauntered back to the kitchen.
"What's this one about, then?  A Wool Liker's Guide to the Galaxy?"
"Good title, I'd read that."  I finished pulling off the cardboard wrapper.  "No. This book is much more down to earth and just what I need. 'How to Knit Socks that Fit.' by Donna Druchunas."
"Somebody at Storey must have seen that last pair you made."
"Were you expecting a parcel?"
"Oh, nothing as special as a 'Book for Self-Reliance."

Ignoring Elinor's sarcasm, I settled down to read. This book really had arrived at the right moment.  I totally agreed with the first paragraph, comfort is the top reason to knit your own socks, only jibbing at bit at the bottom of page one where it says 'Socks are also a lot fun to make.'  With a lifetime total of knitting four pairs of cuff down socks, I have always needed long recovery intervals, exhausted by the battle against second sock syndrome.  
Presently, warm, cosy socks are high on the practical priority list and two balls of Speckled Face Beulah wool, handspun somewhere round aran weight, yardage unknown and one dyed with dried yarrow, were already earmarked for a pair of boot socks. 
Before starting to knit, there is much to enjoy; with notes on history and the origins of sock techniques, this book has an enthusiastic voice and a comprehensive yet concise approach that speaks of a thoroughly informed author.  First, she discusses yarn weights, the qualities of natural and synthetic fibres and even the importance of twist and spin, all of which would have been a revelation to me before I started spinning yarn myself. The next chapter is all about choosing and using needles, with line drawings to show how they work - fascinating, I never imagined using two circular needles on one sock. Chapter Three covers measuring feet, accounting for negative ease and doing knitting maths.  Sadly, it seems there is no shortcut to knitting a tension gauge, gritting your teeth and working out the necessary stitch count.
Racing through the overviews of cuff down and toe up sock anatomy, I reached the basic toe up pattern instructions.   Thanks to the book, I reckoned I now understood how to keep socks perfectly equal by knitting two at once and that working from the toe up, the leg sections could simply become as long or short as my supply of yarn allowed. Working from both ends of each of my centre pull balls, there would be no need to weigh or measure and divide the yarn in advance.   Taking up the challenge to knit socks that fit, I did measure my feet and fill in the table in the book, very grateful that the UK went metric while I was still in school and imagining those poor Americans, trying to work out 10% of eight and three quarter inches to adjust for stretchiness.  Once again, I jostled with Elinor Gotland racing down the stairs to meet the postman, delivering me a second pair of 3.5mm needles and a new long circular cord, to replace the one the dog ate.

Minding the craft shop on a Sunday afternoon, with wind and rain battering the coast, barely any customers came to disturb my attempts to learn provisional cast on and knit a short row toe.  A deficiency particular to paperbacks rapidly became apparent - the book flapped shut and I lost my place every time Elinor got up to stretch her legs. A ring binding would suit hands free reading much better. 

Working the short row toe, Row 2 begins with a yarnover, for which instructions are not listed in the index, though frustratingly, they are mentioned on the following page under the heading Short Rows, with diagrams showing them at the end of a short row rather than the beginning. Puzzling over a miswritten sentence in Row 3, my confidence in the book had fallen considerably by the time I could squish my duck shaped foot into the first completed toe.  

Down to my own cack handedness, using two circular needles did not go well.
"Look out, Beaut, all those stitches are going to end up on the same needle again."
"Aaaargh, curses, sit down Elinor!"  The book fell shut and my companion gave a snort as she read the back cover.
"Not quite 'Foolproof' after all, is it, Beaut?  You didn't need to buy those extra needles, but on the bright side, you're doing ok having
the two socks on one long cord.   I could fancy a pair myself."
Unlikely as it sounds, the short row heel is knitted exactly the same way as the short row toe.  Sat by the fire, instead of perched on a chair in a draughty shop, knitting the heels was as easy as kiss your hand.  Looking at the stitch library in Chapter 10, I even ventured a strip of wide lace rib running up from the ankle.  The instructions were perfectly clear and this feat of daring went without a hitch.  Once the dyed wool ran out, I used up every scrap of the white making a ribbed cuff, delighted to have both socks finished off simultaneously.  So pleased that I launched straight in to spinning up a batt of icelandic sheepswool into chunky yarn to try one of the

alternative styles of toe, best suited to a slipper - the moccasin. No problem there either, so Steve got the thick, croc liner socks he has been angling for. 
This small book really does teach sound principles for making socks from any weight of yarn, it's absolutely ideal for handspinners wondering how to use a couple of random skeins from their stash. There are a good few more toes and heels to try, nine other stitch 
patterns and plenty more techniques. The book comes out in the UK in March 2016 priced at £5.99.
Just imagining how many different socks it has the potential to lead you to, I'd consider this much better value than a stack of individual patterns. 

And do they fit?  
Considerably better than socks I've knitted in the past.


  1. Great socks. Might just have to buy that book when it comes out.

    1. It's a keeper - I'm sure I'll come back to this book again.

  2. And to think it all started with the Spinner's Book of Fleece!

    You should look at other publishers offerings too.

    1. I have much to thank you for. After you gave me the right shove in this direction, I do now have the confidence to offer my services elsewhere. Worst case scenario, I would just find out if other publishers are as tolerant of 'unique critique' as Storey is.

  3. Oh Fran, Elinor is such a sarcastic creature isn't she? Did she have anything from the postman? The book looks interesting. I have never attempted a toe up sock, I know all the advantages of them but I would need to have a pattern...I never use matter the weight of the yarn. They are the only thing I can knit without a pattern.


    1. I am curious myself - wondering if Elinor has ordered something from China. No sign of her parcel yet.

  4. Lets hope it isn't china! It will be smashed to smithereens by the time it gets to her.


  5. my first toe-up was a revelation to me as well! though I still knit them separately... and I so agree about the metric system (being german of course means that I grew up with that) - I'd never get anywhere if I had to calculate stuff like 3/4 of a 7/8 of something:) I still wonder about some things here though: when you buy margarine over here, you get them in 250 or 500 g - but when you buy butter, it's 227 or 454 g??? and when I try to buy fabric the price is given per m, but they tell you to buy x yards.... probably just to keep my brain "flexible"?:)
    happy sock knitting!
    Bettina (from ireland, where metric/imperial seems to be used willy-nilly....still:)

    1. Funny that. I still cook in pounds, ounces and pints, probably because Mum taught me and I still use her old cookery books. The weight of a new baby is always announced in pounds, even though it is 45 years since we 'went metric'. Things here have shifted and converted at very different rates.