And then she said

I don’t know if all of you know this, but the comments on blog posts (at least here) are, generally speaking- better than the post itself.  I don’t know how it happened, but there’s a lot of cleverness and entertainment going on in there. Over the years, I’ve come to believe that if one person types it, at least 20 people were thinking it, so let’s see what’s happening down there, shall we?

Elizabeth wrote: I confess that even though I teach stranded knitting, I’ve never knitted a pair of stranded socks. I guess I’m concerned that they won’t have the necessary elasticity.

I think lots of sock knitters (me included sometimes) more than occasionally rely on stretch in a knit to achieve fit, and get used to that. For example, short row heeled socks are often a poor fit for people with a high instep, simply because there’s less fabric present than with a flap heel. That’s just a fact. When I say that though, a whole bunch of knitters line up and say “nuh-uh. I have a high instep and I ONLY knit short row heels and they fit bloody great actually.” Then I look at those (very nice) socks, and low and behold, they’re knit at a looseish gauge that allows for heaps of stretch and that’s how they’re getting fit in the instep – the fabric is often quite stretched through that section. Nothing wrong with this as a strategy, except it stops working when you’re knitting stranded socks. Elizabeth is right – there is less stretch in a pair of colourwork socks like these, so you have to make sure that they actually fit – and it helps to consider a flap heel. (Insert lecture here about gauge. I won’t type it, you already know.)

Jeremy writes: I am going to get that pattern. I always sweat out the amount of yarn I have when I knit socks because I have US size 12 feet. (11.5 inches). 

Smart -I’ve got loads left, so this is totally a good big foot strategy. Ken’s feet aren’t quite as bit as yours, but I have 68/100g left of the grey, 60/100g of the white and 25/50g of the red.  I could make a whole other pair out of my leftovers.

Tracy B (and Charissa echoed her) said ” I’m just wondering though – would the decreases on the bottom of the heel bother a person? It’s almost like a seam right there.”

I don’t think so.  It’s not big at all, and after a wear or two will fade into the work – plus it falls right into the little arch of your foot, so it’s not like you’re really standing on it.  I freakin’ love it.  Plus, we’re all not as princess-and-the-pea as we think we are.  All commercial socks/hose/tights have a seam or two, and most of us wear them every day. (Well, not me.) Ken’s as fussy as they come that way, he’s the type of guy who’s had to excuse himself from a meeting to cut the tag off a shirt because he simply can’t go on, and I’m not worried this will bother him in the slightest.  I’ll let you know though.

Victoria (and Bridget) and probably a bunch of you because knitters are obsessed with this say: ” I just wish you had posted a picture of the inside of the socks so we could see how you stranded them.”

What, I ask you, is with knitters wanting to see the inside of stuff. I mean – I always want to see the inside too, but why do you think we are so weird about it? I’m not convinced it’s about construction – how we stranded them, or whatever, because I’ve heard knitters judge their work by the inside as well as the outside – like whatever amazing thing they’ve wrought on the public side doesn’t count unless it’s just as nice in secret.  We are an odd bunch, I tell you that, but I am with you – so here:

This should answer the question from Jan who said “I’m wondering about what you did about the floats? Did you catch every single stitch? I could see catching every 3 or so stitches on a hat, but in a sock , especially at the foot, it seems even short floats would catch toes and add to the general discomfort–”

As you can see, I certainly didn’t catch every one – that’s a recipe for a lack of stretch,  and a dimpled, inflexible fabric.  I only caught the floats once in the repeat – there’s a spot where the float goes seven stitches, and I caught it in the centre of that – and at the time I knew I didn’t have to do that either, but felt compelled.  You’d need freakishly tiny toes to worry about catching them.  The floats lie flat, and aren’t loops at all.

Pamela says “Do you block your socks in sock blockers or just smooth them out?”

I just smooth them out. They get a nice bath in the sink with slightly warm water and the wool wash currently in rotation. (Usually Soak or Eucalan.) When it’s been in there about 20 minutes, I give them a gentle tug in all directions to encourage things to even out, and then I gently squeeze them, roll them up in a towel and step on it a few times, then lay them flat to dry, pushing them into shape. Usually I come back once or twice while they’re drying to move them around a bit and rearrange things so that I don’t get fold lines. (This is almost always a failure, and doesn’t matter.)

Everyone in the whole world “Warm water holy crap Steph what the hell is wrong with you and I would be totally worried those socks would turn pink when you soak them in water especially warm, what the ^%&^%$# is wrong with you risking socks that way?”

Here’s the thing – before I do any colourwork of any kind, even if I have absolutely no concerns about gauge – I always, every time, I swear…. knit a swatch. At the very least I do a little stripey one, with all the colours in it, and then (always, every time, without fail) I wash that swatch.  I treat it exactly like it’s going to be treated in the warm, damp environment of shoes or boots.  The thing is this:  Before I give it this much of my one wild and precious life to a project, I want to know ahead of time if that dye bleeds. If the swatch can’t handle life, then the socks won’t – and they won’t get knit, at least, not out of that yarn.  I can treat the socks the way I do, because I treated the swatch the way I did. I’ve got confidence, or at least what passes for the knitters version of it.

So there you have it, a little Q&A – now if you’ll excuse me, it’s Taco Thursday (I know, wrong day of the week, we do things our own way here) and I’ve got an almost two year old grandson waiting for me. (And the tacos.)

67 thoughts on “And then she said

  1. Oh, Steph, it’s not just the knitters who want to see the “back” of the work (or the inside in this case). Cross-stitchers (of which I am one) and needlepointers want to see the back of people’s work too. It’s partly educational, and partly judgmental (how messy *is* all that work, or is it beautifully managed).

    I’ll admit, I didn’t think about asking to see the inside of those gorgeous socks you knit, but I’m glad someone did and that you shared. Now I have a model to aspire to.

    • Do you think maybe it’s because it tells us something about the private side of the other person, a little like taking a peek into their medicine cabinet?! If the level of tidiness matches what we’d expect from them, how fastidious they are? Whether someone’s charmingly casual or surprisingly thorough in a realm they didn’t expect others to be seeing…

      • Oh, and sometimes it IS a construction thing: when those self-patterning sock yarns were very first coming out, I remember someone standing on one foot so she could roll back her sock cuff and show me that it WASN’T stranded on the inside–it was like suddenly being presented with proof that there really IS magic in the world!!

    • My Mom used to tell when when I first learned to sew, that I should be able to wear the garment inside out. I suppose that was ONE reason I wanted to see the inside of the socks. However, I know that now I have seen Steph’s sox, I could give this a try – not many floats.

  2. Your answer to Elizabeth’s question solved a niggling thought I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while now. I’ve been using FLK heels for my socks for a couple years, but whenever I put them on they never actually sit right on my foot. The only socks that do are the couple I’ve knit and followed the pattern with a heel flap. I like the heel for the ease of knitting, but now knowing that the anatomy of my foot really is better suited for a flap I’m going to switch over.

    • It’s possible to knit the FLK with a small gusset. I’ve started doing that and they fit soooo much better now.

      It only takes about a 5-stitch-a-side gusset to make enough room, at least for my instep.

      Just start the gusset about half an inch before the Heel line on the foot template and it should work fine 🙂

  3. Don’t sell yourself short, Steph! *pun intended* We’re all here because you get the ball rolling.

    And also because the way you react to wool-related disaster is so entertaining.

  4. Thank you for the swatch colorwork for washability information. I never have and now know that is why I should have. Usually using partial skeins and had always checked for gauge already but socks are worn in a different environment than a hat or mitts. (And of course washed more often) Will not make that mistake again. Thank you.

  5. Thanks I am about to start my first multi-colored sock pattern (Longing for Gotland). Very timely post. Thanks I had not thought about the heel bleeding. And I should have because the tardis socks, well the blue soaked into the white big time. Looks more like night time than day. Hahaha

  6. Lovely work inside and out. I liked this post so much, absolutely we’re all thinking these things. I like seeing insides of work so that when I’m looking at my own insides I don’t feel so freakishly lost and uncertain. It’s the inner seventh grader’s crushing sense of self doubt at play again. Camaraderie is all about sharing our internal struggles!

  7. You are absolutely right about washing your swatch before starting the project. It just makes sense, even if the item will be one color. Think of it this way: You wouldn’t wear new, never-washed, blue jeans without washing them, would you? So, why risk staining your skin (shirt, upholstery fabric, etc.) by not making sure the yarn for your socks (sweater, afghan) is colorfast?

  8. I knit one pair of socks using short row heels. They have never fitted me right. I rarely even wear them. I’m strictly a flap heel sock person. And a dpn user. LOL I think it’s just preference, and I sure don’t think about how others knit heels. 🙂 Those socks for Ken are beautiful! And thanks, I’ve always wondered if they would lose too much stretch using stranded patterns.

    • I can vouch for the acceptability of bottom-of-foot decreases. I picked up a double-gusset construction somewhere along the line, and now knit pretty much all my socks that way, with two sets of decreases on the bottom. You can’t feel them at all, and they hug the bottom of your foot very nicely.

  9. Wow, those are gorgeous! I’ve never done stranded knitting. I used to have a pair of socks that were, and I loved them. I darned them for years. They wore so well. Now I make my own, but simpler. I wear a short row heel, too, but also can make a flap heel. I force myself to practice it.

  10. I think I like seeing the back side of the work because the patterns are interesting, and I feel like the kind of evolve “by accident.” I like that the purposefulness of the front of the socks also creates something interesting on the back.

    And thanks, not just for the Plain Vanilla Sock pattern, but for all your sock-spiration over the years. I’ve only made a few pairs, but now that I’m wearing my own handknit socks regularly I’ve been bitten by the bug big time. I just finished pairing up a bunch of skeins and patterns into my own sock-of-the-month club (thanks again for the inspiration on that) just so I could stop perusing patterns and tell myself I’ll get them all made eventually.

  11. I learned how to do colorwork last year. Being able to see the inside is really helpful. It’s one thing to read about catching floats and another to actually see what they look like. It gives the inexperienced an idea of what it should look like and something to aspire to.

  12. I would never ask to see the inside of someone’s stranded knitting, the inside of their medicine cabinet or under their beds! I am simply not that curious. But I do have to say, my stranded knitting would never look that good on the reverse. Suzanne Bryant had a stranded knitting sock tutorial on Ravelry and I gave it a whirl. Did not like it at all. It was simply too heavy a fabric for my sock tastes. So, I would most likely not make these either.

  13. Long time reader, first time commenting….I love your writing and how you weave it into life. You did inspire me to knit a pair of socks. Thanks for sharing your expertise and adventures!

    • Be careful…after listening to everyone on this blog I finally knit a pair a couple of years ago. Now I can’t stop. All I want to knit is socks and all I buy is sock yarn. I’ve had to rearrange my dresser and one whole drawer is full of the damn things. It’s a sickness and I blame every one of you!!

        • That’s fabulous. I have been knitting for 20+ years but have been really timid about socks. Stephanie got me onto them years ago with these insane Vintage socks she did in about 2008 (go see they’re on Rav) and I stared at them because I couldn’t imagine making something so lovely.

          But I’m onto a sock frenzy these last 3 months. And am lusting after sock yarn, but I hadn’t thought of giving over my clothes storage! What a great idea!

  14. Aha! I am knitting my first Fleegle-heeled socks, and sure enough, they’re so stretched over my high instep the stocking stitch looks like rib. Maybe I should add a couple of stitches to the count next time?

    I have tried knitting flap heels before, but I am not the world’s best picker-upper of stitches and I end up with an annoying ridge.

    • I learned how to pick up stitches properly from a great Craftsy course by Anne Hanson of Knitspot on button bands! That course taught me so many great things…

      I’ve also added a few stitches for a gusset when doing short row heels and my husband says they really helped. Let us know how it goes, will you?

    • The sock pattern I use most uses a slip 1 for the first stitch of each row of the heel flap. This creates a nice tidy row of loops to pick up down the side of the heel! (and I’ve done the same thing in a border first lace shawl. Works wonderfully!)

  15. I see someone already mentioned this, but before I was really into knitting, I was really into cross stitch, and people always wanted to see how neat the back of my work was. I feel like it’s the same thing with knitters wanting to see the inside/wrong side of stranded colorwork. It’s a mark of the skill of the knitter (or embroiderer) when the wrong side is just as tidy as the right side, or so we think.

    Incidentally, with regard to the bottom-of-the-foot decreases, I have a sock pattern with a pair of decrease lines under the heel, and they’ve never bothered me. If anything, they cause the sock to fit a bit better because they shape that part of the sock so that it hugs the bottom of the foot.

  16. ok, Stephanie, this is weird — I’m standing here making my coffee and I start thinking about that poem by Mary Oliver and then I open your blog and you refer to your one wild and precious life . . . I do not usually think about poetry before coffee. It’s like it just leaked out of my phone!

  17. I also teach colour work at my LYS, as well as the beginner socks class, yet have never knit a pair of stranded colour work socks!! Thank you for all the amazing tips, I think the day has finally arrived to start a pair!

  18. MUST SEE THE INSIDE OF YOUR KNITTING: One year my mother from the Midwest came out to Montana to visit me and we were walking at Glacier National Park. It was May and it was cold and she was wearing a hat I’d knit for her a year or so before. She was wearing it inside out. She had been for a year wearing it inside out. Talk about dilemma —- but yes I told her.

  19. A note about washing the swatch: definitely wash it in warm water with soap. I found out that some colors will seem stable in plain cold water but will bleed when washed with soap, or with warm water.

    Also: the finer the yarn, the smoother the decrease line.

  20. How many times have I not commented because I had seen the same comment 5 times already??? I bet your estimate is on the small side so I’m sure those answered questions are helping tons of people! Thank you for sharing! Hope you enjoyed the Tacos!

  21. If/when I ever get around to proper colorwork, I plan to knit swatches because so often my sock yarns bleed (even the commercially dyed ones)…..unless they’re my hand dyed yarns, which I’ve not had the issue with (perhaps because I’m anal retentive about the bleeding after I’ve dyed them?).

  22. I’m not sure if anybody else has this problem, but my need for elasticity has to do with getting the sock on my foot in the first place. I have small ankles, but wide feet with a high instep. Without enough stretch, I get to choose to between not being able to get the ankle of the sock over my heel, or having the socks be loose around my ankle.

    • Absolutely! In order for me (or anyone in my family) to wear colorwork socks I’d need to steek and insert a zipper! We “settle” for mittens and scarves/cowls in the round.

      • Does the issue of the difficulty of getting the sox on your feet have anything to do with the final bind-off? I got impatient, couldn’t wait for class, and started a normal bind-off (whatever is normal), realized I wasn’t going to be able to get the sock on my foot, had to un-knit the snug bind-off and wait until I could ask the teacher for a stretchy bind-off.

        • No, I’ve actually had this problem with knee-high socks where the calf increases made it so my heel fit there, but it just wouldn’t fit through the ankle.

  23. Just made my first ever pair of socks. We used a heel flap with a slip stitch at the beginning of each flap row, like someone mentioned above. The resulting side stitches were easy to see and pick up, even for a novice sock knitter. My fiancé has requested a “thick” pair for Boise winters (he moved from CA) so they are next on the needles. Thanks for all the answers, Steph, even if we didn’t ask

  24. Thank you for answering my question! And, just for the record, any day can and should be Taco Day; it’s simply the best food on earth!

  25. Tacos any day are good for me! The day does not need to start with a T. Socks are interesting, if one is a knitter and looking at socks … anywhere.


  26. In a comment to Tracy B and yourself, the seam under the heel is actually an historical tool for top down stockings in the Elizabethan period. As stockings began to be knit, it seems apparent that they hadn’t quite figured out the heel flap. So it was knit back and forth and then sewn/knit together. Then stitches were picked up for the rest of the foot. I was initially concerned about the seam as I do have princess & the pea feet, but found that it barely bothered me, and anything I did noticed quickly disappeared. I have not knit enough stockings that way to determine if there is a difference in the fit from the standard flap or short row. You can look up these stockings, likely, by searching for Eleanore of Toledo Stockings.

  27. People who do needlepoint or cross-stitch get that look-at-the-back stuff too. “How neat is that back?” is something that people who do it always want to know.

  28. I like a deep heel flap because of my high instep. I usually use 2.25 needles, sometimes 2.0 for thinner yarn but a short row heel will simply not go over my instep/heel at that tighter gauge. 62 stitches is perfect for me and the socks fit wonderfully. I have a couple of dozen pairs that I wear all winter. You have been an inspiration to me and knitting has saved me this winter after my broken hand in August and the my Mom’s death just before Christmas. I keep knitting as physio for my hand and my heart.

  29. Thank you so much for this post, have been wanting to attempt a pair and have not had the courage. All this information is excellent. Thanks to all! (And I also wet block my color work swatches and always wet block my socks.) I also wet block everything before I give it away to make ABSOLUTELY sure all is well.

  30. When I was a child, age six and up, and I’d show my latest bit of handiwork to my grandmother, whether it was knitting, embroidery, sewing, crewel, she wouldn’t even glance at the front, she’d immediately flip it over or turn it inside out to make her assessment. She always said the back should look as good as the front. And I’ll never forget the pride I felt the day when I was 11 and she finally patted my arm and said, “good work” when my back finally passed muster.

  31. Stephanie this is wonderful post. I learned stranded color work early on in my knitting career and love watching the various color combinations emerge beneath my needles, But I’ve been too scared to try in on socks, where, (as I posted earlier in a reply) and a relative novice.

    Am filing this post in my Evernote, which is a map to my brain, with my pre-existing tags, “socks; color work; poetry”
    Im embarrassed to admit I did not know Mary Oliver and have let my coffee get cold while I’ve been surfing around reading about her and her work.

    It was 92F in Austin on April 4, which was freaky and a record for the day, but it’s been raining here for 2 days so will no doubt be cooler in DFW. Come have some sunshine and the bluebonnets are fabulous this year.

  32. And then she said is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

  33. I got all enthused at Ravelry about dyeing my own yarn. Followed Ravelry’s directions, knit my socks and one of the colors ran into the white. So I consulted with the Ravelry group, dyed 2 new skeins, soaked them forever in vinegar. Tested them for colorfastness, reknit the socks. Yup, colors ran again. But no one sees my socks under my jeans… except me. Never again.

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