Anne asked the other day if I had any recommendations for sources of sock yarn, and I'm very glad to oblige. Many of the dyers whose wares I've used are listed in two posts from a while ago, here and here, but it's a good idea to bring that up to date.
I'll preface the list by saying that while in most cases I have used wool I've bought from a given dyer, in others it's still waiting to be cast on, so I can't comment on how well it wears or washes. Regarding non-UK dyers, customs charges, fluctuating exchange rates and shipping costs mean that sometimes their wool is affordable and sometimes it's harder to justify - I try to use my common sense, but occasionally have a splurge.
In no particular order, then:
Viola - Emily's yarns have a bit of a cult following and fly off the shelves. Her subtly speckled skeins (such as those shown above) are beautiful.
Elm Tree Yarns - Dianne's prices seem very reasonable; I bought a spruce green alpaca/silk/cashmere recently which was a snip.
Norah George - Harry Potter-themed yarns, Mrs. Weasley's knit club, colourways inspired by great characters from literature... Tracy has all this and more.
Meadow Yarn - a small online yarn shop with a good range and speedy service.
To end, two shops I've recently discovered, haven't yet bought from, but have my eye on:
Tuskenknits - Maria's colours are lovely and she sells out fast, but one of these days I'll be awake at update time (she's in NW America), shall say 'hang the expense' and buy a skein. You can get a feel for her work on her lovely Instagram gallery.
In her comment on yesterday's post Grace asked for suggestions or tips for having a go at sock knitting. This post pretty well covers the subject, but I might add one or two things:
you could try using DK yarn for your first pair as that would mean you'd be working with fewer stitches (say 48 for the women's size) and slightly larger needles which you might find easier to manage; here's one I made earlier;
you could make very short socks such as these, eliminating the slightly tedious ribbing and getting quick results;
for techniques you're unfamiliar with, Youtube has many, many videos to show you how to do the various stages, so that's a great resource, as are Craftsy classes such as this one, by the look of it (NB I've never taken a Craftsy class but I hear good things of them).
As I've said before, if I can make socks, anyone can, so be not afraid and have a go.
This hellebore-hued wool is from Fondant Fibre and is called 'Ganache'; the contrast is 'Reflection' from Mellifera Yarns (though unfortunately Mel is not dyeing at the moment). The pattern is Vanilla Latte Socks by Virginia Rose-Jeanes, and for yarn comparison purposes there's a slightly wilder pair here.
This is the Quill shawl by Helen Stewart. It "features stripes like the lines of a letter on a parchment page and a lace border inspired by feathers."
I've used very lovely Triskelion Yarn Olwen DK (100% Extrafine Falklands Merino) in 'Oat', for the 'parchment', and 'Landwight', for the lines, with the contrast stripes and feathery border in Hedgehog Fibres Merino Singles 'Truffle'. All the details are here.
It's a big piece, roughly 25" down the spine and 70" across the wingspan, so perfect for writers in freezing garrets.
Unwittingly I must have boarded the slow train when I cast on these Railway Children-inspired socks as they took me an age to make - nothing to do with Kay Jones' clear pattern or Skein Queen's beautiful blue wool, simply my own lack of steam. Glad to have drawn into the station at last!
I realised after Monday's post that I've been making socks for ten years now. In that time I've racked up a fair few pairs, and although I'm by no means an expert I have learned enough, I think, to pass on some gentle guidance along the lines of 'this is what I do and it works for me' to anyone wishing to have a go.
The first pair I made was the product of a kit containing pattern, wool, and needles which I bought from a now defunct online shop. In retrospect this was not the best choice, but I knew nothing so plunged in anyway: the wool was on the scratchy side and 'pooled' quite badly, the pattern's specified stitch count was too high for a good fit, and the heel was a short-row one - mystifying if you're new, as I was, to wrapping and turning. However, I muddled through, finished the socks and I wear them still (they live in my gardening wellies at the back door), but I vividly remember the sense of accomplishment I felt when I closed the toe and put them on because for me to have made them at all was A Big Thing(1).
These days my sock-knitting is formulaic in that I always make them top-down with a heel flap and gusset (much easier for the beginner, I'd say, than the short-row method), use double pointed needles (I like HiyaHiya Sharps in 2mm or 2.25mm), cast on 64 stitches if they are for me or my daughters, often reducing to 60 stitches after the ribbing as we like a snug fit), and Kitchener the toes. I knit them concurrently, so I'll cast on one and do five or so rows of ribbing, cast on the second and do likewise, then go back to the first for another five rows, catch up on the second and so on to the end; that way, when number one is finished, number two is just a few rows behind it and Second Sock Syndrome cannot strike.
As to where to start, Susan B. Anderson's How I Make My Socks is as good a basic pattern as any, and if you want to add a little interest you could superimpose the stitch patterns from Hermione's Everyday Socks(2) by Erica Lueder or Vanilla Latte Socks by Virginia Rose-Jeanes. Socks, for me, are mindless knitting and I don't want to have to follow a complicated pattern so although I have made cabled ones, lace ones, stranded colourwork ones, and the foxy ones with the very intricate cuffs, mostly I stick to something plain or with no more than a simple twist (such as here).
A non-knitting friend asked me why I go to the trouble of making socks given the wide range available to buy. Partly, of course, the pleasure comes in the making - I enjoy the largely meditative process, they are relatively quick, highly portable, and easy to pick up and put down, but creating a bespoke product, one which meets the recipient's requirements in terms of fit, colour and style, is in itself gratifying. Bought socks, even luxurious cashmere ones, are not invested with quite the same love and care.
If you've ever thought of casting on a pair I'd urge you to try, though I must warn you that once the bug has bitten you may find yourself stalking dyers' shop updates(3), having your head turned by colourway names or associations, and requiring a spreadsheet(4) to keep track of your carefully curated yarn collection, but there's no harm in the madness, just a lot of satisfaction and fun.
(1) It still is. The other day when I showed her what I was working on, my mother said, "but you were never a knitter!", mystified that one who showed little interest in or aptitude for the craft when young should have taken to it as I have now.
(2) The Hermione pattern is written for circular needles; I have posted my dpn adaptation notes here.
(3) I bought wool at 3 am once - Skein yarn doesn't hang around, and in my defence I had a heavy cold and couldn't sleep, but even so that might be said to be extreme...
According to the catalogue of the National Museum of Scotland here in Edinburgh where the garment is on display in the Fashion & Style gallery, it dates from 1910, but Cursiter painted his picture in 1923. Did he borrow it from the collection for the purpose? I'd like to know more about the painting's backstory (and I love the blue scarf).
On the subject of Fair Isle knitting, I recommend the Fruity Knitting podcast presented by Andrew and Andrea. While Andrew is fairly new to the needles, his wife Andrea is a highly accomplished knitter, and her Alice Starmore colourwork in particular is awe-inspiring.