Knitting from your stash: making the most of your yarn!
While most people spend the first few weeks of January thinking about diet- and exercise-related resolutions for the new year, we knitters have all resolved to buy less yarn and to knit only from our stashes. Am I right? You did, didn’t you? Of course, like all resolutions, these intentions will be abandoned by March 1; however, while we dig around in and rediscover our lovely stashes, I thought I would put together a quick tutorial on how to use up every last bit of sock yarn, for the stashbusting inclined.
I love to knit from my stash, and not because it’s a great haul. I do not own many highly coveted yarns; rather, my stash is full of prickly, workhorse, go-to yarns like Berroco Ultra Alpaca, Brown Sheep Nature Spun Sport, and Harrisville Designs New England Shetland. In the last five years, I have all but eliminated sock yarn from my stash. Why? Because I got over knitting socks a few years ago. Plus, since I never fell for shawls, I didn’t really need stashed fingering-weight yarn. I may knit a pair of socks here and there, but when the urge strikes, I buy yarn. There’s no sense in me keeping it around when stash space is at a premium. In fact, just this fall, I knitted my way down to the very last bits and bobs of the bunch. Allow me to show you how you can do the same, if your stashbusting hearts so desire.
This tutorial will have you knitting a basic, single-pattern, top-down sock with a traditional heel flap, square heel, and wedge (triangle) toe knitted in a contrasting color. Tinker with the math, knit them differently, and make them your own if my way of knitting socks drives you to drink. My calculations slightly overestimate the yarn requirement for the heel turn and the toe – let’s say that’s to leave some extra for darning later, shall we?
This endeavor will require a kitchen scale, a calculator, a pencil & paper, and some math. The math will not be hard, and I promise to hold your hand all the way through, but you will need to crunch some numbers.
First, you need to know how many yards it generally takes to make you a pair of socks on your favorite tiny needles with your favorite sock yarn. I believe the average woman needs about 400 yards on US 1-2 needles, but it ranges between 325 and 550 yards, so plan accordingly.
Next, you’ll need to know how many stitches you will have in one round. This is a roundabout way of getting your gauge. I neither know my sock gauge nor the size of my ankle, but I know I make 60-stitch socks on US 1.5 with most fingering weight yarns. You may make 54-stitch ones or 72-stitch ones, but know your number ahead of time. You should have a strong sense of this from your previous sock-knitting experiences. If not, go practice by knitting yourself a couple of pairs of socks because this is not a beginner pattern – ripping socks is such a drag because you’ve sunk so many stitches into them.
I use Excel for every last bit of knitting planning; feel free use my stash busting sock pattern template to follow along. I put my formulas into the spreadsheet, so if you’re careful and only replace my data with yours, you might not have to do any work!
Collect your scraps. They should be of similar weight and fiber content. How do you know how many yards you have of each? First, determine how many yards and grams were in a full skein. If you no longer have a label, look up the information on Ravelry.
Weigh your samples. How many grams do you have of each?
Do you have enough yards for a sock? Do you need to throw in more scraps? Build a pile of leftovers until you reach the yardage required to make your socks. Keep track of the total number of yards you have, as this information will help determine the striping pattern.
Contrast Cuffs, Heels, & Toes
I often have far more of one color than any of the others, so using it for the trimmings is efficient. This basic pattern assumes you will knit the cuffs, heels, and toes of your socks in a contrasting color. We will be slightly underestimating the yardage needed for the heel, but don’t worry, we’ll overestimate at the toe by a little bit more. Finally, I’m assuming that your gauge is somewhere between 7 and 9 stitches per inch, so let’s end this toe with 16 stitches, shall we? That should give us about an inch of width at the tip.
How many rounds of cuff will you knit?
How many rows will you knit for the heel flap?
How many rounds will you knit for the toe? Use the following formula to calculate toe rounds:
Now, you will need to determine how much of your contrast yarn will go into the cuff, heel, and toe.
Tired of Math? Start Knitting!
I’m not kidding, we need to find out how many yards are required to knit a round so we can finish up these calculations. Take care to note your starting weight of contrast yarn, then pick up your needles. Cast on for your desired number of stitches and knit your desired number of rounds for the sock cuff. Weigh the yarn again to see how many grams you used in the cuff.
Now, you have all the information you need to identify precisely how many yards of contrast color needed for the cuff, heel, and toe:
Double the contrast yardage to account for having to knit two socks, and subtract this from your total yardage to identify how much you have left. This is an important step in determining how to stripe the remains:
The Striping Pattern
Collect all of the scraps you intend to use in the body and leg of the foot. Prepare a table like this by dividing the yardage of each scrap sample by the total yards remaining in your scrap pool, multiply by 100%:
This will tell you the proportion of each yarn needed to knit the body. For my sample socks, I need about 5% Gems, 65% Koigu, 20% Socks that Rock, and 10% Neighborhood Fiber Co. I rounded! How dare I? I made you do all that math, only to fudge my own numbers! Recall that my scraps add up to more yards than I need to make myself a pair of socks; this is the advantage of starting with slightly more than I need: I’ll be OK rounding up or down a little. Where does that leave us? In 25 rounds, I would have 1 round Gems, 16 rounds Koigu, 5 rounds Socks that Rock, and 3 rounds Neighborhood Fiber Co. How you order them is entirely up to you!
Try not to let your striping repeat get too large. I used 25 rounds, which is about as long as I feel comfortable going. In other words, don’t knit the first 5% of the body in blue, then the next 65% in green, etc. This risks running out of particular colors of yarn at the gusset. While you may knit 5% of the body rounds in blue, keep in mind that not all rounds will be the same size; those of the gusset will be larger.