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.
Exercise Before Knitting Gifts? Yes, go out for a little jog before committing to that queen-sized afghan for your cousin’s child’s girlfriend’s dorm room! Or, use the coupon code EXERCISEBEFOREKNITTINGGIFTS in my Ravelry pattern shop to buy 2 patterns and receive the 3rd free! The promotion will end 12/31/2010.
Otherwise, check out the Holiday and Winter issues of Interweave Knits for some new Exercise Before Knitting designs. These two colorwork patterns for Interweave Knits Holiday were inspired by that old Latvian mitten book I found last year.
Copyright Interweave Knits
Slanted Peerie Mittens feature a more unusual stranded pattern, one that moves diagonally across the fabric. The design reminded me of ribbons and wrapping paper, a good motif for the holidays. Although these have three different colors of yarn, the little bits of red are actually duplicate stitched on once the knitting is completed.
Copyright Interweave Knits
Parallax Hat came about as I went looking for an easy stranded pattern to work at worsted weight into a pointy little elf-like cap. I am mad for the spiral top on hats in general, and I think it looks even better in colorwork. Consequently, I made the two-color spiral the heart of the design, then worked out the rest from there.
Copyright Interweave Knits
While we impatiently awaited the arrival of baby #2 this time last fall, I thought I would pass the time in part by knitting Beatrix a big sister sweater with lots of lovely cables. Intending to self-publish the finished product, I sketched out the design, set up a spreadsheet, planned a list of sizes, and then powered through the knitting. Baby Odysseus interrupted my seaming, so this sat untouched for a few months. I finished it just as I was packing away our winter woolens. When someone from Interweave asked if I had any children’s patterns for Winter 2010, I sent off my sketches.
Normally, I dread selecting buttons because I have an incredible knack for making extremely poor button choices. One of my coping strategies is to ask other shoppers in the store what they think of my button choice. Did you know most knitters and sewers love choosing buttons? They do. AND they’re usually quite good at it, don’t you think? These particular buttons pleased me very much. They look great with the gray yarn, and don’t detract from the cables at all.
I realize many people do not want to think about baby or kids’ patterns, but I maintain the set-in sleeve is worth the (small) trouble. Well fitting knits look great on children, don’t you think?
Stay tuned for some more gift ideas, namely a pair of Latvian-inspired mittens from Twist Collective!
I love to knit from my stash, and not just from any part of it: I love knitting from the littlest bits and bobs kicking around in the corners. The partial skeins, the lone discontinued yarns and colors. Better yet, I love using up all those scraps to produce a piece for which I might have easily bought yarn, not just one which provides good way to use up old yarn. You could say I can get a bit obsessive about making sure my stashbusters can stand on their own merits. Remember the Ultimate Stashbuster Vest?
Ah, yes, that was a fun one! Although I would love nothing more than to dive into an all-consuming fair isle garment right now, I’ll save that for winter break. Until then, I’m happily knitting along, striping my way through life. Inspired by these lovely socks, I’m calling this pair “Never Enough Chocolate” because they remind me of Neapolitan ice cream, which always seemed to me to have far too much vanilla and strawberry. I had lots of pink and white yarn going into this, but not much brown. To completely use up three colors required some weighing and a lovely little bit of algebra (of which the striping pattern is the result), but it worked! I have absolutely nothing left.
Next, as I mentioned this summer, I needed a good baby sweater for my new (and first!) niece, Amelia. What better than to knit up a Budgie, since O wears his – the one grumperina sent him – all the time? He wears his Budgie with the balaclava osloann sent him in part for warmth, and in part so general public will know he is loved by knitterly peoples. Can you tell?
I had to change the striping pattern on Amelia’s Budgie because I had unequal amounts of yarn, and I substituted buttons for the zipper because Amelia will outgrow this long before she identifies buttons as potential food. Otherwise, as always, I did everything grumperina told me to do, and it’s perfect! Of course! Several years ago, Maritza and I joked about having, “What Would grumperina Do?” t-shirts made. It is a question that runs through my mind when I’m unsure about a project. The answer, of course, is to rip. Always. I wonder from how many hours of unhappy knitting she’s saved me???
Finally, in the last bit of striping, I slowly eked out another pair of socks, combining leftovers from my Mill Creek Cowl together with Drunken Bee Sock scraps. I thought this color pairing would be rather unsightly, but they look much nicer than I had expected; I like this mix a lot!
With these two pairs of socks, I scraped the bottom of the barrel of my sock yarn stash. All that remains is a Koigu partial and a darning’s worth in other colors. I once had sock yarn enough for 21 pairs, and now I have nothing but a lot of finished socks! What a great feeling!
I’m a bit behind here, so expect to see something soon about some of my newest works in Interweave Knits Holiday and Winter, as well as Twist Collective Winter. In the meantime, here is a preview of a new design I’m just finishing up:
Would you believe I slipped away from everything last weekend to commune with sheep? Actually, with knitters – and some of my favorite ones at that! I made my first trip to Rhinebeck, NY for the New York Sheep & Wool festival. It was a fabulous weekend for a fiber festival, and the perfect chance to meet up with dear friends scattered about the country. To my surprise, I saw several Hallett’s Ledges walking around! I may have accosted perfect strangers for pictures of their sweaters. (Sorry about that, knitters. I hope you understand.) And, to my amazement (or horror), I returned home only two skeins heavier. How could I go in search of yarn with so many friends to see?
Although I’m still struggling to find time to weave in ends, sew on buttons, and block my growing stack of knits, things have improved a little bit. I quietly published a cowl pattern – Snows Creek – last week, using the yarn Stacey spun for me earlier this year.
I wanted to find a way to use up every last bit of handspun, and this seemed a nice way to do it. Plus, the cowl is long enough to double and wear more snugly around the neck.
In addition to the cowl, there are some accessory patterns waiting in the wings.
Not to mention the already blocked sweater expecting its seven buttons sometime this week.
Of course, there are always the ongoing knits…
To think, just two months ago, I worried aloud medical school would rob me of every last bit of knitting time! On the contrary, I have far more time to knit now, but no time to think about my knitting: a fatal combination for a perfectionist knitter.
There’s even an almost finished sweater for me in that pile, probably buried near the bottom as it stews in Time Out – I am too annoyed to even discuss that one yet. Although I have plenty of time to knit while studying and sitting in lectures, I have little time to use my brain for things that do not relate to human anatomy (and I’m pretty sure fitting a sweater to a human form does not count in this respect). As you might expect, there have not been many successful projects around here: the three sweaters I swatched last week need different yarns, I have a stack of projects in need of button bands, buttons, or zippers, there’s a hat needing a lining, a baby sweater needing a fix involving a sewing machine and scissors, and several projects waiting on more yarn from the US Postal Service. Things will improve, but until they do, I will show you other people’s knitting, not mine.
Grumperina kindly sent one of her original Budgies to Odysseus, who, shall we say, fills things out quite nicely these days. I pulled it out of the drawer yesterday morning for him to wear on a walk, now that it’s cool in the mornings. Bonus? There are no buttons for him to attempt to eat. Odysseus is a big fan of grumperina knits! Thanks so much, Kathy!
Two of the striped sweaters in my unfinished knits pile are Budgies – it is such a perfect pattern for little ones who tug and pull buttons. I’m making two to use up some cotton stash and to knit for some new babies in my family. Only the zipper installations remain to be done. (Of course.)
O’s new Budgie conveniently matches his new Thorpe! Danielle spun and knitted both of my kids Thorpes for the winter. I think the hats are the same size, which is good, because O’s head is as big as his sister’s. Plus, he has long since outgrown the hat she made him last winter!
What I love about these hats is that they seem to come from so many knitterly people at once: the wool for the hat on the left is from Adrian (HelloYarn), the wool for the hat on the right is from Amy (SpunkyEclectic), the pattern is by Kirsten (Through The Loops), and the spinning and knitting by Danielle (aswiminknits).
The little boat on the back is embroidered with “S.S. OEB”, such a sweet personal touch for a little man named for a big sailor, don’t you think?
His chubbiness is lucky to know so many generous and talented crafters! As am I! Thanks so much, everyone!