It's hard to believe that it was only three years ago when I started knitting my first ever pair of socks. At last count, I think I've now knit 25 pairs! And given two-thirds of them away.
And yet, it all started so unpromisingly. I was SO not a fan. Aunty Glady (my honourary non-grandmother) had knitted me a white, lacy pair of knee-highs when I was small. Which I wore once. They itched. The ribbing was tight. The purl ridges left painful indents in my feet under the spot where I laced up my school shoes.
More recently, when other knitters wrote about how great hand-knitted socks were, I had a hard time trying to understand their appeal. (See previous experience, above.) Surely they'd be too thick to wear with regular shoes? Also what was it with all the colour? Didn't coloured socks go out with the Eighties? How could I wear them to work? (90% of my socks were basic black - great for work when worn with loafers under a trouser suit and perfectly OK for the rest of the time. I think the rest were denim blue.)
And then there was the actual "knitting socks" part. Somewhere I'd heard that turning a heel was really difficult (that bit of misinformation came from Terry Pratchett*). Also, I'd had a bad experience with DPN's doing the v-neck ribbing on my first sweater, back when I was 11 or 12, and I didn't want to go back there ever again.
Finally, the Yarn Harlot's Knitting Rules book convinced me to have a go. We were going to Spain for five days in May 2006 and I wanted some knitting to take along. I knew from bitter experience that, in a hot country, anything that rests in your lap will make you feel hot, sticky and uncomfortable in very short order. (Growing up in Oz, I did crochet, embroidery or tatting in the summer, and then only if I could find somewhere to sit where my hands were cool enough not to be swollen or sweaty.) So I needed something small to take along and sock-knitting fitted the bill.
After a fruitless browse in the Reading branch of John Lewis for something labelled "sock yarn", I resorted to Google, typed "sock yarn" into the search field, ticked the UK checkbox and crossed my fingers as I hit enter. What I wanted was someone to hold my hand and tell me the correct needle size to use for whatever yarn I'd buy plus the correct quantity to purchase; what I found was Angel Yarns, who sold me an Opal Sock Knitting Kit complete with a set of Addi DPNs. (I think the Addi's were a consolation prize from their customer services department because my first choice of colourway (something blue) wasn't available. They also sent a pair of teddy-bear needle huggers.)
I didn't knit until we got to Spain. Casting on, I felt nervous; a new sensation for me as a knitter (I've been knitting since I was seven and tackled lace and stranded colourwork fearlessly as a teenager). But I gritted my teeth and worked through the first half-a-dozen rows with the DPNs before concluding that "Hey, knitting with DPN's isn't so bad after all. I can do this!". The self-patterning yarn intrigued me. I left Spain with one of these:
And I was hooked!
I can't say that first pair are the best I've ever made. The heel seems to go on forever (it's much too long) and I kitchener-stitched the toes the wrong way around so that there are purl stitches on the outside. Also, I had several lessons to learn about picking up the gusset stitches so that there wouldn't be a hole in the corner (look carefully and you'll see the hole), or down the sides. And they're slightly too big, but they're mine. I wear them ocasionally when my other handknitted socks are in the wash. They're like a walking demonstration of my skills.
Just as a comparison, here are the latest socks I've knitted, using the Berrocco Sox yarn that MOI sent me.
See how far I've come? These have a French/reinforced heel. Also, I've learned some tricks about matching up the pattern repeats that would never have occured to me back in the early days.
Once again, MOI, thank you for the yarn. The socks are lovely.
And no, I haven't a clue where all that guff about "turning a heel is difficult" came from. It is easy.
*Terry Pratchett is a knitter. And a spinner. Yarn Forward interviewed him last year.