The transformative power of knitting

Pandemic knitting. That’s what I considered the uptick in pattern printouts and the skeins of yarn accumulating around me to represent in the first few months into the Covid global pandemic. I have been able to review a summary of my knitting accomplishments through my Ravelry stats, a section of the website I only discovered. At a glance, it’s simply just a summary to a stranger, but for the maker, me, it’s much more than that. Those stats tell a story. Combined with each handknit item, they act as markers for the different periods in my life. 

The numbers indicate that I started knitting 9 years, 1 month, and 8 days ago. Has it really been that long? The numbers also show I was averaging a measly two projects each year before I got bored and stopped knitting completely. And then I changed jobs and learned that a number of my new co-workers were avid knitters. One, in particular, proudly wore many of her handknits. I was envious and shared with her that I was interested in colourwork, but it looked daunting and beyond my skill level. The next day she brought in a book on stranded colourwork and confidently stated that I could do it. With renewed interest and support, I picked up the hobby again. Over the next couple of years, I doubled the amount of annual FOs (finished objects), including a few lovely colourwork projects. Eventually I left that job and my Ravelry trendline was taking a downturn, an indication that the knitting flame was slowly extinguishing. My time and interests were being taken up by other things. But welcome in 2020, and my FOs shot up exponentially! I did a double-take too. We are talking about a 733.33% increase in FOs over the previous year!

Here we are, almost a full month into 2021, 10½ months into the pandemic, but finally with a tiny light at the end of a very long tunnel. I’m still knitting and still finding joy in it. In fact, I’ve stopped considering my knitting as pandemic knitting. It’s now simply knitting. Knitting is no longer just something to fill the time. I am excited to pick up my needles. I love browsing through patterns and imagining how they would work for me. I have numerous works-in-progress scattered throughout the house because there are so many patterns that speak to me.

I am trying to complete at least one of the projects within the next week to make space for a couple incoming ones. I’ve been reading the excited chatter in a knitting group for an upcoming sock pattern release, which I hope to participate in. We knitters tend to be a passionate bunch, but what stuck out was how rigid some sock knitters portrayed themselves. For example, there are those that only knit 2aat (two at a time), claiming they can’t knit the same sock twice. Some knitters only knit socks with dpns (double-pointed needles), while others prefer magic loop. And then we come to sock construction – toe up versus cuff down. You’ve got the die-hards, opting for one method and dismissing the other, with reasons ranging from, not wanting to pick up stitches, to fiddly cast-on vs grafting, to fit issues, to how they prefer to test fit as they knit. These are all valid things to consider. But I do find it humorous when I read the rigid sounding comments related to only knitting socks 2aat, with the reason being that the project can be completed faster. Faster? Is this a race? Who sets the deadline? It gets me wondering if these knitters feel joyful whilst working on their socks.

In my world, knitting is a calming, almost meditative activity. I only knit things that speak to me so that I am excited to cast-on. Each time I pick up the needles for that project, that elated feeling courses through me and the sense of wonderment never wanes as I witness the progress unfolding. Knitting is both an art and an experience. It’s something that allows me to express myself, while being free to experiment and learn. Knitting is definitely not a race. It’s usually not about the FO. The act of knitting provides an escape, an adventure, a moment of quiet, a deep, mindful inhale, and a long, relaxed exhale. Knitting is about the journey, from understanding the pattern in order to make personal adjustments, to yarn selection, colour selection, knitting method, and needle/cord selection. If the FO is for someone else, I’m thinking about that person and what fibers and colours might speak to them in this moment, because knitting isn’t rigid. It is a representation of a moment in time. Knitting is emotion-based and very personal, at least in my life.

Although I have only been knitting socks in earnest for 8.5-months, I have managed to complete 17 pairs in that span (and I currently have three pairs on the go) so I feel qualified to have an informed opinion. I have knit socks as toe-up and cuff down, one-at-a-time, 2aat, on small circumference needles, magic loop, and dpns. I’ve used metal needles, bamboo needles, driftwood needles, and aluminium needles. I’ve used fixed circulars and interchangeables. I can’t imagine only ever knitting socks one way. My choices are based on my mood at that moment. 

Some of my handknit socks, 2020-2021

I fully admit that when I first started sock knitting in June 2020, my first pair was 2aat, for the typical reason of wanting to get them done asap. It was also based on my experience of knitting sweater sleeves. I do suffer from second sleeve syndrome. But I soon realized that sock knitting is very different from sleeve knitting. Sleeves are usually one of the last pieces after a long journey. You are fully aware of how close you are to the finish line. The excitement level is high, especially if you’ve already completed one sleeve. That second sleeve brings me no joy. I just want it to be done! And full length sleeves are much longer than standard socks. That second sleeve can feel never-ending. An accurate description would be it is often a slog. For this reason, I’ll strongly consider knitting sleeves 2aat, though in actuality I’ve knit more of them as singles.  Socks are standalone items. You haven’t just worked hundreds and hundreds of stitches to get to this point, which is why it’s easy to relish sock knitting, even if it’s a vanilla sock. I still savour the texture(s) and colour(s).

For those that argue it’s more efficient to knit 2aat (magic loop), I ask them to give small circumference knitting an honest try. I haven’t timed myself, but I feel quite efficient knitting round-and-round without having to momentarily pause every 27-32 stitches to pick up the other yarn, and then pause again after another 27-32 stitches to turn my work and pull a cord through and re-adjust the position of both socks, along with ensuring the ball(s) of yarn don’t get tangled. I especially feel faster, and have better tension control, when knitting colourwork socks on small circumference needles. But I get that not everybody can comfortably work with 8 or 9-inch circulars. Hand cramps are real. Needle selection is a whole other beast that would make this post too long. I will only say that my curiosity and experience with different types of needles emphasizes the point that knitting is experiential.

If comparing efficiency of magic loop for single sock versus 2aat, perhaps 2aat wins? I mean, if you’re already prepared to fiddle for one sock, what’s fiddling for two? Again, I’ve never completed any time trials. I find I rarely consider 2aat if I’m too lazy to wind a second cake. I have knit things 2aat using both ends of a single cake before, but for whatever reason, I haven’t considered it for socks. Magic loop for one sock isn’t so bad because (a) your cord can be quite a bit shorter (less finicky) and (b) the project is a bit lighter (if wrist pain is a thing). I’m not saying that socks 2aat shouldn’t ever be considered, because finishing the pair at the same time is indeed satisfying. And maybe you’re just in the mood for it. Maybe more importantly, the argument for 2aat is that the twins will likely be identical in that if you make a mistake, the mistake will be consistent on both – or is that just me? On the flipside, if you knit one-at-a-time, you may catch things from your first sock that you can improve on on your second sock, while still maintaining a uniform look.

Some sock knitters have a strong preference toward one construction method over the other – toe up or cuff down. My first pair was cuff down and the fit was fabulous! Subsequent socks were knit this way, because that’s what I knew that worked. I then tried a toe up (with a gusset and heel flap). It felt a bit different. Another pair of toe-up with a FLK heel felt different too, in a more noticeable way. I think the cuff down heel flap and gusset feels most familiar, but after wearing the FLK heel for a while, I have gotten used to it. It didn’t really get a fair shot because the sock itself is a little loose. The twin has a heel flap and gusset, knit toe up. That one feels wonky, but I’m not committing to it being weird because it was knit toe up, but because it’s too tight and maybe half a centimeter too short. What I’m saying is, I think I need to knit a few more pairs of toe up socks (that fit properly) before I can make a fair assessment of toe up socks. But what I can say with conviction is that I continue to be open to both constructions because they both have their own pros and cons. It again comes down to what I’m in the mood for. I should mention that my feet are fairly “regular” and don’t require adjustments for comfort, which is one of the arguments for one construction over the other.

All I’m saying is to be open, especially if you’re just getting into sock knitting. Be adventurous and curious. Don’t allow others to dictate what is best for you. Let their opinions simply be the catalyst to trying something new. If it turns out that 2aat is your favourite way after non-biasly experimenting other methods, then go forth and knit your socks this way. But don’t limit yourself. Enjoy the process. Treat each pair of socks as a new experience. And of course, enjoy wearing your handknit socks!

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