“I started from my sleep with horror; a cold dew covered my forehead, my teeth chattered, and every limb became convulsed; when, by the dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch—the miserable monster whom I had created.”Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 1818.
So begins Dr. Frankenstein’s relationship with his Monster in Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel. You may see why I am reminded of the Monster as I share the story of these hand-knit socks. It seemed appropriate that I was working on this project throughout the Halloween season and beyond. These socks seem cursed! (Or, at least, they tempted me to curse!).
It all started very innocently… I came across this sock pattern online somewhere, and the name caught my eye – SOHCAHTOA socks. Sounds vaguely Native American?? No! Math! Mathematics is where I remember that name from. It’s the mnemonic for the most basic functions in trigonometry, for measuring triangles:
- SOH ~ sine = opposite/hypotenuse;
- CAH ~ cosine = adjacent/hypotenuse;
- TOA ~ tangent = opposite/adjacent.
Thrilling to remember those details oh-so-many years after 9th grade, right? Maybe the math reference should have been my first warning – a foreshadowing of a sort.
But the pattern author, Sarah Jordan, had hooked me with her novelty. She has designed a “symmetrical” heel – which you can create identically either cuff-down or toe-up. Cool, right? I had to try it. What better way to banish the dreaded “Second Sock Syndrome” than to do the second sock in a different way – and compare them? I put the pattern on my “books” app on my phone and held onto it until I found some nice 80/20 wool/nylon blend variegated yarn that would potentially hide any weird mistakes I made.
Well, so much for that idea. My mistakes were much too frequent and too large to be hidden in any color pattern – especially this bland natural palette that my BFF (Best Fiber Friend) loves, but just reminds me of Army Khaki. The colors range between Dry Sand and Moist Dirt with just a little Baby Puke Yellow thrown in for good measure. (But hey, they will go with all my beige, tan, and brown pants, right?)
So, I determine I am going to make the first one Toe-Up, and the second one Cuff-Down. (What? You think that’s a bad choice? That designer person said I could…?).
I was excited to try the new needles I had bought from Susan’s Fiber Shop at her booth at Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival last year. The new Hiya Hiya Flexi-tips are double-pointed needles, but with SHORT flexible cables in the middle. They come three to a package. They should be amazing for items with small circumference (like socks). I bought them in Size 0 – that’s 2mm diameter. My logic was that I probably didn’t have many sets that tiny size. (Luckily, I was wrong). Most of my socks are made on Size 2 (2.75 mm), which makes a big difference, believe it or not, gentle reader. The SOHCAHTOA pattern called for Size 0 and my chosen yarn was also on the thinner side of fingering weight, so I figured it would make nice, flexible, thin-but-warm wool socks.
Danger zone: If you are my fiber friend, you probably know I can’t seem to leave a pattern well-enough alone. Just like a recipe in the kitchen, I feel obligated to tweak it just a bit to customize it to my needs, and keep things interesting…. (well, that part worked). So I decide I’m going to ignore the toe structure of the SOHCAHTOA pattern, which was a bit basic, and design my own “right-footed” toe where the increases across the base of the toe increased more quickly on one side than the other to taper down on the side of the smaller toes. I had made a sock toe like this before and it fits your foot like a dream! And, guess what, I didn’t even write the pattern down this time… because it would be different when I got to the second toe at the end of the CUFF-DOWN left foot, right? I’d deal with that challenge when I got to it…. (foreshadowing, yes, I sure did deal with it…).
The first sock knit up pretty well. I started with Judy’s Magic Cast-on for about 10 stitches, and increased slowly to 80 (!) stitches for the width I needed for the foot. I paid close attention to the V-shaped gussets before and after the heel turn, making sure to avoid holes. I used German short rows instead of Wrap &Turns for the heel, as I feel they are less fiddly.
First portent of doom: I have an engineer-friend at work. He’s very – hmmm, let’s say, “detail oriented”. His focus is laser sharp and he can be forthcoming and straightforward with his opinions. He saw first sock heel. “That’s not going to work” says he. “We’ll see, it’s an experiment,” say I. But I am quietly cocky. (What does he know about knitting, or socks, or even heel architecture??? )
About three-quarters of the way through the sock I am frustrated. These little tiny needles cramp my hands. The way I hold them, there is not enough support in the right places. And frankly, with three needles forming the work, at least a couple of the six kitten-claw sharp tips are always poking me in inconvenient places. Finally, my BFF tells me I’m crazy to keep going this way, and out of exactly nowhere she hands me a regular circular sock needle, just the right diameter and length to finish the socks with the Magic Loop method. It’s even my favorite brand, and will allow me to maintain the already-established gauge. I would never have been able to finish the pair without her. (Thanks Lori!).
After I switch needles, above the heel, I notice a tiny irregularity in the smoothness of my stockinette socks. (What is that tiny bit of nothing?) Why, it looks like a tiny stitch. A tiny stitch I must have DROPPED. Which I dropped from the foot part of the sock, BEFORE the heel. Ladies and Gentlepersons, I tell you, I am an experienced knitter, and a dropped stitch does not intimidate me. But there is no way I am ripping back that heel. And there is no way I can “drop down the column” to pick it up again. It’s too tiny and on the other side of the heel. I literally “stick a pin in it” (well, a lightbulb-shaped stitch marker) and keep rolling on. I’ll fix it later.
I finish off the sock with no other issues using Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off and try it on. Looks pretty good – but shorter than I would have thought. (Why is it shorter?) I read the directions again. Looks like I followed them. (WHY is it SHORTER?) Well, I kind of like a short crew length anyway, and it means I should definitely not have to play “yarn-chicken” at the end of the project. I weave in the ends, just so I don’t have to do it later. On to the next sock!
This one would be made cuff-down, in order to test the assertion from Sarah the Designer that you can’t really tell the difference between them after they are knit. Also, this allows me to test both halves of the written pattern, and keep my attention focused as I go.
It starts with 2X2 ribbing for a bit over an inch, to match the other sock. Have I mentioned how much ribbing bores me? It’s so slow! I get about 15 rows done and switch to plain knitting for stockinette, and zoom down the leg. The pattern says the sock should be 7 inches long when I start the heel gusset. Hmmm. (HMMMM, I’ve knit a tube 7 inches long and I haven’t even started increasing for the gusset yet?!) I pull out the other sock. This does NOT match! I look at the pattern for the first sock again: “After the heel, work even in stockinette stitch until leg measures 6 inches or 1 inch less than the total desired length…AS MEASURED from the CENTER of the short-row heel” (emphasis mine). It seems for the first sock I have interpreted “center” as the turning point at the bottom edge of the heel – in other words, the middle of the heel as it starts up the foot. Apparently, the designer intended for us to knit 6 inches FROM THE END OF THE TOP GUSSET of the heel before starting the ribbing. So the first sock is too short. (Ugh!)
What to do? My socks MUST match – unless it’s a design choice. (Or one is lost in the laundry!) But as far as MAKING the socks, I can’t leave one longer than the other. And I don’t feel like ripping out the last few inches of the second sock in order to make the socks the shorter length. That seems like a waste of time, and not in harmony with the designer’s intent. So I continue on with a great plan: I’ll finish the second sock according to the pattern (-ish). Then with yarn left over, I’ll go back to the first sock, snip a stitch just under the ribbing and tink it apart, preserving the 15 rounds of ribbing (because I kind of hate ribbing, remember? Why do that 15 rows of ribbing again when you can find a harder, slower, and fiddlier way to fix the issue?) Then I’ll re-attach the extra yarn and knit up until the socks match (or I almost run out of yarn) and I’ll Kitchener Stitch the ribbing part back on. Brilliant, right? What could go wrong?
So back to finishing the second sock: I cruise through the heel for the second time with no issues. I’m even more careful about the “wrapped” stitches this time, but really it comes out the same. They look kind of odd just folded on the table, because I feel like the heels are almost created sort of sideways from usual sock patterns. But when you put them on, the heels are snug, with no holes.
So then I confidently soar down the foot, remembering to create some shaping on the fly for the toe. (This looks great!) I actually nail the toe-shaping even better than the toe-up version. I Kitchener the last 10 stitches of the top and bottom of the toe together and tighten them up, weaving in the end. (Look at the picture! Don’t they look great!?! )
Oh… wait… do you see it? What’s wrong with this picture?
No….NO! No no no no no!
I feel like such an idiot. (Why can’t I leave well enough alone?) I have made a beautiful toe on the second sock. The only problem is, IT’S ANOTHER RIGHT TOE!
Grrrrr! I do NOT want to rip that beautiful toe out! What now?
I try on the socks together, and I realize that with all my creative toe-shaping, I have also made the second foot a little longer than the first too. How awkward! And it is embarrassing for someone who has knit as many socks as I have. I do NOT want to waste all that effort and have to find the woven-in end and rip back past the toe decreases! I do not want to do the math to create the left-toe, either!
Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
OK. Ok. OK! The light bulb comes on. I can treat my backwards toe the same as my too-short cuff! I carefully snip a stitch just above the toe shaping and slowing un-weave one row from the work, putting both the toe-side and the arch-side stitches on separate long circular needles (more 2 mm needles I found in my needle stash!). It takes forever, and then I pull out just a few rows to shorten the second foot a bit. Then, I FLIP THAT TOE AROUND and re-attach it using Kitchener stitch again. At first the sock looks like it has an ugly scar! Frankensocks! But after I take time to snug up the stitches, the variation in the yarn color hides the seam and it doesn’t show. I weave in the ends and we are back to beautiful!
SOCK ONE AGAIN!
Back to the first sock – I resolve that tiny dropped stitch by slipping a short piece of matching yarn through it and pulling it to the back of the work. Then I weave both ends of that short piece all through the body of the foot, just as if it were any end needing weaving in. The stitch is secure and invisible.
Now I need to use the rest of the yarn to fix the length of the leg. I repeat the careful snip and slide the stitches out of their snug homes for one row around, picking up each side of the divide one by one. If I had recorded it in stop-action photography, it would have looked like a can opener cutting open an old can. Finally apart, I attach that “extra” remaining yarn and knit upwards. It looks pretty good.
But I can’t keep myself from making one more change to the pattern. (“Oh no”, you are thinking. “What is she doing now??? Enough is Enough!”). I remembered that when I had tried the taller sock on, it had been a bit tight at the top for my “shapely” calves. Why not add a few stitches as we go so that it won’t restrict my circulation? So I gradually increased from 80 stitches to 88 stitches for a 10% increase of girth and continue knitting until I was close to the end of my yarn. Almost time to do one long, last round of Kitchener. But guess what, clever reader? I bet you saw this coming before I did… now I need to re-attach the ribbed cuff – which has only 80 stitches instead of the 88 that the leg now has! I guess I could do it by “unventing” some kind of crazy K2tog to place every 10 stitches around AS I JOINED, but it would probably look terrible!
So I take the yarn still attached to the cuff from the separation, plus the little piece that was extracted from the few ripped-out rows of the second sock, and I tried to knit downward. Since this cuff was originally knit upward, it didn’t happen very “naturally” but I bent it to the force of my will. (I am strong in the Fiber-Force!). As I knit, I increased quickly but evenly from 80 to 88 stitches, so that the two sides of the Kitchener stitch would join evenly.
Kitchener stitch on 88 stitches at one time is – well, time consuming. I waited until I was at Lori’s house after the Holidays and let her ply me with hot chocolate to maintain my positive as I played “yarn chicken” with the very last of this sock yarn. (Wouldn’t it be awful if we got this far and lacked enough yarn for the last inch of re-joining?) But luck was with me, and I finished with less than a yard left. I wove in the ends, held my breath, and tried them on.
Viola! (er, no, sorry – stupid autocorrect!) – Voi-la! The Frankensocks are whole and finally, finally, complete! The heels are a bit too deep and pointy for my feet, and they wrinkle a bit on the front of the ankles. The toe shapes are wonderful though! I am missing the usual negative ease that fixes the sock shape – I think perhaps these socks are built for larger feet, I’ll have to find a guy (or a monster?) to try them on…
I always try to learn something from every project. I’m not sure what I learned this time. “Persistence leads to success?” or “There is always a clever solution if you keep going forward?” (Or maybe, “You should know when to give up?” I’m not sure this particular pair of socks was worth the number of hours spent on them. It’s a good thing I like to knit.)
Thanks for taking the time to read this long story of my sock adventure. The designer of the SOHCAHTOA sock pattern, Sarah Jordan, can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or as PAKnitWit on Ravelry. All issues with this knit are fully acknowledged to be the fault of the Reviewer!