Sunday, February 10, 2013

Stripes, Heels and Toes

I've been knitting with a lot of self-striping yarns lately, exploring different design options - I must say I'm not overly fond of letting the yarn do all the work; I get too bored! But in any case, there's always thinking to be done at the heels and toes when using self-striping yarns (or indeed, when making any kind of striped sock). The thinking is required because the stripes in self-striping yarn are affected by:
1. changing the number of stitches you are knitting (ie. increases or decreases), and
2. knitting back-and-forth rather than in the round
Of course, toes and heels are where these two things happen, so you are guaranteed to "destroy" the stripe pattern when using self-striping yarns, at these places.
The easiest design solution is to make the heel and toe out of some plain yarn - either contrasting or co-ordinating. Then you can put in whatever heel you please because it won't interfere with your striped pattern. The photo below shows a flap heel done in one colour (green/camo); I continued in that colour for a couple of rows before the heel to make the same stripe go around the front of the sock).
[striped sock with flap heel in solid colour]
If that's not what you want, here are some ideas:
At the toe, the stripes will naturally get wider, because you are knitting over progressively shorter rows. This can be prevented (ie. make the stripes the same size as on the rest of the sock) by cutting your self-striping yarn and "skipping ahead" to the next colour change, as required. Lots of ends to finish when you're done!
 For the heel, I think the best solution is a "forethought" heel. To make it fit better, don't use little gussets; instead, increase the number of stitches on your heel side by 20% or so evenly on the first row you knit of the heel (if your total number of stitches is divisible by 4, this is easy: k2, [m1 k4] until the last 2 sts, k2). This makes it easier to control the stripe width. You can control the width of the stripes on the heel the same way as you did for the toe, above. The result will look something like below, with a kind of bull's-eye at the heel; the stripes will line up all 'round the heel. (The sock in the photo was made with 2 balls of yarn of different colours, so not really self-striping, and I did use gussets on the forethought heel. But you get the idea.)
[forethought heel with gussets - nice bull's-eye heels]
Heels that really play with the self-striping nature are:
  • anything with slipped stitches - slipping stitches changes the striping design completely.

  • any short-row heel, including the Sweet Tomato, because you aren't guaranteed the stripes will line up:

[short-row heel with self-striping yarn -
note stripes do not line up around heel]
  • any flap-style heel (which involves back-and-forth knitting) - this includes the Fleegle/Strong - this will insert an area of different striping at the heel. Additionally, because of the gussets usually involved, the rows leading up to the heel get longer, and this will also change the width of the stripes. What you get will depend on the "rhythm" of your self-striping yarn, and is hard to predict. With "busier" yarns it isn't so noticeable, while with simpler stripes it can be quite obvious. You can "fix" this by doing surgery on your yarn to pick out the colours you want.
[flap heel on self-striping socks -
 note flaps have wider stripes due to decreased width of knitting]
[Fleegle/Strong heel on self-striping socks -
while the stripes continue across the gussets, note the small blue triangle
at the base of the heel, due to back-and-forth knitting]

You can always play around with this by putting in a lifeline before you start your heel, so if you don't like the result, frogging it is easy.

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