Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sweet Tomato Hybrid

This is my first try with hand-spun sock yarn.

It's spun 3-ply from a southdown sheep fleece from the UK, hand-dyed by HilltopCloud in Wales.

[lovely southdown fleece from HilltopCloud]

The yarn is very elastic, thanks both to the fleece itself (which is very "crimpy" or curly), and to the extra twist that handspinning usually gives to the yarn (commercial yarn is usually spun with as low twist as possible, for economic reasons). Apparently this type of fleece does not felt readily (some even claim that the resultant yarn is dryer-safe!), and I'm hoping that it will wear better because of the extra twist. It's 100% wool with no nylon. Apparently it is also quite warm, again thanks to the high crimp, which traps air.

I'm not a very consistent spinner (yet) and am still working on spinning "thin enough" for sock yarn, so that this stuff is on the thick side (sportweight at least). The socks are definitely "boot socks"! The yarn is not soft - this is not merino - but softness is not a requirement for me, for hiking socks. They feel like those grey work socks you get at WorkMart.

[3-ply yarn, sportweight]

I am trying a variant of Cat Bordhi's Sweet Tomato Heel on these. I am knitting 2 at a time, toe up. Here is the recipe:
  • divide sock in half if you've not got it this way already, with 1/2 the stitches on one (side of the circular) needle and 1/2 on the other.
  • start heel when you reach the end of your arch, as shown below. For me, this is when I "just barely" feel the needle under my heel when I fit the sock on.
[where to start the heel, when knitting toe-up]
  • increase the number of stitches on your sole needle as follows (I typically have a multiple of 4 stitches on each needle): K2, m1, [K4, m1] to last 2, K2. This is about a 25% increase.
  • execute 3 or 4 wedges of sweet tomato heel (video here). My variation: I don't use Cat's method of hiding the gap. I use "hoiked stitches" when I do the short rows (in a nutshell, knit - or purl - to end, turn, always slip 1st st of new row PW WYIF, pull yarn over back of needle to hoist 1st stitch up, raising its two legs onto the needle, keep yarn tight, then continue purling or knitting to end of row). When knitting over these "hoiked" stitches treat their two legs as one stitch and "knit them together".
  • Note that when I'm doing 2AAT with these heels, I will do a complete wedge on the first sock, then move onto the second, and then knit the "boomerang" rows all around both socks. This brings be around to the first sock again, so I'm ready for the next wedge on the first sock. 
  • when finished 3 "tomato wedges", knit a row all 'round the sock, and try it on. If the sock comes over the biggest part of your heel, you are done. If not, make another wedge. I find that 4 wedges are required for my heel. It depends a bit on where you start the heel. The further back (towards the heel) you start it, the fewer wedges you will likely need. It also depends on the number of stitches you started with, and the shape of your foot...
  • Once you're satisfied with the fit, knit a few rows all around the sock(s), keeping in plain stockinette on the sole side. After 2 or 3 rows, decrease away all those extra stitches you added on the sole: K1, K2tog, [K3, K2tog] to end. You might need to fudge it a bit, but you'll need eventually to have the same number of stitches on the front and back of each sock, just like when you started.

    [sweet tomato hybrid, done over 1/2 the sock sts, 4 wedges]

That's it!

This gives you the option of the sweet tomato heel, but doesn't require you to use 2/3 of the stitches, like Cat's original recipe. I find that the traditional recipe is a pain to execute 2 at a time, and also it interferes with most designs on the front of the sock.

But, I am still not 100% satisfied with this recipe. I find that it is still a little tight across my instep (see how some of the stitches at the "edge" of the heel are stretched out in the photo above?), and also that the 4th wedge is just a little too much (I get a slight bulge above my heel where the excess sock fabric collects). So be warned: some tweaking might be required! Put in a lifeline before you start your heel, and that way you can always rip it back easily.

Possible tweaks: increase every 3rd stitch rather than every 4th for a 33% increase in the number of heel sts. I judge I probably need 4 more stitches for a good fit. Then,  make the last tomato wedge narrower (instead of turning when you're 2 stitches short of the end of the row, turn when you are 3 or maybe even 4 stitches short). This will reduce the width of the last wedge by a few rows.

I will be putting these socks to the ultimate performance test this fall: a 5-day hike in the French Tarn Gorge!


  1. I have been sinning my own sock yarn for a year now and I still can't get it thin enough. It does make great, long wearing socks though.
    I have spun, alpaca (Suri), merino,Suffolk and cotton as well as blends of all of the above. If you find a technique for spinning really thin I would love to hear about it.

  2. this is such a good explanation. Lovely yarn

  3. love the explanation. Will try it with the socks that I am about to start for my son. Hope that you have a wonderful time in the Tarn; one of my school pals has a B&B on the banks of the canal du midi, glorious countryside...

  4. Hello! It's been a while since you first posted this. I wonder if you have further refined your recipe for knitting the sweet tomato heel over half the stitches, or if you have found a better way to do it? Or are you happy with what you have described on this post after all? Thanks in advance!

    1. I'm not a big fan of this type of heel, so I haven't made refinements.

  5. I'm in the process of knitting some top down socks 2AAT. First time I'm knitting socks at all so I"m a heel newbie but your instructions above make total sense to me! Since I'm going backwards from your instructions above, would you suggest that I do the increases as in your step 1 then do 2 or 3 rows all around as you suggest in the very last step before moving into the wedges?

  6. The socks will fit better if you have about 1/2" of plain stockinette on the heel side before you do the heel. I'd add the extra stitches slowly at this time, maybe at each edge as a sort of "gusset". Then you do the heel, and when you are done with that you will have to decrease those extra stitches again! You can do it all at once or slowly at the edges again. Your choice.