Monday, May 4, 2009

Hooks and Needles

While I was divorced and not yet remarried, a girlfriend commented that while learning to cook was all well and good, she thought I needed some creative hobby; something that resulted in an object I could keep after I was done with it, unlike cooking which resulted in something eaten within a day or so. The result was that I took up origami, and I agreed with her; it was nice to be able to look at something I had made. But origami doesn't produce something that lasts years, at least not in a house with both parrots and cats in it.

This past summer I broke the glass shade of a desk lamp, and in the process of trying to replace it I did something Extremely Radical: I took up crochet. I reasoned that I could crochet a lace replacement shade, and I did. Two, in fact. The lamp repair remains unfinished, though, as I have had trouble with the more manly task of constructing a suitable wire frame to hold the new shade.

My new crochet hobby has been a great success! First and foremost, I enjoy it. Secondly, the feedback I have had from my daughters, my (yarn-averse) wife, and even her relatives, suggests I might even be good at it! And it fits my time schedule, because I can crochet to unwind, quietly, as my wife falls asleep beside me. I currently have two projects going, one for my Mom and one for Elizabeth, my younger daughter. There are also objects either I use or I see my family using that I have made, and that is something special.

I have made a variety of small objects, including a usable belt

Crocheted belt

a comfortable and warm alpaca/silk/cotton blend scarf

and a hodgepodge of other projects: a ball for the cats to play with, a finger guard for holding parrots with sharp claws, and even a new pair of pants for my niece's Christmas gift, a scantily-dressed Barbie Doll! Fortunately my male ego has no problem with the fact that while other men have table saws and create dog houses for their mastiffs, I have small steel hooks and create miniature pants for a child's doll. Well, if not "no problem", only a very small and manageable problem! One of my Facebook friends did ask me if I "do fashion", but as the man said, "I am not gay; I never have been gay. I love my wife."

There are some objects, however, that cannot be satisfactorily made with crochet alone. And no, I'm not referring to functioning dog houses, plate glass windows, or watertight canoes: I mean socks. Socks that can be comfortably worn inside shoes!

There are certainly crocheted sock patterns available! I tried one before Christmas. It was certainly easy enough to make a fitted sock that encased each foot in yarn--but the fabric created with crochet is stiff, and is rather bumpy compared to the knit material that most store-bought socks are made of! My crocheted "socks" should more rightly be called "slippers" (very ugly ones, I might add, as I used an acrylic waste yarn in a sort of "proof of principle" project which didn't follow any published pattern). My experience with the finger protector led to the same conclusion, despite that being made from thin cotton crochet thread: crocheted fabric is just too stiff and inflexible to make a comfortable sock.

So after Christmas, I took the Next Logical Step and began learning to knit. As with crochet, learning to knit involved a steep learning curve, but once my daughters (both of whom knit, neither of whom crochets) had shown me the ropes and helped me through the first painful steps, and I got a little more expert help at the local yarn shop within walking distance of home, I was ready to start making Finished Objects.

Later tonight I expect to finish my fourth sock--fifth, if you count my horrid First Attempt. Oh these aren't socks that would fit my size 13 mens feet; these are two pair of (nearly) identical socks for the newborn twins Zach and Theo, who are coming home from the hospital today with their proud parents to the house across the street. But despite their small size, they have all the parts of an adult's sock: a Cuff, a Leg, a Turned Heel, a Heel Gusset, a Foot, and a Toe, sewn up with Kitchener Stitch. They were the perfect project for a man who wants to learn to knit sturdy Mens Socks in a world full of patterns of lacy, rainbow-colored "ladies medium" sock patterns.

These are just what Zach and Theo will need: good, sturdy, plain, soft Mens Socks, scaled down to be Just Right for lads their size. These are socks they can be proud of!

Along the way I have discovered that, in addition to skads of women who like to knit socks, there are also skads of ways to knit socks. Cuff-down or toe-up is probably the most basic division, but there are also other engineering choices to be made: knit one at a time, which is easier, or two at a time, which is more likely to result in a matched pair? Heel flap or short row heel? Fitted leg? Fitted inseam? Padded sole? Wide ribbing or narrow ribbing? How tall should the leg be, and how much of it should be ribbed?

These are the engineering choices that most women might find uninteresting--women are more likely to want to make a stitch pattern that shows above the shoe--but these are the engineering choices that will fascinate men who make themselves "plain socks".

Men like me, anyway. I look forward to learning what goes into making a durable sock; a comfortable sock; a sock I am proud to display to my family and friends; and maybe even a new kind of sock, one that others will want to make for themselves. Even in the most mundane pursuits, it seems a man can have his ambitions.


  1. I think your socks are great - babies do need sturdy socks. They came out really nice! have fun knitting!

  2. Thanks, Kristina!

    My fifth sock ended up *way* too big, so I made a sixth to finish the two pair for the twins, and another big one to match #5. Now I have a pair to give my sister-in-law, who is also expecting.

    I'm currently in the middle of two knitting projects and two crochet projects...lots of fun.