September is turning out to be in line with my predictions. There have been surprises – the sudden appearance of an additional two days of blue sky, warm sunny days for a start. But the mists and the steel grey skies and the yellowing leaves show the changing of the seasons.
The seasonal shift is one of many changes happening and a little knitting escape-ism seems in order. The prompt is ‘wand’, the project is the Spark socks and the conversation topic is toe up versus top down socks.
The wand choosing the wizard sticks in the memory as a concept. There’s no doubt about picking correctly because it’s out of your hands. A shower of sparks or another magical display lets you know that this is it and you’ve found your most important tool. It may even tell you something about yourself. It’s like a Buzzfeed quiz that’s actually meaningful.
When knitting socks, I’m not sure how much meaning can be read into where you cast on the socks. I started out knitting top down socks and that was my preference for years. I tried toe up socks in those years but the heel options always ended up as a sticking point. Then I found my method and proceeded to knit a million toe up socks.
This past month, I ended up starting two pairs of top down socks. One pair, the Cosmic Socks, I finished and are shown in the photo below. The other I ripped out after I’d finished the heel on the first sock. I re-knit that pair toe up in about half the time it had taken me to get to the heel on the first sock when working top down. It might not be a shower of sparks, but my preferences are pretty clear, it feels!
I love the way the Cosmic Socks turned out. The yarn is MadTosh sock yarn in ‘Cosmic Wonder Dust’, hence my naming of the socks. It tried to pool wildly as I knit the socks up and the socks are definitely a fractural pair.
I also finished the first of my Spark Socks, knit toe up using my own hand-dyed yarn. The texture pattern is subtle – a little burst of sparks every so often. The stitch pattern is fun to knit and required less thought than the lace above which was a bit of a relief. Out in the sunshine, the gold in the yarn is much clearer. Typically, the yarn feels more an even caramel to me with more subtle flecks of gold.
The knitting community has figured out top down heel flap socks long ago – the one in the Cosmic socks are standard and works like a dream. I’d not picked up along the heel flap for a gusset or Kitchener stitch closed a toe in some time. I ended up watching videos for tricks on getting the best finish and still feel I need more practice to get up to my old standard.
Toe up socks lack that certainty of a tried and true approach to the heel. But there’s no need to pick up stitches and closing gaps at the top of the heel flap is magically easy. I’m pretty happy with the toe construction I’ve got going too but it’s the heel turn I’m proud of this time. I knit a square heel on a toe up sock.
I typically use the round (or ‘French’) heel turn in my socks wherever I cast on. The round heel is as the name sounds. It starts off narrow at the back of the heel and gradually increases in width towards the toes resulting in a rounded shape when you stare at the bottom of your sock (like you do!). The square heel stays the same width all along. I thought that would mean it was baggy at the back of the heel and too tight at the start of the gusset. But, I was wrong!
As long as you’ve got the right stitch count for the back of the heel, the square heel still hugs the heel nicely. The additional length of the turn creates almost a cup for the heel to sit in keeping it better in place. I’m not going to abandon the round heel, but it’s nice to have another option.
I’m still tweaking the Spark Socks as I knit the second sock. There’s more that can be done to end up with something I’m really proud of. These socks aren’t going to turn into a pattern for sale, I’m pretty sure. I don’t think I can face that right now and it was never the intent behind this. But I should have a good pair of socks by the end of all this.
But what does our choice of top down versus toe up mean about us?
Top down relies more on techniques like picking up stitches, decreasing smoothly and Kitchener stitch. Toe up relies on increases, short row methods, and stretchy (but not flaring) bind offs. Top down is more traditional, and toe up techniques are still evolving. I’d argue top down is harder to get perfect but easier to get a ‘good’ sock. Whereas toe up is easier to go catastrophically wrong but when it goes right it works like a dream. I think it’s that last reason that is the answer for me.
There’s all sorts of reasons why one can appeal more than the other but both are equally good at creating socks. What’s your preference and what do you think it means about you?