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Book Review

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Socks from the Toe Up
by Wendy D. Johnson

  Buy it now at Amazon.com

Wendy Johnson is an extraordinarily prolific knitter. Since 2002 (at least), she has documented her exploits online in her blog, Wendy Knits.

With fearlessness and a good dose of humor, she has attacked everything from intricate Alice Starmore colorwork to giant diaphanous lace shawls whose blocking challenged every square inch of her Alexandria home. And she has knit socks. Lots and lots and lots of socks.

The Toe Thing
Wendy has long been a strong supporter of the toe-up sock technique, which bypasses darning and helps you manage smaller quantities of yarn. You simply cast off the cuff when you run out of yarn—a far better compromise than running out of yarn just a few inches before you're ready to complete the toe, as can happen in a standard top-down sock.

While Wendy has long offered a generic toe-up sock pattern for free on her site, she has also been building a large collection of original sock patterns—many of which found their way into this book.

Socks from the Toe Up: The Book
As the title suggests, Socks from the Toe Up is exclusively a book for toe-up sock knitting. Wendy wants you to understand how this technique works and why it works, gives you extra tools to enjoy it, and sends you off with patterns to launch you on your path.

She begins by giving a cursory background on needles, tools, yarns, and knitting to fit the foot. Then she launches into the technical detail, showing how to work a short-row toe, a figure-eight toe, and what she calls an "easy" toe; how to work a Turkish cast-on and Judy's Magic Cast-On (from Judy Becker); and how to work with circular needles or DPNs depending on your preference. Finally she outlines her short-row, gusset, and slip-stitch heels and illustrates four helpful bind-off techniques. (Substitute "k2tog, yo" for "k1, yo" in the picot edging instructions and you're golden.)

All of this is in the first 29 pages of the book. What comes next are what she calls "plain vanilla" socks: Basic unadorned patterns for basic socks with a short-row toe and heel, a gusset heel, and a slip-stitch heel. These patterns are intended to help newbies over that first sock hump (toe-up or otherwise), and also to give us an easy pattern for those highly variegated hand-dyed yarns that might overpower any sock with a stitch pattern.

Twenty Patterns
And now, the fun part: the projects. If patterns were recipes, these would definitely fall in the category of comfort food. There is no tastebud-shocking molecular gastronomy a la Cat Bordhi or Cookie A; Wendy presents easy to understand, often visually familiar stitch motifs that run up the foot and wrap around the leg. She deconstructs nothing, giving instead a lovely and reliable collection of beautiful classics.

In addition to the 12 lace sock patterns, you'll also find three textured Gansey-style sock patterns, and two mock cable patterns that use traveling stitches to give the illusion of cables without the potentially uncomfortable bulk. And finally, she gives a little treat for the short-attention-span sock knitters among us: Three sock patterns for slightly bulkier sportweight yarns (knitting up at 6 1/2 stitches per inch instead of the 8 stitches per inch elsewhere).

Added Bonuses, and One Drawback
In addition to demystifying toe-up socks, this book also provides a tasty dose of eye candy. The photography is beautiful—lush and evocative on a broad scale while always zooming in for several close-up shots that clearly illustrate the crucial parts of each sock.

A pleasant surprise: Wendy offers multiple sizes for her socks. All the patterns offer at least a woman's size medium and large version, and some also include instructions for small and extra large too.

A word of advice to the chart-timid: Conquer your fears now. Wendy presents her stitch patterns in chart form and does not write them out, so you'll need to be comfortable following a chart. These are not extraordinarily challenging charts, but they are charts.

It is personally gratifying to see Wendy bring this book to fruition in such a solid and beautiful way. It seems like a lifetime ago that she was giggling with her loyal sidekick L-B at the Knitter's Review Retreat in Virginia, spinning the first bobbin of what would become miles and miles of her own handspun yarn. For years now, Wendy has not wavered in the quality and consistency of her knitterly output, and she continues to inspire her readers.

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