Book Review

  Cool Socks Warm Feet
by Lucy Neatby
Buy it now from the author
Two years ago when they first hit the mainstream, self-patterning sock yarns were all the rage. With one strand of yarn you could create complex stripes and jacquards and tiger prints without ever breaking a sweat. (Regia Jacquard and Opal are two such yarns, if you're not yet familiar with them.)

After your first few (dozen) pairs of self-patterning socks, however, you may have found yourself hankering for a meatier challenge. Because these yarns require rather specific conditions to work properly, most of us haven't dared take our self-patterning yarns offroad.

Pushing Self-Patterning Yarns to the Limit
Canadian knitwear designer Lucy Neatby to the rescue! In October 2003, she self-published this handy little book that explores the creative possibilities of preprinted yarns.

The patterns in her book, as she writes, "are designed to show off the colours in the yarns, yet offer the knitter more than an endless repetition of a basic sock pattern."

Toward this end, Neatby has avoided the traditional sock embellishments of cables, lace, and complex stranded patterns—all of which are lost on self-patterning yarns—in favor of subtle heel, toe, and cast-on techniques that are as much learning exercises as creative designs.

Technique Lessons
Neatby even gives instructions on how to knit each sock in miniature so you can practice all the techniques—which are appropriate for all socks, not just those using this kind of yarn—quickly.

Step through each one and you'll have mastered tubular cast-on, garter-stitch short-row toes and heels, Turkish heels, picot-edged trims, sideways garter-stitch cuffs, spiral toes, and more.

Only Six?
Technically the book only has six patterns. Each is shown in at least two colorways and most are also shown with subtle variations on underlying technique, which multiples the value of each pattern significantly.

Photos are glossy full-color shots, and the patterns include more diagrams and illustrations than you usually find in a sock book.

The Other Half
I'd be remiss if I ended my review here, because Neatby's book has an equally valuable other half: the Techniques, Tactics, and Tools of the Trade section. How I wish this book had been available when I first tried knitting socks.

This section alone tells you everything you need to know about socks, and then some—from choosing needles and working with two circulars to picking an appropriate sock yarn and grafting toe stitches invisibly.

She even demonstrates how size will impact your self-patterned sock, with photos of how a pattern repeat changes the more stitches you have in each round.

You'll also learn how to adjust your sock at different points for a truly perfect fit if, for example, you have an unusually high instep or if your ankle isn't the same circumference as your foot after the instep and before the toes (standard sock calculations assume the two measurements are identical).

This section also teaches you other cast-on techniques such as Channel Island, provisional crochet, and tubular. And Neatby treats closure with the same thoroughness, covering grafting toes that use waste yarn openings to my personal favorite, the three-needle bind-off.

If You Wanted to be Picky...
The only weakness I could find—beyond my selfish desire for more patterns—was in the latter part of the book.

A few times Neatby skimped on illustrations, relying heavily on words where even one or two graphics would have helped greatly. I'm thinking in particular of her description of the long-tail cast-on, a technique that eludes many.

In Conclusion
A wonderful, well-composed, and well-edited little book, this is sure to fill the gap in any sock-knitter's library.

Neatby uses a conversational tone that's easy to follow and full of warmth and humor. The topics flow in logical order, and the layout makes reading easy.

The book's spiral binding is concealed by a soft glossy wraparound cover for added durability. Inside, the paper is heavy enough to survive repeated browsings without tearing off the spiral center.

The book retails for $19.95, a fair price for such deep and helpful content—especially from a self-published book where the underlying production costs are significantly higher.

Because this book is self-published, you won't be able to find it at your local megastore or in most online equivalents. You may find it at your local yarn store, however. And if not, you can also buy it directly from Lucy through her Web site, Tradewind Knitwear Designs.

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