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Lessons learned while crocheting the perfect sock

July 08, 2017 — Glyn Faulkner

Sometimes I make things from yarn.

My mother taught me to knit when I was a child, I'm currently teaching myself naalbinding, and when I was working towards my PhD I was a member of the university knitting society, where someone kindly taught me to crochet.

Crochet is great. I like to think of it as attention-deficit knitting, because it has such an excellent effort-to-reward ratio. If a knitted item grows by five millimeters per row, something crocheted in the same yarn might grow by fifteen or twenty. Using the right stitch, you can rattle-off a very nice hat or scarf in a few hours, thank-you-very-much.

But there's a limit to how many hats and scarves one person needs, so when I felt I was ready for the next challenge, I set out to make a pair of socks, inspired by a friend who was always making the most amazing knitted socks.

Now, perhaps you've never seen a crocheted sock, but if you have, you'll appreciate that a typical crocheted fabric doesn't have the characteristics you want for a comfortable sock. It tends towards thick and lumpy with lots of little holes. And importantly it isn't stretchy in the right way. Crocheted slippers actually work quite well, but socks are a different matter.

And so began a minor odyssey of trial, error and research. It turns out you can make a thin, even, stretchy fabric with crochet, using a collection of related techniques referred to as slip-stitch crochet. Unfortunately slipstitching grows even more slowly than knitting, and requires learning a quite different technique to regular crochet in order to get the tension right.

One time I showed a fellow crocheter a swatch of test fabric I'd made. She was impressed and asked how I'd made such a nice knit-like fabric with crochet. When I told her it was slipstitched she cheerfully replied "Fuck that; life's too short!"

Of course, she was right. I should have listened. But I didn't.

So, a full year later, and with a succession of failed, mismatched, unwearable socks behind me, my crusade had become a standing joke among my peers. In the time it had taken me to not make a pair of socks, my friends had knitted jumpers and cardigans, crocheted umpteen hats, scarves and a zoo's worth of amigurumi, and one had even knitted a half-metre long, distressingly realistic octopus!

It took another six months and a couple more tries, but eventually I succeeded! I held in my grubby little hand a finished sock that I would totally be willing to wear. It was rather plain, and should probably have come a bit higher above the ankle, but was nevertheless the best crocheted sock I had ever seen anywhere.

I rejoiced!

If you're a knitter, you might be familiar with a phenomenon called second sock syndrome. That's when you've knitted a sock, and by the time you're done, you're so bored with the pattern that you never get around to making the second one.

Now, take that idea and imagine you have one foot for ever failed prototype I had made during the preceding year and a half. By this point I was -- understandably -- suffering from fifteenth sock syndrome, and never wanted to see another wretched sock in my life, let alone try and crochet one!

But now, with a bit of perspective, it's kind of gratifying to know that I'm one of the very few people in the world who can make a thin, stretchy, comfortable, good-looking sock using only yarn and a crochet hook...

...even if I never ever plan to do so.

Tags: perfectionism, failure

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