Socks with Long-tail Cast On

Let me tell you one of my favorite stories, one that only a knitter will truly appreciate, about socks with Long-tail Cast on.

Once up on a time, in  yarn store far, far away, my Mum and I were browsing the shelves and inhaling the fumes. You know, as you do.  This was not long after I had finally convinced my mother that knitting with a needle smaller than a size 7 US was not going to kill her, and her subsequent addiction to sock knitting.

It was also a week after I had had spend HOURS doing researching on sock cast ons. I was tired of my sock tops being too tight.  I had found an article (no link, this was YEARS ago, back when we used books  and I have NO idea where, sorry!) that said that hands down the best method to cast on for a sock was the Old Norwegian Method. Which I then learned and fell in love with!  I didn’t see my Mum as often back then so I had yet to share this revelation with her.

Favorite Cast On

Socks with Long-tail Cast OnSo there we were ogling yarn and Mum suddenly asks me, totally out of the blue  “What is your favorite cast on for socks?” Her question had been in a normal tone of voice, but it was a small shop,  a nice lady behind the counter and maybe three or four other patrons, and so everyone heard it.

You have to admit that that is a fairly sensible question. There are LOTS of ways to cast on, and some are better than others for socks.  It was a great question.

I have no idea what sort of an answer she expected, but my casual response “Oh, my favorite cast on for socks is the Old Norwegian.” Just about knocked her down.  We stared at each other in numb amazement – me that she would ask me that question so randomly (she had never asked my opinion on technique before to be sure) and she that I would answer with a cast on she had never heard of.

We both looked a bit stunned and then we guffawed!  Just about rolled in the isles. You know when something is terribly funny, but you can’t define why? Yes, that.

Of course, then we had to stop laughing as we had a little in-shop mini-lesson as I taught everyone in the shop this “new” cast on called Old Norwegian.

I should probably say here that while I do sometimes knit toe up, my preferred direction is top down, so cast on method is CRUCIAL!

New Socks

Socks with Long-tail Cast OnI thought of this story the other day when I was casting on a pair of socks at Knit Night at my LYS. (Local Yarn Store) Anyway, after I had cast on and was starting to knit someone gently touched my shoulder.  “Oh dear, you have started knitting with yarn end, not the skein.” She was quite surprised when I told her that was on purpose.  She was very interested in why, and I thought you might be too.


When I was in Baltimore recently I did some yarn shopping. Well, I tried.  Of the five shops I found on Google before I left, and only two of them were viable. One had shut down, and two were “by appointment only.” Not conducive to a good yarn crawl!, for sure!

Lovely Yarns is inside Baltimore (in Hampden) and that was were I got the sock yarn.  The color is called Blue Jay, it was from a local dyer and I am really in love with knitting with it.

Cloverhill (just outside the city, in Cantonsville) was even better!  At Cloverhill I was so comfortable I sat and knit for a while and then bought THREE braids of fiber to take home and spin!!

Long Tail Cast Ons

One of the problems with Long Tail cast ons is that one often finds that they have either not enough of a tail to cast on the number they need, or too much of a long tail left over at the end.  I know that there are methods to figure out exactly how much you need (1/2 an inch for every stitch you cast on) but honestly, that’s too much like hard work. I generally cast on about 60 stitches for a sock and so I usually measure out about a yard and a half for my tail.  (If you do the math, that’s too long)

And, big surprise, it’s always more than I need. I am OK with that.  I would much rather have more than I need than less than I need. What I am NOT OK with is wasting that extra yarn.  I am a bit of a miser when it comes to most things, and anything more than 6 inches is a waste in my book.

But here is what I do – rather than cut off that end I USE it.  Here is my process.

Start right

Normally if I used a non-long-tail cast on I don’t worry about the join.  When I sew my end in I will be able to massage the jog at the join. I can make it invisible when I sew in the end.  But as you will see, I do not have an end at the edge of my sock. I must do something else to make sure the join is solid. (There is a yarn end to sew in, it just won’t be on the edge.

To make my join more solid I cast on an extra stitch.  If the pattern calls for 60, I cast on 61.  Then when I get to the end of first round of ribbing I knit together the first and the last stitches that I cast on.  This reduces or eliminates the “jog” in the join.

Knit with the end

The is one other thing I do.  When I finish casting on I work my first round with my yarn end.

When you are a new knitter they say “Make sure you don’t use your yarn end!”  And that is absolutely correct.  However, I am rather fond of breaking the odd rule now and then, and I am NOT fond of wasting yarn.

I start ribbing with the yarn end.

If I get a whole round done with the yarn end then I continue knitting with  it.  However I knit the first stitch of the second round with both yarns.  One stitch with both the yarn end and the skein yarn together  will not be noticeable.  Then continue working with just the yarn end.  This is so that the skein yarn “keeps up” with the yarn end.

Eventually I will run out of yarn end.  And by “run out” I mean I will only have 6 or 7 inches left.  Then I stop. Slip my stitches around on the needle as necessary and restart that round with my skein yarn.

Wait, What?

Yes, I just stop in the middle of the round, slip my stitches so I am back to the beginning of the round, and start with the skein yarn as if nothing had happened.

I know what you are thinking.  First, you are thinking “you can’t just stop in the middle of the round!” and in fact, yes you can.  The ribbing for your sock is anywhere from 1.5 inches to 4 inches long depending on the pattern.  You are knitting with sock weight yarn – so pretty small yarn – and I promise you it won’t be enough to make your socks “lopsided.”

I have been doing this for years.  Frugal I cal it. Cheap others call it.  And now that I am on the cusp of knitting socks with my own handspun, you can be absolutely certain sure I will continue to be frugal with yarn when I knit socks.

This not only eliminates yarn waste, it also eliminates the slight bump on the edge where you weave in your yarn.  You still have a slight bump, of course. But it’s further down the ribbing and not right on the edge. This makes it harder to see and impossible to feel when you wear the socks. Or when you grab the opening to put them on.

Is this a bit unnecessary? Absolutely.  It’s just my inner OCD kicking in, and totally not something that will work for everyone.  But it works for me, and now you have the option to find out if it works for you!  Have fun! KNIT SOCKS!!!!



What is “blocking” when it comes to knitting?

When I first started hearing people talking about “blocking” a piece of knit wear I really thought it all sounded a bit pretentious. Everyone seemed to have a different theory on what was the “correct” way to block various items, which seemed to take a lot of time and result in precious little added value.  Everyone seemed very anxious about doing it “correctly” in the most acceptable current method, but I mostly ignored it.

When I complete a knitting project the first thing I want to do is wear it!  It doesn’t matter if it is a shawl, a sweater, mittens or a hat.  I want an excuse to wear it – and then I want people to notice it and think it’s pretty.  I am not proud, if that sounds very shallow, then I am sorry, but I love to knit and I love for my pieces of knitting to find favor with others.

Over time, of course, my opinions about blocking have changed, and now I think that blocking CAN be (not always, but sometimes) VITAL to knitting – but in a calm, laid-back, easy going kind of way.

The Spinfoolish Guide to Blocking

Sweater Blocking

Sweater dryingI found it amusing some years ago, to find that what I considered the easiest way to dry a wool sweater is apparently considered “blocking” by experts.  Really? If I wash a pair of pants or a turtleneck I put them in the dryer. If I wash my sheets I like to put them out on the line to dry.  But a hand-knit wool sweater is a special beast; it doesn’t like a dryer, and hanging is not the best choice, so I either lay it out flat on the guest room bed, or on a drying rack.  It’s simple.  If the sweater has been knit the correct size then you don’t need to pull or stretch or mess with it, just lay it out and let it dry. Congratulations, you now know how to block a sweater.

Mitten & Hat Blocking

When I finish a new sweater I always wash it first, and “block it” (see above) because it helps to even out the stitches.   I think it’s a good idea to do that, but no one is going to die if I don’t.  Mittens and hats don’t need that!  You are going to get them dirty when you wear them and they will get washed, and dried (or “blocked” if you insist) eventually, but honestly, it’s just a pair of mittens – wear them for heaven’s sake, they look fine!

Some hats are different – for example if you make a tam and you want it to look like a tam and not a slouch hat, then you have to block it.  Generally the way I block a tam is to put a plate inside the hat to create the shape I want then put the plate on a drinking glass to give it some air around it to help it dry.

Sock Blocking

Socks drying 2Whether I take the time to “block” a pair of socks depends on the pattern.  If it is a lace patterned sock then the first time I wash it – right after I finish it, before I wear it, I will wash them and then put them on the sock stretchers to dry.  I do this to open up the lace.  But the next time I wash them, they go on the rack like every other pair. In the picture I have a very thick pair of socks on the sock stretchers and hung from the heat vent…I was in a hurry – this isn’t what I normally do!

Socks dryingI have a rack on the back of my bathroom door. I think it is supposed to be for towels, maybe.  Anyway, when I wash my socks I just hang them on there and leave them for a few days.  It depends on the weather and the humidity in the house of course, but they rarely take longer than that.

Blocking 04When the socks are dry I take them down and put one sock inside the other (like this) to store them in my sock drawer.  This keeps the pairs together, but doesn’t create that stretched-out thing at the top that you get if you fold them over each other like I used to do with my store bought socks.

Shawl Blocking

OK, now this is where blocking gets REAL, and really interesting.  If I knit a shawl, a shawlette, most cowls, or a lacy scarf I will block it.  And I mean REALLY block it.

I use blocking wires, T-pins, and  foam board.  Wires go along the straight lines, to keep them straight.  Pins go on the point to Blocking 03Blocking 05keep them pointy.

The white shawl used both, the green shawl only used pins.  It is time consuming, fairly annoying, and totally worth it.

For example, look at this beautiful shawl I recently made for a friend.  [Green The Whole Year Round]Here is what the shawl looked like laid out on the bench on our front porch right after I finished it.

Blocking 01

And here is a closeup of the lace at that time.

Blocking 01-a

Here is the same shawl, 24 hours later (same dully rainy sky giving NO light!) laid on the same bench. Notice how much longer it is, and how you can actually see the pattern in the lace?

Blocking 02

And here is a close up of the lace after it was blocked.  Totally different beast, isn’t it?

Blocking 02-a

This was an easy one to block.  It has a straight spine, where I put wires, and then every point had a pin. It probably took me about 30 minutes to stake it out, then 24 hours to dry.  But look at the difference.

When you knit lace blocking is really vital to open up the holes in the lace, as well as to even out the stitches.  I will usually wear a shawl two or three times before I feel the need to block it again, unless I spin something on it. (That happens a lot, unfortunately!)

Bottom Line RE: Blocking

The bottom line about blocking for me is WHY.  If it’s lace it gets blocked, no question.  But if it’s a lacy sweater that is going to get stretched out simply by being wet – then probably not.  If there is a purpose and a noticeable result then I will happily haul out the wires and the pins.  But otherwise, probably not.  And either way, no one dies if I choose not to.


I Teach Knitting

To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – that is to have succeeded.  -Ralph Waldo Emerson

I never had any children, my garden patch is a perennial mess, and it’s unlikely that I can affect any change in social conditions, but I have taught people to knit.

That may not sound like much, but I am proud of that fact.  I am not going to win any Nobel prizes, save any lives, or cure any diseases, but I know that those I have taught to knit, those who really wanted to learn, and continued to practice after our class…I know that their lives have been genuinely improved by knowing how to knit.

I know that knitting has sustained them through a grief, or has calmed them during a crisis, or has helped them to breath easier at some point in their lives.  It’s a simple unassuming habit, knitting, but it brings such joy into our lives.  It centers us, it renews us, and it puts all things into perspective. It makes us proud, it sometimes humbles us, and it always keeps us mentally active – no matter how old we get.

Over the years I have taught hundreds of people to knit. If even 1% of those who I have had in a class go on to improve and enjoy their knitting then I feel that was a worthy contribution to this world.

Heavy thoughts to precede a list of classes? Probably, yes, but as the year closes and I hear everywhere evaluations of who has and who hasn’t “succeeded” in the past year I take comfort and satisfaction in knowing that many of us have knitted things that kept kids cozy, have expanded our minds by learning new skills, or helped others by sharing what we love.

Winter 2015 Classes

That being said, There are some new classes I have coming up this winter.  They are all held at the Crooked Stitch in Rocky Mount, VA and you can sign up through the Franklin County Parks & Recreation or by contacting me at  You must sign up in advance to be accepted into a class.

Alee Socks2I teach a sock class, and a learn to knit class every month.  They are fun to teach, and fun to take!  I love having pictures of my student’s work. Here is one I got last week from the December class.  Aren’t they awesome!!

The sweater class in January is really intense.  We talk about EVERYTHING sweater related while working on the skills necessary to knit a simple top down sweater. There is a lot of room for experimentation, asking questions, and polishing skills you might find challenging.

New Shawl Class

3650795690_217dc096b2_zI am excited about all of the classes, but the one that is new this year is the shawl class.  In March we will be knitting the Aestlight Shawl by Gudrun Johnston.  Aestlight means “east light” in the dialect spoken in Shetland.  3598128995_9861a41025_zThis is the perfect shawl to learn about shawls with because there will be a bit of straight knitting (garter stitch triangle), practice learning to pick up stitches, some non-threatening lace, practice learning to use a chart, and ends with a beautiful introductions to edgings.

This is what Gadrun, the author has to say about it:

3598129431_fed2547395_zThis shawl is knit using a traditional Shetland construction. It begins with a garter stitch triangle increasing from the point outwards. Stitches are then easily picked up from the very visible yarn over loops along the edges and the border is worked outwards from the triangle. The shawl is finished with an edging that is knitted sideways and attached to the live stitches of the border as it is being worked.

3598130367_8acf46c41e_zThere are two sizes, so you need either 450 (smaller) or 550 (larger) yards of sock yarn.  I think it would look super in either a solid color, a tonal, a multicolor or a combination!  I am really excited to share this shawl with students!!  If you can’t wait until March let me know and we can organize an earlier session.  If the class fills up (4 students) we will arrange a second class, so let me know if you are interested!!

What About You?

What type of class would you like to take?  A hat class? A color-work class?   What would you like to learn?  What sounds like fun to you?




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