Feel the New Pathways love

I don’t think I’ve waxed properly lyrical about Cat Bordhi’s New Pathways for Sock Knitters, and how very much I love it, although that’s been implicit in pretty much every sock I’ve knit since buying it, and it’s really obvious now in Clessidra. It’s obvious from this blog that I prefer to knit my socks toe-up, and it’s been one of the things keeping Clessidra in my queue instead of on my needles, but Bordhi has freed me. The Clessidra pattern works particularly well with her master numbers, because it’s several columns of charted cable pattern interspersed with seed stitch, so doesn’t much mind how many stitches it’s knit on, so the sock I am knitting is entirely the visual design of Clessidra, with none of its structural features. This appeals to my web-developer self, because it’s a lot like the separation of structure and content (which is in the HTML, and is different for every individual page) from the appearance (which is in the CSS and is (mostly) the same for all pages in the site). The separation is a little different in socks – the structure comes from Bordhi’s master patterns and is the same for all socks, whereas the appearance (which I guess is analagous to content) is in the pattern, and varies with each pair.

It makes sense. In most cases, the interest of a sock pattern lies in the stitch patterns, the visual appearance, and it shouldn’t matter whether the designer’s preferences for sock structure are the same as mine – I should be able to freely knit the pattern toe up or cuff down, and with the heel, toe and gusset that I choose. I’m interested in designing, but not (usually) in designing the basic shape of a garment – what interests me is the textures, the patterns, the contrasts, and I don’t want to have to reinvent a heel turn or shoulder shaping. So what Cat Bordhi has done for socks is what Ann Budd nearly achieves with jumpers sweaters: Budd’s Knitter’s Handy Book of Sweater Patterns gives the knitter (almost) as many fish as she wants; Bordhi gives us the tools to catch our own fish ;-) Admittedly Bordhi’s numbers don’t always span the full range we might want – in particular, she doesn’t include numbers for very tight gauges, but I’ve extrapolated her figures to cover a broader range of both gauge and foot size than I’ll ever need, and I’m content that with my spreadsheet, and occasional glances at the book, I can knit any sock I want, in any structure I want (modulo a bit of faffing with the sizes of pattern repeats).

So how is this working with Clessidra? Well, I’m knitting it toe-up, for a start. I’m using a plain toe which starts with increases every row and then moves to every other row, to make the toe less pointy, and then when I’d got about halfway through the toe, I took gauge measurements (look ma, no swatch!). Plugging the numbers into the spreadsheet told me how many stitches I needed, and once I’d finished the toe I started on the pattern. The photos tell me there’s a cable either side of the instep and seed stitch in between, so that’s what I’m knitting. To avoid adding another visual element, I’m putting the gusset increases on the sole of the foot (Bordhi’s riverbed sockitecture), and her numbers tell me how many increases and when to stop, then they’ll tell me the dimensions of the heel (OK, so there’s no choice in heel method in her book, but I’m not interested in different heels so I don’t mind), I’ll start the hourglass cable on the heel flap just because I can, and then the stitch patterns on the leg are also easily translated to a toe-up sock with a different gauge, because there are expand-and-contractable panels of seed stitch between every panel of precise-stitch-count cables. I’ll have to do the maths to decide the calf increases, but it’s easy maths – number of extra inches of width required turned into number of stitches and evenly distributed among the number of rows that will make up the required height. Simple! And when I get there, knitting toe-up gives me the chance to continue the cables into the ribbing without having to calculate where they go – I’ll know where they go, because they’ll already be there.

This is also how I knit Bellatrix, and how I expect to knit every sock from now on. This is my seventh New Pathways pair of socks, and all I need is the master numbers, because I’ve absorbed it into my mental knitting resources, and it’s tremendously liberating :-)

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