Forethought heels vs machine-shaped

In my continuing adventures to find or create a relatively painless sock pattern that I can crank out on my flat-bed machine, I have now tested out a couple of variations on the theme.  Here’s my take on them:

1) All-shaped flatbed sock:  Knit from the cuff (hand manipulating the ribbing, because I don’t have a ribber) across the top of the foot down to the shaped toes then along the sole and finally up the heel.  This sock is seamed in the back for the leg, then down both sides.  The top of the heel is kitchener/grafted to the bottom of the leg.

Wildly colored socks

Technicolor test pattern socks

  • Pro’s:  All the shaping and all the knitting is done when it comes of the machine.  This is the pattern that came in my manual.  The heel/instep is comfortable.
  • Con’s:  Hand-manipulating ribbing is a pain.  All those seams neither look attractive nor are particularly fun to do.  The top half of the sock does not match the bottom of the sock if you are using a patterned yarn.  Also, if your flat-bed machine does not have stitch sinkers (mine does!), I understand there is a lot of annoying weight shifting to keep the tension even on the small short-rows.

2) Flat tube-style sock:  Knit from the cuff (hand manipulating the ribbing, as above) down to the top of the toe, pausing half-way through to toss in some provisional yarn on one half of the width for a “forethought” heel.  Active stitches are removed from machine onto stitch holders.  One seam is done to form a tube, then toes are done on active stitches in any manner, and finally heels are added in “afterthought” method.

Blue flat-knit tube socks

Flat-knit tube socks

  • Pro’s:  The yarn pattern matches up nicely.  Only one seam and that seam can be planned for inside of leg.  Cranks out of machine pretty quickly.  Pretty easy to crank out both socks side-by-side.
  • Con’s:  Hand-manipulating ribbing is a pain (as above).  Fore/afterthought heel is known (as I found out later, to my chagrin) for making a tight heel/instep.  More post-machine processing.

Now, granted this is a learning process.  I haven’t tried doing two “All-shaped” socks side-by-side on the machine, for example.  So I’m not sure that all my comparisons here are fair.  I also need to try some other variations, such as doing the cuff by hand either grafted on top-down or starting the sock on the machine with a provisional cast-on then knitting the cuff up afterwards.

Overall, I don’t feel that machine-knitting socks in either variation “fires” hand-knitting them.  Machine knitting, although not stressful to me anymore, is not relaxing like handknitting is.  Machine knitting is an active, forward-sitting, attention-paying kind of craft.  And with my very basic machine, I don’t feel it’s worth doing any kind of complicated stitch patterns (except maybe with my simple fair-isle trick) when for the most part I could hand-knit them faster.  So hand-knitting is the way to go for me and any kind of complex sock.

But for a simple sock that shows off a fancy patterned yarn?  In that territory machine knitting still has me intrigued.  So far, I’m pretty excited about how my sock blank has translated into a nice machine-knit sock relatively quickly.  I have several hand-dyed sock blanks around (in addition to my own, my mom just gave me two of hers from Dye Day 2010) and I have some commercial patterned sock yarns around too that I look forward to trying out.

What about you?  Have you run across a superior flat-bed knitting machine sock pattern?  Or do you hear symphonies when you turn a heel the old-fashioned way?  There is something inspiring, perhaps even poetic about knitting an entire garment out of a single strand of thread as in a traditional hand-knit sock.  What do you do with those wild sock-blanks then?

Until next time, keep those needles (and needle-beds) clicking…

One thought on “Forethought heels vs machine-shaped

  1. Beautiful colors! I knit a sock with two seams at the foot and I sew the seams as I go on the flat bed machine. You don’t have to rib the cuff. Sometimes I just rib a 1 inch band and the remaining cuff is knitted. I don’t like to manually rib too because it is time consuming. The best sock that I have made was with a ribber.

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