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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Sock Loom: No Thanks

The human foot is a difficult thing.  As the appendage furthest away from the heart, it tends to lose heat fast and be difficult to keep warm.  To add to the insult, it is oddly-shaped, with that troublesome heel sticking out there.  Anything that fits comfortably over the heel may be too big for the ankle, and vice versa.  So the simple sock is something of a triumph of fiber engineering.

As a good devotee of sustainable living, I wanted to start making my own socks for Mr. FC&G and I.  True, I have made our fleece socks for a few years, but I wanted to knit some in fine sock yarn without the challenge of using multiple double-pointed needles.  So, I was very excited to discover the sock loom.

The sock loom is designed to allow you to knit socks without understanding actual knitting.  As you can see above, it is a simple wooden frame with a number of fixed pegs, each corresponding to a stitch.  The small crosspiece can be adjusted to make a smaller or larger sock, and you do a bit of simple math based on your food circumference to decide how many pegs you need to use and thus adjust the loom.

The idea is a good one.  Theoretically, you wind the yarn around each peg and then use a pointed tool to knit your stitches off, winding more yarn on for each round.  You should be able to make any size sock from baby to adult male, and the only counting you need to do is the number of rows completed for each part of the sock:  foot, heel, and ankle.  The loom comes with a DVD that explains how to increase and decrease number of stitches to make the little pocket your heel goes in, and how to use the same technique to tailor the toe.

However, I found this device extremely frustrating for the following reasons:

  • The loom should be able to be used to make any size sock, but my math indicates that I would not be able to make one big enough for Mr. FC&G, who, I hasten to add, has large feet but not freakishly large ones.  
  • The yarn is difficult to knit off the pegs even with the special tool.  And heaven forbid you drop a stitch, because you have the yarn on there with such tension that the dropped stitch immediately creates a run that goes to the bottom of your work.
  • See those corners?  They are really painful to hold against your body.  This may not be a problem for those that sit with the loom on a table as the DVD shows (although I couldn't really get it to work like that), but it is murder for those of us who like to sit on the couch with our knitting in our lap, watching TV.

So, it is back to square one for me with knitting socks.  Maybe I'll have to bite the bullet and get out the double-pointed needles after all.

The Analysis

Fast:  I never could manage to complete a sock, so I have no idea if this is faster than traditional knitting.  Certainly, it is more frustrating.

Cheap:  If I remember correctly, this was about $25, which I intended as a reasonable sunk cost for a lifetime of quickly knitting our socks.  However, I think it is far too expensive for what it does.

Good:  The sock loom didn't work all that well for me, and worst of all, it eliminated that nice meditative feeling I get when I am handcrafting goods for my family.  I have tried this multiple times with different yarns, different tensions, and a number of body positions, and I still always felt cramped and miserable.  Regretfully, I have to recommend taking a pass on the sock loom.
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  1. I got here researching sock looms, yet again. Now, I have done many pairs of circular-rib tube socks over the last few years, most with Addi-Turbo #3 small circular needle, only 12 inches long. After reading of your challenges, I'll stick to my small circular needles. (Tube socks = no heel guessing for me). It takes a little getting used to, the small circulars, but I can't handle the numerous needles anymore, and the circular needle makes them very portable projects.

    There is also the two-circular loop method of doing in-the-round projects, and that is not too complicated either, if you still want to try socks. Actually, I have been known to close up the toes on my small-circular needle socks by using this method, although I usually decrease single crochet, front-loop-only, (working the sock off the needle carefully at first, at the point I have decrease stitches knitting so that I can't work with an 11 - 12" long circular needle) to finish the toe these days.

    1. I'm with you on the tube socks. I may try that size circular needles. How many stitches do you typically cast on?

  2. I have used Hiya Hiya 9" circular needles. I just couldn't get on with the Addi 12" ones as they are curved and the angle just means it is VERY awkward to actually get the needle in when you have got your 'round' in. Then the wool is stretched too much. The 9" ones are better, once you have got to grips (literally) with them and I find that it is generally easier if you use continental knitting style as you don't need to take hands off to do it. I've only learnt that recently after a lifetime of UK knitting, so anyone can do it.

    I just missed a used sock look as above, on Ebay by 2 minutes, just forgot the time. Prym do a small/medium/large round sock loom with different type hooks which have a ridge in to enable the tool to reach the wool. They resemble tiny crochet hoops. There is a video on You Tube showing a wooden one with wooden hooks with a ridge down too.

  3. You can knit socks on a long circular needle; in fact you can make anything with a small circumference - socks, baby hats, cuffs, etc. - this way. The technique is called "Magic Loop" because you pull a piece of the cable out between the stitches about halfway across so you have 2 sets of stitches; you can work one "side" at a time as long as you keep that cable "loop" there. You need only 1 needle for this; I think the minimum length would be 29" (which is what I'm using) and you could go up from there. With longer circs I've read you can make 2 socks at a time. The only requirement is the cable has to be really flexible to be able to bend that much.

    In keeping with your blog (which I just found :) ) I can't comment on whether this is a fast way to make socks; I'm just making my first one. I think it would be cheap because you wouldn't have to have nearly as many needles; you could use circs for just about anything. I do think it's a good idea, though.

    If this description doesn't make sense you can probably find videos showing how to do it. That's how I learned it.

    1. Meg:

      Thanks! I'm thinking seriously about trying this Magic Loop technique; I'll probably try making tube socks that way first, and then work my way up to doing a heel. Thanks!

  4. Hi Jennifer, I was wondering how sock looms worked and found your post. They look like torture devices and, after reading your review, I'm inclined to think they might actually be. I seriously doubt the loom would be faster than a practiced knitter with dpns.

    I'd tried every size of crochet hook, every medium from doily thread on up to rope and done a fair bit of knitting on single ends and circulars. But double pointed needles (and the resulting socks) uniquely intimidated me. A couple of months ago, I resolved that I was finally going to learn how to use dpns and make a sock. Most people have better items on their bucket list, but you know how needle-crafters are.

    I got a packet of 5 double pointed knitting needles, size 6, and Patons booklets on how to knit socks and mittens on dpn (I'm inserting a link to Joann's Fabrics at the end for the socks booklet). The photos and info in the booklet were immensely helpful. They didn't adequately cover connecting the first round, for me. To keep my stitch numbers correct and where they ought to be, I make an extra cast on stitch on the last needle, pass it to the first needle, and bring the loop of the first stitch of needle 1 over the last stitch from needle 4, to complete the circle.

    I had a couple of false starts. The first sock where I made it past the heel--what can I say--was yellow and awful and I got tired of waiting, so closed the toe early. The heels really require an accurate stitch count and I should have paid better attention; there was no way I was going to try to match that monstrosity up. It has since become a sock puppet, with nice button eyes and an embroidered tongue.

    Having successfully finished a sock or two now, I have developed the opinion that store bought socks are a thing of wonder and beauty and are a real bargain at twice the price.

    However, double pointed needles are fantastic for making hats. Yeehaw! These are the things that have been missing from my life all these years. Creating intricate designs is so easy with some graph paper and 3 or 4 panels of stitches. I much prefer the metal needles over bamboo, as the yarn slides much easier on the metals.

    Don't fear the double pointed needles; they are a lot easier to use than they look and you only go 'round once (so far as we know). Good luck!

    1. I will be checking the booklet out. Thanks!

  5. I'm almost finished making my third pair of socks on the KBB loom, and I find it neither painful (I do hold it in my lap, watching TV or otherwise) nor difficult. It's true that a dropped stitch can go through several levels of knitting, so I'm much more careful about those now, but have learned to reknit anything I've dropped.
    I don't know whether the loom is faster or slower than knitting with needles, since I've never learned how to do that. It takes me about 20 hours or so to knit one sock. My favorite part of the loom is there's no need to remember your stitches, as they always fall on the same pegs, so you can label the pegs. This lets you put a project down, then pick it up again months later and be able to continue with no interruption.
    It did take a fair amount of practice to learn, and I did have trouble with tension in the beginning, but have since figured it out, and knit with no trouble.
    What I really want is a sock knitting machine, but I don't have crazy money for one of those.

  6. Knit socks flat on two needles as per Twisted Sisters method, then join up into a tube, and add a toe on the end, and a toe on the heel. Simple. After measuring the leg bit, and the ankle bit, I work out my gauge. Then I start the sock with a number of stitches which is divisible by three. I start knitting in the usual way, turning at the end of each row. At the ankle I cast off a third of the stitches, knit the remaining two-thirds. The next row, I cast off one third of the stitches, knit a third, and then cast on a third of the stitches again. Then turn, and then repeat last row. This leaves two V shapes in the knitting. Knit down to where the toe starts. Switch to four needles and knit a simple toe. Go back to the V shapes at the ankle, use four needles and knit a toe again. Voila, finished socks! So easy to decorate, cable, change color and so on. And no sore fingers and points all over the place. Lazy I know, but oh so easy.

  7. Learning to knit socks on double points can be incredibly tricky, especially if you're teaching yourself. I taught myself to knit socks using Ann Budd's Getting Started: Knitting Socks. Lots of pictures, clear step by step instructions for each part of the sock with some simple variations for cuff, heel and toe and some nice patterns. I also started off using 4mm double points (wooden to stop the yarn slipping) and 8ply yarn (DK or medium weight) in a basic ribbed pattern. It's much faster and easier and you end up with a nice chunky pair of socks for around the house. Starting with sock weight yarn and small needles is just asking for trouble.

  8. If anyone's after a good tutorial on sock knitting on DPN's I taught myself using this one

  9. I have tried for years to get the hang of 'regular knitting' and have never been able to master those dang needles....and I might add that I am very good at other needle crafts, counted cross stitch, crochet, etc.
    As for the sock loom mentioned here, I think it's more user error....except for the part about the square sides digging into your lap when trying to use on the couch I totally disagree with you. If you loosen up your tension a bit then taking the stitches off the pegs should not be a problem. As for dropped stitches, all you have to do is pick up the dropped stitch and weave it back in where it belongs then put the loop back on the peg, my guess is you're keeping your tension way too tight. I had only started looming in general a few years ago and only just bought the sock loom last summer and I've made about 6 prs of socks so far and not had any problems at all, less the hard wooden frame issue.
    As for that problem, I used silicone caulk along all the squared edges, let it dry overnight and viola, you're good to go, a nice 'padded' frame to use on your the 'rubberness' of the silicone helps the loom stay in place if you do want to use it on a table like a lot of the videos show.
    That's just my two cents on the subject, remember practice, practice, practice and patience go a long way.
    Happy stitching! :)

  10. If you have the same one I have, the DVD does make it more confusing. However, I'm following a YouTube video that breaks the steps down, with some hints, and so far this first one, since viewing YouTube is flowing well.


  11. I have a sock loom and I love it I practiced with cheep yarn

  12. I have KB original sock loom and the sock loom two which has a larger gauge. I love it. I have made socks on both. I don't know how to knit with needles, but it takes me about 10 hours to make one sock.
    and I think its easy. I do it while I'm watching TV. It takes some practice, but videos on web site helped.

  13. I am not a knitter or crocheter but wanted to make useful things out of yarn. In January I bought a KB 2 loom, which has a larger gage than the KB. It has been challenging fun, but I have knitted myself a pair of house slipper-sox, which I had fun figuring out a pattern to do as I went along. I am looking forward to using that loom more on those types of projects for anyone I can think of who might want a pair. I had to practice making the heels and toes on a non-recognizable knitted object until I got the concept down. I have recently bought the KB smaller gage loom, and am working on a pair of thumbless mits on that. I think using a loom to knit is great, but if I actually knit with needles already, I might not care for it at all.

  14. I am still trying my sock loom. I have not had much luck! :-(

  15. I like sock looms. I have probably a dozen in different gauges, by different manufacturers. The loom shown above is the KB (Knitting Board) loom. It's super sturdy, and, yeah, those corners can get kind of pokey, but you'd have to hold it really tightly to hurt yourself on it. Try a Boye loom. Plastic frame with metal pegs. The slider mechanism has a tendency to pop up so before you start, run a piece of scotch tape over it to secure it in place. A third type of loom is made by KISS Looms. They use a different principle for setting up your stitches and give you a true knit stitch as opposed to the twisted knit stitch of the KB and Boye looms. I've just ordered a Prym loom from Germany that works on yet another different set up, but looks really fun. Can't wait to try that one. I notice that lots of the instruction manuals tell you to use a knit stitch or a flat stitch to work your loom socks. Forget that, especially if you are a beginner. Use an e-wrap--it's easier, keeps your yarn at a decent tension, and makes for a very stretchy sock. Tension is the biggest bugaboo on a sock loom--too tight yarn won't slip nicely over the peg and it becomes a tedious chore instead of a fun project. USE the E-WRAP! Eliminate that tension problem. Knitting looms actually date back to the Elizabethan period--and real knitted socks are not much older than that. Before socks people wrapped their feet in cloth or used sewn bags that had to be uncomfortable. In some places they used felted wool to make booties but these weren't true socks like we think of them. So, when you are making a sock, think how cool it is to be making such a relatively new kind of garment. When you knit a sock, you are touching history.

    1. I do have a tone of the plastic looms, but I never seem to be able to get a sock to work on them particularly well. I haven't tried as hard as I did with the sock loom, though. I agree on the e-wrap; I don't think I could do it any other way!

  16. I love my sock loom even though I haven't finished a single sock!So why do I love it? Because while learning to use the loomand working on my first sock, I got the great idea to use the smallest of my hat looms to make the softest slipper socks. I use the same sock making technique, but with the softest thickest baby blanket yarn and I can whip out a pair of slipper socks in just a few hours. Best gift I have everbeen given.

    1. I've wondered about using the small hat looms with thick yarn. I may try that. Certainly, I think it would work better for me than the original sock loom, which I still think is just painful and frustrating! Thanks for the tip!