Challenge Socks #1: Marshland / A Bit Of A Rant About Pooling

Warning: I'm opinionated about pooling in yarn. Although I don't normally get crabby in my blog, I do in this one. If you just want to know about the socks, skip way down to "About The Socks."

On January 1 of last year, my sister, mother, and I went in together on a rather large purchase of sock yarns from DBNY. The girls at DBNY were hosting the 10th Annual Cherry Tree Hill Yarn January Sale and with free shipping on orders over $100, what better time to stock up? I picked up the usual Cherry Tree Hill deals found at DBNY and also tried some stuff from Indie Dyer and even-newer-comers Ivy Brambles and 2DI4 (a hand-dyed co-op). I won't go into all the inter-relatedness of the dyers and the retailers. Suffice it to say they're all related by blood or by virtue of having been trained/mentored by Cheryl of Cherry Tree Hill.

2DI4's Marshlands Duo colorway had seemed so promising. If you look really closely at the sock below, you'll see that it really does contain a lovely array of color:

When you take a wide view, though, less-than-desireable results in the yarn practically scream at you. For example, there's a dominant color split almost exactly dividing the top from the bottom of the foot. See how the green's on top and the brown's below?

It's only a problem on the foot; the leg looks lovely. The foot and leg are the same stitch count. The only difference is that I didn't do decorative stitch on the bottom.

Here's another aspect of the same problem:

Looking from the top you see that the sock on the left has a big swooping S-shape in brown; on the right is the same swooping S-shape, this time in green/yellow.


Pooling is unsightly and displeases me. It's the aesthetic equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. When the same shape of pooling appears in two different colors within the same hank of yarn, I question not only the dyers' sophistication and attentiveness but also their very goal. Are they serious about making a quality product? It seems to me that unless a dyer is deliberately aiming for a self-striping effect, a clearly repeated pattern of color, or long color changes, pooling of the kind seen above just plain shouldn't happen. Period.

It doesn't matter how beautiful the color combinations are -- and this color combination is quite pretty -- if the end results look like lazy hack work. This is what you get from simplistic space dyeing techniques -- the kind of stuff anyone can shlop together in their kitchen. It's not artistry, it's mindless pouring that lends itself well to what has, perhaps, become its own genre of fiber dyeing: mass small batch production (lay out 4 hanks, pour color A "here," pour color B "here," etc.).  The reality of that laziness is disguised when the yarn is re-skeined (often at a slightly different swift diameter), so buyers can't tell what they're really getting.

The whole "one-of-a-kind colorway," "done in small batches," "never to be repeated" exclusivity rhetoric is great when the product is great. (Think about Koigu PPPM: That's artistry... colorwork of the highest order.) But this product isn't great. The reason it can't be repeated has less to do with the dyeing process or any artistic inspiration than with the technical mixing of the colors.

It may be hand-made, but I'm not convinced it earns the descriptor "hand-crafted." It's priced more in line with the boutique yarns. (The $15.99 I paid for my 100g was a sale price.) For me, it's either a step just above or a step just below early incarnations of commercially produced variegation.

If you've been following my blog, you know that this isn't the first time I've mentioned my disappointment over pooling. 2DI4 is my example of-the-moment and certainly not alone in such criticism. Perhaps it's the rest of their PR that exacerbated my frustration:

From the 2DI4 PR: "'2DI4 Duo' starts as one 450 yard hank of yarn. Then it is divided in half and tied together with a gift tag. This enables the knitter to knit both socks, mittens, or gloves at once as desired while also ensuring that each pair will look similar and that one sock, mitten or glove can be knit from one duo. Plus, it allows for convenient portability." 

Fancy language for "dyed in 100g hanks and split at the shop so sock knitters don't have to do it at home." As for "convenient portability," doesn't that come with the territory of small yardage? It's not like they wind it into center-pull balls. The description is so over-thought as to be almost insulting to the intelligence of the knitters they seek to woo.

Thus endeth the rant. I have one final comment to make on the performance of this yarn within the sock description, but I promise not to go on at-length! 

About The Socks

Pattern: Mash-Up Magic Toe-Up Socks (MUMTUS) by Zhenya Lavy
Decorative Stitch: Lace Rib Stitch
Started: December 5, 2010
Completed: December 25, 2010
Materials: 2DI4 Duo, Marshlands colorway, 2 skeins (450 yards), 80/20 superwash wool/nylon
Needles: US 2 / 2.75 mm
Primary Stitch Count: 68
Gauge in Stockinette: 8.5 st/in

These socks are for my sister and will be sent to NOLA shortly. I hadn't set out to knit them for Beth, originally. I even wore them twice myself already. But when I washed and reblocked them, I looked at them on the sock blockers and realized that these socks practically screamed at me to send them to her. They look as if they were made for her -- and because the decorative stitch pattern is so forgiving, I'm pretty sure they'll fit her, too.

The decorative stitch, which starts at the toe, is the Lace Rib Stitch. I like it and will definitely use it again! As with the Mock Cable from my handspun, handknit socks, it's a simple 4-row repeat (multiple of 6 + 2, make sure to swatch for gauge/fit):

1 & 3 (WS): *P2, K1* repeat; end P2
2: *K2, P1, YO, SSK, P1* repeat; end K2
4: *K2, P1, K2tog, YO, P1* repeat; end K2
I love the serpentine effect of the line between the major ribs!

To finish off, I used Jenny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-Off, which has become my first-choice bind-off for toe-up socks. I like to shoot pictures of the top edge because this particular bind-off follows the line of the stitches you're binding off -- which means it always looks different. With these socks, I shifted from the decorative stitch to a simple 2x2 rib for the last 3/4 inch.

As I mentioned, I did wear these socks twice before the first wash. I thought you'd be interested in seeing how the yarn has performed so far:

See how the heel is fuzzy and lacking stitch definition? That's not a depth-of-focus issue, it's the yarn. I was shocked! This, after just two wearings, is worse than most of my handknit socks look after six months. Fortunately, the heels are reinforced with my favorite, Russian reinforcing wool -- and that yarn is still in fine shape, it's the 2DI4 that's fuzzing out around it. So for performance, too, I have to call this another strike for 2DI4.

My sister and I had a long chat about these socks. She knows my frustration with the yarn. She's also really excited that she's being gifted a handknit pair. As I've mentioned before, she's usually the one gifting to everyone else. 

Next time she gets a pair from me, I'll have set out with her in mind from the beginning. I feel bad for having missed out on that wonderful experience when I'm knitting something for someone else of spending the duration of the project thinking about that person, imagining how much enjoyment s/he'll get out of the gift, envisioning her/him wearing the gift, imbuing every stitch with love.


Kate said...

I've seen some lovely work on Ravelry where knitters have used the pooling of some yarns to their advantage to make solid vertical stripes. But not helpful if you're knitting the yarn as it comes, which is what it was intended for, really!

The thing that bothers/mystifies me is that a change of stitch count by just 3 or 4 sts per round can change a lovely yarn into a pooling monster. :-(

The socks are lovely, BTW! And at least the pooling is on the feet where it won't be noticeable.

meredithp said...

They're really pretty, regardless of the pooling. I'm sure it's more evident in person, but the color combo is yummy. I particularly like the picture of the bind-off...looks good enough to eat.

At this rate, you'll post a few more leg treatments/ribbing variations before I get to that point on my very first two at a times. Makes my decision harder. :-)

Elizabeth said...

Have these been put in the post yet? Pooling or not, I'm ready to wear these puppies! Temps are in the high 70's already and I don't know how much longer I can get away with wearing socks and closed toe shoes...