I am really looking forward to starting this month’s SKA challenge; I’m eagerly awaiting the clock to strike midnight so I can cast on, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt that kind of anticipation. I have a lovely pattern by one of my favorite designers, and some gorgeous yarn I got in a swap, and for once, I’m not still working on finishing up the previous month’s socks. I usually try to do two pairs each month, but I just wasn’t feeling it this time. Oddly enough, it was starting to feel a little like obligation knitting, even though the only expectations were self-imposed. I started doing SKA challenges in an effort to make myself work through some of my enormous list of queued sock patterns, and then in a silly act of self-defiance, I decided to go off and knit some totally random socks just because I wanted to. They’re my needles, ah do what ah want.

Unfortunately, those socks didn’t really pan out. I had gotten some alpaca-blend sock yarn on clearance. I realize alpaca isn’t the most practical choice for socks, but I could use some super-warm around-the-house socks. I also thought knitting with a yarn that was a little thick-and-thin would be a good experience for when I decided to knit my own handspun.

The pattern is To the Moon and Back, which was one of those patterns I fell in love with immediately then bought as soon as I realized it was toe-up. I like supporting toe-up designers when I can, but lately I’ve been finding myself less and less of a toe-up knitter. I have started seeing cuff-down socks in a new light. I’ve been a pretty hardcore toe-upper, but since the majority of sock patterns are written the other way, I’d either have to accept an upside-down stitch pattern, or flip it. Given that I already have to modify many of the patterns I make for fit, I just got tired of fighting it.

Of course, toe-up is great for making sure you don’t run out of yarn, but on most of the toe-up socks I’ve made lately, I haven’t even used all of the yarn I had. Being able to knit until you run out of yarn is a nice idea, but by the time I get to the cuff of a sock, I’m just kind of over it, and it doesn’t help that when you go toe-up, the end of the sock is more work than the beginning: the leg is usually patterned all the way around, whereas the foot is stockinette on one side, giving you a bit of a break every round. Plus, I’m one of the dozen knitters who doesn’t mind grafting toes, so it all works out nicely for me. I’ll still knit toe-up, but I don’t consider myself primarily a toe-up sock knitter anymore, if that makes any sense. I’d say I’m an AC/DC sock knitter, at least when it comes to directionality. (Who knows, though – maybe one day I’ll come back around to using DPNs too.)

Anyway, I packed the alpaca yarn and the pattern in my road trip knitting, and after I finished the anklets that I’d been ignoring since January, I cast on. But once I was sitting still, I started thinking about how poorly-suited for socks alpaca is. It’s warm, sure – but it lacks memory, so the socks would only get droopier. It’s soft, but that would mean it wasn’t very strong, and even though there was some wool and mohair in the mix, would that be enough to prevent holes? Was that something I wanted to find out only after putting in all the work to knit them? Plus, the soft, fuzzy nature of the yarn didn’t really do proper justice to the stitch pattern. It was visible, but not neat and crisp as in the pattern picture. I got halfway up the foot and frogged it. I’ll use that yarn for a pair of gloves, because it’s full of sticks and I know if I missed even one, it would work its way into my foot and drive me bonkers.

Admittedly, I should have had this thought process before I even bought the yarn, but the call of clearance is sometimes tough to ignore. My Business Socks (the anklets) were the perfect example of this: it was a single 50 gram skein of sock yarn, orphaned in the markdown bin at one of my LYSes. It was an unattractive color, and my dye job didn’t do much to improve on it, but it was a) cheap and 2) a challenge, so I bought it.

Of course, to make one sock’s worth of yarn go onto two large feet, you need to knit an open pattern at a loose gauge. I actually compiled a list of lace stitch patterns I’d like to use for socks (thanks to Knittingfool), but for these, I went with an already-published pattern: Coupling. Unfortunately, my pair does not do a whit of justice to the pattern, because a highly variegated yarn will seldom play nicely with a lacy pattern. I knew this going into it, of course, and I’ve tossed around the idea of overdyeing it blue or black, just to even it out a bit, but the fact remains that these are some ugly, ugly socks.

I may not dye it, though, because I don’t really care that much. The satisfaction of “winning” the silly and arbitrary game I like to play with single skeins, outweighs the disappointment I have with how unattractive the socks are. (And really, of the half-dozen times I’ve done this, only once have they turned out pretty, and that was because I used solid colors.) Maybe that needs to be the next level: to make ankle socks that are as pretty as they are functional. I have a skein of monochrome Cozette that I think is up to the challenge.