We've all seen it. We've all knit it. Some of us like it, and others not so much. For those of you who like to knit socks with variegated yarn, but would rather see the colors knit up all nice and mixty, you don't have to jump off the deep end.
Sitting By The Pool
I've grown a bit wiser since I began my quest* for the definitive pool-defying sock pattern. The long and short of it is: there's very little you can really do to prevent color pooling. Sometimes those colors are just going to clump together. That said, there are a few things you can do to tame pooling colorways.
- Adjust the stitch count, the size of your needles, or both.
- Use two skeins (or two ends of one skein) of yarn, alternating threads every round.
- Look for patterns that incorporate lots of slip stitches to "splash" the color around.
- Just pick another pattern. Sometimes the yarn and the pattern just won't play nice.
I've also spent some time thinking about yarn too. It's so easy to blame the yarn, but I didn't want to. Yet, I've looked at hundreds and hundreds of pairs of socks, and it doesn't take long to notice a few repeat offenders. Is it coincidence or something about the way the skeins are dyed? I need to do more research into dying, but sometimes I think you can blame the yarn.
I'm not going to share my list of yarns that I'll avoid like the plague, but I'll make a few observations.
- Truly variegated colorways (lots of different colors, frequent color changes) pool less frequently and less offensively.
- Variegated colorways with lots of similar shades tend to pool because the difference in color is more subtle.
- A lot of self-striping yarns don't appear to be labeled as such, provoking many tears. I've read countless comments where the knitter notes that she doesn't like the way the colors pooled when it seems obvious that the yarn is just striping or at least trying to.
- There's a lot of "in between stuff" that is pretty unpredictable.
My overarching advice: search Flickr and Ravelry like mad before you buy. Deep down we all know it's true, but don't want to admit it: what's good for the skein is not always good for the FO.
The One to Rule Them All
Stubborn pooling yarns require drastic measures. As far as I've seen, there is only one sure-fire way to combat pooling: entrelac. Since you're knitting on multiple axes, the yarn has little hope.
There are a lot of patterns out there including:
- Entrelac Socks by Eunny Jang from Interweave Knits Magazine, Summer 2007
- A Step Above Socks by Kathleen Power Johnson from Knitter's Magazine, Summer 2004
- Entrelac Socks by Vickie Starbuck from "Socks, Socks, Socks"
The second runner up goes to several "sideways" sock patterns. They're knit flat and lengthwise, so pooling colorways should produce striped or swirled patterns rather than splotchy pools or rashes. Take note, I have seen a couple pooled ones, but it's rare.
- Sidewinders from Nona Knits
- Sideways Socks Supreme by Liz Clouthier from "Socks, Socks, Socks"
- Bakerloo by Alice Bell from MagKnits, July 2006
- Opal Hundertwasser yarn is often sold with a free sideways pattern.
Almost Perfect : Stockinette with a Twist
The following patterns work off the same theme; break up stockinette with spirals of slip or purl stitches. It won't save you from all pooling yarns, but it's a good bet.
- Swirl Socks by sulafaye
- RPM by Aija Goto from Knitty Summer 2006
- Anastasia Socks by MintyFresh from Pepperknit
A Good Bet
Based on my observations, the following patterns dodge the pool more often than not. If I were a betting girl, I'd toss a few chips on these.
- Stansfield 304 by Charlene Schurch from "More Sensational Knitted Socks"
- Charade by Sandra Park
This one rarely pools, and also has the distinction of producing the first pooling sock that I actually really like.
- Whiskers and Pawprints by The Keyboard Biologist
This stranded pattern seems to mix up variegated colorways quite well. I didn't see any pooling, but saw some funkiness with striping colorways.
- Pomatomus, by Cookie A. from Knitty, Winter 2005
This one got a lot of votes for its anti-pooling properties, but a couple of people wrote in to specifically protest this selection. I looked through photos of over 300 Pomatamus projects in Ravelry, and have come down in favor of his pattern. Some yarns do pool and it can be a travesty, but the vast majority don't.
Chevron Patterns: A Safe, But Not Sure Bet
This is no doubt that chevron patterns add interest to self-striping yarns, but they're also good options for tackling pooling. Like most patterns, they're not going to beat all yarns, but your in good hands with a chevron. There are tons of chevron patterns out there, but here are few notables.
- Carolina (pdf) by Gigi Silva from Socktopia
- Chevron by Charlene Schurch from "More Sensational Knitted Socks"
- Broadripple by Rob Matyska from Knitty, Summer 2003
- Jaywalker, by Grumperina from MagKnits, September 2005.
This was another pattern that got a lot of votes. But like Pomatomus, quite a lot of people cried uncle. There are more than 1,000 Jaywalker projects in Ravelry and it's clear that Jaywalker walks on both sides of the street. I wouldn't swear by it, but I wouldn't write it off either. Cross-file this one under "Results May Vary."
The Jury's Still Out
Some people have had success with the following patterns, but the I'm withholding judgement until I see more finished socks.
- Penllyn by Lisa Parker from Wildhorse Farm Designs
Penllyn is very similar to Cookie A. Monkey, and shows a lot of promise in fighting the pool.
- Sweetpea, by Melissa Morgan-Oakes from Knitty, Summer 2007
This is a new pattern that has good pool-defying properties. I haven't seen a pooling one yet, but I'd like to see a few more finished objects until it gets the seal of approval.
- Lacy Rib Anklets by Grad School Knitter
Another promising new pattern with all the makings of a pool-defyer. Note that you can knit these as full-length socks.
- Merigold Socks by Pamela Wynne from Flint Knits
Another new kid on the block that could do the trick. It's also one of those special patterns that look stunning in both solid and multi-colored yarns.
- Snicket Socks by Sabine Riefler from MagKnits, September 2006
There aren't enough projects in variegated colorways to make a fair assessment of this honeycomb pattern, but there are some nice, pool-free examples out there.
- Leyburn by MintyFresh from Pepperknit
This is definitely a pattern to try. Leyburns appear to do the trick, but there aren't a lot of projects out there to know for sure.
- Scales Skin Socks from the Six Socks Knitalon
Another with only a few projects from which to judge. It's a slip stitch pattern, so it's a good one to try, but you have to join the Six Socks Knitalong to get it. It's also worth noting that this is either the same or very similar to 3 Trail's Schiaparelli Slippers, but I couldn't find any examples of those.
- Fawkes by Gigi Silva from Socktopia
This is a brand new pattern, and there just aren't enough finished pairs to make a fair call on this one.
- Seize Diamondbacks by John Brinegar from Yarn Ball Boogie
This is a mostly stockinette knee-high with an interesting diamond pattern up the back of the calf. It's showing good possibilities for colorways with short color changes, however it's wreaking havoc on some other yarns. Will wait to see as more pairs are posted.
- Esther by Stephanie van der Linden from the Sokken Kreatif Liste on Yahoo.
I could only find three examples of these socks, so it's hard to say what this pattern will do. It's a very interesting, though, and looks to have all the right ingredients to defy the pool. I've got my eye on it.
- Loksins! by Cassie Thoreson from Too Much Wool
This is another very new pattern that you mainly see in solids. I'll get back to you on this one.
- Twisted Flower by Cookie A.
Of the 33 Twisted Flower projects in Ravelry only four were knit with variegated yarn. Two pooled (one of which was frogged), and one could almost be called a semi-solid. The fourth looks great so far. However, the pattern is so, so intricate, I think your best bet is to go with with a solid on this one. I'm just sayin'.
Feather and Fan: Swim At Your Own Risk
A lot of people swear by feather and fan patterns, but I'd only wager on a 50-50 chance for pool-free success. When the planets (tension, stitch count, colorway) align, they look great. However there are plenty of examples of colorways that pooled. If you're worried about it, check the the 'net to see if anyone has knit with your yarn in that pattern before casting on.
- Waterloose (pdf) by Randi Knudsen from Knitting in Two Generations
- Feather and Fans 1 from WendyKnits
- Lacy Scallops (pdf) by Sock Bug
- Spring Garden by Cascade Yarns
There's nothing about ribbed patterns that make them especially pool defying. Like stockinette, it just depends on your tension, your needle size, and the yarn. It's really hit or miss, but since ribbed patterns are usually worked over a small number of stitches, you have more opportunities to make adjustments that could fix your pooling problem.
- Roza's Socks from Interweave Knits, Spring 2007
- Retro Rib from "Favorite Socks"
Most of these socks are knit in solids or semi-solids, so I don't have a lot to go by. However, I've seen some particularly nice Retro Ribs in Socks that Rock, but stay far away from this pattern with KnitPicks memories.
- Campfire Socks by Cider Moon
Campfire Socks look really good in variegated yarn, especially Cider Moon's Glacier.
Results May Vary
With these, I don't think it's fair to say one way or the other. It just depends, depends on how you knit and depends on the yarn you choose. I know I'm being wishy washy, but sometimes you can't make the call.
- Crusoe by Marilyn Roberts from Knitty, Spring 2003
Some of you will think I'm crazy for not giving Crusoe more props, and I'm with you. This should be better at curbing the pool than it is. However, I saw as many duds as shining examples, so what can I tell you. It's hit or miss even with the same yarn and colorway.
- Bellatrix by Gigi Silva from Socktopia
I like this pattern; it's wild and kinda punk rock. It would look great with black tights and combat boots. And somehow pooling works with it. I haven't read the Harry Potter books, but this sock has Helena Bonham Carter in "Fight Club" written all over it. Will it combat your pool? I dunno. Some don't. Some do. Just go with it.
Virtually Untested: Spiral Mermaid Booties
These are a couple of patterns that knock your average ribbed socks askew, and are great options when you're bored with self-striping yarns. You don't see too many knit in variegated colorways, so I can't really call these.
- Mermaid Socks by Lucy Neatby's from "Cool Socks, Warm Feet"
You see this one almost exclusively in self-striping yarns, so difficult to say what it will do with variegated yarns.
- Spiral Boot Socks by Véronik Avery from Interweave Knits, Summer 2007
These knee-highs are very similar to Mermaid Socks, but are definite maybes. Here's one in Colinette Jitterbug that seems to do a great job breaking up the pool. But then there's this one that illustrates how stitch count can make all the difference. The pooling kicks in around the increases for the calf.
Sadly, I don't think the following patterns do much to fight pooling, and I think some of these might make the situation worse (if that's even possible). Yet, a lucky few will knit these patterns in variegated yarn with great result.
- Hedera by Cookie A. from Knitty, Spring 2006
This is a very popular pattern, but it is not an especially pool-preventing one. After scrolling through many pages of pooling pairs in Ravelry, I want to say that it's a better bet that your variegated yarn will pool if you knit Hedera.
- Mad Color Weave by Tina Lorin from Sock Madness I
On paper this one shouldn't pool. The stranded pattern was even designed for variegated yarns, but I'm here to tell you folks - it pools. I saw some of the saddest pools yet with this one. On the other hand, it looks fantastic in semi-solids.
- Waving Lace Socks from "Favorite Socks" by Interweave Press
This is a very popular pattern, and most people knit it in solids, which maybe tells you something. The truth is, sometimes it doesn't pool and the socks look great. However, Waving Lace goes to the bottom of the list because when it does pool, it can be bad. Real bad. Even those who like pooling will raise an eyebrow.
* I owe so many hugs and thank yous to all the folks who participated in the "Not a Fool for the Pool" contest. You've helped me learn a lot about patterns, yarn and my organization skills. ;)