Fridays with Franklin: Wear the Bee Socks

fwf-logo-columnsizeFor an introduction to what goes on in this column, click here.

This column most often shows you the progress of one project at a time, which I’ve realized gives you a false impression of how I work.

I’ve been cleaning out my primary workspace for eight years, which is the same amount of time I’ve spent working in my primary workspace.

It’s not a complete mess, mind you. If it were a complete mess, it would be complete. Nothing in here is complete.

I have a sort of area devoted to “Fridays with Franklin” works in progress. It grows and shrinks and changes its shape and moves hither and thither, like a restless volcanic island made from yarn.

At any given moment there will be three things in progress, supplies for a couple more ideas, supplies from Makers’ Mercantile for which no idea has yet presented itself, and leftover bits of finished projects that haven’t been sorted into storage.

Right now the top of the island is covered by a large (well, large for me) crochet project using HiKoo Concentric, an intriguing alpaca gradient yarn that arrived attractively packaged in a plump bun.

Two luscious buns of HiKoo Concentric from Skacel.

Two these buns have become little bundles of granny squares, and the granny squares need assembly into the final thing.


But that means hauling around all the granny squares, and I’ve been on the move. That means the first over the finish line will be this pair of socks made with old favorite Zitron Trekking XXL Sport Sock Yarn, shown here in progress on my first set of addi Flexi Flips.

(I love the FlexiFlips, by the way. My preferred tools for sock knitting have been double-points or two circulars, and these are a sort of hybrid of the two methods. You get a set of three, and two hold the work while you knit with the third. They took a little getting used to, but after about ten rounds, I found myself working faster than usual with hands that were relaxed and comfortable.)

These socks are for me. I don’t have much time to knit for myself, so I choose personal projects with care. Things I need go to the top of the waiting list.

I need these socks, because the only reliable source of reasonably-priced, durable store-bought socks that I’ve counted on for years recently slashed its line to remove all the colors I wanted to wear. No more bright yellows, reds, or purples. No more vivid greens. No pinks, no lavenders, no royal or robin’s egg blues. They still love to trumpet that they offer dozens and dozens of choices; but now all of those choices are either browns, tans, greys, black, or navy. Whee!

I also need these socks because I want socks with a fun motif on them. You can buy men’s socks with motifs, but these are almost always selected from the acceptable list of Things Men Can Have On Their Clothes.

Here’s the classic list:

1. Stuff You Hunt (Deer, Duck, Moose, etc.)
2. Horses
3. Card Suits (Heart, Diamond, Club, Spade)
4. Cars
5. Golf
6. Sailing
7. Naked Ladies

The only lasting additions in the past eighty or so years are “fun” science motifs (e.g., robots, spaceships, atoms) and superhero logos.

Here are things I don’t want on my socks:

1. Stuff You Hunt (Deer, Duck, Moose, etc.)
2. Horses
3. Card Suits (Heart, Diamond, Club, Spade)
4. Cars
5. Golf
6. Sailing
7. Naked Ladies
8. Science
9. Superheroes

I am in no way knocking you if you want these things on your socks. But you are well provided for, and can if you so desire buy what you like right off any number of shelves.

Me, I want colorful wool socks decorated with things men aren’t supposed to like, such as this curly-swirly lyre, taken from a nineteenth-century needlework booklet.

It’s a symbol of the god Apollo, sure; but Apollo doesn’t count as a superhero as he hasn’t got his own best-selling comic book and movie franchise. Apollo wrote poetry and cavorted with muses, both activities the modern American male is supposed to avoid.


The socks I want have clocks. A “clock,” in hosiery, is a decoration at the ankle, possibly spreading up the leg a bit. The plural is either “clocks,” which makes sense, or “clox.” I hate the second spelling.

I could knit the clock into the sock as a piece of intarsia. I have quite a few vintage knitting books with patterns for intarsia clocks,


But I bristle at the thought of working a sock with a dozen strands of yarn coming off it. I’m sorry, no.

So I thought, why not try to make this happen with duplicate stitch? I’m an old hand at duplicate stitch–last seen in this column on the chest of Rosamund’s Wonder Woofin’ sweater.*

Duplicate stitch embroidery mimics the structure of the knitting underneath, and if it’s done well it appears to be an integral part of the fabric. It preserves, as well as any embroidery can, the stretch of knitting. It might be just the thing.

If you’re not familiar with the technique, there’s a pretty thorough illustrated write-up of as part of the series on the Wonder Woofin’ sweater. (Bonus: adorable dog pictures.)

The Best Laid Plans

Again, I’ve done plenty of duplicate stitch–but I had never done it on a sock. More to the point, I had never done it at the gauge of this sock–nine stitches to the inch.

It’s my usual practice when embroidering a closed piece of work (like a hat or glove) to insert something, usually a piece of stiff cardboard, inside the work so that I don’t have to worry about accidentally stitching through the wrong part of the fabric. In this case, I have a solid wood sock blocker that did the trick. The fabric wasn’t stretched drum tight–just enough to make it lie nice and flat.

Here we are once again, embroidering our work from a chart, so what do we need? We need guides. I put mine in, using plain white sewing thread, doubled. I put in a baseline, and lines for the horizontal and vertical centers of the motif.

Note: To make finding the center stitch a snap, before dividing the stitches to work the heel flap, I put a stitch marker halfway across the stitches at the back of the leg (seen here), and halfway across the stitches at the front of the leg.

For the motif, I first thought I’d use Color 1496. However, paired with Color 1027, it was too close to read well–another cool color, adjacent in the spectrum, almost identical in value. The embroidery would barely have shown up from a couple feet away.

Enter Color 1476, an emphatically yellow yellow. (One of the things I love about Zitron Trekking XXL Sport Sock is the enormous range of solid colors.)

Much better.

Then there was nothing more to do than slip a strand into a tapestry needle and get down to it.


It did not go well.

It took me two hours to get about five rows up the lyre chart. They were two unpleasant hours, full of language unsuitable for mixed audiences.

After a walk around the block that included a stop at a bar on the far corner, I took a fresh look at the thing and found it to be lopsided, full of stitches not quite of the correct size, and containing one error so fatal that further progress was impossible.

I ripped it all out. Which took another hour.


Lyre, Lyre

I tried twice more. I ripped out twice more. I threw things.

Hive Mind

I decided I didn’t really like the lyre, anyway. What I really wanted on my sock was a bee. This bee, from an Edwardian filet crochet chart. I’ve been wanting to put this bee into or onto a project of some kind for years.

Bees are a favorite symbol of mine. So industrious. Famously busy. Elegantly designed.

Twice more, I started.


Twice more, I ripped.

Just as I was about to give up and admit to you my utter failure, I realized what was tripping me up. I was doing everything I could to ensure success: working while alert, working without distractions, working under the best possible lighting conditions.

And yet, time and again, my it wasn’t working. I mean, look at this.


The problem? I couldn’t always see–even under brilliant lighting–which row of stitches was which. So I’d suddenly jump up or down a row, or take a stitch that was two rounds high instead of one.

I needed more guidelines.

So I ripped myself back to a blank slate, and I put in lots and lots of guidelines.

The center, of course, yes. But also a guideline for every row in the chart.

That may look like a lot to do, but we’re talking about a motif 19 rows high. Putting those guidelines in took about ten minutes.

And with them in place…


…the embroidery took about an hour.  And it was fun. The guidelines saved me at least a dozen times from making a big mistake, and at least five times showed me that I’d made a mistake immediately, which allowed me to correct it without fuss.


The guidelines slid right out.


And I had my bee sock.

I’m pleased to report that the embroidery is perfectly comfortable and stretchy–no lumps or bumps, and it flexes along with the knitting.

The bee looks lonely, though, so I think I’ll add a second on the other side. And of course, two more on the other sock. Or maybe three.

Oh. The second sock. I need to knit the second sock.

Maybe after I finish the big crochet project. See you in two weeks!

*I know. Superhero. But she’s the only one I like.

Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue

HiKoo Concentric (100% Baby Alpaca; 437 yards per 200 gram cake). Shown in Color 1027 (Trixie).

Zitron Trekking XXL Sport Sock Yarn (75% Superwash Merino Wool, 25% Nylon. 459 yards per 100 gram skein.) Shown in Color 1407 (sock), 1476 (bee), 1496 (blue).

addi FlexiFlips flexible knitting needles (length 8 inches, shown in size US 0)

About Franklin

Designer, teacher, author and illustrator Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008). His newest book, I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book was brought out by Soho Publishing in May 2016 and is in its second printing.

He travels constantly to teach knitters at shops and guilds across the country and internationally; and has been a popular member of the faculties of such festivals as Vogue Knitting Live!, STITCHES Events, the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, Squam Arts Workshops, the Taos Wool Festival, Sock Summit, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.

Franklin’s varied experience in the fiber world includes contributions of writing and design to Vogue KnittingYarn Market News, Interweave KnitsInterweave CrochetPieceWorkTwist Collective; and a regular columns and cartoons for Mason-Dixon Knitting, PLY Magazine, Lion Brand Yarns, and Skacel Collection/Makers’ Mercantile. Many of his independently published designs are available via

He is the longtime proprietor of The Panopticon, one of the most popular knitting blogs on the Internet (presently on hiatus).

Franklin lives in Chicago, Illinois, cohabiting shamelessly with 15,000 books, a Schacht spinning wheel, four looms, and a colony of yarn that multiplies whenever his back is turned.

Follow Franklin online via Twitter (@franklinhabit), Instagram (@franklin.habit), his Web site ( or his Facebook page.