Saturday, December 14, 2013

Wraptor: A (Relatively) Short History

Each time I publish a pattern, people ask me “how did you think of it?” and then seem surprised by the length of my answer.  Designs don’t burst from my head fully formed like Athena, they evolve over a long time.  Of all my patterns, Wraptor has the longest and curviest history. 
Wraptor © Jeny Staiman, 2013
The pattern is available here, on knitty.  There’s also a companion document rich with special features (charts, tips and tricks, etc.) available here on Ravelry.

1 – Inspiration

The original inspiration came from this sock pattern in knitty 2009:
Skew (© Lana Holden, 2009)
Coolest. Sock. Ever. 
Amazing.  Inspiring.  Jealousy-provoking (the highest compliment, by the way, coming from one designer to another).

Even before Skew came out, though, I’d always enjoyed spiral and helix motifs.  I have several designs based on helix knitting (Double Heelix, Metamorph, Helix Herringbone Hat).  I wanted to make a sock with a steep curving slope - sort of like Skew, but more like a barber pole.  I assumed I'd approach this via multi-strand helix knitting, but the closest I got to my vision was this baby sock which uses 12 strands over only 40 sts. 
© Jeny Staiman, 2009

Here’s a picture of an 8-strand helix tube: 
© Jeny Staiman, 2009
That’s a lot of live strands!  And still not a very steep curve.  Imagine how many more strands I’d have to use to get at least 45-degree angle… this was too much of a pain (yes, even for me). 

End of story, or so I thought.  But as it turns out, life is composed of many unrelated overlapping threads…

2 - Genesis

In August 2011 I embarked on my first yarn-bombing project: knitting covers for my co-workers’ headphones.  The back story of this project is documented in an earlier blog post.  Because there were big ear pieces on either end of the cradle, I wouldn’t be able to slide the cover on after it was knitted – it would have to be worked flat and grafted on.  One of the first ones I made was this one:
© Jeny Staiman, 2011
While I was working the strip for these headphones I wondered what I’d get if I worked it on the bias.  During the graft, the strip spun around the headphones like a barber pole, and I thought “A-HA!”  This was how I could get that steep sloping sock I envisioned.

But… knitting a plain tube was one thing; knitting a heel, toe, and instep shaping was quite another matter.  This would take some more thought. 

3 - Synthesis

The heel: After some more messing around, I realized that I could work a gigantic vertical buttonhole where the heel would be, then come back later and pick up sts and work the heel.  It just so happens that a few socks based on this construction have since been published by other designers in the last few months, for instance this one by Margie Mitchell:

Candy Cane Christmas Stocking, © Margie Mitchell, 2013
(More on this topic at the end of this post.)

Even though picking up stitches around a hole was a viable solution to the heel construction, it wasn’t the approach I wanted to take.  Inspired by Skew, I wanted the heel to be integrated into the construction, offset along with the rest of the fabric.  So I continued looking for alternative solutions.

Sometime after this, I realized that instead of inserting a giant buttonhole, I could insert a bulge, just by using some strategically-placed increases and decreases – a mitered decrease sandwiched between an increase on one side and a decrease on the other.  In November 2012 I made my first full-scale prototype testing my hypothesis:

© Jeny Staiman, 2012

The toe: Once I’d realized how I could create a heel, I realized I could apply the same construction logic to insert a toe at one end.  In December 2012 I made this prototype, in which a wedge toe was offset from the diagonal in a way similar to the heel:

© Jeny Staiman, 2012

Unfortunately there were a number of problems with this prototype.  First, the ankle/leg shaping was horrible, which is evident in the image below:

© Jeny Staiman, 2012

Second, the orientation of the toe was dependent on the length of the foot.  There was no way to control for the toe lining up in the right place.  I got lucky on this iteration, but with feet an inch larger or smaller than mine, the wedge might run as much as 90 degrees off.  So I would have to come up with a toe that would fit the same way in any orientation.

Toe tests:

© Jeny Staiman, 2013
The instep: My first thought about the instep shaping turned into this prototype:

© Jeny Staiman, 2013

Mathematically it was a cool approach, but visually I didn’t really love the jog in slope across the instep. 

Instep tests:

© Jeny Staiman, 2013

4 - Refinement

The fit: Most designs I can work out in a few iterations in small scale, but not this one.  I needed to try it on and experience the fit for myself.  It was time-consuming and anguishing when, after hours and hours of knitting, I’d slip it on and it still wasn’t right.  The problem I kept experiencing was fabric under stress on the left side of the heel shaping.

© Jeny Staiman, 2013

Eventually I figured out that I could just add more stitches where the fabric was stressed.  And, since the stressed area of the fabric was in a place where I was doing decreases, I simply reduced the number of decreases, which put much less stress on the fabric.

© Jeny Staiman, 2013

The yarn: Somewhere in the midst of all this iteration, I found the PERFECT yarn.  I wanted a self-striping yarn that would give me big bold stripes even when worked over 200+ stitches.  Ordinary self-striping yarn would give me thin stripes at best.  I discovered Twisted Fiber Arts from a Ravelry ad and found their long-repeat self-striping yarn, and then I knew what my sock would look like!

Left to right:
Self-striping LeCirque colorway from
Twisted Fiber Arts’ website (© Meg Campbell-Crawley, 2013); Wraptor (© Jeny Staiman, 2013)

5 - Scaling

Figuring out how to make Wraptor fit anyone other than me was a nightmare, but armed with a measuring tape, an Excel spreadsheet, and the data from my 11 rock star test-knitters, I did eventually manage to come up with a variety of sizes.

© Jeny Staiman, 2013

It was especially challenging to come up with a means of simply and coherently expressing the stitch counts for each size.  Since the stitch counts varied across two simultaneous dimensions (foot width and foot length), this made it extremely complicated.  Using a constant (“F”) to account for the individual variability of foot length was the key here.   

6 - Documenting

I generally have a difficult time keeping the length of my patterns down, because there’s always so much detail I want to share.  Wraptor quickly grew to an obscenely unmanageable length.  I decided to put the bare minimum in the pattern and release a companion document with all the special features (aptly named “Director’s Cut,” available on Ravelry).

© Jeny Staiman, 2013

7 - Confluence

One of the most interesting aspects of designing knitted projects is seeing different interpretations of similar concepts.  When I started the process of working on Wraptor, I couldn’t find anything like it.  The closest thing I found was this:

Peppermint Sticks (© Jackie Erickson-Schweitzer, 2000)

Peppermint Sticks is worked flat on the bias for the cuff, but the rest of the sock is worked in-the-round like a standard sock.  Very creative approach!

In November 2013 (while Wraptor was in the final stages of editing) I discovered Exotic Whirlpool by Natalia Vasilieva, which feels to me a bit like the separated-at-birth sibling of Wraptor.    

Exotic Whirlpool (© Natalia Vasilieva, Aug 2013)

Little did I know that while I was busy working out the details of Wraptor, another designer in Russia was captivated by the same basic concept!  Like Wraptor, Exotic Whirlpool is constructed entirely of a flat piece of fabric worked on the bias that is wrapped around the foot and grafted – but Natalia took a very different approach to the heel, toe, instep shaping, sizing, and documentation.  You should definitely check it out!

In the last few months, I’ve spotted a few more designs based on similar construction, each developed independently as far as I know. 

Left to right: Candy Cane Christmas Stocking (© Margie Mitchell, Oct 2013);
No Parking! (© Alison Ziegler, Oct 2013)

I think it’s pretty cool that more designers are starting to explore sideways, diagonally-knit socks.  Granted, I’m a bit biased.  ;)



  1. These are the most imaginative socks I have ever seen and I love your explanation of the design process. I would so love this kit, knitting these socks would be the biggest knitting challenge I've ever tackled and boy would I like to have the opportunity to tackle it!

  2. I love this post - so fascinating. Thanks for sharing...

  3. haha, "I'm a bit biased"... I see what you did there. :)

    Love the detailed look into your design process! What a crazy amount of work.

  4. Thank you for sharing a window into your genius mind. ;)

  5. Hi Jeny. Cant find a blog about double heelix socks. Would like to try knit these. I only ever knit socks with double pointed needles. I.e. no cable in the round. Will that suffice? I am looking forward to try the heelix. Such smart looking socks!

  6. Hi Jeny. Cant find a blog about double heelix socks. Would like to try knit these. I only ever knit socks with double pointed needles. I.e. no cable in the round. Will that suffice? I am looking forward to try the heelix. Such smart looking socks!

  7. I found your blog by blog hopping. I want to compliment you on your explanation of the process. When I was in graduate school, that was one of the things at which fellow students were the worst - explaining their processes. I like your sock the best of all the ones you showed. I think I have a great appreciation for them because I was a math major and a computer science minor. Also, I used to make most of my clothes - work and play and it was a requirement to wear suits to work. I also make quilts that require great precision as well as do well-done knitting projects. Some people just do not realize that the feel and the look of the sock are equally important. Thanks for a great looking sock.