Sunday, March 8, 2015

Let's Talk About Socks, Baby!

I can't believe I'm writing a post about socks. A few months ago if you had asked me about such a thing I'd probably have told you I'd only ever write about socks if they had pictures of spools of thread or something on them. I certainly would not have imagined I'd be talking about making them. I read somewhere that it's best to branch out in your knitting as quickly as possible, or else you get stuck in a dishcloth/scarf sort of rut (which was true, in my case, as my early attempts at sweaters were nothing short of pitiful and double-points and circulars were scary). I'm glad I decided to branch out recently into garment knitting, as I've been pleased with the things I've made enough to wear them (in public!, mind you). This may be because I understand so much more (from sewing) shaping and sizing and ease and all that sort of thing. It may be because I've finally decided to understand what I'm doing. I don't really care what did it, I'm glad it happened, as I've really been enjoying brandishing my needles throughout the winter.

OK. So. There are two main ways of making socks--cuff down and toe up. They can be made with a few double-pointed needles or by using one looong circular to knit a small tube (which still greatly intrigues me how someone was all "Oh, hey, let me try this" and figured that out). I had never tried either style or either method, so I found patterns for each (I'll put links at the bottom), got some cheery worsted yarn (you start big to learn the mechanics of it all before you try with teeny needles and thin yarn), and set to.

These are cuff-down. On the left I used magic loop and on the right I used dpns.

Cuff down has (or feels like it) more techniques. You knit the cuff, do the heel flap, turn the heel, pick up stitches, decrease, knit, decrease, and finish it off with a kitchener stitch. It sounds so daunting and seriously put me off ever trying, but when you do it one part at a time it is not bad at all. 

I made the cuffs longer on the dpn versions and forgot to do so on the others so I have matching socks that don't really match, but that's OK as these are practice pieces. I really like that you can see all the parts coming together in the cuff-down version, and that the heel is reinforced (with that ribbish-looking stitch on the back of the foot).

These are toe-up, magic loop on the left and dpns on the right.

Toe-ups have very different techniques. You start with a temporary cast-on and do short rows to make the part that encloses your toes. Short rows are kind of fun, but you have to keep very good track of what you're doing. You then have to pick up your temporary cast-on, and that makes up the tube part of the sock that encloses the rest of your foot. You then do short rows again to turn the heel (it's crazy how the same exact thing that turns the toe also turns and fits the heel), and then do the cuff and you're done. 

This version leaves those little holes you see as a kind of diagonal along the heel. These are supposed to be there as per the pattern, but if you're proficient at short rows these can be done differently to hide them--I've just never done them before so I stuck with the pattern. I don't mind the look of them, as there are store-bought socks that look the same way. The thing that I don't care for with them is that part of the foot is the widest, and pulls the most. I'd worry about pulling and wear in that area.

Here they are side by side:

I did all this because I wanted to see where I want to devote my sock-knitting efforts so I can have an actual pair of socks that will fit in actual shoes. So, my decision is cuff down. My socks came out neater, and the cuff has just the right amount of stretch to it. On the toe-up version I'm sure I could practice the homespun look out of it, but the cuffs are my issue. If I do a stretchy bind-off to make it fit my foot it's all loosey-goosey and doesn't fit snug. If I do a basic ribbed bind-off I have to sweet-talk it onto my foot. The one thing that would be in the toe-up's favor would be that you can use all of the yarn by knitting the cuff until you run out. 

The main factor, though, is that the cuff-downs fit better. I thought when I saw how the toes differ that the yellow would surely fit better with that nice rounded toe as opposed to the interesting look of the pink sock:

But I was wrong. The pink cuff-down socks hug my foot delightfully, whereas the yellow socks don't feel as nice. The heel even fits differently, and more comfortably on the pink. That was the main deciding factor--it's essential that socks feel good on your foot. Fun fact: John Wooden, UCLA's long-time basketball coach, was a stickler for socks. He ensured each player knew how to put on their socks perfectly without wrinkles and such, and held inspections to make sure they did so. His thinking was that the comfort of their feet was essential to how well they played the game. They couldn't play well if they were aware of their socks falling down or bunching up and whatnot. Anyway...

Less important but still part of my decision process was the method of sock-making--dpns or magic loop? Magic loop won out. I had to rearrange my needles fewer times per round and it was far easier on my hands and fingers. If you look back up at the first photo you can see how the magic loop sock is much neater looking than the other. So cuff-down, magic loop it is. Or cuff-down, teeny circulars (which I happen to have just bought and am curious as to how my hands will take to them).

So that's it for now. Sock-knitting training is over, and it's going to be game on. Hopefully. I did promise you some links in case you'd like to give them a whirl yourself, so here they are. The patterns aren't free, but each one comes with links to instructional videos that are free and available on the site (and are also helpful for the main points of sock-knitting whether you use these patterns or any other sock pattern you may know of).
See you soon! I sewed something! Woo-hoo!


  1. I knit socks cuff down and I prefer to knit them on 2 circular needles. I don't like the Magic Loop method. You do need 2 circular needles of the same size, although they can be different lengths on the cord. I also prefer to knit one sock at a time, but some knitter I know like to knit 2-at-a-time. My thought on that Is if you make a mistake you make it twice! However, they prefer knitting 2 at once so they are done with them both and don't have to knit another one. To each her own.

    Just a tip on knitting socks. Make sure your yarn has at least 25% nylon in the yarn you use for socks. The nylon is needed to strength. I speak from experience when I tell you that whether you knit with acrylic, wool, or a blend, if there isn't nylon in the yarn you will have holes in your socks at the heels and possibly the toes within a short time. I knit once using all wool and before the day was over the socks had holes in the heels! I had even knit beautiful cables in the leg. So now not only do use yarn with 25% nylon, but I also add nylon when I knit in those areas like the heels and toes. I will add Wooly or textured nylon thread that you use with a serger, and knit the nylon and yarn held together in those areas of the socks.

  2. There's so many ways to knit socks and each knitter find there favourite shape of toes, heel and cuff. There are so many ways of doing them, that it is a life time's studit to find your perfect combination. There are so many sock knitting books out there you'll never run out of experiments. Like Daryl I use two circular needles to knit my socks which I find is the least fiddly for me and gives me the most even gauge. Have fun on your sock knitting adventure!

  3. I'm so jealous. I've always wanted to go forward in my knitting but i'm still stuck in that rectangular scarf phase. I've checked out tons of youtube videos and even paid for a craftsy videos (which nearly destroyed my interest btw) but nothing has clicked. Please point me in some direction. My dolls badly need some knitted stuff.

  4. I am a 5 DPN sock addict. I am such an addict I named my blog "Arts and Socks". There is something magical about knitting in 3 dimensions. Suddenly, you feel so brillant, because you have mastered turning the heel. I usually knit my socks top down, but I have also done them toe up. Don't give up on the toe up style just yet. There are other styles of toes and heels for toe up besides the one you tried. Toe up is very handy when you have an incredible ball of yarn that is a bit shorter than a normal ball. You can be sure you have enough yarn for the foot, and quit knitting the leg when you run out of yarn (or you have used half, if it is a 100 gm ball of fingering).

  5. That is really cool! The cuff down definitely looks less slouchy than the toe up.



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