Month: March 2014

Are You Ready to Knit Socks?

Knitting socks can be addictive fun and provide warm happy feet for everyone in your world who will appreciate your hand-knit love. Here’s a self-assessment to help you determine if you are ready to knit socks and some helpful advice if you need to brush up on some skills.

1. Can make the knit stitch and purl stitch? Both are required for making socks.

If the answer is yes, move on to the next question.

If the answer is no, it sounds like you need to brush up your skills before taking on sock knitting. A good and inexpensive way to practice and to try out new stitch patterns is to make dishcloths.

Here are some patterns to try. You can find appropriate cotton yarn to make these at most any hobby store that carries yarn.

Once you can make the knit and purl stitch you can learn to knit in the round. (See the answer to question 3 for resources for learning to knit in the round.)

2. Is your knitting gauge consistent and your stitches uniform in shape?

If the answer is yes, move on to the next question.

If the answer is no, it sounds like you need to brush up your skills before taking on sock knitting. Check out the recommendations in the answer to question 1 for tips on improving your skills.

3. Can you knit in the round? Have you practiced and are comfortable knitting in the round using double-point needles, 2 circular needles, one long circular needle (Magic Loop), or one short circular needle (applies only to top-down socks)?

If the answer is yes, move on to the next question.

If the answer is no, check out these videos for different methods of knitting in the round then try some simple patterns with a little shaping to get the hang of working with your chosen method.

4. Do you have the right materials and tools?

  • Yarn – enough yardage and appropriate type for socks?
  • Needles – to get gauge for your pattern and to knit using your chosen method
  • Pattern – toe-up sock pattern with gauge to match what you get with the selected needles and yarn
  • Tools – ruler, measuring tape, stitch markers, scissors

Having what you need before you start means you get to focus on the knitting, not stopping to search for a tool or run to the store or having to order something online. Once you’ve got everything together, you are ready to knit socks.

Let’s get knitting!

Toe-Up Socks: Gauge

So far, we’ve talked about selecting yarns and patterns and how to determine which needle size you need and different methods of knitting in the round to make socks from the toe up. Now, it’s time to talk about getting gauge and swatching.

When it comes to knitting anything that must fit well, gauge is the most important thing. And socks demand the most accurate fit because if they are too big, they will slide around on your feet causing discomfort and probably keep your shoes from fitting. To snug, and the heel sneaks under your foot while you are walking, which is also uncomfortable and it damages the sock.

So we use accurate measurements and consistent gauge to get a sock that fits properly, which makes your foot, your shoe, and your sock happy.


Gauge is the number of stitches (including fractions of a stitch) that are created with the yarn and needles you are using. It is generally measured over a 4 inch by 4 inch square. The reason for doing a 4×4 square is that it helps you determine fractions of a stitch. While may not sound like much it adds up.

Your pattern should have a gauge included in the beginning section before the directions for knitting begin. It will say something like “8 stitches and 12 rows = 1 inch in stockinette.” So what does it matter if you are a little off? Let me show you.

Let’s say the gauge you get when you knit with your yarn and needles ends up being 8-1/2 stitches per inch. The pattern calls for 64 stitches in the midfoot area. Based on the pattern’s gauge, the sock will be 8 inches in diameter. If you are following the pattern but your stitches per inch is 8-1/2, the diameter of the sock will be 7-1/2 inches and suddenly your sock look more like it will fit a kid than an adult.

The rows per inch, while not as critical in most patterns, can become an issue if you are far off the gauge because it areas where you have a set number of rows that you must work, you could end up with a sock that is shorter or longer than the pattern calls for.

Another important thing to know about gauge is that it can vary for a number of reasons. Here are a few

  • How tightly you hold your yarn while you knit. This will change how big the loops on your needle – which are your stitches – are. Also, if you are tense or stressed, you may tighten up your hold on the yarn. Or you might be more relaxed or more comfortable and confident with your knitting skills than the last time you knit using this yarn and your gauge is now looser.
  • Your gauge will vary depending on the material your needles are made of. I know that may sound crazy but it’s true. Just because the needles are the exact same diameter does not mean you will get the same gauge on different materials. Here’s a blog post from Knit Darling on an experiment she did with various materials and how it changed her gauge.
  • Most people knit more loosely than they purl. When you are knit socks you are knitting in the round. In the round, stockinette stitch means knitting every row. If you work your gauge swatch on a pair of straight needles, to do stockinette stitch, you knit a row then purl a row and it won’t be the same gauge you will get with the same needles and needle size in the round.

Gauge assignment: Using your yarn and needles for circular knitting, cast on and knit enough stitches to get at least four inches in diameter. Make this tube at least four inches long. With a ruler (NOT a flexible tape) measure carefully over 2 inches and divide your number of stitches by 2. This is the stitches per inch you are getting with these needles and yarn. Do the same with the rows. You use a ruler because you need accuracy and a flexible tape can stretch a little bit over time and quarter inches count here.

If your stitches and rows per inch matches what your pattern says, you are good to go to move on to the next lesson.

If you are off by more than 1/4 of a stitch, you need to do one of two things

  • try a larger or smaller needle (larger to reduce number of stitches per inch, smaller to increase stitches per inch), make another swatch and measure again, or
  • find a pattern with the gauge you are getting with your needles and yarn.

Once you are consistently getting the gauge that matches your pattern, you are ready to move on to the next lesson.



Toe-Up Socks: Needles and Knitting Methods

In our last episode, we talked about selecting yarns and patterns for your first toe-up socks. Now, we are going to talk about knitting needles and knitting methods.

Which needles do you need? That depends on (1) which method you chose to knit your socks and (2) which size you need to get gauge with YOUR HANDS.

Socks are knit the round (who wants a seam mashed up against your foot when you are walking?). The most common methods for knitting socks are:

  • double pointed needles (DPNs)
  • two circular needles
  • one very long circular needle (magic loop)

We will talk more about methods below.

Knitting Needles

I promised that there is was a good reason for buying knitting needles last, and here it is. Most yarn stores will not let you return needles. Some will let you return yarn that is still in it’s original skein form and has the ball band. Not so with needles. Needles are going to run from $6.50 for one set of DPNs to $15 for one long high-quality circular needle.

You need the needles that will give you the gauge your sock pattern requires but just because a pattern or skein of yarn says you should get a certain number of stitches and rows per inch with a particular yarn does not mean that is what your hands are actually going to produce. You may need a larger or smaller needle to get the gauge for your pattern with the yarn you have chosen. Those are the needles you need. Many knitting shops will let you try out a needle with your yarn before buying it.

So here is how you buy or borrow needles.

If you have a local yarn shop, you can go to the shop, check with the staff and see if they will let you try out some needles with your yarn before you buy and get your gauge that way. Only do this if you buy your yarn from the shop. Taking in yarn you bought somewhere else is tacky (which a good knitter never wants to be).

If you know another knitter, see if they have needles they will let you borrow or use as a test drive with your yarn so that you can determine what size you need to get gauge.

Remember, it is the gauge written on the pattern that matters. This is another of those mistakes I made that I want you to avoid. Gauge is the most important thing in getting the pattern and your finished product the right size. The pattern is designed to fit based on the gauge listed on the pattern. If you don’t get that gauge, you are likely to end up with socks that are either too small or will need to be gifted to Big Foot.

I am going to preach talk more about gauge and fit in the next post.

One more thing about needles for knitting socks. Needles are made of different materials. Some are very slick, some are a bit more tacky. If you are using DPNs, don’t get slick ones. The last thing you want is to have your needles slipping out (or being yanked out by a child or pet) of your stitches. This particular situation has inspired much cussing by knitters.

Knitting Methods

While DPNs were the only choice for most of knitting history, we modern knitters have the advantage of living in an age of many choices for knitting in the round. If you’ve used before and are familiar with it and want to use it again for this project, great. One way to make this project more interesting and to expand your skills is to chose a method that is new to you.

I’ve included links to YouTube videos demonstrating each technique. I selected these particular videos because they were easy to follow, clear, and accurate. You might want to consider creating a board on Pinterest with a category such as “Knitting Techniques” and pin any of these videos that you want to go back to for another project. Make notes to yourself about the video on your pin to help you remember the specifics of what it contains.

DPNs. This is the method that seems to most terrify knitters and deter them from even trying socks. You are knitting on three or four  needles that are pointed at both ends. I know that it looks like wrestling a hedgehog, but it’s really not as scary as it looks. Basically, you cast on and then divide your needles over three to four needles. Instead of knitting back and forth like on straight needles, you join the stitches and knit rounds instead of rows.

Even if you don’t chose to use this method, learning to manage double points is a good knitting skill to learn because it is particularly useful for finishing the tops of hats or the fingertips on gloves. Watch video on using DPNs from New Stitch A Day

Two circular needles. This is a very popular method for toe-up socks because it is easy to try on the sock as you go without worrying that the stitches are going to fall off the needle. You are also less likely to have a little one or furry one pull your needle out of your stitches when using this method. Your stitches are divided into two sets. Each set is on a separate needle. While you are working on one set, the other set is resting on the cable of its needle. To prevent “ladders” (gaps between stitches where the needles join), try using a needle that is 24 inches long. Watch videos on knitting with two circulars from Cat Bordhi – Part 1 and Part 2.

One very long needle. This method is often called Magic Loop. It was invented by Sarah Hauschka and popularized by Bev Galeskas in  The Magic Loop – Knitting – Working Around On One Needle – Sarah Hauschka’s Magical Unvention. You will need a circular needle at least 32 inches long but it can be longer. The basics are similar to knitting with two circulars but instead half your stitches being held on a separate needle, a loop of cable separates the two sets of stitches. Here is a step-by-step tutorial on Magic Loop by Glenna at Knitting to Stay Sane and here is a video of the technique from KnitDenise (she is knitting continental style.

Next up will be gauge and swatch.

Recap of this lesson

  • The needles you need are the ones that allow your hands to get the gauge listed in the pattern. This may not be the same as the needle size recommended by the pattern.
  • Check out the various knitting methods and find one that you want to try.
  • If you use DPNs, avoid slick ones.
  • Knit a swatch to make sure you get gauge with a particular size of needle before you buy the needles because you likely won’t be able to return them.

Toe-Up Socks: Yarns and Patterns

I’m so glad you’ve decided to join me in knitting socks from the toe up. If you get off on the right foot (pun intended), sock knitting is absolutely addictive and the selection of yarns and patterns available today in a wide variety of price ranges and quality are a never-ending delight. But having that much to chose from can also provide opportunities for things to go awry and become frustrating.

Required skills: The skills you need to before you start this course are (1) casting on, (2) making knit stitches and purl stitches that are straight and even, (3) binding off, and (4) knitting in the round. Fit is critical in socks. If you haven’t knit in the round before, I suggest making a pair or two of fingerless mittens first just to get the hang of it. Fit is a little more forgiving and they can be done in a very simple pattern that doesn’t require advanced skills.

Here’s how this tutorial is going to work. It will consist of a series of posts that take you step-by-step through the entire process of making socks from the toe up. Along the way, I’m going to give you resources for additional information if you want to learn more about something we are discussing or you need a refresher. I will also give you my personal recommendations based on my own experiences.

My goal is for this to be fun and to get you hooked on sock knitting. When I was learning to knit, one of the most common mistakes I made was to get my head turned by a pretty pattern that was way too advanced for me or I purchased yarn that was totally inappropriate for my pattern. When I really screwed up, I did both on the same project.

So, rule number one for this tutorial is that everyone gets to learn from my mistakes and not repeat them. Now, let’s get started. This post is going to cover patterns and yarn. The next one will be on needles and knitting methods.

Yarns and Patterns

If money is no object or you have already have every size and length of circular and double pointed needles, you can select yarn, pattern, and needles in whatever order you please. If that is not you, then let’s walk through this together. I’m going to suggest that the order you do this be either pattern-yarn-needles or yarn-pattern-needles. I promise there is a very good reason (a saving-you-money reason) for this particular order.

Please don’t make any purchases until you have read all the way through the end of this post and the one on needles and knitting methods. I have seen too many knitters with buyer’s remorse and it just ends up in heartache and a lonely skein of yarn in your stash or needles that are never touched by hands and yarn again. You can even print this out and take it with you to the yarn shop if you like or have it handy when you are searching online.

Pick a pattern

  • Select a very, plain vanilla toe-up sock pattern. My suggestion for this project is that you select a very simple sock pattern – stockinette stitch with a little ribbing and maybe a slipped stitch heel.  Let’s focus on learning sock techniques for this particular project. But that doesn’t mean the socks will be plain. More on that later.
  • Make baby or children’s socks first. In her wonderful book on sock knitting, New Pathways for Sock Knitters: Book One, Cat Bordhi recommends first learning new techniques by making baby socks. I found this to be incredibly helpful for several reasons. If it doesn’t fit, who cares? Just say that you wanted to give them room to grow. Also, the socks use a tiny amount of yarn so if you have some sport, fingering, or DK weight yarn in your stash, you can use that. Since baby socks don’t take the same a beating as socks for people who walk upright, you don’t have to worry as much about durability. And all parents and grandparents love handknit baby socks. I strongly recommend going this route.
  • Find a pattern. Ravelry needs to become your new best knitting friend. If you are unfamiliar with Ravelry, get yourself your favorite hot drink, sit in a comfortable chair, go to the website, create an account – it’s free- and don’t expect to re-enter the non-knitting world’s orbit for several hours. We will talk more about how to use Ravelry in a later post. For now, to search for patterns,
    1. Click on the Yarns tab;
    2. Under the search box on that page, click on advanced search
    3. In the left-hand column there are several boxes that have big categories for searching. Under Fiber Type select Merino and Wool; under Weight select Light Fingering, Fingering, and Sport. Once you select something, the column in the middle will magically reorganize and show you only yarns that fit what you selected. Isn’t the Internet amazing?
  • Wendi’s pattern suggestions. To get you started, I have found several toe-up sock patterns on Ravelry (all are free). One pattern is for baby socks. The only reason I am focusing on free patterns now is because I am trying to lower the threshold for getting you to take the plunge and try toe-up sock knitting. Designers put a lot of time and money into creating great patterns and pay technical editors and test knitters to make sure the patterns are well written and accurate. They all deserve to be compensated for that. The patterns I picked are ones I reviewed personally to make sure they were clear, accurate, and well done. That doesn’t mean you can’t pick a pattern with cables, lace, and all other manner of knitting fun. Just don’t complain to me if you get overwhelmed or frustrated. Remember, my goal is to make this fun and get you addicted to sock knitting.
  • Make sure your pattern is for toe-up socks. Read the description of the pattern and make sure it’s for toe-up construction. That seems obvious, but if you haven’t knit socks before, you do NOT want to have to start off by trying to redesign a top-down pattern to be toe-up. Don’t do that. It would defeat the fun.

Pick a yarn

  • Only use plied yarn. Pay attention. This is really, really, REALLY important. Most of the time, I’m going to give you many options and say that you have a lot of freedom of choice. This is not one of them. For this project, I am requiring that you use plied yarns. Actually there are only very, very few instances when non-plied yarn would be a good choice for socks.  Socks must endure sweaty feet, being shoved into shoes, and bearing all of your weight. No other knitted object works harder and has more demanded of it than socks. If you want socks that will last more than a month and stand up to that sort of abuse, you need to use plied yarns.You might be thinking, “If that’s true wouldn’t all yarns promoted as sock yarn be plied?” No. And you can’t just trust that your local yarn store will automatically steer you right. I cringe to say this, but I have had more than one person I was teaching to knit socks go to a local yarn store and be encouraged to buy a skein  of non-plied yarn. The knitting student would attempt to make it work, but in the end, every one of them purchased a new skein of plied yarn to make their socks and those non-plied skeins were jilted and are now buried in the recesses of someone’s stash. Don’t let this be you. Learn more about singles (non-plied yarn), ply, and other yarn basics from Clara Parkes at Knitters Review. If you love yarn, I highly recommend you sign up for her weekly email. I eagerly await it every week.
  • Wool. Before you start itching just from the word, hear me out. Today’s sock yarns are not the wool of your childhood nightmares. You may even be shocked when you touch sock yarns to realize that many are predominately wool (most often merino). The reason you want wool is its durability, elasticity, and memory. Wool can stand up to the challenge of being socks. For this project, I strongly recommend that you use a wool-based yarn. Please touch some wool skeins before you say no. If you can’t use wool, look for an acrylic. What you can’t use for this is cotton, unless you are making baby socks and fit will not matter. Cotton isn’t going to have the resilience of wool or acrylic and it will grow and grow and get looser and looser. For the definitive explanation of why wool matters for socks, check out Clara Parkes book The Knitter’s Book of Socks: The Yarn Lover’s Ultimate Guide to Creating Socks That Fit Well, Feel Great, and Last a Lifetime.
  • Color matters. Remember when I said earlier that a plain vanilla pattern didn’t mean a boring sock? There are a mind-boggling number of great (plied) sock yarns out there that have been hand dyed in every color and color combination imaginable. This is what will take that plain pattern from boring to “wow! you made those?” There is only one rule on color for this project – no dark colors. No black, navy, dark brown, etc. The reason is that sock yarns are thin and knit on small needles, which creates small stitches. Small stitches can be very hard to see in dark colors. Be brave and pick a great color or make those baby or children’s sock and use light or bright colors.
  • Yarn weight. If you’re planning to wear your socks with shoes, I’d stick with a fingering weight yarn. If you are making socks to just pad around the house in, then DK, sport, or even worsted weight can work. For children, either fingering or DK. Anything thicker is just too thick. Check the information on your pattern to see what weight yarn it calls for.
  • Wendi’s yarn suggestions. This is by no means an inclusive list. If you have a local yarn shop, I strongly recommend you go there to look for yarn, but it must be plied. The list below are yarns I have personally used for socks for adults and really loved. Some of these are luxury. There are variegated and solid colors. If you can’t find a color you love among the yarns in this list, there is something wrong with you.
    • Blue Moon Fiber Arts Socks that Rock Lightweight or Mediumweight.  This yarn has so much energy and great colors, it’s one of my frequent go-tos.
    • Lorna’s Laces Solemate or Shepherd’s Sock. You can also find special color combinations in Solemate that were made for Camp Loopy at Loopy Ewe.
    • Handmaiden Casbah Sock. This is the definition of luxury. Absolute pleasure every stitch of the way.
    • Skacel Trekking. A great yarn that holds up well.
    • Mountain Colors Bearfoot and Crazyfoot. Terrific colors and a great feel to the yarn.
    • Koigu KPPPM. Color combination heaven.
    • Knit Picks Stroll, Gloss or Capretta. Low-cost yarns in a variety of solids and paints. Avoid the Comfy Fingering for this project because it is mainly cotton.
    • Patons Kroy Socks. If you are looking for a low-cost yarn to use, check out this one. You are also likely to find this at national stores such as Joann’s, Michael’s, and even Wal-Mart.

Recap of this lesson

  • Select a plain, toe-up sock pattern.
  • Consider making your first project children’s or baby socks to learn techniques.
  • Set up an account on Ravelry, if you haven’t already.
  • Pick a plied yarn. This is not negotiable.
  • Yarn should be predominately wool (merino is very soft), not a dark color, and preferably in fingering or sport weight.
  • Take a picture of your yarn and post it to the the stash area of your Ravelry account.

Next up is needles and knitting methods for making socks.