Toe-Up Socks: Toes

Now that you have mastered the cast on, you are ready to knit the toe of your sock. Before you start knitting

  • Read through your pattern’s directions for the toe;
  • If you don’t understand the abbreviations in the directions, check your pattern’s glossary or the introduction to the pattern for an explanation.
  • If there is no glossary or you need more information, try the tutorial from PurlBee on knitting abbreviations (if you click on the terms that are links, you will find more detailed information and some will have instructional videos).

There are several basic variations of toe styles for toe-up socks. They basically the same as toes used in top-down construction but worked in reverse – you start with the small end and work increases. In a top-down sock, you are decreasing your way to the toe.

Another advantage of using a toe-up design is that you don’t have to do the Kitchener stitch to finish your socks. Less finishing tends to make most knitters happy.

The following are the most common types of toes used in toe-up sock knitting construction. Your pattern may not identify what sort of toe style the sock uses but it you read through the directions for the toe and compare them to the descriptions below, you should be able to figure it out.

  • Standard Toe (a.k.a., Wedge Toe and Round Toe) – The most common toe used in both toe-up and top-down sock knitting goes by several names. It is basically a toe that is either rounded or trapezoid in shape, depending on how long the toe edge row is and how frequently the increases are made.
  • Star Toe – The Star Toe starts with a smaller number of stitches in the cast-on than the Standard Toe. Markers are used to divide the stitches into three or four sections with an equal number of stitches in each section and the increases are made at the markers instead of just on the sides of the foot.
  • Pontoon Toe and Moccasin Toe – These two toe styles are detailed in Cat Bordhi’s New Pathways for Sock Knitters: Book One. This is a variation on the Standard Toe and the Star Toe. With these, as you start knitting the toe, the stitches are divided into four sections. But instead of having the same number of stitches in each section like the Star Toe, the stitches are divided so that there are a few stitches between the markers where the increases are made. This creates a thin band that can either run over the top of the foot (Pontoon Toe) or along the sides of the foot (Moccasin Toe).

Working increases in the toe

If you are still relatively new to knitting the thing besides the cast on that may be challenging in knitting sock toes is the increases for shaping. There are many different ways to increase stitches and your pattern should specify how to make the increases. Learning to work increases and decreases is an important skill to learn in knitting as you will need to use it for most any item that requires shaping. You will also be making increases as you develop the foot of the sock but the pattern may call for those to be made in a different way. Some methods of increasing stitches will cause the stitches to lean to the left or right and it is often an integral part of how the sock looks.

Do you need reinforcements?

Once upon a time, before this golden age of knitting, there were very few options when it came to sock yarns. Yarns appropriate for socks might or might not have nylon as part of the fiber blend in the yarn. It was a common practice to use a reinforcing thread of some kind to beef up the heels and toes to increase their longevity. There are still plenty of yarns that can be used for socks that don’t contain nylon, but a great many do. You don’t see many patterns today that recommend working a reinforcing thread. It is up to you to decide if you think it is necessary. I haven’t used one and my socks take a beat and are still doing well and none of the socks I have made a presents have come back for repairs.

In The Knitter’s Book of Socks: The Yarn Lover’s Ultimate Guide to Creating Socks That Fit Well, Feel Great, and Last a Lifetime, Clara Parkes discusses other ways to toughen up the toes and heels of socks by using particularly hard-wearing stitch patterns. For example, one of the patterns in her book, call Turbo Toes by A. Karen Alfke , uses linen stitch for the toes and heels. You can see the toe of a sock I made using that pattern on Ravelry.

Quick assessment

Once you have cast on and knit the toe of your sock, it’s good to stop and assess your work before moving on to the foot.  Run through the questions below and make sure you are on track.

1. Are the stitches in your cast-on uniform and well shaped?

2. Count the stitches on your needles. Compare that to the number of stitches your pattern calls for when the toe is completed. Is the number correct? If you have more, you have made an extra stitch somewhere. If you have fewer, you either did not make enough increases or you have dropped a stitch. Examine your sock carefully to determine which of these is the case. It may be best to unravel and start over.

3. Is the shape of the toe symmetrical? If it is not and your stitches are uniform, then it is likely an indication that you didn’t make the same number of increases on the rows.

4. Try the sock on your foot. Is it snug but not too tight? If the sock is tight, check the gauge of what you have knit to make sure you are matching what the pattern calls for and check the pattern to make sure you are knitting the right size pattern.

5. Check your gauge. See if you are still getting the gauge you did in your swatch and that matches the pattern.

Next up, developing the foot of your sock.



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