Toe Up Socks

Toe-Up Socks: Legs

You have traversed the most difficult part of the sock – the heel and now you are ready to work on the leg. This will be one of the shorter lessons as it should not be a difficult section of the sock to knit.

The leg of a sock is typically the showiest part of the sock. You don’t have to worry so much about wear and tear on this area and it’s the most visible, particularly if you are wearing shoes.

There are basically two structural issues to be concerned with at this point: (1) keeping the sock leg upright and not slouching down and (2) creating enough elasticity to get your foot and heel through it to put it on.

Sizing

If you have skinny ankles and legs, you might want to switch to a smaller needle at this point to make the sock a little smaller without having to change the number of stitches. If you have a thick ankle or leg, you might want to switch to a larger needle to make the leg a bit bigger without changing the number of stitches. Another option is to use ribbing (K1, P1) or (K2,P2) to pull the sock fabric snugly around the leg and create a bit of elasticity in the design to help the leg stay up.

Elasticity

Ribbing is a common go-to to keep sock legs vertical, they stretch but it will adjust to whatever it is hugging.

Lacy pattern will not contract the way ribbing will and can be looser on the leg. Cables and color work, on the other hand, can prevent the sock from stretching at all and make it difficult or even impossible to get it on your foot if you don’t allow for that in the design. We won’t get into that here since you should be using a simple pattern for your socks. But in the future if you are designing your own pattern or just looking at possible patterns, remember to take these into consideration  and check the comments on Ravelry for the pattern to see if anyone reports having issues with the socks being too tight to get the foot through.

Your assignment for this section of the sock is to read through the pattern carefully, make sure you understand all of the directions, and check your measurements to make sure that you know how long to make the leg portion of the sock, including whatever is needed for the cuff.

Happy knitting! You are almost there.

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Toe-Up Socks: Heels (Shaping and Picking Up Stitches)

You have knit the foot of your sock and now we are about to embark on what can be the most challenging part of our journey in sock knitting – heels. The first time I made a pair of socks, when I got to the heel section, I read through the directions and thought, “that can’t possibly work, it makes no sense.” I kept trying to picture it in my mind’s eye and I just couldn’t get my brain around it. So, I decided to be a big, brave girl and just do what the pattern told me and trust this was going to work. As I worked through each part of the heel section, it made more sense but it was only when I finished the heel that I really understood what was going on and I was in awe of the person who conjured up the idea of how to knit heels and then convinced other people to try it. She or he deserves to be in a knitting hall of fame.

OK, before we get started, let’s make sure we are ready for this step. In case you skipped it in the leg section, here is the assessment to make sure you are ready for the next step.

  • Do you have the correct number of stitches that your pattern calls for?
  • Does your sock look like the foot of the sock in your pattern (increase lines are going the right direction, etc.)?
  • Try the sock on. Does it still fit?
  • Check your math again. Are you on track to have a sock that is about 10% shorter than the actual measured foot length?

The next step is to read through your pattern’s directions for the heel completely. You are looking for the following

  • Do you have any tools it calls for (double-point needles, markers, etc)?
  • Do you understand the stitches it calls for?

Now, we begin.

Heels generally have three sections – gussets (you may have already made those in the increases of the foot), heel turn, and heel flap. When you are working socks from the top-down, you work those sections in reverse order.

You might have a sock pattern that uses an afterthought heel. If this is the case, it is the last thing knit instead of of when you hit the join between the foot and leg. It does not have gussets or a heel flap. This type of heel is easy to replace should it wear out. For our purposes, we are assuming you are working with a pattern that does not use this heel type.

The following is an overview of the process of making a heel from the toe up.

Gusset(s). This is the first part of the heel that you will encounter working from the heel up. You are gradually increasing the number of stitches around the foot until the sock is big enough to accommodate your sole and instep. This is usually about 150% of the number of stitches used for the foot section. Try your sock on at this point to make sure it is still snug but not tight. If it’s loose, that could be a sign that you have a higher arch and you might want to consider making fewer increases to keep the sock snug. Conversely, if the sock is now tight in the instep area but fits in the foot, you may have a wider/lower arch and need to make more increases in this area. If you modify this, remember that you still need the length of the foot to be the same as the pattern calls for for this section of the sock. Also, you need to not how many stitches that you added or subtracted from the gusset section because you will need to make adjustments in the heel creation area for that.

Before you go on STOP, COUNT YOUR STITCHES, and make sure your number is correct and that there are no holes or gaps in your gusset. You need to fix any problems here before you go on as it will be harder and more involved to fix it later.

Heel Turn. Here is where the sock making magic really begins. In many patterns, you are going to divide your stitches into to sections. One section will be the sole/bottom of your foot. The other will be for the top of your foot. Usually, you put the stitches for the top of your foot on a holder or a circular needle that is not in use and you will only work the sole stitches. In the heel turn, you are creating a little cup for your heel. That is usually done by working back and forth on the sole stitches using short rows. Short rows means that you are shaping the knitting by knitting only a portion of the row, turning your work (as if you are knitting flat) and working a part of the row again. This will add extra rows without adding extra stitches. Your pattern may also use a slip stitch or other pattern as a way of reinforcing the heel.

Before you go on STOP, COUNT YOUR STITCHES, and make sure your number is correct, the stitch pattern looks correct, and that there are no holes or gaps in your heel turn. You need to fix any problems here before you go on as it will be harder and more involved to fix it later.

Heel Flap. In many sock patterns this is my least favorite part because you have to pick up stitches along the instep to start knitting in the round again and I’ve never been confident about my abilities to pick up stitches neatly. It’s why I fell in love with Cat Bordi’s patterns that don’t require picking up stitches. Heel flaps are the point where you are working the back of the heel, the part that rubs against the back of a shoe. If you are wearing your socks in shoes with closed heels, this area will take a beating. Many patterns will use a slip stitch or other pattern to strengthen the fabric you are knitting in this section. Basically, you make the heel flap and when it is done, you pick up those instep stitches and start working in the round again.

Before you go on STOP, COUNT YOUR STITCHES, and make sure your number is correct, the stitch pattern looks correct, and that there are no holes or gaps in your heel flap or where you picked up the gusset stitches. You need to fix any problems here before you go on as it will be harder and more involved to fix it later.

Your Big Assessment

Try the sock on at this point and make sure everything is still fitting snugly but not tightly. If there are problems, stop and take some time to examine your sock closely and try to identify where things went wrong. If you can’t, this is a time that you need to reach out to another knitter who has experience with socks. DO NOT RIP IT OUT until you have figured out what when wrong. You need that information so that you can identify what you need to work on and can be successful next time. Once you feel confident that you know what happened, then rip out the heel and start over paying close attention to the parts that didn’t work last time. Take your time to get this right. You are learning many important skills here and one of those is self-assessment of your work and self-identifying things you need to improve on. I also highly recommend writing down what you have learned and what you need to work on. One place to do that would be on your project page on Ravelry in the notes section.

After the heel flap is done and you are working in the round again, this is when you breathe a big sigh of relief and celebrate that you are in the home stretch and through the hardest part. BUT, don’t just think you are home free. There is still work to be done and you do NOT want to mess up in a way that causes you to rip out and have to redo that heel once it looks so nice and you are so proud of yourself.

Toe-Up Socks: Developing the Foot (Increases)

This will be one of the shortest segments in the toe-up socks course.

Here is where you should be at this point:

  • Cast on and worked the toe of your sock
  • Have the correct number of stitches on your needles for the foot, based on your pattern?
  • Your stitches should look uniform
  • The toe section should match the gauge for the pattern.
  • The toe should fit the wearer snugly but not too tightly.

Before starting to work on the foot, double check your measurements. Instead of saying that the toe should be X number of inches long, some patterns will say that the toe should be X number of inches less than the length of the foot. This is the point where you need to remember that your desired foot length should be 10% shorter than the actual foot measurement.

One other important thing about the foot section of the sock is that you want the sole of the sock to be smooth against the foot, otherwise, it will be uncomfortable and unpleasant to walk on.

For most patterns, knitting the foot is where you will regularly increase the number of stitches to develop the instep and foot section.Your pattern should tell you how to make the increases for the foot section of the sock. It may, or may not, but the same method of increasing that was used in the toe section. There are many different ways to create increases. Some are better suited to some situations than others. As you develop your knitting skills, taking some time to learn about the different types of increases and decreases will help prepare you for more complex and advanced knitting projects.

Depending on your pattern, these increases could take place anywhere around the foot and as you explore more sock patterns you will find designs with increases in the foot in a number of different places. For a great study in the may different places the increases in the foot can be worked, check out Cat Bordhi’s New Pathways for Sock Knitters: Book One for a mind-boggling study of just how versatile those increase placements can be.

When you get to the end of the foot, you want to check for these things

  • Do you have the correct number of stitches that your pattern calls for?
  • Does your sock look like the foot of the sock in your pattern (increase lines are going the right direction, etc.)?
  • Try the sock on. Does it still fit?
  • Check your math again. Are you on track to have a sock that is about 10% shorter than the actual measured foot length?

Next up is one of the what can be the confusing part of sock knitting the first time you do it – heels. But fear not, you are with friends here and we’re going to get through it together.

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.

 

 

Toe-Up Socks: Casting On

It’s finally time to cast on and start knitting your socks. Yipee!

Before you started you need to make sure you have:

Casting On

One of the big differences in knitting socks from the toe up is that you have to use a provisional cast-on. What that means is that you are going to cast on in such a way that the stitches can be worked in more than one direction. For a toe-up sock, that most often means you are casting on the stitches in a method that has you working the top and bottom at the same time and the fabric is connect so you don’t have to go back later and weave it together.

The two most commonly used cast-ons for toe up socks are Judy’s Magic Cast On (or a variation of it) and the Turkish (sometimes called Eastern) cast-on.

Instead of trying to describe this, I have found some excellent resources that explain the two most commonly used cast-ons. Start by reading the directions for your pattern and then finding a resource below that demonstrates that method. If your pattern uses a different cast-on than the ones below, please leave a comment on the blog and I will help you find other resources to help explain it.

If you haven’t done one of these cast-ons before expect to need to practice several times before you get a result that you are pleased with. If this is your first time knitting toe-up socks, it’s good to realize that perfection isn’t likely to happen right off the bat. The more you practice it, the better you will get, and the better your work will look. Aim for a very acceptable looking cast-on. It will look “right” to you. That’s your goal for right now. Don’t get discouraged or get, as my friend Jeanmarie says, “paralysis by analysis.”

Judy’s Magic Cast-On – Article by the cast-on’s creator Judy Becker in Knitty. The article includes descriptions and photos demonstrations of how to create the cast-on. Includes instructions for using one circular needle, two socks at the same time on a circular, and double point needles.

Judy’s Magic Cast-On (Video) – Video by Judy Becker demonstrating the cast-on. Be patient. The video is just a blank black background with silence for the first 10 seconds. Demonstration is using 2 circular needles.

Modified Judy’s Magic Cast-On (Video) – Video by Cat Brodhi using a modified version of Judy’s Magic Cast-On. Demonstration is using 2 circulars.

Turkish/Eastern Cast On – Article with pictorial demonstrations from FluffyKnitter on how to make the Turkish/Eastern Cast-On. Demonstration is on 2 circulars

Turkish/Eastern Cast On (Video) – Video by PlanetPurl on the Turkish/Eastern Cast-On. Demonstration uses 2 circulars.

Once you have your cast-on in good shape it’s time to move on to the toes, which we’ll talk about in the next lesson.

Socks: Measurements and Fitting

Now that you have taken the self-assessment to see if you are ready to knit socks, it’s time to measure and learn how to fit socks.

There are several measurements you want to take when making socks because ensuring a good fit is critical to socks wearing well and being comfortable. Here are the tools you will need:

  • Flexible measuring tape
  • Ruler
  • A journal, speadsheet, table, or some other format for recording all of the data and keeping it for your records.

I usually create a Word document with the person’s name, the date of the measurement, the various measurements below, and any notes about color, style, and fiber preferences, and any special considerations. I keep all of these in a folder on my computer and include the person’s name in the file name.

Measuring for socks

1. Foot circumference. Using a flexible measuring tape, measure around the widest part of the foot pulling the tape snug but not tight.

2. Ankle circumference. Using the flexible measuring tape, measure around the ankle pulling the tape snug but not tight.

3. Foot length. Put the ruler on the floor perpendicular to the wall with the “0” mark end of the ruler flush with the wall. Have the person stand on the ruler with their heel touching the wall and their big toe on the ruler. Measure to within 1/8 of an inch.

4. Back of leg. Put the ruler against the wall again. This time, put the “0” mark of the ruler against the floor. Note the height of the ankle (where you made your previous measurement). Determine the appropriate height for the top of the sock cuff. You might want to make several notations here, one for calf-high socks (widest part of the calf) and one for knee high socks (just below the knee). If you are making socks that go over the knee or the socks will go into boots, note those height measurements as well.

5. Leg circumference. Many socks are calf-high. Using the flexible tape, measure around the widest part of the calf. If you are making knee high socks, measure around the leg  just below the knee. If you are making knee socks, it will be helpful for fitting if you make notes on the (1) length between the bottom of the heel for the bottom of the calf, (2) the length of the calf and where the widest part occurs, and (3) the length from the top of the calf to the bottom of the knee. Note whether there is a significant difference between the widest part of the calf and the bottom of the knee. This is where you have an opportunity to make a sock that really fits well as opposed to one that you purchase in a store that is basically “one size fits all.”

6. Heel-arch circumference. This measurement is probably not where you think it is. Using the flexible measuring tape, measure the area from the very back of the heel around the top of the foot where it joins the leg. While many knitting patterns and books don’t include this measurement, in Cat Bordhi’s New Pathways for Sock Knitters: Book One she uses this measurement in relation to the foot circumference measurement to determine if a foot has a high, average, or low arch. You can then adjust your pattern to accommodate and she gives you the formula to be able to do that. I promise, it’s not scary or confusing math. If you can punch numbers into a calculator, you can do this.

This article from Knitty includes a drawing to explain where the measurements happen on the foot and also has a helpful charts at to help you see what average measurements are for a number of different foot sizes.

Now, some of you are thinking, well that’s great if you have access to the person you are making socks for and you aren’t trying to surprise them. How do I get a sock to fit then? Find out what size shoe they wear. This may require some covert activities but it’s usually pretty simple. Once you have that information, you simply need to use a shoe size chart to figure out which size pattern to use. Here’s a chart from the Craft Yarn Council with children’s, women’s, and men’s shoe sizes with average numbers.

Fitting Socks

This is really, really important. Don’t make the socks to match the measurements you have taken. The socks won’t fit and they will be uncomfortable in a shoe.

To fit well, socks need to have what is called negative ease. Socks should be snug, not tight. That means that the socks need to be slightly smaller than your measurements. For a good fit, take your measurements and multiply by 0.9. That will give you a number that is 10 percent smaller than the actual foot size and will be an excellent fit.

Before you go on to the next lesson:

  • If you are able to measure the person you are making socks for, write down all those measurements and have them handy when you are going to start your pattern.
  • If you are having to go by shoe size, determine the person’s shoe size and write down or print out the information from the Craft Yarn Council like above.
  • Multiply your measurements by 0.9 to reduce them by 10% to ensure a snug, comfortable fit.

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

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.