Sock-knitting is one of my favourite “happy places”. Socks are awesome! I bow to whomever it was that came up with this delightful, practical and effective little garment for our feet. There is a misconception that socks are difficult to knit. Today, I’m here to dispel what misconceptions I can about making socks.
When customers see my ongoing sock projects they often tell me that they don’t think they could ever knit socks. I have a confession to make. I used to believe that knitting socks was too scary to consider trying. Is that how you feel? If it is, I understand your reluctance. After all, I have been in your shoes. (I couldn’t resist!)
Dispelling Sock-making Fears
Fear #1. “Look at how fine that yarn is? There must be a billion stitches in a pair of socks!”
Yes, sock yarn (also called fingering weight or 4-play yarn) is pretty fine. And yes, there are a lot of stitches in a pair of socks. You typically cast on anywhere from 48 to 64 stitches for a “top-down” sock in sock yarn. But wait a minute. Before you let this stop you, there are 3,741 kilometers between Revelstoke (where I live) and Waterloo (where my sister lives) and yet we didn’t let that stop us from visiting each other. You can’t let the number of stitches in a project stop you from trying a new pattern. Besides, you can always use a worsted weight yarn for your first pair to get an idea of the basics. You’ll cast on a mere 24 to 40 stitches.
Fear #2. “But they are knitted in the round. I’ve never done that. Isn’t that hard?”
Nope. Not hard at all. Actually: super easy. Honest. (See my previous blog post on knitting in the round.)
Fear #3. “I can’t even imagine how to make it go around the heel and all that weird stuff so it will fit your foot.”
That’s what patterns are for. No one expects you to learn to knit a pair of socks without a pattern. And you don’t have to knit them without support, either. There are many You-Tube videos by excellent, skilled knitters to demonstrate each step of the process. If there is a knitting group in your community, go to it. Get to know the folks who attend. There is bound to be a Sock Knitter in the group. Ask for help. They might not have all the answers, but it’s pretty unlikely they would refuse you. And chances are, they will have a good idea of how to narrow a You-Tube search to find the specific help you need.
Fear #4. “I’d finish one and then never make the second one.”
Well that’s just silly. If you make a sock and you discover in the process that it really isn’t your thing, then fine. Don’t make a second sock. After all, you have free will. But if you actually would like to make socks yet you never try because you don’t think you could motivate yourself to make the second sock, that’s just silly. Life is too short to not try new stuff. Besides what a fantastic opportunity to challenge yourself?
The Anatomy of a sock
Socks are made up of the following: Toe, Foot, Gusset, Heel and Calf or Leg.
Some sock patterns guide you through from the toe up and some from the top down. Either way, you end up working through all 5 of the components.
Making the toe requires that you be able to increase (toe up pattern) or decrease (top down pattern). In most patterns toes are done in stockinette (stocking) stitch. Because you knit in the round, you don’t even purl. On top down socks you will have to graft the toe (sew the end closed in a way that looks like it was knitted) using Kitchener stitch. Although this can be a little tricky to wrap your mind around it isn’t rocket science. And hey, there’s You-Tube. After all the socks I have made, I still pull up my favourite You-Tube video for Kitchener stitch. (It’s funny because I don’t need the video when I do a pillow, but on socks, I do. There is no shame in using reference material. It’s a grown-up thing to do; don’t you know?)
This is nothing more than a tube. You knit in the round… and round and round. For a beginner, you can just do stockinette (stocking) stitch and suddenly this is easy enough to do mindlessly while you watch television in the evening. Once you’ve made a couple pairs of socks you’ll be looking for ways to make it more interesting.
The gusset is the triangle at either side below the ankle. This gives space beside the heel for that widest part of the foot. Depending on whether you are going top down or toe up you will either be increasing or decreasing stitches. The pattern tells you what to do and when to do it. Depending on the pattern it may involve picking up stitches from the heel flap. Picking up the stitches is probably the trickiest part of the whole process other than grafting the toe. Just take your time and double check your work as you go.
There are a number of ways to turn a heel. This is daunting only until you’ve done it once. As you learn to do it and you see it emerge on the needles you will feel like you are working magic. It’s seriously cool. Following You-Tube videos will help. Rather than getting into too many details, my advice to you is to pick a basic sock pattern and just go with whatever that pattern is. Once you’ve done one type, you can always pick a pattern that features a different style of heel. My best advice for working heels is “Don’t over think it”.
It’s a tube. That’s it. There will be some ribbing. Once you’ve done a few you’ll be looking for patterns that make the calf more interesting.
Once you break it down, the parts are really not that big of a deal. Just work through one section at a time. Follow the pattern and don’t hesitate to look for help when you need it. Take a look at my blog post about being a beginner.
By the way, there are some fun and funky sock yarns that are self-patterning or self-striping. All you need to do is knit, the pattern happens all by itself. Result? You look like a genius! I’ve included a couple photos so you can see what I mean.
If you’ve been thinking about making socks but have been hesitant, I hope I have inspired you to give it a try. Here are a few links to basic sock patterns:
My Basic Socks: (This pattern uses worsted weight yarn, so they will knit up quickly. It’s done with a heel flap and turned heel.)
Basic Socks 11: (This pattern uses sock weight yarn, a heel flap and turned heel method.)
Vanilla Socks Toe Up Afterthought Heel: (This pattern uses sock weight yarn and afterthought heel method.)
Mini Socks 3: (If you want to try out the process on a miniature version, here is a mini sock pattern.)