Insights from my sock making journey

This blog post accompanies the YouTube video below in which I talk through the insights I’ve gained from learning to knit sock and crochet socks as a knitting novice and experienced crocheter.

I’ll be talking about both as a lot of aspects of the information useful to a beginner applies to both. I haven’t done too much on crochet socks recently as I’ve been trying to master the knitting…

You can read more about my experiences with crochet socks in previous posts and in previous podcasts – Episode 7 and Episode 59:

Although crochet has almost always seemed like second nature to me, knitting definitely hasn’t! Its been a struggle but I’m not a quitter and I like many aspects of knitted fabric and the way it can be used in garments. So my journey with sock knitting has been slow and tortuous and times, but I think I’ve now come through onto a slightly smoother path.

While I’m at this point I thought it would be useful to others on this journey to document my thoughts and aha! moments and to try to think through all the things I know NOW that I wish I’d known THEN, when I was starting out.

Major To-Do list for making socks

  • DO believe that you can knit or crochet socks. This sounds a bit like psychobabble but I think that self belief is a big thing with sock making. Loads of other people have learned to knit and crochet socks and you will too.
  • DO expect your first socks to be far less than perfect. Its easy to be intimidated by the gorgeous perfect blocked socks on instagram but remember that the makers have been through what you are going through to get there.
  • DO expect to have to practice and put the work in. When I started knitting socks I became demotivated and left socks in limbo for weeks, if not months. Keep at it. Even a round a day is a round nearer to a finished sock
  • DO other projects that enhance your knitting and crochet skills. I’ve found knitting socks a lot easier now that I’ve had some more experience of knitting generally, particularly continental knitting on circular needles.
  • DO start out with inexpensive sock yarn. That way if you totally muck up the socks and many attempts mean that the yarn has to be binned, its not a financial disaster and you won’t feel as bad. Drops Fabel sock yarn is terrific and costs about £2 per 50g ball.
  • DO expect to make a sacrificial sock. I’ve said this about crochet socks many times and the same is just as true for knitting socks. With Drops Fable, why not buy three 50g balls for your first socks – then you have more chance of ending up with a pair.
  • DO start with some good and well regarded tutorials and resources (see below for my suggestions for sock knitting). Look at several sources too. We all learn in different ways and one tutor might explain something and you won’t get it, no matter how many times you watch or read, then another tutor with a different approach will click everything into place.

Starting out on the sock knitting journey

Most newbie sock knitting resources that I know if show how to work a plain vanilla sock from the cuff down to the toe.

I would recommend THE place to start is the blog Winwick Mum by Christine Perry, whose sockalong has now become the starting point for so many newbie sock knitters.

Christine shows how to knit using double pointed needles (DPNs), small circular needles and the magic loop method.

You can also buy her photo tutorials and instructions in a book that she self-published.

The sockalong has a couple of Facebook groups where you can get help, advice and support.

Staci of Very Pink Knits has many video tutorials on knitting for crocheters, including some on sock knitting. She can go quite fast but she has a wealth of tutorials that are really worth looking at.

Mina Phillip of The Knitting Expat Podcast also has some more advanced sock knitting tutorials but she is so knowledgeable and thorough that they are worth watching even as a beginner.

A journey down a sock

When I first started out, getting my head around the different parts of a sock was quite a struggle, even though socks are everyday items. You just need to start looking at them in a different way once you start making them. I’ve labelled the different parts in the photo below using my crochet sock – the only socks I’ve made with contrasting heel, toes and cuffs.

The cuff

This is the top section of the sock that fits around your lower calf. It is usually made using some sort of ribbing. Its purpose is not really to keep the sock up (although it certainly helps do that), its really there to stop the stitches at the top of the leg of the sock rolling over. This is particularly necessary in knitted socks, as stocking stitch/stockinette rolls in on itself naturally.

Knitting socks on two circular needles

What I’ve learned about knitting a sock cuff

I have tended to knit quite tightly when making socks – its the stress that does it! Its better to relax and allow the stitches to be looser rather than tighter in your first go. You can always adjust your tension as you gain confidence.

The cast on needs to be loose. This doesn’t mean going up a needle size – that won’t really make much difference. As you cast on, leave more space between the cast on stitches. It will look ‘gappy’ but those gaps will give the top of the cuff the stretch it needs and will not be noticeable once the ribbing is finished.

This tutorial by Mina Phillip of the Knitting Expat podcast shows how to do this – the main tutorial is on two-at-a-time socks but Mina’s tips and tricks are valuable to sock knitters at all stages and using all methods

Using this method, I now find it possible to cast on using a small circular needle and knit in the round straight away from round 1. If you find it tricky when using this method, knit the first two or three rows of ribbing on straight needles and then join and transfer to your small circular.

There are many ways of doing the rib, but most people start with a basic knit 2, purl 2 ribbing thats around 15 to 20 rounds deep. Once you get going you can try a knit 1, purl 1 rib or a twisted rib, where the knit stitch is made into the back of the stitch rather than the front. And you can make the cuff as deep as you like. The minimum is probably about 10 rounds but you can make a very long cuff to turn over if you like.

IMPORTANT: when making your first sock, note down exactly what you do; how many stitches you have cast on, how many rows of rib in the cuff and so on as you continue through the sock. This is the only way you will be able to make an identical second sock.

The leg

The leg is the part of the sock between the cuff and the start of the heel. Its knit in the round without increasing or decreasing and is one of the more relaxing parts of sock knitting.

What I’ve learned about knitting the leg

I love knitting the leg but I don’t like my socks to be too long, so I generally knit between 30 and 50 rounds. Christine’s sockalong pattern suggests 75 rounds I think. If you like long socks, just be aware that very long socks might take more than the standard one ball or skein of sock yarn. This is particularly true of men’s socks where the man has a large shoe size.

Knitting socks on two circular needles

The heel flap

When people tell you the heel is not the scariest part of the sock, they are right, but you won’t believe them. I didn’t.

But it is actually not that bad. The heel flap is just a square of knitting done backwards and forwards while the front of your sock is left on a stitch holder or spare needle.

Generally, there is an accepted formula for the number of stitches and rows. If you have cast on 60 stitches in the round for your leg, you knit half of those as the heel flap, so 30 stitches. And then knit 30 rows.

If you are doing a DK sock or heavier yarn still, and have 40 stitches in the round, your heel flap is 20 stitches wide and 20 rows deep.

This is a starting point through. You will need to make your first pair of socks and then see how well they fit. Then you can adjust. If you need a wider or deeper heel, try it out on your next pair until you develop a recipe for your own feet.

The patterns for a heel flap also vary but many contain slip stitches to make the heel flap thicker and more padded so that its comfortable and also wears better. Christine’s pattern uses the Eye of Partridge stitch, which is very easy to do but it does require you to know how to slip a stitch and how to purl.

The heel turn

This is a tiny section of the sock but its basically what makes a sock a sock. Its just plain knitting going backwards and forwards again but you will do something scary called short rows.

All this means is that you knit to about two thirds of the way along the first row, turn early, then purl back to one third from the end, turn early and knit to the point where the ‘gap’ is. The stitch before and after the ‘gap’ are knitted together, then one more stitch is knitted before turning early again and doing the purl row. Again, purl together the stitches before and after the ‘gap’ then purl one stitch and turn again.

Once you get going you can see the gap so easily and you don’t have to count – just keep going, knitting or purling together the stitches before and after the gap, then adding one more stitch before turning again. Eventually you run out of stitches and your heel turn is done.

Picking up stitches prior to knitting the gusset

This can also be quite daunting as a newbie sock knitter. I’ve found that adding three stitches of garter stitch to either side of my heel flap really helps me see what I am picking up.

You need to pick up the stitches along one side of the heel flap, across the top of the heel turn, and then along the other side of the heel flap before resuming the knitting along the front of your sock.

You are likely to get a little hole at the point between the heel flap and the front of the sock – but its easy to just darn it closed once you are finished. Or try picking up extra stitches at that point. You can get rid of them again as you decrease in the gusset section.

The gusset and the decreases

In your first socks, you will probably start decreasing after doing one round of knitting after picking up all of your stitches around the heel flap and heel turn. If your socks fit fine, that’s perfect. But if you have a high arch, you may find the stitches stretch across the front of your foot. If this happens, try adding three or four rounds more of plain knitting before starting your decreases. It adds a bit of extra width at this point, which can really help.

I still can never remember which decrease goes on which side of the sock, I always have to look it up. The complication arises because you need a left slanting decrease on one side and a right slanting decrease on the other to get a neat gusset line.

Using markers with SSK and K2T prompts really helps, which is why I’ve ended up producing them for my Etsy shop. Basically, as you knit down the side of your heel flap, just before going across the front of your sock, you need to knit two stitches together, then knit one stitch before you slip your marker. Once you have knitted across the front of the sock, slip the second marker and knit one stitch. Then make a slip slip knit (SSK) decrease before carrying on up the second side of the heel flap and across the top of the heel turn to complete the round.

Making an SSK as neat as possible

I’ve tried various methods of doing this and the one that is neatest for me involves:

  • Slip a stitch as if to knit, slip the next stitch as if to knit, pass both slipped stitches back to the first needle and knit them both together normally (not through the back loop or anything).

Other sources suggest slipping purlwise and other variations – you need to try all of them and see which one works best in your knitting.

The gusset is a long and slow section of a sock!

Once you are through the heel you will probably feel quite elated but then depressed as the gusset takes FOREVER. It is quite a long section as you make a decrease round and then knit a plain round, so you only decrease 2 stitches over every two rounds. But keep going. Those stitches do decrease and the aim is to get back to the same stitch count you had in the leg of the sock. Note at all the decreases are at the back of the sock; the front part of the sock always has 30 stitches (or whatever you started with).

Jan 12th progress vintage fairy lights socks

The foot

The foot is again a relaxing part of sock knitting, as it involves just going round and round. The downside of having small feet, as I have, is that its over all too soon and then its time to start the dreaded toe!

You need to knit your foot so that it ends just as your big toes separates from its neighbour – the big toe cleavage some like to call it. Then you know you have enough stretch once your toe is finished to allow your sock to fit snugly. When making crochet socks, make your foot even shorter. Off the feet, crochet socks look like they should fit a Hobbit but they stretch to fit your feet.

The toe

Christine’s sock pattern shows how to knit a wedge toe, by making decreases at either side, and then closing the toe with a grafting technique called the Kitchener stitch.

Most sock knitters dislike doing it, but its only a few stitches. This is the best explanation of the Kitchener stitch that I’ve found:

If you do really hate the grafting, there are also plenty of other toe patterns to try. A star toe or a round toe, for example, use decreases spread evenly around the sock and end by threading the tail end through the last 8 stitches before weaving it in. Just google sock knitting star toe and you will find loads of sources for different ways of doing them.

Sock knitting strategy finished socks

Avoiding second sock syndrome

Yes, its a common affliction that many sock knitters develop. After all that effort, you feel great when the sock is finally done. Only to then experience the sinking feeling that you need to do it all over again in exactly the same way so your socks match.

I definitely have this problem and am trying to get over it by knitting the different sections for both socks, before going onto the next. So, in my latest socks, I’ve knitted the cuff and leg and I’m now going to cast on the second sock to get it to the point before starting the heel flap on the first sock.

You might also want to work towards making your socks using the magic loop method two-at-a-time.

Some knitters work two pairs of socks in tandem; make sock 1 of pair 1, then make sock 1 of pair 2 using a completely different colour/style of yarn, then go back to sock 2 of pair 1 before doing sock 2 of pair 2.

What are your thoughts on sock making?

Lots of people who watch the podcast have vastly more experience than me in making socks, both knitted and crocheted, so please do leave a comment here or on the video on YouTube. What are your best tips about starting out with socks? What was your main aha! moment? How have you solved problems with knitting or crocheting socks?

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