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Hints and tips for sock knitting

From the Knitting Network (KnitNet) mailing list,
Compiled by Glenna Stansifer,

A note from Glenna:
This is a compilation of several months' worth of Sock Wisdom from the Knitting List. I have not included anyone's name or email address for privacy's sake. The Internet is a very public place, and I didn't want to broadcast anyone's name without their permission. Since there are patterns for socks elsewhere on Emily's Page, no patterns are included here, either. This is a compendium of hints, tips, musings, and answers to questions which may help others. Please send any additional information, hints, tips, corrections to Emily; she'll update this copy as needed. [Editor's note: please don't redistribute any of this information; just give people pointers to this page.] Happy sock knitting!

Getting started with sock knitting

Basic sock information is available in the first Threads knitting book, Hand Knitting Techniques. There's a sock article there that got me going about a month ago - talks about how to measure the leg, how to decrease down the calf, how to turn a heel, and so on. One thing it doesn't say is that, particularly for a kneesock, you should use fewer stitches than might be indicated by your gauge. Another Threads article that someone gave me provided that piece of info - alas, too late for one elephantine sock that I had already completed and realized was w-a-a-a-a-y too big!
Once you've started with socks, I can strongly recommend Folk Socks, available through Schoolhouse Press. Several different ways of dealing with heel-turning and toe-shaping, none of which I've tried yet (am busy re-knitting the elephant sock!), all of which I'm looking forward to. Socks are so much FUN! Also, if you're into somewhat esoteric stuff, the Kilt Hose book (also from Schoolhouse) is marvellous, but it is strictly for those VERY interested in socks and, specifically, kilt or knicker hose! Marvellous little old Scottish lady (picture included in book) wrote it, with detailed instructions (not all with pictures) for a number of turn-down tops for kilt hose.
Another good book, now long out of print but still available in used bookstores, is Ida Riley Duncan's book Progressive Knitting. This is a real classic, and provides many basic structures for items like socks, gloves, baby clothes, raglan and classic sweaters, etc. In fact, this book taught me how to make socks! I just found another copy and picked it up (I've got two now!) and gave it to a friend who is learning socks. This book was published almost annually it seems from 1940 to 1955 or so by Liveright (I think).
Re: good beginning sox. I like the Folk Socks book very much. It has a wealth of information- many different techniques and a good basic sock recipe - If you are feeling sox fever coming on - you'd best run out and get this book!!!

However - a very good very easy sock pattern - with very clear instructions on turning a heel is the "Have Socks Will Travel" article in Fall '92 Vogue Knitting.

Happy Sox!! - and don't forget about entrelac when you are ready (save it for your 2nd pair - and then check out the Spin Off socks book reprint - from Interweave Press)

Someone asked about what is the Folk Socks book. It is a wonderful book with the history of socks and foot coverings and 18 folk based patterns -- I have found it to be the most inspiring book I have found on socks, and the socks are FUN, not pedestrian, so it really inspires you to make them. And socks have the advantage that even in a busy week you could knit a pair. -- a slow week might produce two or three if that's all you were knitting on. I had played with socks before, but never gotten so inspired or hooked.
I made my first socks using Blauband yarn and the Socka sock booklet. After that, I adapted the pattern to suit my gauge and preferences, using sock tips from this list.
For the new sock knitters, I looked up the number of stitches for the basic socks in the Socka book. For babies - 40, for children - 48, for women - 60, and for men - 64. I personally use size two needles and they come out great.
I had a brainstorm today - maybe it's awfully basic but for me it seems like a good idea. I carry my sock knitting around in a zip-lock type bag and it goes with me to work, in the car, to meetings, etc. I had copied the basic woman's pattern and had a piece of paper folded up in my bag, along with kitchener directions from the list, measuring tape, needle, etc. Today I brought in my book and copied all sizes of the basic patterns and pasted them on 3x5 cards then put them in a plastic cover. Now I am all set. When I need to refresh my memory of how many decreases for instep or toe, etc. they are right there where I need them. Since I am getting ready to make men's and baby's socks as well as women's, this should be handy. I'm sure there is enough yarn left from women's socks to make a pair of baby socks.
Vogue Sock
Kn> So I ask, what about the sock pattern in the Vogue (fall 92)
Kn> and what yarn
Check subsequent issues of Vogue. I haven't tried that pattern myself, but I have a dim memory of folks on the list posting a correction to a serious typo in that pattern. Anyone else remember it?
[Glenna's Note: The pattern gave the wrong directions for heel-stitch. Left out subsequent sl1 in second row of pattern. The correct pattern for heel-stitch is as follows:
Row 1: Sl1, p across row
Row 2: *Sl1, K1*, repeat between ** across row]
Kn> do I use to start?  I have a box of various sportweights. 
Kn> Would they be
Kn> good?  I'm not sure what the double knitting yarn is that the
Kn> pattern  recommended and I want to try this with something I 
Kn> already have. - Yes,  you all have convinced me that I must try 
Kn> socks.
AFAIK, DK yarn is just a bit heavier than sportweight. Sort of between sport and worsted weight. The socks we learned at the guild used sport or fingering weight on size 2's. They are pretty simple. I just about know the pattern by heart now.

In fact I finished a sock without taking the directions along this weekend and started its mate. Of course I didn't have a tapestry needle along so I had to use the tiny brass safety pin from my travel mending kit as a darning needle to graft to the toe. It was either that, forget starting the second sock, or try to thread the stitches on something until I got home. Wouldn't you know that toe came out better than usual?

Got lots of interest from folk as I was sitting around the pool knitting that pink & purple swirled sock! BTW its handspun yarn, and this time even finer than usual, but socks seem to be very forgiving about gauge. This one is only slightly more snug fitting than the others I've made from that same pattern.

Those double-pointed needles!

On closer examination, it seems the size 0 double-pointed bamboo needles I have are Clover, not Crystal Palace. Bummer, because there are only 4 to a set, but I think this is because CP wasn't offering size 0s. However, I've been using one of these sets for something like 6-7 years, and while it looks extremely fragile it's withstood not only being regularly tossed around with a bunch of books in my bag but being sat on a few times :-). So it seems that bamboo is just as strong as wood would be, maybe even more if you guys have been breaking wood needles, which has never happened to any of my bamboo ones. Bamboo is supposed to be extremely strong in its flexible way, isn't it used for boat rigging in the Far East?

My friend Nancy has been using bamboo needles since they first came out, and she introduced me to them. I was horrified last time I saw her to see that the tips on some of her needles were wearing, the coating is coming off and she's got rough patches right when you need smoothness most. I concluded that this is because she knits a lot more than I do :-). But Susan points out that Clover needles are merely coated with lacquer, while the Crystal Palace ones are soaked in resin so they harden completely through. This may be the real culprit, since I've made a real effort to buy the CP ones over Clover, preferring the sets of 5...
Casting on: I usually cast on over 2 double pointed needles held together. I think someone else on this list mentioned this technique recently. For most clothing, I want a lot of give at the cast on edge, so I use a larger size needle or 2 of the same size I plan to knit with. If you use 2 needles, then you slide the needles out from either end so that you have about half on each needle. Fold them against each other so that the beginning and end are together, check that no stitches are twisted, are start knitting with a third needle. This is a pretty easy way to keep from twisting stitches.
Sometimes I knit a row or two back and forth before I join the circle. It's easier to see if the stitches are twisted that way. I use the tail from the cast on to sew up the gap that's left and it hardly shows.
Shorter DP sock needles: I have been working on a pair of socks and trying to figure out where I would cut the needles off if I were making my own shorter pins. I think would most prefer 14 cm, but I could probably get by fine with 13 cm. And definitely sets of 5.
DPN trick: I always used to stop knitting at the end of a dp needle and since I usually pick up projects like socks when I only have a few of minutes to spare, I found I was spending more time looking for that extra needle than I was knitting. Now I'm trying to get into the habit of always stopping at a point where all the needles are in use. You're told never to do that if you learn using straights, but it seems to me that it doesn't make much difference on dpns, and you won't lose one as easily.
Don't give up on socks. Holding the dpn's can be like wrestling with a porcupine but gets easier fast. Best advice I know is in E. Zimmermann's Knitting Around. They are actual photos of Meg holding the needles in the crotch of the left hand. Hard to explain but the pictures are worth 1,000 words. It works beautifully. I also place needle #1 on top of #2 at the start of each round. When my hands are really bothering me, I use two 11" circular needles, knitting from one to the other.

Eliminating ladders between needles

It only took me about 20 years to figure out how to eliminate those loose stitch ladders, and a couple of days to figure out how to describe it. I insert the righthand (working) needle into the first stitch of the lefthand needle from above the previously worked needle, rather than from below. And I give an automatic tug, I guess, to the yarn. The first few times it felt awkward, but now the old way feels strange.
Along the lines of the "ladder" in socks: If knitting on dpns, you can expect to have them if you are lazy like me, even if you pick up two additional stitches as you move around them. Tightening the stitches works well, but that is too much to remember. But, using 11" circulars will solve the problem, and I use them a lot. Much nicer and faster, especially when just knitting the old stockinet stocking... Another advantage in using them is that because socks are smallish, and the needle pulls the sock out, there is enough tension in them that stitches don't fall off...I stuff them in the pocket of my anorak, and off I go. Very convenient - I put everything in my pockets!! (Even my cat when he was a kitten and he had to go to it is funny to see him try to crawl in. Too big!)
I have found that there are two keys to avoiding these. First, I hold the needles so that the two working needles are above and behind the point of the last take-up needle. (The old takeup needle sort of points out of the front of the tent toward you, if you can picture that.) Second, I knit the first stitch on a needle extra snug (but not all the way to tight), the second stitch tight as I can, then the third extra snug again. This distributes the tightening over several stitches and also reduces the chances of dropping needles when you are tugging that tight stitch. When I was starting, I did much better with fewer things to worry about at once.

Solutions to some problems

Fitting, and tight socks

> I just ripped back the DH's sock again!  I'm starting again from scratch 
> this time.  However big I make it, his foot is bigger 8-(.  One last 
> attempt, then I'm giving up.  The tightness is across the "diagonal" from 
> the point of the heel to the front of the ankle, so I can't just measure 
> and multiply by the gauge.  At least I'm getting lots of practice on dpns.

I don't know what the sock pattern you are using looks like, but for plain old socks, I usually make a ribbed tube. The ribbing continues over the instep down to the toes. The heel and sole are then done in plain stitch. What would happen if you just stuck in 4 to 8 (for the ribbing repeat) more stitches in tube part? If the heels are fitting well to begin with, just use the old number of stitches for the heel and you would have a larger instep which seems to be where your problem arises. Then continue as usual. If the part around the foot is too large, just keep decreasing in the gusset after the heel until it fits. If he has strangely shaped feet 8-) you may have to come up with a "personalized pattern."

The other idea is to make the heel flap longer. That will give you more room in the instep gusset. Most patterns have you make the heel flap with a number of rows equal to the number of stitches in the flap. If I do this for myself, the socks pull down across the instep and are generally unpleasant to wear. I always put in about four more rows than are called for.

This sounds like the problem I have making socks for my husband who has a very high arch. My solution has been to pick up the usual number of stitches after turning the heel, but to decrease them more slowly than usual - 4 stitches every 3 or 4 rows instead of every other row.

Running out of Yarn

Ann asked about avoiding running out of yarn when making socks.
> Or, I could take the easy way out, and do an invisible
> cast on, knit only an inch or so, make the foot, and then take out the cast
> on and work up the leg until I run out of yarn.
That's almost what I'm doing. I'm adjusting the Homespun Handknit family socks pattern for my DH's very big feet. I was going to start from after the top ribbing, and add it later, but I felt that the 2 plain rounds wouldn't be stable enough when I split for the heel. On the other hand, if I started with an inch of rib, I wouldn't be able to knit up from the unpicked cast-on because the rib distorts. If you doubt that, try it and see - there's a half-stitch offset when you pick up and knit the other way (also when grafting at shoulders), which doesn't matter for plain knitting but is a problem for patterns (texture or colour). My solution was to cast on with scrap yarn and rib a few rows upward from the bottom of the cuff, but starting from part way through the ball using the short loose end. When I ran out of yarn, I slipped the stitches onto scrap yarn, picked up the stitches at the cast on edge and continued with the pattern as if I'd just finished the cuff downward. When I've done both feet, I'll weigh the remaining yarn and know how much I've got left for finishing both cuffs.
Enough Yarn for a Pair?

Joan suggested knitting socks toe-up is a good idea if you aren't sure if you have enough yarn. My solution to that which works with many top-down patterns is to do a provisional cast on (or just cast on with scrap yarn) where I expect the bottom of the ribbing to be. When I finish the toe of the first sock, I pick up the stitches at the top and knit the ribbing upward. If there isn't enough yarn left, I can rip back a few rounds before ribbing. I knit the second sock the same way so the ribbings match properly.I like L/R footed socks, as long as I remember they are 'footed' and put them on the right way round.

How to Avoid Pointy Toes

I too love socks and have had a few pointy toes in my time..why does it happen? This last pair has nice rounded toes which came about from the following pattern: do toe decreases, knit 4 rounds even; do decreases, knit 3 rounds even; do decreases knit 2 rounds even; decreases 1 round even then (alternate decrease/even row...looks nice)
Speaking of socks, the cotton ones I just completed were an adaptation of something from the latest Socka booklet, the one on the back cover of the Patternworks catalog. Anyway, I much prefer the toe to what I've done until now. Previously, the toes have all had decreases every other row until you have about 1/3 as many stitches as you started with, which are then grafted. I always get sharp little corners. The toes I just made had decrease rounds separated by 3, 2, 2, 1,1,1 and then no plain rounds, so you get a very rounded toe, and you graft the 4-stitch edges together, for a much neater and better-fitting toe.

I also liked the heel better, a Dutch heel which is right-angled when you turn it, rather than somewhat fan-shaped.


I use "Wooly Nylon" as a carry along thread for heals and toes. It works great! It is easy to use and comes in many colors Patternworks carries a few basic colors, but my local fabric store has many colors. It is primarily a serger thread intended for use on active wear fabrics - swimsuit, leotards etc. There is no wool in it of course, but it is springy like wool and doesn't tangle.

Fair Isle Floats in Socks

Carrying yarn: I'll repeat what I read in an article by (I'm almost positive) Priscilla Gibson-Roberts published sometime in the last 6 months. Try weaving in your floats for at least 2 stitches in a row. For some reason, this keeps the yarn from showing through as much. Since I read her suggestion, I've been weaving in *every stitch* as I go (if you knit continental and hold both yarns in your left hand it's pretty easy to do by just twisting your left hand back and forth). To be more precise, I weave in beginning with the second stitch of a color (you can't weave in at the color change stitch in a Fair Isle, only in intarsia where you change directions for your color; try it, you'll see what I mean). I've knit 3 pairs of socks with Fair Isle designs this way with no color show through and no variations in tension (and the socks are plenty stretchy with no loops to catch toes).

Limp Ribbing on Cotton Socks

One way to solve the "ribbing" problem on cotton socks would be to make the top "scrunchable." Make it with 3 or 4 rows of plain stockinette alternated with 3 or 4 rows of reverse stockinette. The little welts would roll back and forth against each other.

Gusset Holes

I have learned to twist every picked-up stitch (or thread, I guess I mean) as I knit it off in the gusset. Although I sometimes have things that are almost holes at the very top of the gusset, this pretty much prevents real problems. I look now at some of my first socks, and although I still love them (esp. the wool/mohair handpainted pair!), I wish I'd known about that trick then!

Thoughts from beginners (we all were once!)

I finished my first pair of socks and I have a few questions:

Some of my mistakes were obvious as soon as I started. Even though I did a swatch, I now have a bright baby-yarn acrylic pair in raspberry pink with peach toes and heels and they will fit a 250 lb. Gorilla or my husband Wally. It was a learning experience.

I used Margaret Jaeger's Hiking Boot Sock pattern in the Spin-Off SOCKS collection. Very nice directions for a beginner. When I join a new color I usually tie it to the old one, leaving ends. Because this leaves a knot and I didn't want a knot under-foot I went back after all was done and carefully picked out the knots and wove in the strands (thank goodness for the Mary Rowe (?) "if you can't see it, it didn't happen" motto). This looks ok, hope it doesn't come apart in the wash.

As a hiker I know that any little knot or bump, however microscopic it seems, may cause huge and painful problems on the trail. The pattern, as written, did not change color for the toe or heel and maybe that was to avoid making a lumpy join. I've looked closely at a pair of hiking socks hand-knit in Nepal and they were done (on two needles) so that there are no bumps, knots, seams or anything else at any place where the foot might contact the boot. So, what do you hiker- knitters think about the decorative garter stitch on the heel? Might it be a problem if I re-do this sock in wool and at the proper gauge? In pink acrylic these socks are definitely for in-door use but I'd like to be able to make socks that are good for rugged wear. Any hints?

I have one concern. Do any of you find your socks are not quite the same size? I have been trying to steal back the socks I made last year for my husband, to check out how they feel with some wear. But he has hidden them. He won't let me have them back. I do not seem him wearing them. I believe he is "saving" them, and wearing the "cheaper" store-bought ones. Hnnmm... but I don't care because I am using a forest green alpaca I bought (and found to be off the market when I searched for a source, for the ultimate simple but gorgeous "top" - planned with a green-blend eyelet scarf - but the yarn was no longer available) ... so I am making these delicious socks.
One thing I am thinking about as I finish this pair and think about improvements to make on my next pair, is ribbing and sizing. I suspect that I can increase the number of stitches and ribs and still not have a loose sock. My two pairs made to date stretch quite a bit at the calf, and are still snug enough in the ankle. I measured the wide part of the calf and may have added a few stitches. I believe the only way to decide is to -- try it out...! More ribs, perhaps at a finer gauge, would be better looking.
I am working on my 3rd pair of socks from Folk Socks. I've made one of the Norwegian stockings (yours in handspun/hand dyed will be great Kerstin!), but here is a real clue: knit up a swatch in the round! My gauge was perfect back and forth, but way too tight in the round to wear comfortably. So, it is now a Christmas stocking for this year! I also made up a sock basket. All my sock yarn and unfinished pairs of socks are living together, tidily for now, in a basket next to the couch. I do one sock at a time, and move on to a different one. Thus, I will proceed through all the stuff and get all of them done!
Well, I finished my first sock last night. I love it! The pattern is the Latvian sock pattern from Nancy Bush's Folk socks. The only minor quibble I have with it is the toe. It doen't fit perfectly--but I really shouldn't complain, it's certainly better than those seams you get with the cheap sports socks (they're always hurting my feet). Time to start the mate to this sock! Now, I'm going to have to order the Spin Off sock book and more yarn--I definitely have sock fever. I like ankle socks, so they should take no time at all.

My first sock is made with the Blauband I bought up at Sasha's favorite store in the Boston area. I got sort of an oatmeal color, because I decided that it would go with everything. Then I began knitting it and thought that it would be such a boring color. Well, it really isn't. It's just subtly varigated with red and blue. Then I thought, now when will I EVER wear wool socks in Houston. Aha, when I go back to medical school and start my clinical rotations--the surgical suites, I'm sure, will be cold. Ta Da! I'll probably have the most fashionable feet of any med student. ;)

So all the talk about socks lured me into trying some (the ones with the "clock pattern" -- it looks like stripes to me, but never mind) from this month's Knitter's).

Augh! I keep poking my fingers when I try to move the stitches, and as they're so small I want to lean towards the work in my hands, and then the points in this nestlike agglomeration of dpns wave menacingly near my eyes, and the darn things probably even won't be comfy because they're wool...

I keep having to repeat to myself "this is fun. this is fun."


Some information on sock yarns


Help! I can't stop! Last week I got frustrated with my Wildfoote. I bought it in October, and finally started using it for my first "real" socks. (A holiday stocking and Fireside Socks don't count, because I can't wear them all the time!) The yarn was the finest I'd worked with in a long time, and it was driving me crazy. I went to Nitting Niche and bought some Sedrun, a DK weight wool/nylon blend. It worked up a lot faster, and I was having fun with the pattern (seeded rib, from an old VK article by Theresa Gaffey) until I realized that it would never fit in any of my shoes. Instant UFO. I will finish them for bed socks, later. The colors are outrageous, a pink and purple mix.
I went to Spindleshanks Yarnworks, and picked up some Socka Color. Patternworks calls this particular color scheme "Jeweltones." The background appears to be navy, with emerald, fuschia, sapphire, and yellow highlights. It's turning into a respectable mock cable sock. I like the yarn better than the Wildfoote, because it's more tightly plyed. It may also be a tad heavier.

At the same time I bought the Socka, I bought some 7" Brittany birch needles. After trying them at home, I decided I didn't like them because they were too long. I went back to my 5" needles which are a little too short (they poke my right palm), but easier to deal with. I really like the Brittany needles. My stitches aren't that tight on the needle, and I like the fabric I'm getting from them. I'm using a size 2, 5" dpn. As I said above, though, slightly longer might be better.

Sock yarn: I have knit socks from a variety of yarns, only some of which were classified as "sock yarn". The "official" sock yarns I have seem to have the following features in common: they are spun fairly tightly (longer wear), they are sport weight or smaller (socks will be thin enough to fit into most shoes), they are generally machine wash/dry flat, the wools have nylon added for extra wear, and the cottons are heavily mercerized and seem to have a very long staple length (also for better wear). I learned through sad experience (luckily it only took me one pair to figure out :)) that tightly knit socks last longer and feel better than loosely knit socks.
Yes, I'm the one (or one of the ones) doing the Girly Girl socks from this (the silvery-grey color) and I *adore* it--it's so-o-o-o soft and behaves itself (except that it's so silky that the needles slipped out of the whole row of cast-on stitches, not once, but twice--once I switched to bamboo needles I didn't have any more trouble).

My ribbing seems ok--I suspect it will soften and stretch a little, but for the time being I'm not going to add any elastic or stabilizers; I'll wait and see what happens with washing and wearing, and add elastic later as needed. These are for a friend's birthday (for the woman who taught me to knit), but I've already decided I must have a pair myself. The pattern is easy and beautiful, and the yarn feels delightful.

You ask about sock blockers... well, personally and IMHO, I don't quite "get it". I wash my socks after I wear them (the ones that can go in the machine do, the ones that can't go in the bathroom sink; if I'm being really efficient, I take them off and wash them right away, trying to remember not to spit toothpaste on them!). In either case, the socks get hung up to dry (either on the clothesline with the rest of my laundry, or in the tub enclosure to drip), not blocked. My foot blocks them well enough when I put them on!! :)

Variegated Sock Yarns

The middle of last week I realized that I only had variegated sock yarn. As I want to make patterned socks I really need to have plain, single color yarn to be the background (don't I?).

This required a quick trip to the local yarn shop in Cincinnati. I seriously considered calling Webs, but I didn't think I could wait that long, and I also believe that local shops should be supported. They had some slate blue Socka yarn that was ok for what I wanted. I had really hoped to find black or navy, but this will do fine. All the rest was either pastel or variegated. However, they had some *wonderful* 75% cotton 25% nylon sock yarn. It is very soft and I think it will make great socks. The shop lady said one customer had made a pair for her daughter 6 months ago that are holding up well to very hard wearing.

There were several brands. I came home with a 100g ball (yes, one ball with enough for a pair of socks) of GGH Sprint, made in Germany. This will become Lacy Ankle Socks as per _Homespun_Handknit_ (Interweave Press).

I've also noticed that very interesting patterns emerge when using variegated sock yarns. The hot pink/purple/orange/yellow/grey Trekking sock yarn I'm using in DS's Wild Socks didn't seem to be makng patterns until I finished and actually looked at it from a distance. The purple had made thin spirals around the foot. The other colors had only made little blobs.

Other yarns of Trekking yarn have ended up making zigzags, spirals, and even crossing spirals which was quite fun. It will be interesting to see what happens with the second of the pair. I've finished the ribbing on it, and have started the heel flap.

Really really thin socks

Machine knitting yarn may work. On my knitting machine 2 pieces of 2-ply wool knits up to 8 or so stitches per inch, similar to some hand knitting sock yarn. Using straight stocking stitch instead of color patterns makes it thinner, too.

Wooly nylon

> This is a question for all who have used Wooly Nylon.
> I have been using elastic thread for sock ribbing, and find
> it a real drag, both literally and figuratively, to work with.
> I'd like to find out about Wooly Nylon as an alternative--
> --how elastic is it?
> --how hard/easy to work with compared to elastic thread?
> Any opinions  welcome--
I've used wooly nylon to reinforce sock heels. I don't think I would use it for ribbing. It is very elastic but very thin. It conforms to the wool it is knit with, not the other way around. It is very strong. I'm not even sure about its advantages as a reinforcer because the wool would still wear away, leaving a net of just the nylon. This would, however make darning easier.
I have been using Wooly Nylon in the ribbing of the socks I have been knitting and like it a lot. I think it is easy to knit along with the sock yarn. I use Socka and Froelich yarns in cotton and wool and both work well. I have also used it to re-inforce heels and toes since it knits so smoothly. So far it has held up well in the washing machine. I can't comment on the elastic thread but I have heard others say that it is more difficult to use. The Wooly nylon comes in many colors and variegated shades which look nice.
There are 2 different weights of wooly nylon. The regular has 1,000m on a spool and the same size spool is used for the extra and it only has 300m. I'm not sure if that translates to it being 3x's the thickness, but it certainly has much better coverage when I use it in my serger. With everybody talking about using it in socks, I'm going to try it on on my next pair. I knit mine on my knitting machine and will just thread the yarn and wooly nylon through the same feeder and see what happens.

Non-wool sock yarn

How 'bout Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece?? It's a cotton/wool blend (80%/20% I think) and it's for sure available in light worsted - and maybe in sport too. It would be perfect - and comes in very pretty colors too. I saw some buzz about it earlier this year on the list -- and the opinion seemed to be that it's good stuff. If your local store doesn't carry Brown Sheep -- They should!! All the usual disclaimers apply, but you might want to try Corrida 3 from Pinguion. It's 50% cotton, 50% acrylic and ok to work with. I don't like acrylic, and I don't like knitting with cotton, but this is soft and nice. The Corrida 3 is a fingering weight, it also comes heavier (Corrida 4 and 5), but this might just do. Good colors, too!
Socka, a very popular sock yarn, comes in cotton as well as wool. I know because I just bought some this weekend (in a shop in Ogden, Utah). I haven't checked the Patternworks catalog, but I imagine that they might carry it.
My next socks will be in Sirdar Country Style (45/40/15 acrylic/nylon/ wool), which my mother and I have used quite a lot over the years. It is one of the most popular yarns in the UK. It is fairly cheap, it is hardwearing (they put nylon in sock yarn for that reason), it is soft (I think it feels nicer than a lot of superwash wools) and it doesn't have that shiny look and nasty feel that 100% acrylics have.
I have come to the conclusion that the difference between an expert knitter and an experienced knitter, is simply, an expert always does a swatch! Socks are the first things I've knitted in over 15 years (I've been knitting for over 35) that I didn't do a gauge swatch. And I didn't because to cast on for the swatch, and knit it in the round was going to be just as much as starting on the first sock! The wild thing is I had to rip out the first two tries, as my normal going down two needle sizes didn't work! I'm right on gauge! So far, and I've just finished my fourth pair of socks, have one sock of two different patterns waiting for mates (the closest I've come to just making one pair of socks is the ones I just finished. Made out of the Fortisimma Cotton I got from Patternworks -- it's just cotton and nylon, for socks! It is as sinfully soft as they claim and a joy to knit with! I'm in my third day of "I will not order more, I have enough sock yarn, I will not order more, I have enough sock yarn [for the whole summer of knitting nothing but socks]. It feels so wonderful knitting, and the first sock feels so glorious on, that I had to finish the second one ASAP so I could wear it before it gets too hot here in DC for socks.) I am finding I knit right on gauge with Nancy Bush and Folk Socks. The cotton socks are from one of the Socka books and I felt, compared with what I had knit with the other three pairs that the needle sizes were too big, so went down for them, and it's working just right!
I do most heartily agree with you about the Fortissima cotton; can you hear my toes purring? they're in Fortissima cotton socks now, the gray-and-white ones! And I've a pair of blue- and-pale-blue on the needles (well, the first of a pair). And I find that I should be able to get two pairs out of three balls, at least, I hope so; one pair (size 7.5 feet) for me and one for my mother (size 6 feet). It's expensive yarn, so this makes me feel a bit better about it! I have these amazing fantasies of nothing but hand-knit socks in my sock drawer... :)
Back to socks: I am making my cable-lace socks out of Trekking yarn. Very nice. I am also finishing up some in a linen/cotton/acrylic blend for the OM, and another out of Wildfoote in sunflower. The latter is my current knit-in-class project...have 2 more pairs to do in Wildfoote. Also, picked up some of the 4-ply Botany yarn by Rowan in slime green and grape for a gaudy pair...think I will move on to something different.
I'm just so thrilled--I finished the first of a pair of socks over the weekend, in Fortissima and in parrot colors. I used the Girly-Girl pattern from the Spin-off book, and while the colours are too busy to show the lace to advantage, the texture looks really interesting.

The Fortissima is lovely soft cotton, and my little boy (aged six, with a flair for the dramatic) has decided he HAS to have a sweater in that yarn--in fact he wants another Wallaby. Hope the stuff looks good doubled.

We seem to have found the Q for the Q sock--Quivet! Anyone who's worked with Fortissima: What size needles and/or gauge do you think works best with this yarn? I want to make those anklets for my mother but I don't want them too thin. I was a little disappointed with the Wildfoote on # 2 needles, I would have preferred a heavier (tighter) knit. BTW, the circ worked fine to cure the splitting, but when I had to do the toe on dp's, I had splitting trouble all over again!
On Fortissima sock cotton yarn. I've made two pairs of socks, went two needle sizes down for the cotton (on socks, for some reason, I'm right on gauge in wool), and they have been wearing wonderfully -- machine washing and drying always. Haven't worn them for over a month, too bloody hot in this area. (We've only had one day UNDER 90 in the past two weeks, and it was 89 that day -- big deal) I'm currently about to turn the heel on the second sock of a pair for my son out of the Forest Hues, but he's not wearing socks either.

Handspun for socks

One wonderful usage for beginner's yarn that I have found is in knitting socks. It is particularly great for cuffs, as beginners yarn is frequently a little overspun. Cuffs made of it rarely fall down! Besides which, these socks all display great character. The only problem is that you have too soon used up all your early yarn and never remember just how to duplicate it for those cuffs.
Recently enjoyed a wonderful 3-day workshop with Rita Buchanan. Rita is the best teacher I've ever had; also took her 3-day WS at SOAR '92. Although the topic was "Spinning More and Spinning Better," we also learned something really neat about knitting. Rita showed us a pair of socks she had knitted from pencil roving without spinning it first! She said she has worn and washed them 3 x a week for months and they are holding up fine.

I went home that night and made a sample. It does work fine! I'm now knitting a pair of socks for myself from that gorgeous purple merino roving I planned to spin for those socks. Just skipped a step! My roving isn't pencil roving so I am just drafting it out to a uniform thickness as I knit - seems to work fine. Can't wait to wear the socks. They are so soft and so purple!

I finished what I like to call my Monet sock. It's the first of a pair from a ball-dyed yarn in teal, cream and purple, that came out with a cuff looking like a blurred impression of a flower bed. Silly me. I didn't weigh the ball of handspun first. I made a longer cuff than usual cause I like warm ankles. Should have made a shorter cuff.

The sock weighs 1.5 oz. The rest of the ball weighs 1 oz. A 3 or 4 inch cuff and I could have made a pair, but not a 7 inch cuff. And of course it was knit cuff to toe. Just the thing to wear to kick myself!

So... another ball spun from the same fleece (I hope!) is sitting in grape Koolaid now, in a deli container that's in an insulated lunch tote. I dyed the other end teal last night (1 Bluedini and 1 Pink Lemonade). With luck, knitting from the middle of this ball will give me a close match to the Monet sock.

Special kinds of socks

Spiral Rib Tube Socks

[Glenna's Note: This starts out with a solution to a neckline problem, but the solution can also be applied to shaping ribs on the legs of spiral tube socks]

Suggestion for dilemma about the Aran with the very large neck.......

If you pick up stitches all around the neck and begin a circular turtle-neck (or plan for a mock turtle-neck) and begin with a rather wide rib stitch such as 4K,3P than you can plan decreases such as 3K,3P...... then 3K,2P...........then 2K,2P, then maybe even down to 2K,1P and finally 1K,1P.

You have 'filled-in' the too-large neck and built a nicely closing-in neck. The ribs could be straight or could even spiral around the neck (is that too feminine for a man's sweater........I don't know!)

I have used gradually decreasing ribs on two pair of socks:
  1. Just slightly decreasing as I approached the ankle -- it was subtle but helped the fit so the ankle wasn't bunchy.
  2. On a spiral-rib sock that was from a pattern where the whole spiral was constant until you reached the toe area, I instead increased the numbers of the knits and purls as I approached theheel-area (no heel in this spiral sock, remember) and then decreased the number of knits and purls in a regular manner after the 'balloon' for the heel as the whole sock proceeded towards the toe -- it stretches nicely for the heel, but it does 'wrinkle-up' a bit on the instep.....

Argyles a Diamond at a Time

>: I was wondering if anyone had any instructions for making argyle
>: socks *one diamond at a time*. My local knitting guild used to
>: have the pattern, but we can't seem to locate it for love or
>: money. If anyone could post instructions or advice, I'd be most
>: grateful.
It's in the Knitting Around the World Threads book.

Also the Nomis sock book has instructions for one-at-a-time diamonds. It's actually quite simple. If you are knitting say a single column of diamonds, this is what you do: With the background colour, start knitting the first round by dcreasing one stitch at the beginning and end of the round, then turn. Purl back. Work back and forth, decreasing every knit round until you are at the fat point of what would be your diamond.

Now pick up your diamond yarn, and with the right side of your work facing, pick up and knit two stitches from the first two stitches you decresed at each end of the first knit row. Turn. Pick up and purl one stitch, purl 2. Turn. Pick up and knit 1 stitch, knit 3. Continue in this manner unttil you have reached the fat point of the diamond.

Now you start decreasing as you did for the background colour, until you can fasten off the last stitch. Pick up your background colour again, and work the background the same way you worked the bottom half of the diamond.

You might want to fiddle with different types of decreases to get them to lie along the slant, or into the slant, or whatever, but this is the basic idea. Do make sure that your back-and-forth gauge is the same as your gauge-in-the-round.

Afterthought Heel Socks

I've been knitting and refining a great sock pattern that has an "afterthought heel". You just knit in a strand of waste yarn at the bottom of the cuff (where the heel will go) and then knit the foot. After you're all done, you remove the waste yarn and knit the heel. It's a great pattern for a "haul around" project, because you rarely have to think or count. I now have 8 socks (luckily it's 4 pair) that need to have the heel knit. I knew there was a flaw to the pattern. Usually, when you graft the toe, YOU'RE DONE! I can see me now, sitting by the light of the fireplace after the midnight service on Chrismas Eve adding heels to socks for everyone's present! Sigh.

My old favorite sock pattern is EZ's Moccasin Socks. They are so practical, warm, and fun to knit. You knit the cuff, then the top of the foot. Then you pick up stitches all round and knit the bottom as a big oval, getting smaller as you go. Then you graft the left-half-bottom to the right-half-bottom. The real advantage to this pattern is that you can reinforce the entire bottom of the foot. Then, if the bottom wears out, you can just replace it, not the whole sock. (I've never actually done this, but I have 3 socks that need to have new bottoms knit on.) It's a great pattern and I recommend it.

My favorite pair were knit with rainbow stripes in the foot. They were grey socks on top, but the sole of the foot was a pink ring, around a purple ring, around a blue ring.... and so forth. Whenever anyone asked me where I got the pattern, I said the same thing: "I made it up, right after I saw Sidna Farley wearing a pair just like them." Of course, it's a joke. It was Sidna's variation on EZ's pattern.

Amy D.

Found nice 1930's sock book with spiral socks but with heels. Spouse asked for spirals to go in different directions. I scoffed...but, hey, it looks nice. Weird thing for heel flap: usually do the knit/slip sort of heel, *but* this pattern used a purl/slip which makes a really nice nubbly sort of look.

Eleanora of Toledo's Stockings

I just picked up Bishop Rutt's book, A History of Hand Knitting, and there are a couple of photographs, and some very specific information. If you have access to this book, you'll see it very clearly. His description: They would reach to the knee only. The silk garters were apparently tied below a top that turned over like a little English boy's stocking.

The pattern of these turnover tops (seen in reverse in the photograph) consists of a narrow band of plain knitting with two zigzag lines of purl running round the stocking, divided by two purled rounds from the broad central band of the turnover. The broad band has a trellis of purls, two purls wide, with plain lozenges between the trellis purls. Each lozenge contains four eyelets. The turnover is completed by a second narrow band with zigzags. The legs and feet have broad vertical stripes, alternately an 8-stitch stripe of double moss-stitch and a 9-stitch stripe of 'double garter stitch' (2 rounds purl, 2 rounds plain). These broad stripes are divided by narrow stripes each consisting of reversed stockinet, edged with a single wale of plain stitches and with a central wale which alternates 1 plain, 1 purl, vertically. Rutt also says: "These are elegant and elaborate stockings." Ain't that the truth!

Though I can't be sure (the stockings are not laid out flat in the photo), it looks as though there are five vertical bands each of the double garter, and the double moss, divided by a narrow band which is (right side: k 1, p 2, k1, p2, k1; wrong side: p1, k5, p1). Okay, 5 8-stitch bands, plus 5 9-stitch bands, plus 10 7-stitch bands, would give you 155 stitches. This appears to be over the calf length of the stocking. I would expect some decreasing for the ankle, but again, I really can't see that in the photo.

When shaping the foot, it appears that the double moss runs right down the instep. The heel flap appears to be worked in the established pattern as follows: narrow band (7), double garter (9), narrow band (7), double moss (8), narrow band (7), double garter (9), narrow band (7), double moss (8), narrow band (7), double garter (9), narrow band (7) (total - 85 stitches). I'm guessing here.

Most stockings of the time had more than half of their stitches used for the heel flap, but I can't say for sure that this is correct. When the stitches are picked up along the side of the worked heel for the body of the foot, they are all worked in double moss. Decreases to the toe are made in the double moss, and double garter bands. The narrow dividing bands are not reduced until that's all that's left.

Now, as to how to get this thing to fit, you might want to check Emily's page. My stocking instructions are there, and it talks about making a pattern that will fit.

Donna Flood Kenton

The Blue Sock

The origins of this came from online quilters, who use a blue quilted star lapel pin to identify each other [at an in-person gathering, like a conference, workshop or convention]. The online knitters decided to try something similar, but a sock made more sense to the knitters than a star (which was a pain to graph out anyway). Any small sock pattern will do; since it's a pin, you don't need to be neat when carrying colors. Many of us have used the "Wee Sock" pattern by Theresa Gaffey (at the end of Homespun, Handknit) for our pattern; it's quick (under 2 hours) and an appropriate size (about 3 inches from cuff to toe). Sometime I might try a fancy ethnic sock that was designed to be a Xmas ornament, such as the ones by Lizbeth Upitis and Priscilla Gibson-Roberts (both in (different) past issues of Knitter's magazine).

Miscellaneous musings

Turkish socks: What the hell, I'm doing them, even if I don't like the toe, which is still very squatty and short. I need to research (read: ask more experienced sock knitters in my spinning group) alternate toe-first toes. I used my own favourite not-very-distorting increase: ktbl in the loop between stitches below, but the toe still pulls up quite a bit, and is very, very short: about an inch only. It'll stretch to fit, one way or another. The pattern I'm using looks great though, and the handspuns are working out well. I love the galloping-horse criterion, as I often tend to get a bit impatient and can't be bothered to redo something that only I would notice.
Clocked sox refer to the decorations put on sox where the heel is turned and joined to the foot. Many are very elaborate constructions with wonderful traveling stitches or knitted or embroidered in colors. Baurliches Stricken books (v. 1-3 by Lisa Fanderol) has great charts of these clocked patterns.
Good Morning from a chilly Toronto...

Last night our weavers' guild went to the Museum for Textiles as a treat for our April meeting. The display titled "From Baba's Hope Chest" is well worth seeing, especially for all you sock lovers out there. You can visit the museum any day but Monday and the show will be on until October 15th, 1995.

I bought a copy of Folk Socks a couple of months ago and by seeing that show last night the whole book came to life. Apparently a bride in Macedonia was expected to have a pair of socks to present to every member of the groom's family. Baba's hope chest had numerous pairs of fine black patterned socks and also many multicoloured wool socks, all with pointy toes and heels.

Ten pairs of brightly coloured socks, many with twining and extra embroidery, formed one wall display. There were these fabulous socks right at eye level and not behind glass.

On foot sizes of 2-year olds and tube socks for same:

I second the recommendation that anyone making socks for toddlers or little kids make tube (heel-less) socks.

Tube sock knitters do not have to worry about the heel-toe length of the foot.

Long tube socks fit for years until they are entirely outgrown.

Tube socks wear more evenly and survive the abuse of floor-scuffing shoeless kids longer than heeled socks.

Tube socks are easier to darn than heeled socks. (I took the time to knit them, you bet I'm taking the time to darn 'em!)

Small kids (even two-year olds) can put them on by themselves. To me, this is the most important argument for making them. My daughter Alexandra (now barely 4) loved the multicolor tube socks I and my mother made for her. She liked that they were easy to put on and take off. She still wears the tube style at every chance, and refers to heeled socks as "bent."

Her absolute favorites were three pair (actually 6 completely different socks) that used the same colors but shared no duplications of horizontal stripes or patterns among them. Not only could she put them on, she didn't even have to worry that they didn't match.

Finally, some thoughts on "Why socks?"

- Instant gratification - a pair of socks takes me a week or so, a sweater takes months. Alongside the big, long-term projects, I like to have little ones that I can finish quickly - for variety as well as a sense of achievement.

- They make wonderful small gifts. Lots of times I need a small present for somebody (as a thank you or to cheer up someone who is going through difficult times or for birthdays) and I want to give something handmade but not as big as a sweater - socks and such are ideal. (The peacock facecloth wrapped up with some of those creamy French soaps will be a lovely gift, I think.) The people I've given socks to all wrote back with nearly the same comment: "I put them on at once, and wore them all day - they kept my feet so warm and it made me feel very special to receive them!" You can be so creative with socks, choosing interesting colors and styles that suit the individual's wardrobe and personal style.

Can you stand one more comment about why we knit socks? Since I don't hear any nays, I'll proceed. Whenever I make a sock, especially when I turn the heel, I always think of all the women and men who have done this action for hundreds of years before me, standing in fields with their knitting belts, sitting in front of fires, thinking of loved ones (there's a great picture in Anne McDonald's No Idle Hands of 'injured men making socks for soldiers') (actually there are tons of great pictures in that book!) etc. I think about what their lives were like and how my life is so different and, yet, perhaps, the same, in some ways as theirs. I like the connection to all these knitters that I feel. Or, as Nancy Bush, so much more eloquently, puts it in Folk Socks -- "Knitting for me is more than a hobby or a livelihood. It is a means of binding my life together with the lives of all the knitters, men and women, who have knit before me."
I've decided that I like knitting socks as a way to experiment with a given set of colors, stitch patterns, or yarns before knitting a sweater. If I ever get around to knitting sweaters again, I may actually end up with coordinated sweaters and socks -- cool! Of course, I don't think this would work too well with mohair...
I'd love to add to the comments under "Special Socks" about Why to knit socks. They do indeed make great gifts. Something that wasn't mentioned but should be: a pair of machine-washable wool socks is a perfect gift for a baby shower, especially if for a fall/winter baby. Even summer babies can use wool socks in some parts of the country (like here in the ever-damp Pacific NW). I have found the mother is always delighted and it is a one of a kind item. One toddler is still playing with a sock that I knit that doesn't fit anymore, but is still bright and colorful.
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Emily Way (

Last updated October 29, 1995 (formatting changes made April 7, 1998)