Technique Tuesday

Socks are my absolute favorite things to knit. They're small and portable (if you're knitting on the bus you're not going to be poking the guy next to you with the ends of your 14" straights), they use small balls of yarn, so even if you buy two colors you won't end up with tons of leftovers, and you can make them in virtually any stitch pattern.

If you know me, you know I can't handle following a written pattern. I want to change everything. So after attempting my first pair of socks with a written pattern (and failing miserably), I graduated to a sock calculator, and then just started tinkering until I came up with my own pattern that worked best for me. Today I'll be sharing my Personal Favorite Sock-Knitting Pattern.

Gauge: Serious Business
Gauge swatches knitted flat do not work when the actual object is to be knitted in the round. Now, you could cast on for a swatch and knit it circularly, then measure, then start knitting your sock, but a sock is about the size of a swatch anyway. What I prefer to do is make an educated guess on what my gauge is going to be, then start knitting. If you guessed right, you'll already have the toe of your sock done. If not, well, it's no more work than a swatch would have been.

First, figure out what you'd like your gauge to be, When I'm using fingering-weight yarn (most yarns you see advertised as "sock yarns" are fingering-weight), I like to have about 9 or 10 stitches per inch. At this point, you'll need to look at the yarn label. Look at the recommended needle size and gauge. If you normally knit tightly, go up a needle size or two. If you normally knit loosely, go down.

Now it's time to do a little math. Nothing scary, I promise. This will be painless.

Measure around the ball of your foot (that fat part North of your toes but South of your arch). Write this down. Mine is 8.5 inches, so we'll use that.

You want your socks to fit nice and tightly, and knitting stretches, so make your sock a little smaller than your foot measurement. Multiply your measurement by 0.9. Presto, no more floppy socks. (I get a finished measurement of 7.65 inches, which we'll fudge to 7.7.)

Now use your gauge to figure out how many stitches you'll need in your sock. 7.7 inches at 10 stitches per inch comes out to 77 stitches. We want an even number here, so I'll round it to 76.

This is my short-row toe. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
Now we know that we need 78 stitches around our sock. Well, a short-row toe is worked flat, so we'll only need half that, leaving us to cast on 38 stitches. For your toe, you'll only be using 2 of your 5 DPNs.

Use the provisional cast-on you like best. Two simple ones are to crochet a chain and pick up and knit stitches from the chain, or to use a regular cast-on in a waste yarn, then knit the second row in your "real yarn". Either way, your provisional cast-on should always be in a different yarn than your project yarn, so it will be easy to find and pull out later.

You'll now be working short rows to make your toe into a nice pocket. I like to use the wrap and turn method, but you might be more comfortable with a different one. If so, that's fine too!

Starting with Row 1, knit until there is one stitch left on your left needle. Wrap and turn.
On Row 2, purl until 1 stitch left. Wrap and turn.
Row 3: Knit until there are two stitches left. Wrap the first stitch and turn.

Repeat these rows, wrapping a new stitch every time, until half the stitches are left unwrapped in the middle of the row (for me, 19). Now we'll be picking the wrapped stitches back up and working them to make our toe.

Row 1: Knit until you get to the first wrapped stitch. Slip it to your left needle. Use the right needle to pick up the wrap, and slip both the wrap and the stitch back to the right needle. Knit the stitch and wrap together. Wrap the next stitch (it is now double-wrapped) and turn.
Row 2: Slip 1, purl until you get to the first wrapped stitch. Pick up the wrap and purl it together with the stitch, just like before. Double-wrap the next stitch and turn.
Row 3: Slip 1, K to the first double-wrapped stitch. Slip it to your left needle. Pick up both wraps with your right needle, and slip the stitch back to your right needle. Knit both wraps together with the stitch. Double-wrap and turn.
Row 4: Slip 1, P to the first double-wrapped stitch. Pick up both wraps and purl them together with the stitch, as in Row 3. Double-wrap and turn.

Repeat Rows 3-4 until there is one double-wrapped stitch left on each end. You'll work these after joining in the round.

To join, unravel your provisional cast-on. Pick up the new "live" stitches, and divide all your stitches so there is an equal number on each of your 4 DPNs.

Now just start knitting in the round. When you get to the double-wrapped stitches in the first round, pick up the wraps and knit them together with the stitch. After this round, you don't have to worry about them anymore.

This is important: Measure the length of your toe! You'll need this later to figure out how long your sock should be before you turn the heel. Mine usually come to about 1.5 inches.

Does it fit?
After knitting an inch or so, stop and try on your toe. Does it fit? Great, keep going! If not, you just made a swatch. Unravel it, and start back at the beginning with a smaller or larger needle.

The Foot
Now it's time to figure out how long the foot of your sock should be. Measure your foot from the tip of your longest toe to the back of your heel. Now subtract the measurement of your short-row toe. This is how long you need to knit before turning the heel. My foot is 8.5 inches long, minus 1.5 gives me 7 inches.

When you get to the right length, you'll start knitting your short-row heel. Decide which side of the sock you want to be the top, and which side will be the bottom. Knit across the top of the foot, but not the bottom. Your heel will be worked only on the bottom stitches, ignore the top for now.

Better than Achilles
Your heel will be worked exactly like your toe was! Repeat those instructions, doing short-rows down to half the number of stitches, and back up to the full number.

When you finish your heel, resume knitting in the round. The hard part is over, now all you have to do is finish the leg.

She's Got Legs
The leg of your sock can be worked however you like: all stockinette, a ribbing pattern, or stockinette with ribbing at the top. Having at least some ribbing will help your sock stay up instead of bunching at your ankle.

Finish the leg of your sock however you like, and bind off. You'll need a stretchy bind-off, or you won't be able to get it over your foot! I like the sewn bind-off explained at the bottom of this page.

Voila! You're done. Now all you need is a second sock.

This pattern definitely isn't the end-all be-all sock pattern. It's merely what works best for me. To get your perfect socks, I recommend trying it a few times with different modifications until you come up with your own "Sock Style".

Happy knitting!


Post a Comment 3 comments:

Shan said...

Hey, thanks for the short-row toe. I always use the figure-8 cast on but I'm not 100% happy with the results. I'll give the short-row a try next time.

February 6, 2008 at 2:04 PM

Jill said...

The short-row toe is totally my favorite, it fits my toes the best and I feel like it's the best-looking.

I've noticed that different toes fit best on differently-shaped feet, so experiment until you find the one that works for you.

February 7, 2008 at 1:17 PM

Hopelovepeace said...

thanks for pointing to this in the "best of" thread in ravelry. I linked to it so I won't forget where to go and get it. The last socks I made were too tight.

February 28, 2008 at 2:47 PM

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