Okay, so you have decided you want to make yourself a nice pair of knit socks. But, they look so complicated! And those heels…how do those even work?! The good news is that socks are not as complicated as they look, and they use some of the skills you probably already have at your disposal. They can be a bit fiddly though. I will try to give you all the tips and tricks that I have learned over the years, to help make your first pair of socks be just the first of many!
If you would like to work along with me as I walk through these steps, definitely try using a worsted or bulky yarn at first, with about a size US 8 needle. This will give you a much better visual of how all these steps come together. Many sock patterns use a sock weight yarn, with about a size US 1/2.25mm needle. That makes for tiny stitches that can be tough to see when you are starting out. Going big will make things look much clearer.
Now, there are two ways you can make socks. You can either start at the Cuff of the sock and work down towards the ankle, or you can start at the toes and work up. Neither of these is necessarily better for learning, but many find that the cast on for toes can be overwhelming, so lets start with the cuff. It’s a simple procedure that will get you going quickly. As you work through making socks, you will be able to decide for yourself which way you like to knit your socks…toe up or cuff down.
When it comes to needles, you can use either double pointed needles, or circulars. My patterns are all written for circular needles. I will do my best to break the steps down to accommodate both. If you are interested in giving circulars a try, you will want a long cord, about 40″ long for the Magic Loop Method, or if you are really bold, you can try the 9″ sock circulars that people are using now. I haven’t tried those yet, but a lot of folks love them.
To start, you will want to cast on the number of stitches listed for your pattern. In this case, I’m going to use my standard size small numbers, and cast on 56 stitches. When casting on your stitches, you need a stretchy cast on. You can use a long tail cast on, but it does run the risk of being too tight on the calf. If you can do a loose cast on with the long tail, then great, go ahead and use this. However, if you are like me and cast on like your life depends on it, and your first row is crazy tight, then perhaps try the German Twisted cast on. It’s a bit looser, but does create a different edge than the long tail. But, I still like it. There are lots of great YouTube videos that can walk you through how to do this cast on. It’s very much like the Long Tail cast on, but adds an extra little twist in there, that gives a bit stretch.
Spread your stitches across your needles evenly. If you are using a set of 5 double pointed sock needles, then divide the stitches over 4 needles. If you are using a set of 4, then divide over 3 needles, and if you are using circulars split the stitches between the two needles. When using double pointed needles, the stitch count may not divide perfectly. Just divide as best you can, making sure that the number of stitches on each needle is as close as you can manage.
Now, you are going to join the stitches to work in the round. This is the same for any other in the round project you may have worked on. You want to make sure that all your stitches face in the same direction, so there is no twist. After you smooth them all out, and they are all in the same direction, join and begin to work your stitches in a knit 2, purl 2 repeated pattern around all the stitches. Most of my cuffs will use this or some variation for about 1″ of length. This will give the cuff a nice stretch to better hug your leg. If you find that you easily loose track of the beginning of the round, use a stitch marker that opens to just hook on to your yarn, so you can see it as you work your way around. Many folks will say to just use the marker, but honestly, if you are using any of the needles listed above, that little thing is going to slip off every time you get to the beginning. I like just clipping it to the fabric where I can see it, but I don’t have to keep moving it or finding it when it falls off my work.
After you finish the specified number of rounds for your cuff, you are now at the leg. This is one of the simple parts of the sock. You are just going to go around and around, following the pattern, until it is the length you like. Personally, I like to go until my whole leg from the cast on is 6″ long. If the pattern you use has a different heel than the standard, it should specify that you knit until the leg is ‘X’ inches shorter than your desired length. This will also depend on the kind of heel the pattern uses. It could be 2″, or if it’s an afterthought heel, which I’ll dive into next time, it will be less.
So, that is it for Part 1 of our sock construction. I’ll be back soon to get into the good stuff. Heel construction is up next!!
Tips and Tricks: When you are working in the round on something like socks, you will notice that regardless of the needles you choose, you can get what is called ladders between the needles. This is a stand of yarn that seems to be leaving gaps. The easiest way to deal with these, is when you are on stitch two of your needle, give an extra little pull on your yarn to tighten it just a tiny bit more. This will help to even things out. If you still have a little bit of a gap, this will even out after you wash your socks. As a note, if you tighten too much on the very first stitch of your needle, especially if you are using circulars, will cause the last stitch on the previous needle to be too tight. So, you want to stick to the extra tightening on stitch two.
2 thoughts on “Sock Basics Part 1: Your Cuff and Leg”
Thank you for your post. I am just starting to get into knitting socks. Do you prefer toe-up or cuff down? So far I have only knit toe-up, so I can try them on as I go.
I tend to prefer toe up, myself. The cast on I use is Judy’s magic cast on, which take some getting used to. The main reason I like toe up, is that I prefer the way the short row heel works. I don’t have to pick up a bunch of stitches and then decrease, like you would with cuff down. Toe up just became the most comfortable for me. That being said, I would never say no to a sock, just because it was cuff down. 🙂