Sock Basics 4: Toe Up Socks

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It’s finally time to move on to our next phase of Sock Basics! We have covered all the basics of the Cuff Down Socks, but now it’s time to go the other way. How do you make socks starting at the toes?! That means another Toe lesson, along with the details of the Toe Up Socks.

So, why Toe Up socks? Why not just do them all cuff down? There are a couple big pro’s for Toe Up. First of all, is that when you start at the toes, you will not need to do the Kitchener Stitch to close it up. The Kitchener Stitch is a problem for a lot of knitters. I know a few left handed knitters that struggle a lot with the Kitchener Stitch. That’s not to say that the Toe Up cast on isn’t a pain in the butt, but some people do find it easier. Another perk to toe up, is the ability to use up all the yarn you have. If you have the ability to split your skein of yarn into two equal balls/cakes, then you can knit the socks until you get to the end of the yarn, and make use of as much of the yarn as possible. When you are working cuff down, it is possible to run out of yarn before you get to the toes of your second sock. Unless of course you have all your measurements down and have done it enough times to know exactly what you need. Starting out, I liked the toe up to be able to make use of the yarn going up the leg. I could make a longer leg or cuff, to use up what I could. On average, I use about 380 yards of sock yarn to make a pair of socks, so I normally do have yarn left over. That is because I have a particular height that I like my socks now, and I just knit to that. Toe up socks does have different construction compared to cuff down as well. You will not have to pick up any stitches with the toe up construction. Instead, you have a gusset, which is a series of rows where a stitch is increased on each side of the foot. If you look at your store bought socks, you will see this triangle of fabric on the side of the foot, near the ankle bone that connects to the heel. This is your gusset. This post will only cover the toes. We’ll move on to the gusset and heel in the next post of this series. 🙂

There are a few options for casting on Toe Up socks. One of the ways that I usually use for my socks is Judy’s Magic Cast On. This cast on involves the yarn being wrapped around alternating needles (usually circulars), switching from the tail to the main yarn. You then have loops that you can knit into. This will give you a smooth toe, with no seam at the end. Very Pink Knits has a great youtube tutorial on how to do this cast on. When you finish your cast on, you will have loops sitting on each needle, waiting to be knit. If you are looking to have 24 stitches total, you will have 12 stitches on each of the needles. Because you are going back and forth on the needles to cast on, make sure you count the stitches on both needles, so you are not short a stitch on either needle. I find this to be one of the easiest cast on with this type of wrapping method. One of the biggest learning curves with this type of cast on, is keeping the yarn taught as you work through. The first few times you work this, you might have to redo it a few times to get the stitches to be tight enough. You don’t want to have your first row of stitches to be loose and droopy. Another way to help tighten them, is when you knit your first row of that cast on, needle 1 is knit as normal, but when you turn to knit needle 2, knit those stitches through the back loop. This will give your stitches a proper orientation, and will tighten them a bit. I find if I don’t knit the needle 2 stitches through the back loop, then look twisted.

Another option that is very similar to Judy’s Magic Cast on is the Turkish cast on. Instead of wrapping the yarn around alternating needles, then yarn is wrapped around both needles at once in a big loop. I find this cast on has a tendency to be more loose than Judy’s, so I don’t typically use it. However, if it is the cast on that you find works best for you, then definitely use it. Jane Richmond has a great Youtube tutorial on how to work this cast on. This can also have a similar learning curve to get it tight enough, but it’s a fast and easy way to cast on. The only thing to remember when doing this cast on is that each loop represents 2 stitches. So, if you are casting on 24 stitches, or 12 per needle, you will only need 12 wraps. You knit into that loop on both needle 1 and needle 2, so you will end up with 12 stitches on both needles at the end, or 24 in total.

Yet another modification of this same cast on is the Figure 8 cast on. In this cast on, instead of wrapping the yarn around both needles with one loop, you will go over one, and under the other, to make a figure 8 shape. This is a bit of a blend of the first two cast ons. This works very similar to Judy’s cast on, but uses just a single strand of yarn. As I look through these cast ons, this one actually catches my attention as a very simple cast on. It is worked just like the others, by knitting into the loops that you have created. The Figure 8 is similar to Judy’s in that you will have 12 loops on each needle waiting to be worked when you finish this cast on. And just like in Judy’s, you will want to count the loops on each needle to make sure you have the correct number on each. It is easy to be short one loop with this cast on. Roxanne Richardson has a great Youtube video showing this cast on.

The last cast on that I’ll mention is the traditional Long Tail Cast On. You can use this to cast on for your toes! This will still leave you with a sealed toe, with no seaming needed. It’s a great cast on to get you started. Like the other cast ons, you have two needles held together (again, I prefer circulars for this, and you can switch to double pointed needles later, but if you only have double pointed needles, then you can use them. It will feel odd at first, but any toe up will start out as cumbersome regardless of the needles you use.), and you will cast on a normal Long Tail stitch on one needle, then the next, then needle 1 again, then needle 2 again. Dee Yee has a great Youtube video for this. Her video also shows how to do the cast on if you want to do Two Socks at a Time (TAAT) on one set of circular needles. I will go into more detail on that as we get to the end of the tutorial. You can skip that part of her video if you want, and just tuck it away for later. 🙂

Now that we have our cast on, we can now start working on the main part of the toes. Normally in my sock patterns, I have you cast on 24 stitches total, which is 24 per needle. I will label the needles in my pattern as either Sole or Instep, so that you will know which needle is the bottom of the foot, and which is the top. This is important if there is a pattern on the top of the foot, and when we get to the gusset. After the cast on, I will say to knit the first round, with Needle 1 being knit and then Needle 2 being knit through the back loop. Needle 1 is always the top of the foot (instep) in my patterns, with Needle 2 being the bottom of the foot (sole). Other designers will label these differently, so be sure to pay attention to how they label things. After knitting one round, it’s time for the increases. I tend to do a gentle increase of the toes, that mimics a store bought sock. The increase row has an increase on both ends of Needle 1 and Needle 2 (you increase 4 stitches per round…2 per needle), and then you will knit a round. These two stitches are alternated until you have increased to the number of stitches needed. After these toe increases are done, you simply knit the foot (working any design that the pattern calls for), until it is time to start on your gusset. Typically I will work until my knit sock is 2.5″ shorter than the length I want for my foot. Also, for a better fit, I typically take my actual foot length and subtract a half inch to end up with a better fitting sock for my foot. My foot is 9.25″ long, so I will subtract a half inch, to get 8.75″ for a total length, and work my knit sock to that measurement. This gives me a nice fit, without some of the droop that a hand knit sock can have.

Here is a picture of a sock that I am about to send to my Tech Editor. It shows the toe shape that my designs typically have. I used Judy’s Magic Cast On for these socks.

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As with the cuff down socks, you can also modified your toes to be similar. Simply work those cuff down toes that I mentioned in the last post, backwards. When you would have worked a decrease in the cuff down version, work the increase for the toe up. You can modify your toe up socks to be foot specific, or a more rounded toe. That way, no matter what your personal foot structure is like, your knitted sock can be worked to fit you perfectly. 😀 And don’t forget! There is nothing wrong with trying a new toe structure and having to rip it out and start again. When doing it for a toe up sock, you don’t have long to go before you are right back where you were before! There is no worry of needing any lifelines or anything. Just jump right in and have fun with it! Learn from it! And most importantly, make notes of what you have done. That way, when you get it just right, you will be able to do it over and over on not just future socks, but you’ll be able to do it again for sock number 2. 😀

Thanks for reading! Next time we’ll talk gussets and heels.

Sock Basics Part 3: Toes

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Oh the toes. Those cute little nubs at the end of our feet. Some of them are long and skinny, some are short and stubby, and some are just whatever length they chose to be. All those differences mean that one sock toes does not fit all. Take me for example. My left foot is “normal”. The big toe is the longest, and my toes have that nice slope to the baby toe. No problem! But, then there is my right foot. With the issues in my right foot, most regard me as disabled, but I’m not completely. I do however have a misshapen foot. That means that my toes are not that nice slope like my left foot. Nope, not even close. I have hammer toes (the curl down), and my 2nd and 3rd toes are the longest of my toes, making my foot look a bit like a pointed shoe.

So how do you get the toe shape that works best for you? Part of it is trying out the different toes, just like when doing the heels, to find out which one fits best for your foot. And if you are like me, you might even want a different toe for each sock. Now, I’m lazy and just do a basic wedge toe, that I will get into shortly, and don’t bother make different socks. But, the beauty of knitting is you can absolutely customize your sock toe! Since we have been talking about our sock as being knit from the toe down, I will cover those here. I’ll do the other options for toe up when I start the next post on the Sock Basics Part 4. 🙂

Option 1: Square toe, also referred to as the Wedge. This is what I put into all my designs, as it is a nice simple toe that can be quite forgiving. It actually does work well for both my feet, but I do admit that I could do something better for my right foot. The Square Toe has decreases on each side of the foot to create a tapering on both sides. This will end up with a sock that comes to a center point of stitches needing to bind off. It’s referred to as a wedge, because it’s very symmetrical on the sides, and does look like it’s a simple wedge. You have the option of altering this by decreasing more frequently, the decreases are typically every other row, to make a sharper decrease, or decreasing less to lengthen the toe area and have a longer slope. If you have more than a toe or two in the middle of your foot that is longer that you need room for, then you can stop your decreases earlier than what is usually stated and make a wider area for your toes, and make it look more square.

Option 2: Rounded or Pointed toe. This option has some of the alterations mentioned for option 1. The decreases are not done every other row, but more like every fourth row. This makes a longer toe. This is one that ends up looking like a pointy dress shoe.

Option 3: Star toe. I know of many people that really like this particular toe. Instead of having just the decreases on the left and right side of the foot, you end up with a line on the top and bottom as well. This is where the star shape comes from. The options above require some sort of grafting, like the Kitchener Stitch, which I will detail later, to close. The Star Toe, however, does not. It’s simply has you pull your yarn through and cinch it closed. This is great for anyone that struggles with the grafting, which many people do.

Option 4: The Anatomically Correct toe. These are toes that arrange the decreases so that each sock fits either the left or the right foot. It creates the initial pocket for your big toe, and the slopes down to the little toe, so it isn’t sitting there in a bunch of sock fabric. These are perfect for people that want to know which sock is which, or has the type of foot that is sloped and needs to make sure all their toes have their own space.

Option 5: Rounded Toe. This is the last one I’ll cover here. The Rounded toe is similar to the Star, but it has many lines of decreases. You will have multiple lines of decreases that run to the tip of the toes. It makes it look more like a hat for the tip of your foot. I find that it does look a bit bulky at the end of the sock, but if it fits your toes comfortably, then it doesn’t matter. 😀 The idea is to find whatever helps your toes stay warm and comfy.

So, these are some of the main types of toes. There are many variations on all of these types. The beauty of the toes is that you can change them out in any pattern. If you use my patterns, you can use the toes as written (wedge), or you can ignore my instructions completely and use the toe you prefer. Just keep in mind that all patterns are written so that you get a decent fit, so you will need to know exactly how much length of the sock your toe construction takes. The wedge in my patterns is typically 2″. So, you will want to make sure you know how long your toe construction is to make sure your foot is long enough before switching to the toes.

I mentioned above, the grafting technique called Kitchener Stitch. While this in theory is an easy way to sew the toes closed, many people find it very cumbersome. You need to be able to keep your tension just right to have it match all your other stitches, so it doesn’t cause a puckered look. One easy way to help with this is to do the entire graft while not pulling the yarn tight. Then you can take your tapestry needle and working from where you started, begin tightening the yarn bit by bit to make the tension match. It can be tedious, but it does provide a seamless look.

Kitchener Stitch: Divide your stitches, so that they are spread evenly on two needles. Make sure that your toe decreases (specifically the left and right side of your sock) are on the ends of the needles, and not the middle. You want you graft to be going from left to right, and not top to bottom. First, with your darning needle, thread your yarn through the first stitch in the front (needle closest to you), as if you were purling. Pull your length of yarn through. Then put your tapestry needle through the first stitch of the back needle (farthest from you), as if you were going to knit it. This is your initial set up. From this point on, you will be dropping stitches off your needles as you thread your yarn through. You are going to repeat this section until all your loops have been worked and are off the needle. Thread your yarn through the first stitch of the front needle as if you were going to knit. Pull the yarn through and then drop this stitch off the needle. Thread your yarn through the new first stitch on the needle closest to you as if to purl, leaving this stitch on the needle. Thread your yarn through the first stitch on the back needle as if to purl. Pull your yarn through, and then drop this stitch off the needle. Thread your yarn through the new first stitch on the back needle, as if to knit, leaving this stitch on the needle, and beginning this repeat section all over again.

There are alternatives to the Kitchener Stitch, such as the Three Needle Bind Off, which can be effective to graft, but also much easier on the brain. The Kitchener Stitch can feel very cumbersome, and most people do need to look up the instructions for nearly every pair of socks. I almost have it memorized now, but I still double check sometimes to make sure I’m knitting and purling the right stitches. It’s absolutely okay to have to keep looking it up.

I hope that everything I’ve talked about to this point have helped you with tackling your first pair of cuff down socks. Stay tuned for the next run of Sock Basics when we turn our socks upside down and go from the toe up!

Sock Basics Part 2: Heel and Gusset

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Now that the leg of our sock is completed, it’s time to consider the construction of the Heel and the Gusset. The Heel part of your pattern will usually form the strip that goes down the last part of your leg to the ground, and then will magically turn into a little triangle for the back of your heel to sit in to. The Gusset will then come off that flap and triangle to create the part that goes along your ankle bone. Both are very important, and may take some trial and error to find the heel and size that works for you. The Gusset also provides the space for your instep, so that the top of your foot has the room it needs, and will also help with the sock being able to slip up over your ankle.

The Heel: Every pattern will give you instructions for the heel. Depending on the type of construction they are using, you will typically get a section for a Heel Flap and a section for Heel. The Heel Flap is that strip going down the back of the leg I was talking about. This is normally knit back and forth over a certain amount of stitches, while the other stitches just sit around doing nothing for a while. So, you will have knits and purls going on here, and you will have both a right side and a wrong side. The right side will be the part of the fabric that will go on the outside. The wrong side will be the part that touches your foot on the inside of the fabric. Many patterns use a variation on knitting, purling and slipping stitches to create a thicker and more durable fabric. But, there are many different ways of doing this. If you are working on a very detailed pattern, you might find that the pattern runs down the heel flap as well. It may help for you to take a measurement to see just how long you want that heel flap. I tend to measure from the top of my ankle bone to the floor, and since my feet are two different sizes, I make sure to measure both. They are both actually 3″. However, the socks do have some stretch, so I typically will take off about 20%. That ends up being 2.4″. Since the patterns tend to suggest 2.5″, I will go with that number. If you have a high instep, you might want to consider making your heel a bit longer. The biggest reason is to allow the sock to not only go over your ankle, but to give you room to have your foot feel comfortable.

As you knit socks, you will start to learn what feels most comfortable for you. This can be a bit of trial and error, because there are different heel constructions. The heel flap and heel tend to be short rows. That means you will be knitting part of the row, and then turning your work and leaving some of the stitches of the heel unworked. However, there are other options. I found a great page with information on all the various heels that are available here. As you will see there are many. You can knit the heel as you work the sock, or you can do an afterthought heel, which means you put in a piece of spare yarn and keep knitting a tube. Then later you come back and pick up the stitches on that spare yarn and make your heel. You can also consider doing the heels and toes a different color, for a contrast heel. There are so many ways to spruce up those heels!

Gusset: When you work the gusset (and I’m going to continue on the assumption that we are going to work a basic short row heel), you will be picking up stitches along the heel flap. You are going to end up with a lot of stitches on your needles at first. In general, you will be picking up about 16 stitches on each side of that heel flap (the exact number will always appear in your pattern). This will make things fiddly and bulky for a bit. If you are knitting on circular needles, then you’ll just have a lot of stitches to work with, and you’ll find your way through. This is how I normally will work. If you are using double pointed needles, then you’ll have just a couple needles stuffed full, but you’ll also just have to work your way through. Make sure that you follow the pattern very closely when arranging your stitches. There is a particular line up of stitches, because you will still have one set that is for the top of your foot (instep), and you will be decreasing stitches in your gusset on either side of that just before and just after those instep stitches. You don’t want to decrease within the instep itself. These decreases all happen on what will become the bottom of your foot (sole). The gusset decreases in the sock will create a little triangle along both sides of your ankle.

The great thing is that once you have completed those gusset decreases, you are in the home stretch! You are now onto the foot! I think one of my first recommendations is to follow the pattern exactly as written for that first sock. The heel is going to seem very strange at first, but I promise that if you follow it exactly it magically turns into a heel. One my first sock I was really nervous. The instructions seemed so strange! And then suddenly…poof heel! It was pretty cool, actually. I felt very accomplished. 😀 Also, be prepared to not have a well fitting sock at first. All patterns are written for what I will call the average foot, and goes off the sizings written by places like shoe companies and manufacturers. The best place to start for any knitwear sizing is the Craft Yarn Council. They have a great chart here. But, again, these are average sizes.

If you are making socks for someone with a high instep you have a couple options. When you work the heel flap, consider increasing it by a half inch to an inch. For example, if you measure your heel at about 4″ (mine was at 3″), then you subtract 20% from that, you will get 3.2″. I would knit the heel to 3″ instead of the patterns typical 2.5″. This will mean that you will also be picking up more stitches than the pattern suggests. You will pick up every single stitch along the side. So, if you worked 20 right side rows and 20 wrong side rows, you will be picking up 20 stitches on each side of the heel flap. This will also mean that you will do more Gusset decreases. However, this is where you can adjust for a higher arch, as well. If you have a taller foot at the arch, then do not decrease as much as the pattern suggests. Stop with about 4 more stitches remaining than they recommend. And easy way to calculate what you will need in terms of numbers of stitches, is to take the number you are given in the pattern for stitch gauge. It should be written as a number per four inches. Divide that number by 4, and that will give you the number of stitches per inch. If you feel like you need an extra inch, then leave about that many stitches not decreased. If you do not get a whole number, round up or down to the nearest inch. I’ll explain how to deal with that change in number for the toes in the next installment. 😀

I know this is a lot of information, but this really is the most complicated and adjustable part of the entire sock. Once you get this part figured out, you will be well ahead of the game! Be sure to check out the link above for heel construction options. But, as with anything, there is no number one thing that works for everyone. A lot of people adore the Fish Lips Kiss Heel, but a lot of people also find it doesn’t fit them well. Also, many of these heel variations are their own pattern, and are available for sale by the designers. They will also provide their own instructions on how to blend it into any sock, and how to properly take measurements to create the best fit possible.

I hope you are enjoying working on your new socks! The best thing is that hand knit socks can be worn all year round. If you find the legs too warm, then shorten that cuff down to only 1-2″ before you start the heel flap, and you have a wonderful ankle sock. If you want them to be more airy, then find a nice lace pattern for the leg and top of the foot, and you’ll get a wonderful breeze through those socks.

Hopefully I have given you enough information to work through that first heel. 😀 Stay tuned for the next edition, which will be all about those toes!

Thanks for reading!!

Sock Basics Part 1: Your Cuff and Leg

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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.