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How to Knit Socks or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Socks

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Sock knitting [3]How to Knit Socks or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Sock [3] can be pretty daunting if you’ve never tried before. Somehow, all of your knitting friends and everyone on your favorite knitting forums all seem to love it. It’s true: once you start knitting socks, you won’t be able to stop. They’re a lot to wrap your head around at first, but once you have the steps down, socks are seriously addictive. The right easy sock knitting pattern will explain to you what to do each step of the way, but the sad fact of the matter is that some don’t. That’s where we come in!

There are about ten basic steps to knitting socks [4] cuff-down, most of which go by fairly quickly. Below, I’ve outlined the basic construction of each step of sock knitting, the different skills you’ll need to learn in order to complete that portion of the sock, as well as how that portion of the sock is typically knit. If you’re nervous about knitting your first pair of socks, read through this to get an idea of what you’re about to get yourself into. For the eager beavers out there, I’ve even included 19 easy sock patterns to start as soon as you’re done educating yourself! Note that knitting socks toe-up is an entirely different beast; they’re knit in the opposite order of cuff-down socks, and require a special cast-on method at the toes. Cuff-down socks are easily the best place to start your sock knitting journey.

Step 1: Cuff

After you cast on in the round (most traditionally on double-pointed needles, but also often done using the magic loop method on long circular needles), the next immediate step is knitting the cuff. Normally, the cuff is knit in some kind of rib stitch for stretchiness, but some patterns call for a rolled cuff (achieved by knitting every stitch in the round), and others call for a garter stitch [5] cuff (achieved by knitting one round, purling the next round, and repeating this pattern). The cuff is usually anywhere from one to three inches long before you move onto the second step.

Step 1: Cuff [6]

This cuff was knit in 2×2 ribbing in the round.

Step 2: Leg

After the cuff, you knit down the leg of the sock. This usually carries a stitch pattern all the way around, such as a basketweave pattern, a lace pattern, or a cable pattern [7], and goes on for differing lengths depending on the intended length of the sock. Ankle-height socks may have only a few rows of the leg before moving onto the next step, where as sport-height, mid-calf, or knee-high socks will linger on the leg portion for quite some time.

Step 2: Leg [7]

The cable pattern on this leg travels all the way around.

Step 3: Heel Flap

The heel flap is where things get interesting. Taking half of the stitches, you work them flat to create a flap of fabric hanging down from the leg, while you keep the rest of the leg stitches suspended and unworked on either a stitch holder or your DPNs. The heel flap is often done in a heel stitch [8], or a variation of the heel stitch, where the right-side row is comprised of (sl1, k1), and the wrong-side row is (sl1, p across). Of course, your pattern is likely to specify how it wants you to create the heel flap. Traditionally, each first stitch will be slipped to create a longer first stitch, which you will pick up in the fifth section. The heel flap creates the height of the heel of the sock, and is usually one to two inches in length.

Step 3: Heel Flap [9]

The heel stitch was used, knit flat, to make this heel flap.

Step 4: Turning the Heel

Turning the heel is a rather quick section of the sock; it essentially turns the direction of your knitting from the vertical plane to the horizontal plane. This is achieved through short rows, which may include the w&t (wrap and turn) technique, or may be a series of knitting, purling, k2tog/ssks [10] and p2togs after turning your work prematurely, or before you’ve actually finished working the row. Your pattern should specify exactly how they would like you to create the short rows of your sock.

Step 4: Turning the Heel [4]

Using short rows while knitting flat turns the direction of your knitting horizontally.

Step 5: Gusset

For the fifth step, after you’ve turned the heel, you’ll be picking up stitches [11] around the edges of the heel to bring all of your sock, knit so far, together in the round. You’ll want to pick up the same number of stitches one one side of the heel as the other, and try to space them out evenly so as to avoid any glaring gaps in your work. Your pattern may even specify exactly how many stitches to pick up. You’ll start by picking up the heel stitches on one side of your work, working across the stitches you put on a holder across the top of the sock (often in the established leg pattern), and then picking up the stitches on the other side of the heel. Your pattern should instruct you on how it would like you to divide the stitches on each of your needles. Remember to count the stitches so far and make sure it matches any specific guidelines on your pattern!

Step 5: Gusset [11]

The gusset is the spot between the heel and the instep, and is worked with decreases.

Step 6: Foot Decreases

After this, you will begin decreasing. This creates the narrowness in the foot following the heel. Typically, decreases [12] will happen in the stitches on the sides of the foot, and will not touch the top stitches (i.e. the ones knit in the pattern), as it may affect the pattern of the sock. While it’s standard to simply knit around in stockinette stitch for the sole and sides of the foot, the top of the foot will often continue the pattern set up in the leg. Of course, some patterns break this rule and begin a new pattern, or drop the pattern entirely. You’ll continue your decreases until, traditionally, you have the same number of stitches split up amongst the needles working the sole as you do on your needle working the top of the foot.

Step 6: Foot Decreases [12]

We decrease the sides, and not the instep, to make it more narrow and fit the flatness of a foot.

Step 7: Foot

For a long time, you’ll be knitting around without any decreases. This creates the length of the foot. Typically, like with the decreases, the sole and sides of the foot will be knit in plain stockinette stitch [13], with the top of the foot knit in a pattern stitch. Depending on the foot size of the person who will be wearing this sock, it may be very long or very short. It’s standard among patterns to instruct you to stop knitting around in this fashion two inches or so before the very tip of the person’s toes.

Step 7: Foot [14]

For this foot, the pattern continues on the instep, but the sole is knit in stockinette stitch.

Step 8: Toe

Here is where the pattern stitches on top typically stop, and everything is simply knit around in stockinette stitch. This time, unlike with the decreases before the length of the foot, decreases will occur on both the top and sides of the foot. The pattern will instruct on exactly which decreases to use and where. Knitting up the toe of the foot is usually quite fast, and the last big step to knitting your first sock [15].

Step 8: Toe [12]

To work the toe, we decrease both the sides and instep this time.

Step 9: Grafting

Finally, you’re going to want to close up the toe stitches. This is most cleanly done by grafting the two sides together, or having two needles hold an even number of stitches (half from the top of the foot, half from the bottom of the foot) and using kitchener stitch [16], or a like method, to sew up and close the sock. After this, you simply weave in any ends of your socks, and block them using a sock blocker.

Step 9: Grafting [16]

Kitchener stitch was used to stitch the top and bottom of the toe together here.

Step 10: Do It All Over Again!

There’s a phenomenon in knitting most often called “second sock syndrome.” You’re feeling accomplished for having knit a full, beautiful sock, but really not feeling the idea of doing it all over again. If you plan on knitting multiple pairs of socks, a great way to avoid second sock syndrome is by moving onto the first sock in your next pair—this is best achieved using a very different pattern with very different yarn [17], so you don’t feel like you’re doing the same thing again—before knitting the second sock of your first pair. Just remember to go back and finish that second sock (or don’t, and have an array of single socks to mix and match)!

Step 10: Do It All Over Again! [18]

These socks were knit using the Business Casual Sock pattern and Patons Kroy in the Sing N the Blues colorway.

Try these easy top-down socks with your newfound knowledge of sock knitting!

  1. Easy Peasy Socks [19]
  2. Sweet Dreams Socks [20]
  3. Slip Stitch Striped Knit Socks [21]
  4. Osterspaziergang Socks [22]Pretty Plum Basket Weave Socks [23]
  5. Lazy Day Knit Socks [24]
  6. Men’s Twin Rib Knit Sock Pattern [25]
  7. Baby and Me Socks [26]
  8. Basic Cabled Socks [27]
  9. Pretty Plum Basket Weave Socks [28]
  10. Colorful Striped Socks [29]
  11. Socks for Children, Women, and Men Knitting Pattern [30]
  12. Marvelous Mock Cable Socks [31]
  13. Alpaca Cable Socks [32]
  14. 52 Stitch Sock [23]
  15. Double Bubble [33]
  16. 48 Stitch Ribbed Sock [34]
  17. Ocean Breeze Cable Knit Socks [35]
  18. Sweetened Footie Socks [36]
  19. Candy Stripe Knit Sock Pattern [37]

What knitting pattern are you totally addicted to? Socks? Hats? Tell us in the comments below!