Socks are really easy to make. Socks are really hard. Socks are fun. Socks are a pain. Socks are great. Socks are too much trouble. If you’re a knitter who tends to agree more with the second statement than the first, but you’d still like to try making your own socks, here are a few tips to make the process easier.
There’s no need for a fancy cast-on here. A plain backward-loop cast-on works well because it adjusts to the stretch of the stitch you’ll use.
The cuff stitch needs to be stretchy so the sock will stay up. The best choice is a knit 1, purl 1 rib-which means you need to cast on an even number of stitches. A good alternative is the knit 2, purl 2 rib, which requires a multiple of 4 stitches. If the next part of your sock-the leg-has a pattern that needs a different multiple of stitches, use increases or decreases on the last row of the cuff (or the first row of the leg) to get the number of stitches you need.
If your sock will have a leg, the cuff can be as short as an inch. But some knitters don’t include legs-they just make a “cuff” of ribbing as long as the leg should be.
This is a good place for a fancy pattern; it’s more visible than any other part of the sock (except the cuff), and it doesn’t get a lot of hard wear. Also, if you have some beautiful yarn that you’d like to use, but you’re worried about how it will wear, use it for this part and then switch to something sturdier for the heel and foot.
The Heel Flap
If the intended wearer of the socks has narrow feet, go down a size or two on your needles now. It will save time later, and your socks will be more tightly knit-and stronger.
The heel flap is usually worked over half the stitches you have on your needles. It’s the only part of the sock that you work back and forth. (The stitches you’re not working can stay on their needle or go on a stitch holder.)
The heel is the hardest-wearing part of a sock, so you need a strong stitch here. The best choice is a simple “slip 1 knit 1 on the right side, purl all stitches on the wrong side.” It looks a bit like ribbing, but it really isn’t. When you first start doing it you may think your heel flap is too wide, but it won’t stay that way-this stitch really pulls the fabric in.
Turning the Heel
This is the part that most knitters dread-and feel very proud of when they finish correctly!
It’s very hard to describe this part without giving detailed directions. But the basic theory is that most heels have a few stitches in the center that are worked on every row, while the side stitches are not.
If you understand “short rows”-rows that are not worked all the way across-you’ll have less trouble with heels, because turning the heel is really just making a series of short rows on either side of the center stitches. The secret is to work one more stitch on each side than you worked before, and to decrease one stitch at the end of each short row. That decrease will make the fabric on the outside edges of the heel draw in, and before you know its, you’ll be knitting at a right angle to the way you were going before. Voila! Your heel is now turned.
Don’t be surprised, though, to discover that your heel flap now has fewer stitches than it started with. It’s the mathematics of all those decreases.
The Instep Gusset
Now it’s time to start working on all the stitches again. After you’ve worked across the entire bottom of the heel, start picking up stitches from the side of the heel flap, one stitch for each row. Eventually you’ll get to the stitches you had on hold. Work all of those stitches, then pick up stitches on the other side of the heel flap-which will bring you back to your newly-turned heel.
You will now find that you have many more stitches than you need for the foot. To solve this problem, start decreasing at the points where the side stitches meet the formerly “held” stitches, one decrease on each side every other row. Eventually you’ll get back to the correct number of foot stitches.
The foot is made with straight knitting-preferably stockinette stitch-for as long as you need it to be. Stop when it’s about two inches shorter than the foot of the person you’re making it for. That last little bit is for the toe.
There are many different ways to make the toe, but here’s the simplest:
1. (Knit 4 stitches, then decrease 1) across the row, then knit 4 rows plain.
2. (Knit 3 stitches, then decrease 1) across the row, then knit 3 rows plain.
3. (Knit 2 stitches, then decrease 1) across the row, then knit 2 rows plain.
4. Decrease every other stitch across the row, then knit 1 row plain.
5. Decrease every stitch, then break the yarn and draw it through all the stitches.
This method looks difficult written down, but it has a rhythm to it (4-3-2-1-0) that makes it easy to remember when you’re actually doing it.
A few final words
Socks are hard until you actually make a pair or two, then they get easier. But they’re never so easy that they’re boring. They have parts that are “brainless,” and parts that require concentration. And they don’t take so long to make that you’ll lose interest in them.
But the best part is putting them on your feet the first time, admiring them, wiggling your toes around, and noticing how perfectly they fit. Most people probably don’t even think about their socks. But when you’ve made them, they’re special-and something to be very proud of.