Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Yoga of Sock Knitting, Part 4: Knit to Fit

Did you spend some time thinking about socks, what you like about certain pairs, what you don't care for?  It may seem rather silly, but paying attention to what you wear on your feet is a lesson in applied mindfulness (assuming there is such a thing).  When I focus on how a sock fits and feels, I discover that:

  • I prefer that my socks fit tightly, not enough to constrict movement or circulation, but snugly enough so that they don't shift on my feet or fall down. I like extra fabric in the instep, just enough so that the sock heel doesn't feel as though its pulling.
  • I like a broader toe, because I don't want to cram my toes inside a sock or a shoe.
  • My socks should not have seams, especially at the toe.
  • I'm not a fan of knee-high socks; I'd rather have them long enough to end just below my calf.  I don't want them so short that they slide down into my shoe.
  • I like a range of weights in my socks, i.e., thinner socks for shoes, sturdy, heavy weight socks for winter boots.  Yoga socks need to be thin, tight, with an open heel and toe for movement and with good grip so that I don't slip on my mat.
When you knit your own socks, all these preferences can be met, but the first step (!) is to learn basic sock structure.  In the classic top down, turned heel with flap sock, we start with ribbing.  Using either K1P1 or K2P2 ribbing will help the sock shape to your leg and stay up on your leg.  Some sock knitters recommend using fewer stitches and smaller needles for the ribbing; I use fewer stitches, but work on one needle size for the entire sock. 
Whatever you choose, cast on very loosely-too tight a cast on is uncomfortable.  If you cast on tightly, you may not be able to get the sock over your foot.  I start with a cable cast on; others recommend long tail. If you consistently cast on tightly, cast on over two needles or on needles two sizes larger than you'll be using in the sock.  I cast on to one of my dpn's and then knit in pattern so that my stitches are distributed evenly over 3 needles.  (I knit with the fourth.)  Since you need to place a marker at the beginning of the round, work a few stitches beyond that required number on your first needle, i.e., if you need 18 stitches on each needle, work 20 on to needle number l.  When you come to the end of your round, you will place your marker and work those 2 extra stitches from needle 1 on to needle 3, securing the marker.

There are many videos on working with double pointed needles.  Here's one by The KnitWitch.  She works a bit differently than I do, but you may prefer her method of knitting with 5 needles instead of the 4 that I use:

The number of rounds in ribbing is up to you; in fact, the entire sock leg and top of the foot can be done in rib if you choose.  I like to knit at least 2 inches/5 cm in ribbing, so that I can turn down the sock top.  After the ribbing is complete, increase to your required number of leg stitches and place a moveable marker in your fabric.  I count rounds because I find this a more accurate way to keep track of length.  Work the leg in stockinette, which in rounds means knit every round.  Try your sock on frequently and don't skimp on the leg length.  Too long a sock is less of an issue than a sock which slides down into your shoe and bunches up on the foot.  

The heel flap is worked back and forth on half the stitches after the leg is completed, often while using a slip stitch pattern for strength, such as Sl1K1 on the right side, and purling on the wrong side.  Again, measure the flap depth frequently.  The standard recommendation is to knit a flap as deep as it is wide, but you may prefer a more shallow heel flap or a longer one.  By the same token, the heel can be turned over more or fewer stitches: working across the heel for more stitches before you begin your short rows will give a wider heel cup.  If you want to narrow the heel cup, begin your short rows after working fewer stitches past the marker in the centre of the heel flap.  

Conventionally, the slip stitch heel pattern is discontinued when the heel is turned, but because my socks tend to wear through at the heel turning, I extend the heel pattern through the heel turning, just at the bottom of the foot.  After that, you will pick up an equal number of stitches on each side of the heel flap for the gussets; the gussets accommodate the instep and can be adjusted to fit a wider or narrower foot.  When you've decreased the gussets back to the original number of stitches on the leg, you then continue to knit the foot in rounds of stockinette stitch.  Again, I place a marker at the end of the gusset decreases and count the rounds to the toe.  

If your foot is very narrow, you can provide a tighter fit by decreasing more stitches or by switching to smaller size dpn's (or both).  Broader feet may require fewer gusset stitch decreases.  I don't recommend going up needle sizes to accommodate a wider foot, because doing so may make the sock less durable.

We're making plain stockinette socks, but if you're working in pattern, I recommend that you place the pattern on the top of the sock only, keeping the heel, sole and toe in stockinette. Patterns around the entire foot can be uncomfortable and may not fit in your shoe or boot.  Cables on the soles of socks can feel as if you're walking on ridges.  Some of us still remember what fishnet stockings did to our poor feet-sexy as the stockings looked, the netting cut into our soles and were torture on our toes.

Decreases for the toe are usually started somewhere around the point where the sock foot reaches the base of the big toe. It may take a few attempts at knitting socks to find the perfect point for your toe decreases, so take lots of notes and be prepared to rip back or knit more rounds on the foot to suit your own requirements. 

Because I prefer a wider toe box, I have only a few decrease rounds, which are made every other round.  On a sock which is knitted on 60 stitches, I decrease until I have about 15 stitches remaining on the sock top and 15 on the bottom.  These stitches are grafted together (no seams, remember!) for a fairly wide toe.  You  can decrease more toe stitches, but don't leave so few for grafting that you end up with leprechaun pointy toes on your sock.  (Unless, of course, that's the look you're going for; it's up to you.)

Once your sock is finished, start the next one right away, as you are less likely to fall victim to "Second Sock Syndrome" in which the matching sock never is completed.  Check your gauge.  Don't assume you'll knit the second sock the same size as the first.  It's quite common to knit one sock much larger or smaller than the original of the pair.  Washing and blocking can accommodate some changes, but don't count on this to rectify major shifts in sizes.

Your first pair of socks will not likely be perfect, so again, note what you like and what you would change in the next pair.  Experiment with a few pairs of plain socks before you start including fancy stitch work.  Think of those first socks as samples to give you the perfect template for a well-fitting sock and then use this template to custom knit socks to please your heart's desire.

This is one nicely fitted sock.  Yes, I made the mate to match!



  1. I love socks for this very reason: they can be customized to your foot. I always have a pair of socks for somebody on the needles because once you treat somebody to a pair of socks, they always seem to want more.

  2. Yes, once you've experienced the joy of well-fitted socks, there's no going back!