The too-easy way to knit socks.

I turned my nose up at sock knitting to begin with. It took me a while to realise that socks are little works of art. If you can knit a sock there is nothing you can’t do in knitting. They are portable – I do almost all my sock knitting in coffee shops, trams, anywhere I’m starting to get bored.

They are quick to knit even though you are using tiny needles. And maybe best of all, 4.5 mm needles are suddenly huge when you pick them up again! Suddenly knitting at 18 st/4 inches feels like you are knitting at 12 st/4 inches.

You can practise techniques on them. At the moment I’m doing a coloured slip stitch pattern – I feel confident enough now to try my hand at doing a jumper in the same basic style.

So, let’s suppose you HAVE decided to give sock knitting a go. What now? Well, what now is that you get a sore head looking at the options. You can knit with 4 or 5 double pointed needles. You can knit magic loop method with one circular. You can use two circulars. You can knit socks bottom up, top down, one at a time or two at once. I was bewildered by the choices at that point in my sock knitting career.

I put a post on Craftster – HEELLLLPPP. What is the best sock knitting pattern for a beginner with learning difficulties? One of the suggestions given to me was Emily’s Basic Circular Sock pattern. Houston, we have lift-off.

I know there are sensible reasons for starting at the toe – you can divide your yarn equally between your socks, especially useful if you are nervous about running out. I know double-pointed needles would be great – if I had the faintest idea how to use them. My only experience had been traumatic. Those stitches wouldn’t stay on the needles no matter how much I threatened them. When I finally administered the death sentence they still looked like they didn’t care. And you can’t cavalierly chuck your knitting into your handbag when it is on double-pointed needles.

No, for Emily’s Basic Sock pattern and me, it was love at first sight. It was spelled out for complete dummies. It was written for two circulars. The great thing about two circulars is that you actually knit flat. Half of the sock is on one needle, half on the other and you only knit on one needle at a time.

My head occasionally thinks I should look at other knitting patterns, but my heart stops it.

So, here you have a basic sock pattern. The pattern is given in a women’s and men’s size – it is for fairly chunky yarn for socks, but that doesn’t really matter. Any size can be extrapolated from the stitches as given in this pattern.

As it happens, for fine sock yarn the smaller size suits me exactly – I kick off with 48 stitches, give or take depending on the pattern.

GAUGE is TERRIBLY important in sock knitting. Socks have to fit really snugly or they don’t do their job. The first socks I tried were in Cherry Tree Hill Super Sock yarn. I cast on 48 stitches and used 2.75 mm needles because I didn’t have 2.5. WRONG. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. Repeat that several times just to make sure you remember it. That .25 of a millimetre, that pathetically puny number, is the difference between a sock that fits like a glove – I suppose I should say like a sock – and a sock that falls off my foot.

Knitting top down you can still try on your sock as you go along. Even if you think the very first one you knit is a good fit, do a proper test. Wear it around for a day or two. IF you are still happy with it, make sock two the same. If you aren’t, unpick it and start again. It is well worth taking a lot of time if necessary to get this first sock right because all other socks for the rest of your life will flow from it. It will be the best investment in knitting planning you ever make.

If you are the slow and careful tortoise, as am I, you knit the plainest of socks this first time. An inch or two of rib, and stocking stitch for the rest. I really do think that it is a good idea to knit your first sock like this. THEN you have a template you can adjust according to your pattern stitches. You will know that a cable pattern will mean, perhaps, that you have to start with half a dozen extra stitches to make up for the tighter pattern. The same might apply to a slip stitch pattern. Maybe for a lacy pattern a few less stitches will be in order.

TIPS for how to continue.

The patterns you can introduce at this point are absolutely limitless. They might be anywhere between 3 and 12 stitch repeats. If your perfect number of stitches doesn’t fit in, add or subtract a few, depending on the type of pattern, to fit in.

Here are a few tips to consider:

1) One thing you have to decide is whether to carry on the pattern onto the foot of the sock. Will it be comfortable on your foot? Too bulky? Are you sick of doing the pattern?

2) Don’t start a row with a purl stitch if possible – it is harder to tighten up going from one needle to the next. There is no rule that says exactly half the stitches have to be on each needle. Arrange them according to what is comfortable and easiest to follow for the pattern. In my last slipstitch pattern, I had 37 stitches on one needle and 32 on the other until after the heel where I evened them up as I was no longer doing the pattern. For the foot I had 32 on each needle.

3) What sort of yarn? Anything 28 stitches per 4 inches as the recommended gauge, or finer. If you do use thicker yarn than that, keep in mind the socks won’t fit in most of your shoes. I love Cherry Tree Super Sock yarn – it is pure wool but with a strong twist which makes up for the lack of nylon in it. Paton’s Patonyle used to be wonderful. I don’t know if it is still the same yarn since it has been remarketed this year. Somebody leave a comment on this if they know! Lately I’ve been using Bambi by Grignasco which has a great colour palette. It isn’t marketed as sock yarn, but it is perfect. Note: part of why pure wool works for socks is that you are knitting it at a MUCH tighter than recommended gauge. That’s why you don’t need a nylon mix.

4) Do make sure that you cast on loosely so that the sock can be put on! Easy to check if you’ve done before you knit too far.

5) There are many variables in sock knitting techniques. You can do heels a variety of ways, and toes too. The too-easy way to knit socks is to ignore all this, take the pattern motif from any sock pattern and graft it onto Emily’s template. Well, that’s what I do. Sometimes taking the motif from a top up pattern will work…sometimes it won’t. It will be different, of course.

6) You don’t have to limit yourself to sock patterns for ideas for your socks. Any book of knitting motifs and there are lots of those, will give you ideas. The sky’s the limit. And if you knit an inch with a pattern idea in mind, only to decide you don’t like it, well, start again….the whole exercise has taken an hour out of your life, and you’ve probably learnt something anyway.

Sometime I AM going to branch out…honestly. I would like to learn top up, but for now, well, with this one method I have all that I need to make me a happy little sock knitter.

I’m sure there are lots of other tips out there for the beginner sock knitter – please add yours as a comment!


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