On Knitting Socks

Grace has suddenly become interested in knitting socks. In all the years of watching me knit socks, she has had absolutely no interest. But in December, she fondled the KnitPick‘s Essential Kettle Dyed Sock yarn and made some humming noises. A couple of weeks ago, she asked if I was going to go to the Sock Summit (answer is no). Earlier this week, she asked if I had seen Cookie A‘s book, Sock Innovation, then proceeded to drill me about my generic sock recipe.

First, I rarely buy sock knitting books anymore. When I started knitting socks the second time (the first time was based on a basic recipe from an 1980/1981 issue of Vogue Knitting by Elizabeth Zimmerman, I think), I bought several sock knitting books.  The one I used the most on my bookshelves were:

After buying the Folk Sock book, I went through all the different heel and toe variations until I found one that worked for me. It wasn’t your generic heel flap sock. Those bugged the bejaysus out of me. The heel flap was too thick to fit comfortably in my shoes.  But Nancy guides you through a basic sock recipe so you understood all the different parts of the sock and then where you can make your adjustments.  It’s a thinking person’s sock book.  The rest of the book is filled with lots of wonderful, mouth watering designs with historic and ethnic relevance.

Spin-Off’s Sock book was an inspiration for me, since I had just started to spin at that time. It gave me hope that I can spin a yarn worthy of socks, and it didn’t need to be machine spun perfect. The most helpful bits were the line drawings of the yarn used for each pattern. I believe they were actual size renderings of the hand spun: lumps, bumps and all. For a beginning spinner, it was great to be able to hold my yarn up to the drawing and figure out if I was close or not.  The other great thing about the book were the yarn and gauge charts. On page 41, there are a couple of charts that lists the patterns with the type/weight of yarn, wpi and gauge.  You can pick up any yarn, measure your wpi, and see what gauge/pattern you might be able to use it with.  That’s a lot of encouragement for a new spinner.  Something that guides you into something you can make with your yarn.

Lastly, The Twisted Sisters…What can I say. I love that book, but when you ask me about the sock patterns in it? I won’t remember a single one of them. Sorry. For me, that book was more about the dyeing and spinning and use of color (and white space) than about the socks.  Grace asked me about their sock recipe and I completely blanked out. I almost asked…there was a pattern in there? But honestly, in relation to actually knitting socks, the most useful bit for me was how to measure your foot for socks that fit. I already had the information, but I liked it because they had pictures on what and where to measure and how to use the information.

There were several other books that I found useful for the bits and pieces here and there. With Cat Bordhi‘s Socks Soar on Two Circular Needles, I learned that I hated the way she manipulated the stitches around the 2 circular needles for the heel, then back again. I like my very simple, top/bottom method, thank you very much. No moving of stitches around necessary, even when working with a heel flap. Lucy Neatby‘s Cools Socks, Warm Feet taught me that you can use the yarn from the opposite end of a center pull ball for the short rowed heel so that you don’t disrupt the pattern in self-patterning sock yarn. It has the added advantage of minimizing holes on the sides, but you have 2 additional ends to darn in. That may have just as much to do with the non-existent holes.

Back to my current sock knitting. As I said, I rarely buy sock pattern books anymore. Sure, there are some truly beautiful sock patterns out there and well as some truly innovative sock construction ideas. But I like my socks plain. My basic recipe fits and serves me well.  My basic sock recipe is an evolutionary process. If something comes along that works better, I’ll switch it out, and replace it with the new. Last year, I knitted nine pairs of socks was because I was revisiting some of my basics. Do they still work? Is there another way that would suit me better? Is one method of short rows better than the other? I’m back down to a basic recipe. It may have been tweaked a bit here and there, but it’s still my mindless recipe.

Posts from the past year on the evolution of my basic sock recipe:

Everyone will have a different basic recipe that works for them. I highly recommend the process to figure out your own. If nothing else, it was entertaining and it filled my sock drawer.

Toe up vs. cuff down? That’s a whole ‘nother discussion. For me, it depends on how I feel. It’s normally because I’m too lazy to do a swatch. With toe up, I can skip that step.  Just keep increasing until it fits. It also delays patterning decisions until the toe is finished. Procrastination is good.

Now double points vs. two circulars vs. magic loop? There are diehards each side of that fence. I like both dpns and 2 circulars (sorry, Sarah, you’re a great teacher, but I’m not sold on it). But when I’m doing toe ups, I always reach for the 2 circulars.  I like the flexibility of the cable for the first few rounds.  I know Maia disagrees, but there you are. We’re still friends.

So, Grace, when are you casting on for your socks?

3 thoughts on “On Knitting Socks”

  1. Sorry, I’m with Maia on this one – dpns all the way! (though I do absolutely agree with you about preferring Turkish cast on to figure eight)

  2. Diehard Magic cast-on fan here! Turkish never is the same tension for me, Magic is magic every time. Love the heel flap going up or down. Won’t talk me out of that. You might talk me out of my dpns though. I found myself thinking about 2 socks on magic loop the other day. Ssssh! don’t tell. I’ll never live it down.

  3. I’m still mulling over the idea of knitting a pair of socks. There are none on my immediate queue.

    It’s just that I work next door to an avid sock knitter who has been bringing in sock yarn and books.

    If I did knit some, I think I would try dpns first. I knit sleeves in the round on dpns and, for my knitting style, I get the best results (even tension) with them over 2 circs or magic loop. YMMV.

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