Toe-up, Two at a Time Sock Tutorial

The other day, I tried to teach two friends how to make socks.  Toe-up, two at a time socks.  It didn’t get as far as I’d hoped because we ran out of time.  I had to go ‘babysit’ (let everyone in for the surprise party while he took her out to dinner to get her out of the house), and there were several hours of sewing before that, so the socks kind of got about half an hour or so at the end of the day.  So we will return to them later.  But one of them, after teaching me a cool new way to cast-on for socks, asked if I would post somewhere the directions so she could work on them by herself.  This is a tutorial for the basic socks, very adaptable to the feet that will wear them, and if you don’t want to know how to knit two socks at a time from the toe up, you can just skin through and look at the pretty examples, and skip to the next post.  I promise, I won’t be offended.

Before we get to the actual directions (vague instructions), the logic parts of why I do socks the way I do.  I do two socks at a time to avoid the dread Second Sock Syndrome!  Similar in most respects to the Second Mitten Syndrome discussed by the Yarn Harlot.  Basically, one makes a sock.  It’s beautiful, charming, and in all respects perfect.  But there’s still the second one to make . . . and it may never ever get made because the yarn was frustrating, or the pattern was too hard, or even the pattern got lost!  And there’s just one sock.  So I make two socks at once.

Also, I rarely follow a pattern, and there’s no way I would be able to remember, for instance, how many rows between the toes and the heel.  If I am knitting two at a time, I knit a row on the 1st sock, and then a row on the 2nd sock.  And increase for the toes on the 1st sock, and increase on the toes for the second sock.  Barring accident, I am doing exactly the same thing to each sock at the same point, making them functionally identical.  Particularly when I am doing lace patterns or complicated cables, this becomes important.  Note, however, that while the two at a time works really well until after turning the heel, if I am doing a traveling pattern that wraps around the leg of the sock, I generally separate the socks after the heel and work them separately.  Figuring out how to move stitches around that center point makes my head hurt.

Next, the toe-up bit.  I am aware that some people cast on the cuff of the sock(s), and knit their way down to the toe.  But there’s all that measuring and calculating!  One has to calculate the length of the leg portion of the sock(s), and then decide where to turn the heel, and hope that there’s enough yarn to get all the way to the toe, but one doesn’t want to have too much yarn left over because that’s wasteful!  In toe-up socks, by contrast, one casts on the toe.  Knit until it looks like it’s time for the heel, measure the sock by trying it on the foot to wear it, and turn the heel.  Knit up the leg until half the yarn is gone.  Cast off.  If knitting two socks at once, knit both until there is no more yarn and cast off.  There’s no waste yarn, no fiddly worries about not having enough yarn to reach the toes, and everything can be tried on as one goes.

I use one long circular needle, but some people use two circulars, and other people use some combination of double pointed needles (dpns).  While I know the latter two methods work, I have no personal experience with them.  I use center-pull yarn balls for all my projects, so I just use a double center-pull ball for the two socks.

To make a double center-pull ball, if the yarn is solid or variegated, wind a regular ball of yarn, and make sure to keep the center end available.  Then, put the outer end and the center end together, and rewind the ball.  The outer ‘end’ is now the center of the length of the yarn, and is a loop.  Don’t cut it yet, because it doesn’t really matter for quite a while, and the tension of the knitting may change exactly where the cut will happen.


The ends on the left are where I will cast on to knit from the center, and the loop on the right is the outer ‘end’ of the ball.

If, however, the yarn is self-stripping, this doesn’t work as well.  If one knit two socks like this, the stripes would be going in opposite directions.  Instead, one must find the center of the length of yarn (the above method is one option) and cut the yarn.  Then, with one outer end and one center end, line up the color repeats, put them together, and wind a double center-pull ball.  This is more complicated, but necessary if you are picky about your stripes going in the same direction.

I had one friend who knit a sock from either end of the ball of yarn — and then had to knit a second pair so that she’s have two matching sets of stripes!


AND NOW, FINALLY, TO THE ACTUAL DIRECTIONS!

This is my most basic pattern for toe-up socks, knit two at a time, with a short row heel.  All of my socks are variations of this, with the cables and lace and so on just added on.

Holding the two tips of the circular needle together (I use at least a 24 inch circular needle), cast on 14 to 20 stitches (for a small to medium foot) on each needle with the first yarn end.  I would recommend the figure eight cast-on (the second method discussed in the link) or Judy’s Magic Cast-On, but really any cast-on that results in a small closed circle will work.  Push the first set of stitches (sock A) toward the cable, and cast on the same number of stitches with the second yarn end on the same needles (sock B).  Try to make the last stitch for both sets of stitches be on the same needle.

Start knitting on the needle opposite that last stitch.  Knit across the 1st side of sock A.  Drop that yarn, and pick up the next yarn.  You don’t want your socks to be connected to each other – at least, not the first practice pair!  Knit across the 1st side of sock B.  Turn the work around, and knit across the 2nd side of sock B, and then the 2nd side of sock A.  This round is to stabilize the cast-on.  You have now knit once around each sock.

Knit halfway across the 1st side of sock A and place a stitch marker.  This is an arbitrary beginning of the row, and will give you lovely paired increases at either side of the sock.

Knit until there’s only one stitch left on the 1st side of sock A.  Increase one stitch.  Any good increase stitch is perfectly fine here.  Knit the last stitch of sock A and drop yarn A.  Knit halfway across the 1st side of sock B and place a stitch marker.  Knit until there’s only one stitch left.  Increase one stitch and knit the last stitch.  You have now increased each sock one stitch on the 1st side.

Turn work to the 2nd side.  On sock B, knit one stitch, increase one stitch, knit until there’s one stitch left, increase one stitch, knit one stitch.  Repeat on sock A.  You have now increased each sock two stitches on the 2nd side.

Turn work to the 1st side (with the stitch markers).  On sock A, knit one stitch, increase one stitch, knit the rest of the stitches without increasing.  Repeat for sock B.  You have now increased each sock 4 stitches around.  Knit until you get back to the stitch marker without increases for a stabilizing row.

When you get back to the stitch marker after the stabilizing row, begin the increase row.  Remember the stitch marker is the beginning of the row, and this does not match up with the beginning of the sides.  Thus the increases, 4 per row, happen at the end of the 1st side, beginning and end of the 2nd side, and the beginning of the 1st side, and are all in the same row.

Continue the increase row and stabilizing row until there are between 34 and 40 stitches on any one side of a sock, or 68 to 80 per sock.  Fit them on the feet that will wear them to check that the number of stitches around will fit.

My very first pair of socks ever, and even those were knit two at a time, toe up.

From the end of the increases to the heel, it’s just straight knitting.  You can take out the stitch markers if you like.  Knit while on hold on the phone, or waiting in line at the coffee shop, or watching TV.

The heel gets a little tricky again.  I like short row heels, so that’s what I’m referencing here.  The short row heel should start when the side of the sock, where the needles come out, is roughly equidistant from the back of the heel and from the floor when on the foot.  A perfect isosceles right triangle is not necessary, however.  Generally, this works out to be about one and a half to two inches from the back of the heel.

The tricky part is that the short row heel tutorials are usually designed for one sock at a time.  One of my friends works her socks two at a time until the heel, separates them for the heel, and then joins them back together again.  Whatever works for you is fine.

If you want to work them simultaneously: work the first row of the short row heel on one sock, pass the spare stitch on the inner edges (close to each other) of the socks to the other needle, work the first row of the short row heel on the second sock, and then turn both socks around.  Work the second row of the second sock, pass the in between stitches to the other needle, and work the second row of the second sock.  Basically, the inactive stitches are passed back and forth and otherwise ignored.  Eventually, you will reactivate these stitches as you move through the heel.

And then it’s smooth knitting again.  If the socks are more than ankle socks, think about adding a few stitches here and there to add circumference for the calf.  I have finished several pairs of socks and then frogged them back to the ankle so that I can increase enough for the calf.

It’s probably a good idea to rib the cuff for an inch or so to prevent rolling, but certainly isn’t required.

And when the center of the yarn is in sight, still linking the two socks, cast off.  And, finally, cut the yarn.

Examples, and variations.

First ever socks!

Self-striping socks.

With lace, which turned out to be not such as good idea, because the striping and lace detract from each other.

DNA socks.

Cabled socks.

Close up of the cables.

There have been far more hand-knit socks in my life than pictured here, but they keep leaving me, too often without pictures to remember them by.  One pair developed too many holes, and I got tired of darning it and threw it out.  Two pairs, matching so there were four identical socks, went to my personal chef in partial payment for all the lovely food over the years (entry later).  One pair I traded for my spinning wheel, and another pair for hand-made dress lacings of lucet cord.  I knit my aunt a pair from bright pink yarn with little hearts on them.  The most recent two pairs aren’t here because they are Christmas presents for this coming year, and I don’t want to spoil the surprises!

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26 Comments

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26 responses to “Toe-up, Two at a Time Sock Tutorial

  1. Alexis

    My second sock never got finished because my gauge changed! I counted rows, and the bottom of the foot now has the same number of rows are the bottom of the first sock – however, it is an inch shorter almost!!!!! This is why I am determined to work 2 at a time from here on out – so thank you for your tips! 🙂

  2. Gudrun

    Insult to injury, the four part pair were the FIRST socks I knit…

  3. Anonymous

    Dear Roza, Knitting a sock toe-up, when I finish the decrease of the heel and then the increase of the heel, I keep on doing something (it’s been a year or more since my last socks) so that the back of the heel comes up higher, before I go back to knitting all the way around. It keeps the back from pulling down so much. Do you know what I mean?
    Love, Mama

    • Sometimes, depending on how things seem to fit, I continue a short-row or two across the back of the heel to pull it up a little more, but only a row or two. More than than makes holes at the sides.

  4. Nora

    my first socks were worsted weight to avoid second sock syndrome–also to avoid doing fiddly things with tiny yarn. (to be fair, they were my second knitting project ever). they were wool, and shrank/felted, but i gave them to someone who has smaller feet than I, and she used them for slippers.
    My most recent pair (top down) i did from memory. I might have to try your magic method just so I don’t have a breakdown because i MEMORIZED how to make socks without trying.

    • I have memorized this pattern because there’s nothing to memorize. Cast on, knit awhile, try on for fit, knit more, turn heel, knit more. Memorizing a pattern that actually has things to remember in it — now that’s scary or marvelous. Can’t decide which.

      • Ann

        Can you write the directions for me like:row do this,second row do this and you have____stitches.
        THanks!
        Ann!

  5. Anonymous

    Loving those cabled socks of yours. Great color fading and texture ^_^ One of the (many) places I’m considering moving back to is Mass…Maybe I could convince you to teach me awesome, productive, and useful things like this if I do.

  6. Buenas reflexiones 🙂 te añadí a mis favoritos

  7. Carol Bunting

    Way to go, Roza! I absolutely love working socks toe-up, 2 at a time (on two circulars-my preference). I am saving your post for my next pair. Sock crazy and loving it!

  8. bellagreen879@hotmail.co.uk

    It is with toe up socks that you get dodgy measurements! It is easier to judge where the heel goes, easy to try it on for the toes to be in the right place and to know that everything else is already perfectly fitting. I try on my cuff downs too, it is just as easy. I know how long I want it in the leg, I don’t want it however long the yarn allows for, that may be uncomfortable or look wrong. I know there is enough yarn in a ball for my socks!

    Toe ups have weird cast ons and some very poor finishing, also some very weird square toes. There is no reason in the world for making them as they can be very strange and sometimes ugly.

    • WindingRoad

      I start with only 8 stitches on my toes and work until I have 72 overall. I work just to the base of my pinky toe. My toes are not square, if anything they look kinda pointy but they fit.

      I just use a slip knot and cast on both needles wrapping from the back. With 8 stitches on the top and the bottom. On the last back of needles over the top needle I cinch the yarn between the needles. Pick up my second yarn and do the same thing.

    • WindingRoad

      My toe up socks are neither strange nor ugly. They do not have a seam on the toes to irritate my toes either.

    • You know what’s hilarious? I’m looking at knitting my first pair of socks as a gift for my mother. She wants hand-knit ones to be sure they’ll fit, because she has small feet with — wait for it — “very weird square toes”! I’ve been trying to find information on how to adjust for that, in fact, if you have any advice…

  9. LINDA DENNIS

    Wow! I am searching for a pattern for two at a time socks (my first socks) to make while on a trip. It sounded like toe up would be the best way to go, now I don’t know. Any advice about this?

    • Linda, I have have to stick with my toe-up socks. bellagreen clearly is arguing for the cuff-down socks and has some good points. But particularly for beginning sock knitters, I think the toe up is the way to go. I think Judy’s Magic Cast On eliminates any need for finishing of the toe, the toes shape nicely to the foot, and the heel placement is easily solved with a tape measure.
      Whichever you choose, happy knitting!

  10. Thanks for the good and helpful tutorial!!!

  11. Rachel Herbert

    I’m curious about your choice to start the increases at the end of the first side rather than the beginning. How does this produce paired increases that would not be produced by starting the increases at the beginning of the first side? Thanks…Rachel Herbert

    • If you start the increases at the beginning of the first side, the increases on that end of the sock are a row off from each other. You increase one, knit all the way around, and then increase again, but by the time you reach the first increase, you are a row up. Starting the increases on the end of the sock means your increase pairs are all on the same row.

      • Rachel Herbert

        You may be correct but it seems to me that since the first round after casting on resulted in once around both socks, at the start of the 2nd round on the first side you would be starting the 3rd row of stitches (cast on=1st row, once around=2nd row). If you do the 1st increase at the end of side 1, you’ve now got 3 rows of stitches on side 1 but only 1 increase. Then on side 2 you increase at each end…3 rows of stitches on side 2. Then you’re about to start the 4th round at the beginning of side 1 when you do that last increase on side 1. This feels to me to be just the opposite of your description. Sorry for being so picky.

  12. Jordan McCollum

    Question–can you knit both socks from one ball without rewinding it? I.e., use the center strand on one sock and the outside end on the other?

    • I don’t know – I never tried it! I would worry about getting tangled, but a doubled center pull ball certainly gets tangled now and then. Try it and report back!

      • Rachel Herbert

        If the yarn is a self-striping yarn or a yarn that knits a pattern, you will have 2 socks where the pattern works in opposite directions. If the yarn is solid or varigated without a definite pattern, it shouldn’t matter.

      • Anita

        Yes, Roza and Jordan, it works fine! The yarns don’t get “tangled” but they will twist around each other. More accurately, the outside one winds itself around the inner one as you go – easy to fix by turning upside down and untwisting every so often. I do keep thinking, I should figure out a way to turn my socks while knitting around (also doing taat, toe-up) so that the twist untwists, but haven’t managed to knit when i am that coherent 😉

  13. Auriya

    Thank you for this! I am making my first pair ever of two at a time socks and found this page through Ravelry. Super happy to have it explained so well, and they are growing slow but steadily…. really happy to learn this skill as I have a baaaad case of second sock-itis and I hate making the same thing twice, this saves me from that.

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