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