When I wrote that rambly, chatty post about socks, I really didn’t intend to turn it into a series. But then lots of you commented, and I got emails and Ravelry messages, because (of course) I’m not the only ones with thoughts on socks. Lots of you got in touch with notes of sock solidarity, but there were also quite a few questions about how to get started with sock knitting, or about fit or care, so I thought I’d do a little follow-up covering all that stuff. This is, of course, just from my own perspective, so please feel free to chime in in the comments if you have tips/tricks/patterns to add to this sock primer.
One of the best things about being a beginner, in my opinion, is not know what’s supposed to be “advanced.” When every project means learning a new skill, everything is equally advanced, so don’t be afraid to go for socks right away if that’s what you want to knit. I knit my first socks in worsted-weight yarn, which was good for speed (and being able to see the stitches), but I didn’t know all that much about what I was doing, so the fit isn’t the best. Socks were my third knitting project. I knit a scarf, I knit a cowl, and then I knit socks, which just goes to show that you don’t have to be super advanced, just open to trying something new.
If you want to just knit a pair of socks to figure out construction, and you live somewhere where a pair of worsted weight socks will be useful at least once in a while, Clara Parkes’ Stepping-Stones pattern (it’s free) is a good place to start. It’s more interesting than plain stockinette, teaches you basic construction, and comes in a couple of sizes. I’m wearing a pair of these socks now, actually, so I can attest to this being a good pattern.
For lighter-weight socks, both Glenna C.’s A Nice Ribbed Sock and Kate Atherley’s Peppermint Twist Sock (stripes optional) are great for beginners. Both of these socks use a flap heel (they’re both knit top-down) and the Nice Ribbed Socks include instructions for a slip-stitch heel (my personal preference), which creates a thicker, more friction-resistant fabric excellent for heels.
Book-wise, there are a ton of great resources. As far as reference books go, I have both Sock Knitting Master Class and The Knitter’s Book of Socks, and would highly recommend both. Master Class is filled with really excellent information about technique and construction, and includes both toe-up and top-down patterns, with lace, cables and colourwork included among the options. It also has a DVD of some of the techniques, which I found really helpful when I was starting out.
The Knitter’s Book of Socks has lots of patterns as well, but the main thing it will teach you is how to choose the right yarn. There are so many different yarns marketed for socks, and I found the way Clara Parkes breaks down different yarns’ characteristics totally fascinating. It has given me a whole new way to analyze my stash, and it makes me consider yarns differently when I’m in my LYS or planning a new project.
For pure fun, I’m also a huge fan of Rachel Coopey (as you no doubt know) and her book, Coop Knits Socks, is full of great patterns. They’re more advanced, and the instructions are less hand-holding, but if you’ve knit a pair or two of socks, you’ll be fine. Her new book, Coop Knits Socks Vol. 2, actually includes a plain pair of socks (named Dave, because everyone knows a Dave), so it has the base and all the fun.
Operation Sock Drawer
Wherever you start, don’t be afraid to tweak a pattern until it suits you. Personally, I like a tight gauge (9 sts = 1 inch is typical for me), which means I have to knit more stitches on a smaller needle, but that’s okay with me. It also took me ages to figure out exactly how long to knit my foot and then how wide a toe I liked. Each pair is a little experiment, and although I think I have it figured out now, I’ll probably try something a little differently one of these days and then tweak things a little more. That’s what makes it fun.
Some tweaks are built into a pattern: You can decide for yourself (usually) how much ribbing you want at the top of the leg, how long you want the leg to be, how long you like your heel flap (and how to knit it, or whether to swap it out for a different heel), where to start the toe, etc. One thing I would recommend if you’re new to sock knitting and go the heel-flap route is to more or less ignore the number of stitches the pattern says you have to pick up along the gussets. If you knit a longer heel flap, you’ll need to pick up more stitches (one through each selvedge, and then one or two extras at the top, to ensure you don’t have a hole; if you have a high arch, for example, a longer heel flap and longer gussets are going to make for a better fit). The main thing is to ensure you pick up the same number on each side and then decrease until you’re back to the right number of sole stitches.
I also convert basically every pattern’s decrease directions so that I can use Cat Bordhi’s Slim and Trim SSKs technique (which I just think of as the “hungry stitch method”). It does require both a set-up row (the initial slipping row) and then a closing row (feed the stitch, then knit it), but I love how clean it looks and how easy it is to incorporate into the gussets and toes of my socks.
Wear and Care
As far as washing goes, I sometimes hand wash and I sometimes throw my socks right into the laundry. For hand washing, I just fill up a basin with cool water, add some rinseless wool wash (Soah Wash, Euclan, and Allure are all good ones), and let them soak for a half hour or so (when I add the socks to the water, I squeeze them under the surface, to make sure the water and soap really gets in there, but that’s the extent of the work I put in). After they’ve soaked, I press the water out (squeeze, but don’t twist or wring), roll them up in a towel to get more water out, and then hang them to dry. When I throw them in the laundry, I make sure they’re in a load without towels (or other items that might encourage felting) and make sure the water is cold. Then I hang them to dry. (I don’t do anything fancy when I hang them. Just straighten them out so they aren’t all twisted up and then hang them on a clothes rack or the towel rod.)
Once you start wearing your socks they will, probably, start to wear out. There are lots of great darning tutorials, though I love this one from Twist Collective and have used it to great effect. Some brave people actually cut out the toes or heels and then reknit them and graft them into place, but I have yet to try that (it hasn’t been necessary). Of course, you can always use a worn out pair of socks as an excuse to knit something fun and new, and I would never judge you for it.
Anyway, there you go! What did I miss?
*My friend and I went to the Textile Museum of Canada last week and there was an exhibit of rugs that kept referencing “rug literature,” which I thought was both hilarious and awesome.