For a self-taught knitter in the early stages of the craft like me, there is truly something miraculous about discovering that not all knitting happens ‘flat,’ in 2 dimensions. After knitting scarf after scarf, I wanted to push myself to tackle a new technical challenge: knitting in the round. This method produces circular tubes instead of flat planes of fabric (and is the earliest form of knitting, it turns out). Whether using a circular needle, or multiple double-pointed needles, I find that knitting in the round challenges me to develop new skills.
With autumn slowly making its way in, I decided, over the last few weeks, to tackle knitting on double-pointed needles by making my first pair of socks. Socks were among the first knitted garments (!), with the earliest knitted socks found in the Middle East, dated between the 13th and 16th centuries (thanks, Vogue Knitting).
I’m grateful that sock-making traditions and knowledge are easily available for curious knitters. While helpful online tutorials on the topic abound, I found Ann Budd’s Getting Started Knitting Socks a clear and useful guide to the terrain. It begins by introducing one basic all-around sock pattern, adapted to multiple yarn weights and gauges so that knitters can get started with whatever materials they have on hand.
What follows is not a detailed sock-making tutorial, but more of a very rough guide to the steps I followed to make my first pair of socks, a kind of sock anatomy 101. Goofy pictures included (advance apologies for the inconsistent colours).
Following Budd’s pattern for my yarn weight, I cast on 44 stitches across 3 double-pointed needles (US 3) and started with the leg, which I decided to rib for the entire length (knit 2, purl 2). There’s a lot of creative lee way here. Will it be a knee-high or more of a footie? A deep or shallow cuff? (oh, the possibilities). I stopped at around 7″.
After the leg, I knit the sock’s heel flap that covers the back of the heel. This area is knit flat using only 2 needles, and calls for a slipped stitch pattern which produces a slightly thicker and denser fabric. Heels get a lot of wear and need some extra reinforcement:
After the heel flap comes my favourite part: turning the heel, or using a series of strategic stitch decreases and short rows to create the little curve of the heel area. I don’t understand how exactly the decreases create this shape, but they do, magically.
After turning the heel, I ‘picked up’ new stitches on each side of the heel flap and distributed them across 2 needles. The remaining stitches were held on a 3rd needle, allowing me to continue working in the round again. I continued knitting in the round, decreasing stitches on every other row from there to form the triangular gusset.
From there, completing the remainder of the sock was a matter of knitting the foot in the round, then using a series of stitch decreases on alternating rows to create the rounded sock toe.
Working until only 8 stitches remained, the last step was to use the kitchener stitch to ‘graft’ the live stitches together and close up the toe for good. Weave in the loose ends and we have a seamless handmade sock!
The initial amazement and excitement of creating a three-dimensional object out of yarn and some sticks (I gave myself a day to revel) is soon tempered by the sobering realization that you have to do it all over again. Sock knitting is a great apprenticeship in endurance, perseverance and, as the final pair reveals, good humour.
As a hand-making project, knitting socks is a fun process. Despite the glaring errors (re-see above), I was happy to have some new needle skills, and some bright, handmade hosiery.