Sock knitting is one aspect of yarn craft that seems to cause more debate than almost anything else.
There are people who say they will never knit socks, those who say they look too difficult, those who only knit socks. Then there are the mysterious (to non-sock knitters) arguments about magic loop versus double pointed needles and top up versus cuff down.
It can make sock knitting seem like a minefield, so it is no surprise that some people steer clear but to quote some of the best advice I have seen about sock knitting “it is just like any other knitting, you knit one stitch at a time from one needle to the other”.
So how can we demystify sock knitting for people who want to give it a go?
First up is the magic loop method on circular needles or using double pointed needles. Both of these method are often mention with some awe as if some mysterious power was required to tackle them but as said above you are still just knitting a stitch at a time. Both magic loop and dpns are just ways of holding and managing your stitches as you work in the round. Try both out – there is a vvideo tutorial about using dpns here and one on magic loop here – and decide which is most comfortable to you. Whichever method you choose you will be able to knit the same patterns.
For most sock knitters a much more important aspect is understanding the different parts, the “anatomy”, of a sock. When it comes to a knitting a sweater, we tend to have a basic understanding of shaping and the elements. We know the basic shape of a body or a sleeve but when it comes to socks we might not really understand the shape of the heel section or have little idea of what the gusset does or where it is on a sock.
Two things can be of real help here, starting with a plain or beginner’s sock pattern and finding a good sock book with a section that explains the elements of the sock.
A plain stocking stitch sock may not sound exciting but it you pick an variegated or graduated sock yarn you can keep your interest by seeing how the colours come out but not worry about keeping a stitch pattern right when you are learning how a sock is shaped.
There are plenty of sock knitting books out there but here are two we have found useful in terms of explaining sock anatomy and which are full of handy information about sock sizing.
Vogue Knitting’s The Ultimate Sock Book is one of those knitting books that you can return to again and again, as much for the useful information as for the range of patterns.
There is a comprehensive techniques section with advice on the best cast-ons for cuff down and toe-up socks, using dpns, working short rows and joining stitches using Kitchener stitch, among others.
There is also a whole chapter on the anatomy of a sock explaining the different sections and the basic shaping involved as well as how this might differ depending on whether you start with the cuff or the toe. And you can try it all out with one of the simpler sock pattern before moving on to lacy or colourwork versions
Once you become more confident with your sock knitting, there is also a section with advice of designing your own socks complete with basic template patterns and selection of suitable stitches to get you started.
In Sock Innovation, Cookie A sets out to explain her approach to designing sock patterns but in doing so she provides lots of detail on sock anatomy and the options for the different parts of a sock. She explains why you might choose a particular style of heel or toe and what might affect your preference for one type over another.
Even if you don’t plan to design socks, reading the sections on how different stitches will change the stretch and behaviour of your socks and on charts (and charting mistakes) will help you deside what sort of socks patterns you choose. Plus her selection of patterns can show you how much variety and interest there can be in sock knitting.