How to Knit Wool Socks for Beginners

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Knitting socks can be an easy, quick and fulfilling way to get a knitting fix and provide someone with a warm treat for their feet. This article will provide a brief instruction on knitting socks for beginners, as well as some tips about techniques and styles.

Things You'll Need

  • A basic knitted sock pattern
  • Yarn of choice
  • 4-5 identical double pointed needles 
  • Ruler/measuring tape
  • Tapestry needle
  • Stitch holder (optional)
  • Stitch marker (optional)

Tip

  • Here's a helpful site for choosing how much yarn one needs for a variety of projects, including knitting socks: Knitting Calculator

Warning

  • You will need basic knowledge of knitting before attempting to knit socks, including how to cast-on, how to decrease stitches, the difference between knit and purl stitches, knitting in-the-round vs. knitting on straight needles, how to choose the correct yarn and how to choose the correct needles to match your yarn.

There are many different ways to knit socks, but the two most common are: in the round (with either circular needles or multiple double pointed needles, aka DPNs), and flat. For the purposes of this tutorial, we will be knitting in the round on multiple DPNs. Other things to consider when knitting socks are:

  • Toe-up vs top-down: when knitting toe-up, the cast-on takes place on the the beginning of the toe, and your knitting follows along the length of the foot, around the heel, ending at the cuff. When knitting top-down, the cast-on starts at the cuff end, and your knitting moves down around the heel, along the length of the foot, and ends at the toe. Toe-up is better if you're concerned about running out of yarn; that way, if you feel like you're about to run out of yarn, you can just start working the cuff at any time. However, toe-up can be slightly more challenging as it requires a special cast-on to start off. The top-down method will be used for this tutorial because these types of sock patterns are more readily available.
  • The cuff: the cuff is typically a ribbed-section (multiples of knit/purl rib stitches; knit two/purl two will produce a standard look) that covers part of the leg. It can be folded over for added bulk, or it can lay flat. It can be of any length, but is always worked in a different stitch than the main body of the sock. The cuff's main purpose is to stabilize the rest of the garment; ribbing a cuff allows the opening to stretch and retract, helping your socks stay up.
  • What stitch to use: Traditionally stockinette stitch is used to knit  the body of socks(knit on right side/purl on wrong side; when knitting in-the-round, every row is knit). It is what will be used for this tutorial, but as you get comfortable knitting socks, you should feel free to experiment with other stitches.

Step 1: Cast-on

Cast-on the required number of stitches, as set forth in pattern, and spread them evenly over three or four DPNs. Being careful not to twist your work, then join for working in-the-round. If available, place a marker to help determine where the beginning of each round starts (if a marker is unavailable, use a safety pin or paper clip, making sure it doesn't snag while working). A fifth needle will be required to work the yarn. See this video if a more detailed instructional is needed for using DPNs in the round.

For the purposes of knitting a sock, there are six basic parts to the foot area:

  1. Leg: where the cuff goes, and is knit in the round.
  2. Instep: the area on the top of the foot where the ankle meets the leg.
  3. Heel: comprises the backside of the foot that joins the bottom of the leg with the bottom of the foot. It is made up of both the heel flap and the heel turn. Both the instep and heel are easily explained in this video, starting at minute 3:50.
  4. Gusset: where the instep and heel are joined back together on the same needles. This begins as flat knitting, but once stitches are picked up, you continue to work in-the-round.
  5. Foot: forms the space between the gusset and the decreases for the toe.
  6. Toe: the part of the foot where the knuckles begin narrowing towards the ends of the toes. This is knit in-the-round, and at its completion, the sock is finished.

Step 2: Cuff and Leg

Add a cuff, as set forth in pattern, by establishing a rib. A typical rib usually covers two to three inches -- make sure to note the number of rows for consistency when working the second sock. When your cuff reaches your desired length, begin knitting in stockinette stitch to form the leg (all knit stitches, in-the-round), again noting the number of rounds for your second sock.

Step 3: Heel Flap

Begin shaping the heel when the leg of sock has reached the desired length. At this point, your knitting will be separated and worked flat, or back and forth with two needles. Stockinette stitch will still be used, but note that now the right side row (RS) is knitted and the wrong side row (WS) is purled.

Spread one half of your stitches over a singular DPN (this will become the heel of the foot), and place the other half on a stitch holder if available (this is now the instep of the foot). If no stitch holder is available, you can make one by threading a piece of spare yarn through the work and tying off. Doing this makes it easier to focus on the stitches being worked for the heel; these instep stitches will be placed back on your needles when you're ready to join them with the hell stitches to begin working the ankle.

Work the heel stitches in flat stockinette, making sure to slip the first stitch on every row (for a smoother line) for the length set out in pattern. Note the amount of rows for consistency with the second sock.

Step 4: Heel Turn

Turning heels uses a technique called short rows. These are rows that are not worked to the end of the needle; you only knit part of the way down the needle before the work is turned and continued; this repetition occurs until the heel has been fully turned around the bottom of the foot. There are multiple ways to do short rows, but the most common methods used for socks are wrap and turn and no wrap short row.

The main difference between the two methods is whether or not you decide to wrap your yarn around a slipped stitch. Some knitters think this leaves a smaller gap when working short rows, while others like the look. There is no right or wrong way to work short rows; it ultimately comes down to personal comfort and desired look.

Once all the necessary short row decreases have been performed as set out in pattern, the result is a turned heel that is ready to rejoin into the round.

Step 5: Gusset

First, knit all of the stitches currently on your working needle. With a new needle, pick up and knit all the slipped stitched along the side of the heel. Switch to new needle and knit across all the stitches on the holder/piece of scrap yarn -- your instep. Change to a new needle and pick up knit the slipped stitches along the other side of the heel.

To shape and decrease for the ankle or gusset, needles one, two and four ultimately need to be worked down to equal the number of stitches on needle three, bringing the stitch count back where it was when you cast on. To do that, follow the instructions as set out in pattern, making sure not to decrease any stitches from needle three as this serves as the top of the foot. The decreases are cinching the sock to form around the circumference of the foot, taking into account the narrowing of the arch. Once the original cast-on stitch count is reached, continue in stockinette for your desired length of sock (see this article on sock sizing). Don't forget to note the number of rows for consistency with second sock.

Step 6: Toe

Distribute your stitches over three needles instead of four. One needle will contain half of the sole stitches and all stitches from left side of sock . A second needle will contain all of the instep stitches; unlike during the last step, here, these stitches will be included in the decreases. A third and final needle will contain the stitches from the right side of sock and the remaining half of the sole stitches. You will need a fourth needle to work the yarn, just as before. Set aside your fifth needle as it won't be needed for the remainder of this sock.

The toe is a series of decreases that come to an end when there are six to ten stitches left across all needles. There are a few ways to do these decreases.

  • classic toe is most popular, where a pair of decreases is done on either side of the foot.
  • round toe is where decreases are done regularly all the way around.
  • double-decrease toe is similar to classic, however down each side, the decreases are centered evenly taking stitches from the top and bottom of the sock.

Once a toe type is selected and followed, as set out by pattern, close the remaining stitches using a tapestry needle. Cut the yarn, leaving a tail about eight inches long. Attach the needle and sew through remaining live stitches using kitchener stitch. Tie off and weave in ends, completing the first sock.

Tip

  • In case of complacency or fatigue, cast-on your second sock immediately, as not to forget the number of stitches or method used, and as a motivation to finish the full project. That way, if the project is set aside, it can be picked up and continued right away. Not finishing a set of socks is commonly known as second sock syndrome, or SSS. Once all the hard work is put into figuring out the pattern for the first sock, it can sometimes seem less exciting to continue onto the second. Because of this phenomenon, there are several ways to knit two socks at the same time -- check out this video for more knitting tips and tricks, and additional information with a more advanced way to knit socks in the future.

Warning

  • Avoid washing completed socks in hot water, and don't dry on high heat. It's best to hand-wash and lay flat to dry. This will maintain the shape and strength of your sock.

References

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