Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Sock Question

Socks. We all (ok, most) seem to have a fetishobsessionthing for making socks. But what makes a sock?

We all know aobut the importance of gauge, and it seems extra important here. Too tight? Can't get your sock over your heel. Too loose? Falls off your foot. So far, I've been lucky. All of my socks have fit. Some have had to be ripped out early on for being too small/big, but I've worked it out in the end.

However, I've been a bit frustrated of late trying to work out my gauge issues with many written patterns. Here - I spelled it out for Theresa

I have a question for you, as you seem to be my "resident" sock-swami. I seem to knit "tight" - my gauge always seems to be tighter than the patterns says (ex: pattern calls for sz one needles with a gauge of 8 spi, I get 9 spi with sz 1.) (oh, and I realize that not all sock yarns are created equal - I try to "eyeball" the yarn - thinner yarns get smaller needles) I sometimes hate to go up a needle size, as I don't always like the resulting fabric (I feel that socks should be knit fairly tightly to make them last longer - am I nuts?). However, a gauge of 9 spi leaves me with few patterns that fit my gauge. Sometimes I go ahead and use the recommended needle size (even if I get a smaller gauge) and still get a sock that fits. However, I have had to rip out several socks that ended up too big/small because of this, so I don't want to just "do it" all the time. How does negative ease work in socks? Is this why my 9 spi socks fit when the gauge calls for 8?

Here's what she had to say (and Theresa - I hope you don't mind that I posted this, please let me know if you do!):

Anyway, socks. I love being a sock-swami, but I digress. First of all, you are absolutely correct that socks will last longer if knit at a tighter gauge. I usually use US 1s with standard sockweight and get . . . um, 8-9 sts/in. I rarely measure sock gauge. I really love the socks I've made on US 0s - nice and tight at around 10 sts/in, but they take so long . . .

OK, so gauge. Usually I start knitting and rip after about 2-3" if it seems to be coming out the wrong size. Most st st or rib-based patterns are elastic enough to handle a wide range of gauge/stitch counts, so I only really worry about fitting if it's a cabled or twisted stitch or lace pattern that isn't very stretchy. Rather than going up a needle size, I try to add a repeat to get the circumference I need. Usually adding about 6-8 sts works well. If the sock doesn't lend itself to that in pattern, sometimes I can put in a couple of 1x1 rib panels on the sides, or some extra st st or rib on the back. Depends on the pattern. Something else that I've done successfully is knit with a larger size for the cuff/top and then switch to the smaller needles by the ankle and for the foot so that you're walking on the stronger part. (If ankle is larger than foot.)

Negative ease is a necessity in socks - about 10% is standard, but if it's a stretchy pattern, you can go with more. If there's no negative ease, they won't stay up. Because knitting stretches along two planes, you can also - to an extent - knit the foot longer or shorter to change the effective circumference. For example, knit a little longer foot for a sock that's coming out a little tight.

OK, I think this is a garbled discussion of this idea. To say that I play it by ear and experience is something of a cop-out, but that's mostly what I do. I can't remember the last time I measured gauge in a sock (although I do measure the sock itself). After a while, you get a sense that, at least when knitting for you, you need x sts on x needles to fit well, and you can make adjustments based on that.

This makes so much sense to me! I feel much more confident now, though I'm sure I still have tons to learn about the sock world.

How about y'all? Please leave any tips/tricks in the comments - I'd love to have your input!

While we're on the subject, my sockpal socks came today! Woo Hoo!

My pal was Bethieee and she did a great job! My socks fit great and I love the color and pattern. She also included a few other goodies for me - I can't wait to use the hemp yarn!

Thanks so much Bethieee! I've been wearing them all day (it's been nice and cool here) and I love them!


  1. Thank you so much for sharing those tips / explainations with us!! I don't really gauge for socks . . . just kind of wing it and so far, so good. But I know a big crash & burn must be coming soon to teach me a lesson!!! Your sock new socks are beautiful, your pal did great. The color and pattern are so pretty!

  2. Wow! Gorgeous sockpal socks!

    When I knit socks I always do 60 stitches on size 2 needles. Anytime I've deviated from that they don't work out. Makes pattern stitches tricky but I adjust like Theresa said.

  3. No problem . . . although my tone is a little, um, conversational, isn't it?

    Those sockpal socks are gorgeous! I can't wait to see mine (they were mailed Thursday from a foreign country, so I'm trying to be patient).

  4. When I am knitting socks not from a pattern, I find that it is easiest to start them toe-up with a Turkish cast-on and then increase sts until it looks as though the toe is wide enough. I just increase to a number of sts that will accomodate the rib or other pattern I want to knit. My foot measures 9" around at the widest part, and I like to make my socks with about a 8" circumference, especially with a stretchy pattern. For the length, I knit the foot about half an inch shorter than my foot -- more if the sock looks to be turning out big.

    I'm still waiting for my sock pal socks too, though I know they're on the way. Yours are great!

  5. It's interesting to see how others deal with gauge for socks. I've only knitted socks for 1 year & 4 mons. now & have completed 10 pair so far. I never checked gauge ... I use 2 circ needles size 1 & knit toe-up. Mainly because that's how I learned. I just try them on as I go starting with the toe after the increases total 60 stitches. 30 stitches on each needle. It took 3 pairs to get my exact size for my foot, but I now know that I start the heel flap at 6 1/2 inches and start turning the heel when the sock reaches a total of 9 inches. Cotton must be a hair under but wool is right at 9". After that, it's just a matter of how long I want the cuff to be after I complete the gusset. BTW, use a ruler and not a tape measure to do your measuring. Tapes can streach & lie to you.