How to Knit Socks Successfully By Avoiding These 3 Mistakes

Anatomy of sock

Learn how to knit socks first before attempting your first sock knitting pattern. Avoid making the mistakes I did.

My first knitted sock is so big it can fit Big Foot. Sock knitting fail! I am the sort of person that will dive into a knitting pattern straight away instead of learning the basics first from books or tutorials.

I made a few fundamental mistakes. Don’t be like me. Learn how to knit socks successfully by avoiding the mistakes I made.

Mistake 1: Not Knowing the Anatomy of a Sock

I do not know the names of the different parts of a sock. Many sock knitting patterns do not explain what the parts are. The designer assumes you know.

Heel flap may be easy to figure out, but gusset and instep are not. It used to annoy me quite a bit until I came across a diagram for the anatomy of a sock.

Now I know that a sock has a cuff, leg, heel flap, instep, gusset, sole and toe.

how to knit socks - anatomy of sock diagram

Mistake 2: Not Measuring My Feet

I did not know that I need to measure my feet. I just went with the standard size.

Now I know that by measuring my feet, I can then match them to the most appropriate size.

Here is how to measure the foot.

  1. Wrap the measuring tape around the widest part of the foot snuggly but not tightly for the width of the foot
  2. Place the ruler on the floor, line the back of the heel with the 0 and note the length of the longest toe. This gives you the length of your foot
  3. Place the ruler along the wall with the 0 on the floor. Position the leg against the ruler and measure the height up to the ankle or the calf. You may need to measure the circumference of the calf

Or watch this video.

Mistake 3: Not Checking My Tension or Gauge

The legs of my hand-knitted socks do not stay up. Some knitters I know said that this is quite common. It happened to them too.

When I read the book Custom Socks, author Kate mentioned the way to resolve loose cuffs is to knit with negative ease. This is approximately 10% of the actual foot size. It means that the knitted sock should be about 1 inch or 2.5cm smaller than leg or foot circumference. And 0.5 inches or 1.3cm shorter than the foot length.

This can only be calculated if I know my knitting tension. After measuring my feet and working out the sock circumference and length, I must check the gauge. By checking the gauge, I can calculate the number of stitches to cast on.

This video is a bit long but is very comprehensive about how to check gauge. I totally recommend it if you are not familiar with knitting gauge.

Top-down or Toe-up Socks?

There are basically 2 ways to knit socks.

Top-down which is to knit from the cuff down to the toe. Toe-up is to knit from the toe up to the cuff.

I believe the top-down method is more common and more popular. But it is good to know how to do both.

1. How to knit socks top-down

Start with a flexible cast-on to create the edge of the cuff. What is a flexible cast-on? Choose from one of 18 cast-on techniques here.

Join in the round to start knitting the cuff using 2-knit, 2-purl ribbing. The cuff is usually around 2 inches long.

The leg comes next. Knit to the desired length. Then split the stitches in half for the heel and instep. The heel is the bottom and the instep is the top of the sock.

Work the heel stitches first by knitting back and forth in rows to shape the heel flap.

Pick up stitches for the gussets along the heel flap. Rejoin with the other half of the stitches for the instep.

Knit the foot in the round.

I find picking stitches for the gussets challenging. Holes always form. Eventually, I learned how to avoid it. I wished I had read Kate Atherly’s Custom Socks. It has a very detailed section on how to pick up the gusset stitches and not create holes. I would have saved a lot of time and frustration if I have learnt this first.

Finally, shape the toe by decreasing at each side of the foot. Decrease every other round until half of the original stitches. Then, decrease every round until 8 or 10 stitches remain. Close the toe by gathering the stitches up or using Kitchener graft. I prefer the graft.

2. How to knit socks toe-up

Cast-on for the top of the toe using either Judy’s Magic cast-on or the Turkish cast-on.

Increase stitches at each side of the toe until you have the desired number of stitches. Work the foot until the desired length.

Increase stitches at each side of the foot to form the gussets. Use short rows to turn the heel. Knit the heel flap while decreasing the gussets stitches.

Continue working the leg until 2 inches or 5 cm short of the desired length. Change to ribbing for the cuff. Bind off with a flexible bind off.

What Types of Knitting Needles are Good for Sock Knitting?

You can use double-pointed needles, sock circular needles ((8-inch/20 to 23cm) or long circular needles (60-inch/152cm) to knit socks. They have advantages and disadvantages.

The division of the stitches on the needles differ between circular needles and double-pointed needles. For circular needles, divide the stitches equally. For double-pointed needles, divide equally amongst the number of needles.

Double pointed needles can be fiddly and ladders may form in the knitting because of the transition from needle to needle. Two long circular needles can be floppy. Short circular needles need getting used to because the length of the needles is quite short.

My personal favourite is using long circular needles and the magic loop technique for knitting in-the-round projects.

Stitches are divided in half on the circular needles. The front of the sock is on one needle and the back of the sock on the other needle. I find this easier to manage than 4 or 5 double-pointed needles.

Using long circular needles also allow both socks to be knitted at the same time. No worries about the second sock syndrome.

What Types of Yarns Are Good for Socks?

As I live in the tropics, I have always avoided wool. I find them itchy.

But according to Kate of Custom Socks, superwash wool is the best yarn material for socks. They are elastic, durable and lick up moisture beautifully.

What about the itchiness?

Her theory is that the skin of the foot is the least sensitive and should take to wool well even if the rest of my body does not. It seems to make sense. I am going to try her suggestion because I do have a few skeins of wool sock yarns that I do not know what to do with.

Sock Knitting Books I Referred To

1. Custom Socks: knit to fit your feet by Kate Atherley ISBN: 9781620337776

Custom Socks knit to fit your feet

I have mentioned this book a couple of times in the post. It is really useful. I got it from my public library. It has an electronic version too.

Not only does it cover tips on how to knit socks successfully, but it also has about 15+ patterns.

Packed full of information on how to design and custom hand-knitted socks. I highly recommend it.

2. Sock Knitting master class: innovative techniques + patterns from top designers by Ann Budd ISBN: 9781620333143

Sock Knitting Master class

This book features a wide variety of innovative styles for various parts of the socks with good descriptions and explanations.

We have come to the end of this post. I hope you found what you are looking for. Let me know, okay?

Happy knitting


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