Thursday, 8 April 2010

Toes up socks it to 'em

When I first got into knitting socks, I thought I knew - and could do - anything that a knitting pattern could chuck at me. Knitting any garment consists of casting on, casting off, increases and decreases and various combinations of knit, purl, slip stitches etc to make patterns on the intermediate fabric of the piece. I was taught to knit at a very young age and continued knitting non-stop through my teens and most of my twenties interspersed with a bit of crochet here and there.

I hadn't reckoned on knitting toe up socks, "Judy's magic cast on"? Whassat?! I did the research on Ravelry and got the how to but I wasn't best impressed with it, there's no tension in the stiches and some worked loose for me, especially the corner ones. Despite practicing and practising it, I had to admit defeat and this method of seamless casting on isn't for me. I found another method on Ravelry using two circular needles but I don't have any so I devised my own method using using my trustee double pointed needles which gives the same seamless effect as Judy's but the stitches are in tension. It has probably been thought of before, I just haven't come across it.

The first pair I made was a basic stocking stitch with a rounded heel which was new to me - all of the many pairs of socks I've knitted have a square heel flap (except one which has another type of heel I don't like). I wasn't sure about the rounded heel but to give me a basic "anatomy of a toe up sock", it was a perfect exercise and I did get a wearable pair of socks at the end of it.

I decided not to let my prejudice against round heels colour my next project which was to use the same basic pattern but incorporate a lacy stitch from one of my shetland lace pattern books. That was a mistake, I didn't realise the lacy pattern wasn't stretchy enough and the sock wouldn't go over my heel! My first ever casualty of one sock syndrome, I put it away and ruefully marked it down to experience.

I went on the hunt for a pattern which had a square heel and found Laura's free Triton socks pattern which was just the thing, Laura's photographs on the pattern showed a nice square heel but the sock had 62 stitches and my usual gauge means a pair of socks to fit me works out at 56 stitches on 2.5mm DPNs.

I got some smaller needles and hoped it would work out. The only change I made was I used a different form of ribbed heel stitch, I guess every experienced sock knitter has their own preferred stitch for their heels. Unfortunately, I chose a yarn with lots of colour changes and the lovely lace in Laura's socks didn't show up well, the pattern made by the yarn was too dominant and overpowered it. However, the socks are a great fit; apart from the poor choice of yarn, these were a big success and I wear them all the time (inbetween washes ...!)

There was yet another new thing in this sock pattern "wrap and turns". Never come across those either but fortunately, a good deal easier to master than Judy's magic cast on :-) Plus casting off - the Russian Bind off - again, never heard of it but it gives a good stretchy, strong edge and again, easy to do! Knitting has really advanced in the years I've been away!

My next pair is the one in the photograph using yarn from the now unpicked doomed shetland lace sock. I had the knowledge of how a toe up sock works and combined Laura's pattern with a tapestry stitch from one of Violet Green's cuff down patterns. This is a really good stitch for yarns with lots of colour changes as the slipped stitches carry the colour from one line of knitting down to the next giving a really nice looking effect. I am now a confident toe up sock knitter and can swap between the two with ease. I really like Violet Green's patterns and her yarns but she only does cuff down ones. Now I have my new knowledge, I can freely adapt them to suit whether I want to go toe up or cuff down. I'm knitting one more pair of the toe up tapestry socks in green at the moment and then I'm going to try my most ambitious pair yet, Violet's Force Five socks. I think I'll have to go cuff down with it the first time I knit it as it looks quite complicated, every row is patterned. I have learnt from my mistake with the Triton socks and chosen a plainer coloured yarn for them.

What all this has taught me is that it just goes to show, you never know it all and you're never too old to learn!


  1. Wow! They're some fab socks, Sue.

    I love knitting toe up socks. I hardly ever make top down ones now.

  2. I'm definitely leaning towards toe up ones now too, and the advantage of knowing you have enough yarn to finish the other sock is the unbeatable plus point; many thanks for pointing that out in an earlier comment.


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