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Knitting socks: where to start?

Socks. Probably one of the more daunting projects to attempt. There are many different kinds of sock patterns, all worked with different kinds of needles and techniques. In this post, I will break down the basics and get you on your way to knitting your first pair of socks.


Yarn

Most patterns will call for a 4ply yarn, also known as fingering or sock yarn. This is a fairly fine yarn and is usually knit on 2-2.5mm needles (more about that later). If you are worried about knitting in a gauge this fine or are still a beginner/intermediate knitter there are plenty of patterns that use DK yarn. Double-knit yarn is 8ply so will work up a little quicker which I always find more motivating when I'm learning something a little tricky, although your socks will come out a little thicker.


Fibre is a really important choice when picking your yarn. Ideally, you want a wool + nylon blend. The wool will add elasticity and keep your feet warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The nylon will help with durability, socks in pure wool would wear down too fast, and you don't want a hole in them after a few wears. If you are allergic to wool or just prefer not to use it, cotton is an alternative option. Although it can stretch out/get misshaped, I would try to find some sort of cotton blend with a bit of stretch in. I would recommend staying away from acrylic, it's not very breathable.


Patterns will always state how many grams/meters or yards of yarn you need. However, as a guide, I would say for a standard woman's 4ply sock you would need roughly 60-100 grams, for a slightly longer or men's sock maybe 150 grams.


Ball or Skein? Most yarns tend to come from a ball that is ready to be knit. Although some yarn will come in a skein, particularly when it has been hand dyed. You cannot work directly from a skein, I have stubbornly tried many times and ended up ruining expensive yarns. To get them into a workable ball you typically need a wool winder and a yarn swift.


Needles

There are many different options for sock knitting needles out there but they break down into two types. Circular needles or double-pointed needles, also known as DPNs. There are many pros and cons to both that I will go through. If you've never used either of these don't be put off, it will just take a little practice. I would recommend doing a swatch of tubular knitting to practice getting used to the new needles before starting a sock, it can be a little tricky to get your tension right, especially on DPNs. Material is another important factor in choosing your needles. Wood or metal? I would recommend wooden needles to beginners as they are slightly coarser so it's harder for the stitches to slip off the needles. Metal is better for more experienced knitters; it's a bit smoother but this can work to your advantage and help you knit faster.


DPNs

The traditional method of sock knitting. They are handy particularly when doing the toe as you start/end on a very small amount of stitches. They are also handy as you can separate the stitches across the needles accordingly, using each needle as a marker as you know when you reach the end of a specific needle you need to decrease/increase. There is more of a risk of stitches falling off the needles with DPNs as you have multiple needles to worry about. Making sure you get the tension correct is another important factor - often knitters will have a slight ladder effect running down between each of the needles. It's not too hard to work around, by just making sure you knit the edge stitches a bit tighter, blocking will also help smooth everything out.


Flyers

Also known as flexible DPNs, I would recommend this to a confident knitter as they can be even more fiddly than regular DPNs to figure out, but once you get the hang of it they are a lot easier. It's handy not having to do as many needle changes, reducing the risk of laddering or stitches slipping off the ends of needles.


Short Circular Needles

There are many techniques you can work with different types of circular needles. I'll start with super short circulars, these are often 9" and sometimes the needles are bent to account for the short cable. These are just used in the same way you would use any other circular needles, I like using these as it feels a lot easier just working around and at points you don't need to concentrate, just knit. However, my hands cramp up after a few hours of knitting with these due to them being so small. It also gets really tricky when you do the toe decrease; you'll need another circular needle or some DPNs to finish the last few rows. I would recommend getting some stitch markers to use with any of the circular needles as you'll need to mark certain points in the round.


Long Circular Needles

Long circular needles using the magic loop method - you use a long cable, around 32" or more. This is handy if you usually knit bigger projects in the round as you'll already have one you can make work. The method is worked by pulling the excess cable out either side of your work, it may be easier to watch a video rather than me trying to explain it. This method is great if you're used to using regular circular needles and you have the length on the tips compared to the smaller short circular needle tips, so you shouldn't get any cramps. However, I find you spend a lot of time readjusting the cable. You can also knit two socks at a time on circular needles; I always dread knitting the second sock so it's great to be able to knit them simultaneously. You also don't need to worry about counting/making a note of rows or decreases for the second sock as you're doing them at the same time. I wouldn't recommend this for your first time knitting a pair of socks, maybe the second pair!


Construction

The two main sock construction types are cuff-down and toe-up. There are pros and cons to both and patterns will differ in construction techniques. I've tried both and don't have a preference. I think it's beneficial to know both techniques so you can use them to your advantage and have a bigger range of patterns to choose from.


When working a cuff-down sock, the cast on is simple and the heel flap and gusset work easily. However, you have to graft the toes, which is my least favourite bit.


When working toe-up, the cast on is a bit harder, lots of patterns use tubular cast on which can be a little tricky to get the hang of. You'll also need to ensure the cast off is stretchy enough to get over your heel. Toe-up socks are a useful construction if you are playing yarn chicken. If you just divide the ball by two before starting, as long as you get past the heel you can then just work up until you run out of yarn.


Free Patterns

If you are looking for some free patterns to start you off I have a couple of recommendations.

For a fingering-weight yarn, Summer Lee's I'm So Basic Socks.


Top Tips

My advice would be to take it slow and take it step by step - pun intended. If this is your first sock, go easy on yourself! With a little bit of practice, you will get the hang of it. There may be some new techniques in the pattern that you haven't tried before. Watch some video tutorials on any parts you're unsure about.


If you're coming to a particularly hard part and you're worried about losing your sock progress if you drop stitches, thread a small darning needle and thread this through the live stitches, but do not take the stitches off the needle. You can then tie this off and carry on working. This will work as a backup, if you end up dropping stitches or working a section wrong you can just frog your work back until this point. If you get past the hard bit you can simply cut and pull this thread out.


What are your sock tips? Feel free to share them in the comments.


I hope you have enjoyed this blog post and that it's been informative, please get in touch with any questions.

I'd love to see any socks you're knitting, please tag us on Instagram @craftyllamauk


Happy sock knitting,

Rosie x





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