Show Notes · Stuff You Should Know

Episode 9: Let’s Talk About Socks, Baby!

Hi everyone! Today we’re going to be talking about socks – how to make them, and how to make them last. As a note, we’re going to focus on knitted socks. You can crochet socks, but Sarah and I don’t have enough experience with crochet to comment on those. I would guess that a lot of the same things apply though!

Handknit socks are infinitely customizable, and they feel great on your feet. Wool breathes, so they’re very warm without making your feet sweaty. They also tend to be thicker than commercial made socks, to add a lot of squish.

Generally, wool is going to make the best socks (with the exception of wool-free yarns made specifically for socks such as CoBaSi by HiKoo). Cotton and synthetics aren’t as warm, don’t breathe as well, and also wear out faster.

Most socks are knit seamlessly in the round, with the rare exception of vintage patterns or argyle socks. You can use any method for small circumference knitting in the round – Magic Loop, DPNs, two circulars, or 9″ circulars – and you can choose to knit your socks two at a time. If you’re going to knit two at a time, I would recommend making your yarn into two balls rather than working from either end of the ball.

You want to choose a yarn that’s going to knit at 8-10 stitches to the inch, which will typically be a fingering weight yarn on US0 to US2 needles. If you don’t have the stitch density of a tight gauge, they will wear out faster than you might like.

Knitting a heavier weight sock can be a great way to learn about sock construction without adding in the complication of small yarns and needles. Some great beginner tutorials are Silver’s Sock Class, Tin Can Knits Rye, and Knitty’s Fuzzy Feet.

Most sock yarns are fingering weight, but not all fingering weight yarns are good for socks. Most good sock yarns will be wool or a wool blend (look for about 75% wool to 25% nylon, polyamide, or silk), and roughly 400 yards to 100 grams. Keep in mind that softer yarns will wear out faster, so merino wool will generally wear faster than a longer stapled wool. The addition of nylon, silk, or mohair will add strength and durability to the finished object.

When it comes to socks, superwash vs non-superwash wool comes down to some personal preference. Superwash wools are created by the addition of chemicals that either burn off the scales of the wool, or glue down the scales of the wool. It’s really difficult to figure out which kind of superwash yarn that you have, and some may eventually become felted over years of wear and use. I personally prefer superwash sock yarns because I do NOT enjoy handwashing socks!

Nylon can be carried along with the knitting as you go, which also adds strength. Most people carry a nylon thread along on the heels and toes of the socks, but you can add it in wherever you need the durability.

The other thing to keep in mind when choosing a sock yarn is the number of plies. In general, 3 or more plies will wear better, because if one ply wears through, there are 2 or 3 more to back it up before a hole develops!

When choosing a sock yarn, try to keep a few things in mind – look for wool or a wool nylon blend, a tight twist, and 3 or more plies. Then, to maximize your success, knit them at a dense gauge.

In general, socks will either be knit starting at the cuff and working down the foot, or starting at the toe and working up the leg. Both are very valid methods! We recommend making several pairs with several different techniques, to see what you like and what fits *you* well. There are lots of fans of the Fish Lips Kiss Heel, which also includes instructions for making well-fitting socks with a short row heel. Also, keep in mind that just about every sock pattern can be constructed in the way that you prefer, and you can always sub in the heel or toe that you like working with.

One important aspect of fitting your socks is negative ease. That is, your sock should have to stretch slightly to fit your foot. Measure around the ball of your foot, and subtract 10% to get the width you should be knitting.

There is a dreaded affliction that infects every knitter at some point in their sock knitting career – Second Sock Syndrome! Socks can be knit two at a time, usually with two circular needles or a very long circular needle and magic loop. There is also a way to double knit your socks (one inside of the other), and is generally done on DPNs.

There are dozens of ways to knit sock heels! The heel flap and gusset is very common, along with short row heels, afterthought heels, and heels formed with increases and decreases (such as the heel in the Vanilla is the New Black sock). If you tend to wear your socks out at the heel, afterthought heels might be the way to go, since you can rip out and replace the heel at any time. The Smooth Operator Socks are a good introduction to afterthought heels. As an aside, if you want some cool socks with a weird construction, check out The Trolls Cauldron – they were a lot of fun!

I did mention that I would link to Judy’s Magic Cast-On – it’s a great way to start toe-up socks, and a very useful cast-on in general.

The books that we would recommend are Sock Architecture by Lara Neel and Custom Socks: Knit to Fit Your Feet by Kate Atherley.

Thanks for listening!

P.S. After recording, Sarah had a hole develop in one of her socks. Here are some pictures of before and after darning:


If you’d like to learn how to darn your socks, here is a great YouTube video.

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