Knitting a Pair of Socks: The Basics!
Knitting your first pair of socks can feel intimidating. If you ask 10 different knitters, you will get 10 different answers on how to knit socks. Most people will try a combination of tools, materials, and techniques before they figure out what works for them.
So, here we’ll explain the basics and what you will need to get started.
Tools and Materials
Most of the commercial sock yarn you will see will have these characteristics:
-fingering weight (also called superfine or #1)
-machine washable (also called superwash)
-contains a small percentage (10-25%) of nylon/polyamide, for strength
-has multiple plies (which is more durable than many single ply yarns)
Keep this checklist in mind when you choose your yarn. Ideally a finished pair of socks should be durable, washable, and thin enough to fit comfortably inside your shoes. Note that thicker yarn will yield thicker socks.
Sock yarn can be a dyed in many ways: variegated, self-striping (watch stripes magically form as you knit!), solids, or a gradient.
Socks are generally knit “in the round” except for the heel, which is usually knit back and forth. This creates extra fabric to accommodate your heel. There are a few types of knitting needles that will allow you to do this:
-Double Pointed Needles (DPNs)
-Long Circular Needles (magic loop)
-Short Circular Needles (9 inch circumference)
Make sure to read through your pattern, as they will often give instructions based on a certain type of needle.
Socks are most commonly knit with fingering weight yarn, which requires a needle size between 2.0mm-2.5mm, depending on your tension (how loosely or tightly you knit).The needle size determines the gauge of your fabric- i.e., how dense the fabric is, as well as the final size of the knitted piece. In other words, if your gauge is too loose, your socks will be too big. If your gauge is too tight, your socks may be stiff enough to stand up on their own! Because socks are knit at a fairly tight gauge, this also creates a more durable fabric. When you are starting out, it is helpful to do a gauge swatch (in the round) to make sure your gauge matches what your pattern calls for.
Basic Sock Construction
Your basic sock pattern has four parts:
Cuff: often knit in ribbing, so they can stretch to fit without slouching on the leg.
Body: usually a set number of stitches throughout the length of the body. This can be knit in plain stockinette stitch (nicknamed “vanilla” socks) or a decorative stitch, such as lace, cables, or colour-work, depending on your pattern.
Heel: stitches are knit on only one side of the sock, creating a “turn” in the fabric. The techniques vary widely; heel flap and gusset, short row heel, after-thought heel are some of the most common ones.
Toe: the set number of stitches is gradually decreased, tapering down to the toes. If you are knitting your sock from the toe-up, there is a special cast-on for that.
The order in which these parts are knit will vary from pattern to pattern. Socks can be knit starting “toe-up” or “cuff-down.” On Ravelry’s search page, you can choose from many different sock techniques.
Once you have finished knitting your socks (don't forget to knit that pesky second sock!) all that's left to do is weave in your loose ends with a tapestry needle, and block them if you wish. Blocking may sound mysterious but it's really just washing them and letting them dry on a sock stretcher! The benefit of blocking is that it evens out your stitches- it makes a big difference if you have knit lace socks, or are giving them as a gift.
If you have chosen superwash yarn, your socks will be machine washable, but please follow the directions on your yarn label. Using the most gentle wash cycle and soap specifically for yarn, such as Soak or Eucalan, will ensure a long lasting pair of socks!
If any these techniques are new to you, watching a tutorial can be helpful in deciding which one to try. Here are some invaluable resources for beginners.