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Anatomy of Socks

NOTE: this page, and related pages are still under constructions (5/14/15), but are mostly completed.
Part 1-- basic info about knitting socks
Part 2-- Toe Up socks
Part 3-- Cuff Down Socks
Part 4--Other Options for Socks
Part 5--Personal sock club Kits
Part 6--References and Links

A Sock—basically a foot covering. Beyond the basics? A style element!
From the simplest foot covering, to the most elaborate leg wear, we have one word in English-Sock!
Well, not quite true, we also have hose and hosiery.
This introduction to sock knitting explains the basics—and leaves you to explore and design for your self, though there are a number of links to specific designs.


As a general rule, socks are knit at a tighter than average gauge. This creates a firm, but still stretchy fabric. The exception to the rule would be decorative (holiday) socks—but frequently to hold their shape, even these socks are often knit with a firm fabric.

Fine socks (in cotton, linen, silk or wool) can have a gauge of 12 (or more) stitches to the inch—16 (and more) stitches to the inch is not unknown (and in the not to distant past, not unusual!)

More commonly today, most sock are knit at a gauge of 8 to 10 stitches to the inch, on needles from about 2mm(US size 0) to 3mm, (US 2.5)

Specialty socks (like boot liners or cabled hose) are often knit with thicker yarns, and stitch gauge of about 6 stitches to the inch.

There is no hard and fast rule about what is the 'correct gauge'--gauge, design, utility all vary with the purpose and style.

A split gauge is also an option. Kilt/cable hose is often knit with worsted weight yarn used in the cuff and leg, but starting at the heel, the work changes to DK weight yarn, smaller needles, and stocking knit—with out a change in stitch count. Cables tend to narrow the gauge, so the normal excess ease you'd expect, disappears. The leg portion is thick with a larger gauge, the change to DK weight yarn makes changes the gauge, as does the change from cables to stocking knit. 

The changes make the cabled leg portion of the sock significantly larger (though less stretchy) and the foot portion of the sock finer and smaller, and more comfortable in a shoe. This sort of split--with the foot knit at one gauge, and the leg knit at a different gauge can also work for lace tops on socks. They can be knit with a with larger needles use on the leg (for more open looking lace) and finer needles on the foot (for comfortable snug socks.)


There are three common ways to knit sock are Toe up, or Cuff down plus Other(novelty)  The other styles, including crosswise, flat and seamed, (with a center back or 2 side seams) multi directional, biased, and split (from heel down to toe, then from heel up to cuff), but for the most part, these other options remain novelties; Toe UP/Cuff Down are far and away the most common options  but not the only ones.


As a general rule, socks are knit with a firm fabric and negative ease. For a 24mm (9 inch) (circumference) foot, a 20 to 22mm (8.25/ 8.5 inch) sock (about 10% smaller) sock is considered 'right'.

But there is flexibility—tighter knitting and a narrower sock can stretch to fit wider feet—if the sock is slightly longer—since knitting will stretch. Almost no one finds loose socks comfortable--but there are different processes for making snug socks. The way to get the best fit, is to try them on (as they are being knit!)  This is easier with socks knit on circulars, but it is possible to do with socks on DPN's, too. A cast on that doesn't fit over your heel when the sock is on needles won't magically become stretchier off needles.   If you can't try them on, (if they are for someone else,) there are charts (shoe charts) that will help with the actual foot size--but fitting as you go is still the best option when available


Socks can be made from almost any fiber available for knitting, but most commonly are knit from firmly spun wools. 100% wool socks yarns, that are spun very tightly can be used on their own--one test of durability is to try to break the sock yarn in your hand. Yarns that snap easily are going to wear out faster than yarns that resist breaking. A good choice for socks, is yarn that is impossible, or very difficult to break with your hands.

Many sock yarns are re-enforced with fibers other than wool to make them more durable—Silk is one choice, nylon is a less expensive one. Some sock yarns include blends of luxury fibers (mohair, cashmere, alpaca, etc) to make the sock softer feeling (and warmer!) but many of these fibers are less durable, these fibers  can compromise the durability, and few of these yarns have been treated to make them machine washable.

Many (if not MOST) sock yarns are super-wash wool, that can be machine washed for easy care, and many are blended with some other fiber for re-enforcement. Starting at 10%, and working up to 30% of nylon is a common re-enforcement.  Spools of "woolly nylon" machine sewing thread is one option for adding re-enforcement to 100% wool.

Options for sock yarns include solid colors, semi solids (aka kettle dyed), self striping or self patterning yarns, yarns with long color changes, and other novelty color techniques, including tweeds or marls. There are thousand of commercial sock yarns, and a number of hand spun choices.

The color pallet for sock yarns is limitless.

There is also a range of sizes for yarns labeled "sock yarn". There are super fine, lace weight yarns, medium weight yarns, and to "chunky" sports weight yarns, all labeled "sock yarn".  

Needles/Knitting Styles

Socks are usually worked on smaller gauge needles--that is, smaller size than other wise suggested by the ball band.

Common sock needle sizes range from 1.75mm (US 00) to 3mm(US size 2.5) but heavy weight (cabled hose or boot liner socks) knit with dk or worsted weight yarn can be knit on needle as large as 4.25mm (US size 6) needles.

As for the type of needles used to knit socks--there are many choices.

Socks can be knit fully flat, or partially flat, and seamed. Some seamed socks are worked as a long, shaped (heel) strip, and have 2 side seam. Other knit socks feature a single seam on the instep, Socks with intaria pattern on the leg is often knit flat till the heel flap to allow for patterning. Less common are socks with seams on the sole of the foot.

These can be knit one at a time, or more commonly, 2 at a time.
Sock can be in the round.

Using a set of DPN's.
Classically knit in the round socks have been worked on Double Pointed Needles (DPN's) Dpn's are available in sets of 4, (3 needles hold stitches, 1 needle is used to work the stitches) or in sets of 5(4:3). But any number of needles can be used. Extra needle can be useful with complex patterns.

When knit on sets of double pointed needles, they are most commonly done one at time; but they can also be worked one sock inside the other--a kind of double knitting-- (as done, most famously,  in the book Anna Karenina)--NOTE:This way of knitting can cause gauge problems. 
Some knitters use 2 sets of DPN's, and alternately knit a sock on each set, to make 2 socks at one time. 

Circular needles offer other options:
1 sock on a small (9 inch) needle
1 sock on a long (32 inch) needle, using the magic loop method.
2 socks at one time using the magic loop method.
2 socks at time, using 2 circ's
2 at time, one inside the other  can also be done on circulars

I, personally like tp knit socks 2 at a time, on 2 circ's.  I  24 inch (60mm) long needles best, since I like LONGER needle tips, and smaller lengths of circular needles tend to shorter tips, which I find uncomfortable.   But I have more sets of 29 to 32 inch long circulars, so i tend to use these longer needles more often.

Just as there are socks knit in novel directions, socks can be knit, as a novelty, in multiple pairs at once. As a stunt, one knitter set up 6 pairs of socks on a set of of 2 long(60 inch/1.5M) circular needles. It can be done, but most commonly, socks are knit one at time or in as a pair.

There are hand operated machines for knitting socks too, and small looms, similar to I cord looms for knitting socks.

Other considerations

Socks range from over the knee (hose), to 'footies' (socks that start are basically legless, and start at the heel) Most socks are shaped; there are various ways to shape the leg (for long legged socks), the heel and the toe, including the option for split toes (both a single split for a tabby sock, or for socks with each toe knit separately, (like gloves), There are even toeless socks for pedicures, and half socks (toe-less and heel-less) for yoga

Some socks are rounded and look more natural in shape.  Others have pointed toe or heal shapes, and often look less anatomically correct—but surprisingly, often work just as well. Some socks are better suited, to be worn indoors as slippers, others are bed socks.

There are ethnic and regional styles of socks—but the lines are often blurred. Many of these styles now available to knitters world wide, and are losing there regional identity.  


Tutorial Home page

 Toe Up Socks

Cuff Down socks

Other Options for knitting socks

Personal Sock Club Kits

References and Links