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Anatomy of Socks

NOTE: this page, and related pages are still under constructions (5/14/11)

BASIC

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.

Gauge

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 2.75mm, (US 2)

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.

And split gauge is 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 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—with larger needles use on the leg (for more open looking lace) and finer needles on the foot (for comfortable snug socks.)

Direction

The two most common ways to knit sock are Toe up, or Cuff down. There are 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.

Fit

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 find loose socks comfortable--but there are different processes for making snug socks.

There are many widely available charts of shoe sizes (in both mm and US sizes) and the size of the foot length.

Yarns

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, and can compromise the durability.

Many sock yarns are super-wash wool, that can be machine washed for easy care.

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.

Needles/Knitting Styles

Sock can be knit 1 at time or 2 at a time, on flat on straight needles, (with center back/sole seams, or with side seams)

They can be knit on sets of double pointed needles, in the round, using sets of 4 or 5 needles most commonly.

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)

They also can be knit on double pointed circular needles, either 2 circulars, or a single (magic loop). Pairs (single or double pairs) can be knit using either of these methods. As a stunt, one knitter set up 6 pairs of socks on a set of double pointed needles.  It can be done, but most commonly, socks are knit one at time or in as a pair.

Some companies even manufacture 9 inch circular needles for knitting a in the round, on a single circular needle.

There are hand operated machines for knitting socks too, and small looms, similar to I cord looms (in the US, knitting done on hand operated machines is considered hand knitting)

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

Common sock needle sizes range from 1.75mm (US 00) to 2.75mm(US size 2) 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. 

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), or even toeless socks for pedicures.

Some socks are rounded and look more natural in shape, others, 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.  

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