HOME‎ > ‎Tutorials‎ > ‎Anatomy of Socks‎ > ‎

Part 3--Cuff Down Socks

Image of sock with parts of sock labeled

Links to other part of tutorial available at bottom of page.

This style of sock is more common to Europe and the western world of knitting. There are substantially more patterns for this style of sock.

This sample sock is color coded to show the basic parts of sample cuff down sock.  There are many options for each part of the sock.  The sample socks show some of the more common choices. 

The sample sock is knit in the round--but in many cases, socks can be knit flat.  It is more common to just knit the leg part of the sock flat, but patterns exist for the entire sock to be worked flat and seamed.  The seam can be center front, center back, or on the side Most of the information in this tutorial, applies to socks knit in the round

Cast on

Many styles of cast on are suitable—the chief characteristic must be stretchiness.

Some of the more common choices are

  • Twisted (aka Norwegian, old Norwegian, German
  • Tubular—(there are various ways to create, but all are called tubular!)
  • Estonian (aka an Open (loop) and Closed (loop) long tail
  • Common long tail
  • Double Knotted, (aka Jeny's super stretchy, or button hole)
  • Simple, (all varieties of simple)
  • Channel Island,
  • Picot (knit picot)
  • HEMMED edges,(including picot hems) 
  • I-cord cast on's.


Just as on the Toe Up style sock, cuffs on top down socks help provide some extra stretch and helps to keep the sock up. Cuffs can be ribbed, short or long, folded. They can be decorative, lace, or done in color work, or alternate stitch patterns, like garter stitch. They can be knit crosswise, or on the bias.  The sample sock shows 1 X 1 ribbing. 


The leg portion of the socks offers a canvas for many possible stitch patterns—The options are almost unlimited—Lace, Cables, slip stitches, stranded color work of all sorts, textured patterns, entralac, and beaded patterns are all suitable!

From basic stocking knitting stitch,(as in sample)  to all manner of designs-- the only limits are stretch (to allow the sock over the heel) and stitch count.  I tend to like sock that have 60 or 64 stitches--there are many stitch patterns that work well with these numbers--these cast ons work well with 8 stitches to inch gauge, and a woman's medium to large sized sock.  When knitting men's sock, 72 stitches is a more common choice.

Socks with intarsia work, are often knit flat (to the heel) to make the work easier. The seams for the leg can be positioned at the center back, side or for some designs, center front. The seams can be neatly worked and in invisible from the right side of the work (ie with a mattress stitch) or they can be made evident, and part of a design element.


There are a number of styles of heels used with top down sock, the most common being the Flapped/Turned/Gusseted style (F/T/G)--which is standard for a European style top down socks.

But don't be fooled and think there is only one way to make a F/T/G heel. There are many variations to every aspect of this style of heel –each and every part (the flap, the turn and gussets) has numerous variations—see F/T/G heels below for details)

Other heels styles include a the Strong heel (not more durable, but named for a Mrs Strong) and variations of this heel (the gansey heel, the fluggle heel, etc), as well as mitered, afterthought, and afore thought heels. There are any number of novelty heels as well.

F/T/G Heels

When it comes to F/T/G heels, a myriad of choices are available for each part.

The Flap

The Flap is most often worked in a slip stitch pattern—Heel stitch being the most common choice.

The slip stitch pattern does several things:

  • 1--it changes both the row and stitch gauge, making the heel flap denser.
  • 2—the slip stitch pattern isolates each stitch and slows runs or ladders if a the yarn breaks or is worn away
  • 3—the dash of yarn created by the slip stitch pattern provide an extra layer of yarn and make the heel more comfortable.

In addition to the standard heel stitch (R1: *S1, K1 , repeat from *; R2, S1, P all remaining stitches,) eye of partridge stitch is commonly used, and linen stitch. But there are many other slip stitch patterns that can be used.

Some flaps are not knit in a heel stitch pattern at all, but are worked in the pattern used in the leg of the sock, or in a knit motif.

German style flaps are flaps that are worked with 2 to 4 of the selvage stitches on each side of the flap knit in garter stitch instead of a slip stitch selvage.  I have recently convert to a garter selvage.  Flaps knit entirely in garter are not unknown or uncommon option.

Flaps (as a general rule, but not a hard and fast one) are usual worked as a 1:1 ratio of stitches:rows (i.e., a 30 stitch flap is 30 rows long.) This ratio makes it easy to create a flap that is close to square in shape.  This is because slip stitch patterns tend to change row gauge.  


The heel turning is a process of short rows and decreases to shape the heel. Heels by Number is one resource for information on several styles of turning –but it only covers the 5 most common turning styles--(V/handkercheif, half round/French, round, square/Dutch, and modified square)--but it cover many possible sizes.  There are others styles of turnings, besides the 5 most common--most notablelly, the German and Welsh turnings, which employ a very different process of short rows. This site has very good illustrations of how the different turnings look. Finally there is an old fashioned turning called the common heel, which was commonly seamed (on the bottom of the heel) This heel is still used by Civil war (US) re-enactors, since it was the most common type heel used in US south at the time of the war.

Most turning (the common heel is an noteable exception) reduce the number of stitches in the flap. A 30 stitch flap, after turning might contain as few as 10 stitches. (or as many as 20). 

The Gussets

Firstwhat is a gusset?  A gusset is a small (most often triangular, but double gussets can be diamond shaped) fabric insert, that provides ease. Gussets are uses in both knitting and sewing, in various places.

All of the different styles of turnings include some decrease as part of the shaping of the heel

With F/T/G heels,  the gussets are created by first picking up stitches along the edge of the flap, and making a series of decrease to reduce the stitch count. 

As a general rule,  1 stitch, per slip stitch, (or purl bump) on each edge, is picked up after the turning.  So a with a flap made of 30 stitches, and 30 rows, a total of 30 stitches will be picked up for the gussets; 15 stitches(1/2 the total number) on each side of the heel flap.  Socks (and heel flaps) come in many different sizes. (with as few at 20 stitches in a flat, to as many as 40) BUT generally speaking the ratios remain the same. (A 30 stitch heel flap will be worked for 30 rows, and 30 stitches will be picked up to create the gusset)  

These Picked up stitches will create an excess of stitches—The total stitch count for the sock will have been increased by 10 or more stitches.

The gusset is created by decreasing the stitch count back the original number.

These general "rules" for flaps, turns and gussets,  are just that--general rules.  There are many socks that don't follow the rules. The rules are good to know--they work with most sock  patterns.  Knowing these rules will allow you to make a bigger sock (and a bigger heel) or a smaller sock and a smaller heel--if you needed--since the rules do work. 

Most commonly the gussets are symmetrically placed at either side of the heel. But they can be place on instep, or on the sole of the foot --a common solution for stranded color work socks, since this allows the stranded color work pattern to be continued un-interrupted on the upper portion of the sock.

Some times, the gusset decreases are asymmetrical, especially when the gussets are placed on the instep.

With several different stitches, and selvages for flaps, many different ways to turn the heel, and several choices for the gusset,  F/T/G heels can take many shapes—A knitter could make a dozen pairs of socks, trying out the different options, and not have tried them all

Other Heels

The list of other heels commonly used in cuff down sock includes:

Mitered (aka short rows), the Strong heel (and variations, such as the Gurnsey heal, and Fleegles heel),  the afterthought, and the afore thought, though these are more commonly used in toe up socks,  banded heel, as well as novelty, one of kind heels. The shape of the heel can range from very round, to pointed—and everywhere in between. Heels choices can be an important design element.


Work on the upper instep of the foot of the sock is started with the first round after the heel turning has been completed.  (when the stitches for the gusset are picked up.)  Frequently any stitch or color work pattern used in the leg is continued on the instep. Most frequently, the sole(in color work) is worked in a simple stripe or birds eye pattern for color work, or in stocking knit,  or reversed stocking knit for the sole of the foot.

Toe shaping

There are a number of common ways to shape the toe—the 6 most common are:

  • 1—flat (aka French)
  • 2--pointed
  • 3—round
  • 4—star
  • 5--banded

But, as in all things knitting, this list is just the most common choices—There are novelty options, including TABBY toes) like mittens for your feet--the toe section  has 2 parts, one for large toe, the other for remaining toes) or individual knit toes (like gloves) or asymmetrical anatomically correct toes. Pedicure socks are toeless.  The sample sock illustrated, has a flat or french toe.  (most commercial socks have the same style)

Bind Off

The preferred method for binding off socks avoids sewn seams. Pointed, rounded and Star shaped toes toes are often closed with a drawstring, (where the yarn is threaded through the last few stitches and drawn tight) Flat toes are most of grafted (Kitchener stitch is an other term for grafting.) but some knitters use a 3 needle bind off to finish the toe. 

A smooth comfortable end to the knitting makes for a comfortable sock.

 Home Page        Back to Tutorial Home Page             Back to Toe Up Socks            Forward to Other Sock Options