Basic Socks

Updated June 4, 2012
After I had knit my first pair of socks using two circular needles, I decided to develop alternate instructions to better suit my knitting style and improve clarity. I have to admit that I struggled with some of the instructions in the book that I used to learn knitting socks with 2 circular needles. The steps for the basic sock technique are explained here for a woman's medium sized sock. References are provided for other sizes.

Materials
Yarn: Fingering Weight, 2 x 50 gm
Elastic: (Optional): elastic sewing thread (Stretchrite, 30 yds, available in black or white)
Darning Needle: for weaving ends
Gauge: Measured in the round. With 2.50 mm circular needles 30 stitches = 4", 38 rows = 4".
Sock GaugeSock GaugeNeedles:
2.75 mm One (1) long, straight knitting needle for casting on
2.25 mm Four (4) dpns (double pointed knitting needles) for 2 x 2 ribbing
2.00 mm Two (2) circular knitting needles, 24" long, for heel , toe and sole
2.50 mm Two (2) circular knitting needles, 24" long for sock body/leg and instep
2.50 mm One (1) crochet hook for picking up gusset stitches and any dropped stitches

I find that using a long straight needle (single point) for casting-on produces uniform stitch size and tension. I learned to knit with straight needles, so I have a complete set. My test swatches (excluding tubular stranded and woven multi-color samples) are created with - straight needles.

Often I will use dpns for the cuff, because they produce a smaller, finer stitch for me than the 2.0 mm diameter circular needles. If I have an overall pattern that starts at the foundation row (for example a rib pattern extending the length of the sock), then I will exclusively use circular needles so that the gauge is consistent for the entire sock.

I use the smaller diameter circular needle for areas where I want extra durability. The French heel is knitted with smaller diameter needles as well because I prefer the look of the smaller stitches.

A crochet hook is more versatile than a knitting needle for picking up stitches, particularly when a number of stitches are to be picked up, or the geometry is awkward.

Cast-on or Foundation Row
Cast-on 64 stitches using the long tail cast-on and a 2.5 mm straight needle. You will need about 50" of yarn. This method provides a durable, stretchy, foundation for a sock cuff. In addition, a large number of uniform stitches can be cast-on quickly.

Transfer the stitches to three 2.5 mm dpns (24, 20, 20 sts) or 2 circular needles (32, 32). Join the stitches in a circle by swapping two end stitches (one needle to the other, pass stitch over the other.) Leave the tail of the yarn as a marker for the beginning of the work.
Click here for photos, tips and detailed instructions for the long tail cast-on method: "Basic Sock - Long Tail Cast-on."

Cuff
The cuff is knitted with four 2.25 mm dpns in a 2 x 2 rib pattern. The 2 x 2 rib is a 4-stitch pattern of K2P2, so the stitches are divided among the needles in a pattern divisible by 4. This ensures that each needle is started with K2 and ends with P2.

Divide the 64 stitches across 3 DPNS as follows:
Needle 1: 24 stitches
Needle 2: 20 stitches
Needle 3: 20 stitches.
If you were using 2 circular needles, you would place 32 stitches on each needle.

Round 1: (K2P2)* across
Repeat round 1, until the desired cuff length is reached, 3" in this case.
Click here for photos and more cuff design, knitting, and quality control tips: "Basic Sock - Cuff."

Leg or Body
Once the sock cuff is complete, you are ready to knit the body or leg of the sock. The stitches are split between 2 circular needles, 32 stitches per needle and all rounds are knitted to produce the stocking (also called stockinette) stitch. When the sock measures 9 or 10" from the foundation row, you are ready to start working the heel flap.

Round 1: K across
Repeat round 1 until the sock measures a total of 9 or 10" from the beginning of the cuff.
Click here for photos, tips and additional detail: "Basic Sock - Leg."

Heel Flap
The basic sock uses a French heel for comfort and durability. For the woman's medium sized sock, the heel flap is knitted with a 2.0 mm circular needle, back and forth in rows for about 2-1/2."

Transfer 2 stitches from the end of the first needle (needle with tail) to the second needle, so that the first needle holds 30 stitches. Now transfer these 30 stitches to the smaller 2.0 mm circular needle. 30 stitches work well for a narrow heel.

Row 1: Sl 1 knit-wise (with yarn in back), K1, *(Sl 1 purl-wise, K1), repeat from * across
Row 2: Sl 1 purl-wise (with yarn in front), P across
Repeat Rows 1 & 2 an additional 14 times (30 rows total for heel flap)
Click here for photos, tips and additional detail: "Basic Sock - Heel Flap."

Turning Heel
For the woman's medium sized sock, the turning heel is knitted with a 2.0 mm circular needle, back forth for 13 rows. The turning heel consists of short rows to shape the curve around the heel, combined with decreases to bring the stitch total down from 30 to 18 stitches. The following are abbreviated instructions, further details can be found in the associated link below.

Row 1: (RS) K17, ssk, K1, PM, turn
Row 2: (WS) Sl 1, p5, p2tog, p1, PM turn
Row 3: (RS) Sl 1, k6, ssk, k1, PM, turn
(The decrease is worked on sts before and after the marker; reposition marker.)
Row 4: (WS) Sl 1, p7, p2tog, p1, PM, turn
(The decrease is worked on sts before and after the marker; reposition marker.)
Row 5-12: Repeat rows 3 & 4 until all heel sts have been worked and 18 sts remain on needle.
Row 13: (RS) K18

PM - place marker
Sl 1 - is slip 1 purl-wise for even and odd rows
Click here for photos, tips and additional detail: "Basic Sock - Turning Heel."

Picking Up Gusset Stitches
The gusset is the widest part of the sock. For this reason, an additional 20 stitches are picked up, and decreases then worked over alternate rows as the sock tapers towards the foot and toes. Before the gusset can be worked, heel stitches are transfered back to 2.5 mm needles and the heel flap stitches are picked up. An additional stitch (or 2) is picked up in the intersection of the heel flap and instep, to prevent an unsightly gap. Markers are strategically placed to speed knitting and improve quality during the subsequent gusset construction.

Round 1: First 2.5 mm Circular Needle
Transfer the last 9 (of 18) heel stitches from the 2.0 mm needle to a 2.5 mm circular needle and place a marker (PM). Leave the first 9 stitches on the 2.0 mm needle for now. Pick up 15 stitches from the loops along the heel flap. In the intersection of the heel flap and instep, pick up a stitch. On the next round you will knit it through the back loop (a twisted stitch), to keep a hole from appearing. Place a marker. Transfer 1/2 the stitches from the second circular needle by knitting them with the current needle.

Round 1: Second 2.5 mm Circular Needle
With the second 2.5 mm needle, knit across the second half of the instep sts. Place a marker and pick up a stitch in the intersection of the instep and heel flap. Pick up 15 stitches in the loops along the heel flap. Place a marker, then knit the 9 heel flap sts remaining on the 2.0 mm needle.

Round 2
Needle 1: k9 (heel) (marker is here), k14 through back loops, k2tog through back loops (marker is here), K17 (instep)
Needle 2: K17 (instep) (marker is here), ssk, k14 through back loops (marker is here), k9 (heel)

Click here for photos, tips and additional detail: "Basic Sock - Picking Up Gusset Stitches."

Gusset
The gusset, the widest part of the sock, is shaped with paired decreases on alternate rows until the combined number of stitches is again 64, 32 stitches per circular needle. Markers are used for quality control and to simplify instructions for gusset shaping.

Each round now begins at the center of the heel. The decreases occur in the gusset area until only six (6) stitches remain between the markers bracketing the gusset on either side.

Round 1: k9, k13, k2tog (marker is here), k34, (marker is here), ssk, k13, k9
Round 2, and all even numbered rounds: k across both needles
Round 3: k9, k12, k2tog (marker is here), k34, (marker is here), ssk, k12, k9

Round 5 and all odd numbered rounds: k9, k to 2 sts before the marker, k2tog (marker is here), k34, (marker is here), ssk, k to heel, k9
Keep decreasing as in rounds 1 and 3, knitting 1 fewer stitch (k2tog) before the marker at the beginning of the instep stitches and one stitch fewer after the instep stitches and next marker (ssk). When you have a total of 6 sts between the heel and instep markers (each side), you have completed the decreases. You will have 32 sts on each needle and will have completed 17 rounds.

Rearrange Stitches Face Front, then remove the markers.
Click here for photos, tips and additional detail: "Basic Sock - Gusset."

Foot
Start ToesStart ToesAs for the leg, knit all rounds (stockinette stitch). The start of a round is the beginning of the heel side. Two inches (2") before the tip of your longest toe, toe decreases begin. Try on the sock to determine the 2" mark--when the sock stretches to accommodate foot width, its length shortens accordingly. The only accurate measurement of sock length is on your foot.

In preparation for knitting the toes, exchange both 2.5 mm circular needles for 2.0 mm circular needles. Knitting with smaller diameter needles increases the durability of the toe section.

Toes
With 32 sts on each 2.0 mm diameter needle, the sock is tapered with symmetrical decreases on alternate rounds for 2", until 10 stitches remain on each needle. The sock is knitted in face front orientation (not in profile like the gusset) to simplify knitting instructions.

Round 1: On needle 1 *(k1, ssk, k across until 3 sts before the end of the needle, k2tog, k1); repeat from * on needle 2.
Round 2 and all even rounds; k all sts across both needles
Repeat rounds 1 & 2 until 10 sts remain on each needle.
Cut yarn, leaving a 10" tail.
Click here for photos, tips and additional detail: "Basic Sock - Toes."

Grafting the Toe or Kitchener Stitch
Transfer the ten (10) stitches on each of the 2.0 mm circular needles to two 1.75 mm dpns. Cut the yarn, leaving a 10" tail (1" per stitch). Slip the sts closest to the needle ends over their neighbors to prevent boxy corners.

Set Up:

  1. Position the needles so that the yarn tail comes out to the right, from the rear needle. The needles are held close together, parallel to each other and the table.
  2. Insert the darning needle purlwise in the first stitch of the front needle and draw the yarn through. Leave the stitch on the needle.
  3. Insert the darning needle knitwise in the first stitch of the rear needle and draw the yarn through. Leave the stitch on the needle.

Kitchener Stitch Repeat Pattern

  1. Insert the darning needle knitwise in the first stitch of the front needle, draw the yarn through, and slip the stitch off the knitting needle.
  2. Insert the darning needle purlwise in the next stitch of the front needle. Draw the yarn through, but leave the stitch on the knitting needle.
  3. Insert the darning needle purlwise in the first stitch of the rear needle, draw the yarn through, and slip the stitch off the knitting needle.
  4. Insert the darning needle knitwise in the next stitch of the rear needle. Draw the yarn through, but leave the stitch on the knitting needle.
  5. Repeat the 4 steps of the Kitchener Stitch Repeat Pattern until all stitches have been worked and no stitches remain on the knitting needles. Tighten the stitches as you go, matching the tension of the knitting.

Click here for photos, tips and additional detail: "Basic Sock - Kitchener Stitch..."

Finishing
Draw the toe yarn tail to the inside of the sock and turn the sock inside out. Weave the yarn in for 1 to 2 inches, duplicating the garter stitch pattern.
Weave the cast-on tail down a single rib on the interior of the sock, then reverse direction and weave it back in the opposite direction.
For socks made of synthetic or plant-based yarns, you may want to sew in elastic. For the 2 x 2 rib pattern the elastic is drawn through the beginning and end loops of each rib on the interior of the sock, for a three or four rows, spaced approximately 1/4" apart.
Click here for photos, tips and additional detail: "Basic Sock - Finishing"

Creating New Sock Designs
You can create many different looks with the basic sock pattern by varying the length of the sock and by using various self-striping yarns. Or, you can vary the stitch patterns, or work in multiple colors. For example, the cable ankle sock is an ankle length, basic sock with an 8 stitch cable pattern, replacing the stockinette stitch. There is no leg section, the cuff is shorter and the 64 stockinette stitches have been replaced with 8 repeats of the cable pattern.

You can vary the cuff, toe and heels and even the knitting direction; leg down, or toe up. Socks can be designed to match another garment or vice versa. In this case, these green Basic Socks were knitted with yarn left-over from knitting a sweater. Since socks knit up quickly, compared to sweaters and other garments, they are a good place to test patterns. After having knitted the lily-of-the-valley socks, I plan to knit a shawl in the same pattern; an example of the socks inspiring a garment.

Further Reading
There are several good sock books and sock patterns available to spark your creativity. I tend to use this Basic Sock pattern, which is well-tested and works for me, but modify it with my own ideas or ideas I get from books and commercial patterns. The lily-of-the-valley socks used a commercial pattern, but I followed my own tension and sock length preferences and heel and toe construction techniques. Charlene Schurch's book, "More Sensational Knitted Socks," provides charts for many sizes and variations of sock. Click on sock books or sock patterns above for a list of my favorite sock inspiration and instruction books and patterns.

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