How to knit your first sock
Socks look complicated, but many knitters consider them the ideal, simple on-the-go project. Get over those first time nerves with this handy guide from constant sock knitter, Elizabeth.
Knitting your first sock is an act of faith. At certain points in the instructions, things start to get weird and you need to really believe that the designer knows what they’re doing. Or you can flap and swear and try to ‘fix’ the ‘obvious mistake’, which is what I did on my first sock. Pro tip: this second option makes the whole process take longer. There are lots of great sock patterns out there, and you can use any pattern you like. Some will start at the toe, some at the cuff. Below, I’ll talk you through the essential steps for a top-down sock: cast on at the cuff of a sock, join in the round, work in rib, work plain, turn a heel, work plain, shape the toe, cast off. If you’re essentially knitting this sock as practice, make a baby sock. They’re adorable, quick and small. And, you’ll have enough yarn left out of a 100g ball of sock yarn for a pair of adult socks. Materials 100g (3.5oz) of sock yarn (aka ‘light fingering’ or 4ply) 2.5mm double-pointed needles Pro tip: if you know you are a particularly tight or loose knitter, you may want to go up or down a needle size. Casting on There are lots of ways to start a sock. My favourite is Jeny’s stretchy slipknot cast-on (video below) as it’s super-stretchy. For a baby sock, cast on 32 stitches. For an average adult woman’s sock, cast on 64 stitches, and for an average adult man’s sock cast on 72 stitches.
You may be thinking ‘well, my feet aren’t average’. That’s fine. We’re essentially knitting a swatch here, so it’s OK to guess. Or you can measure your ankle and use the ballband gauge to calculate the right number of stitches. Round down to a multiple of 4, as knitting is stretchy and socks should be snug. Why a multiple of four? Well, socks have a lot of double symmetry where top needs to match bottom and left to match right. It’s much easier to do something evenly four times if you start with a multiple of four.
Join for working in the round
Distribute the stitches evenly across 3 or 4 needles, put the last stitch you cast on next to the first one, and knit the first one. Make sure the loop of stitches isn’t twisted. Pro tip: I find dividing the stitches across 3 needles and working with the 4th most comfortable. Others prefer to have the work on 4 and knit with the 5th.
Knit the rib
Work in K1, P1 or K2, P2 rib for about 1-2cm (0.5-1in) for a baby sock or 2-4cm (1-2in) for an adult sock. Rib is alternating knit and purl stitches. As you’re working in the round, each stitch should be the same as the one below (knit the knits, purl the purls). With a multiple of 4 stitches, you should be able to just K1, P1 or K2, P2 round and round (and round and round and round).
Now the easy part. Knit every stitch of every round until you get to the heel. For a baby sock, cast on edge to heel is about 5cm (2in). For an adult sock, it’s typically 10-15cm (4-6in), but this is your choice. Pro tip: you can continue to work in rib if you want a more elastic sock or think you’ve cast on too many stitches.
Pro tip: Check it fits If you’re knitting a sock for yourself, stop after an inch or two of plain knitting and assess your progress. Slip the live stitches onto a piece of waste yarn, and try on the sock. You should be able to get it over your heel, and it should also be snug around your upper ankle. If it’s too loose, pinch off the excess, count the surplus stitches and cast on again without them (round to the nearest multiple of 4). If it’s too tight, add 4, 8 or 12 stitches and try again.
Pro tip: Fixing runs You may find you get a ‘run’, a sort of gap between the stitches, where you change from one DPN to the next. To prevent it, simply tug the yarn tighter when you work the first 2 stitches on each needle. Runs will often come out in the wash as the yarn moves around a little, so don’t worry too much.
Turning the heel
There are dozens of ways to turn a heel. This one is the simplest I know. It’s called a no-wrap short row heel, and looks rather like the heel on a commercial sock. It’s worked over half the stitches: 16 for baby size, 32 for women’s, 36 for men’s or half your cast on number. Pro tip: As you’ll only be working on this half of the stitches for the whole heel, I find it simpler to shuffle things around so they’re all on one needle. Make the first stitch of the round your first stitch of the heel half as this helps keep the heel and toe in line later on. There is already a really good no-wrap short row heel tutorial so I won’t go over the ground again here. You want to have about 1/3 of the stitches left at the top of your squared off wedge: baby 6; women’s 10; men’s 12 and an the same number of slipped stitches (baby 5; women’s 11; men’s 12) on each side.
As before, you can now knit every stitch of every round until it’s time to shape the toe. For a baby sock, back of heel to start of the toe is about 6cm (2.5in). For an adult sock, it’s typically 10cm (4in) for women and 15cm (6in) for men. Pro tip: Knit socks that fit your feet. Assume that the toe will be 5cm (2in) on an adult sock, and to try the sock on repeatedly as you go.
Shape the toe
There are many ways to shape the toe. This is a simple one. Divide the stitches in half again, as for the heel. Make sure you split the stitches at the same place as you did for the heel (this is why I suggested using the first stitch in the round) as otherwise your toe shaping may turn out to be a few (or even 90) degrees off from where they should be. On each half of the stitches, K1, ssk, knit to last 3 sts, k2tog, K1 (to be clear, you do this twice, for the top and bottom of the foot). This means that you’re decreasing 4 stitches each round, 2 at each side of the toe. Alternate a decrease round with a plain round until you have approximately 1/3 of the stitches left: baby 12; women’s 20; men’s 24. These should be at the peak of a squared off wedge, with half on each side. Pro tip: As toes aren’t a precise wedge, I like to skip the plain rounds for the last 5 or so decreases on adult socks. This gives it a rounder look.
There are many ways to cast off. The best one for socks is Kitchener stitch (video below), as it doesn’t leave a seam. You can also use the three-needle bind off (do it with the sock inside out) but this will leave a seam at the toe, which can be uncomfortable.
Congratulations! You’ve finished your first sock.
Last updated: March 6th, 2015.