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On Socks December 5, 2009

Posted by merp in FOs, Knitting.

As promised quite some time ago, I bring you sock laments and sock struggles.  But also a little sock-based joy.  Let’s start with some joy:

Provencal Socks [ravlink]

Pattern/Guidelines: Eight Stitches per Inch Socks, from Getting Started Knitting Socks, by Ann Budd, but with a 1+2+3+2 rib, just to spice it up a little. (top down)

Yarn: Knit Picks Felici, in Provence colorway (so soft)

Needles: #3, #2, and #1 dpns.

Time to finish: 10-14 days per sock, one in July and one in October.

Lessons Learned: Switching needles – that is, casting on at the cuff with the largest needles and finishing off the foot with the smallest – is the key to top-down socks for the curvy-footed.  And knitting with striped yarn is fun!

There are an awful lot of committed sock knitters out there – some who knit nothing but.  Socks are small and portable, they say, and knit up quickly.  And of course, the abundance of sock yarns in their fascinating,   luxurious, and referential colorways, and the profusion of clever and intricate sock patterns of every sort imaginable both inspire and feed this love.  They even claim that knitting socks is easy.  Would that it were so.

Initially, I was wooed, but skeptical.  Why would anyone  put their precious handknits on their feet?  And what madness compels a person to knit on size 1 needles?  Eventually,  I saw the benefits, in durability and custom fit – especially if your feet fall between standard sock sizes.

But what if your feet are also, apparently, grossly misshapen?  To be clear, I think my feet are just fine.  They do a good job of keeping me off the ground, and aren’t hideous at all.  It’s just that they are utterly unlike everyone else’s feet, or so I’m led to believe.

It was not until I finally invested in Ann Budd’s book, which provides an extremely helpful illustration of the foot proportions assumed for your typical sock pattern, given in percentages, that I understood the real nature of my sock-knitting woes, and could calculate the cure.  In shoes, I wear a U.S. women’s size 7.5W or an 8M – not that huge, really – but according to Budd’s charts, while the length of my sock should of course correspond to a size 7.5, the width of my instep would be that of a men’s size 13.  And my calf is off the charts, about 130% of a men’s size 13!

No wonder I had problems.

I believe my first attempt at socks were the Frankensocks.  Perhaps I thought these would be easier, with their unconventional construction.  ,The pattern is pretty cool.  But they didn’t come close to fitting, and I took unconventionality to new heights to make these work.  They do fit now, and I wear them as winter boot socks or slippers.  But they are ugly as hell.

Lesson learned: Sock patterns as written will always be too narrow for my feet, so alterations are inevitable.  But it could be worth it.

Attempt #2, On-your-toes-socks by Ann Budd [ravlink], was an anomalous success.  Knitted toe-up, I found I could expand the girth with increases at the ankle, inserting a couple of extra ribs.  At the end of my blog post, I asked “Now, will I find the reality of handwash-only socks so preposterous that I never wear them?”  Answer: No, I do wear them, but….

Lessons learned: Handwash-only socks are preposterous.  Never again.  And I’m not so sure about short-row heels – they leave holes. But toe-up knitting is awesome.

Attempt #3: In a burst of sock confidence, I immediately took on the ever-popular Jaywalkers by Grumperina (top down) [ravlink].

Utter failure.  I experimented with the stitch counts in wild and ill-advised ways to make them fit over my calves, and then they didn’t fit over my calves.

Lessons learned: Non-stretchy sock patterns?  Don’t even think about ’em.  Just turn and walk away.  Just because everyone else loves them only means everyone else has skinny calves.  (Slender.  Of course I meant “slender.”)  Also, top-down socks really are harder if you don’t know how it’s all going to pan out.

Attempt #4: So, OK, I returned to toe-up, but wanted a less holey heel.  Widdershins promised just that [ravlink].  I had learned my lesson about trusting sock patterns, so cast on more stitches than written.  But when I got to the heel, I had a different stitch count from the pattern, and was very, very, mathematically confused (easily done, to be fair).  Frustration, anguish and much internet research eventually got me through that heel, at which point I tried it on and discovered that I had knit it so tightly I couldn’t move my foot.

Lessons learned: A sock must be loose enough for you to comfortably wiggle your toes – you don’t want that much custom fit.  Also, cheap, splitty sock yarns are really irritating to knit.

A sock-free period elapsed, but I couldn’t let it go.  I WILL KNIT A SOCK, I declared on ravelry, picked out the most extravagantly stretchy sock pattern I could find, and cast-on with a solid, trusted name in sock yarns.

Pattern: Gentleman Socks, by Kristi Schueler (top down)

Yarn: Lana Grossa Meilenweit 100 Bosco

As I recall, I cast on for a men’s large at the cuff and then had to find ways to get the foot down to the width of a women’s large and what probably ended up being the length of a women’s small.  First attempt: humongo  foot.  Put it away for several months.  Frogged the foot.  Fixed it and made a second.  Ran out of yarn (the pattern does warn you that it eats yarn – it does). Improvised.

And voila!  Comfortable, machine-washable socks that fit! They only took me 10 months, completed in February 2009.

Lesson learned: Ok, you’re feet aren’t that big. And, I CAN KNIT SOCKS!

Then, and only then, did I permit myself to use handdyed sock yarn (and even then, sale-priced for clearance):

Mauve Knotty Socks [ravlink]

Pattern: Knotty or Knice Socks, by Chrissy Gardner (toe-up)

Yarn: Knit it Up! Squishy, in mod mauve

Isn’t it lovely?  It fits perfectly, too!  I decided to treat the magical expanding leg issue upfront and dramatically, gradually adding an entire column of cables front and center.  Unfortunately, there’s still only one, finished in June, and that took me three months.   I am very much looking forward to having two.

Lessons learned: Fiddly twisted-stitch patterns take forever.  But they sure are pretty.  Beautiful sock patterns, I am ready for you!

If you have read this far because you, too, have a Sock Problem, fear not and take heart.  Find a tape measure, a good sock book, and a calculator.  Summon patience.  And knit up some customized socks for those nonstandard feet of yours.  Your beautiful, warmed toes will thank you.



1. stacy - December 5, 2009

I love, love, love my handknit socks. I like to have a simple, toe up ribbed sock on my needles for mindless knitting moments. Plus, there is something fun about being in professional business attire, but secretly sporting a pair of flashy, colorful socks. It’s my little secret. 🙂

merp - December 8, 2009

I love it – socks as lingerie! I keep meaning to have one simple sock going in my grab-and-go zipper bag, but…I’m just not that organized.

2. Leah - December 6, 2009

I can’t help but be impressed by your sock-oriented tenacity. I read the whole thing shaking my head in wonder.

And I loved that cable thing on those green shortie socks. That looks so pretty!

merp - December 8, 2009

And that’s how I feel about your new Diet! I’d last about 5 minutes on that.

The cables on Widdershins *are* cute – maybe I should give it another try. You could, too, you know! You would not have the problems I’ve had with socks. (Yes, I know, you’d probably come up with your very own.)

3. Mickey - December 7, 2009

Yeah, I have similar problems myself. All my sock WIPs are toe-up so as to combat this problem, but I may have to invest in that book as well. It especially sucks because I love knee-socks for warm weather, yet most commercial ones won’t go past being mid-calf slouch socks, and I hate mid-calf socks.

merp - December 8, 2009

The one disadvantage to Getting Started Knitting Socks is that all the instructions are top-down – but that’s why I got it, because I needed to figure out how to deal with top-down socks, as most patterns are written that way.

Your comment about knee socks got me exploring a little more, and I was surprised to find two (2!) knee sock formulas that can be adapted in quite a bit of detail for any size calf:

Mickey - December 8, 2009

Ooh, many thanks for the useful links! They will be printed out forthwith, as I have numerous skeins of sockyarn…

4. kantz - December 7, 2009

WOW. This is an awesome post and those are some cute socks! I taught myself to knit a sock once, but it turned out rather ugly and disproportionate. And there’s the whole hand wash issue. I do have some Malabrigo sock yarn waiting in my stash… I’ll look into the Ann Budd book, maybe that’s what I need to get into socks. On the other hand, I like knee-high socks for the winter. I wonder how feasible would it be to get the awesomeness of a hand knit sock to go all the way up one’s calves and stay there.

merp - December 8, 2009


Oh, you can totally do this. I’ll bet you have very proportionate feet and ankles! I’d love to see you take this on: http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEspring07/PATTclessidra.html

How awesome are those!

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