A quick note. Knit & Crochet Saturday is moving to the weekday schedule at Stitch This! Welcome to:
Now, onto today’s post: how to knit socks!
If you’ve been curious about how to knit socks and want to put all those luscious yarns and amazing sock-knitting patterns to good use, stay tuned. We’ll show you how to knit the three parts of a sock that often strike fear into the heart of new sock knitters—namely, working a heel flap, working a heel turn, and picking up stitches for the gusset. Join me and Sarah, our marketing graphic designer, as we show you that even beginner knitters can tackle these techniques and learn how to knit socks!
You’ve probably noticed that socks are essentially made of a tube (knit in the round) that forms the cuff and leg of the sock. Then there’s more tube that slips over your foot. If you can knit in the round, you’ve got those covered. But it’s that 90° bend in the middle that accommodates your heel that seems most perplexing. Well no more—let’s get started!
Working the Heel Flap
Working the heel flap is probably the easiest part of knitting a sock, because it’s knit back and forth in rows rather than in the round. If you’re working with double-point needles (dpns), put half your stitches on a holder or squish them onto one or two of your other dpns. Then work the other half of the stitches back and forth using just two dpns. If you’re using two circular needles, let half the stitches rest on one needle while you work the other half of the stitches on the second needle. With either method, the stitches on the holder or resting needle(s) will be reserved for the front of the sock, while the ones worked back and forth will form the part of the sock that continues down along the back of your heel (that is, the heel flap).
Sock knitters have devised many ways to knit the heel flap, from basic to quite intricate. For our purposes, we’ll show you how to work a standard slip-stitch heel flap. In this video, you’ll see that it’s quick, simple, and quite durable too.
Now, wasn’t that easy? Let’s move on to the heel turn.
Turning the Heel
I admit, the first time I read a sock pattern, the part about turning the heel had me a little perplexed. Knit X amount of stitches, turn, knit 2 together, knit some more and turn again. What? That sounds suspiciously like short rows, but at that point I had never done short rows and I couldn’t see how working them would make a curved sock heel.
A friend gave me this advice, and I’ll pass it on to you: “Just do what the pattern says, as odd as it sounds, and trust that it will work out.” You know what? It did work out. Until you actually knit those short rows (knit a partial row, make a decrease, turn the sock and work your way back without finishing the row), it sounds confusing or maybe even hard. But take a look at Sarah doing her first heel turn in this video. After just a few rows, you can really see the “turn” starting to take shape. I think you’ll find it’s actually fun to knit the heel turn, because now you can really see your knitted tube transforming into a sock.
Picking up Gusset Stitches
Once the heel turn is complete, it’s time to work the gussets. The gussets of a sock are those stitches along the inner and outer ankle. This is the part of your sock with the most stitches, giving you enough room to not only slip your toes into the sock, but also to pull the sock over your heel. To gain the required number of stitches, you’ll need to pick up stitches along each side of the heel flap. Using the yarn that’s still connected to your project, pick up one stitch at a time along the first side of the heel flap. Then work the stitches that were resting on your holder or spare needle. Finally, pick up more stitches on the other side of the heel flap. Now you have the number of stitches needed to make putting on your sock possible, and you’ve reconnected all parts of the sock so that you’ll be working in the round again.
It may all seem a bit baffling now, but as this video shows, picking up the stitches is quite doable, even for someone like Sarah who has never knit socks before.
Once you’ve accomplished all the above steps, you’ll gradually decrease the number of gusset stitches (as specified in your pattern) until you’re back to the original number of stitches, so that the foot of the sock will be the same diameter as the sock leg.
For sock-knitting patterns, as well as lots more hints and tips, I highly recommend Charlene Schurch’s books Sensational Knitted Socks and More Sensational Knitted Socks. Charlene offers several ideas for heel flap patterns. And all the sock knitting patterns in the book are written for using both dpns and circular needles, so your options aren’t limited. Or check out Charlene’s latest book, written with Beth Parrott, The Sock Knitter’s Handbook. This 6″ x 9″ hardcover book tucks nicely into a knitting bag and has a concealed spiral binding that allows it to lie open so you can look up anything about sock knitting and follow along as you knit.
See just a few of the beautiful socks you can create in the photos at the bottom of this post.
So, what do you think—have you tried to master the heel flap, the heel turn, and the gusset? Did you succeed, or are you still trying? Tell us your sock story in the comments.