Check your gauge

As with anything to do with gauge this post comes with a huge caveat. Everyone knits differently and you might not have the same experience as me. That being said I find that often when I knit a plain vanilla stocking stitch sock I find that my usual 64st on 2.5mm needles doesn't work for me and the sock ends up being ever so slightly loose on the foot.

Instead I find that dropping to 60st for me (and from 72 to 68 for DH) gives a much better fit in plain stocking stitch.

Socks with a pattern or cable often have a slight degree of extra rigidity, unless there is a lot of ribbing. Plain stocking stitch however tends to have equal stretch in both directions. This makes for a beautifully smooth fabric - all the better to show off that gorgeous self stripe yarn - but which also has the potential to be ever so slightly baggy.

Going down just those few stitches creates the negative ease that is so crucial for a good sock fit.
Do you find the same thing ? I've love to know if you have the same experience too.

The art of a good heel flap

When it comes to the heel flap everyone has their personal favourite. I know some people who prefer a plain stocking stitch heel flap but personally I prefer something with a bit more texture and a bit more structure. The plain stocking stitch, whilst being smooth and simple to work can lack structure and end up creating a heel flap that is a bit too loose.

My personal favourite is a slipped stitch heel flap where the right side rows are worked (slip 1, Knit 1) all the way across and the wrong side rows are purled across (after the first stitch is slipped). This creates a thicker fabric as the slipped stitches create an extra layer of bulk across the back of the heel. The slipped stitches draw in the fabric and create a heel which grips better and gives a good fit.

There is also the Eye of Partridge heel where the right side rows are worked as follows:

Row 1: sl1, k1 to end

Row 2: sl1, p to end

Row 3: sl1, (sl1, k1 )to end

Row 4: sl1, p to end

This creates a really lovely texture, but it is a little bit more difficult to remember and for that reason it tends not to be my go-to heel. But it is well worth a go if you are looking for a pretty and fun alternative.


Invest in sock blockers

They really do make a big difference to the finished look of your socks. Yes they do cost a little bit of money but compared to all the time and effort you have put into knitting them it really isn't very much. If money is tight there are some great tutorials available online to make your own.

If the socks are for you there's absolutely nothing wrong with blocking them in the time honored fashion of bunging them on your feet. But if they are for a gift or, let's face it, if you want to photograph them and Instagram the heck out of them, then sock blockers are your friend.

Whether you choose wooden or plastic or whether you make your own, the blockers allow the stitches to properly relax under just the right amount of tension. Just pop you finished socks in to soak for 20 minutes, blot them dry with a towel, slip them onto the blockers and then leave them to air dry away from direct heat.

Then you can photograph the living daylights out of them.

A cunning use for dental floss

I’ve alluded to their use before when discussing toe-up socks and heel placement but one of the things I really recommend that every sock knitting bag has neatly stashed is a little roll of dental floss. It makes the perfect lifeline especially for socks where the stitches are likely to be very small. Using thicker yarn as a lifeline can distort the stitches and thinner yarn such as laceweight may not always have the required strength needed to stand up to being your lifeline.

A small roll of dental floss is brilliantly compact - and comes with it’s own little cutter. All you need to have to hand is a tapestry needle which your bag probably already has and you are good to go. Whenever you come a tricky point in your pattern or if you feel like you just need that little bit of extra reassurance, you can just whip in alifeleine in a matter of minutes and your sock progress is safe and secure.


The right bind off

If you are knitting toe-up socks achieving the perfect bind off can be a bit of trial and error. You want something stretchy and elastic so that they are comfortable to wear. Not so tight that they cut off your circulation and not so loose that the cuff frills out and is baggy. Frilly cuffs look OK when you are 5 but after that it isn't really a good look.

My personal favourite is the Russian bind off. Super simple and easy to work. Just k2tog, slip that stitch back to your left hand needle and repeat to the end...simples!

The trick is to not pull the stitch too tight as you return it to the left hand needle. Give it a bit of room to manoeuvre and you will find that the cast off edge achieves the perfect balance of stretch and firmness.

As with so many things in knitting there are a wondrous variety of different methods to try. Some swear by Judy's Surprisingly Stretchy bind off and the sewn bind off as recommended by Elizabeth Zimmerman herself also works well. I tend to go for the simplest one which gives good results and for me that is the Russian bind off.

Have a go and see which one works best for you.

A smoother SSK

The SSK is the most commonly used left leaning decrease but some people find that it never seems to lie as neat and flat as it's right leaning counterpart, the k2tog. One way to get a neater SSK (or slip, slip, knit) is to slip the first stitch knitwise and then slip the 2nd stitch purlwise, before knitting both of the slipped stitches together as usual.

And, hey presto - a nice, flat line of SSKs. 


Slip as if to knit then slip as if to purl

Avoiding ladders

Stripy socks in Britsock from the Knitting Goddess

Stripy socks in Britsock from the Knitting Goddess

Sometimes, despite all of your best efforts you find yourself with little ladders forming in your sock, where the fabric stretches between the needles. Some knitters find this is a  problem for them with DPNs but less so with magic loop so it’s often a good idea to experiment with different techniques to see which works for you. It might also be worth switching between different needle types - ie between wood or metal to see if that makes a difference.

One top tip to avoid ladders is to avoid over-tightening the first stitch on the needle as this can distort the fabric and actually make the ladders worse, not better. Instead knit the first stitch on the needle normally and then pull the yarn tighter than usual when knitting the 2nd and 3rd stitches.

I am often asked “How tightly, exactly” but there’s no easy answer to that. It’s a bit like “how long is a piece of string”. In answer I usually say to pull just a little firmer than you would do normally without strangling the stitch.

Sometimes, no matter what you do you can end up with a little bit of laddering but in most cases a good wash and block will even out the fabric and it will hardly be noticeable on the finished sock. I think that sometimes certain yarns are more prone to laddering - I particularly find it with those that have a higher than 25% acrylic or non-wool content - in fact I tend to avoid bamboo based yarns for this reason.

As with so many things in knitting this is all highly personal and subjective and as ever, the advice is to find the solution which suits you best. Or just embrace the ladders - as I often say - there are no knitting police. Especially not here.



Now don't get me wrong. I absolutely love a bit of plain knitting in the round. Give me some self striping sock yarn and I'll happily knit a plain vanilla sock for hours on end - given the chance. Sometimes though it can feel as though you are wading through treacle, knitting and knitting but not seeing much in the way of results. My husband has very long feet and that trek along to the heel turn can feel very, very long.

This is when I like to use little progress keepers. Those little clip on stitch markers that you can clip directly into your knitting. Stick one in at the start of the day, carry your sock around with you as you would do normally and by the end of the day you can see how much progress you've made. Perfect for those times when you are lacking a bit of motivation. 

I also like to use them if I'm knitting in the cinema so that I can see how much progress I've made whilst everyone else has been busy guzzling popcorn.

It's a little thing, but sometimes it's those little things that can help to perk up your motivation and keep your knitting moving in the right direction.

Don't underestimate the humble stitch marker

I don't know about you but I never hesitate to use stitch markers to demarcate repeats when I'm knitting lace shawls. Somehow though I'm often reluctant to use them in sock knitting. Partly because they are on such a small scale, part of me thinks that I should be able to manage without them. And also, for ages I didn't have any stitch markers that were really suitable. Anything too large or too dangly got tangled up and anything too heavy just felt cumbersome.

Now I have found the very small solid type of stitch markers I am a complete convert and now own an impressive selection. I like my sock stitch markers to be very narrow - about 3mm - is perfect and solid with nothing dangle or tangly to get in the way. These tiny fluorescent markers from The Little Grey Girl are ideal - especially as you can locate them when they ping off into the dark recesses of the sofa cushions.

The secret to getting a good fitting sock

A toe-up sock (Yewbarrow coming soon) in all its glory

A toe-up sock (Yewbarrow coming soon) in all its glory

I have taught a lot of people to knit toe-up socks and one concern which comes up time and again is the issue of getting a good fit around the heel. If you are used to knitting your socks from the cuff down it can take a while to adjust to the toe-up mindset and how a heel is constructed.

When you are knitting from the cuff down you don't really need to think too hard about heel placement. You knit down the leg until it is long enough then you knit the heel and as you work your way down the foot you can slip it on as needed to check where the toe decreases start.

With toe-up socks you need to be a bit more precise about where the heel placement is and I think this is where many new toe-up knitters suffer from a lack of confidence.

What I suggest, for a standard short row heel, is to start the heel once the finished sock is the total length of your foot minus 2.5". One thing that it is important though is that when you are measuring the sock length you stretch it really quite firmly. It's no use taking the measurement on an unstretched sock as you need a degree of negative ease. No one wants a baggy heel. The fabric needs to have negative ease so it will cradle the heel and give a good fit.

The problem is that if you are unusued to knitting this way the foot looks disproportionately short and knitters lack confidence in 'going for it'. So, to achieve the the perfect heel fit try the following:

1. Try the sock on as you go.

2. Knit until the firmly stretched sock reaches a point 2.5" away from the back of your heel.

3. Put in a lifeline (just in case of freak accident)

4. Work your heel

5. Knit a few rows up the leg and then try on again

If it has all gone to pot then your lifeline is there waiting to save you but 9 times out of 10 these simple steps will work. Depending on foot anatomy you may have to adjust the crucial 2.5" measurement (if someone has a particularly high instep, for example) but this would be the case with cuff down socks as well.

As with all these sock tips do let me know if you've tried them out, and more crucially, whether they worked for you.




The joys of mini circulars

Small circs in action on a stockinette West Yorkshire Spinners sock

Small circs in action on a stockinette West Yorkshire Spinners sock

Any method of sock knitting has it's firm devotees be it DPNs or magic loop but each of them is associated with a degree of unnesecssary needle wrangling. With DPNs I find it interrupts my knitting flow to have to transition from one needle to the other and no matter how hard I try I always waste valuable time in retensioning the yarn between each needle.

The same can be said for magic loop, where the speed I gain in knitting straight across for 32st is countered by the time spent moving the cable through and retensioning the yarn.

For this reason, one of my favourite methods for portable, travel sock knitting is to use a small circular needle. I typically use one which is 9" (23cm) diameter and of all the brands I tend to prefer Hiya Hiya for their super pointy tips.

If you haven't already tried one I do urge you to give it a go, although there a few things you might like to bear in mind

1. Don't expect to hold the needles as you would do normally. The tips are very small and if, like I do, you tend to rest the needle in the palm of your hand this might seem strange to you. Instead the movements happen at the tips of your fingers and work best if you release your death grip and try to hold the tips very lightly.

2. Give it time and practice a little every day. In the same way as you would allow yourself time to learn when transitioning from being an 'English thrower' to continental knitting, don't expect to jump straight in to using small circulars overnight. It takes time to develop new muscle memory and your fingers have to get used to making small, more controlled movements.

3. Stop and stretch your fingers after every few rounds. When knitting self-stripe yarn I usually stop briefly at each colour transition. Because you can knit around and around, without removing your fingers from the needles it is easy to give yourself cramp if you're not careful.

It really is worth trying these out if you do a lot of sock knitting on the go. It's worth noting that I only ever use these needles for plain, vanilla sock knitting. I use a long cable and magic loop for the toe, heel and cuff. For some reason, no matter how much I try, I really can't get the hang of purling with a small circular and so I have much speedier results working the ribbed sock cuffs via magic loop. For the die-hard sock knitter these needles really help you to wring as much productivity out of your down time as possible. For example, I can knit socks in the cinema or whilst standing in post office queues with no problems at all and quickly stuff it back in my project bag as needed, without fear of losing stitches or - horrors - dropping a needle.

Why not give it a go and see what you think. If you do decide to try, do pop back and let me know how you got on, I'd love to know.


Avoid heel flap holes

Everyone likes a good sturdy heel flap and gusset but quite often there can be gaps where you pick up stitches along the heel flap. The slipped stitches provide a great line to follow when picking up the stitches but they can be a little loose. But knitting them through the back loop on the next round helps to tighten them up a treat and gives a good solid heel flap which will be hard wearing and hole free.



Happy heels

Toe-up Have Fun Socks pattern with a fish lips kiss heel

Toe-up Have Fun Socks pattern with a fish lips kiss heel

If you've followed me on social media for any length of time you will certainly know that I am a huge fan of self stripe sock yarn. Toe up socks, knitted in plain stocking stitch with a fun stripey yarn are my go to project of choice. There is something about watching the stripes neatly line up as you knit which is immensely satisfying. The problem can come at the heels though, when the extra yarn needed to cover the back of the heel can interrupt the smooth flow of stripes along the front of the sock.

Sock tip #7: to preserve your sock stripes wind off 10g sock yarn before you cast on and use this to knit the heels. 

You can of course use a contrast yarn for your heels too but if you want your heels to roughly match the rest of your sock then simply wind off 5-10g sock yarn before you cast on. Whether you are working a short row heel (such as the fish lips kiss heel) or a traditional heel flap, most heel constructions require you to work back and forth (flat). When you reach this section of the sock simply join your spare 10g sock yarn and work the heel, before re-starting with the original yarn when you come back to working in the round.

This keeps the stripe sequence consistent along the front of the sock and will bring pleasure to your stripe-loving knitterly heart.

Not all ribbing is created equal

The cuff of the Catbells sock

The cuff of the Catbells sock

When it comes to sock cuffs a bit of experimentation can often help get the perfect rubbed cuff. Obviously you need a firm cuff which isn't too loose and saggy bit it needs to stay put without cutting off your circulation.

Sock tip #6: Try a twisted rib for a better fitting cuff.

Often a ribbed cuff just calls for a K1 P1 rib but I find that can be a bit too floppy unless I go down a needle size. And let's face it, by the time I reach the cuff I usually want the darned thing off my needles as quick as possible. I prefer instead to work a twisted rib - K1tbl, P1. The twisted stitch - whilst I know isn't everyone's favourite - really does add a bit of extra firmness to the cuff whilst keeping it sufficiently stretchy.

I'm not a huge fan of ribbing at the best of times but I can usually manage an inch or two of twisted rib before dashing headlong into the cast off. I think it was Elizabeth Zimmerman who once said that you should work your ribbed sock cuff for 1.5 inches or until you are sick of ribbing. I think she had it just about right.

Try a different toe increase.

If you like toe-up socks as much as I do, why not try a different type of toe increase? Most patterns have you start with Judy's magic cast on (or similar) and then increase by working Kfb ( knit into front and back) or M1 L/R make 1 left/right.

Now I don't know about you but I'm fairly confident that no one is going to be staring at my sock toes hard enough to be able to distinguish a make 1 left from a make 1 right. Life is far too short for that.

Instead, why not try a yo increase? On your increase round work a yo in place of the standard increase - usually 1 stitch in from each side of the toe. Then on the alternating plain rounds knit that yo through the back loop.

This gives a great unidirectional increase which is neat, tidy and doesn't involve trying to work out your make 1 left from your make 1 right.

How to avoid sock "ears"

Sock toes!!

Sock toes!!

Have you ever noticed that sometimes, whether you are doing your socks toe-up or cuff down, you sometimes end up with a little 'ear' or bump of fabric on the side of the toe? Here are a few tips you could try to avoid this happening.

Sock tip #3 How to avoid little sock ears.

Cuff down socks: before you start to graft the toe slip the first stitch on needle 1 over the 2nd, and slip the last stitch on needle 1 over its neighbour. Then repeat on needle 2.

This helps to draw the sock fabric in slightly at the sides and eliminates any excess bulk.

Toe-up socks: It sounds counterintuitive but a tight cast on can make the problem worse. If you are using Judy's magic cast on it is easy to work this quite tightly and this gives the central stitches of the toe very little give - hence the fabric can bulge slightly at the sides.

1. Try casting on with a needle 1 size larger and then switching up to your normal size.

2. Try working a yarn over increase (knit the you through the back loop on the next round). This type of increase can eliminate the slight lump that a Kfb increase can cause.

3. Try increasing on the 1st round after the cast on rather than knitting 1 round plain. This can help to loosen up the cast on slightly and give the stitches a bit more room.

Why not experiment the next time you come to do a sock toe and see how you get on. Alternatively you could decide that who the heck sees your sock toes anyway and go and get some cake instead.

As I've often repeated - There are no knitting police here.