Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Study in Socks

One of my favorite things to knit is socks. Perhaps this is because they can be miniature works of art, blending texture and color to produce infinite variations. They can be fun and playful like the Tsarina of Tsock’s latest sock club sensation, the Shark Week socks. Or they can be classic and understated, like some of the patterns in Favorite Socks, 25 Timeless Designs from Interweave. (I’ve knit several of the patterns in this book. Love them!) Or they can be fantastic works of art like Heijastuksia, Sokkene Jernverk, and the incredible Nightingale socks. 

Perhaps one of the most common comments from non-knitters is “But you can buy socks for $5 in a store.” True, but store-bought socks cannot replicate the complete foot comfort and individuality of the hand-knit sock. Hand knit socks just feel better. 

Sock knitters aren’t in it to save money. Quite the opposite, in fact. Sure, there are inexpensive wool and nylon blends available at big box stores. And there are a comfortable range of sturdy, serviceable and varied blends of sock yarn for every budget. But there are also luxury sock yarns, either by fiber content or by exclusivity (I’m looking at you, Wollmeise). Some of my favorite sock yarn is Handmaiden’s Casbah (80% merino, 10% cashmere, 10% nylon) which rings in at over $30/skein for a pair of socks. My local knitting friends know how much I rave about this yarn, calling it sex for your feet. It just feels that good.

When I began knitting socks, I followed the popular tutorial Silver’s Sock Class, which has created many a sock knitter. I started out struggling to master the use of double pointed needles (DPNs), poking myself endlessly on all those pointy ends. I knit way too tightly, trying to avoid laddering between needles. I knit so tightly that moving the yarn across the needle became a Herculean struggle. I naively thought that I had to knit tightly to end up with the perfect sock material. If I could go back in time I’d tell my new-to-socks-self that hand knitting will never replicate the tight weave and gauge of commercial socks!

In fact, I struggled with that first sock so much, that I gave up and refused to knit any more socks for about a year. I just couldn’t do it, I told myself. Sock knitting wasn’t for me. 


Never say never.

Self-striping sock yarn sucked me back into my next foray into sock knitting. I loved watching that pattern reveal itself as I knit along, round and round. I made an effort to a) loosen my tension a bit and b) use wooden needles instead of the metal cheapies I’d used for my first pair. (My knitting was so tight on those metal needles that it would squeeeeeeeak as I tried to move it across the needle.)

Next thing I knew, I was learning something new with each pair of socks I knit. Or, as the case sometimes was – with each single sock that never found its mate.

What I’d like to do over the next few months is do a Study in Socks. Every week or so I’ll post about some aspect of Sock Knitting: yarn choices, heel and toe techniques, needles, patterns, notable sock designers and so forth. 

I hope you’ll follow along with me. Perhaps we can both learn some more about knitting socks.


  1. nothing fits better than a pair of hand-knit socks! i wish i had more time for knitting.

  2. I love socks, but I'm the opposite of you! I hate anything with Magic Loop, but I love my little pointy DPNs. I, however, knit loosely and usually wind up having to go down a needle size.

    I had the shocking realization a couple months ago that there was NO SOCK YARN IN MY HOUSE. So I bought some at Stitches East. And made it into socks. Now I'm back at the same place. Time to go shopping!