1.12.2011

learning sock knitting

socks

Every now and then I get e-mails and comments asking for tips on making socks.  Most of them are questions about what pattern I use and what type of yarn I buy and where.  I hope to answer those questions here.

Sock knitting isn't for everyone.  I never knew I would be so into knitting socks.  Why would I be?  Socks are knit on four needles, the stitches are tiny, and a pair of socks can take up to 20 hours to make.  It's not logical, but I LOVE doing it.  I caught the bug, and now socks are by far my favorite thing to knit.  It's second-nature mindless knitting to me at this point, and I find that to be a comforting pastime.  

My foray into using double pointed needles started with making these adorable baby moccasins.  Getting over the awkwardness of using four needles (double pointed needles or dpn's) was so hard at first, but once I got the hang of it I was in love.

After that project I decided to attempt adult-sized socks.  I first learned using this excellent pattern pamphlet bought at a Jo-Ann craft store.  Included in the booklet are patterns for socks in fingering, worsted, and chunky weight gauges, not to mention a slipper pattern and a fair isle sock pattern.  The instructions are so clear and there are color photos for every step of the process.  I've since developed my own pattern with my own measurements, tricks, and toe construction (NOT grafted), but the basis of all my sock knowledge came from the Paton's book.

I might eventually share my own pattern, but for now it's mainly in my head with only random, haphazard notes jotted in my knitting notebook.  I should say that the first sock I ever knit was HUGE!  My gauge was wrong, and I found the foot length measurement in the Paton's patterns to be a bit off.  Now I always test my gauge first, and after knitting a ton of socks I've made my own modifications so that I have a pattern that fits the way I like.

Meanwhile, there are tons of great free basic sock patterns on Ravelry.  You can search by gauge and everything.  Once you get the hang of it, you'll surely be able to develop your own pattern for your particular foot too.  Most plain sock patterns are more or less the same, but the important thing is practicing and testing them out until you have what you want.  In the beginning I made socks that didn't fit, and I made a ton of mistakes.  It's essential to develop the patience to go back and fix things or to start over and try again.  And again.  If you enjoy the process of knitting, it's not that big of a deal.  It just takes time.

In all things I do I'm obsessive, and knitting is no exception.  In fact knitting might be the worst.  I obsessively listen to Kelly Petkun's Knit Picks podcasts (thanks to Lissa), and I've learned a thing or two about socks from her.  I knit all my socks one at a time from the cuff down on dpn's, but a lot of people do two at a time on two circs.  Some do toe up.  Some people use the magic loop method.  I don't do those things even though they might be easier.  I DETEST using circular needles.  I LOVE using dpn's, although it's probably a little slower.  Every knitter is different, and you just have to find your own way.

As far as yarn goes, I like to stick with merino for socks.  It's non-itchy and very cuddly.  Soft yarns do tend to pill, but you can always use a lint shaver for that.  I don't like to use synthetic blends.  They don't feel good, and they look cheap.  (No offense to anyone, it's just my personal taste.)  Natural fiber all the way.  If you're going to spend twenty hours with a yarn, why not use a nice one?

I spend a LOT of time sourcing yarn.  I mean hours upon hours upon hours.  That's why I don't usually give away my yarn choices.  However, I will say that I go shopping a lot in person.  That's always the best.  Purl is one of my favorite shops, but I also shop at several Brooklyn stores like The Yarn Tree and Brooklyn General.  Sometimes I search Ravlery for hours looking for something specific if I can't find it in a shop, and then I end up buying online.

See what happens when you get me started talking about knitting?  Phew, long-winded and bo-ring.  I could talk about knitting all day every day.  But my hope is that you'll find this post helpful and encouraging.  Now go knit socks!  And remember, if you get stuck you can always find an online video to help you.

39 comments:

courtney said...

so helpful. thanks for all the great tips! also... those boots are fantastic.

sandra said...

i love how passionate you are about knitting socks! it's addictive, i haven't done it in a very long time but you inspired me to take it up again soon (especially since i just moved to an apartment with coal heating, so the floors are quite cold during winter).

julia said...

I knit my first pair of socks about 4 years ago and they took me forever - I had never done anything on dpns before and I was crazy for choosing the lace pattern that I did, I think it was the "anna" socks in one of the rowan magazines (so pretty)! And now when I think about it, it's really the only pair of socks I've made! I need to get on that and make more! I'm on a mitten kick right now, all I want to do is knit - which is a perfect activity for today!

I could totally talk your ear off about knitting all day long, I'm such a dork face, but I'll restrain myself from rambling on...

dw said...

Ok, I totally DESPISE circulars, too. Blech. I'd rather knit a sweater in the round on 4 extra-long DPN's than a circular.

Except...

...have you ever tried Addi Turbo circulars?

Oh dear, I did. And it has totally changed the game. You might have a change of heart on the circ-hate, once you try them out.

jenny gordy said...

julia, if only we could hang out in person and dork out about knitting together!! by the way, i admire your ambition in starting with lace socks. i've never been brave enough to attempt something like that!

dw, i have a few pairs of addi turbo circulars for knitting hats. i still hate them!! i don't know why. they're good needles, but i'm just not into it. and i only like knitting sweaters flat and seaming them together, which i know is so weird. everyone i know prefers seamless on circs, and i've even tried to get into the spirit. but it's just not for me. i love that each knitter has their own preferences though and that there are so many different ways to do the same thing, none of them more right or wrong than the other. there's so much freedom with knitting--you don't have to do things the way someone told you to do them, you can figure out your own way.

goodlongwhile said...

Great timing for this post. I just started my first pair of socks yesterday and I think I'm pretty hooked.

vanessa m said...

thanks...i hope to start trying soon. i reposted this to my tumblr!

http://vanessalovesthis.tumblr.com/

elena gold said...

what a nice post. i understand about being able to talk for hours about knitting too. (and thinking about it, sourcing yarn, learning techniques, on and on.) I'll have to check out that podcast. I recently tried toe up socks and really like turning the heel that way. I agree the beauty of knitting is you can pave your own way. Your socks look great! ps I made the tank pattern and LOVE it!:) thank you!

C said...

Thanks for sharing your tips! When you first started posting photos of your handknit socks a while back I was super inspired and dying to make my own. This past christmas a I got a set of really nice bamboo dpns and fingering wool, and I've done one leg of a knee-high sock and am about to tackle the heel...

And I absolutely love circular needles, haha. But I think my problem with dpns before was that I was using super slippery metal ones that kept losing stitches on me.

Mel said...

I just started knitting socks this fall and have found it to be incredibly addicting too--perfect destressor after a long day of work! I've been using solid-color sock yarn from Purl and it's nice, but I am looooving your marled grey/natural yarn.... I'll have to look around for some next time I stock up :)

Firefly said...

Oh those are yummy socks -- so squishy and comfy looking!
I took a 'sock knitting' class a couple of years ago, and remember feeling a little hesitant about it. I mean, 'really?', spend all that time knitting a pair of socks when you could just go buy some? But, by the time my first pair was finished, I was a true convert to hand knit socks and a sock knitting addict as well. And, after giving my Muggle DH his first pair of hand knit socks a couple of years ago, he won't wear any of his old 'store bought' socks anymore ;).

rachel said...

i think you may have almost convinced me to try socks!

Melissa said...

I agree with you, I didn't think I would be a sock knitter until I gave in and made a pair. Now I always have a pair of socks on the needles! And I also have to agree, you really do need to knit up quite a lot of socks in order to get them the way you want them to be. I've personally have knit the same pattern a few times and finally got it the way I like them!

As for the yarn, I don't mind splurging a little more than I normally would for an already made pair, solely because I know exactly how much time I'll be spending using it! The quality definitely makes a HUGE difference. Although, I do like a little bit of nylon in my sock yarns just for the durability.

I'm the opposite when it comes to needles. I'm a huge circular fan and can't stand straights or DPNs. I'm a magic loop knitter all the way! But I think that's one of the reasons why I love knitting so much - there are so many ways to get the same results and it so interesting to see how others knit. I definitely learn something every time I knit with friends because every one knits in their own way.

Oops! Sorry, I'm writing a novel of a comment here! I love the socks you make and the love you put into each pair. Those blue tweed socks make me squeal with delight! Lovely work! :)

iris said...

You listed all my favorite knitting resources! With Ravelry + KnittingHelp you don't really need to purchase any 'how to' knitting books. They're pretty awesome.

hibou said...

It was so fun to read about your love of knitting! I don't know what it is about knitting that is so obsession-making, but I could talk about it all day too. I'm pretty sure I bore my friends with it. Seeing your socks in the shop and on your blog has renewed in me a desire to make plain socks that show off lovely yarn - I always trick myself into thinking I need to do a fancy stitch pattern. My dream is to one day have a drawer of exclusively handmade socks...yummy!

Tana said...

oh, you tell about it so exciting, that I want to take my needles and knit a pair of my own socks

Kristien said...

Jenny, I love this post! Totally NOT bo-ring. ;-) I am still pretty intimidated by sock knitting but I think 2011 will be the year to try it. My best friend gave me two skeins of Madeline Tosh Merino Light for Christmas (!!), and it is the perfect weight for socks.

I am with you on how good yarn really makes a huge difference with how long you can sit with a project. There's nothing worse than slogging through a pattern using yarn that just doesn't feel good. I do love the Lion Brand thick and quick yarn for a less expensive alternative to, say, Rowan big wool, but nothing beats splurging on the real thing. Speaking of splurges, I've found that the rules of a budget do not apply to yarn. I'm not sure if anyone else has this problem, but I can exercise self discipline with everything but yarn...hence the out of control stash! As I have never quite gotten the hang of DPNs or seaming, I love the magic loop technique and seamless patterns, but it really is such a personal preference thing. And Ravelry rocks...what an awesome community.

Happy New Year and happy knitting!

Lida said...

Sock knitting is my passion. I usually have several socks going at the same time, I love to carry a sock I am working on in my purse, so when I am waiting for somebody or when I am in the meeting I can quickly pick up my knitting. Yeah for sock knitting! I even made a video on how to knit socks!

Lida said...

and here is the link to the video
http://buffalogirlsdesign.com/zenvideo.php
Cheers and happy Knitting!

abby said...

This really inspired me and I just ordered my first pairs of dpns! I found that same booties pattern at the purl bee recently, and have been wanting to knit them for a friend's new baby. I am excited!

Shirley said...

I remember when you first posted your sock making adventure. I believe they were oatmeal and orange? The color on the photo looked more red but I was kind of drawn to that orangey-red color than the orange you said it was supposed to be, so I decided to choose that color as my first sock yarn. However, months later and I'm still working on the cuff. Working on dpns really is difficult for the first time. It's like I'm learning to knit all over again. I remember my first skinny scarf (first knitting project), it was soooo jagged and haphazard-looking. I'm afraid my first socks will turn out similarly and I'm afraid they may be kind of small. Will have to learn to build up patience. I tend to try something and if it doesn't go well I give up and move on to something else. :)

wren handmade said...

I love knitting socks too, and prefer double points to circular. Thanks for this post. I did a story years ago in Martha Stewart Living about knitting socks and stockings, http://www.marthastewart.com/article/sock-pattern

Might be of interest.

Laura

Gray said...

I'm so impressed by people who can knit socks. I'd love to knit myself a thick pair to wear in the house during winter at least once in my life.

I was actually wondering about the lint shaver you linked to in this post. Is that one you own and recommended? If not, do you have any recommendations? I desperately need a lint shaver for my sweaters.

Thanks!

jenny gordy said...

Gray, yep that's the exact lint shaver I have. I got it at Target a year or two ago. It's really good! You just have to make sure to clean the lint out so it keeps working.

gleek said...

your work is very beautiful! but i have to say that i really don't understand your stand on not sharing yarn information. i find that a detriment to the knitting community at large. when you purposely don't share that information then you harm the businesses that make the yarn! most of them are small, independent yarn companies that rely on word of mouth to run their business. it's really a shame that you would prefer to abstain from saying what you used in order to protect the yarn from being bought, which means you can continue to buy it? i'm confused. what do you hope to gain by this? if the company's yarn isn't purchased, they will go out of business.

anyway, food for thought. i've been very prevalent in the knitting community for 6 years now and have never seen this from anyone.

kenzie said...

i've been resisting the thought of knitting socks, but I've been knitting in a smaller gauge and kinda love it. I was knitting elly's hot water bottle pattern with 4's, and I love the way it looks. I've been knitting chunky for so long! Seeing your socks I'm determined to make my own, I love that yarn, does one of those skeins make enough for a pair?

jenny gordy said...

gleek, don't worry, i'm not putting any yarn companies out of business. i buy a lot of yarn. i'm actually not harming anyone, and it's my choice whether i tell what yarn i use or not. i'm sorry if that confuses you, but i'm also running a business. it's my prerogative to choose whether i want to give away design information that i've spent a lot of time working on in order to make my products exclusive.

that said, i DO support my favorite yarn stores and companies by blogging about them often. especially the ones in my local community. if you've read my previous posts about knitting you already know that. (for instance, the post immediately prior to this one and the one immediately after.) if i'm really enthusiastic about a yarn i've used for personal purposes, then i give the information freely. but i also want to encourage people to go to their own local yarn stores and try out yarns for themselves and pick out what they like. it's not my job to tell people what kind of yarn to buy, it's for them to discover yarn treasures of their own and be creative.

jenny gordy said...

kenzie, awesome! go for it! unfortunately, you need two skeins for a pair. it's quite expensive, but kind of a nice splurge!

sarah said...

Jenny

Fantastic post and great socks. You have helped me get into knitting in a big way and have spent the last few months knitting my own versions of your cowl (nowhere near as good but i love wearing them). I realise that my preference is knitting accessories as i can finish them in a week or so with socks being the next thing to master. Anyway thanks for the helpful post. I am going to try to track down that patons book this weekend.

I do look forward to your blogs posts.

Happy new year

Sarah

Jane said...

Wow, what beautiful socks. SO cosy looking!

I really agree with Gleek's comment though - you would send a lot of business the way of these small companies if you were to promote their product. I get that you don't want to lose business but I am not sure any knitter would be likely to buy your handknit socks anyway. I truly dont mean that as an insult, because I really think they look absolutely lovely, but as a knitting fiend myself, I'd more or less never buy handknit socks made by someone else. It just seems a shame that you're not happy to support the businesses you buy from as much as you could do. You might buy a lot of yarn, but you don't buy as much yarn as all your readers who love to knit could buy!

I realise each person can do as they choose online, but this struck me as strange too. I've read your blog for a long while now, and Gleek's for almost as long as I've been reading blogs fullstop, and I love that you support your local yarn stores and promote handmade products in general. I really think that is great. It's just genuinely odd to me to come across a knitter who doesn't want to share the joy of some lovely yarn that they've found with the rest of the knitting community, and to send some business the way of the manufacturer of a product you love.

I'm sure you would think it a shame if someone made a top from your pattern, or bought from your wonderful store, and refused to tell any of their admiring friends where their clothes had come from!

As I say, I really admire your work and it's just quite a surprise to see one small business so reluctant to support others.

I really love the socks though, and am especially interested by your toe construction (I hate grafting!) should you ever choose to share. The best alternative I've found so far is Nancy Bush's spiral toe in her vintage socks book.

Sarvi said...

Dudes, it's not like Jenny's using the last sock yarn on earth. Go feel some yarn and pick what you like, your socks will be awesome and feel even more special because you're suiting your own taste.

Anyway, this set of sock posts have in fact made me decide to try socks. I'm pretty agnostic on DPNs vs. circular -- I guess the thing I don't like about circs is the way the cable in the middle stays curled up and kind of springy. I took advantage of the 25% off sale at Brooklyn General (still good for another day or two) and tried some fancy yarns I wouldn't be able to afford otherwise. Excited to cast on!

jenny gordy said...

Thanks for your nice comment, Sarvi. And thanks for the heads up about the Brooklyn General sale. I'm so excited to go check it out!

saradowle said...

Great advice.
I'm thinking of trying off on some baby socks for friends who've recently had a little one join them. I wonder whether they'll be easier to knit, or more fiddly - see how I go!

jennifer said...

Right, so did I mention how much i love my wiksten socks? I think I did but it's worth repeating:)

Jessica said...

Hi Jenny,

I love all of your beautiful projects. I recently started knitting and am working on my first pair of socks right now. It is going ok, but I am having trouble with the corners being loose (on the sections where you change needles when knitting in the round on dpns). Do you have any suggestions on how to fix this? It is driving me crazy!

Jessica

Robin said...

I knitted my first and only sock three years ago. I was hoping to give my husband a pair for Christmas, but the first sock came out HUGE! Since I was knitting it openly over the holiday at my in-laws' house, my giant sock became a running joke. The day after Christmas that year, I found out I was pregnant with our daughter, and now the giant sock is her stocking!

I have been sticking to baby/toddler sweaters since then. I always knit a patch to test gague before beginning a project, and yet my measurements seldom come out right. The good thing about making something too big for a two year old is that she can always wear it when she's three.

Thanks for sharing your sock process. I am inspired to go back and try to get it right for myself now.

Natalie Jean said...

yay for this great post , and online instructional videos for everything! : )

woolandthebear said...

hey jenny!
i can't get this post out of my mind. thank you so much for sharing your sock knitting adventures with us.
while i've been knitting for years... i've never really felt comfortable knitting socks. i knit a pair for my nana years ago... but then stopped halfway with a second pair. ugh!
i checked out the patons book and it makes sock knitting so much easier to understand. so, thank you for sharing that with us!
i'm hoping this will be the year i get (back) into sock knitting and stay in love with it.
sweaters are another story... i'm too lazy when it comes to seaming... your second kaari sweater looks fantastic! julia o. sent me that pattern and i'm hoping to, finally, complete a sweater.
anyway... i could ramble on and on about knitting, but i'll stop here. although, i have to say... i, too, am a big fan of frog tree yarns... and of malabrigo too. i can't get enough of malabrigo these days!
hope you are well!
take care jenny!
tiffany

kelli ann said...

i too have been a total nerd about sock knitting lately. i bring them everywhere with me (perfect project to stash in my always too big to be practical purse)!

i agree with most all your thoughts on the topic - i also despise knitting socks on circular needles.