What’s the Best Way to Knit Socks?

Socks are small, portable, colorful, kooky, or boring. They’re useful and give you the chance to indulge your creative, whimsical side. There are a bazillion different and, usually, very attractive sock patterns out there. In short, why wouldn’t you knit socks?

Well, there are some real challenges to sock knitting.  I’ve always found them a bit intimidating.  The difficulties of sock knitting have inspired knitters to come up with a variety of ways to knit socks.  Which raises the question, “which way is the best way to knit socks?”

Problem: Second Sock Syndrome

As you may have guessed, second sock syndrome is when you finish one sock, but can’t bring yourself to make or finish the second sock. It’s very much like second sleeve syndrome or second mitten syndrome, but for some reason, much more prevalent.

The solution is to knit both of your socks at the same time. This is a bit of an oversimplification because you can

  • knit one sock inside the other, similar to double knitting
  • knit one sock next to the other on circular needles
  • use the Magic Loop method
  • use two circular needles, or
  • use double pointed needles

Note that when knitting one sock inside the other, you can choose any of the needle methods mentioned, so really it’s a combination of two of the listed methods. Knitting the socks next to each other will require you to use circular needles, sorry dpn fans!

Fortunately for us all, Eat Knit and Dye has made a detailed video on how to knit one sock inside the other.

Problem: Yarn Chicken, or socks of different lengths

Yarn chicken is when you are trying to eke out the last few stitches or rows you need to finish your sock. It’s nerve-wracking, and you’ll probably run out of yarn before you get to where you were hoping.  So frustrating. Unless you’re fine with having single socks that you randomly grab from your sock drawer and never mind the whole matching thing.

For those of us who like matching socks, what’s the solution? First, buy an extra ball/skein/hank of yarn. Less obviously and more economically, knit your socks 2 at a time and toe up.

Toe up?

Yes, it’s kind of like knitting a sweater from the top down. When you knit a sock starting from the toe, it’s called toe up knitting. The reverse is called top down or cuff first sock knitting. This is when you start from the cuff from wherever you think it’s going to hit on your leg.

If you start from the toe, you’ve hit all of the essentials by the time you hit the halfway mark on your yarn supply, unless you’ve really messed up your yarn estimation and buying. No yarn chicken.

A second benefit to the toe up technique, according to Jacki Badger of the woolybadger.com, is that it’s much easier to try your sock on during knitting to check the fit.

One of the major benefits of handknit socks is that they will fit your feet perfectly, unlike commercially made socks, so making the effort to get the fit just right is worth the effort.

Problem: I’m a beginner!

I’m not sure sock knitting is the best choice for a beginner. If you’re comfortable using double pointed needles, congratulations! You’re really not a beginner anymore. Circular needles are much easier to use and I don’t find the Magic Loop method or using 2 circular needles to be particularly challenging.

I have had the occasional bad moment when I’ve gotten completely confused by the number of needle tips flopping all over the place when I’ve used two circulars at once – don’t knit while tired or under the influence!

I mentioned the top down or cuff down method of knitting a sock. According to Kate Atherley of kateatherly.com, this method has the most knitting patterns to choose from and is considered the “traditional” sock knitting method. In her discussion, she doesn’t mention any other real benefits for this method, so I wonder why it’s the more common than toe up sock knitting which has a lot of strong supporters and some obvious benefits.

But Ms Atherley makes a great point. The best method of sock knitting is the one you like the best. All of the methods mentioned here have their “fiddly bits.” Your best bet is to try what you’re comfortable with first and then try some of the other techniques as you feel ready to learn something new.

So, what’s the best way to knit a sock? I’m still counting all the different ways I’ve found. In this post, I covered the basic methods. I didn’t address the differences in cast ons or the number of different ways to make/turn the heel.  Starting with where you are makes the most sense.  If you’re a beginner, you’ll have to learn to accept and learn from your mistakes – useful in all areas of your life!

Please do let me know what I missed. I’m still learning here myself!

Leave a Comment