Recently in Knee Socks Category

First of all, you all know that patterns on the leg of a sock can go from the very simple to the very complicated. I'm going to stay focused on adding a simple motif to the sides of the sock since it makes it easier to explain how to decide where to place your increases and decreases -- and because when you're dealing with an all-over pattern, how you place the increases and decreases takes a significant knowledge of the pattern motif you have chosen, and it's rather hard to generalize that for the purposes of a blog post.

Anyway, if you want to add a simple motif to your sock, the first thing you have to do is decide on the motif. What motifs you choose should have a lot to do with your yarn.

Striping yarns, like the Sock Hop yarn that I used, tend to be best shown off in motifs that have bias -- in other words, the stitches lean one way or another and as a result, the stripes are also shown in interesting ways (Gruperina's Jaywalker socks are an excellent example of a biasing pattern highlighting stripey sock yarn).

Solids and semi solids will show off eyelet, lace and cable designs a bit better because the subtle color variations don't distract visually from the pattern you are knitting.

Variagated, non-striping yarns tend to do their best work either in solid stockinette or with simple all-over textured patterns like ribbing. Variagation, like stripes, tends to distract from elaborate stitch work.

But at the end of the day, it's all really about what you like. I've seen some great cabling done with stripey yarn and lovely lace in strongly variagated yarn. If you aren't sure, I recommend that you swatch just a little bit before trying it out with your sock to make sure that you like the effect -- it's a lot easier to swatch a little motif and rip it out to try something else than to have to rip out 3-4" of sock if the motif doesn't make you happy.

When I picked Ears of Grass from Barbara Walker's Second Treasury, I did so because of the subtle biasing and the simple but well defined yarn overs. I thought that if it was simple, it might work well with the Sock Hop which has very irregular striping. And I did a little swatch beforehand to be sure I liked it.

Something else to keep in mind about motifs: lacy motifs will tend to add "give" to your sock and give you a looser sock, cables will suck up stitches and give you a tighter sock. Stranded stitches will decrease the flexibility of the sock, as will some biasing stitch patterns. You need to keep this in mind when thinking about your increases and decreases. This is another place where being able to try on the sock as you go pays off since you can add increases and decreases as you need to as you go.

Ears of Grass Motif

Since a number of folks expressed an interest in having a charted version of this motif, I am providing you with both an image (right click and you can save it to your computer) and the Excel file that contains the original diagram. You can download file by clicking here. In order to see the knitting symbols, you will need to download and install the font from Aire River Design -- it's free for personal and professional use.

So where to start? First of all, I'm starting with 56 stitches on my needles, and I'm using four double points, on which I have 14 stitches/needle.

My motif, however, is 15 stitches across, and since there are decrease stitches on either edge, I'd like to have an extra "selvedge" stitch on either side of the motif, so for each motif I need to have 17 stitches on a needle.

The first thing to do then, is to get my needles into position. After my short row heel, I have two needles over the back of the sock and two needles over the front of the sock. I'm going to shift all the stitches now so that the stitches at the right edges of my needles become the center stitches so that the motif can be centered on the sides of the sock. In the process of doing that, I'm gong to make sure that I have 16 stitches on the needles meant for the motif and 12 stitches on the needles in the front and back of the leg.

Because I don't want my motif covered up by shoes, I decided not to start the motifs until I added about an inch of straight stockinette above the heel. This is personal preference. You can start your motif where ever you like.

Since I needed an odd number of stitches on my motif needle, on the last row of straight stockinette, I did a make 1 between the 2 center stitches of each of the motif needles to set up for the motif. If you have a motif with an even number of stitches, you obviously won't need to worry about this at all. If you have to do this, make sure you remember to factor this into your increases -- I only did two increases in my first increase row instead of 4 to compensate for the increase I used to center the motif.

Now you're just going to knit in the round until you get to the point where you need to start your increases. Which brings up the last thing you need to think about before you just whip out the rest of the sock -- where do you put your increases?

In the case where you have two side panel motifs, you want to keep them evenly spaced between the front and the back. This means that you can't put all your increases in the back (as you probably would if you were doing just straight stockinette) or you will start pushing your motifs towards the front of the leg. What I chose to do was to divide my increases evenly between the back and front needles. Since I was doing 4 increase stitches per increase round, that meant 2 increases at the front and two at the back. I chose to do my increases at the center of the front and back needles because I wanted them to be visible (I thought it was an interesting design element. But if you wanted them to be more subtle, you could put them on either edge of the needle near the motif. What kind of increase should you use? That's a matter of personal taste, but I chose left and right leaning make 1 stitches because I find them to be the most subtle increases that I can execute well.

The decreases work the same way. I chose to do them centered on the front and back needles. But again, if you want a more subtle look, you could move them to the edges of the front and back needle where they are closer to the side motif.

Different motifs or patterning on the leg of your sock clearly call for different kinds of increase work. If you'd like to see a beautiful ribbed knee sock where the increases were taken into the back of the sock, check out Kristi's post at Kntter's Anonymous (if Kristi and Cookie's blog doesn't give you sock yarn lust, I don't know what will... Cookie is she of the beautiful Pomatomus socks so there is much socky goodness to be found therein). Grumperina knit some stunning two color Estonian styled knee socks and did the increases on the sides of the socks to properly maintain central patterns on the front and back of the sock. And Cara at January One has a pair of straight stockinette knee socks where she did all the increases up the back of the calves. Hopefully these examples give a good idea of some of the possibilities for using the increases and decreases creatively to enhance your design.

Probably the last thing to discuss is when to stop your motif? I don't have a great answer for that. In my case, since the motif was 20 rows and it didn't makes sense to do a partial motif, I did as many complete motifs as I could before the ribbing. This meant, to get to the length of the sock that I wanted, with the amount of ribbing that I wanted, that I had about an inch of straight stockinette before the ribbing. If I'd had a 5 - 10 row motif, I would have run it all the way up to the ribbing. Unfortunately, this is just one of those things that it's hard to create a rule for given that there are so many different stitch patterns with so many different row intervals. The knitter just has to use their best judgement.

So that pretty much brings this little technique dialog to a close. Go forth and knit knee socks! There's still plenty of winter left to go!

Warning! Here comes a little bit of knitty math. But I promise, it's not hard. Grab some soothing tea, a tape measure, a convenient leg, relax and just follow the instructions and everything will turn out fine.

Leg Schematic

Apologies for the image... it was the best leg image I could find in my MS clip art collection and I didn't want to steal anyone's images off the web. So you get hiker guy leg. I'll try to do my best to describe what you're measuring and why. I recommend that you take these measurements while sitting down, your foot flat on the floor and your knee at close to a 90 degree angle.

Before you get started, make sure you measure the number of stitches per inch and the number of rows per inch (or whatever your favorite unit of measurment is) for the instep of your sock. You'll need this number later.

Circumference Measurements

A: Ball of the Foot. This is not really a required measurement, but it's the measurement that determined the circumference of the instep of your sock. Generally speaking, it's going to be one of the widest parts of your foot. Most of the time, if you take this measurement and multiply it by 0.9 you're going to have the circumference of your sock. The reason you don't use 100% of the measurement is that knitted fabric stretches, and a good sock has a little grip to help keep its shape.

B: The Leg, Just Above the Ankle. You need to take this measurement. Usually this measurement around your leg just above the ankle is going to be very similar to the circumference of the ball of your foot -- this is why most sock patterns have the same number of stitches for the leg and instep of a sock. This measurement is important for us, because it represents the narrowest part of your leg (in most cases) and it's going to determine the base number of stitches around the leg before we start any shaping.

C: The Calf. I know, I know, this is not something a lot of us want to measure. But if you're going to have a well fit knee sock, it's a pretty critical measurement. Be sure you're being honest when you do the measurement and that you get the circumference of your calf at the widest point. This measurement is going to determine the number of stitches we're going to increase to as we do any shaping.

D: Just Below the Knee. This is the place where you want the sock of the top to hit. Because the circumference of this area is usually a bit smaller than the widest part of the calf, it's important to measure this area too, otherwise, you may end up with a sock that is too loose at the top, even with ribbing. Nothing sucks more than a knee sock that is always falling down.

See? Not so bad so far, right? Okay, now let's take the length measurements,

Length Measurements

I'll be the first to tell you that taking some of these measurements can be a little fussy. Sometimes, it can help to have someone who can help you with these. If you can't find good help like that, just be patient and careful. It works. I had to do it for my own sock measurments.

E: From Knee to Floor. You want to take this measurement at the back of your leg, from the floor to just under your knee (or wherever you would like to have the top of your sock hit). You don't need to worry too much about curvature -- since the front part of your leg is pretty much straight down, it balances out in the end.

F: From the Widest Part of the Calf to the Floor. This is one of the most important measurements you will make, since it's going to help determine where the increase shaping for the calf stops and the decrease shaping for the knee starts. When you measure your calf circumference, you might want to make a little mark on your leg to help you remember where you are measuring to. Rubber bands that won't cut off your circulation work well for this sort of thing if they'll stay put.

G: From the Area Above the Ankle to the Floor. This is another location you might want to mark after you measure the circumference. It's also an important measurement.

Ok. Take a deep breath. All the measuring is done. Now there's just a little bit of math ahead. But don't worry. You can do most of it without even resorting to a calculator, and I'm going to show you an example, based on my own measurements.

A. 8.5"
B. 9.5" (note, I did this a little higher than just above my ankle, which is why it is longer than A)
C. 13"
D. 12"
E. 15"
F. 12"
G. 8"

Stitch Gauge: 7 stitches/inch
Row Gauge: 11 stitches/inch

First of all, let's start by determining how many stitches around you're going to need for that widest calf measurement. We need to calculate for some stretchiness in the fabric, so first off we're going to only use 90% of the circumference measurement for the calf. Then we're going to multiply that number by the number of stitches per inch in our gauge.

Calf Circumference Stitches: C * 0.90 * Stitch Gauge
Ex. 13 inches * 0.9 * 7 stitches/inch = 82 stitches Calf Circumference

Now we're going to figure out the number of stitches we should be starting from just above the ankle. The formula is almost exactly the same:

Ankle Circumference Stitches = B * 0.90 * Stitch Gauge
Ex. 9.5 inches * 0.90 * 7 stitches/inch = 60 stitches Ankle Circumference

So far so good, I hope!

Since I like to keep my numbers divisible by 4 (to be compatible with dividing over 4 DP needles and dealing with K2P2 ribbing at the top) I am going to round the number of stitches for the calf circumference down to 80. You can choose to do this of thing or not. It's up to you. Generally speaking, a few stitches either way won't make too much difference unless you are using a very large yarn for your sock. To get the total number of stitches your're going to increase:

Increase Stitches = Calf Circ Stitches - Ankle Circ Stitches
Ex. 80 stitches - 60 stitches = 20 sitches increased

Now you need to decide how many increases you want to make on a row every time you do an increase row. Once again, I like to add a number of stitches that keeps my total number of stitches on the needles divisible by 4. So I chose to increase 4 stitches every increase row. To get the number of increase rows you're going to need to have:

Increase Rows = Increase Stitches / Stitches Increased Per Row
Ex. 20 stitches / 4 stitches/increase row = 5 increase rows

Okay. Now onto calculating the increases. First of all you need to calculate the number of rows in the length of the region that you are going to do your increases over.

Rows to Increase Over = ( F - G ) * Row Gauge
Example: (12 inches - 8 inches) * 11 rows/inch = 44 rows to increase over

Now you determine the increase row interval.

Increase Row Interval = Rows to Increase Over / Increase Rows
Ex. 44 rows to increase over / 5 increase rows = 8.8 rows

It's hard to do increases every 8.8 rows -- at least I haven't figured out how to knit 8/10ths of a row yet. So I decided to do my increases every 8 rows, starting at 8" above my ankle. Rounding up or down is a personal thing, but I wanted to make sure I still had room to do the decreases after the calf, so I chose to round down a bit. (That meant that I would have all my increases completed in 40 rows (5 increase rows * an increase row every 8 rows = 40 rows), so I knit four rows even after that before dealing with the decreases).

I hope everyone is still with me. We're getting close to the end. The last thing we need to do is figure out how many stitches to decrease to snug up things around the area below the knee.

Below Knee Stitch Circumference = D * 0.90 * Stitch Gauge
Ex. 12 inches * 0.9 * 7 stitches/inch = 76 stitches.

This is a nice number, because it's already divisible by 4, if you want K2P2 ribbing you'll want to adjust your number up or down to a number divisible by 4. In this case, I usually go the direction that leads to the fewest stitches added or subtracted. Now to calculate the number of stitches we have to decrease.

Number of Stitches to Decrease = Calf Circ. Stitches - Below Knee Circ. Stitches
Ex. 80 Calf Stitches - 76 Below Knee Stitches = 4 stitches.

Just like I increased 4 stitches/row for my increase rows, I'm going to decrease 4 stitches on any decrease row.

Decrease Rows = Decrease Stitches / Stitches Decreased Per Row
Ex. 4 Decrease Stitches / 4 Stitches Decreased Per Decrease Row = 1 Decrease Row

Usually, I want to do all my decreases before I start the ribbing. So now you need to know how many inches of ribbing you're going to knit. I did an inch of ribbing.

Rows to Decrease Over = (E - F - Inches of Ribbing) * Row Gauge
Ex. (15 - 12 - 1) * 11 = 22 Rows

Decrease Row Interval = Rows to Decrease Over / Decrease Rows
Ex. 22 rows / 1 decrease row = 22 rows.

Now, this result isn't entirely helpful because it doesn't really tell you where to place anything. In this case, I could place it at the very first row after I'd completed my increase intervals. But I decided that to better match the shaping of my leg, I'd do it halfway through the number of rows to the ribbing. So I did my decrease row 11 rows after completing the 44 rows over which I did my increases. After that, I just knit 10 more rows straight and started in on my ribbing.

See? Not so hard. A few calculations and you've got yourself a simple stockinette knee sock.

But what if you want to include a simple pattern motif? How do you know where to put those increases and decreases? That takes a bit more math and a little bit of thought, so I figured it would be best to split it into it's own section. Stay tuned for the last part of this tech discussion...

Well, actually it's not so hard at all. The first part is the easy part: the foot. You actually don't really have to do any measurements at all to get this part started. But you do have to make some decisions. The first decision being: how am I going to cast on?

There are a number of different options. Probably the best place to start is Wendy Johnson's classic Knitty article "Tip Top Toes". In it, she describes setting up a short-row toe with a provisional cast on, a Figure Eight cast on that can be used to start a standard wedge or star toe, or a provisional cast on that can be used to start a standard wedge or star toe. The advantage of the second two technniques is that when you cast on, you don't really have to know how big around the sock is going to be. You can just keep increasing until you have a sock that is wide enough around for the foot you are knitting for. These are nice options if you don't know exactly what gauge you are going to get or don't really want to do much measuring.

More recently, there was a Knitty article by Judy Becker describing the "magic cast on" for toe up socks. This cast-on is an alternate cast on to the Figure 8 cast on for those who find it to be too fiddly.

There's also one other toe up start method that I know about: the Bosnian toe. Lucy Neatby describes it in her book "Cool Socks Warm Feet" (and I think she also describes it in some of her instructional videos) -- you can see an example of this toe in a pair I made a while back -- it is essentially a knitted garter stitch square. After you knit the square, you pick up stitches along each of the 4 sides and start knitting in the round.

This is, no doubt, just a jumping off point. I suspect that if I were to search farther into the depths of the Internet, I would find more ways to start toe up socks. But 5 ways is enough for me at this point, especially since I really liked the results I got from using a provisional cast on.

The other reason that I liked the provisional cast on is that it allowed me to do a wedge toe. The wedge toe is my favorite toe for me. If you were working on 4 needles, the wedge toe is created by increasing at the outer edge of each needle so that you get a wedge shape when the toe is flattened. Usually, I do my increases every other row until I get to the size I want for the body of the sock. The provisional cast on is also a nice way to set up a star toe. Star toes create a more rounded, decorative toe. To make a star toe you increase at 4 or 6 points evenly spaced around your stitches. If you increase at 4 points, you can do an increase row every other row. If you increase at 6 points, you probably want to do an increase row every third row. To see examples of what I am talking about, Socknitters has a great page that shoes pictures of the star and "standard" toe.

Why not a short-row toe for me? No good reason, it's just personal. I am not really happy with the way my short-row toes look. But they are definitely a good option.

Once you've decided on a toe type and picked the best cast on to help you make it happen, the next thing you need to do is keep increasing the number of stitches until you get to the size you want the instep of the sock to be. Obviously, the size will depend on the circumference of the ball of your foot and how snug you like your socks. Since you're starting toe up, you can just try the socks on as you go a long and stop when you get to the right fit. Good deal, eh? No measuring, no worries about gauge.

And then you just keep knitting until you get to about 2" short of the lenght of your foot from the tip of your big toe to the back of your heel. You'll probably want to do a little measuring for this.

Now, I am not going to say that you can only do a short row heel... (if you want to see a Dutch heel done toe up, check out the Widdershins pattern that was in the summer 2006 Knitty) but I am going to suggest that it is probably the easiest heel to execute for a toe up sock, and it's become my favorite heel because it fits in with my rhythm for making socks. There are lots and lots of ways to execute a short row heel. So many that it would be hard for me to link to all the possibilities. But if you're looking for a heel that I think gives the best results (I've tried a bunch of them in the quest for one that I could execute consistently without a lot of gapping) I'd like to point you to Priscilla Gibson-Roberts "Simple Socks, Plain and Fancy" (this book is an excellent guide to both short row toes and heels and also just sock construction in general.... if you like to knit socks, this is one of those "must have" technique books).

I do my short row heels on 50% of the stitches of the total sock and short-row down to 20% of the total stitches, but this may take some trial and error to find your perfect match. I don't have a very deep heel. If you do, you might want to consider starting your heels on 60% of the total stitches.

Once you're finished with the heel, it's going to be time to think about some of the more complicated elements of the sock. So I think this is a good time to take a short break. In the next part of the tutorial, I'll talk about taking measurements to help you fit your knee sock and what to think about if you want to include a pattern motif in the leg of the sock.