Knitting Socks 101: Heel, Cuff and Toe Tips

Learn how to knit your own socks with these easy instructions.

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Begin to knit your own socks with these basics for standard top-down socks on five double-pointed needles (dpns).

Stitches

Most socks have the same number of stitches around the cuff and the foot. One way to determine the number of stitches to cast on is to measure around the widest part of the foot (usually the ball of the foot) and then multiply that number (in inches) by your stitch gauge (how many per inch).

If your foot is 9 inches around and your yarn is knitting up at 7 stitches to 1 inch, your number is 9x7, or 63. Now subtract 10-15 percent from that number, because you want your socks to have what is called "negative ease." They need to be snug, and in their relaxed state they should be smaller in circumference than your feet and stretch to fit. It makes things easier if your final number is divisible by 4, so that you can have the same number of stitches on each needle.

Many people prefer to cast on all the stitches onto a single needle and then divide them between the four needles. You may also divide your stitches while casting on.

Cuff

Once you have the correct number of stitches cast on and have joined the knitting into a round, you can begin knitting your cuff. This is the easiest part of the sock, and the place where you can be creative. There's almost no limit to what you can do on the cuff: lace, texture, cables. Once you get the hang of sock construction, you will find it easy to branch out.

Most cuffs will at least start out with some sort of ribbing to help them stay up. You can do the entire cuff in rib (1x1 and 2x2 rib are common, but some unusual ribs such as 4x2 or 5x1 will work too; just be sure that the rib pattern works out evenly over the total number of stitches in your cuff).

Yarn that knits up into a jacquard pattern doesn't look as good over ribbing, so many knitters who use those yarns to do about 1 inch of rib at the very top of the cuff and then switch to stockinette stitch, which shows off the pattern.

Knit the cuff to your desired length (1 to 2 inches for anklets, 6 to 8 inches for standard socks). Keep in mind that if you make very long cuffs, it may be necessary to start out with more stitches, because your leg gets wider toward the top.

Heel Flap

A heel flap is the part of the sock that goes down the back of your ankle. It's worked back and forth over half of your total stitches while the remaining stitches rest on their needles. In the above example of a sock with 56 stitches, your heel flap would be 28 stitches across. Two popular ways to work the heel flap are as follows:

Plain Flap
Row 1 (right side): slip 1 stitch, knit to end.
Row 2: slip 1 stitch, purl to end.
Repeat rows 1 and 2.

Slip Stitch Flap (produces a sturdier, more snug flap)
Row 1 (right side): slip 1, knit 1 across.
Row 2: slip 1 stitch, purl to end.
Repeat rows 1 and 2.

Note that in both versions, the first stitch of every row is a slipped stitch. This is important because later you will be picking up stitches along the sides of the heel flap, and the slipped stitch edge will look cleaner.

Continue working the heel flap in your preferred manner until it is about 2-1/2" to 3" long, depending on the wearer's foot size. End with a right side row.

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