Aug 12, 2013

Who Needs a Pattern to Make Socks?

*** Update***

People have requested this in inches as well as centimeters, so I have tried to add that math as well.  Honestly, I find centimeters easier to deal with on projects where I have to do math.  If the measurement is 1 centimeter and 1 millimeter, it is simply 1.1.  On the other hand, 1 7/8 inches I have to convert to 1.875 inches (and have to use my calculator).  Thus, if I can avoid fractions, I will.

As a resource so that you don't necessarily have to do math with fractions, here are the corresponding decimals for the "inches" measures.
1/8= .125
1/4= .25
3/8= .375
1/2= .5
5/8= .625
3/4= .75
7/8= .875


I've been on a bit of a math/science kick recently, and I figured that I would run with it.  After seeing this video on knitting two socks at a time, I decided to try breaking in a circular needle that I got for Christmas, and try to put a dent (ok, who are we kidding, a tiny nick) into my yarn stash.  If you have never knit a sock before, you might not want this to be your first attempt.  Also, if you are unfamiliar with the magic loop method, you might want to look into that as well.

So, here are what you will need to make 2 socks at the same time:
2 skeins of yarn
1 long circular needle (the one I'm using is 32 inches long)
stitch holders (I just use safety pins)
measuring tape
a spot to take notes

Step 1: Make a test swatch. 

I know, it's the least fun part of any knitting project.  But it's important.  Make a swatch with the yarn, needles, and stitch pattern you're using, make it a reasonable size, bind it off, wash it, see how it reacts and if you like it.  Because honestly, if you're going to spend several hours making something, it's always better to know you're going to like it, and avoid being sad with the results.
You can always work on your swatch while doing something more enjoyable, like getting a pedicure.
In this case, I know my yarn.  I've used this yarn before, and I know how it behaves.  I still did a swatch.  Not as big as I would normally make (as I partially did it just to get to the same point in the striping as the other skein), but I still did it.
See?  Mini swatch (in the round, so it's twice as wide), but I did one!

Step 2: Measurements

I have my swatch, and I've calculated my gauge.  For my yarn, with a size 2 needle, I have 30 stitches for 11 cm (4 1/3 inches), and 3 cm (1 1/8 inches) for 11 rows.  So now I need to figure out what I will be covering with it.  I figured that the easiest way to demonstrate this next part was on paper.  You do not have to trace your foot, but for the purposes of this post, it was easy to demonstrate.  So, I give you my foot:
 There are a few measurements that we're going to mark down on our foot (you notice that I left some space on the side of my paper for notes?  Ha ha, there was a reason for that!  First, I measure what I want the toe of my sock to be.  Looking at my drawing, it looks like a good width for the toe is about 4.5 cm (1 3/4 inches) (measuring across the big toe and second toe).  I have learned over the course of time that usually the width of the heel is about the same as the width of the toe.  In this case, we don't have to make assumptions, as we have it right there, and we can measure it!

And yes, the width of my heel is also about 4.5 cm (1 3/4 inches), so I'm going to call that good.  I note that down on my foot drawing as well.  The total length of my foot is 24 cm (about 9 1/2 inches).  I break that measurement up into two measurements.  There is the length of the sock that I will work straight from the toe, and then there is the length over which I will decrease to get to the heel.  For this case, I will go with a general rule that you start working the heel about an inch and a half (or 3.8 cm) before the edge of the heel.  So I will work straight for 20.2 cm (8 inches), and then work the heel over the last 3.8 cm (1 1/2 inches).  The last two measurements I can't do with the sheet of paper.  The circumference of my foot, and the circumference of my calf.  My foot is 21 cm around (8 1/4 inches), and my calf (at the thickest part that the sock will cover) is 24 cm (9 1/2 inches).  That's it.  Confused?  Let me break it down for you this way, to hopefully be clearer:
Foot Length: 24 cm (20.2 cm+ 3.8 cm) or 9 1/2 inches
Toe Width: 4.5 cm or 1 3/4 inches
Heel Width: 4.5 cm or 1 3/4 inches
Foot Circumference: 21 cm or 8 1/4 inches
*Calf Circumference: 23 cm or 9 inches

* I am planning to finish my sock below my calf itself.  This measurement is for the thickest area that the sock will cover on the leg, so I know how wide to knit the leg.

Step 3: Math

Wait, no, don't run away!  It's really not bad, I promise.  What we are going to do is calculate how many stitches to cast on, how many stitches to increase to, and about how many rows it will take until you start working on the heel.  So we go back to our test swatch, and look at our gauge. I want to cast on enough stitches so that I will start out with 4.5 cm.  So to phrase the question: If I have 30 stitches for 11 cm (4 1/3 inches), how many stitches do I need for 4.5 cm ( 1 3/4 inches) on each side?

4.5 cm X 30 stitches/11 cm= 12.272 stitches
1 3/4 inches X 30 stitches/4 1/3 inches= 12.209 stitches

Ok, so I'm casting on 12 stitches (I'll just round the stitch count) for the top of the foot, and 12 stitches for the bottom of the foot, meaning 24 stitches (but don't forget the 12!). So where do I want to be once I finish increasing for my foot?  This measurement was for the entire way around the foot, so there will be no need to double it.

21 cm X 30 stitches/11 cm= 57.272 stitches.
8 1/4 inches X 30 stitches/ 4 1/3 inches= 57.558 stitches

Considering the negative ease of a knit garment, and the mental ease of keeping with round numbers, I am going to try to go with either 56 or 58.  As I know that I will be increasing by 4 stitches every other round, 56 will probably be easier.  But, as I'm making this sock from the toe up, I will have plenty of opportunity to try it on as I go.  As long as I keep my increases the same on the left and right side of the sock, I will be able to fake it.

Personally, I don't really care about rows.  I know the length that I will have to knit to though.  But, just for a little more practice with the math, let's just see about how many rows I'll be knitting before I start on the heel.

20.2 cm *11 rows/3 cm= 74.06 rows
8 inches *11 rows/1 1/8 inches= 78.22 rows (This is one of the reasons I prefer working with centimeters.  Not only is the math easier because I can work in decimals, but millimeters are smaller than 1/8 of an inch.  So the way in which you round your measurements can have an impact on your math.)

So, starting right here, if we know a little bit about how to make a sock, we can start writing our own pattern. kfb means to knit once in the front of the stitch, and then once in the back of the same stitch, which adds a stitch.

Cast on 24 stitches using magic loop knitting method.
Round 1:knit.
Round 2: (knit 1, kfb, knit to last two stitches on needle, kfb, knit 1) twice.
Round 3: knit.
Repeat rounds two and three seven times: 56 stitches total.

Round 1: knit.
Repeat round 1 74 times, or until the sock is 20.2 cm long.

Wow, this looks like it could be an actual knitting pattern, doesn't it?

Step 4: Cast On

After all that, I am finally ready to cast on.  This is the first time I am trying to make both socks at the same time.  I have seen methods where you can make one sock inside the other one, which will work with either the magic loop or using double pointed needles, but that requires way more focus than I tend to have.  With that method, I could see myself knitting them together and not even noticing for multiple rows.  Knitting the socks side by side makes it much more obvious if I have knit them together, and also makes it easier to try them on as I go.  So let's get started.

  1. With the first ball of yarn, tie a slip knot, and slide it on to one needle.
  2. Hold the two needles parallel, with both needles pointing to the right. The slipknot should be on the bottom needle.
  3. Bring the yarn behind both needles, and wrap the yarn up and over the needles, coming down in front.  Remember when I said to not forget the 12 stitches? I am going to wrap the yarn around my needles 12 times.  Each loop is casting on a stitch for the top needle and for the bottom needle.
  4. After the 12th loop, bring the yarn over the top of both needles, and bring it in between both needles, basically to hold it in place.
  5. I slide my stitches to the left just a little, so that I have space to cast on my second sock.  This is done the exact same way that the first one is.
  6. So we have 48 stitches on the needles, and it's time to start knitting.  If you need a tutorial on how to use the magic loop method, you can find one here.  Essentially what I'm doing is this: I'm keeping the stitches for the top of the sock and the bottom of the sock separate, so that they can lie flat.  I pull some slack from the bottom needle, bend it, and knit off of the top needle.  For this first round, I pull the yarn out from between the two needles, and knit 12 stitches across the top with the second ball of yarn (which is the same ball that I cast on with). When I finish the stitches for sock 2, I drop the yarn, and pick up the yarn for sock 1, being careful to not entangle the two. Then, using that yarn, I knit across the 12 stitches on that sock.
  7. Now that I've finished the first 12 stitches on both socks, it's time to do the other side.  I flip the knitting so that the stitches that I just finished are the bottom needle, and the stitches that I need to do are on top.  I slide the needle on top down so that the stitches are easily accessible, and pull out slack on the bottom needle. There are 12 stitches on this side, plus the slip knot that I started with.  I slide the slip knot off, as that was just there to keep the yarn in place.  I knit the 12 stitches for this sock, drop that yarn, pick up the yarn for the other sock, and do the same thing.  I drop the slip knot, and knit 12 stitches across.
    Close up of Cast On Stitches
    Cast On Finished
Now I have completed the first row of my socks!

Step 5: The Toe and Foot

I've now completed my first round on both of my socks. Now it is time to start increasing (otherwise I won't be able to fit my foot inside!) I decided to do a very simple toe. I knit the first stitch, increase by one stitch (I often opt to do a kfb), and then knit to the last two stitches on the needle (for this sock). I have added one stitch to the right side, and now one stitch to the left side. This will mean that my sock will end up coming to a nice point, and not just slant off to the side. Also, for the toe, any increases I do on the top, I will mirror on the bottom, because I want the side seams to stay on the sides, and not wander underneath my foot or anywhere else.  If a wandering seam is a feature that you want to incorporate into your design, go for it! Just remember to do the same thing on each sock.

Why am I doing the exact same thing on each sock?  Because I want the socks to match. I am doing them at the same time so that I don't have to think about how many rows went into the sock I just finished before I turned the heel, and that sort of thing. This method ensures that, as long as you do the same thing to each sock, they will turn out the same size and shape.

After I finish the round, I have increased each sock by 4 stitches, two on the front, and two on the bottom.  This gives me a total of 56 stitches on my needles (28 per each sock). I knit a round, and then increase again.  I keep up this pattern until I have 112 stitches on my needles, 56 stitches for each sock.

When I did my math before, it indicated that I should have 57 stitches for each sock, but I was going to try it with 56. Do you see why now? It wouldn't require any odd increases! But I am not one hundred percent sure if that will work. Conveniently enough, I am making them from the bottom up, so it's super easy to just try them on. Thus, that is exactly what I do.
One wonderful thing about knitting small projects is that you can do it anywhere, like the park I'm in!
Conveniently, 56 stitches works beautifully, and this gives me a nice hint of how the self striping yarn will work for these socks, as well as how they will feel on my feet. I am quite happy with all of this. Now, as I'm letting the yarn create the pattern for me, I just keep knitting in the round until I reach 20 cm (7 7/8 inches).

Step 6: Turning the Heel

I know it looks a little short, but that's just because it rolled up while I was photographing it.
I have knit and knit and knit, and I am finally ready to start on the heel! Now, before I start explaining the heel, first I want to talk a little bit about customization.  One of the reasons to make your own socks is that you can make them fit you perfectly. I am fortunate, in that my feet are a fairly average shape. Therefore I know that my heel will be about an inch an a half before I turn it, I will be decreasing to the same number of stitches that I used for my toes, and that my ankle isn't that much wider than my foot.  Your feet may not be the same.  Just like with any other clothing, the problem isn't with you, the problem is with your pattern.  By multiplying the width of the area the sock needs to cover by your gauge, you can calculate increases or decreases however you need to, in order to make your perfect sock.

With that said, let's move on.

As with socks that are worked from the cuff downwards, there are many different ways to do the heel.  For this pair, I opted to go with the method that was used in the video I referenced at the beginning of this post. It uses short rows, but there are no wrapped stitches.  Now, before I show you any pictures, I have two confessions to make.  First, I'm lazy.  I'm not going to do something if I don't see a logical reason for it (and even then it's 50/50). Second, I'm not a big one for gadgets.  I tend to do so many different crafts and such that I have neither space nor money to have every tool for everything.  Therefore I tend to take the Alton Brown approach and apply it to crafts.  All about the multitaskers!

To knit the heel, we're going to go from knitting in the round to knitting flat.  Why? Because we only need to add length to the bottom part of the sock. In the video, it looks to me as if the woman demonstrating puts all the stitches from the front of the foot on a separate needle/stitch holder. I didn't do this.  As I'm using one long circular needle, all the stitches seem pretty secure where they are.  It may have caused a minor hassle while knitting and purling back and forth, but I don't think it added up to what I would consider the hassle of putting aside the stitches and then picking them back up.  Also, as the knitting method itself provides a break between the front and the back of the sock, the stitches used for the heel were already separated.

The pattern for the decreases goes like this:
row 1: knit to the last stitch, place that stitch on a stitch holder (I just used a safety pin). Go to second sock, and with the appropriate yarn, knit to the last stitch, and place the stitch on a stitch holder (safety pin number 2).

row 2: slip one stitch, purl to the last stitch, place on a stitch holder (safety pin number 3). Change socks, and with the appropriate yarn, purl to the last stitch, and, you guessed it, place it on a stitch holder (and safety pin number 4).

row 3: slip one stitch, knit to the last stitch, place on a stitch holder, change socks, knit to the last stitch, and place on stitch holder.

I am going to repeat rows 2 and 3 until I have 12 stitches left on my needle. Now, remember before when I said that I am lazy? If I was being really proper, I would have each of those stitches on their own stitch holder, so that I wouldn't risk dropping stitches, it was easy to count how many stitches I'd taken off, etc.  I didn't do that.  I used four safety pins, that were each about one inch long.  You know what? It worked just fine.
One sock after all the stitches had been put onto my "stitch holders"

Now that I've finished adding my extra length for my heel, now I need to work all those safety pin stitches back in, to finish the ankle for my sock.  So after I have done all of my decreases, I knit to the last stitch, again, but this time I remove a stitch from my safety pin, and knit the two together, for the purpose of minimizing gaps in the finished sock.  But I don't actually want to get rid of any stitches, so I also knit one more in between the gap from the last stitch and where the next stitch sits on the safety pin.  Repeat on the other sock, and then do the same thing on the purl side of the heel. I repeat this process until I have all of my stitches worked back in, and I can just continue working in the round.
Yup, seems to fit to the heel pretty well.

Step 7: The Leg

The leg is pretty straight forward, now that I have all of my stitches back onto my needles.  I just knit in the round until the sock is about 2.5 cm (1 inch) shorter than I want it to be.  That is about how long that I've decided that I want my cuff to be.

A note about sock length.  There is a great variety of lengths that you can make a sock.  I had a friend, who saw me doing both socks simultaneously, ask if I could just make tights this way.  You know what?  I could, if I so desired, had taken the proper measurements, and had enough yarn.  They would be pretty thick tights, but it could be done.  The one guideline that I would give is this: the minimum length of your sock should be long enough that the sock will not start slipping off of your foot when you wear it in shoes.  As a shot in the dark, I would say that it should at least reach the Achilles tendon.  Other than that, feel free to go wild!  

If you know that you have thick ankles, very curvy legs, or any other fit challenges, keep that in mind, but remember, one of the reasons that you are making your own socks is so that it will fit like a glove, er, sock! It is the same process: measure, calculate, and make your increases/decreases.  Just make sure that, if you make a very curvy sock, your foot and heel will still fit into it. Knitting Daily has some tips on this very topic.

For the socks that I'm making, I decide to stay pretty standard.  I am going to knit the leg to be about the same length as the foot. I consider that a good basic sock length.  The widest area that the sock will cover is only 2 cm wider than that of my foot.  As that is also the area that will be the ribbing, the stretch in the knit should be just fine, and I don't think that I will have to add any stitches. The negative ease here should help to keep my socks up.

Step 8: Ribbing

I finished the leg, and am ready to start my ribbing. Oh. I didn't consider the ribbing pattern earlier.  That's no problem, it just means a little more math! So let's see. I have 56 stitches, and the knit/purl of the ribbing needs to repeat.  Therefore, what I am going to do is calculate what stitch patterns would work evenly into the stitches that I have.

56/2 (knit 1 purl 1)= 28 whole number, so it would work!
56/3 (knit 2 purl 1 for example)= 18.666.  Ooh, that would not work, it's not a whole number.
56/4 = 14 That would work!
56/5= 11.2 Nope.
56/6= 9.333 Nope.

Without adding any stitches, it looks like my options are a ribbing in a set of 2 (knit 1 purl 1), or a set of 4.
ribbing for a set of 4 would be any of these:
knit 1 purl 3
knit 2 purl 2
knit 3 purl 1

I choose to just go with a simple knit 2 purl 2 as my ribbing.  It's easy to remember, it's stretchy, and I like the look of it. So I'm going to repeat this for about 3 cm.

Step 9: Binding Off

Let's do a quick recap.  We dutifully did our test swatch, we measured, we calculated, we knit, we did more calculations, we tested along the way, and we have something that perfectly fits that we've spent a whole lot of time working on.  There is one thing that we can do at this point to make these beautiful, wonderful socks into something that we don't ever want to wear.  Bind them off too tightly.  If I bind off too tightly, I could make the socks uncomfortable, as they cut into my calf, and essentially ruin the point of the nice stretchy ribbing I just finished.  Even worse, I could make it so that I can't get my foot into the sock properly.  Do you doubt me?  Go ahead, take the swatch that you made and probably just did a basic bind off for.  Notice how the bound off edge is nowhere near as stretchy as your ribbing?  I rest my case.

I know for a fact that I tend to bind off tightly.  Therefore, I am not going to do the standard bind off that I learned when I was about 7.  I am going to use this one, which is entitled "miraculous elastic bind off".  I can get behind that.

Wow, the socks are done!  Both of them!  Now all I need to do is weave in the ends.


With a few measurements, a few techniques, and a little math, it is possible to create just about any perfectly fitted knit garment without a pre-written pattern.  In this case, it was a pair of socks.  This would also work for a hat, gloves, a sweater... Pretty much anything you can think of.  As long as you are diligent (and honest) with measurements, know your gauge, know your material, and calculate your stitches, you can make just about anything.


  1. Hi Michele, thank you so much for sharing your experience on making socks! It really helped me to figure out the basics and even to make a pair for myself :) I also wrote a blog post about my experience, with links to your blog (

  2. You ARE an engineer! I love your approach to knitting.

  3. It would have been easier to understand if you had used inches.

  4. I decided to use centimeters instead of inches because the metric system tends to be easier when it comes to math. But, I could probably edit the post to use both types of measurements, if it would make it easier to understand.

    1. Did you ever make this into inches?? if so where can I read that version?

    2. Finally got it edited for you. I just converted most of the measurements that I had to inches, so some of them could be slightly wonky. But I hope that it helps!

      Also, if I missed any or did my math wrong, please let me know!

  5. Sadness! None of the pictures work :( But the explanation is absolutely brilliant :D

  6. Best tutorial I've found on making socks. Been wanting to try but putting it off. Patterns seemed so complicated at the heel. Thank you!

  7. I'm just getting ready to teach my 5th graders knitting in the round and just discovered this!!! We will be using 4 needles and doing one sock at a time, I haven't poured over it completely yet, but just skimming it looks like I can cut measurements in half where applicable. If you think of any helpful hints pass them on please : ) I too have only worked in inches, I will try to use centimeters, I'm sure it will be easier for the kids! Thanks again!!!

    1. I've used DPN's, and I've used circular needles. Currently, as I tend to do a lot of knitting when I'm out at the bar (It's ok, I know I'm a hipster) I tend to prefer circular needles, as they will fall out less often when I have projects in my purse.

      For working with kids, here are my thoughts based on having been a camp counselor and not a teacher.
      1. Stress the math aspects: When kids can make connections between math and things they do in everyday events, they are more likely to learn from it. Honestly, centimeters are easier to do math with, being base 10 instead of complex fractions.
      2. When talking about a pattern, utilize tangrams. Both the leg and foot part of a sock are the same; they are both tubes. The toe and gusset can both be represented with triangles, but can be a good image of how the sock will change over the course of the project.
      3. Being able to try the socks on while working on them helps to promote motivation. It is easier to see how far you have to go until the next step.

      Good luck, and I hope you and the kids have a lot of fun!

  8. Thank you SO much for this great, intuitive tutorial! First one I've read that makes complete sense to me.