Some of the socks I've knitted.
I find it utterly fascinating that I can take what is basically some string and sticks and magically not only create fabric, but create fabric that has shape to it. A sock is so complex - it starts out small at the toe, and with gradual increases you shape it to fit around the foot before magically making that fabric do a nearly 90 degree turn to form the heel...again, all with sticks and string! I never thought I'd enjoy sock knitting - heck, just a year ago, I still was someone who swore she'd never knit socks. Too complicated, too fiddly, needles too tiny, yarn too thin, too much work. Not for me...or so I thought. Turns out, not only do I like knitting socks, I like the entire process - and I'm here to spread the word on the wonderment that is sock knitting.
Socks are made with with very tiny needles - when I first started knitting, I referred to them at toothpicks, and if you look at this comparison picture, you can see that I wasn't exaggerating:
Needle is a U.S. size one; toothpick measures at a U.S. size zero needle!
Size one needles on a long cable; perfect for doing a toe-up cast-on.
I like to knit mine toe-up, which means that I start off with casting on just 10 stitches on each of two needles connected by a long cable; I then knit increases that shape the toe and make the sock big enough to fit around my foot - generally I'm good with a total of anywhere from 60 to 64 stitches. I prefer the toe-up method because I can try on the sock as I go, and I can knit the leg without worrying that I might run out of yarn - if you knit from the top of the sock down (commonly called "cuff-down") you have to make a judgement call on when to make the heel turn, and you usually end up with a lot of unused yarn (unless you're knitting a sock for a very large-footed person, like a man). Sock yarn is pretty and I want to use as much of it as I can!
My current sock yarn stash that I'm working my way through.
Size one 9-inch circular needles - where most of the sock knitting takes place.
Once I've completed my cast-on and increases, I switch to 9-inch circular needles, which, I'm convinced, is one of the biggest reasons why I like knitting socks so much. Traditionally, socks are knitted using a set of double-pointed needles (DPNs), and while I can use them for knitting in the round, I find the process awkward. I'm always having to shift my stitches, and I drop the working needle every so often, which is annoying.
Size one double-pointed needles - they come in sets of five, usually.
This is a 24-inch size one circular needle; it works for Magic Loop, although really, a 32-inch cable would make it easier.
Another way of knitting socks is to use a circular needle with a very long cable - you pull the cable through the stitches at the halfway point in every round. This is called Magic Loop, and it's how I learned to knit hats in the round, back when I was a beginning knitter. As with the DPNs, it's a bit awkward; once I realized that I could knit hats with a 16-inch circular needle, I never went back to using the Magic Loop method, and I've never used it on socks.
Some people have "second sock syndrome" where they aren't motivated to knit the matching sock once they've made the first of a pair. I don't find that to be a problem, and it could be because of two reasons. First, the entire process of knitting a sock has enough changes in it that I'm interested, anticipating what is coming next, and I enjoy the process. The other reason is that I am not a rule follower; sometimes I knit a sock and then start a different sock - honestly, sock yarn is so appealing that I always have a new skein waiting in the wings for its debut - and then I'll go back and start the second sock of the first pair. I recently purchased a second set of 9-inch circular needles in my preferred sock size, so now I can have two different pairs in progress.
After looking at a bunch of sock patterns on Ravelry, reading sock forums, and talking to other knitters, I realized that most people have their own personal vanilla sock pattern; a basic, tried-and-true formula for knitting a sock that will fit them (or a very deserving relative or friend). And while there are a lot of socks with intricate patterns out there to knit, right now I'm content to let the yarn shine front and center, so I have mostly made plain socks - but as you can see from the sock collage at the top of this post, my socks are anything but plain looking, thanks to the fun yarn.
Here's my personal sock pattern formula:
Items needed - sock yarn, size one needles in 9-inch circulars, 24-inch circulars, and a set of DPNs, two stitch markers, darning needle.
Using Judy's Magic Cast On, cast on 10 stitches per needle onto the 24-inch circulars. Round one: Knit
Round two: Begin increases. On needle one, K1, Kfb, knit to last two stitches, Kfb, K1; repeat for other needle.
Round three: Knit
The Sock Ruler on a sock knitting forum and purchased one; I need to hit the 7.5 inch mark for my socks, while my mom's foot comes in at the 7.0 inch mark. No need to count or keep track of each row - I just slip the sock over the ruler when I think I'm getting close, and check it periodically until I'm at the right spot. It's a great tool and if you're a toe-up sock knitter, I recommend getting one.
Now comes the fun part: turning the heel. I use the Fish Lips Kiss Heel pattern for this. I've made a few pairs of socks using the traditional heel flap, but I much prefer the FLK heel; for whatever reason, it clicks better with my brain. That said, the designer of the FLK heel goes into great detail on the mathematics and fit of the heel on her pattern; don't let that scare you off - it's not necessary to know all of that in order to use her method. Here's the sock with the first half of the heel built:
Side view of the heel process
To go from this: