Let the past sleep, but let it sleep in the sweet embrace of Christ, and let us go on into the invincible future with Him. (Oswalt Chambers)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Knitting Socks That Don't Bag

Susan asked . . .
What suggestions can you give for knitting socks that stay up? Do you have a secret? My son who is in the Army loves the Olive Drab socks that I knit for him, but he says they slide down. Yikes! Any advice?

Lots of advice! I hate baggy socks and that's one of the first problems I learned to avoid when I started knitting socks ten years ago.

As an extra benefit, when socks stay in place they are much less likely to get holes worn in them.

Here are my suggestions for knitting socks that fit right and stay in place.

Use a firm gauge.
If the gauge is too loose, the socks will bag. If the gauge is too tight, the socks will be hard to pull on and uncomfortable. Almost always, the gauge on the ball band is not tight enough.

After some trial and sagging error, these are the needle sizes and stockinette gauges I use for socks. The gauge is the critical number. Needle size to get gauge may vary for each knitter.
  • Fingering weight: 8 stitches/inch using #1, 2.5mm needles. I've also been happy with 8.5 stitches/inch using 2.25mm needles.
  • Sport weight: 7 stitches/inch using #3 needles. I haven't knit many sport weight socks, so this number may need to be tweaked.
  • Worsted weight: 5 stitches/inch using #5 needles.

Use the right number of stitches around.
To find the ideal number of stitches around use 90% of the ankle measurement times stitches/inch.

For most socks a certain stitch multiple is required. It's OK to add or subtract a few stitches to get a required multiple, especially with fingering weight yarn.

Example with my measurements in case you want to knit me a pretty pair of socks:
  • 7.5 inches (ankle measurement) times 8 stitches/inch (gauge) = 60
  • 60 times .9 (way to calculate 90% of a number) = 54.
  • I use 56 since I usually knit patterns that are a multiple of 8.

Remember that some stitch patterns will change your stockinette gauge. Lace patterns are usually looser fabric than stockinette. Cable and twist patterns create a tighter gauge than stockinette. Calculate accordingly.

I have narrow feet. For years I've been knitting myself 56 stitch socks on 2.5mm needles and they fit perfect. I can use as many as 60 stitches around before the socks get too big for my leg but then I do the gusset decreases down to 56 to fit my skinny feet.

It is perfectly acceptable to have a different stitch count on the foot than on the leg if foot shape or cuff stitch pattern dictate. The number of ideal foot stitches is calculated the same way as number of cuff stitches. Measure around the foot at the smallest foot circumference.

Make the heel depth long enough:
The height of the heel flap usually needs to be taller than the pattern dictates. If the heel flap is not as tall as the human heel, the sock will want to go down into the shoe creating sockwide sagging.

I have smallish (size 6 shoe), narrow, flat feet and I knit my heel flap 2.5 inches tall.

My daughter-in-law is a tall lady with larger feet. I knit her heel flap 3 inches tall.

For my very tall son (6'6"), I knit his heel flap 3.2 inches.

If the sock recipient is available for measuring, take the actual measurement from the floor to the top of the heel. You may be surprised at how tall the heel actually is. Knit the heel about 10% less tall than the actual measurement. Socks need to stretch a bit in order to fit well.

Don't skimp on the ribbing.
The less ribbing that's going to be in the leg of the sock, the more ribbing that needs to be on the top of the cuff.

I use about two inches of k1p1 ribbing to start a 7 to 8 inch cuff. Sometimes I do vary the ribbing to flow into the stitch pattern I'm going to be using.

I've read that k2p2 ribbing is more elastic than k1p1 ribbing. That's not my experience. Maybe it's just the way I knit, but I believe I knit normal stitches.

Ribbing based stitch patterns are perfect for socks.
Whenever possible I like to use a pretty stitch pattern that has purl columns in the pattern to provide the elasticity of ribbing.

The free patterns offered on this website are all based on a ribbing.

Basketweave Ribbing Socks

Shetland Lace Rib Socks

More Fun Than Cables Socks

Even when I don't run the stitch pattern down the top of the foot, I like to continue the purl troughs all the way down to the toe to make the foot more elastic.

1 comment:

Amy Craddock said...

Thank you for posting this. I found it very helpful as I am a new knitter and having some trouble with socks. I appreciate your insight!