There is something knitters find strangely intimidating about socks. I suspect it’s heel turn. It seems a bit like magic; some decreases, some short rows, and boom: your heel fits perfectly in an item that is otherwise a tube. We assure you it’s as simple as 1, 2, 3! Heel Flap, Heel Turn, and Gusset!
6 steps to knitting a sock
Knitting Rye Light?
This tutorial includes excerpts from the Rye pattern, which is knit in a worsted weight. If you’re following the Rye Light pattern (knit in sock/fingering weight yarn) all the techniques described below will apply, but the numbers will be different.
To get started you will need:
- The pattern: Download a copy of the Rye pattern or the Rye Light pattern (they’re free!)
- Yarn: The Rye socks use worsted weight yarn, and the Rye Light socks use sock/fingering weight yarn.
- Needles: For a top-down sock you will need two sets of needles. You will need smaller needles for the ribbing and larger needles for the rest. For socks you can use either double pointed needles (DPNs) or a long circular and the magic loop method.
If following a multi-size pattern is new to you, check out our tutorial on reading a knitting pattern here.
Swatching and Gauge
The first step for your sock is a gauge swatch. The nice thing about knitting a sock from the top down is that you don’t really need to work a separate swatch. Just get going and once you’ve got a few inches, measure your gauge. If it’s not right, time to rip back and try larger or smaller needles as needed. Check out our tutorial on gauge and swatching here.
The Rye sock pattern is knit from the cuff to the toe in the following order:
- Cast on at the cuff and work the ribbing
- The leg is worked in the round
- The heel flap is worked in rows
- The heel turn is worked in rows
- The gusset is picked up
- The food is worked in the round
- The toe decreases are worked in the round
- The last few live stitches at the toe are grafted together.
Using smaller needles cast on 28 (32, 36, 40, 44, 48) sts, PM and join for working in the round.
Work in 1×1 ribbing (k1, p1) for 0.5 (1, 1, 1.5, 1.5, 1.5)”.
Change to larger needles.
Tip for working with double pointed needles: For DPNs, I recommend placing 1/2 of your stitches on the first needle, 1/4 of your stitches on the second needle, and 1/4 of your stitches on the third needle. This way you know your round starts at the beginning of the ‘full’ needle.
Round 1: k2 (3, 3, 4, 5, 5), p10 (10, 12, 12, 12, 14), knit to end
Round 2: knit
Work rounds 1-2 until piece measures 2.5 (4.5, 5.5, 6.5, 7.5, 8)” from cast-on, ending with a round 1.
This establishes the garter stitch panel that runs down the middle front of the sock. When you are working back and forth garter stitch is created by knitting every row, BUT when you are working in the round it is created by knitting one round and purling the next. So your sock will look like mine, pictured below: a panel of garter stitch surrounded by stockinette stitch. You can learn more about basic stitch patterns here.
Tip: If you are having trouble remembering where the garter panel goes (or you just want things to be a little more fool-proof) you may want to place a marker on either side of the panel.
You will maintain the garter panel down the centre and the stockinette everywhere else until your sock measures 2.5 (4.5, 5.5, 6.5, 7.5, 8) inches from cast-on.
Adjustment option: If you like a short ankle sock or a longer cuff this is where you would adjust the pattern, making it shorter or longer.
If slipping stitches is new to you check out our slipped stitch tutorial here. For the Rye pattern all stitches are slipped purlwise unless otherwise noted.
First you are going to put half of your stitches on hold. The half on hold will include the garter panel, it is the top of the foot. The heel flap is the part of the sock that goes over the back of your heel. You will work the heel flap back and forth in rows across the other half of the stitches.
I put half of my stitches on one double pointed needle (DPN) and then work the heel flap with my other 2 DPNs. If you are using magic loop you can place the stitches that are on hold on the cord and work back and forth on the heel flap stitches.
You will now be turning your work after each row (instead of continuing in the round).
This is the part of the socks that scares people but stay calm, take a deep breath, turn off the TV or send the kids out of the room!
The heel is shaped using short rows: this means that you will turn your work in the middle of a row without knitting all of the stitches. Fear not, we know you haven’t worked all the stitches and it’s okay. Where it says ‘turn work’ you turn from RS of the work facing you to the WS of the work facing you, in preparation to work back in the other direction.
Now we are all set up. You should see 2 gaps in your work. They will occur where we turned our work. They look like this:
Row 3: slip 1, knit to 1 st before the gap, ssk, k1, turn work
Row 4: slip 1, purl to 1 st before the gap, p2tog, p1, turn work
Repeat rows 3-4 until all stitches have been worked – 8 (10, 12, 14, 14, 16) sts remain.
Knit across the heel stitches.
Heel accomplished! It will look like this:
Now you have kind of a funny looking thing. It’s a tube with a flap and a little triangle, not really like a sock at all yet. But it’s time to join it all back together into a tube. To do this we will pick up and knit stitches along the sides of the heel flap (remember all those slipped stitches?).
How to pick up and knit stitches
To pick up and knit stitches you need the right side (RS) of your work facing you, that’s the knit side.
- Insert your needle into the stitch (from RS to WS)
- Loop the yarn around your needle (at the back of work)
- Pull the loop through to the RS (using the needle tip, as though you were knitting a stitch)
Now you will have a stitch on your right hand needle. You have picked up a stitch!
Once you have picked up and knit stitches along the heel flap you work across the top of the foot, maintaining the garter panel as established and knitting all the other stitches.
If you are working on a long circular needle with the magic loop technique, you will need to place a marker after the picked up stitches. If you are working on DPNs, work the top of the foot on a separate needle, instead of a marker, you’ll have the gap between needles.
Once you have worked across the top of the foot you will need to place a marker if you are on circulars and if you are using double points you will pick up down the other side of the heel flap using another needle.
Next you will knit 4 (5, 6, 7, 7, 8) sts (this is 1/2 of your heel sts). If you are working with circulars you will place a marker here to indicate the beginning of the round. If you are working with double pointed needles, knit these stitches with the same needle you picked up the second half of the heel with, so that the end of that needle means the end of the round.
Round 1: knit
Round 2: knit to 3 sts before marker, k2tog, k1, work in pattern across top of foot to marker, k1, ssk, knit to end
Work rounds 1-2 a total of 5 (6, 7, 8, 8, 9) times. [28 (32, 36, 40, 44, 48) sts]
Double Pointed Needle tip: if you are working on double pointed needles there won’t be any markers (except maybe ones you have marking the garter panel), so when it says ‘knit to 3 sts before marker’ you will be knitting to 3 sts before the end of the needle. When it says ‘work in pattern across top of foot to marker’ you will be working to the end of the second needle. The end of the third needle marks the end of the round.
Once you’ve completed this section, you will have decreased the additional stitches picked up for the ‘gusset’ triangle at the side of the foot and you will be back to the same stitch count as at cast-on.
To shift beginning of round (BOR) remove marker, k7 (8, 9, 10, 11, 12), slip marker – this is the new BOR, located at the side of the foot. Keep the second marker after the instep stitches in place.
If you’re working on DPNS, this means that you’ll simply shift the beginning-of-round point the end of what was your second needle.
The beginning of round (BOR) is now located at the side of the foot.
Continue working in the round, keeping the top of foot in pattern until your piece measures 3 (5, 6, 7, 8, 9) inches from back of heel or 1 (1, 1.5, 2, 2, 2.25) inches short of desired foot length.
The foot is simple as can be! You can work around and around, maintaining the garter panel at the top of the foot and knitting all other stitches. You can also try on the socks at this point to see how long they should be.
There are 4 decrease points for the toe, two on each side of the foot. The markers in the work above are around the garter panel, they are not at the decrease points.
Round 1: k1, ssk, knit to 3 sts before marker, k2tog, k2, ssk, knit to 3 sts before end of round, k2tog, k1 (4 sts decreased)
Round 2: knit
Repeat rounds 1-2 two (3, 3, 3, 3, 3) more times [16 (16, 20, 24, 28, 32) sts]
Then repeat round 1 until 12 (12, 16 16, 20, 20) stitches remain. Cut yarn leaving a 12 inch tail and, then graft toe closed.
Once you have grafted the toe, the socks are finished! Weave in your ends inside the sock, and then wear with pleasure! I don’t personally find blocking necessary for socks, as they are snug and conform to the contours of your feet. Congratulations – you have just finished your first sock!
More great socks from Tin Can Knits
This tutorial is part of The Simple Collection – our 100% free learn-to-knit series. Check out the fabulous free patterns sized from baby to big, and get started making modern seamless knits for the entire family! Like our work? Get our email updates and we will let you know about new patterns, tutorials, and events.