Sock it to me
March 4, 2010 6:57 PM   Subscribe

Antique sock knitting machines are seeing a resurgence in popularity, and so is knitting socks by hand. You can knit them on needles that are double-pointed or circular, one sock at a time or both at once.

You can knit your socks from cuff to toe, from toe to cuff, sideways, or flat with seams up the sides. You can knit socks from an old Red Cross pattern (PDF) or from elegant new patterns by Cookie A. You can sign up for a sock club and receive kits for making socks that are wildly ornate. You can participate in Sock Wars, an extreme knitting tournament that puts you in a race against other sock knitters. You may have attended last year's Sock Summit, a conference devoted to all things sock knitting-related. If you missed it, you can check out the Sock Museum online.

If you get tired of knitting socks, you can use the yarn for blankets instead.
posted by bewilderbeast (32 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 


I love knitting socks - I've probably made about thirty pairs so far. It's a lot less expensive than knitting a sweater, and much more portable - when I took the bus to work, I'd work on a sock every day (and learned how to do it on two circular needles, because I'd always manage to drop my double points on the wet dirty floor).

(This is the sock I'm working on right now.)

Thank you for the link to the blankets - I have so much leftover sock yarn (part of the reason I don't like doing cuff-down socks) that I could probably make a few of these.
posted by Lucinda at 7:28 PM on March 4, 2010


Socks are a great knitting project for me, because by the time I get bored with repetitions, it's time to move onto something else.

This Cookie A pattern is free and wonderful, and was the second pair of socks I ever knit. The first ones I ever knit were jaywalkers (which can be found here, if you have a (free) ravelry account).

Thanks for this!
posted by joan cusack the second at 7:35 PM on March 4, 2010


This is my favorite sock pattern, or at least the only one I've ever managed to make more than once, probably because mock cables are my favorite thing to knit. Love knitting socks.

Wait, that should read: Love knitting sock. In general, I rarely want to knit a second sock, and the idea of doing two at once freaks me out. What I need is a sock exchange program, where I knit a sock and then send it with the second ball of yarn and the pattern to someone else, who in turn sends me a ball of yarn and a pattern to knit their lonely second sock. Who wants in?
posted by padraigin at 7:42 PM on March 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


If I liked wearing socks, I would totally learn to knit just to have knitted socks. Or would I like wearing socks if I started knitting them?
posted by schnee at 7:46 PM on March 4, 2010


I'd sign up for that, padraigin! Mostly I end up with pairs of socks, but that's only because I have three or four different pairs in progress at once, and by the time I have finished four different single socks I will have forgotten about being bored with the first pattern and can come back to it with fresh enthusiasm....
posted by bewilderbeast at 7:49 PM on March 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


The only pair of socks I've knit was on the 2-at-a-time method - but I was so very bored by the end of it. Only my pig-headed determination to finish each project I start could have gotten me through it.

But I suspect it's because I'm a) a very slow knitter and b) prefer fine-gauge projects to big chunky ones. And there's nothing comfier than a home-made sock, so I keep thinking I might put myself through the torture again just to have some more.
posted by harriet vane at 8:48 PM on March 4, 2010


Hey! That's the same order in which I made my first pairs of socks...Jaywalkers, then Monkeys. Love! I was just looking at my Jaywalkers tonight, thinking that I need to make myself another pair now that I'm a better and more consistent knitter. I think sock knitting is the funnest thing ever. They're fast knits, fun to wear, and a great gift to give. I would do the second sock thing, too. Have you guys joined MetaStitcher on Ravelry? I generally do my socks two at a time, but I'd gladly split up a pair to participate in something like padraigin's idea!

Thanks for the post, bewilderbeast! Any and everything to do with knitting makes me happy.
posted by LiliaNic at 8:48 PM on March 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


My most recent pair of socks were done two at the same time, toe-up, Magic Loop. I used a pattern from Knitpicks, and this sock class. It went well, and quickly, and I was so happy to have both finished at the same time. I'll use the same technique if I ever make any more socks.

However, I don't think there will be too many more socks in my knitting future. I don't find them particularly comfortable, and would rather use sock yarn to make pretty scarfs and shawls. I have a friend who hand-dyes sock yarn, which I recently used to make a Little Colonnade, and I just bought some silk/merino from her to try out Wandering the Moor.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:55 PM on March 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I just decided a short while ago to learn to knit socks as a new hobby / fidget activity.

I haven't gotten very far with the learning yet, but I'm pretty excited about the idea. I know my first pair probably won't be all that good, but then, the first pancake usually isn't very fine, either. :D

Thanks for the encouragement! What a gem to find on the Blue!
posted by hippybear at 9:10 PM on March 4, 2010


I would love an antique sock knitting machine. Sadly the only modern counterpart is those toy knitting machines (which have quite the following) but prone to dropping stitches.

I have had trouble learning to knit with needles, so I use a Knifty Knitter loom. There's sock patterns for it out there. I made my own simple slipper pattern - I keep meaning to adapt it to make simple socks :-)
posted by Calzephyr at 9:44 PM on March 4, 2010


This was my first and last attempt at knitting socks. I got most of one finished, then I realized that it was so tight that there was no way it was ever going on a foot.
posted by jessssse at 10:41 PM on March 4, 2010


I have an entire skein of Colinette Jitterbug lying about. I can barely handle garter stitch, though, haven't learned to purl, and seem to be incapable of completing the "make a garter stitch scarf on straights" rite of passage without utter mayhem 12" into the scarf.

I suspect socks are not in my future.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:49 PM on March 4, 2010


Out of curiosity, are the socks that I could make with one of these machines comparable to my precious, precious Smartwool socks? 'Cause, if they are, I'd love not to spend $14 for a pair of socks...
posted by Netzapper at 12:44 AM on March 5, 2010


Out of curiosity, are the socks that I could make with one of these machines comparable to my precious, precious Smartwool socks? 'Cause, if they are, I'd love not to spend $14 for a pair of socks...

LOL n00b.

Good sock yarn is not cheap, especially if you're gunning for Smartwool-quality. One of my favorite yarns, which I'd consider comparable to Smartwool in terms of comfort, durability, and care, is Austermann Step and it's $20 a ball, which will get you two socks if your feet aren't too big. Then you still have to make the socks.

But, I have to say, wearing socks you MADE YOURSELF is incredibly neat, although you run out of people who give a shit really early on in your knitting career.
posted by padraigin at 5:41 AM on March 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


Love knitting sock. In general, I rarely want to knit a second sock, and the idea of doing two at once freaks me out. What I need is a sock exchange program, where I knit a sock and then send it with the second ball of yarn and the pattern to someone else, who in turn sends me a ball of yarn and a pattern to knit their lonely second sock. Who wants in?

I've actually seen these packaged on Etsy in the past. I thought that it was genius because I have the same problem - one sock will hold my attention (at least through the magic of turning the heel) but I never get around to doing the second. My only concern with the plan would be that I'm confident that I've got a crazy tight gauge compared to everyone else. One too tight sock would be a pain!
posted by librarianamy at 6:07 AM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Alternately, you can go to Thorlo and buy possibly the best socks ever made for less than the cost of simple wool nowadays.

My friends in the military turned me on to them, and I have to admit, they're the most comfortable, most protective socks I have ever worn. Surprisingly soft and fluffy, too.

(And no, I'm not anti-homemade socks. But the fact is, it's a labour of love, made wonderfully impractical by the modern world.)
posted by markkraft at 6:21 AM on March 5, 2010


Although, markkraft, I hear the new Cat Bordhi sock knitting book has re-sole-able designs in it, which means they'd actually be MORE practical than expensive readymade socks you get a hole in and have to throw out...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:49 AM on March 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


I made these, motifs from assorted sources, actual pattern kitbashed by me.

I *want* to make the bayerische socks by Eunnyjang only I want ones that are knee length and have shaped cables for the calf decreases. I'm currently in the planning stages on that project.

People have asked if I wear the red and black ones. I do wear the Hooves of Hot Iron (that's what they're called, for better trampling of infidels), they are wonderful and I love them and the fact that they contain eighty dollars of yarn and well over two hundred hours of work, well... we shall not go there.
posted by which_chick at 7:19 AM on March 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


"they'd actually be MORE practical than expensive readymade socks you get a hole in and have to throw out..."

I have owned my Thorlos for quite some time with no holes... not even the small, non-damaging holes that inexpensive socks usually develop within months. These are not your ordinary, everyday socks we are talking about here. They are tightly woven, yet soft and flexible. They breathe well, yet keep their shape excellently. They use an assortment of custom fibers throughout the sock, appropriate for the needs of that particular area of the foot.

I'm a big guy with some foot problems, and used to start developing blisters about 4-5 miles into a hike that would make it difficult to really do long hikes without bringing along plenty of bandaids. I tried other socks, special hiking sock liners, etc. Invariably, these did not help, and in the case of the liners, I've actually had them cause blisters on rough up-and-down terrain.

All I know is that with these socks, I can hike a dozen miles without any significant problems. Where once I found myself coming back from long hikes hobbling and bringing up the rear, I now find myself at the front of the pack. I can't give the socks all the credit, but they are an essential part of what works for me. And, to their credit, the same socks I rely upon for hiking are just as comfortable for regular wear.
posted by markkraft at 7:45 AM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I *want* to make the bayerische socks by Eunnyjang only I want ones that are knee length and have shaped cables for the calf decreases. I'm currently in the planning stages on that project.

If you're on Ravelry, check out this and this - they might be able to help you (unless you enjoy the planning/charting/designing - I don't).
posted by Lucinda at 8:08 AM on March 5, 2010


Sock dreams also sells military boot socks in a slightly wider range of colors than the standard. I got a pair in November and love them to pieces -- they arrived in the mail right as I bought my Fluevog knee high boots, which are made of this incredibly thick, tough leather that just screams, "I will be incredibly comfy once you break me in, but first there will be blood." So I wore the MBS underneath, and while I got a couple of sore spots, no blisters!

A tiny hole did develop on one ankle, but it's fixable and I think has more to do with the toughness of the boots than the quality of the sock.

Back on knitting, a question: I'm toying with the idea of learning knitting, and I would definitely want to make lots of socks. But I really prefer wearing knee-highs, and most patterns I've seen are crews. Is adapting a pattern to knee-highs difficult/possible?
posted by bettafish at 8:09 AM on March 5, 2010


I haven't worn commercially knitted socks since, oh, 2003. This is partly because handknitted socks are completely awesome, but also because in a tiny way it helps to remind me of the true cost of textiles. The existence of the $3 t-shirt is one that is borne out of an incredible labor inequality, which can't (shouldn't, won't, mustn't) last forever. . . knitting my own socks is a token way of reminding myself that clothes are historically not a cheap and disposable commodity.
posted by KathrynT at 9:33 AM on March 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is adapting a pattern to knee-highs difficult/possible?

Absolutely possible. In fact, patterns will occasionally be referenced on your body, saying something like "knit until an inch from your ankle" (when you start from the top). The true beauty of knitting is that once you understand the basics, anything can be modified to fit you specifically.

The only tweak you'd need to worry about would be buying enough yarn to suit your needs. I use a rule of thumb that about 50g of yarn will make you a sock, so you'd just need to be sure to buy a spare skein or two.
posted by librarianamy at 9:42 AM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love knitting socks! They're the perfect knitting project for my T commute -- a sock-in-progress fits in my bag, and I don't have to worry about following a pattern, because I memorized my usual basic sock recipe ages ago. Plus, I love spotting other knitters on the T! (I'm never, ever brave enough to say anything to fellow T-knitters, because I'm a big chicken.)
posted by sarcasticah at 9:59 AM on March 5, 2010


Last pair of socks I made featured a Nordic pattern with deer doing naughty things (example here, as a hat -- NSFW, perhaps). Initially intended as an Xmas gift for boyfriend, ended up being a Valentine's gift (I knit very slowly, he has size 15 feet, so they took longer than I thought to finish).
posted by medeine at 10:01 AM on March 5, 2010


Adapting a pattern to knee-highs is *possible*, depending on the pattern. If you are OK with just plain socks (eg: regular stockinette knitting with ribbing at the top), it's dead simple... you just increase (if going from toes to top) or decrease (if going from top to bottom) as needed, trying on the sock regularly to make sure it fits you. I prefer to keep a single purl stitch centered in the back of the sock so that I can increase or decrease on either side of that line, it makes kind of a subtle pattern that way, but this is not required. If you don't knit both socks at the same time, take good notes on the first one so that you can make the second one match.

For socks with knitted pattern in them (like grumperina's jaywalkers or CookieA's gothic spires), you're going to have to do some off-road designing of your own to grow (or shrink) the pattern organically, especially if you have kind of impressive calves (I do). This may be difficult, especially for some patterns. Be prepared to rip back and try again if you don't like what you get the first time.

For socks that are straight stockinette with color pattern in them (like the red and black ones I made), it's a matter of deciding how you want the pattern to decrease or increase... visually interesting but not technically interesting.

I have never been able to get hand-knitted knee socks to stay up, enough up, for my tastes without elastic and I generally install an elastic sleeve and a 1" wide band of elastic at the top of my handknit knee socks to keep them sufficiently up. Ymmv.
posted by which_chick at 10:01 AM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I knit my first pair of socks way too early in my knitting career. They turned out terribly, but I loved them anyway. I had been knitting for all of about six months, and had never even used DPNs except for the last few rounds of a hat. What was I thinking?!

It's like the Mason-Dixon Knitting ladies say, "No project is too ambitious if you crave the result enough."

Now, almost five years later, I wear nothing but hand-knit socks. I have plain ones and fancy ones, thick ones and thin ones, handwash-only and machine washable, socks for every occasion.

I still keep a few pairs of mass-produced socks around, for wearing when I do messy yardwork. But aside from that, I haven't worn commercial socks for about two years now. It's pretty great!

markkraft I will simply point out what you have already made abundantly clear, which is that you are not a knitter, nor apparently under the care of one. Your loss!
posted by ErikaB at 10:56 AM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you find working on doublepoints too awkward and don't have two circulars, I recommend 9" circular needles. Once you get used to working with tiny little short needles, it's much more convenient. I love my tiny needles so much.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:17 PM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


librarianamy and which_chick, thanks so much!
posted by bettafish at 4:17 PM on March 5, 2010


My favourite sock knitting accessory ever is these double-pointed work-in-progress tubes. They are the awesomeness and I recommend them to any sock knitter. The tube makes it easier for me to take my wooden double-pointed size zeroes with me on the plane. The other nice thing about it is that it prevents me from sitting on my tiny needles and snapping them in half.

Also, I have to say I like padraigin's idea of a lonely sock swap. I've amazed myself by actually completing three pairs of hand-knitted socks (I don't count my first pair which turned out gigantic and unwearable by anyone but Bigfoot), but I do have one poor abandoned pair that is three years old and 3/4 finished. Yep, that's right, I actually knit one entire sock and half of the second, and then...just...stopped. I have no idea why. So I am able to offer an extra special bargain to my lucky recipient: you'd only have to finish half a sock!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:38 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Another vote for the single sock exchange! With the caveat that my knitting is very tight too (and I don't live in the US). We could bring joy to cold tootsies everywhere!
posted by meosl at 7:22 AM on March 6, 2010


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