Sock it up.
May 15, 2010 10:01 AM   Subscribe

Why, in this day and age when you can get them for $4 at the ol' Wal-Mart, would anyone knit socks? Simply put: Because we can.

So you want to knit socks? Well, first things first: learn to knit, if you don't already know how. Grab some sock yarn, and pick a method and pattern. (A good first pattern for socks? This, if you're handy with a calculator and want to have all your measurements done for the next pair.)
There's also a wide range of sock design, literary and historical references, as well as insane math-based pattern deduction.
The nearly infinite (Ravelry login required) amount of techniques pretty much assure that no matter what, any knitter can become a sock knitter.
posted by Hwin (41 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

Why, in this day and age when you can get them for $4 at the ol' Wal-Mart, would anyone knit socks?

Because hand-knitted socks feel so much better than what you buy. The men in my family love to get hand-knitted socks. If you have a job that involves physical labour like they do, and you're on your feet a lot, they provide extra cushioning. My dad has a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis and especially appreciates the extra cushioning under his poor feet. My sister-in-law told me that my brother just loves the socks I make him, is always wanting to know why they aren't clean, and won't let her throw them out until they are literally in shreds. He also asked her if she could knit him some socks, and she laughed in his face.

Admittedly, I don't do it often anymore. And I'll have to take my brothers and father's word for it that the socks are superior to what you can buy, because I've never made myself any.
posted by orange swan at 10:10 AM on May 15, 2010


My 21 year old brother was wistfully wishing to me about a year ago that he could be rich so he could afford to wear a new pair of socks once then throw them away everyday (apparently he loves new socks). I pointed out that at about 8 bucks a six pack a sock-a-day habit is cheaper than a pack-a-day smoking habit.

He still smoking and doing laundry. Sigh.
posted by sourwookie at 10:16 AM on May 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

My wife once painstakingly knitted me a sock and had me try it on to make sure it fit properly before she started the second one. I pulled it on (her version: too hard/my version: as I would any other sock) and promptly ripped the heel out.

There was no second sock.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:18 AM on May 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

after katrina, i went to stay with my sister in eastern pennsylvania while i tried to figure out what was going on. like a million or so other people, i'd left my house with about 3 days worth of clothes, believing i'd be back home in a day or so when it blew over. i ended up in eastern pennsylvania, in september, with 3 pairs of shorts, a couple t-shirts, and some flip flops. not the best outfit for northern weather.

my sister rallied her friends, who came through with jeans & a fleece pullover & long-sleeved shirts. the best charitable donation i got, though, was you guessed it a pair of hand-knitted socks. groovy, multi-colored socks, hand knit with the kind of love that only someone who watched network news & saw people on rooftops & felt helpless in the face of 500 miles of destruction could craft.

i l-o-v-e-d those socks. kept my tootsies warm & cozy, and looked good doing it. i wore them so much they started to unravel. i was determined to keep the socks, though, and tried to fix them myself. bad idea; two left thumbs; not crafty at all. still, i kept those socks in a drawer for 3 years after. every time i opened that drawer & saw those socks, i remembered roxanne & all the people who were concerned & caring & wanted to help so badly but didn't know how. at least one of them found a way. and i will appreciate that until the day i die.

so yeah ... there are plenty of reasons to knit socks. i'm one of them.

posted by msconduct at 10:22 AM on May 15, 2010 [46 favorites]

Oh, socks. I don't quite understand the knitting world's obsession with socks. I don't enjoy knitting them very much. I never wear the pairs I've made myself - I have huge feet and even in fingering-weight yarn, I feel hand-knitted socks add too much bulk. And I could never get the toes to reflect the actual shape of my feet.

I'm much more interested in knitting pretty things I can wear around my head and shoulders. And get compliments on.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:25 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have one foot that I totalled about five years ago, and it's now titanium-reinforced and bionic and indestructable, but it aches when the weather is cold or damp and it aches when it gets cold, which is all the time... so wool socks are a very important part of my life, even in the summer. I went on a sock-knitting tear a couple of years ago and made about twenty pairs, and I am due for another.

(Is this where we show off? Here are a bunch of socks I made, and there is a bonus cat with a dreamy expression at the end.)

Also I recently got a skein of this stuff and I am going to start a new pair of socks with it RIGHT THIS SECOND. Thanks for the inspiration!
posted by bewilderbeast at 10:50 AM on May 15, 2010 [7 favorites]

I don't quite understand the knitting world's obsession with socks
I think it's a combination of two things. First of all, they're portable, so they're good for people who do a lot of their knitting on public transit or in waiting rooms or places like that. It's hard to lug around a bigger project, and socks generally have easy-to-memorize patterns. Second of all, socks are a fun way to showcase pretty yarn. It's easier to afford hand-painted sock yarn than to afford enough hand-painted yarn for a sweater, plus you can switch and use a new colorway every time you make a new pair of socks. If you're knitting a sweater, you're going to be using the same yarn for a long time, which can get boring.

Having said that, I don't knit a ton of socks.
posted by craichead at 10:56 AM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

And here I thought this post was going to be about generic drugs.
posted by cacophony at 10:57 AM on May 15, 2010

I'm a huge sock knitter. It's funny, because before I learned to knit, all I ever wore were white cotton socks. Now, I am loath to wear white socks. I have pairs in every color of the rainbow.

The best part is that you can customize them. I can finally wear socks that fit my short-and-wide heel, instead of having an awkward heel cup on my ankle. My boyfriend also loves it when I make socks tailor-made for his giant feet.

White cotton socks? Never again. Soft, colorful, beautiful, patterned socks? (Rav) Yes please!
posted by Gordafarin at 11:01 AM on May 15, 2010

Shame there are no available socks for sale. I would have bought a couple of pairs.
posted by lampshade at 11:02 AM on May 15, 2010

I'm not crafty at all, but I can understand the appeal of beautifully colored skeins of yarn on the shelves at shops and the desire to make something with them. Sort of like when I had long nails and would buy tons of nail polish just because I liked the colors. I met a knitter online (long story, I was actually online friends with her sister, who was a cancer patient and for whom she knitted colorful, quirky hats) and mentioned that because of my Reynaud's Syndrome, my toes were often icy cold no matter what the weather. Normal socks made me too hot for some reason. She mailed me a couple of pairs of beautiful adult "booties" - hand-knitted foot coverings that covered my toes, top of foot and heel. I still wear them regularly. I know you can buy similar footies at Wal-Mart, but these are works of art, made of beautiful swirling color combinations. They're warm and cozy and when I wear them I'm reminded of the loving homemade touch that went into making them.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:24 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I love knitting socks primarily because of the show-off factor -- it looks (and, I suppose, is) complicated and impresses the hell out of people when they see me doing it. I'm still a 5-double-pointed-needle gal, never having really fallen in love with the two-circular-needles method, even though the latter is arguably simpler and certainly faster. For me, it's more the process than the product. (But, the product is awesome too.)

I also love knitting socks because they're quicker to finish than a sweater and cheaper, too.

Thumbs (toes?) up for hand-knitted socks!
posted by That's Numberwang! at 11:40 AM on May 15, 2010

Handknit socks are awesome! They're great for knitting on the T, they're good for mindless knitting while watching a movie or something, and they are way more comfortable than store-bought socks, especially in the winter.
posted by sarcasticah at 11:46 AM on May 15, 2010

Why, in this day and age ... would anyone knit socks?

This kind of falls into my crouton theory of modern society. Croutons, right? A little oil and herbs, some bread and a warm oven... yet we'll shell out $3 for 5ozs, because it is just a hell of a lot faster, even though they would pale in comparison along side what you could make. It's not like croutons are a high skilled item either.

It's shocking how many things are like this....
posted by edgeways at 11:51 AM on May 15, 2010 [9 favorites]

Two weeks ago my friend got on a plane in Philadelphia, got off in Wisconsin, and went to a seminar on how to knit socks. Held in a hotel ballroom. I was sort of floored when she told me, but it's exactly like fantasy cycling camps where you get to ride with a retired pro, only different.
posted by fixedgear at 11:55 AM on May 15, 2010

And now your friend has a whole year and a bit to gear up for Sock Summit, fixedgear.

(I didn't entirely get all the frenzy over the 2009 Sock Summit, but the teacher list certainly was a Who's Who of the North American knitting world.)
posted by craichead at 12:03 PM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Why, in this day and age when you can get them for $4 at the ol' Wal-Mart, would anyone knit socks?

Why, in this day and age when you can [drive a car, shop at the grocery store, etc.] would anyone [ride a bike, grow vegetables, etc.]? Because they enjoy doing it.

But how anyone could enjoy knitting socks rather than riding a bike or planting a garden or doing about a million other things, I have no idea.
posted by pracowity at 12:18 PM on May 15, 2010

I knit socks. And I also make my own croutons. :)
posted by Ochre,Hugh at 12:24 PM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Sock Summit was an amazing experience. It wasn't just about the teachers, though I will brag that I had the privilege of taking a class with the incomparable Barbara Walker (yes, for the feminists among us, THE Barbara Walker of the feminist dictionaries of symbols/legends/etc.). I'd have taken a class on how to cast on from her.

It was the sheer flamboyant joy of being surrounded by many of the best crafters in this field, wearing their finest creations. It was being able to plunk down in the hallway amongst a group of strangers and talk about nothing but knitting and have people get the critical differences between different kinds of cast-ons and how to pair up different cast-ons and cast-offs.

And let's not talk about the yarn fumes from the marketplace, and the insanity around the Bugga booth swarms.

It was pure knit-geekery at its finest.
posted by wenat at 12:25 PM on May 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

i'm pretty intimidated by knitting socks, even though as i type this i am currently wearing a pair of hand-knit socks (from my mom).

i found this wonderful photo tutorial that makes it look simple enough....
posted by janepanic at 12:52 PM on May 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

I did go through a sock-obsession phase when I still knit. I mostly enjoyed it because of the challenge, learning various techniques (double pointed needles, two circulars, toe-up, cuff-down, heel-turning, etc.). I then got to obsessing about optimizing the final product and was knitting socks with regular sock yarn and size 000 steel double pointed needles usually used for knitting lace, with 12 stitches per inch gauge. And then socks stopped being quick fun projects. My handknit socks have worn like iron, though.
posted by needled at 1:22 PM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

msconduct, you should join ravelry and repost your exact message. Offer to buy the yarn and then some more for their time, and I'll bet you'll get someone offering to knit custom socks for you. There is a Will work for sock yarn group.

Keep in mind that it takes 20-40 hours of knitting for a pair of socks, and you'll probably get sticker shock at the price of sock yarn.
posted by wenat at 1:22 PM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

pracowity, I would totally knit a pair of socks (or anything else) for anyone who wants to tackle my gardening for me.
posted by wenat at 1:24 PM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

msconduct, you should join ravelry and repost your exact message. Offer to buy the yarn and then some more for their time, and I'll bet you'll get someone offering to knit custom socks for you. There is a Will work for sock yarn group.

Or just check on Etsy.

I knit my first pair of socks as a Christmas gift for my mom last year. Unfortunately, with a baby and a toddler, I don't get much quality knitting time, so it took me three months to finish. But they were a lot of fun to knit and no one has ever shown so much appreciation for anything I've made before. She loves them. The first chance I got after Christmas I went out and bought some more juicy sock yarn to make a pair for myself. I've started them, but since it takes me a week to get in an hours worth of knitting, I've put them aside for a bit while I work on even quicker projects. Still, looking at the pretty yarn and just thinking about the cozy handmade socks that I'll have one of these days makes me happy.
posted by Dojie at 1:41 PM on May 15, 2010

I'm a sock knitting fiend, too. I haven't worn commercial socks for years.

I have very square feet. I always disregard the knitting pattern's instruction for the toe. For top-down socks, I stop after I've decreased to half the stitches, and bind off there. For toe-up socks, I start by casting on half the stitches.

But I have empathy for those who sniff, "Why go to all the trouble? You can just BUY socks." I feel that way about gardening. You can just BUY vegetables.

Obligatory mention of the Mefi Ravelry group.
posted by ErikaB at 1:51 PM on May 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Because Wal-Mart pushes its suppliers to sell goods more cheaply every year, forcing them to give you the absolute lowest-quality sock they can get away with.

A $4 sock from Wal-Mart will have a hole in 4 weeks.
posted by straight at 1:54 PM on May 15, 2010

I'm wearing the socks I knit from the pattern under 'insane math-based pattern deduction' at this very moment.

If you're on Rav: [jacquilynne's Skew](project).
posted by jacquilynne at 2:49 PM on May 15, 2010

because it is just a hell of a lot faster, even though they would pale in comparison along side what you could make. It's not like croutons are a high skilled item either.

I don't think it's really the slowness of making them that people are avoiding. It's the slowness of learning to make them1. Once you know how to make $X, it's generally faster than going to the store, standing in line, handling the resulting trash, etc, etc.

1And just learning in general. To paraphrase Bertrand Russell, most people would rather die than learn; in fact, they do so.
posted by DU at 4:38 PM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

ErikaB I had no idea there was a MeFi Ravelry group! Brilliant. Joined.
posted by Gordafarin at 4:51 PM on May 15, 2010

Psst, guys. I knit socks, too. I'm all too used to getting asked if I know I can buy socks.. which, yes. I do know I can buy socks for $4.
a: They never fit my feet Just Right- only as closely as a machine a thousand miles away can get it.

b: They may or may not have been made in a place with labor laws I find acceptable or not. (Cue epic discussion on if my morals are ok to impose on the rest of the world... now.)

c: There is little to no entertainment value in the act of buying mass-made socks. I can get 40+ hours of entertainment for under $40 with most sock yarns, and I'm not even counting the yarn shopping itself as entertainment... talk about bang for your entertainment buck, yo.
posted by Hwin at 5:27 PM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm knitting a sock as I'm reading this thread! I started knitting socks years ago, when I worked at a yarn shop. Now I have more pairs of wool socks than I could ever wear through, so I make them a bit smaller and give them to my sister.
posted by OLechat at 5:29 PM on May 15, 2010

A friend of mine's father died unexpectedly. In his workshop in the garage they found a locked trunk containing: a baggy of pot; an expensive exotic lens for his Nikon; a case of new cashmere socks.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:32 PM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

The first pair of socks I knit was for a boyfriend. All the ladies I knit with told me there was a curse knitting for him would doom our relationship. He proposed after I turned the second heel. Our three year wedding anniversary is next week and those socks are finally wearing through, time to get out the darning egg.

I tried socks two at a time using the Magic Loop. I kept them in a small fabric bag since there were two balls attached and they got easily tangled in my regular knitting bag. I have no idea how it happened but when my husband was putting clothes in the dryer from the washer I heard him ask if I truly, truly loved him and I knew something was wrong. He had washed a half-knit pair of socks along with the two attached balls of sock yarn. What a tangled mess that was. Needless to say the whole thing got tossed (except the needle) and I've never knit my socks two at a time again.

My favorite socks I've knit.
posted by MaritaCov at 7:22 PM on May 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm another sock knitter, and I have a confession: most of the socks I make really aren't much better than the ones you get at the store. I have some pairs that are super comfortable and have held up fantastically over the years, but for every great pair I make, I probably make three pairs that end up wearing through too quickly, or felting or pilling, or fitting a little off.

But I keep making them. I like them for exactly the same reasons craichead pointed out above: they're portable, they don't take as long to knit as sweaters, and you get to go nuts with yarn colors. The variety of colorways and effects available in sock yarn is staggering, and the best part is you don't have to worry about whether the colors will look good on you or coordinate with anything else you own, because you're sticking the finished product in your shoes.

Not to mention that there are hundreds of fantastic sock patterns out there, many of which are free, and if you have access to a stitch dictionary you can come up with hundreds more, and once you learn the basics of sock construction (I like this pattern) you have so much room to improvise with any yarn and needle size.

And! They're knit in one piece, so no seaming, and knit in the round, so not much purling and no "I have to make it to the end of this row." They're way easier to fit than sweaters, and there's less variation in the size and shape of feet than of torsos, so it's less likely that you'll find a sock pattern that isn't available in your size or knit a sock that totally doesn't fit. There are many patterns for sweaters that I love but wouldn't look very good on me; I have never had to even consider whether a sock pattern would be flattering.

So, really, all the reasons I choose to knit socks are from a knitter's perspective, not a sock-wearer's perspective. (In fact, I've always disliked wearing socks. If it weren't for winter and for my knitting habit, I'd go without.) If a knitter tells me he doesn't see the point of making socks, I'll make every attempt to convert him. If a non-knitter tells me, "but you can just buy them," I just shrug and say, "you sure can."
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:04 PM on May 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

I like socks.
posted by Evilspork at 11:10 PM on May 15, 2010

My partner's mum knits new thick woolen socks each year for everyone in the family. They are the most awesome gift I get for Christmas each year.
posted by RedEmma at 5:09 AM on May 16, 2010

I make socks too! It takes me about 6 hours per sock (ladies 9 narrow, men's socks would take longer) at the moment, adding together all the bits and scraps of time I get to work on them. They are great for the bus, but even better, they are great for giving me leftovers for this project. A queen size blanket made of sock yarn. I've got just shy of 400 squares, and a whole lot of sewing ahead of me. (Each square is 4.5 inches on a side, and takes an hour to make.) This leftovers project has been ongoing for almost 2 years.

But seriously, I make socks because I have weird feet, and up until a month or so ago I was buying shoes that fit over these socks, wihtout getting all bunchy and weird. Now I'm buying cute shoes that fit me own their own, and I'm a bit concerned that my sock making will slow down.

(If you want to buy the yarn, supply measurements, and pay $10/hour, I'll knit you some socks.)
posted by bilabial at 9:41 AM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh man, bilabial, I don't envy you all that sewing and having all those ends to darn in! Although I can't really talk. This is my leftover sock yarn blanket in progress (and hopefully that link should work for non-Rav people as well).

Sock yarn is awesome. I can't get enough. I have boxes and boxes full of it and have to restrain myself whenever one of my favourite yarn stores restocks. So pretty! So soft! So many colours!
posted by andraste at 1:58 PM on May 16, 2010

Metroid Baby has a great point. about the difference between "a knitter's perspective" and "a sock-wearer's perspective."

If you have this (admittedly bizarre) fondness for twiddling knitting needles for hours on end, you quickly realize there are only so many sweaters that one person can wear. Only so many scarves that can be worn in a season.

But hell, I wear socks every day; rain or shine, in the dead of winter, and at the height of summer. Only dishcloths come close to matching the practicality of socks as a knitting product.

If you must knit something (and some of us must) then socks are a very practical choice.
posted by ErikaB at 5:56 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Andraste, I'm working on a pattern right now to solve that very problem -- love sock yarn but don't knit nearly enough socks, so I'm doing a simple shawl in Blue Moon Fiber Arts Socks That Rock Lightweight!

(In case you didn't know, when I'm not on MeFi under my oldskool blog name, I write knitting books for a living and used to edit a knitting mag -- see my Twitter ID under my profile & you'll easily figure it out)
posted by at 8:40 PM on May 16, 2010

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