Donna's Writings


Summer Sock KAL 1: Anatomy of a Sock

Welcome to the Stories In Stitches 3 Summer Sock KAL! (That’s a lot of esses, isn’t it?)

Anatomy of a SockTo get started, let’s look at the parts of a sock and discuss how the three cuff-down sock patterns in Stories In Stitches 3 fit into this picture. (In the next post, as a bonus, we’ll also take a look at toe-up construction too.)

First The Basics

Whether you knit a sock starting at the top of the cuff or at the tip of the toe, you’ll find the same basic sections in almost all sock patterns. I would say all, and leave out the almost, but today there are some really creative sock knitters out there who are doing things outside the box. I prefer to stick with the traditional time-honored shapes and techniques that can easily be scaled for any size and adapted for many different kinds of pattern stitches.

Ok, some of this may seem obvious to you if you’ve knit socks before and you just skim the headings, but I hope I’m including some meaty infer and tips you might not have known in the details. (Read from the bottom up if you prefer to knit your socks that way!)

Dancing Stitches Socks1) Cuff. This is the part of the sock at the top edge. It is what holds the sock up and so it needs to be both snug and elastic. Many times this is knit in ribbing to provide both of those qualities. But many older socks and stockings (the old-time name for knee socks) were held up with garters. Not the elastic kind we think of today, but ribbons or other ties that were either woven through eyelets near the top of the cuff or just wrapped around the outside of the sock and tied in a knot or bow.

2) Leg. For shorter socks, the leg is just a straight tube. For knee socks (or even longer stockings), the leg is wider at the top and narrower at the ankle, requiring a change in needle size, pattern stitch, number of stitches–or some combination of all three. Decreasese/increases for shaping the leg can be made around a center back faux-seam stitch or worked into the patterning for a decorative effect.

3) Heel. The heel is the most complicated part of a sock, being as it needs to make a 90-degree turn. The heel also is the part of the sock that controls the depth of the instep. Almost all heels can be looked at as two parts: A heel flap–or a flat part of the heel that is worked on the back of the sock attached to the bottom of the leg, and a heel turn–or the part of the heel that turns the corner. Some sock heels have both elements, but others–most short row heels and the afterthought heel–consist only of a big heel turn. We’ll talk about the details in the next sections so don’t worry if you aren’t familiar with those types of heels.

  • a) Flap. The heel flap is basically just a rectangle knit back and forth on the back of the leg. On socks that have a heel flap, the length of the heel flap controls the depth of the instep — longer = deeper; shorter = shallower. You can have heel flaps on both cuff down and toe up socks, but they’re much easier to plan and work for cuff down.
  • b) Turn. The heel turn is where you make that 90-degre corner at the back of the sock while at the same time making a bump that sticks out from the tube of the sock for your heel. This can be worked in many different ways, all of which include working short rows (rows where you turn before the end), decreases, or some combination of the two. This is the most complex and confusing part of the sock for most knitters, and it’s difficult to envision before you actually work it on the needles because you are building a three-dimensional shape out of a one-dimensional piece of string.

Flying Fish Knee High Socks4) Gusset. A gusset is shaping allows you to have extra stitches in your sock around the heel and instep area. The gusset is the section where you either remove these extra stitches (cuff down) or add them (toe up). It is worked with simple decreases or increases.

5) Foot. The main part of the foot of a sock is straight tube. Sometimes a pattern stitch is worked on the top of the foot, and stockinette stitch is worked on the sole. In colorwork, the sole often has a pattern that is very simple and easy to work, while the top of the foot often has a more complicated and ornate pattern.


Hiroshima Peace Socks
6) Toe.
 The toe is usually worked with decreases (cuff down) or increases (toe up), and can also be worked with short rows. What’s cool about short row toes is that you can work them exactly the same way as short row heels and–because the knitted fabric is stretchy–the heel makes a 90-degree turn and the toe folds over and almost closes on itself like a clam shell.

That’s it for the basics! Next post will cover the details of sock anatomy for cuff down and toe up socks.


The 3 patterns to choose from in the Summer Sock KAL are all in my newest book, Stories In Stitches 3: Knitting in WW1 & WW2, available in both print and PDF formats.

Knitting, Old Blogs

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