Now, let’s go through the parts of a sock in more detail, working from the cast on edge at the top of the cuff and working our way down to the toe. This is an overview, so don’t worry if some parts seem confusing. We’ll go over each part in even more detail again when we are knitting.
Cast on. You want a loose cast on for cuff down socks, because the cast on has to stretch over your heel and fit comfortably on your leg with out binding. I use a long tail cast on for my socks and I’ve never had a problem with it. I usually work over two needles and although that doesn’t actually make the cast on edge stretchier, it makes the first row of stitches larger, which makes getting the first round of knitting on dpns a lot easier to knit. (I always use dpns for socks, but you can make any sock on 2 circs or magic loop if you prefer.)
Here you can see that I’ve knit each section of the sock in a different color to show the parts more clearly.
Cuff. Usually I work some kind of ribbing for a cuff. On the three pairs for the KAL, I’ve done three different cuffs: twisted ribbing, lace ribbing, and double-knit, fold-down stockinette stitch. The last is for the Hiroshima Peace Socks which are anklet slipper sock, so it doesn’t need to hold up the sock. On the first two, especially the Flying Fish Knee High socks, I wanted more springiness and elasticity in the cuff.
Leg. On a cuff down sock, you either knit the leg straight or decrease as you go down toward the Ankle. I decreased on the knee high socks with the fish on the sides of the panels with the fish, to create a sort of frame around the fish. You can work decreases into the pattern in any way you like for decorative effects. Another way to shape knee socks is to just decrease on either side of a center back stitch, just as you would do on a sleeve on a seamless top-down sweater. I’ve also done knee socks with no shaping by decreasing, but instead changed my needle size and pattern stitches for different parts of the leg to create the different circumferences at the cuff, calf, and ankle.
Here are two examples of knee socks with the shaping worked into the pattern, one is lace and the other is colorwork. (These patterns will both be in my forthcoming book on Lithuanian knitting, in case you’re wondering.)
Heel. You can work pretty much any kind of heel you want on a cuff down sock. I usually do socks with flaps and turns. Sometimes I’ll work a short row heel. I almost never do an afterthought heel unless I want to do a heel with colorwork and then I do the afterthought heel because it can be knit in the round. For the Stories In Stitches 3 socks, I used flaps and turns on the Flying Fish and Dancing Stitches socks and a short row heel on the Hiroshima Peace Socks. (I really did not want to do a flap and turn in double knitting, plus I like how the short row heel works in that simple, elegant design.)
- Heel Flap. A heel flap is just a rectangle worked on 1/2 of the stitches in the sock–or 1 more or 1 less if you want to center the pattern on the heel a certain way. You can work it in plain stockinette stitch, put garter stitch on the side edges (see the right sample in the photo) or use heel stitch, where you slip every other stitch on RS rows (see the left sample in the photo). Usually you slip the first stitch of every row to create a chain edge up the side of the sock, where each edge stitch is actually “stretched” out over 2 rows of knitting. This makes it very easy to pick up stitches on the sides of the heel flap later, which is what you have to do to get back to knitting in the round for the foot.
- Heel Turn. The heel turn is what makes the heel into a little box that turns the 90-degree angle from leg to foot. Some heel turns are quite rectangular, while others are curved more. The rectangular ones only work because knitting is stretchy and the soft fabric will mold itself to your foot. The curved ones are a little bit harder to keep track of when you’re knitting but many people prefer the fit. (The oldest heels were just made by knitting a big heel flap, folding it in half, and seaming it on the bottom with 3-needle bind off! How’s that sound for comfort?) A heel turn is worked on a few stitches on the center of the heel flap, and at the end of each row, stitches are joined to the unused stitches from the heel flap with decreases. In the photo below, you can see the French heel on the right, which has a flap that has curves worked into it because as you work the flap, each row is a little longer than the previous row. The sock on the left has a Dutch heel which is a true rectangle.
- Short Row Heel. I think of a short row heel as a giant heel turn. You can also think of it as a flap and turn with the first half of the clamshell (where you knit fewer and fewer stitches in each row) as the flap and the second half of the clamshell (where you knit more and more stitches in each row as the heel turn. Here you can see a short row heel, with the diagonal line marking the points where the second half rows get longer and longer and join to the rows from the first half. You can use any kind of short row turn you like. Sometimes I do wrap and turns, sometimes I do yarn over turns, and sometimes I do German double-stitch turns. The last one is my current favorite. It’s really tight and tidy and there are no extra stitches or wraps or markers to mess with.
I’m running out now for a family visit so check back soon for the rest of the cuff down sock details!