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Archive for the ‘swatch’ Category

Top-Down Socks – Heel Flap 2

The Stockinette Flap

Stockinette Heel Flap

This is probably the simplest and most classic heel flap of all.  First I’ll give you the pluses and minuses and then the how-to.

The Pros:

  1. It’s easy.  Really easy.
  2. It’s the easiest of all heels to repair if it gets a hole.
  3. It feels smooth and looks smooth and classic.

The Cons:

  1. It can actually be kind of boring.
  2. It’s the most likely to need repair.

For me the pros definitely outweigh the cons.  This is the sock heel that I use THE MOST (at least on top-down socks).  It feels good in my shoes, it looks good, it’s easy.  Trifecta.

The How:

Row 1: To get started, knit across the stitches (1/2 of the total stitches in the sock) that you’ve designated for the heel.  DO NOT GO ON IN THE ROUND!  You’re going to go back and forth now, so TURN so that the purl side is facing you.

Row 2: With the purl side facing you and working back across the stitches just knit, slip the first stitch purlwise, with the yarn in front, then purl to the end of the heel. Turn to the knit side.

Row 3: Slip the first stitch purlwise, with the yarn in back, then knit to the end of the heel.  Turn.

Row 4: Slip the first stitch purlwise, with the yarn in front, then purl to the end of the heel.  Turn.

Repeat rows 3 and 4 until you have as many rows in the heel as you have stitches in the heel.  In other words, if you have 28 stitches across your heel flap, then you want to make it 28 rows tall.  Usually.

What do I mean “usually?”  Well, here’s the very best place to customize the fit of your sock.  The flap of the heel should reach from the place where your ankle bends in back to the very bottom “corner” of your heel.  Some of us have tall heels and high insteps and some of us have low heels and a lower instep.  What is your foot like?  To find out, do the heel flap as written – an equal number of stitches and rows.  This is sometimes referred to as a “square” heel.  Then try it on (yes, with the needles in there!) and see if the flap begins and ends at the right place.

Remember, the top of the heel flap (where you divided it from the leg) should be right at the place where your ankle bends.  The bottom of the heel flap should be almost exactly at the bottom “corner” of your heel (on my foot, that’s right where the.  You want to slightly stretch the flap when you’re checking.

If it’s too short, work another couple of rows.  If it’s too long, rip out a few.  You do want to make sure that the last row of your heel flap is a purled row.

Next, we’ll talk about the Slip Stitch Heel Flap.  It may be a few days, as I’ll be away in Wyoming over the weekend, and I need tomorrow to pack.  And to finish the mittens I’m knitting because it’s COLD in Northern Wyoming, and I don’t own any gloves that have fingers.  I never needed ’em here in Hot Antonio and fingerless gloves are SO MUCH faster to knit!

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Top-Down Socks – Heel Flap 1

Don’t you just love the word “flap?”  I can almost see things flapping along when I hear it!  Today we’re going to talk about my favorite kind of flap – a heel flap!

The heel flap is a squarish/rectangular bit that’s knit across (usually) half of the total sock stitches.  It extends the back of the sock from the bottom of the ankle all the way to the floor.  And yes, this will look really weird!  The heel flap is also, in my opinion, the most crucial part of the sock for fitting.

Before beginning the heel flap, we want to separate the top-of-foot (instep) stitches those that will become the bottom-of-foot (sole) stitches.  If you’re using double-pointed needles, you can simply work in pattern to the place where you want the heel flap to start, and then, while working the first heel flap row, work the heel flap stitches all onto one needle.  If you’re using one of the circular needle methods, you will want to rearrange your stitches, if necessary, so that all the heel flap stitches are together.

When dividing instep from sole, it’s nice to try to center it nicely.  For example, if your sock leg is in k2-p2 rib, you probably want to stop after doing  just one knit of the two-stitch knit rib so that the split between instep and sole is pleasantly symmetrical  (k1, p2,k2…k2, p2, k1).  If this is too confusing, don’t worry.  No one will ever know but you unless they are WAY too close to your feet.

So.  You have all your stitches divided up and ready to go?  You’re almost ready!  You still have to decide what type of flap you want: a plain stockinette flap, a cushy heel-stitch flap, or a fancier flap.

Tomorrow (and yes, I do mean TOMORROW):  The stockinette flap.

Top-Down Socks – Leg

Now that you’ve cast on, and presumable done a bit of ribbing for the cuff, you have a choice.  Either continue with ribbing all the way down the leg, or just do an inch  or so of ribbing and finish the leg in some other stitch pattern.  Your choice!

The only thing you want to remember is not to make the leg too long.  It can be as short as you like, but calf anatomy limits the leg.  Basically, you don’t want the leg to be long enough to need calf shaping, unless you plan to go all the way to the knee, in which case, it’s technically a stocking, not a sock.  Just make sure that your sock-leg won’t go higher than the base of the gastrocnemius muscle (aka calf muscle – but gastrocnemius is fun to say).  For most legs, that means about 8 inches max – maybe 9 inches for a tall guy or 6 for a small woman.

Anyhoo, just make the leg as long as you want it!  Easy!

Top-Down Socks – Cast-on (part 2)

A sock needs a VERY STRETCHY cast-on (unless you want a sock that cuts off your circulation).  You can try to do a long-tail cast-on loosely enough that it will work, or you can do other tricks, like casting on 50% more stitches than you need and then decreasing them away in the first round.  OR – you can just do a cast-on that is inherently more stretchy.

My favorite stretchy cast on for socks (and hats and gloves and anything else that needs a LOT of stretch) is the Twisted German cast-on, also sometimes called the Twisted Norwegian cast-on, or as my friend and former boss Melanie called it, the Twisted Drunken Crazy German cast-on.

So, without further adieu, here ’tis!  The second video shows how to join stitches to knit in the round and conceal the jog at the beginning of the round.  ENJOY!

Top-Down Socks – Cast-on (part 1)

It’s finally time!  Hooray!

First, a small bit of math to figure out how many to cast on.  First, look at the ankle and foot circumference measurements.  If they are within ½ inch of one another, we’ll use the smaller of the two.  Socks need “negative ease“, so we don’t want the bigger number unless it’s a LOT bigger.  If the difference between ankle and foot circumference is greater than ½ inch, use the ankle measurement alone.  Take that number and multiply it by 0.9 (to get the negative ease), then multiply that by your stitch gauge (stitches/inch).  Round the results it to the nearest whole number.

Ankle or foot measurement (whichever is smaller)___________ x ___________ sts/in ≈ ___________ sts for cuff

If you’re lucky, this number is exactly what you need for your stitch pattern to work out.   Say you want to do k2p2 ribbing for the cuff and your math gave you a number divisible by 4 – that’s LUCK!!  Most likely, it’s not.  So, round it again.  In most cases, you want to round down to the necessary number of stitches, but if the stitch is particularly inflexible, you may need to round up.

Tomorrow: techniques for casting on

Top-Down Socks – Measurements

So, you’ve swatched and measured and done some math (stitches ÷ inches = sts/in).  Now what?

Well, now you measure the foot and do some more math.  Start by tracing the foot in question, holding the pencil perpendicular to the floor (betcha thought you’d never have to do that again after 3rd grade, huh?).  Now measure the foot from the tip of the biggest toe to the back of the heel.  Why trace instead of just measuring?  Two reasons: 1) it’s easier to measure a flat piece of paper than a foot held awkwardly at a decent measuring angle; and 2) tracing automatically adds a tad to the length of the foot which will make for a better fit lengthwise.

Now the circumference measurements – you want to measure snugly just behind the ball of the foot and around the ankle, just above the ankle bone.  For most people, these two measurements are nearly the same, varying only by about ½ inch.  (Occasionally, there will be a larger difference, usually because of an injury or edema.  In that case, you’ll have to fit the foot and ankle separately)

Those are all the measurements you need.  If you want further refinement, you can do one more – a heel height measurement.  To do this, hold a ruler behind the heel while standing and measure from the floor to the place where the heel and ankle join (where the back of the heel bends).  It may help to put a wee mark on the bendy spot first and get a helper to do the measuring, as this one is quite difficult to do on your own foot.

So, your measurements are complete: Ankle circumference, foot circumference, foot length, heel height (that last is optional).

Next: Casting On!

Top-Down Socks – Needles

What needles to use for your sock-knitting needs is very personal.  It depends on how tightly or loosely you knit and what materials feel good in your hands.  Basically, though, you need to make 3 decisions:  needle size, needle material, and needle configuration.

Needle Size: Many people just go with the recommendation on the ball band of the yarn they’ve chosen, which usually suggests a US size 2 (2.75mm) needle.  With apologies to all the sock yarn manufacturers, that’s just too darn big.  Socks need to be knitted tightly if they’re going to last.  That means that if you use fingering weight yarn, you need to get a gauge of at least 7 stitches per inch (unless you like holes in the toes).  8 or 9 sts/in is even better!  Unless you’re a SUPER TIGHT knitter, you won’t be able to get that small of a gauge with a size 2 (2.75mm) needle.  I generally use a US size 0 (2mm) needle, sometimes a US size 1 (2.25mm) if the yarn is on the thick side.  In order to find YOUR sock needle size, I’m afraid you’re going to have to swatch.  I’ll have swatching instructions later in the series.

Needle Material: Wood?  Steel?  Bamboo?  Plastic (oh please no)?  Bronze?  I’ve seen and used them all.  This is mostly a personal preference issue.  I, personally, hate plastic needles for socks.  They’re not strong enough and they suck.  All of the others are quite nice!  I usually suggest that sock beginners start with wood or bamboo.  Wood/bamboo needles aren’t as slick nor as heavy as metal needles, making them less likely to slip out of the stitches on their own and thus making sock-newbies less nervous.  Once you gain confidence, do experiment with metal needles.  They can be delightful!  Metal needles are also better for both very tight knitters and very loose knitters.  Tight knitters like them because they let the stitches slip better and very loose knitters need them, because the slippery metal forces them to tighten up.  Moderately tight to moderately loose knitters can choose whatever needle they like!

Needle Configuration:  There are four ways to make small diameter knitted tubes (like socks).  I’ll address each one briefly, but they really each need their own post.  Even though almost all sock knitters (including me!) have one definite preference, I really suggest that you try each of the three “good” ways.  You don’t know which you’ll like until you try them all (like ice cream – you have to try all the flavors before you know your “favorite,” right?), so I hope you won’t let my own preference influence you too much!  And I welcome comments about your favorite method!

  1. 9″-long circular needles.  Don’t use them.  Period.  I know some people like them, but they have some problems.  First, the “needle” section is far too short – usually only just over 1″ long, which is just plain awkward to work with.  Second, most socks are less than 9″ in circumference, which means that they’ll have to be stretched HARD around the needle, which will make the knitter unconsciously knit them too loosely.  They just suck and they’re not worth it.
  2. 2 medium-length circular needles.  This works extremely well for working 2 socks at a time, since there’s usually plenty of room for both socks.   It’s a little tricky to learn, but once you understand the process, it’s fairly straightforward.   For some knitters, using 2-circs helps prevent loose stitches (ladders) where you change from one needle to the other, though, to be honest, for some knitters, they make the ladders worse.  Basically, the idea is that you knit half the stitches with the two ends of one needle and the other half with the other needle.  For looser knitters, this is often a fairly easy method, though tighter knitters may become frustrated with pushing the stitches up from the narrower cable section of the needle up to the bigger needle tip section.  Others will find the “flying spaghetti monster” aspect of all the dangling needles annoying.
  3. 1 long circular needle – Magic Loop.  I find Magic Loop easier to teach than 2-circs, but the two methods are very similar.  Choosing between them is purely a matter of personal preference.  With the Magic Loop, the entire sock is on one needle, but a loop of cable is pulled out between the two halves and that loop maintained throughout the sock knitting process, essentially making the one circular needle function as two.  Magic Loop has all the other pluses and minuses of 2-circs, but has two advantages.  One is cost.  Buying one needle is cheaper than buying two, obviously!  The other is that with Magic Loop it’s a little easier for beginners to see where they are.  The other is that there is no dangling “spaghetti monster.”
  4. The Old Classic – Double-Pointed Needles (DPNs).  These are classic for a reason.  It’s the easiest method to teach, the easiest to learn, and favored by the majority of sock knitters (about 60%, in my experience).  They come in different lengths, and I find the 6″ length best for socks (and mittens).  Tighter knitters prefer them because they don’t have to push stitches over the “bump” between cable and needle tip as on circular needles. Show-offy knitters like them because they look much harder to use than they are.   They’re simple and basic.  They’re also my favorite, so I’m a bit biased, and that’s what I’ll be using in the upcoming posts!

So?  Want to know my favorite needles for socks?  Mostly I use wood or bamboo DPNs.  My current sock-in-progress is on size 1 Knitpicks DPNs.  I also frequently use KA bamboo DPNs and HiyaHiya steel DPNs (available in sizes down to 000000).  I also use KA and HiyaHiya circs occasionally.  (KA and HiyaHiya needles are available through Yarnivore.)  My husband (yes, he knits, too, and makes all his own socks) has a drool-worthy set of hot-forged bronze DPNs from Celtic Swan Forge and I’m hoping for a sterling silver set from them one day.

Tomorrow: Swatching!

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