Monday, February 1, 2010

sock class, part 1: cast on and knit the cuff

These socks will be worked starting at the cuff and working toward the toe. If you're using a "standard" smooth worsted (Cascade 220, Paton's Classic Merino, Plymouth Galway, or a yarn like that), please follow the directions for the 40-stitch sock. If you're using a thicker worsted, such as Bartlett's Maine wool or Peace Fleece, either of the sizes will be useful for this campaign.

I've chosen to work with my favorite, Bartlett's Maine wool.

Although I always use metal needles when I use skinny "sock" yarn, I love to use bamboo with worsted. I'll be casting on and working the cuff in stripes, with the rest of the sock in a different color. You can use stripes, or a broad band of a contrast color, or just do the whole sock in a single color, as you wish. I think I will use the grayish color as my main color, with a stripe each of red, green, and purple at the top.

To begin, you will need a good stretchy cast-on. Long-tail is fine -- when you cast on, leave a wide space between each stitch and the one before it, to ensure adequate stretch. Twisted German cast-on is even stretchier. I often cast on using long-tail in a knit and purl pattern that matches my initial ribbing. Remember -- this part of the sock has to go over the whole ankle; make it stretchy so it's easy to get on and the stitches don't pop. You can find good YouTube videos and written descriptions by using google to search for long-tail cast-on, twisted German cast-on, or purl long-tail cast-on.

Now, more decisions! What ribbing do you want to use? Do you want to use that ribbing for the whole leg? Do you want to use that ribbing for 2 inches and then switch to stockinette? Do you want to start with k1 p1 and then switch to k3 p1 after 8 rows, or 2 inches, or after you've finished your band of contrast color? For this sock, I think I will do the entire cuff in k2 p2 ribbing, including the stripes at the top. My plan is to work 5 rounds in each color, then change to the main color. This, of course, may change. Stripes are fun, make an otherwise unexciting sock a little more interesting, and also allow you to stretch your main color if you're having an episode of yarn insecurity. (Not an issue this time, as I am starting with 4 full skeins, but I have found myself in that situation many times.)

When I make socks, I use 3 needles to hold the stitches and a fourth to work them. Feel free to use a set of 5, two circulars, one long circular, or whatever else may work for you. It's not hard to make the instructions work for a different technique; you're just knitting in a circle, after all.

Have you chosen your needle size? I am a very loose knitter -- unless you are, too, please do not follow blindly but do a little research and choose the needle size that's right for you. For the Maine wool I'm using here, I use a size 7 needle (4.5 mm) when making a sweater or a blanket, to get 4 stitches per inch (16 sts/10 cm). For socks, I use size 5 neeedles (3.75 mm) to get 5 stitches per inch (20 sts/10 cm). It's very, very important to knit socks more tightly than you're used to, or they will develop holes very quickly. If you're using Maine wool or a similar yarn, aim for 5 stitches per inch; if you're using a smoother worsted (such as Cascade 220), aim for 5.5 or even 6.

Cast on 36 (40) stitches. Use a single needle for your cast-on stitches; then divide the stitches among the three working needles. I like to arrange the stitches so that each needle ends with the last stitch in the ribbing pattern. So if, for instance, I will ultimately be using k3 p1 ribbing (a multiple of 4) or k2 p2 ribbing (also a multiple of 4) and I'm making a 40-stitch sock, I'd arrange the stitches over three needles: 12/12/16.

It's important to join the stitches so they are not twisted. If you're worried about that, if you always twist the stitches no matter how hard you try, or if you have trouble with floppy needles before you've knit a few rows, here's an alternative: work the first 3 rows back and forth and then join and knit in the round. You'll have a 3-row seam to sew up at the end, which you can do as part of weaving in the ends.

Work cuff



(The astute reader will say, "Wait a minute! That yarn is blue!" Yes, I serendipitously stumbled across a ball of blue, already wound, and wanted to knit fast so I could give you another photo. I'm easily swayed that way.)

I knit the first two stitches of the first round using both the working yarn and the cast-on tail, to strengthen this potential weak spot.
Work in ribbing of your choice:
for 2 inches, if you plan to continue in stockinette, or
for 8 rows, if you plan to change to k3 p1, or
for 6 (7) inches if you have decided to use the same ribbing from the beginning all the way to the foot

Work until the cuff measures 6 (7) inches. Be aware that for the first several rows, your sock will look much too big. Then the ribbing takes effect and pulls it in nicely -- do not panic and rip out!

next installment: dividing stitches and working the heel flap

4 comments:

Kathy said...

Thanks for doing this, Elizabeth. There's some great information and tips here. I usually knit socks on magic loop but I'm casting on with dpns, for KAL fun!

I'm casting on red Lion's wool on size 5 needles. I do have a twisting issue with dpns so I'm going to try Elizabeth's technique of knitting a few rows straight first.

I'm going to do

Kathy said...

Oops I was cut off. I meant to say, I'm going to do the sock all in red because I've been knitting a lot of stripes lately. I will vary the ribbing for some interest.

Tory said...

OOooh, I love the way you are starting this online class. I have made many socks and don't really need knitting help, but these lessons are surely motivational help, which is even better. Thank you for doing this!

PghCathy said...

I find it helpful to keep a post-it beside me. I make a tic mark for every row & document each step so when I'm ready for the second sock, they'll be the same.

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