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Archive for November 8th, 2007

Sock Planning

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

sock29white.jpgI answered an individual email question from a friend (in Latin America, how cool is that) on the Socknitters Yahoo email list. I realize now that I wrote it that maybe some other knitters out there might be interested in this.

I know that it will be redundant for some of you, and useless for the non-knitters. However, for the knitters who have not learned how to figure out a good fit for socks without following instructions from a pattern, this might be quite useful. It was to my email friend, at any rate.

She wrote (after saying that her first pair of socks were a bit roomy though in the ballpark):


…let me ask you something: it seems that from cuff down, 60 stitches (2.5 metric size needle, 1.5 US) were the good size to me but… no… do you think 54 would be ok?

I replied:
If it felt too big, going down a number of stitches would help. Socks are often a number that can be divided by 4. So 64, 60, 56, 52 are all common numbers. I do not know the size of your stitches or the size of your foot, so I can not say what number you would prefer. You can just try 4 fewer stitches on the next pair (since the 60 seems OK to you) and if that is not enough try 4 less on the next pair… or you can do a little math.Of course I am in the USA, so I often use inches, forgive my clumsiness with cm but I will do my best.

  1. Measure a sock you finished, using yarn like the ones for your new pair and the same needles. Find a place where it is all knit stitches (stocking stitch/stockinette). If you do not have a sock with the same yarn and needles, knit a small tube (swatch) with the desired yarn and needles so that you can measure actual knitting. You can unravel the tube later if you need the extra yarn, but try to save it for future reference if you can. If you write a little note to yourself and attach it to the tube, that helps later.
  2. See how many stitches you have in 10cm (4in) if you can, 5cm (2in) if not. Measure in more than one place to be sure, and part-stitches do count. Divide the number of stitches by the number of cm or inches. It might be that you have 3.2 stitches per cm (I am picking a common number which equals 8 stitches per inch, but you will probably have a different number).
  3. Measure the widest part of your foot, usually the ball of the foot just under the toes is the right place. Find out how many cm around the foot is. For now I will say it measures 20cm (8 inches).
  4. Multiply the number of stitches per cm (in) times the number of cm (inches) in your foot. In this case we will say that it is 20 x 3.2 = 64 (or 8 x 8 = 64).
  5. This would be the number of stitches to make a sock the size of your foot. However, that would mean that the sock would slide around a bit. Socks should be something between 10-20% smaller than the foot. So we can do the math:
    64 x .90 = 57.6 stitches or “10% negative ease”
    64 x .80 = 51.2 stitches or “20% negative ease”

You need an even number, of course. In addition, socks are usually knit on a multiple of 4 stitches. This means that you could choose 56 stitches for a comfy but not too tight sock, or 52 stitches for a snug sock. My mother would like the first number and I would prefer the second, it is a personal choice.

I think this is powerful stuff. A little measuring and you can adjust someone else’s pattern to your size, assuming that the leg portion works for the number of stitches you need to fit properly.

stranded_oscar25.jpgFor the record, the measurements of the ankle and the ball of the foot for most people are within 6.35mm (1/4″). This is why we measure the ball of the foot to size the top of the cuff/leg, particularly when the leg is done in a stretchy motif such as ribbing. Knitting is so flexible that it works out just fine for most of us.

For those who have unusual proportions, they can knit the foot with one number of stitches and the leg with another. That in itself is reason enough to learn how to knit (just ask Diana, for whom I knit my 29th pair of socks shown at top of post… and who now knits her own socks and those of her hubby/my brother… and who is now my test knitter/tech editor/advisor when I write new patterns).

After all, if your feet guarantee that commercial socks will just not fit, it is really great to make custom-fitting ones that are “just right.” That contented Goldilocks is in my vocabulary again!

Oh, and that Diana who now knits her own designs following roughly this same method… well, look at this second photo today. Diana made them for Eric (my bro/her hubby, who also has an unusual-shaped foot)… no pattern, just made them up! Gorgeous.