A Foray into Toe-Up Socks, i

I’ve never made a toe-up sock in my life. There is quite a following for the process, and many reasons people give for making them. One is that they can try them on as they go along. Another is that they can better gauge the amount of yarn needed to complete them. I’ll buy the former, but the latter . . . not so sure. When I find myself getting short of yarn, I just make my toes in other colors. I also make ankle socks a lot, so that does not happen too often for me.

Recently, numerous books have come out about the toe-up sock. Several years ago, Anna Zilboorg hit the knitting scene with her colorful Turkish socks, Fancy Feet: Traditional Knitting Patterns of Turkey. Priscilla Gibson Roberts also published a book on their knitting and history, Ethnic Socks and Stockings: A Compendium of Eastern Design and Technique. These were the only two knitting books of which I was aware that even mentioned starting a sock from the toe.

Wendy Johnson just published her book, Socks from the Toe Up. I don’t think Western socks – the style and structure – had any toe-up information until recently. Wendy has provided the sock-knitting community a great deal of information about toe-up socks, and many of her patterns are free and very pretty – very generous of her!

Wendy, the internet and Ravelry and blogs and online videos are opening doors to Western-style, toe-up socks. Variety in toe structure, heel structure, gusset or no gusset, abound. These entries will be my own explorations of the toe-up sock.

Toe Techniques

I’m going to start out by saying that I have started about six socks in the past two weeks using various toe-up techniques. It’s been really frustrating, and I am actually surprised that I have even continued! I am not a patient person, and getting frustrated with yarn and needles in combination with written words does not bring out the best in me.

That said, let’s consider a few toe-up beginnings.

Provisional Cast-On

Bluntly, what is the point of a provisional cast on for a toe-up sock?

Nonetheless, in the endeavor to learn, I slogged away at it, crocheting up some waste-yarn, knitting into the bumps, and knit the very first toe-up.  Trying to see the bumps was difficult.  On to the second try.  I ripped out the provisional crochet, and found a video on using a crochet hook to create a provisional cast-on.  This video was a great little demo:

I did it quite easily.  I cast on the required number of stitches and proceeded to follow directions.  Then the next toe-up sock monster reared its head:  The Wrapped Stitch.

Wrapping & Turning Stitches (W&T)

I’ve never officially wrapped a stitch in my life, so trying to figure it out was not easy. Once I did, it wasn’t anything difficult; in fact, it is downright embarrassing to admit that it took me hours to try to interpret the English. The fact is, when I turn a sock heel, I am already wrapping a stitch – it just was never called this.

This is where good illustrations, and better, a video, solve the problem. I find that there are some videos which are better than others. Cat Bordhi won hands-down for the subject of a wrapped stitch. Take a look at Part One:

This explains the wrapped stitch. Okay! (I wonder, though, isn’t she unwrapping her stitch???)  No matter; I now know what a wrapped stitch is.

Now, take a look at Part II:

Her explanations are incredibly clear – her stories are rather hilarious – and what was a mystery is one no more.

Still, I see no point in a provisional cast-on for a toe of a sock, and for nearly anything else I knit.  That said, it was a great learning experience – after all, that is what all this toe-up sock knitting is supposed to be!

Turkish Cast-On

What I love about Zilboorg’s book is that she gives fairly pithy directions that are incredibly clear (at least to me) for this method of starting a sock.  I had it figured out, and was off and running in no time.  There are actually two ways of doing this type of cast on – the first one, you just wrap the yarn around both needles, and the second, the yarn is woven in and out of the needles in a figure-eight shape.  Both methods are pretty easy, but the first rows are not the finest until you are well practiced in the methods.  Once more, Cat Bordhi comes along with a very nice video describing Judy Becker’s method of doing a figure-eight cast-on.  The result is a very evenly tensioned toe beginning.

My opinion:  this is the best way to begin a toe-up sock.

How many needles to use?

I knit my socks on three needles, using the fourth for stitches.   After struggling with four needles, I actually used my brain and figured out that all I need to do, once the toe is started, is to increase the toe stitches in the opposite direction.  Thus, on the instep needle, increase one stitch in from either end.  On the heel needles, increase one stitch before the instep needle, on the second-to-the-last stitch on my first heel needle, work across on the instep, and then on the other heel needle, knit a stitch, increase, and proceed.  So far, so good.  Now I just need to choose the pattern for the sock.

This is what I have accomplished so far.  Turkish cast-on, as learned from Bordhi’s demo, and increases every other round on three needles.  I did eight stitches before beginning the knitting.  The instep needle has a marker dead center.  This way I know how many stitches I have – or should have – on the heel needles, and the instep needle is easily recalled.


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