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The Joy of Toe-Up Socks

Mar 27, 2009

Note from Sandi: There's more than one way to work a sock, as many long-time sock knitters will tell you. Most of us learn to make them by starting at the cuff--but if you find that this method isn't making you happy, then perhaps you could try knitting socks from the toe up. Here to explain this versatile and easy technique is an excerpt from Interweave Knits Summer 2007 by Ann Budd, author of Interweave's Getting Started Knitting Socks. Ann's a huge fan of handknit socks herself. (Ann's bio states that she has not worn a store-bought sock in years, and has never met a handknit sock she didn't like!) Here's Ann!


Working Socks From The Toe Up

In general, I like to knit socks from the top down, beginning with a cast-on at the top of the leg and ending with the Kitchener stitch at the tip of the toe. But sometimes it's practical (and preferable) to work in the opposite direction--from the tip of the toe to the top of the leg. With this method, you cast on stitches at the tip of the toe, work the foot to the desired length, work short-rows to shape the heel, then work the leg to the desired length, finishing with a flexible bind-off at the top of the leg. One advantage of the toe-up method is that you can try on the socks at any point along the way to make sure that they fit just right.

Another advantage of toe-up sock knitting is that the heel is shaped in short-rows without a heel flap or gussets. You won't have to count rows in the heel flap or pick up stitches for the gussets, which can be particularly helpful if you're working with a highly textured yarn that obscures individual stitches or you tend to have trouble seeing the stitches. And best of all for many knitters, when you work from the toe up, you don't have to work the Kitchener stitch.

Working socks from the toe up is also a good idea if you're worried about running out of yarn. Begin with two balls of equal size, one for each sock. Work the foot to the desired length while you have lots of yarn, then continue up the leg as far as you can before the ball runs out. This is a great way to economize with expensive yarn--buy a single ball for each sock and use every precious yard.

-- Ann Budd

The full version of this article, complete with detailed how-to information and stitch number charts, appears in the Summer 2007 issue of Interweave Knits. Check it out!

If you'd like a step-by-step guide to knitting socks, including size and gauge charts and basic stitch patterns, ask for Getting Started Knitting Socks by Ann Budd at your local yarn shop, or buy it here

 Want to try a toe-up sock?
 Here's two great free toe-up sock patterns!

If you've never tried toe-up sock knitting before and want a great free sock pattern, there's two in our FREE sock pattern ebook!

The Caspian Sea Socks are a knockout, with an intricate colorwork design, down to the patterned soles. This free sock pattern comes complete with detailed full-color charts and step-by-step instructions.

The William Street Socks were designed based on Ann Budd's article mentioned above, and sport big thick cables which stretch to cushion your feet...or the feet of someone you love! This sock pattern is appropriate for either men or women, and is specially designed to fit larger feet--because everyone deserves a pair of handknit socks!

This easy sock pattern is available in our FREE sock pattern ebook:

Knitting Socks with Knitting Daily:
7 Free Sock Knitting Patterns


Sandi Wiseheart is the founding editor of Knitting Daily.

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DeannaH@3 wrote
on Mar 31, 2009 2:20 PM
I've seen a few comments by people saying you can do a heal flap on toe up socks but I've never seen instructions for doing that! I love toe up socks because I can use up as much of my yarn as possible but I don't like short row heals very much. Maybe you could share with us the secret of toe up socks with heal flaps?
Kate M. wrote
on Mar 30, 2009 9:12 AM
After struggling with Kitchener stitch for many years, I had an epiphany one day: I never have trouble working-in my ends with duplicate stitch on the wrong side, so I turned my sock toes inside-out and did Kitchener from the wrong side. It worked like a charm! My current socks-in-progress is a pair from the toe up. I am so happy to have learned how to do both simultaneously, and highly recommend that technique to anyone. In addition to obviating second-sock syndrome, the work is easier to take along, since I no longer have to travel with a handful of sticks. And I used to be a die-hard DPN user; after all, my Mom and Nana did...
on Mar 30, 2009 8:18 AM
I love a knee sock! I have tried several versions form IW Knits: The Eunny Entrelac Sock The Ann Budd ribbed knee high The "Bettie's Lace Stockings" from the Spring '09 issue I have gotten down the eastern toe cast-on, and I was challenged by the invisible/provisional CO w/ the short row toe from "Betties". That pattern suffered from a little too much editing in the short row instructions. i finall decided you meant for me to K3tog with the two wrapped stitches on the turning rows---hmmm? My problem is FIT with the short-row heel. I have a high instep, and seem to need more space there than the heel with no gusset provides. I either add stitches there, or change needle sizes. Someone stated that the gusset heel can be worked toe-up, also. So far, I have not seen a pattern with that technique. Then when i get to the calf, I often find the size is meant for a much smaller woman. I am about 15" around the calf. And taller. A knee sock that is either too large or too small will do that annoying creeping down thing! I would welcome a more in-depth design/artcle to address custom-fitting these areas, as well.
Thammy wrote
on Mar 30, 2009 7:32 AM
I prefer to knit from the top down and just recently learned how to do so on the only reason for me to knit from the toe-up is if I might run out of yarn. A tip: pull out the kitchen scale and weigh the yarn. I bought one ball of yarn and weighed it. Divided the weight in half and wound the yarn into two balls weighing that amount. I did this for a pattern knitting two socks at the same time on circulars. It worked. I had exactly enough yarn to knit both socks.
JoanS@2 wrote
on Mar 29, 2009 11:25 AM
Ann said - "Another advantage of toe–up sock knitting is that the heel is shaped in short–rows without a heel flap or gussets." As stated above, any heel shaping can be worked in any direction, so the knitter can choose whichever fits better, etc. If a heel flap/gusset is chosen for a toe-up, you don't have to re-engineer the shaping at all. Just start heel flap when you have about 3" left to go for foot length, then follow your preferred heel turning and gussets. The flap will end up *under* the heel, a very good place for the reinforcement, especially if the socks are worn with open back sandals/shoes where conventional reinforcement would go to waste. If you do want to wear inside shoes with backs, then cont. the heel st up the back portion while you're going on with the gussets. I make almost all my socks toe-up so that I can use the yarn amt I have, and I split about 50/50 between short-rows and flap/gusset. It's fun to have options as I'd get bored doing the same thing every time. Joan Schrouder
M.M wrote
on Mar 28, 2009 4:43 AM
Three copies must mean there was a teeny computer glitch somewhere. I WISH all my glitches were this insignificant. No worries, gals at Interweave, you're doing a great job bringing us all your FREE daily postings. I'm also a IK & IC subsriber, so this is a wonderful supplement to those fantastic issues chock full of info. Thanks again!
RebeccaA wrote
on Mar 27, 2009 11:06 PM
Love your sky blue socks with your red patent Mary Jane shoes! What fun! Per my 2008 New Year's Resolution to be a more "adventurous knitter," I finally finished Eunny Jang's entrelac socks. Mine were lime green alternated with a variegated yellow/lime/turquoise colorway. I don't know when - or if - I will wear them, but I am happy with the result. (As you know, they were "toe-up" socks also!) Currently, I have just started the "Vintage Socks" - again, toe-up socks - from the Fall 2008 issue of INTERWEAVE KNITS. Although they were shown in brown, I am making them in - what else? - grape purple!
JackieG wrote
on Mar 27, 2009 9:22 PM
Is it possible to feature crocheted socks, too?
NJC wrote
on Mar 27, 2009 6:33 PM
I can't download the patterns because it keeps telling me to register... then tells me I am already registered.
Gail wrote
on Mar 27, 2009 3:48 PM
I have received The Joy of Toe-up Socks email 3 times today...Once will is enough!...To my knowledge, I have only one subscription and this has never happened before....
Lynn G. wrote
on Mar 27, 2009 2:18 PM
I also have received three copies of today's email. I haven't received multiples of any other emails today, so the problem must be on your end. Please check it out!
Tara S wrote
on Mar 27, 2009 2:10 PM
I love the red patent shoes and blue socks! How do you get your shoes to fit with handknit socks? So far I have to wear my socks as slippers because my shoes are too tight with them. Maybe I have to go buy myself some pretty red patent shoes a size larger than usual?!
BeverlyN wrote
on Mar 27, 2009 1:47 PM
Hi Ann Thank you for all the help you've given me on sock knitting and pattern making in general. I just want to note that you can make short row heels on top down socks as easily as you can on toe up. The heel shape is the same in either direction. You can also do the flap heel on toe up, but I think you have to knit it backwards from top down. So, the only reasons to knit toe up would be fitting the socks as you go, fear of running out of yarn, and fear of Kitchener. Not good enough reasons, in my opinion, to abandon top dwn.
JoyH wrote
on Mar 27, 2009 1:18 PM
Ladies: I received three (3) copies of todays newsletter, one right after the other. One is sufficient. lol. J Heiens