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The Eternal Debate

Nov 11, 2010

Occasionally, among those of us who consider ourselves sock knitters, a lively discussion can break out around one very important topic: Is it better to knit socks from the toe up, or top down? Even among the Interweave Knits staff, there are varying opinions. A very quick and informal poll reveals that most of us prefer to knit toe up, while a small percentage prefer top down.

Me? I'm lazy and will pretty much do whatever the pattern tells me to do. I have long feet, so one of the benefits to knitting toe-up socks is that I can easily try on the foot as I go to make sure it will be long enough. But since I usually use the Magic Loop method, I can usually do that with my top-down socks just as easily. Yarn conservation is another big reason to go toe up; by dividing a skein in half, I can easily use up as much yarn as possible when knitting toe up and make sure that my socks fit perfectly. This is especially helpful when using skeins that have shorter yardage, but now that so many yarns come in longer skeins, that's not always a problem. (An aside, I just discovered that the lovely ladies at Lorna's Laces are now producing 100g skeins of Shepherd Sock; color me excited!)

Being ambivalent about the beginnings of my socks, I'm so excited that the sock section of the Knits Winter 2010 issue features both toe-up and top-down constructions. Judy Alexander's Pinked Socks, Lisa D. Jacobs's Art Deco Argyle Stockings, and Kari Anderson's Stranded Boot Stockings are all written from the top down.


Pinked Socks, Art Deco Argyle Stockings, Stranded Boot Stockings

On the flip side, Jenna Hurry's Alpha Stockings and Chrissy Gardiner's Pavo Slipper Socks are both toe-up. The Alpha Stockings use the Middle Eastern cast-on, while the Pavo Slipper Socks use Judy's Magic Cast-On, which I've never used. Patterns that use new-to-me techniques inevitably get moved toward the top of my "to-knit list," and given that today is the first day it's snowed in northern Colorado, I'll probably attempt to knit up a pair of these for myself soon.


Alpha Stockings, Pavo Slipper Socks

So, sock knitters, which is it? Toe up, or top down?

P.S. - Are you on Twitter? You can now follow Lisa Shroyer and me!

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RobinH wrote
on Dec 22, 2010 7:05 AM

I'm with Tammy T- large feet (and not just me, everyone else in my family is large-footed too) means that I default to toe-up so I don't run out of yarn.  But I like trying different patterns, so I do knit cuff-down occasionally when the pattern calls for it.  But I won't start a top down sock with less than 450 yards of yarn...unless I have a contrasting color I can use for the toes if I run out.   (And sometimes I run out even when I do have 450 yards.  Argh.)

edy50dr wrote
on Nov 18, 2010 8:04 AM

Learned last year to knit top down with 'Magic Loop' . Too slow for me so I switched to Addi Lace or Turbo 9" circular needles for size needles 0-3. I use a 12" for size 4-5.  Now I knit faster and no 'ladders'! When at the toe and there are not a lot of stitches left it becomes hard to knit in the round so I just switch the needle with a longer circular needle so I can 'Magic Loop' the toe. Most patterns that I've come across so far usually have instructions for double points. No problem, I just place markers on my circular to mimic double points and I'm a happy sock knitter! Even with a 'magic loop' pattern I just place markers. I've made 7 pairs so far.

I will try toe up someday out of curiosity but have too many pretty top down sock patterns to try right now.

on Nov 15, 2010 10:43 AM

Good luck to tamarque and the jury duty knitting. I tried to take my knitting to jury duty and was turned back at the door--NO knitting needles allowed in the courthouse--had to take them back to my car. :(

TammyT wrote
on Nov 14, 2010 6:59 PM

Die hard "toe up with dpns" knitter here.  I started doing toe up because I have monstrous feet (US 10-11w).  I had a couple of failures with top down socks both with fit and with running out of yarn.  After years of doing Wendy Johnson's (of toe up techniques -especially with her gusset heel- there is no reason to knit socks any other way.  I can fit them perfectly every time and I don't have to do a heel flap (which I hate- both knitting them and wearing them).  I also really enjoy doing short row toes.  

lindameziere wrote
on Nov 14, 2010 6:54 PM

Toe up for sure so I can more easily conserve my yarn and not run out.

DevoZ wrote
on Nov 14, 2010 3:32 PM

Toe up for sure, I just get a better fit, just not with a diamond heel, pretty though.

kathyo. wrote
on Nov 14, 2010 7:59 AM

I slightly favor top down simply because I don't have to think about it so much, having knit socks that way for years and years... My niece is still thinking on it since she just started down the road of hand knitting... at first it was only loom knitting for her!  But I knit her a pair of socks and now she 'wants to know more.... " LOL

roselin wrote
on Nov 13, 2010 11:03 PM

I have only done top-up socks but what I like is two at a time, so I don't have to go backand start all over agan.

aeissler wrote
on Nov 13, 2010 9:06 PM

I'm currently finishing the first sock of my second pair. The first pair I made only fit the 6'7" husband of a friend!

This time I'm using size 0 needles and new pattern, "Not Rocket Science Socks." Met the lady who wrote it at Houston Quilt Show last Friday. Only had to tear out about half a sock once, but am now gliding along swimmingly. In fact, purchased purple alpaca for second pair this afternoon!

Top down with dp needles so far. Recently received Top Down book. Ordered longer needles as loose-ish knitting occasionally falls off back end of needle while I'm watching Uof Houston Cougars lose game to Tulsa - ACKKKKK! If Texans do well tomorrow, I might almost finish the second sock of the pair. Think good thoughts!

Eungella wrote
on Nov 13, 2010 3:08 PM

Top down, definitely :)

on Nov 13, 2010 12:33 PM

I am a DPN and so far a top-down knitter -- I have not yet attempted the toe-up version.

JaneD@11 wrote
on Nov 13, 2010 7:52 AM

I do the toe-up version.  I have a long narrow foot & the normal every other row increases makes a sock too wide too quickly, so I came up with my own 60 stitch version & then adapt it to various instep & cuff designs.

on Nov 13, 2010 7:24 AM

Tamarque, interesting that you can knit while doing jury duty. In Cook County, where I live, they don't let people bring knitting needles into the court house. I just assumed it was the same everywhere.

I've been knitting since December, and am attempting my first pair of socks, top-down. Any and all advice would be appreciated!

tamarque wrote
on Nov 13, 2010 5:39 AM

I have tried both methods this year--first time sock knitter.  Acutally my first 2 pair were in crochet which went very well.  I like the toe up for the neatness of the toe with Judy's Magic Cast on but still have not found the 'perfect' bind off for my very wide calfs.  Even the EB sewn bindoff is too tight unless sewn super loosely.

Needless to say the top down worked really well with a vey stretchy cast on.

My next socks will be for my granddaughter with her long thin legs.  The toe up will work as I plan on doing these while sitting jury duty over the next few weeks.  Once begun, the knitting will not require too much close attention.  Some of the Paton's Kroy sock yarn self-striping has a patten similar to Fair Isle which gives color, pattern and ease of knitting.  Can't wait to begin these.

on Nov 13, 2010 5:13 AM

EH writes:  Silver's Sock Class on-line is the best I have ever used.  It goes toe-up on the Magic Loop.  I need narrow socks and this pattern let me try on as I went.  I was able to use up almost all of the yarn as the cuffs became longer.

BeKKnits wrote
on Nov 12, 2010 3:13 PM

I have knittted five pairs and they have all been top down following the patterns in Ann Budd's Getting Started Knitting Socks book. But once my issue comes maybe I will try the Pavo Slipper Socks.

P.S. I love those Argyle socks.

AmyPalmer wrote
on Nov 12, 2010 2:35 PM

Thanks for the feedback, ladies!

@Jean02, that's a really good idea for top-down yarn conservation!

jean02 wrote
on Nov 12, 2010 12:30 AM

I like top down.  I find it easier to fit socks top down -- it's easier to add/subtract rows nearing the toe than to guess where to start the gusset increases etc.  Of course, if doing an afterthought heel, it doesn't matter.

If the sock is plain & I'm worried about having enough yarn, I start from a provisional CO just before the heel.  Then when the foot is done, I can pick up and knit the cuff up--best of both worlds.

Zoe wrote
on Nov 11, 2010 9:59 PM

Hi, I started out knitting when I was 10.  My Mom taught me and this was not easy for her to do because she knits English style and she taught me to knit continental style.  My first knitting project was a pair of red socks!  I had some 7" dpns to use.  I started the basic sock from the cuff down.  I still have the sock and as we moved at the time they were under construction, only one got made.

I am a dpn sock knitter from the cuff down and that is my preference mainly because that is my destressing comfort zone.

I did try Cat B's houdini sock from the toe up using the Turkish cast on (same as middle Eastern).  As I have never steeked anything, the sock turned into green insoles for my slippers!

A few months ago my Mom came over with her long circular needle and some yarn.  We were going to learn the magic loop toe up technique together.  I found the video and together with much giggling and stitches lost, we attempted it!  We did honestly do a few rounds each before deciding that the dpns were the way to go!

NinaT wrote
on Nov 11, 2010 6:57 PM

If I'm using a pattern, I'll do what it says. If I'm making plain/ribbed socks, I do toe up.

ALA wrote
on Nov 11, 2010 2:55 PM

I'm pretty happy with either. It happens that I'm just finishing my first toe-up pair, using Judy's Magic Cast-on, and I have really liked making them ... but I still enjoy top-down just as much.