Reinventing the Sock: Free-Sole!

Half-Stranded Socks
by Anna Zilboorg

Just when I think there's nothing earth-shatteringly new in knitting, something pops up. Sock knitting expert Anna Zilboorg has figured out how to knit socks with replaceable soles.

Her method is advanced, but worth it. And as Anna says, "This would be a lot of bother if it weren't a lot of fun."

The instep of the sock, or "top" of the sock—in the Half-Stranded Socks at right, the colorwork portion—is knitted first. When the instep is completed, the sole of the sock is knitted, including the heel and gusset. The sole is attached as you knit it; in the photo at right, the sole is knitted on to the colored band that runs around the foot and up the leg of the sock.

Here's what Anna has to say about her socks:

Half-Stranded Socks

The colorwork pattern marches up the front and back of the leg to the cuff. For fun, I reversed the colors on the second sock.

This peculiar sock construction enables a stranded color pattern to be worked on the instep alone, which makes the sock fit your normal shoe size. Furthermore, it allows any portion of the sole to be removed and reknitted. If a hole develops, snip a row of yarn on the sole anywhere between the heel turn and the end of toe, then ravel the sole as far as necessary. Replace the sole by picking up stitches and joining them to the instep in the same manner as originally worked, then graft the live stitches at the snipped row.

—Anna Zilboorg

The sole being knitted onto
the instep
The gusset

I find Anna's technique fascinating. I watched the video and here's a quick run-down on how the sole is connected to the instep.

Joining the Sole to the Insole
The first and last stitch of each row of the sole is slipped. When you get to the end of a row, pick up a stitch from instep, slip it back to the left hand needle, and knit it and the last stitch (the slipped stitch) from the sole together. (See photo at left.)

When you get to the gusset, you pick up stitches on the instep without knitting them together with the sole stitches, thereby increasing a stitch on each side, which creates the gusset increases. (See photo at bottom left.)

Then you get to the heel turn, but for that, you'll have to get the video!

The great thing about this knitting technique is that you can use it to join any two pieces of knitting. You just have to remember to slip the appropriate stitches. I love a versatile technique, don't you?

You can download Knit Free-Sole Socks like I did, or get the DVD. Whichever you choose, you won't be sorry. We already knew that Anna was brilliant, but the idea of free-sole socks really takes the cake!


P.S. What do you think of free-sole socks? Leave a comment and let us know!

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Knitting Daily Blog
Kathleen Cubley

About Kathleen Cubley

Hello daily knitters! I'm the editor of Knitting Daily. I've been obsessed with knitting for about ten years now and my favorite projects are sweaters. I like the occasional smaller project, but there's nothing like yards of stockinette with a well-placed cable or a subtle stitch pattern here and there. I crochet a bit now and then—especially when I need to produce a baby blanket in time for the baby shower. I've been in publishing for 20 years and I'm finally exactly where I want to be: at the crossroads of knitting and communication. I live in Spokane, Washington and when I'm not knitting I enjoy gardening, snuggling with my dogs, swimming, reading, and playing in the snow in the winter. But, really, I'm pretty much always knitting!

29 thoughts on “Reinventing the Sock: Free-Sole!

  1. Well, I’m not sure Anna Zilboorg was the first to figure this out. The great Elizabeth Zimmerman has a method for it in her 1981 Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Knitter’s Almanac.

    1. although this piece was written over 3 yrs ago, the IDEA for the sole-replacing socks is much older, I have a pattern for cashmere knit socks with replaceable soles, toes, and heels that was published before WW!!. It is in the public domain. I don’t have time to look for it now, as I have a plethura of knitting ebooks and I don’t remember which one it is in. “What has been will be again,
      what has been done will be done again;
      there is nothing new under the sun.” Eccles 1:9

  2. I must agree with all three comments below – we owe the idea for a resoleable sock to Elizabeth Zimmermann – Anna Zilboorg has just taken it a little step forward…
    I think there should have been at least a mention of EZ in the article…..

  3. I have been knitting Anna Zilboorg’s socks for years and I love them, but I do think that you should have done your research before stating that resoleable socks were “earth shatteringly new”.

  4. I have been knitting Anna Zilboorg’s socks for years and I love them, but I do think that you should have done your research before stating that resoleable socks were “earth shatteringly new”.

  5. I have a “mon tricot Knit & Crochet” book from the ’70s. In it is a how to pattern for Italian-style socks with the sole knit seperately. The side seams were sewn to finish the sock. The top was knitted flat and the back seamed. Old is new again!

  6. This is a brilliant concept that has been around for a long time. My great-grandmother talked about knitting socks with replaceable heels and soles when she was a child..

  7. Anna Zilboorg is a living legend and a knitting genius! But as others have mentioned, there’s nothing new under the sun, and EZ (and apparently a few others, too!) got there first. Those half-stranded socks are beautiful! Anna Zilboorg is always great.

  8. Nothing earthshattering new – During and after WWII, we reused old socks and re-knit sole. That is over 50 years ago. And my grandmother taught her children and us how to do this.
    To “Mykidlet” cut the sock about 1/2″ below the little toes, pick up the stitches and knit a toe, You can always darn the toes if you do not want to knit this new part of your sock.

  9. I admire the lovely sock made by Ms Zilboorg, but perhaps a nod should be given to Elizabeth Zimmerman for her Mocassin Socks. There is also an adaptation of her pattern, with credit given, in the Interweave book Favorite Socks.

  10. This is so terribly clever. I must try this technique. I learned how to darn socks as a measure of being frugal (make-do-and-mend self-challenge). I expected this to come in handy (footy?) if I was going to knit socks and be so invested in them, that I wouldn’t want to discard them simply because of worn toes and heels. This is a related and terribly clever solution.

  11. Some of you commenters are being way too critical about this article. Maybe this is not “new” to you, fine! But, obviously, it is the the author and to others as well.

  12. In point of fact, the Vikings and those before who used nalbinding always made the foot of undyed wool, just so it could be replaceable, and the cuff with the expensive (especially time-wise) coloured wools so they could be reused. (The wool naturally felted to provide the stronger sole, too.)

  13. @mykidlets if you knit your socks top down you could always rip back the toe, pick up stitches and reknit. if you like to go toe up you could still make the toe easy to replace by starting at the foot: magic cast on the number of stitches for the foot (or some other provisional cast on), knit the toe as for top down socks, then knit the foot/heel/cuff — or toe last, either way, depends how badly you need the extra needles 🙂 similar idea to an afterthought heel.

  14. I got the video of the sole-free sock and I like it BUT you have to figure out how to do a full-size sock on your own. There is not pattern for a full size sock and I need one! I don’t care about the stranded sock. I just want a pattern for making a plain sock in this method.