Hey, sock knitters. You’ve figured out your preferred construction, your favorite heel, and the toe that works best for you. You have an ever-growing stash of sock yarn. You’ve found your knitting niche and discovered the joy of handknit socks, and now you want to share that bounty with your loved ones. But making the leap to socks that need to fit other people’s feet is intimidating, right?
Start by making a pair for someone you’re close to—moms are good for this, or spouses/partners. It helps if this person is someone who lives with you or near you, because it’s reassuring to be able to check the fit as you’re knitting, rather than presenting someone with a pair of finished socks and just praying that you got it right. So for your first recipient, choose someone who will still love you even after being pestered repeatedly to put a half-sock bristling with knitting needles on their foot.
Knitting anything that needs to fit can be intimidating, especially when it’s for someone who’s not you, but sock fit is pretty straightforward. Let me talk you through it.
How do I know what size sock to knit?
You need to get your recipient’s foot measurement. There are a few ways to do this, depending on how secretive you want your sock-knitting plans to be:
- Least subtle, most accurate: measure your recipient’s foot yourself. Have them stand next to a ruler or measuring tape, and record the length from the back of their heel to their longest toe. Unless you are a very creative storyteller, your recipient will probably realize that you have some kind of foot-related project in mind for them.
- Kind of subtle, pretty accurate: ask your recipient for their shoe size. Then check a foot size chart, such as this one, which will correlate the US shoe size to a foot length in inches.
- Most subtle, kind of accurate: ask a family member of your recipient to find out their shoe size for you. You’ll be relying on the subtlety and accuracy of a third party but if you really want to be sneaky about your sock knitting, this is the way to go.
- Ultra subtle, probably not accurate: just guess. Not generally recommended.
Okay, I have a foot measurement. Do I just knit a sock to that length?
Nope! For a well-fitting, durable sock, you need to incorporate negative ease—in other words, you want the finished sock to stretch a little when it’s being worn. To achieve this, knit your sock slightly shorter than your recipient’s foot measurement. My rule of thumb is to subtract approximately 10% from the foot length. For example, if I’m knitting for a 9 1/2″ foot (a women’s size 8 shoe), I will knit a sock that’s about 8 1/2″ long. I’m a fairly tight knitter, so I find that 10% negative ease works well for me, but if you knit more loosely you might want to subtract a bit more than 10%.
What about the fit around the width of the foot and ankle? How do I know if it will be stretchy enough?
For a typical fingering-weight sock yarn and a fairly plain pattern, I cast on 64 stitches for a woman’s foot, or 72 stitches for a man’s. I have yet to encounter a foot so unusual that this standard resulted in an unwearable sock. However, when I’m knitting for someone else, I like to pick a pattern that incorporates stretch, just to be on the safe side. Ribbing is the obvious way to do this. You could also try a pattern with a bit of lace. Be careful with cables—they suck in stitches and reduce stretch, so make sure to accommodate for this (or just avoid them).
This seems complicated. How do I decide if someone’s truly worthy of all this effort?
Your friends and family have probably seen you work on a sock or show off a finished pair. Have they looked at what you’ve made and said, “Those are the best socks in the world, please make me some”? Or did they ask, “But why would you knit socks when you can buy a whole package of them at Target?” You can probably figure out which of these is a sock-worthy response.
At this point, I’ve made at least one pair of socks for all of my immediate family and close friends. No one has knocked themselves off the Worthy list, but I’m more likely to knit socks for them again if 1) they respond with unrestrained delight when they receive their socks and 2) they actually wear them. Some people feel that their socks are too precious to actually put on their feet, which is flattering, but that’s not why I knit them. The more you wear your socks, the more pairs you earn, in my book.
And finally—have fun with it, because that’s why you knit socks in the first place, right?