I’ve written another one of those long-winded blog posts and decided it would be better to break things up a bit, so it wasn’t so tedious to read. In 2020, I really dedicated my time and effort to knit socks. I wanted to get my gauge consistent, so I could knit socks the correct size. After several pairs of socks, I feel much more confident about my sock knitting technique, and starting in 2021, I decided to stretch myself and try a new way to knit socks.
I originally preferred cuff-down socks because I could cast on the cuff loose enough to wear the sock. Binding off loose enough is always a challenge, and I was never satisfied with my results. I also preferred cuff-down socks because I like how a heel flap/gusset fitted my foot. Everyone in my family has some odd shape to their foot, so the standard heel never felt right. I will talk more about heels in a later blog post. For now, let’s talk about how to knit comfortable socks and the cuff cast on and bind off methods.
Needles, Gauge, and Yarn
The key to great knitted socks is gauge. You want tight, consistent stitches. If your stitches are too loose, you will feel the bumpiness when you wear the sock. It is really uncomfortable—the tighter the gauge, the more comfortable the sock. However, there’s a drawback to knitting tight stitches, and that is hand fatigue. As a knitter, you need to find a way to comfortably knit tightly without destroying your hands.
One way to achieve a tight-knit is needle size. I’ve been through several brands of needles, and I currently knit socks using the magic loop method. My needles are ChiaoGoo 40″ knit red stainless steel circular needles US size 0 (2.00 mm).
The other way to achieve a tight-knit is yarn. Don’t get me wrong, hand-dyed yarn is very tempting, but it doesn’t always give the most consistent result. I also have found beautiful hand-dyed yarn doesn’t hold up very well for socks. I usually have to darn a hole in the heel within just a few months. I am obsessed with Lang Jawoll Sock Yarn. Lang Jawoll Sock yarn has the perfect amount of loft to make truly comfortable socks. The skeins are 50g, half of a standard 100g skein, so you’ll need two skeins to make a pair of socks. BONUS, there’s a spool of matching reinforcement yarn to carry along when knitting the toe and heel with each skein. I absolutely love this additional spool of reinforcement yarn and adding it to the toe and heel makes a huge difference in sock durability.
The final way I achieve consistent stitches is to change how I wrap the yarn around my fingers when knitting. I knit continental style. I have this weirdly intricate way of wrapping the yarn around my fingers, and I found that if I do a double wrap around my index finger, I get consistently tight stitches. I’m not in favor of a knitting style the depends upon my ability to hold or pull stitches tight enough. I want the gauge of stitches to happen naturally without my influence. Every knitter has a different style, so don’t be afraid to experiment to find a way to stitch more consistently.
I have never found any sock pattern truly enlightening about casting on for a cuff-down sock or casting off for a toe-up sock. The instructions usually read: cast on with your preferred method or cast off with your preferred method. Thanks, that’s about as helpful as the instructions given to GBBO bakers during the technical challenge!
I typically knit 20 rounds of 1×1 rib for my cuff. I like to have a cuff long enough that it can hold up on my calf. I also found that I can make my cuff 8 stitches more than the sock. For example, if your sock has 60 stitches, I would make my cuff with 68 stitches. Those additional 8 stitches make sure that you can fit the sock over your heel when you put it on. The additional 8 stitches don’t cause the cuff to look wider than the rest of the sock if you are knitting the sock with standard stockinette stitches. Even with 8 additional stitches, a 1×1 rib or 2×2 rib will still pull the cuff inward as you would except.
For cuff down socks, my preferred cast-on method is the German Twisted Cast On, a variation of the Long Tail Cast On. By adding an extra twist while casting on, this method gives a little more stretch to your edge. It is also a deeper cast on making it more durable. It works well for socks, mittens, and other ribbing that will get a lot of wear and tear. I’ve tried many types of cast-on methods, but the German Twisted Cast On definitely gives me the best stretch without flaring at the top.
I abandoned making toe-up socks early because I could never find a bind off method that was loose enough and had no flare. But in August of 2020, Susanna Winter published probably the greatest blog post ever: https://www.susannawinter.net/post/updated-comparison-of-20-bind-off-methods
When I tried out Jeny’s Interlock Bind Off and found that the bind off was just as stretchy as the German Twisted Cast On and didn’t have any flare, I was sold. I may never knit cuff down socks again!
Whether you knit your socks cuff-down or toe-up, the cast on / bind off method at the top of the cuff is probably the most important part of the sock. If it is too tight, you’ll not be able to put on the sock. If it is too loose, the cuff will flare and not hold up on the calf. It is worth the time and effort to figure out what works best for you. Thankfully now I know about these bind off methods!