Sock Serenity 7: Completing the Top-down Sock

When last we met the top-down sock,  it was at the heel turn. That little piece of magic turned out to be a whole lot simpler than we ever imagined. Now here’s the next piece of magic, also a great deal easier to effect than some knitters would have you imagine.

Picking up the Gusset Stitches

The sock looks a little odd at this stage – we have a tube, with one ribbed end (the leg and cuff) where the tube has an extension to one half of its circumference. That extension is a rectangular shape, vaguely square-ish, with a little cup end attached to it. (And this is going to make a sock? HOW?)

The heel

I find that when I am using DPNs to knit socks, it is immensely helpful to use the full set of five at this next stage, arranging the stitches more or less equally over 4 needles. You may recall that at the earlier (leg) stage, I advocated keeping the stitches on three needles to provide a more stable round.

For this sock, I left the heel stitches on the needle as they were, using a second needle to pick up the stitches along the heel flap.

Picking up the stitches is very simple, so long as you have remembered to slip the first stitch on every row when knitting the heel flap.  You did? Good. Look carefully at  the edge of the heel flap and you will see the elongated stitches formed by the slip. Working from the right side, put your needle under both strands of the elongated stitch next to the heel cup front-to-back. Knit this stitch. Carry on down the side of the heel flap, knitting into each and every slipped stitch.

Work across the original held stitches on the front of the leg.

Now pick up and knit all the slipped stitches on the far side of the heel flap in the same manner.

You should now be back at the heel.

Often, sock patterns will direct you to divide the stitches at this stage such that the round begins in the centre of the heel. When knitting this sock. I initially had my heel stitches on one needle, the first set of gusset stitches on a second needle, the front leg on a third, and the second set of gusset stitches on the fourth needle. To avoid the use of stitch markers, I designated the start of the heel as the beginning of my round – or, rather, the heel stitches in their entirety divided my round. That’s the way that my brain works. It doesn’t matter how your brain works, just humour it. Things work out better that way.

The actual number of stitches picked up does not matter – so long as you pick up all the slipped stitches, you will have evenly picked up the correct number for the size of heel flap you knitted, just make sure that you have the same number picked up on each side of the heel flap.

Sometimes,  the picked up stitches may be a  little loose and holey. If this is the case, just knit one round, working into the back of the picked up stitches. This will tighten them a little, close the holes, and give an attractive finish. I missed this step out, as I now seem to  have been knitting socks for long enough to have learned how to pick up my stitches neatly (I honestly used to think that this day would never come and I have many socks with twisted stitches around the gusset.)

Count your stitches. However many you have, you now need to reduce them to somewhere around the original count. Many patterns will insist that the foot count after shaping should equal the leg count but it’s your feet and they are permitted to be odd. The benefit of making one’s own socks is that they should fit to perfection. My feet are narrower than my ankle measurement. I  reduced my final count to 56 for the foot, whereas I used 64 in the leg.

After picking up, I had:

  • 18 heel stitches
  • 20 gusset stitches on each side (40)
  • 34 held stitches on the front leg
  • for a total of 72 stitches

Shaping the gusset

If you have not managed to arrange your stitches as conveniently as I did, you may wish to deploy 2 or 3 stitch markers at this stage. One marker between the picked up stitches and the front (held) stitches, another after the front leg stitches and before the second set of picked up stitches, and perhaps a third to note the start of the round.

Using DPNs it is conventional to have half the heel stitches and the first set of picked up stitches on the first needle, with the second set of picked up stitches and remainder of the heel on the last needle. Again, if you are arranged this way, you will not need stitch markers. Magic Loopers will want stitch markers, most likely.

The gusset is shaped on alternate rows:

Row 1: Work to within 3 stitches of the end of Needle 1 (or your first stitch marker) Knit 2 together, K1 (slipping the stitch marker, if used.) Work across the front of the leg. At the beginning of the next needle (or after the (slip it first) stitch marker) K1, SSK (or Knit 2 together through back of loop, as you prefer.) Work to end of round.

The effect is to make two directional decreases, separated from the front leg stitches by a single stitch on either side. It’s not an infallible rule – try separating with 2 stitches, or 3 if you want to. The decreases don’t have to be directional – if you really can’t get the hang of anythng but a simple K2tog, do that and save the stress. You’ll still have a gusset, but the finish may be less pretty. It’s inside your shoe. Who cares. Really.

Each decrease row eliminates two stitches and the gusset begins to take on a triangular/wedge shape.

Row 2: work without shaping

Continue as set, decreasing on alternate (odd) rows and working plain rows in between.

Working the gusset

Keep track of your stitches. When you reach your target foot count, or try on the sock and it fits properly, stop shaping and carry on knitting in plain rounds until you reach about 1½ – 2″ from the end of your longest toe. That’s about… 2 – 2.5 cm, I think. Unless you have toes like mine, in which case, shape sooner.

Freakish toes


 Making the toe

Most standard toe shapings take about 1½ – 2″ to work, whether you choose wedge, round, star or whatever. As mentioned in a previous article in this series, I favour an asymmetrical (or “anatomically correct”) toe shaping – see how slanty my toes are from big down to little? The asymmetrical shaping avoids great baggy empty wastes of sock where my toes don’t grow. The drawback is that the socks are “handed” and wear cannot be evened out. Also, on dark mornings, it can be frustrating to pull the wrong sock onto one’s foot. Repeatedly. Oh, sorry, that wasn’t the winter mornings, that may well have been a hangover causing that… Anyway, there’s no doubt that it is easier to dress if one’s socks fit either foot.

There  is a good set of directions for anatomically correct toes here

For standard toe shapings,  take a look at Knitty or in a good book such as Knitting Rules! by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (aka The Yarn Harlot), or Cookie A.’s Sock Innovation: Knitting Techniques and Patterns for One-of-a Kind Socks. Any good sock introduction book should have good basic shapings in it.

When I don’t make an asymmetrical toe, I mostly use a plain wedge toe. This is largely because it provides a reasonable fit but mostly because I have it committed to memory. Almost always, I try the sock on as I go and modify the shaping to get the right length for my stupid big toe.

The basic wedge toe goes like this:

  • Start the round at the centre of the heel.
  • Divide the stitches into four quarters (this is why we elected to have  a multiple of 4 stitches in our sock)
  • Arrange the stitches on the needles appropriately, or use stitch markers to mark the position of the shapings
  • Decrease round: Work to 3 sts before the first quarter, K2tog, K2, SSK, work to 3 sts before the last quarter, SSK, K2, K2tog, work to end of round.
  • As always, substitue K2togtbl for the SSK if it makes you happier. K2 tog is OK too, if it is all you feel confident with.

What you are doing here is to make four decreases in the round. As you are beginning in the centre of the underside of the foot, the first decrease is on the left-hand side of the bottom of the sock. The K2 provides one separating stitch on the sole and then one on the top of the foot. The second decrease is on the left-hand side of the top of the foot. Working across the top of the foot, the third decrease is on the right-hand side of the top foot  and mirrors the second decrease. Again, one stitch separates on the top, the next separates on the bottom, and the last decrease is the right-hand underside of the foot, mirroring the first decrease.

The effect is to produce four beautifully neat sloping lines of decrease stitches, arrowing in towards the toe – two on top of the foot, the other two beneath.

Begin, as for the gusset, by alternating plain rows with decrease rows. Work in this way until about half of your stitches have been decreased. At this point, begin decreasing on every round.

Work until the sock fits – usually the toe will have somewhere between 8 and 14 stitches width (double that figure to account for the total number of stitches.)

For this pair of socks, I:

  • had 56 stitches in the foot
  • elected for a wedge toe shaping
  • decreased on alternate rounds until I had 44 stitches (22 top and bottom)
  • then decreased every round until I had 16 stitches in total – for an 8 stitch toe width

It is a very good idea to stop at this point and try your sock on. You may wish to adjust or re-work the toe before closing. Time and experience will give you an instinct for when to begin toe shaping and where to change the decrease gradient. Until then you may need on occasion to frog the toe, remove or add rounds to the foot, and re-work the toe.

Happy with the fit?

Close the toe!

I like to graft with Kitchener stitch. You may do your own thing, or whatever your chosen toe shape suggests.

Finished sock

Now cast on the second sock.

On the blocker

Wash your socks before wearing them – I promise you that they will be more comfortable that way. Blocking is not necessary, but nice – especially if you are gifting the socks to somebody. They’ll conform to your foot in time anyway.

On the foot (sorry about the wobble)

Next: Completing the heel on the toe-up sock