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Ack! Bewilderbeast seems to have departed and taken her excellent sock-knitting tutorial with her. In the interest of not losing this vital information from the nodegel, here's a replacement.

These instructions are intended as a fairly general pattern for top-down socks knitted in the round. There are socks that are knitted flat and sewn up the back, and others that knit toe-up, but I don't have any patterns for those.

Things you should know: you should be able to knit, purl, and do basic decreases (k2tog, p2tog). It's helpful if you've worked on double-pointed needles before, but not absolutely necessary; a sock is a pretty good way to learn.

On fibre

Wool or mostly-wool blend is warm and elastic, and makes excellent socks. I've never tried using any of the plant-based fibres (cotton, linen, bamboo, soy, etc.), but I suspect that cotton and linen at least are too inelastic. Sock yarn needs some stretch to get a nice close fit.

Generally, you want a relatively lightweight yarn for socks; obviously the heavier the yarn, the bulkier (and warmer) the socks will be. Warm is good, but you probably don't want them so thick they won't fit under your shoes. Fine yarn, also sold as "sport-weight" is the heaviest I'd use for socks, and you can use anything down to a very fine lace yarn to make thin socks. You'll need approximately 4-6oz. of yarn per sock; twice that for knee socks. You will also need a set of double-pointed needles of a size appropriate to your yarn. I usually use US size 3 needles for sock-weight yarn. You can use either a set of four or a set of five needles; I find that somewhere around the heel, it becomes a lot more comfortable to work with five.

Procedure

Decide how long you want your socks to be; knee socks will require about twice the amount of yarn as ankle socks. Measure the intended sock-wearer around the ankle. If you're making socks for yourself (or a patient and easily-available other), you can measure the socks against the leg and foot as you go, but if that won't be possible, measure the length from the top of the sock to the instep, and from the heel to the ball of the foot.

Seizing your needles and a skein of yarn, knit a gauge swatch and work out the stitches per inch (or cm). It's best to make the swatch several inches/cm across, count the stitches across a section in the middle, and divide to get the average. The row gauge is less important for this project.

Multiply stitches per inch/cm by the measurement around the ankle to get the number of stitches to cast on. Remember (I always forget, and invariably end up with slightly-too-large socks) that the final fabric will stretch, and err on the side of smaller rather than larger - especially for long socks, otherwise they will constantly slip down around your ankles. You must have an even number of stitches, and a number divisible by 4 is convenient.

Cast on using your preferred method on a set of double-pointed needles. Work in a rib pattern (I usually use a k2p2 rib, but anything that fits the number of stitches is fine); this will prevent the tops of your socks from rolling up (as stocking stitch is prone to do). The ribbed section should be at least an inch/2cm or so long, and can be as long as you like. Then knit in stocking stitch (ie, knit every stitch) until the leg part of the sock is as long as you want it to be. You could also work this section in a pattern.

So far, you have a tube of knitting. Now for the bits that make it sock-shaped. First, the heel flap, the part that continues straight from the leg down the back of the heel. The heel flap is worked across half the number of stitches originally cast on plus 4, so transfer stitches between needles until you have that number on one (or divided between two adjacent) needles. Knit the heel flap as follows:

Row 1: sl 1, purl to end.
Row 2: *sl 1, k1; repeat from *.

Repeat these two rows until you've knit about as many rows as you have stitches, ending with a knit row. The flap will be a slightly flattened square.

Now the really cool and nifty part (for those of us who consider knitting socks fun, anyway): turning the heel. Having reached the bottom of the foot, you now need to make a right-angle turn. This is done by short rows and accompanying decreases - it's confusing to read, but once you get into it and see how it works it will all make sense.

Divide the number of stitches in the heel flap by 2 and add 3. Slip one, purl the number of stitches you just calculated, then p2tog. Turn the work, knit 8 stitches, k2tog. Turn the work, purl 9 stitches (back as far as the first decrease, which will be obvious), p2tog. Continue in this vein until you get back to the edges of the heel flap, ending with a knit row.

Due to all the slipped stitches at the beginning of each row on the heel flap, there's a nice convenient chain of loops running from the heel you just turned to the stitches left behind on the needles at the bottom of the leg. Pick up and knit these stitches. Continue to knit across the instep, then pick up and knit the stitches on the other side of the heel.

Assuming that the work is divided across four needles, when you get back to the centre of the sole, work as follows:

1st needle: k to the last two stitches, k2tog
2nd needle: k2tog, k to end
3rd needle: k to the last two stitches, k2tog
4th needle: k2tog, k to end

If you're working on three needles, the instep stitches should all be on one needle, so the pattern is (again starting from the centre of the sole):

1st needle: k to the last two stitches, k2tog
2nd needle: k2tog, k to the last two stitches, k2tog
3rd needle: k2tog, k to end

Continue this pattern until all of the added stitches picked up from the heel flap have been decreased out of existence and you're back to the number of stitches you had at the ankle. This is where I find dividing the piece across four needles rather than three is easier; the extra flexibility from the break in the middle of the instep allows a little more room to work.

Knit in stocking stitch until the foot section runs from the heel just to the ball of the foot, then begin the toe decreases. If the stitches are spread over four needles, work as follows:

First round:
1st needle: k to the last two stitches, k2tog
2nd needle: k2tog, k to end
3rd needle: k to the last two stitches, k2tog
4th needle: k2tog, k to end
Second round: knit all stitches

If the stitches are divided across three needles, the pattern is (again starting from the centre of the sole):

First round:
1st needle: k to the last two stitches, k2tog
2nd needle: k2tog, k to the last two stitches, k2tog
3rd needle: k2tog, k to end
Second round: knit all

Repeat these two rounds until you have about a quarter of the starting stitches left.

Finally, slide all of the sole stitches onto one needle and all the top stitches onto another, and graft them together. I usually use Kitchener stitch, but any technique that securely fastens the edges is fine. Or just cast off all stitches and sew them together.

Congratulations! You now have one sock. Go back to the beginning and make a match for it.

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