For the Sock Curious

It just goes to show a person that what you’d think would be a sort of boring post about winding up sock yarn would turn into something that leads to a bunch of questions. Internet hive mind, you just keep on keeping things interesting! I had several questions last time about yarn winders and sock knitting and so forth, so here you go, knitter friends, with some answers.


First, the yarn winding. I’ve owned my own swift and ball winder for long enough that I can’t remember how many years it’s been. A lot of yarns come in un-wound skeins (because this form tends to be easier to pack & ship, and less stressful on the yarn itself over extended periods of time), but in order to work with it more easily you need to wind it. The lowest tech version of how to wind yarn is to hold the open skein across a chair or pair of chairs and do it by hand, but the swift and ball-winder combo is much faster. (Both of these make good gift suggestions, in case you have a birthday coming up – that’s a little tip from me to you). Most local yarn shops will carry them. My ball-winder came from a Toronto shop and the wooden swift came from Knit Picks.


Next, if you’re new to sock knitting, one of the things you’ll encounter pretty soon out of the gate is the wide variety of “sock yarn” that exists in the yarn landscape now. Most yarn shops will have a section of yarn just for “sock yarn” – yarn that has been spun finely enough that you can knit it at a fine gauge to get socks that can be worn inside regular shoes. You can knit socks from a lot of different yarn weights (Worsted weight socks are popular for quick, warm socks for winter days or to double as slippers. I probably draw the line at bulky yarn, a the upper end, and laceweight yarn at the finer end), but sock yarn, or fingering weight yarn, is intended to be knit up at a gauge of about 8 sts to the inch, or thereabouts.

Sock yarns are often pretty colourful. I like this generally, because even if you’re knitting a pretty plain sock pattern you can still keep the interest alive with some fun variegation or bright colours. You can tend to find neutral or dark colours as well, of course, but I still notice them more in the minority these days. I’m pretty okay with this, and will happily wear socks with just about any colour, but your mileage may vary. Additionally, a lot of sock yarn (though not all) will include an amount of nylon in the fiber content – perhaps 10-20% – to lend stability to the yarn when it is worn on your hard-working, constantly-moving feet. On the other hand, a lot of sock yarn (though not all) also tends to use merino wool in the superwash wool content, which is happily soft and feels ever so comfortable but is unhappily not the sturdiest of wools. So, at the end of the day take that information into consideration and do as pleases you.


As far as sock patterns go, well, if you are new to sock knitting this is a convenient time to be so. Sock knitting exploded about five or six years ago and now there are a wealth of yarns and patterns at your disposal. A browse of sock patterns on Ravelry (I’ve even done a basic search string for you there) will put many popular patterns into your path, as will a browse of Patternfish (for sale patterns) or Knitty (for free ones).

If you’d like my personal favourites, well, I can direct you to my Weekend Socks (free pattern at Canadian Living) if you’d like a worsted weight pattern that you can work up more quickly than one on sock yarn. The two most popular socks in my own sock drawer, though, are my own Nice Ribbed Sock pattern, which is a ribbed sock pattern that uses sock yarn, and is free. It is the one I use most often because it’s just interesting enough to not make me fall asleep (because of the ribbing), but simple enough that I can do it in a dark movie theatre if I have to (because I’ve done it so many times that my fingers know what k3, p1 ribbing feels like). There was also a while there where I knitted more than a week’s worth of Jaywalker socks (Ravelry link), because I really like the way they look and feel and they play well with both solid and variegated colours of yarn. The Jaywalker pattern is free and has actually been around since well before Ravelry (though I know sometimes it feels like nothing in the knitting internet existed before Ravelry), on an online publication which is now no longer available and so is now housed there.

I also really recommend Stephanie’s book Knitting Rules. She does a chapter on the basics of all kinds of knitting things, including socks, and the Top Five lists are a scream. She explains basic sock knitting from the cuff down in a really approachable way and while her book wasn’t my first foray into sock knitting, I would absolutely say it is what made me into a Sock Knitter.

There are a lot of ways to knit socks. My preference is top/cuff-down on 4 double-pointed needles for plain socks, or Magic Loop for complex ones. You can also knit bottom/toe-up, on 2 circulars, on 5 double-pointed needles, some will even start you at the heel and have you work outwards from there. Explore and see what you like best and knit as pleases you, I say. There are lots of good yarns out there waiting to be knitted into socks, and you could be just the knitter to do it. (As with many things in knitting, though – starting is the easy part. Stopping is a whole other question.)

Have a great weekend, knitter friends!




  1. Laura s. · ·

    I am just finishing putting the borders on my latest quilt and the off to the quilter it goes. With another 4″ of snow in Minnesota I am up for digging through my sock yarn and knitting a pair of socks. Is it ever going to be spring? Snow predicted off and on next week:(.

  2. I’m the slowest sock knitter ever – but I love the 9″ chiagoo circulars for most of the sock. Something about not having to fumble with dpns or even pull the magic loop through makes the sock seem less daunting.

  3. Terrific overview on socks. I am also going to spend the weekend finishing some socks on 9″ needles. It’s still winter here in the bottom of Louisiana. When will it end?

  4. Do you have any suggestions regarding how to avoid second sock syndrome? So far I’ve only knit baby socks and have never knit any for myself believe it or not… To me socks just seem tedious and time consuming… Any words you can offer to give me some encouragement surrounding sock knitting in general? Thanks so much!

  5. I am knitting a basic cuff down sock using size 2 dpn’s. I have some mistakes and gaps since this is attempt at socks. My question should I rip it or just continue so that I can get through the whole process. I am about 4 inches long including 1.5 inch rib. Thanks. I appreciate your opinion.

  6. I now have a sock living in my handbag at all times for life emergencies. If things get super stressful at work, sometimes I will sneak off into a quiet corner and knit a few rounds on the sock to calm myself down. I can be much nicer to people now! 😛

  7. I would just like to note that I read this post while knitting on my Hermione’s Everyday Sock =]

    The more I knits socks, the more I love them. I tend to stick with plain socks due to socks being my go-to for travel knitting and I don’t want to have to deal with consulting a pattern while out and about. I am trying to venture more into non-vanilla socks this year, though.

  8. Genia Potter · ·

    For Denise:
    Frog them and start over! It’s all part of the learning process and you’ll learn so much. Consider what you’ve already done a swatch. ;o)

  9. Angie Clark · ·

    Thank you so much…what perfect timing for this post!! I’ve been wanting to get serious about learning socks properly and your whole post is full of great resources. Thank you!!

  10. I was hoping you would have answered the question on what needles you are using in that photo for the socks…

  11. I just love your photography!

  12. I avoid second sock syndrome (to iknitiatives) by doing them both at the same time on one very long circular needle , I often split them up for doing the heel and then pop them back on the one to finish. You could also do this on 2 circular needles. The only tricky bit is working the cast on in the right order (half the first sock, the whole second sock, then the second half of the first sock….. I started with a pattern that specified 2 at the same time to get me going, it even had step by step pictures – so helpful!) But I do all my sock knitting like that now no matter what the original pattern says. To be honest it is slower progress knitting 2 than 1 (double the stitches), but when I am done I am done!!! Yay!!!

  13. Starting is most definitely the easy part! Keeping up (with all the new patterns and yarns out there), that’s a challenge!!!

  14. Socks are definitely the main topic this spring. I’m making a pair of angora bed socks as we speak 🙂

  15. My dream is to have a wooden swift–lucky you! I’ve been knitting socks for more than 40 years, and still found Stephanie’s “rules” useful and hilarious. I took a class with her last summer and found it to be the same, only better. We wear a lot of “house” socks, in place of shoes indoors, and since they need to be thick and tough, I generally steer away from merino. Also, I don’t put a lot of my design energy into socks; there are so many fantastic designs out there I don’t want to compete, and at the same time, socks are my no-brainer, knit-when-I’m-too-exhausted-to-think projects. That said, I’ve signed up to take a socks class with Ann Budd at the Frolic.

  16. I can’t seem to stop knitting socks, love it. I love the archive of sock patterns at I own a number of books on sock knitting but end up going back to Knitty again and again. Cookie.a’s Monkey sock pattern is one of my favourites, I think I’m currently making my 5th pair and I love them all, great for those tricky sock yarns that inclined to pool.

  17. Thank you for some great sock pattern suggestions. I’ve just downloaded the Jaywalker. A kind friend brought back a skein of Opal sock yarn from a recent trip to Germany–and now I’m ready to go. I always have a sock (s) on the needle. They make great stocking stuffer gifts at Christmas!

  18. Knitting Rules is one of the best reference books in my library. I use it so often I’ve practically memorized parts!

  19. I love knitting socks but often suffer for second sock syndrome. My all time favorite is Monkey and I really need to knit your ribbed pattern 🙂

  20. I can’t wait to start my first pair of socks! I do have a question though. After putting so much time into knitting them, how do you take care of them so they last?

  21. Thank you! The patterns you mention are all my favourites right now. My tip for avoiding 2nd sock syndrome is to have a few pairs of socks on the go at various stages. Then if you don’t want to think, you can do the long cuff or foot part, if you are up for more, you can turn a heel, and you can fill in time during boring meetings and waiting or being a car passenger by knitting away. This has been working well for me. Right now I have a pair of ribbed, a pair of Stephanie’s plain socks, and just finished another pair of ribbed. Getting ready to cast on a new pair this evening!

  22. I was given a few sizes in bamboo 9″ circs for sock making, but I am curious of how to follow a pattern but use these. What do u do?

  23. I have had Jaywalker on my wish list for such a long time. You’ve inspired me to actually knit them. I wondered how comfortable they would be. My little swift stopped working properly and I switched to a Chiagoo wooden one which I find great. It stops the yarn from being able to slip off when the swift is turning at speed.

  24. Jeanette · ·

    I knit my first socks last Fall and right away knew I would have second sock syndrome. So I started 2 socks and knit them together so when I was finished I had a pair to wear! I knit the cuff on one and then move to the 2nd set of dpns and knit the other cuff; go back to sock #1 and knit the leg and then knit the leg on sock #2, etc. This works particularly well when you get to the heel, By knitting the second one right away you don’t forget any of the details or things you might have changed when knitting the first one. Hope this makes sense. Right now I am knitting a pair of Glenna’s Nice Ribbed Socks for my daughter’s birthday in Regia Garden Effects. Beautiful!

  25. Knit Picks has that swift on sale right now, just in case someone is looking for a Mother’s Day gift suggestion.
    The best cure for second sock syndrome is to cast on the second sock as soon as you darn the toe of the first one. I started doing that last year, when I discovered that I had 4 single socks. I also managed to finish off 3 of the mates.

  26. A wonderful and informative post as always.
    While I have no idea what happened with the Yarn Harlot and the other person who did Sock Summit (addressed on the Yarn Harlot’s blog) – I would like to make a suggestion. I wish you and the Yarn Harlot would create some kind of Sock Conference – with everything from beginning classes to advanced, history of sock knitting, regular people presenting “papers”, etc. Maybe do something on the east coast? I couldn’t afford to get to the 2 Sock Summits – so and east coast version would be fun. I think with your sense of teaching/academic perspective and Stephanie’s sense of fun it would be really interesting! I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

  27. marilynr · ·

    I can think of an even lower tech way to wind a hank of yarn into a ball than with a chair: Loop the hank between the thimb and index finger. Loop the hank on the other end around the elbow. Let the rest of it hang down. Use the other hand to hold the ball of yarn that you are winding. No chairs required.

  28. I don’t own a swift but love my yarn winder. I almost ALWAYS have a pair of socks on the needle. I don’t know how I avoid second sock syndrome; I know when I do a complex pattern (I’m knitting a pair of sin miedo right now) it does get a bit tedious on the second one, but when you live pretty far north (just SW of Traverse City Michigan) warm socks are a must.
    And they are so portable. I take them on trips all the time; much better than an afghan. Love that purple/fuschia variegated yarn towards the top. Knit on!

  29. […] For the Sock Curious […]

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