Sock Width

I've just started a pair of socks using the Universal Sock Pattern.  This is just my second pair of socks, the first being done in sport-weight wool and a bit loose all over.  I want to make sure I've cast on a good number of stitches before I get too far into it.  My stockinette gauge is 7.5 st per inch (though the leg will be worked mostly in K3 P1 rib).  So, per the pattern I've cast on 60 stitches.  To my inexperienced eye, after having done the cuff and a bit of the leg, this doesn't seem like enough stitches. 

So, a few questions:

If most, but not all, of the sock is in K3 P1 rib, should I still use stockinette to measure my gauge?  And, just how wide should a sock be for a gentleman with an average-sized foot?



I'm not a very experienced sock knitter, so if I'm way off I hope someone will say so.  Anyway, what I would do is count your stitch gauge in K3P1 ribbing (worked circular) then multiply it by the circumference of your ankle and deduct about 5% for a snug fit.  This will automatically make the finished sock fit tighter at the calf.

I also printed out the Universal Sock Pattern.  Hopefully this weekend I will have time to buy some yarn.

JPaul's picture

All great advice, except that I would recommend measuring your gauge in stockinette, not in ribbing.  The ribbing on socks performs a bit differently than the ribbing on a sweater, for instance, or a sleeve.  You don't want the ribbing on your sweater to be skin tight or stretched out as far as it will go when you wear it.  It should hug your body, but still have a good deal of stretch left.  Socks are different.  If socks have too much stretch left in the ribbing, they fall down around your ankles.  And if the ribbing extends down the length of the sock, then extra stretch will make the socks too loose around your feet.  Even if your socks are all stockinette stitch, the fabric needs to stretch around your feet and stay stretched for the socks to be comfortable inside your shoes.  Otherwise, they bunch up or slip around.  So if you knit ribbed socks, the ribbing is going to be stretched nearly as far as it will go when you wear them -it needs to be in order to be comfortable- and it's acting more like a stockinette fabric and less like a ribbed fabric, so your stockinette gauge will serve the purpose better.

And then, on top of that, you also want to deduct a percentage, as Stuart suggested.  5% is a great starting point.  You can deduct more or less, depending on your preference.  

The Universal Sock Pattern is kind of odd in that it's written for only one size foot (and a pretty small foot, at that).  It assumes 8", then gives you changes (in parenthesis) for different needles sizes to get the same finished measurement (unlike the usual pattern that gives you changes for different finished measurement).

The cool thing is that once you figure out how many stitches to cast on for your size, there's still a chance it will be listed on the pattern.  I used 72 sts for my first pair of socks (on size 2 needles) and 80 for my second pair (on size 1 needles) and both work for the K3P1 ribbing.

Jordan's picture

Thanks to all for the excellent advice!  I've got a few follow-up questions.

Is sounds like the place to measure is just above the ankle (just above where the heel flap starts), and that you want the fabric to be stretching slightly at that point--or at least not too loose.  Right?

What function does the 1-2 inch cuff of K1 P1 ribbing at the top of most sock patterns serve?  Is it to account for the calf being wider than the ankle?  To keep the sock from falling down? 

And for that matter, what purpose does doing the leg (and top of the foot) in a ribbed pattern serve?  Does it allow the fabric to adapt to a wider range of foot sizes?   

At any rate, there's many socks to make, and much experiementation to do.  For my first pair, the entire leg was a K1 P1 rib, which was a good thing, because at the gauge I was working, it would have been super-loose in stockinette (it's a tad too loose as it is).

Thanks again!


JPaul's picture

The 1-2 inch cuff of ribbing is there just because it's a sock and it helps to hold it up.  It doesn't have to be k1p1 ribbing, though.  You could just as easily start right off with k2p2 or k3p1.  I think 1x1 ribbing is a little more elastic, so it would provide the most "holding power."

I did my legs in k3p1 ribbing, too, and I kept the band of k1p1 at the top just because I like the way that looks.  I did the leg in ribbing because it adapts to the shape of your leg (sizing is even less critical) and makes the socks stay up better.  That's just an assumption, though.  I haven't done any field testing.

Books with sizing instructions include Charlene Schurch's Sensational Knitted Socks, Priscilla Gibson-Roberts' Simple Socks, and Anne Budd's handy book of knitted patterns. There are many discussions of sock sizing on the Web as well and in many other books, magazines, and patterns.

In the long run, though, fitting a sock works best if you decide how you want your sock to fit. Standard sock sizes for a man with a shoe size of US 11 would be nine inches around and eleven inches from heel to toe. My preference is for a knitted sock that is 8.5 inches around and 10.5 inches long. In addition, I prefer a ribbed crew sock with a 2x2 ribbing.

On the other hand, my friend wears a woman's size US 8 shoe and prefers a full 8 " length with a 7.5 " circumference. She prefers standard socks and doesn't like the ribbing extended along the instep.

And so it goes. What is the preference of the WEARER? If not known, a lot of socks may wind up in the drawer instead of on the foot.

Have fun,



Tallguy's picture

I have to disagree as to the 1/1 ribbing being the more elastic.  I do know that 2/2 is more elastic and works much better at holding its shape.  1/1 and other ribs are less so.

The purpose of ribbing is to hold the sock up.  At one time, socks were knit of plain tubes, and held in place with a "garter" -- a long strip of garter stitch knitting.  Later, this strip as incorporated into the leggings.  You can knit the cuff sideways, which prevents a too-tight caston; google for the pattern.

If you are knitting socks that only go about 6 inches above the ankle, then you can knit to fit around the leg, less a few stitches to make it form-fitting.  However, if you are going to knit knee-socks, you will be very surprised to find that most men's calves increase dramatically and then decrease at the knee.  Go measure and see!  So you will find you have to knit the leg accordingly; look at the patterns for kilt hose.

The final number of stitches to caston will depend on how tight you like your socks to feel on your legs. Too loose and you have slouchy socks; too tight and it will stop circulation!  I like to measure gauge over stocking stitch (or pattern) and reduce about 5-10%, depending on pattern, for the cuff and knit with smaller needles.  I will then increase about 4-5 stitches when starting on the leg portion with larger needles.  You need a loose caston to go over the heel.

You can measure several places around your foot and leg.  Normally, the leg and foot will fit the same size of tube, but not always.  Adjust your knitting accordingly -- which is why we knit socks in the first place -- so they fit OUR feet! Measure in many spots, just to be sure. There is no one size that fits all, despite what the manufacturers tell you.  Try on your sock frequently as you knit... just to be sure.

JPaul's picture

Oooh...There seems to be some disagreement as to which is more elastic.  K1P1 ribbing (1x1) or K2P2 ribbing (2x2).  This could get interesting.

I made the statement that 1x1 ribbing is more elastic than 2x2.  Ribbing's elasticity should be a function of the number of knit-to-purl transitions over a given length.  Over a given length, 1x1 ribbing will have twice as many transitions than 2x2 ribbing, so it should be more elastic.  Is that really the case?  Hmmm...I don't know.

I think it depends on how you define elasticity as it regards knitted ribbing, or perhaps more importantly what quality it is you are looking for in your ribbing.  If you were to knit two samples of ribbing, a 1x1 sample and a 2x2 sample, using the same yarn, needles and number of stitches and then compare the finished products, you would see that the 2x2 ribbing sample is more narrow.  2x2 ribbing DRAWS IN more than 1x1 ribbing.  So, conversely, it also stretches out more and will adapt to a wider range of sizes (so it's great for socks, because it will still provide a close fit around the ankles and stretch to accomodate a larger calf).  I think it's a softer stretch than 1x1 ribbing though.  In other words, 1x1 ribbing at the top of a sock will provide more "holding power".   It won't stretch as far, because in it's relaxed state, it is less contracted, but the strength it takes to stretch it to it's limit is concentrated over a shorter distance than with 2x2 ribbing, so it fights back more.  It's more "elastic".

Of course, as knitters, we know that all these theories don't always seem to "hold up" (hehe) much in a finished sock or sweater.  If anyone cares, I've got more theories that explain why your socks fall down and seem to do so more readily when they are 1x1 cuffs.

In attempting to define elasticity, don't forget it is also dependent on the ability of the fabric to return to its original shape once that stress (your calf) is removed.  However, I suppose this would be more dependent on the fiber used rather than the ribbing pattern.  I only added this comment because I know how much you enjoy Physics!

Whenever possible, I like to measure the foot for which I plan to knit a sock.  I measure around the widest part of the foot, or just above the ankle bone; in most people this is the same measurement.

Deduct 1" from that measurement, and use that measurement when searching for a pattern to knit, or to chart your own socks.

This results in a sock that fits snugly around the foot without binding too tightly, and helps to avoid saggy socks that are more an irritation than a joy to wear! 

Folk Socks  by Nancy Bush has lots of great information that will help the intermediate knitter take their first steps in becoming an advanced sock knitter!

 Keep 'em clicking!