Raindrop Heel Socks Part 5:  Foot and Toe - Wabi Sabi

Raindrop Heel Socks Part 5: Foot and Toe

This article is part of our All About Socks series. To knit along, use the Raindrop sock calculator to generate a custom pattern based on your own gauge and foot measurements and follow along with this guide for more detailed instruction.

At this point, our sock is indeed looking very sock-like.  The cuff, leg, heel flap, heel, and gusset are all complete, and all that remains is to knit on to the toe, do some decreasing, and then graft the last few stitches together.  We're almost there, so make yourself a warm beverage, take a deep breath, and get ready for the last stretch of the sock marathon. 

Now this is starting to look like a sock!  This is what the sock should look like when the gusset decreases are completed.

(And by last stretch, I mean of course the last stretch to the halfway point, unless you're working on the second sock!)

Knit the sock in established pattern until the foot reaches the desired length. This should be about __ shorter than the length of the foot (measured from the pick-up edge of the heel flap).  When worn, the length of the sock just reaches the base of the pinky toe.

Getting the length of the sock correct both art and science, which is why it's convenient to try the sock on and use the pinky-toe method if you haven't knit socks before.  Generally speaking, the goal is to knit a sock that is about 1cm shorter in length than the length of the foot itself, but without experience it can be difficult to tell just how much space will be consumed by the toe (which depends on gauge and yarn).  I like to measure from the edge of the heel flap, where the gusset stitches were picked up -- it is an easy to identify spot on the sock, and convenient to measure from.  Make sure that the sock is stretched just enough to lie flat when you measure.  I encourage erring on the side of generosity for the foot length, when measuring and in doing any rounding of rows or stitch repeats.

If you're concerned that you may be starting the toe too early or too late, this is an excellent point to put in a lifeline.  That way, if the sock doesn't fit, it's easy re-do the toe.  If you're not familiar with what a lifeline is, you simply take a piece of contrasting yarn and thread it through the base of all the live stitches.  If you make a mistake later on in the project, simply remove your needles and unravel the project -- the lifeline yarn will stop you from tearing back past the "save point".

This is also the point of the sock where, if I am concerned about yardage for a second sock, I will weigh the sock and the remaining yarn against each other on a kitchen scale.  If there is a few grams more of the remaining yarn than has been consumed by the sock, I know I'm safe to continue without yardage worries.  If, however, the sock weighs the same as the remainder (or less), I know it's time to look into a backup plan or an extra ball of yarn.

Once the sock has reached the toe, any pattern stitches that have been done along the instep should end.  The toe of the sock covers a sensitive area of the foot, and pattern stitches extending down into the toe can be uncomfortable and prime areas for wear.  

If you would like to reinforce your sock toes, this is the place to add  reinforcement yarn.  Simply hold the extra thread double with the working yarn, and knit with the two strands as if they're the same yarn.

Just like every other part of the sock, there are different styles of decreasing for the toe, and for this pattern, I'm using one of the most basic, since I've found it to be easy to knit and comfortable to wear:

Round 9: Knit to 3 stitches before the first red marker, knit 2 together through the back loop, k1, slip red marker, k1, k2tog. Knit to 3 stitches before the second red marker, knit 2 together through the back loop, k1, slip red marker, k1, k2tog. Knit to end of round. (4 stitches decreased in total)
Round 10: Knit all stitches without decreasing.
Repeat round 1 and 2 of the toe decreases another __ times, for __ times in total, or until __ stitches remain.

At this point, there's a decision to be made.  If you like a pointier toe, simply continue knitting round 1 and 2 alternately until the toe is the desired length.  I prefer a more rounded toe, so at this point, I switch things up a bit:

Knit only round 1 (decrease every round) until 10 stitches remain in total, 5 on each side. 

By switching to only decrease rounds, the angle of the top of the sock becomes more obtuse -- when it's blocked, it averages out to a nicely rounded toe. This method also leaves fewer stitches remaining to graft, which is a definite bonus for those who aren't fans of the Kitchener stitch.  If you are using reinforcement yarn, hold it along with the main yarn while grafting.

Graft the two sides together.

If you have never grafted stitches before, there is an excellent, slow motion tutorial on youtube here.  Essentially though, the steps are as follows:

Cut the yarn with a tail of about 8".  Move the stitches so they are on two needles, which are held parallel, with all of the stitches for the front of the sock on one needle, and all of the stitches for the sole of the sock on the second.  Thread the tail onto a darning needle.

  1. On the needle closest to you, insert the darning needle into the first stitch as if to knit, and slip it off the knitting needle.  Pull the yarn through the stitch until the tension is close to that of the rest of the knitting.
  2. Insert the darning needle into the next stitch on the needle closest to you as if to purl, and leave the stitch on the needle.  Pull the yarn through the stitch until the tension is close to that of the rest of the knitting.
  3. Insert the darning needle into the first stitch on the needle furthest from you, as if to purl.  Pull the yarn through the stitch until the tension is close to that of the rest of the knitting.
  4. Insert the darning needle into the next stitch on the needle furthest from you, as if to knit.  Pull the yarn through the stitch until the tension is close to that of the rest of the knitting.

Repeat steps 1 to 4 until there are no stitches left. 

and weave in ends.

When weaving in ends, it is important to do so in a manner that will not affect the stretchiness of the sock.  I recommend using the duplicate stitch method, done over 8-10 stitches along the side of the sock, as the toe of the sock will get a lot of wear.

Behold, a sock!  

This brings us to the last debate about sock knitting, which is to say whether it is best to block socks.  Blocking always makes knitting look neater, and socks are no exception, so it can really make a difference in your work if you've gone to the work of knitting a lace or cable pattern on your socks.  If you're intending to gift the socks, definitely go to the effort of blocking them -- it makes a big difference, and will get you far more appreciative sounds from the lucky recipient.

Does that mean that I always block my socks?  Heck no!  After the first wear, I don't tend to block unless the sock is looking sad, at which point, a quick blocking is an excellent way of freshening up an old pair of socks.

In terms of blocking tools, I greatly prefer wire sock blockers over any other type that I've used.  They come in a variety of sizes, so it's not hard to find a set that work for your own foot size, and because they are open in the middle, the air flow helps the socks dry much faster.  They're also quite light, so fit nicely on a clothes line or rod.

One final word about after-care:  Many sock yarns are washing-machine safe, but always be sure to use a gentle cycle and detergent such as Soak when washing them.  They'll last much longer, and given the amount of work that went into them it's always worth the extra few minutes to take good care of them.

I try to avoid ever letting my hand knitted socks go into the dryer, having had one too many catastrophes result from this happening by accident.  If your sock yarn claims to be dryer safe, just be sure to use the gentlest, coolest cycle possible, and make sure that there's not anything heavy in the machine with them.

Repeat for second sock.

Such a great amount of work in such a short sentence!  Thank you for taking the time to read this tutorial!  I hope that this has helped de-mystify socks a bit, for those of you interested in starting your first pair, or brought  a useful technique or two to your attention for those of you who are already experienced sock knitters!

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