Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Knit socks with negative ease

 A recently knit sock taught me a lesson. This is the first of what I imagine to be many sock lessons for me. After all, I've knit only three pairs of socks, never taken a class, and hardly studied much sock knitting other than to just follow the patterns as written.

I was certainly following the pattern as written in this case. It said to cast on 64 stitches. It said to knit 8 spi. It said this would produce a sock 8" in diameter. It was right. Then it said the small square toe would take up 1.5", so I started the toe 1.5" from the end of my foot. This sock should fit my foot perfectly.

I thought that was what I needed for my 8" foot; a sock with zero ease, just like most of my sweaters. I just didn't know that socks are supposed to be knit with negative ease. In fact, I was so focused on knitting a sock with zero ease that I used larger needles for the twisted ribbing and the first repeat of the lace pattern to accomodate my lower calf, which is slightly larger than 8".
The socks fit well enough; the second photo is the of the finished and blocked sock. It looks ok, but the lace pattern has so much elasticity that I can bunch it up, and it stays bunched up, as you can see in the next photo. The sock was loose.
A little looking around taught me that it might be advisable to knit socks, especially lace socks, with 10-20% negative ease. A tighter-fitting sock will be less likely to slide around on your foot, and will be more comfortable and longer-wearing. Such knowledge is useful, but what did it mean for this sock? I could have frogged the whole thing and reknit it on fewer stitches. However, that would mean either altering the lace pattern and omitting stitches in each of the four repeats or using only three repeats of the pattern. I don't think I'd like the appearance of the sock if I used those options. I could knit it on smaller needles to reduce the gauge of the fabric and thereby reduce the size of the sock. However, I don't like the dense fabric that would produce. Instead, I just ripped back and took out a repeat.
What I've got now is a shorter sock. It fits better. Maybe not as well as a sock with negative ease, but still better than it did before I frogged it.

Now that I know about negative ease, I know that for a gauge of 8 spi, I need a pattern that will fit in 50-60 stitches. I've also learned that my foot decreases a full inch in circumference after the knuckle, if that's what you call the joint between the ball of my foot and my toes. That tells me I don't need a square-toed sock. I need a toe that tapers, and it should taper rapidly; lots of decreases right at the start.

I've skated by this fitting problem because the last pair of socks I knit was a slip-stitch pattern that tightened up enough to give a little negative ease. The pair before that was a little loose, but I gave those away to someone with a larger foot. The first pair is really loose, but they are so ugly I'll only wear them around the house.

Truth is, I've got skinny feet. I think I need skinnier sock yarn if I'm going to knit standard 64-stitch socks. On the brighter side, I can probably knit a 55-stitch sock and maybe finish it faster.


Wool Winder said...

It took me a few socks to learn how to fit my foot too. For me, 64 stitches, sock weight yarn and size 1 needles fits every time.

Wool Enough said...

Another thing that makes a difference to the fit is that on the foot half of the stitches change to stockinette. A really tight stitch pattern loses half its value there. You can always decrease the gusset down further to compensate and then do a round toe so that the difference between the number of stitches on the instep and on the foot isn't a problem. Round toes are great for people with pointy feet too. There are all sorts of tricks, and it sounds like you are learning them quite fast. And the socks are lovely.

sydney said...

Depending on the yarn and the pattern, I still have problems getting some socks to fit as well as I would like. Anything lacey always ends up a little on the loose side it seems.

Marjorie said...

I'm about where you are on the sock learning curve, but *unfortunately* most of my socks fit very well after knitting, and so I had no incentive to figure out what I might do if I wanted to alter them. All I did learn is that patterns with some memory (ribbing, cables) tend to produce better sock tops than those that don't.

So thanks for the info on lace socks. I probably would have gotten a few inches into a pattern like Monkey before I realized what was wrong. The altered socks look terrific.

Vickie said...

My Christmas pair of socks started out with 72 stitches for the ribbing because I have fat calves. Then on the last row of ribbing I decrease it by 6 stitches when I started into the stockinette. It worked and they fit better around the cuff. I didn't add those stitches back but instead decreased a few stitches less on the gusset. I usually get the two gusset needles down to 6 but this time I did 8 because of decreasing my stitches from 72 to 64. I have been taking the basics that I learned in my first sock class and using the measuring ideas from Schurch's book to refine my socks. I have Flinestone feet so I need the squared toe and decrease every other row to make the toe fuller for myself. It works pretty well so far. The lace socks that are on the needles now will be yet another test. We shall see...
Nice looking socks. I have not made the Monkeys yet so I will have to give them a try.