Better Socks Through Better Books

This review begins with my first pair of socks knit in 2006. One thing I never confessed to was that one of the gussets on one of the socks was upside down. I was still learning all the parts, all the stitches, and how everything fit together. I was delighted to discover that despite this error they still fit perfectly fine and unless I point out the error, no one is the wiser.

newpathwaysIn 2007, Cat Bordhi released the first book in a new series for sock knitters, New Pathways for Sock Knitters and I was instantly smitten. It was exciting to learn that the arch expansion position doesn’t entirely matter, what matters is that it exists somewhere along the way. Those extra stitches are important, but they don’t have to be executed with the same exactitude as say, a neck opening. I love Cat’s brain, so I tend to acquire all of her books to learn what new things I can. In 2011 she released her first ebook Cat’s Sweet Tomato Heel Socks which opened up a new world of smoother short-row heels. I was fascinated by this and knew it would go in my queue to knit some day.

Big Foot KnitsLast July another sock book by a different author entered the marketplace and despite its title, it is one I think every sock knitter should own, read, and learn from. It has changed my sock knitting life as much as Cat Bordhi has, Big Foot Knits by Andi Smith is a phenomenal book and you might wonder why it’s taken me so long to review.

I had grand plans to quickly knit up a pair of socks and show how the lessons applied to even my tiny feet.

Then I cast on with 2mm needles and a very light fingering weight yarn. Even for my feet, that gauge takes a while to knit. Yes, 9 stitches per inch take a while to knit no matter what size shoe you wear.

I finally finished those socks this week and as long-ago promised, am writing up my thoughts. This isn’t as detailed as I planned, but I hope I can show you how these books are valuable additions to your library.

Ok, while at first glance I should focus on knitting my socks from another Cooperative Press title, Tiny Treads (review soon), the reality is that without modification, I can’t just knit any sock pattern and expect the end result to fit and wear well. Just lopping off an inch or more for the foot length isn’t the solution. Andi changed my sock knitting life by showing me how to knit socks that fit me and my feet.

Don’t believe me? These are my toes. (Warning, pictures of my toes appear below, please scroll.)

still here? wow. ok. you’re brave.

my toes

Here are how most sock toes are knitted, with various degree of pointedness.

most sock toes

Sure, after wearing a pair all day, they do mold to my toes as knitted fabric is quite forgiving, but they don’t feel as if they were made specifically for my feet. Which is a shame as I try to knit my socks specifically for my feet.

most socks

In addition to Andi’s very comprehensive review of measuring all the parts of our feet (similar to how we’ve learned to measure for the other garments we knit or sew), she asks us to look at the shapes of our toes, heels, and legs. Why hadn’t anyone asked me to do this before?

Andi explains in detail how to work increases (or decreases) at the right speed so the slope of the toe is shaped like your toes. She provides numbers worksheets that let you keep track of the numbers and steps you through the maths to get you there. While I’m focusing primarily on toes today, she also explains how to work different cuffs and heels.

For this pair of socks I just wanted to make the toes better. Thanks to over 50 pages of instructions, diagrams, charts, and worksheets, I did.

proper toes

proper toes

Andi also includes 12 beautiful patterns if you want a little more inspiration. I wanted a simple pair of socks.

I chose to knit the heels of these socks with Cat’s sweet tomato heel. These are special socks as they’re the second pair from the same 100g ball of yarn, the first pair were knitted back in 2011. I used every inch of yarn and bound off with about 12 inches remaining on one sock and less than 5 on the other.

finished socks

just finished

I love the entire fit of these socks—from toes, to heel, to final cuff.

comfy new socks
I highly recommend these sock books by Andi Smith and Cat Bordhi.

just finishedProject details
Ravelry project page
Yarn: 50g Berroco Ultra Alpaca Fine in Peat Mix
Needles: 2mm
Started: 26 July 2013
Completed: 12 January 2014
Toes: Big Foot Knits by Andi Smith
Heel: Cat’s Sweet Tomato Heel Socks by Cat Bordhi

my sock drawer, annotated

A post on the lowly sock drawer? We can thank Lorna’s Laces and Susan B Anderson for this post. I caught their posts on this subject in my digital stream and decided, game on! Mine needed a spring stretch, so after organization, I photographed the tidy drawer. All of my socks live in this drawer, I just don’t always fold them so nicely. It often looks like my desk.

Whoops! I didn’t intend for this post to become so detailed… but it has. Enjoy!


Clockwise from upper right. Socks are listed by their pattern name and the designer if applicable, what I tend to call them in my head if they’re no real pattern. Links are either to my Ravelry project page (all should be public) or to posts within this site..

2 pairs of machine knit cotton socks. I wear these when I run.

The next row contains the socks I don’t wear that frequently, either because they’re for a specific thing, or are cotton, or are the very first pair of socks I knitted (I should just frame them), or for one reason or another, just don’t make it into the frequent rotation.

Bottom row. These are in the frequent rotation:

The Bin of Anklets: 2007-05 | 2007-07 | 2009-05 | 2011-06 | 2011-08

knee-highs and felted gifts: instant autumn socks | felted | felted (gift from Will) … Felted gifts? With a tiny foot, once a sock for a normal size foot felts, sometimes I can wear them. I find them awesome for the winter when I run around the house and leave my slippers elsewhere.

Not Pictured: Earl Grey by Stephanie Pearl-Mcphee

I’m wearing the pair that Heather knit for me.

Curious what to look for in a sock yarn? You MUST read Clara Parkes’ The Sock Knitter’s Book. I look for well-twisted-multi-ply-wool-blend. Sure, I have some acrylic and some cotton, but it’s the yarns with these characteristics that are tough and I wear frequently. I can’t wait to finish knitting down my sock yarn stash so I can begin to knit all my socks in the colours and yarns I like best. The pretty yarns are reserved for where they can be cherished and not worn so hard.. shawls and cowls are my favourite use of these precious sock yarns.

I machine wash most of the socks (not the Pomatomus pair) and then air dry either just pinning to my drying rack or if they’ve shown too much felting (from my feet, not from my washing machine) I put them on blockers.

And yes, Shadow did try to help.
let me help!

sock knitting: afterthought heels

Heels are often the unsung hero of socks, after yarn and gauge considerations. Most knitters (myself included) fall into a rut if we’re just knitting simple socks. We have a go-to recipe and we follow it time and time again.

What do I do? I almost always knit toe-up and I alternate between Cat Bordhi‘s architectures (flap & afterthought leg) and my standard short-row heel.

I wanted something different when I was knitting a pair of self-striping socks over the summer. I wanted them to be simple as I was knitting them during travel time to various hospitals to see mum. I wanted to do something different from what I normally do just to keep it interesting.

Over a year ago I assisted Heather in writing up her sock summit sock heel course so she could publish ebooks of the techniques and also prepare revised teaching materials for her classes. We’re now working on a new and improved format for the ebooks, so these heels was bouncing around my brain. Could she offer for a toe-up that I hadn’t done before?

With six heels to choose from I knew there should be something.

Yes! Afterthought heels came to my rescue.

Did I really need a pattern? Honestly, at this point in my knitting career, no. Was it nice to have Heather’s worksheet and instructions?


Why? I knit these socks while traveling under stress. The socks were shoved in my bag as I sprinted for one transfer or another. I did not need to think much about these socks as my brain was more concerned with making sure my mother got the proper care that she needed. The notes and worksheet were a nice reminder for my coffee-deprived brain when I paused to look. They reminded me where I should place the heel, and believe-it-or-not I needed the reminder on how to place the waste yarn.

How are the finished socks? A perfect happy fit.

Ravelry project

a perfect knit: summer socks for holly golightly

Sometimes the yarn speaks to you and begs you to knit it in a certain way.

Sometimes the pattern begs you to knit it in a certain yarn.

Sometimes what results is a perfect knit.

This happened recently on a test knit.

It started at Maryland. Heather of Craftlit found a delightful yarn — Dragonfly Fibers Super Djinni (Worsted weight, 80% Merino, 10% Nylon, 10% Cashmere).

The colourway Heather chose was bright and just begged to curl up with Breakfast at Tiffany’s and a pedicure.

Pedicures are nice, but if you are like us, they pose a problem. You feet become quite cold. Actually your feet are always cold. Even in the summer.

A design was born … toeless socks in a light lace pattern to allow for a pedicure and a flap to keep your pampered toes warm when you curl up later on the couch.

I made different purchase decisions at Maryland this year so after sorting through my stash, the most obvious choice was a skein of Lion Brand Martha Stewart Crafts Extra Soft Wool Blend in Igloo. This machine-washable blend (Worsted weight, 65% Acrylic, 35% Wool) was delightful to work with and is even more wonderful to wear.

These socks are knitted in a worsted weight yarn on smaller needles which results in a super cushy fabric that knits up fast. After a few rounds of ribbing at the cuff you transition into a very addictive 4 row pattern for the leg and foot. The heel is a great delight — a Welsh Heel which is fun to knit and fits very well. After you finish the foot and bind off just before your toes, you then pickup and knit a toe flap. Because I was test knitting, I followed Heather’s instructions and knitted it with short rows, but I don’t see why you couldn’t knit it toe-up and kitchener the finished toe flap into place.

What to say. Everything about knitting this pattern was fun. Heather, the tech editor Eleanor, and I worked to make this pattern clear and fun for you to knit and I hope we succeeded. While it’s great to knit, I’ve discovered even greater delight in wearing these socks. I wear them throughout the day while I’m running around the house in flip flops with the flap up. Then when I curl up on the couch with the kitten, a book, or knitting I can close the flap and keep warm. I just have to push the flap back up to slide my shoes back on and off I go again. The yarn blend is soft, not too warm, and so far wearing like iron. My Ravelry Project page includes a few more notes that may be helpful if you chose to knit them, especially if you are impatient.

You can purchase your own copy of the Holly GoLightly pedicure socks ($4) pattern from Ravelry.

(added) If you are interested, Heather is teaching her Sock Heels-a-GoGo course online as three options: the full course of 6 sock heels– Dutch, Welsh, German, French, Sherman, and toe-up with a flap ($65) and two mini courses of that separate out the top-down and toe-up options ($35/each).

Because you’ll ask, toes are Essie Chinchilly and my fingers are Essie Au Natural.