This is how I make most of my socks: top down, heel-flap, decrease short-row heel, flat round toe - no matter the gauge, needle size or yarn weight. I use the method described below to make the first sock, then I use the finished first sock as a template to make the second. In all honesty, this method arose from utter laziness. I'd much rather crack on with my knitting than stop and take notes (ahem, though of course, not while I'm designing for pattern writing). So instead of writing anything down, I just look back at the first sock and read what I've done from there.
It wasn't always perfect. Sometimes my unwillingness to take notes during my leisure knitting resulted in rows ripped back and redone. But eventually, what was born from laziness has made me a stronger knitter. It was not too long after I started doing this that I realized I could look at almost any knitted thing and write down instructions for making it. It was a turning point in how I knit, and I always try to encourage others to seek a similar freedom. Socks are a great way to do this because you have to make two, and they can be made quickly. To read more about how I decipher a sock, see the Baby Sock Reading Challenge.
Patternless Sock Guidelines
Using your chosen needle size & yarn weight, CO about 20 sts, and work about 6 - 8 rows in a rib pattern or St st. When this is done, pull the knitting off the needle and measure your stitch gauge. Use this measurement to decide how many stitches to cast on, remembering that you’ll want to make your sock with a certain amount of negative ease.
My Gauges: For the kid’s sock in the Baby Sock Reading Challenge, I used 3.5 mm needles, DK weight yarn, and 30 sts. For an adult women’s sock, I usually CO about 60 sts with sock weight yarn and 2.5 mm needles. For a man’s I increase this to about 66 sts (I like my stitches to be divisible by 2 and 3 if possible).
Pick a rib pattern for the cuff (if you swatched in rib, might as well use that one!), CO your sts, and work until you’ve got the length of cuff you like. Note: take for granted that you should be working in complete rounds.
Pick a main stitch pattern for your sock and switch from rib to the new pattern. Work until you are happy with the length of the leg.
My Stitch Pattern: For the kid’s sock I used a Double Moss stitch pattern.
Rnds 1 & 2: [K1, P1], rep to end.
Rnds 3 & 4: [P1, K1], rep to end.
Note: Using a stitch pattern with a set number of rnds can make it easier to count the rows in the leg when you are reading the first sock to make the second.
Knit across about half the stitches to form the heel flap. Heel flap is worked flat. Choose a slip stitch pattern for the heel, and include 2 or 3 garter stitch selvage stitches on each side. Work heel flap rows back and forth until the heel flap is about square, ending with a WS row.
My Heel Flaps: I usually use either an “Eye of Partridge” or a plain slip stitch ridged pattern for the heel flap.
Heel flap A (Eye of Partridge)
Rows 1 & 3 (WS): K2 (selvage), P to last 2 sts, K2 (selvage).
Row 2 (RS): K2 (selvage), [Sl 1 pwise, K1], rep to last 2 sts (fits evenly or unevenly depending on # of sts), K2 (selvage)
Row 4 (RS): K2 (selvage), [K1, Sl1 pwise], rep to last 2 sts (evenly or unevenly), K2 (selvage)
Heel flap B (simple slip stitch ridges)
WS: K2 (selvage), P to last 2 sts, K2 (selvage).
RS: K2 (selvage), [Sl 1 pwise, K1], rep to last 2 sts (fits evenly or unevenly depending on # of sts), K2 (selvage)
Turning the Heel:
For a decrease short-row heel turn, find the middle of your heel stitches (either a stitch, or a space between 2 sts), and pick a number of sts on each side to be your heel’s “turning point”. One stitch will make the angle of turn too acute, and vice versa for too many stitches. Aim for 1/2 - 1 inch width.
Knit across to the far left of your turning point (all turning point sts worked), SSK, K1, TURN.
Next short-row (WS): Sl 1 pwise, purl to far left of turning point (all turning point sts worked), P2tog, P1 turn.
Dec Short-row 1 (RS): Sl 1 pwise, K to slipped st, SSK, K1, TURN.
Dec Short-row 2 (WS): Sl1 pwise, P to slipped st, P2tog, P1, TURN.
Continue these 2 dec short-rows until you’ve worked the last possible RS short-row (if you have a final st that still needs to be dec’d on the WS, you can do that when picking up around the heel flap).
Picking Up Heel Stitches
Pick up and knit stitches along the left selvage edge of the heel flap using the purl bumps from the selvage sts. If there is too much of a gap between the last purl bump and the beginning of the instep sts, pick up a st or two in between to fill in any potential hole.
Work across instep sts in patt.
Repeat the process for the right selvage edge, remembering about the gap between instep sts and first purl bump.
Rearrange sts on needle if req’d.
Note: At this point in the sock, I generally arrange my stitches on 3 needles - Needle 1 is mid-heel to just before instep, Needle 2 is instep sts, Needle 3 is the other half of heel sts. I count the mid-heel as the beginning of my round until I reach the toe decreases.
Evenly decrease the extra heel stitches on each side of the instep stitches with decrease ratio of your choice. Continue decreases until you’ve reached your original stitch count.
My Gusset Decreases: I always decrease every other row, making a nice 45° angle. But you may want to vary this with a steeper incline (dec every row) or a sloping shape (dec every row for first 3 rows, then every other row, then every 3rd row, for example).
Continue working the foot evenly, keeping instep sts in patt, and sole sts in St st, until the sock is long enough (minus the toe length - about 1 1/2”). Don’t be afraid to try it on the intended foot with the needles still in it!
Decide on a decrease scheme for your toe. For a flat, rounded toe, you’ll want to gradually increase the rate of dec rows.
My Toe Decreases: For the kid’s sock I used the following decrease scheme (where D is the decrease round and the numbers represent the # of rnds between dec rnds) -
D, 2, D, 1, D, 1, D, D, D. Leaving 10 sts for grafting.
For adult socks knit with sock weight yarn, my decrease scheme usually looks like this -
D, 3, D, 2, D, 2, D, 1, D, 1, D, 1, D, D, D… until I like the number of stitches left for grafting. Usually between 16 and 20.
Grafting & Finishing
Use Kitchener Stitch to graft remaining stitches together. Weave in ends. Block if you feel like it (I usually don’t bother unless the socks are a gift and I want them to look their best).
Keep the first sock with you when working on the second, and refer to it as a pattern for creating its twin.
See the Baby Sock Reading Challenge (next post) for tips on how to use the first sock as a template.