When knitting a sock for the very first time, the pattern will likely include knitting terms that you may not recognize. Here's a rundown of all the different parts you'll need to know, starting from the top of the sock, to successfully knit your first pair.
The very top of the sock is called the sock cuff. In order to help the sock cling to a leg, the cuff is usually worked in some kind of ribbed stitch. Cuffs are pretty common, but they are optional and not all sock patterns call for a separate stitch for the top of the sock. In lieu of a cuff, some decorative sock patterns call for a stitch or ribbing that's used all the way down to the heel.
Moving down from the cuff, you'll find the part of the sock that's known as the leg. This part of the sock usually has a different stitch pattern from the cuff. Most basic sock patterns call for stockinette stitch on the leg, but legs can also be worked in ribbing. The pattern may call for either the same count or a different ribbing from the cuff—or in another stitch altogether.
If you're knitting from the top down, the heel flap is the part of the sock you'll come to after the leg. Most sock patterns feature heel flap construction, although some may use a short row heel or another alternative.
The heel flap is typically knit back and forth in rows on about half of the stitches of the sock. Heel flaps are commonly worked in a simple repeating slip stitch pattern, and the first stitch of each row is usually slipped for ease of picking up later on. Heel flaps can also be decorative—sometimes they're knit with two colors, or they can feature cables and other stitch patterns.
Once the heel flap has been worked, the heel turn is knit next in order to shape the cup of the heel. This section of short rows creates a bend, making it possible to knit an L-shaped sock rather than a tube. Attempting the heel turn often intimidates beginners, but the most important thing is to pay attention to what the pattern dictates and to work as slow as necessary.
There's a pretty standard formula for working a heel turn:
- Slip the first stitch, working across half the heel stitches plus one.
- Work a decrease, and then a wrap and turn to prevent a hole in the heel.
- Slip the first stitch again, and purl across a few of those stitches you just worked (it's often 5).
- Work one more decrease and then another wrap and turn.
With each row, you'll work one more stitch before you turn until you've worked all the stitches.
Gusset and Instep
Once the heel turn has been worked, you'll pick up stitches along the sides of the heel flap to join the leg stitches back into the work. Then you'll resume knitting in the round.
You have more stitches now than you did when you were knitting the leg. To get rid of them, you'll work regular decreases along the sides of the foot. This wedge-shaped area is known as the gusset. The top of the foot, which is worked at the same time, is known as the instep. Pattern stitches from the leg are often continued on the instep, but not always.
Once you've worked back down to the same number of stitches you had in the leg, you will knit straight for some time to create most of the remaining length of the foot.
One more bit of shaping will create the end of the sock. The sock toe usually involves four decreases in a round, which is worked every other round until about half of the stitches have been decreased, then again it's knit every round until just a handful of stitches remain.
The last stitches can be finished off simply by threading the yarn through the stitches and closing the toe as you would for the top of a hat. You can also sew them together using Kitchener stitch.