four basics for sock knitters

On the Shelf:
Sock Fundamentals

You've been bit by the sock bug and want to get started. Or perhaps you already know the basics but want to take your skills a step further. How do you figure out which of the dozens of sock books out there is worth your time? It can be a tough challenge.

Here are my top-four recently published "fundamental" sock books. They clearly present the basics but also offer insight into other techniques. Some also show how to customize your socks to fit your foot and represent your personality perfectly. Happy reading!

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by Ann Budd

Ann Budd has a gift for making the complicated easy. She did it in The Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns and The Knitter's Handy Book of Sweater Patterns, and she does it again with this marvelous book for new sock knitters.

As the title suggests, this book is all about getting you started. It doesn't present 30 different techniques, it doesn't confuse you with a dozen cast-ons and increase/decrease techniques, it sticks with a small, manageable assortment of time-tested approaches and techniques to get your sock knitting career off the ground.

The Sock Basics section at the beginning is a book in itself. Budd provides all sorts of information, from gauge and swatching to working in the round (using four or five DPNs, a short circular, two circulars, or one long circular) and measuring your foot for a proper fit. Throughout this section, Budd provides painstakingly swatched and photographed examples of every step in the sock-knitting process, including tricky spots where we often get into trouble. If you were ever nervous about turning a heel, picking up stitches, or seaming your toe, the answers are in this book, as clear as day.

Next, she gives you instructions for a basic sock—but as in her previous books, she does all the math for you. The sock pattern is provided in five different gauges (4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 stitches to the inch), with each of those patterns offered in five different sizes (ranging from child's medium to adult large). Then Budd continues the adventure with additional patterns that experiment further with colors, stitch patterns, and structural variations in the cuff and leg.

I strongly recommend this book for anybody who wants to become a sock knitter.

edited by Ann Budd and Anne Merrow

Once you have a few socks under your belt and feel confident with the basics, you're ready to embark on more challenging projects—and that's where this book comes into the picture. Budd and Merrow have scoured the Interweave archives and selected 19 memorable sock patterns from Interweave Knits and Spin Off magazines.

I've always loved the sock patterns in these magazines and was thrilled when I heard this book was coming out. Mind you, I already have nearly every issue of both Knits and Spin Off. But even if they hadn't commissioned six additional new patterns for this project, I'd still recommend the book, even if you already have all the original magazines.

First, you gain the convenience of having all these great patterns in one place—no need to rummage through your archives and try to find the sock patterns, choose the ones you like, and schlep to your nearest photocopy machine to make a private-use copy you can carry around in your knitting bag. And second, you have the user-friendly hard-bound cover with an inside spiral binding that allows you to lay the book flat on a table or chair and focus on the pattern.

There is no introductory "this is how to knit" chapter at the beginning—the book launches right into the patterns. These are beautiful creations from the likes of designers Nancy Bush, Evelyn Clark, Candace Eisner Strick, and Priscilla Gibson-Roberts, plus several more from Ann Budd. I want to knit almost every sock in this book.

The skill level runs from beginner to advanced, with most patterns sitting somewhere in the middle. Everything is photographed clearly and the patterns are extremely easy to follow. At the back of the book you'll find most of the basic techniques in illustrated form. A few errata managed to sneak into the book—you can find them here and note them in your own copy.

by Charlene Schurch

This is a follow-up to Schurch's previous book, Sensational Knitted Socks. Together, these two books make up a powerful sock arsenal that'll keep you going for years. You just need to be comfortable navigating patterns somewhat like a board game—you find your first clue and proceed to the next, and the next, and the next, until you're done. Only in this case, you're determining if you're going to use four DPNs, five DPNs, or two circular needles, then you're finding your foot length and yarn gauge on a chart that then tells you how many stitches to cast on, and so on. I found it helpful to make a personal-use photocopy of the patterns I was knitting, so I could block out the irrelevant sections and highlight my personal details and not get too lost.

Schurch is very big on showing you a basic pattern and then explaining all the ways in which you could modify the sock to better fit your preferences. Her patterns are organized by type of stitch pattern used on the sock, and each is followed by a mini-stitch guide of other possible stitch patterns that could also be used for that sock. Between the wide variety of possible gauges and sizes and the large number of substitute stitch patterns, these books really do give you tons of options.

by the editors of Vogue Knitting magazine

What if you want it all? You want to learn how to knit socks, you want to learn how you can adorn them with different types of stitches, and you want a library of gorgeous sock patterns designed by industry-leading sock folks? Oh, and you'd like a little history tossed in too?

Here's your book. It's beautiful, it's thorough, it's helpful, and it'd make a fantastic gift for yourself or any knitting friend who is curious about socks.

This book does for socks what the original Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book did for knitting so many years ago. (This is especially true since that book, first published in 1989, had no information about sock knitting at all.)

It begins with a light overview of sock knitting history with sweet and inspiring archival photographs. Then it launches into the nitty gritty technique stuff: casting on, increasing, decreasing, working in the round, picking up stitches, casting off, the anatomy of a sock from the top down and toe up, different toe and heel styles, and so on.

Next, you're launched into the world of designs. You're given a "sock calculator" cheat sheet with all the essential numbers for superfine, fine, and DK-weight yarns in 10 sizes ranging from baby to adult XL. You simply plug those numbers into the two "universal" patterns that follow, one for top-down and one for toe-up.

Finally, the gems: 25 beautiful and technically varied patterns, the majority of which were commissioned expressly for this book. The others have been culled from the Vogue Knitting archives.

Designers include Shirley Paden, Meg Swansen, Lizbeth Upitis, Amy Swenson, Nancy Bush, Priscilla Gibson-Roberts, and Cat Bordhi (about whom we'll read more next week). Again, I don't see this from-the-archives stuff as a cop-out. Some patterns were so good the first time that it'd be shameful to ignore them just to be able to smack "All New!" in big letters across the cover.