A Toe-Up Trio
Sock knitters tend to fall into one of two camps: They either love knitting their socks from the cuff to the toe, or they love knitting their socks from the toe to the cuff. I learned to knit socks from the cuff down, so that remains my technique of choice—if for no other reason than sentimentality.
While both techniques use the same kinds of yarn, needles, and stitches, the toe-up technique has some special benefits. Among other things, it enables you to slip your foot into the sock and try it on for size as you go along, making any necessary adjustments to create a true, perfect fit.
When knitting your socks from the toe up, you can use smaller amounts of yarn and simply bind off whenever you've run out. Run out of yarn on a top-down sock and you'll have no toe. And finally, if you're among the small percentage of knitters who has a horror of Kitchener stitch, you'll appreciate the fact that toe-up socks (except those with afterthought heels) have no seam.
Both camps have their leaders, and Wendy Johnson, Melissa Morgan-Oakes, and Chrissy Gardiner are empresses of the toe-up community. Coincidentally, all three knitters have recently released toe-up books. Here's a quick overview of how they differ—and a suggestion as to why you might want all three books.
Wendy Johnson is a hugely popular and prolific blogger who just happens to be passionate about toe-up socks. She's been designing them for years. Her earlier book, Socks from the Toe Up, was intended as a toe-up primer to teach knitters about the basic structure, stitches, and pattern possibilities of toe-up socks.
In her new book, Toe-Up Socks for Every Body, Wendy steps outside of her sock-design comfort zone and creates what she calls "interesting and challenging" new patterns. Does this mean the projects are insanely difficult and that you should only try them after you have a few dozen pairs under your belt? Absolutely not. Will they cause your head to explode? Nope. But they will require a little more concentration than those in her first book.
The patterns, 21 in all, run the technique gamut from lace to cables, traveling twisted stitches, and colorwork. Most are for women, but a few are also designed for men and children. The women's socks tend to be sized small to large (for a foot circumference ranging from 7 to 9 inches), while some patterns offer fewer size choices. She does give quick advice up front about how to modify the patterns (or your knitting) to fit feet that don't fall into the standard size ranges.
As in her previous book, Wendy makes generous use of charts for her stitch patterns. For those who fear charts, either conquer your fear or befriend a knitter who can translate them into line-by-line instructions for you because you won't be able to complete many of these projects without reading charts.
People adore Wendy's blog not only because of the stories she tells but because of the way in which she tells them. She has a way with words. In talking about how variegated yarns can behave in colorwork, for example, she carefully chose the words "nefarious" and "duplicitous." She is a gifted writer, and that makes this book a pleasant read.
Melissa's first book, 2-at-a-Time Socks, showed how to knit two socks simultaneously on one long circular needle. Overnight, the dreaded "second sock syndrome" was gone as knitters throughout the land smugly began knitting both their socks at the same time.
Now, Melissa expands her two-at-a-time empire, reversing the order of construction and showing how easily you can also knit two socks on one circular needle starting from the toes. She provides abundant photographic technique illustrations, gives you a cute sample pattern to knit while you learn the technique, and then she shares 15 lovely, knittable, wearable socks. Those are her words, but they're true.
Sizes vary depending on the sock, with the small averaging a circumference between 6 1/2 and 7 1/2 inches, and the large averaging between 8 and 9 1/4 inches. In terms of length, Melissa makes you do your own math to get a toe-to-gusset length that will actually work with your stitch and row gauge. Which will, in turn, give you a sock that really fits.
In the publishing world, it's a very big deal to sell more than 100,000 copies of anything. When it happens with your very first book, it's an even bigger deal—and pressure to deliver an equally good book the second time can be immense. And yet that's exactly what Melissa Morgan-Oakes has done.
The most thorough and encyclopedic reference in our toe-up trio comes from Chrissy Gardiner, a knitwear designer and self-professed "former toe-up skeptic" who has published patterns in Twist Collective, Knitty, and Interweave Knits.
Whereas the previous books in this review were produced by mainstream publishers, Chrissy's book was published by Chrissy herself. She received guidance from the legendary self-publishing sock designer Cat Bordhi and her Visionary Retreat for Self-Publishing Authors, which is why you'll find a picture of Cat's rocky Pacific Northwest shoreline on the very first page.
The book is all about information, options, and ideas. Chrissy gives you choices at each step of the way. All the patterns can be followed on DPNs, two circulars, or one very long circular, depending on your preference. You can choose from several different cast-on techniques (with clear, full-color photos to illustrate each step), plus different ways to work the toes, heels, and even bind-off edges. Chrissy even spends time showing you how to follow charts, work cables without a cable needle, and, yes, even how to work two socks at a time on one circular needle (with a nod to Melissa).
In addition to all the construction and technique stuff, Chrissy also provides 15 patterns (sorted into two categories, Family and Fancy) for toe-up socks. Among the most valuable are a flexible mix-and-match "recipe" that lets you choose the toe, pattern stitch, and heel for your sock. Each pattern is offered in a generous range of sizes, most covering foot circumferences of 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 inches, with additional information on how to adapt the patterns for yet more sizes.
Chart-phobic knitters will be happy to know that all the charted patterns are also written out in line-by-line instructions. You also get blank worksheets to calculate the different kinds of toes and heels for your own sock projects. And as if this weren't enough, Chrissy ends with an eight-page technique glossary—again, with full-color photographs—showing everything from wrapping stitches and working yarn-overs to working Kitchener stitch and provisional cast-ons.
It's a lot to digest. Those who like to learn everything about a technique will love this book. Those who prefer to be fed a complete pattern, from cast-on to bind-off, may feel initially overwhelmed. My advice? Try anyway. Be patient, treat this like a textbook, and enjoy the adventure.