Socks… specifically, Toes

I don’t know about you, but my toes are not symmetrical. My feet are not shaped like most socks, or even like most sock-knitting patterns. I have a left foot, and a right foot. Like shoes. Huh.

So I was thinking the other day, why don’t socks follow the curve of my toes? Is it because then we’d have to look first before we put them on? Is it because it would mess up the evil plan of all those folks who suggest that you only buy one color of socks, so you won’t have to match them at all when you take them out of the wash? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

I got to the toe section of that sock I was knitting in my head* at work last week (when things at the cafe get stressful or too hot or slammed, I imagine I’m sitting somewhere knitting; last week it was the sock). Anyway, when I was really knitting it at home (you may recall, the sock for which there was almost enough yarn in one skein – did I do a swatch I don’t remember? not likely), after I changed to the purple and charcoal yarns held together, and started the toe, I decided to do a little research on why sock toes don’t look like people toes.

One of the rules in my house has always been “There’s always money in the budget for books.” So I have a nice little library of knitting books. I didn’t look in every. single. one., but I checked a few that talk about socks. I looked at a lot of sock toes. They were all symmetrical, except for the toesies (you know, the ones like gloves for your feet). I haven’t graduated from fingerless mitts to gloves yet, and I’m certainly not ready to try that action on something as non-standard as my pinky toes.

So I sat and gazed at my feet for a while. I observed that, at least on my own feet, the big toe is reasonably straight up from the foot, while the tops of the other toes form a slanted, somewhat curved line from the little toe up to the full height (or length) of the big toe. Well, here, it’s kinda like this:

Better or worse than the real thing? You’ll never know…

Forgive the graphic – it’s a bit crude, but not as crude as actually putting a photo of my toes on the Internet. My daughter (Good Day Howard) made me promise I wouldn’t do that.

So anyway, given that description and that graphic, why would we routinely make toes that symmetrically reduce on both sides? Round toes, star toes, origami toes, wedge toes… every one I looked at did that! To my mind, that would mean there’d be a big empty space over the last couple of toes to form a lump in your shoe, or there’d be a too-tight area on the big toe – and maybe both of those things would happen. Well, I decided that this sock would be different.

Elizabeth Zimmermann (Knitting Idol) “unvented” stitches, techniques, etc., with the thought that probably many, many other knitters had come up with them before her. I’m sure that people must have made socks that follow the contour of the toes more closely. Seems to me that back in the days before pantyhose we had stockings with feet that looked more foot-like. (Yes, I do remember the days before pantyhose. Or should I say “tights” now?)

So – with my 32 stitches on each needle (I like to use the Magic Loop for socks, and anything else circular), I did a regular Classic Toe (usually: K1, ssk, knit to last 3 sts on needle, k2tog, k1), but only decreased on one side of the foot, until I was about halfway up the big toe. I also eliminated the 2nd row of plain “Knit” usually called for in the Classic Toe, to allow the decreases to be more definite and follow my own foot more closely. (I tried a couple of double decreases on one of the socks – it was too much and caused a lump, which has mellowed after washing and some vigorous tugging, but it wasn’t really necessary, so I don’t recommend it.) You might find it helpful to put a locking stitch marker on the “decrease/little toe” side, just to keep it in mind – I need that kind of reminder, myself. And PLEASE – make sure you’re not making two right socks, or two left socks. I don’t want any nasty emails. 😉

Once I was halfway up the big toe, I started doing the decreases on both sides of the foot, but alternated decrease rows with “Knit” rows only on the big toe, to allow it to decrease more gradually. I tried the sock on about a million times while knitting it, to keep it as close to the contour of my toes as possible. Last few rows, decrease on both sides, every row. Gauge how much decrease you need as you go. Good reason to knit barefoot. And if you’re knitting for someone else, how about a picture of their toes? Or, sit with them and drive them crazy trying the sock on repeatedly. Whatever they’ll put up with…

Keep going till you have only 16 stitches, 8 on each of the needles. Graft, weave in ends, and enjoy your custom socks!

And now –

Voila! Absolutely individual, custom-fit socks!

Next time, because I’ve started another pair of socks today, I’ll be exploring the joys of trying to make two socks with self-patterning yarn that actually look alike…

* Knitting in my head – I tweeted about it. I don’t think anyone saw it. Oh well. @uptownknitting

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