Team toe up: why knitting socks toe up is the best

Lace and rib socks

Before I started knitting socks, I had absolutely no idea how on earth people managed to do it. I couldn’t get my head around the construction at all. Heels, in particular, baffled me. And it turns out that there are very many ways to knit a sock, and that indeed many of those ways have to do with heels. But there is a big battleground in the handknit sock world that I wasn’t expecting; whether you knit them top down, or toe up.

I’ve surprised myself by having incredibly strong opinions on this one. Indeed, in this Blur vs Oasis, or NSync vs Backstreet Boys, or other 90s musical analogy of a showdown, I fall firmly in the toe up camp.

Toe up socks are, as my three year old would state, “brilliant amazing”. Let me tell you why.

Starting knitting with the toe feels like magic

My favourite way to start knitting toe up socks – and the one you’ll find in my patterns – is with Judy’s magic cast-on. And trust me, this cast-on lives up to its name.

You start with a slipknot, you wiggle the needle around the yarn a bit, and then you’ve got a load of stitches on your needle. Start working in some increases at the edges, and you’ve suddenly got a sock toe.

And believe me, a little toe all on its own is very cute.

You can try toe up socks on as you go. Easily.

I don’t know if you’ve ever attempted to try on a pair of top down socks while you’re in the middle of knitting them, but it’s an absolute arse. You’ve got to adjust all your stitches across the needles, try and get your foot through without knocking any over to somewhere they shouldn’t be. If you’ve already turned the heel this is an absolute nightmare. Even if you haven’t, the fact that the needles are the last thing your foot comes to makes it something of a challenge.

Work in progress yellow sock being tried on

With toe up socks, you just put your foot in them. You can hold them by the needles, and pull them up. Simple.

Perfect foot length every time.

They’ve got a roomier gusset

Minds out of gutters, people. We’re talking the bit of the sock before you get to the heel turn, where your foot starts chunking up a bit.

If, like me, you have insanely wide plank feet then the extra stitches added to a toe-up gusset are you friends. Because seriously, my feet are the same shape as a your standard plank of wood. That period in the early 00s where all shoes were super pointy was a nightmare.

It’s really easy to add a decorative bind-off and jazz your socks up

I like to make my socks a little bit fancy. My Party As a Verb socks use a picot cast-off so they’ll look extra great peeking over the tops of ankle boots. This kind of thing is simple to do with a toe-up sock. And, because the cuff is the last bit you get to, you can decide to add a picot on a whim.

Picot cast-off on blue Party As a Verb handknit socks

Sure, if you’re knitting top down you could do a provisional cast-on and then go back and do something jazzy at the end, but I got tired just typing that out.

It’s super obvious how long to make the leg of your sock

Farewell, yarn chicken. There’s nothing worse than getting towards the end of your second sock and realising you don’t actually have enough yarn left to get to the toe. It’s an occupational hazard of the top-down knitter. So easy to get carried away with a lovely long leg and not leave yourself enough to work with.

That’s not going to happen if you toe-up it though. Especially if you’re one of those clever people who divides their yarn into two balls, so they’ve got one for each sock. You can just keep going until you run out of yarn.

Time to try out a toe up sock pattern?

Just in case I’ve not made myself totally clear: I’m all about team toe up. That’s why toe up is the method you’ll find in my patterns

Although, as with all rules, I make one exception: chunky bed socks. Which is a good thing, because they’re coming your way soon.

Never have I ever knitted… (or, the knitting bucket list)

For someone who considers themselves a seasoned knitter, there’s a surprising amount of knitting that I’ve not done. And I’m not just talking about all the planned projects that currently just exist in the form of a load of stashed yarn and some dreams. I mean there are loads techniques, and types of knitting, that I’ve just never done.

Admittedly, I’m not the most adventurous person. My idea of a cracking night is a cup of tea, some knitting, and a nice sit down. But I am adventurous in my clothing, and my colour choices, and I like to think I’m adventurous in my design. And yet, there are huge gaps in my yarny experience.

For example: I just knitted myself a pair of socks. They were my first ever socks. Not my first toe-up socks. My first socks, full stop. This is not really an acceptable state of affairs for a professional knitter.

And so I’m compiling a list of all the things I’ve never knitted so that I can work my way through them slowly. Prepare to be appalled, my fellow knitters. There are some gaps here as glaring as the gap in my cinematic knowledge that comes from never having seen The Wizard of Oz.

Top-down socks
Not really a big surprise, this one, given that I’ve just told you that I’ve only ever knitted one pair of socks and they were toe up. But for the sake of completeness, it still needs including. And rectifying. Swiftly, with some of the sock yarn I’ve just accidentally bought. Turns out knitted socks are really cosy. Who knew?

Everyone? Oh.

Anything else top-down
Yes, that’s right. I’ve never knitted a top-down sweater, or cardigan, or anything. I’ve only ever done one top in the round, although I did at least knit that one twice. I know there are huge benefits to whole top-down method, like checking the fit, and feeling smug, but I’ve still never quite been brave enough for it. I just look at those items and think “ooh, that looks tricky.”

A fairisle yoke
Science fact: I’d never done any colourwork until less than a year ago, because – shockingly enough – it scared me. It’s that whole top-down thing again. So I suppose the obvious conclusion here is that I should knit a top-down fairisle yoked sweater, isn’t it?

Magic loop
Another ridiculous omission, given that it’s apparently brilliant and much easier than using double pointed needles. But something about the name makes me think of law firms, and I apparently just can’t get past that. If I wanted to be a lawyer I would’ve done something more than watching a lot of The Good Wife and going ‘oh man, that looks EXCITING!’. And so, my brain’s idiocy in collating magic circle law firms with magic loop knitting has condemned me to a life of things being far more difficult than they need to be. Serves me right, really.

A triangular shawl
This one, admittedly, is more about aesthetic choice than a fear of technique. I’m not really a shawl-wearing person; I’m more chunky cardigans and coats with pockets full of crap from years ago. But, it’s occurred to me in writing this that I could use a shawl a bit like a cape and swoosh my way around. And that I could knit it in really bright fun colours and it needn’t be granny-like at all.

I’ve talked myself right into that one, haven’t I?

Brioche
I’m not going to lie – brioche looks like the result of some dark magic to me. How? How does it do that? I don’t have even the faintest idea. Suppose I should probably find out at some point soon.

An I-cord bind off
What is it? Is it a bind off made by Apple? How many other people have made that joke before me? It’s another one I’ll have to knit to find out. Although maybe not about the joke. I don’t think I’ll finish the bind off and suddenly a voice will go “10,006 people made that joke before you!”

That’d be cool, though.

So that’s it. That’s the list, a least as far as I can remember. And, now that they’re committed to the internet, I’m committed to rectifying the situation.

Eventually.