Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Top Down or Toe Up? Or something else entirely?

I used to knit exclusively top-down socks. Recently, however, I've tried the toe-up method and have found that there are definite pluses to this technique. It's useful to have both "under my belt"...

Top-down construction is rather a pain to get started with my prefered "magic loop" - two-at-a-time style. Casting on takes a bit of doing. You have to be pretty sure of your gauge from the get-go, too, otherwise you have to rip it all out and start again. Then, if you knit flap-style heels, there's that picking up of stitches along the edges to contend with (it is difficult to get the two sides of the flap to be the same). Finally, you have to be OK with grafting the toe. On the plus side, the sock is very easy to fit to the length of your foot.

Toe-up, as I have recently discovered, is much easier to cast on and get started, especially for magic loopers like myself. You've got time to settle on the gauge and can measure and confirm as you go. You can knit a flap-style heel with a gusset that looks better that top-down. But, it's much harder to judge the proper length of the foot, and I don't like the requirement for a loose cast-off (although for some foot types this is a distinct advantage). Makes the sock look floppy on top. I haven't collected the same number of heel options as for top-down socks, so reinforcing the bottom of the heel isn't something I am doing right now. Needs more brain-cycles...

Not all designs can be easily changed from top-down to bottom-up; some look quite different upside-down. Something to keep in mind when trying to adapt patterns.

There are also hybrid styles, where you combine flat-knitting portions of the sock with circular knitting. This type of construction is particularly interesting if you want a toe+sole+heel of a harder-wearing fiber than the leg+top of the sock. I've done these on a few occassions and may post a blog or two in future.

There are all kinds of really creative sock construction designs, some starting at the heel, some diagonal in construction, and some with the gussets in unexpected places. Try Cat Bordhi (purchase her books) or (free patterns) for some of these. While fascinating, I've never tried any of these. They just look...well...weird to me. Not something I'd wear. Guess I'm not the adventurous type or something, where socks are concerned...
Finally, there are flat-knit socks with seams at the back and sides, or with seams down the back and bottom of the sole, or with no seaming at all! (on two needles) for those who don't knit in the round. You can even knit socks flat, and sideways... Again, I've never tried these, as I prefer knitting in the round.

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