A step by step tutorial on knitting socks for beginners the traditional way on double-pointed needles and an easy striped pattern that fits everyone
So you are looking for a tutorial on how to knit socks? You want a simple top town pattern suitable for beginners you can finish fast and without years of experience? Well, then you came to the right place!
I’ve been knitting socks for as long as I can remember. If you look around my blog you will find quite a lot of (free) sock patterns (like my Bavarian Socks, my basic ribbed socks or socks with a lovely cable detail) you might want to save for later. Even as a child I always only wanted to wear hand-knitted socks – much to the joy (and sometimes dismay) of my grandmother.
Now, there are many ways to knit socks. Toe-up, two at a time, even flat using two needles, and then of course using magic loop. This tutorial shows you how to knit a pair of socks the traditional way. Why? Because this is a time-proven method that will fit anyone – no matter their shoe size or gender.
Later on, and once you are familiar with the process, I certainly urge you to experiment a bit and find techniques that suit your style of knitting and your body even better. But for now, I think it’s best to start with a super simple sock pattern. And really don’t be scared of the double-pointed knitting needles. All it takes is a bit of practice and some tips and you’ll never look back!
My design is with stripes but you can also knit it in just one color. I recently knit some plastic-free naturally dyed socks following the exact same pattern.
So, let’s dive right into it!
1. Materials you need to knit a sock
Note: I earn a small commission for purchases made through links in this article.
Most sock patterns use very thin yarn and equally thin needles. If you want to wear your sock every day (and not just in winter), then you really have no other choice to produce a light and breathable fabric that doesn’t turn your shoes into a sauna. Still, this sock recipe will work out with DK weight yarn as well (and 3.00 mm needles) just as fine.
- 100-150 grams of a fingering weight sock yarn suitable for needles size 2.5 mm. I am using a very lovely yarn by Samelin Dyeworks.
- Double-pointed knitting needles size 2.50 mm. I am using these Knitter’s Pride Karbonz needles. The best sock needles on the market, in my opinion. I feel they are fast to knit with AND have a lot of grip. There are 6 and 8-inch dpns. For socks, 6 inches are muuuuch better.
- A tapestry needle and scissors
- Measuring tape
- (optional) A crochet hook 2.00 mm for picking up the stitches for the heel. I used the Knitter’s Pride Waves here.
- (optional) Stitch markers
- (optional) Needles stoppers
Kindly note that I will be knitting these socks using three different colors. I am doing this so I can show you how to knit the popular stripes. If you like the way that looks then you need one 100 grams skein and two 50 grams skeins of the same yarn base (don’t mix brands!!!). But you can also knit with just one color and it will actually be easier.
2. How many stitches to cast on for socks
The first thing you need to do is figuring out how many stitches you need to cast on. And THE ONLY WAY to find your answer is knitting a swatch, and then do some easy calculations. While there are sock charts (or patterns), you will have to knit a swatch to verify your gauge (and knit again if you were off). So, I think it’s much easier & reliable to do it yourself.
I have a very detailed tutorial showing you how to figure out the cast on requirements for socks but here’s the brief version:
Step 1: Cast on 30 stitches and knit 30 rows in plain stockinette stitch using the same yarn and needles you want to knit your socks with. Then bind off.
Step 2: Wash and block your finished swatch (important!)
Step 3: Count how many stitches you need to cover 5 cm / 5 in.
Step 4: Measure your feet at their widest point (typically around the ankle/heel).
Step 5: Do some easy math:
- Divide the number of stitches you counted by the width you measured.
- Multiply the resulting factor times the circumference of your foot.
- Subtract ~15% to account for the negative ease of the st st.
- Round to the nearest number dividable by 4.
And that’s how many stitches you need to cast on.
Note: This is a simplified version. Normally, you would have to knit a proper swatch in the round, figure out the ease of your swatch, etc. As this is quite difficult to get right, I feel it’s much easier to verify your results by trying on your socks in the making after round 30. As a beginner, that’s still faster than trying to knit the perfect swatch.
3. Knitting the cuff
Once you figured out how many stitches you need to cast on, pick up your double-pointed knitting needles and you can start knitting the cuff. Check out this tutorial, If you don’t know how to knit in the round on double-pointed knitting needles yet. And here’s a post with 10 tips for neater results with dpns.
- Cast on as many stitches as you need plus one using two needles to create a really stretchy edge. Then distribute these stitches to four needles.
For reference: I am casting on 68 stitches for a men’s size 8.5 (U.S.)
- Join in the round by slipping the first stitch on the first needle to the last needle. Then pass the (now) second stitch on the last needle over the first (a bit like a bind-off). Slip the remaining stitch back to your first needle (and tug on the tails).
- Knit across in a 2×2 rib for around 5 cm/2 in. The repeat is: *k2, p2* across all rows and stitches.
For reference: I am knitting 24 rows of ribbing.
Depending on your shoe size, you may want to knit a shorter or longer cuff.
Note: The first 1-4 rounds on double-pointed needles will always feel extremely precarious. That’s normal (even for me), and I urge you to persevere. Once you covered a centimeter or so, things will stabilize tremendously!
4. Knit the leg
Once you are satisfied with your cuff, you can move onwards to the leg. While you can pick any other knitting stitch pattern as well, stockinette stitch is a very simple and effective stitch for the leg.
You may want to switch colors here but either way, the instructions for the leg remain the same:
- Knit across all rows and stitches
IMPORTANT: After 30 rows or so, you should try on your sock in the making. You can either slip all stitches to a spare circular needle or thread a bit of scrap yarn on a tapestry needle and pull it through all stitches (to create a makeshift stitch holder).
That way, you can check if your cuff fits the way it should, and whether you can get it past your heel or not. If things don’t fit (it feels tight or slips down by itself), try to figure out how much more (or less) fabric you would need, unravel and adjust your cast-on accordingly.
Don’t try on your socks after only 10 rows. Ribbing behaves quite differently before you covered a significant stretch. From here, I urge you to frequently try on your socks after each major step to verify the fit.
4.1 How long should you knit the leg?
Remember the measurements of your feet at their widest point? You need that number again. So, pick up your measuring tape, put it around your calf, and go up to the point where you have the exact same circumference. And then, measure the distance towards the ankle knuckle.
Now, obviously, you already covered 5 cm for the cuff (or however many rows you knit). So, you have to subtract that number.
In my case, I measured 20 cm which means I have to knit 15 cm in stockinette stitch.
Note: If you have very strong calves (or a very narrow ankle) your socks might end up rather short. To combat that, you would have to cast on more stitches and then decrease to the original calculation as you go down.
4.2 How to add stripes
Stripes can be a very fun way to make your sock appear less plain without adding a lot of knitting complexity. Basically, you only have to join in a new yarn every couple of rows. There are, however, some rules you need to observe:
- If your stripes are only 4 rows or less, then you can carry the yarn on the backside.
- If your stripes are above 5 but below 10, then you can carry the yarn on the backside but you need to create floats on the backside every 2 or 3 rows by crossing the yarn (like in Fair Isle; or watch the video in this post).
- If your stripes are more than 10 rows, I recommend cutting off the yarn after you finished each stripe. You will end up with a lot of tails to weave in but it’s the neatest and most secure option.
Knitting stripes can be quite visible if you do it wrong. So, definitely read my guide on knitting jogless stripes in the round.
One important note: Don’t place the “jog”/where you change yarn at the beginning or end of a needle. That runs the risk of creating a ladder. Instead, always do it somewhere in the middle of your needle. Use a stitch marker to mark the new beginning of your round.
5. How to knit a sock heel
Once you are satisfied with your leg, it’s time to move forward and knit the heel. A classic sock heel consists of three parts: The heel flap, the heel itself, and the gusset.
While there are other methods to knit a heel (like the really simple German short-row heel, etc), the classic heel-flap & gusset technique allows you to adjust the fit according to your size & preferences. Some people have very high (or flat) insteps, and this is by far the easiest way to make socks fit – even if it requires you to pick up stitches.
Let’s show you how to knit a sock heel the traditional way, eh?
5.1 Heel Flap
I always recommend knitting a reinforced heel with slipped stitches. Typically the heel is a region that sees the most wear & tear, and this helps to prevent holes. You can also knit the heel holding a second yarn (like a thin nylon thread) together for even more durability.
Either way, no matter how many stitches you cast on, you always knit the heel flap across half the number of stitches rounded down to the next number dividable by 4 (in my case, 32 stitches). You’ll knit it flat. Typically across the first, and second needle, and then you turn around. Here’s the repeat:
- RS: *SL1, k1*
- WS: *SL1, p1*
Note: If you are knitting stripes, simply join in the new color at the start of the heel flap (but keep the other yarns attached). For a neater transition, you may consider knitting the first row. Also, consider knitting the heel for the second sock across the 3rd and 4th needle. That way, you can hide the “jog” on the inside of your calves where it’s less visible.
How high should the heel flap be?
The ideal heel flap is as long as the distance from your ankle knuckle to your sole. In my case, that’s around 5.5 centimeters. So, take up your measuring tape again, and check how long you need to knit.
5.2 Turning the heel
After you finished the heel-flap, you need to turn the heel. This is done using a very simple short-row technique. Here are the instructions:
- Preparation: Knit to the exact center of your heel (in my case 16 stitches) continuing the slipped stitch pattern (*Sl1, k1*)
- Row 1: K1, SSK, k1 <turn around; don’t finish the row>
- Row 2: SL1, p3, p2tog, p1 <turn around>
From here, continue you like this until you used up all stitches:
- RS: SL1, knit up until 1 stitch before the gap, SSK, k1 <turn around>
- WS: SL1, purl up until 1 stitch before the gap, p2tog, p1 <turn around>
5.3 PIcking up stitches for the gusset
The gusset is probably the only truly difficult part of knitting a sock. That’s because you have to pick up stitches, and a lot of beginners shy away from that (it sounds so complicated, right?). The process is pretty straight-forward, though. Let’s show you how to knit a gusset:
Note: The instructions are slightly different if you are knitting with only one color (see below); basically you have to follow the steps in a different order.
Step 1: Cut the yarn for the heel, pick up the color you knit your last stripe with, place a stitch marker, and pick up one stitch from the gap between the heel flap & your (old) 4th needle with a crochet hook. This will prevent a hole from forming here at the top of your gusset.
The stitch marker marks your new begining of your round.
Step 2: And then, pick up one stitch from every edge stitch. Try to tighten up the stitches ever so often.
Step 3: Knit across the heel (I always join in a new needle in the middle).
Step 4: Pick up stitches from the other side of the heel flap. One stitch through every (slipped) stitch of the edge.
Step 5: Pick up one more stitch from the gap, and place a stitch marker. Check if you picked up an equal number of stitches on both side, and that you didn’t accidentally skip a stitch.
Step 6: Knit across the remaining stitches on your (old) 3rd and 4th needle, and join in the round again.
If you are only knitting in one color, then simply follow these steps in a different order. Start at step 3 (so, simply knit across the heel one more time), and after step 6, finish with step 1, and 3.
5.4 Knitting the gusset
Once you picked up all stitches, you can start knitting the gusset. Basically, it boils down to decreasing back to your original number of stitches.
- Round 1: SSK, knit across until 2 stitches before the second stitch marker, k2tog, slip the marker, and finish knitting the round.
- Round 2: knit
Repeat these two rounds until you are back to your original number of stitches.
If you are knitting in one color, your round starts at the top of the heel. In this case, you have to knit up to 2 stitches before your first marker, k2tog, knit to the next marker, slip it, ssk, and finish the round.
Note: Avoid knitting an SSK or K2tog as the last or first stitch on a new needle. This will create holes/ladders. Shuffle stitches around instead.
Adjusting the fit: Once you finished knitting the gusset of your socks, I recommend trying them on one more time. Some people have very flat feet. If you notice the fabric is still a bit too loose across your instep, you may consider decreasing for 1 or even 3 more rounds until it fits (if it’s too tight, simply unravel a round or two).
6. Knitting the leg
Right after the gusset, you can simply continue knitting in stockinette stitch. If you added stripes, then continue your pattern. You don’t need to do any decrease, etc.
How long should you knit the foot of your sock?
This depends on your size. The shoe size will tell you exactly how long your total foot should be. However, you need to subtract the length of the gusset & heel (should be easy), and the toebox. And the latter is the problem as you haven’t knitted it yet.
Now, I could tell you that my leg (starting from the gusset) is 11 m long, and the toebox 5 cm. But depending on your size & yarn these measurements WILL be different. One method, that almost always works is to stop knitting the leg once you reach the middle of your pinky toe.
Note: If you have rather long toes, then start once you reach the tip of your pinky toe. Here’s my full tutorial on when to start decreasing the toes.
7. Knitting the toes
The start of the toe box marks the last stretch before you cross the finishing line. So, take a deep breath, from here, each round is going to get shorter and shorter. Here’s how to knit the toes of a sock:
- Preparation: Make sure you have an equal number of stitches on the top two and the bottom two needles. The gaps should align with the decrease lines from your gusset.
Place your sock in front of yourself the way you would wear them, and so the toes are pointing away from you. There are two needles on top, and two at the bottom. And you have to decrease always one stitch before and one stitch after the gap between the bottom and the top. There are NO decreases in the middle.
I always start the toebox on the left bottom needle. You may consider placing a stitch marker here.
- Row 1-3: Change color (optional) knit
- Row 4: K1, SSK, knit across until 3 stitches before the end of your second needle, k2tog, k2, SSK, knit across until 3 stitches before the end of your fourth needle, k2tog, k1.
- Row 5: knit
- Continue repeating rows 4+5 until you halved your number of stitches.
- And then decrease in every row until you halved your number of stitches one more time.
8. Kitchener stitch & weaving in the tails
Once you only have 16 or 20 stitches left, it’s time to finish your socks with a kitchener stitch. So, cut the working yarn leaving a tail of 10 inches or so, and follow the instructions (click on the link).
Theoretically speaking, you could also decrease until you have only 8 stitches left, and pull the yarn through these last stitches. This will, however, create a very pointy toe that doesn’t have the ideal fit. So, I don’t really recommend it.
And then you have to weave in the tails. Before you do that, I have to mention two things. First of all, I want to congratulate on finishing your first sock! You can be super proud on yourself!
And then, you should instantly try them on. I mean, you were probably going to do that anyway, but I think it’s important. If you notice that your toebox is too big or needs to be a bit roomier, you would have to unravel and adjust accordingly (by starting the toes earlier or later).
Once you are satisfied, you only have to weave in your tails. I always do it with a sharp tapestry needle. Read my full tutorial on how to weave in ends here.
8. Blocking (optional)
Okay, I lied, there is one more thing we need to talk about: To block or not to block? Blocking refers to the process of gently washing your finished project in lukewarm water, pinning it to a soft surface (without overstretching), and letting it dry. This will block the shape and neaten up your stitches.
So, do you need to block socks? If you look around Etsy, you will find tons of sock blocking boards. And they are really great for shooting pictures of your finished socks. But other than that, I really have to say it’s not mandatory (like when you are knitting lace).
You will wash your socks frequently anyway, and your feet are warm and always a bit damp anyway. So, the appearance of your socks will change over time no matter what. But, if it’s a gift or you want to shoot a nice picture, blocking can be an option.
Also, some yarns contain spinning oils, etc, so I personally think that washing your socks once before them the first time it can be a smart thing anyway.
Last thoughts on knitting socks
So, let’s wrap things up. I hope you figured out yourself that you need to follow the exact same instructions for your second sock. Other than maybe moving around the heel to hide the jog, there is no difference. Start right away, else you will develop second sock syndrome.
Nevertheless, you might notice how your first sock doesn’t have the perfect fit. Most beginner socks end up a bit too big or somewhat wonky. And that’s normal and nothing that should diminish your achievement. Still, you can adjust these tiny little things for your second sock already.
Maybe you can cast on 4 more stitches, or knit the heel a centimeter higher, etc. And for your next pair of socks, use the exact same pattern and the exact same yarn. Because if you mix things up, you need to start all over again!
Step 1: Start with the cuff & leg
- Cast on 68 stitches (or however many stitches you need) in color A and knit around 5 cm in a 2x2 rib
- Round 1-24: *k2, p2*
- Round 25-33: Join in color B and knit across
- Round 34-36: Join in color C and knit across
Repeat rounds 25-36 five more times; carry yarn across on the backside and create floats every three rows where appropriate. To leg should be as long as the distance from mid-calf (the point where the circumference is the same as around the heel/ankle) to your ankle knuckle.
Round 97-100: knit in color b
Step 2: Knit the heel
Start with the heel-flap like this:
- Round 101: Join in color A and knit across half of your stitches (rounded down to the next number dividable by 4; 32 in my case), turn the work around without finishing that round to start the heel flap, and put the remaining stitches on hold.
- Row 1: *SL1, p1*
- Row 2: *Sl1, p1*
- Repeat rows 1+2 19 more times or however many you need to cover the distance from your ankle knuckle to your sole (5.5 cm in my case).
To turn the heel, knit to the exact center of your heel-flap continuing the slipped stitch pattern. And then
- Row 1: K1, SL1, SSK, K1
- Row 2: SL1, p3, p2tog, p1
- Every right side: SL1, knit up until 1 stitch before the gap, SSK, k1
- Every wrong side: SL1, purl up until 1 stitch before the gap, p2tog, p1
From here, pick up color B again (and cut color A), place a stitch marker, pick up one stitch from the gap between the last needle and the heel-flap, and then pick up one stitch through every edge stitch of the heel flap (20 in my case) using a crochet hook. Knit across the heel, then pick up stitches from the other side of the heel-flap edge as well. Pick up one additional stitch from the gap, place a stitch marker, and then knit across the remaining stitches you put on hold before you started the heel flap.
To knit the gusset of your sock:
- Row 1: Slip the stitch marker, SSK, knit across up until 2 stitches before the next stitch marker, k2tog, knit the remaining stitches
- Row 2: knit
- Repeat rows 1+2 until you are back to the original number of stitches (68 in my case)
Step 3: Knit the Leg
For the leg, continue knitting in plain stockinette stitch changing colors every 9/3 rows respectively. You can stop knitting the leg once it reaches the middle of your pinky toe. You may consider carrying the stitch markers along, as they mark the places where you need to decrease the toes (but maybe attach them one row below so you don't have to slip them all the time).
Step 4: Knit the toes
Join in color A again (and cut color b&c). Make sure you have an equal number of stitches on the top and bottom two needles (34 in my case; I need to shuffle around 2 stitches).
- Row 1-3: Knit
- Row 4: K1, SSK, knit across the first and second needle until there are only 3 stitches left, k2tog, k2, SSK, knit up until 3 stitches before the end of the fourth needle, k2tog, k1
- Row 5: knit
- Repeat rows 4+5 until you halved the number of stitches (17 in my case), then decrease in every row until you halved the number of stitches again (8 in my case).
- Finish the socks with a Kitchener stitch.
Step 5: Weave in all tails on the inside
If you decide to knit these socks in only one color, the instructions are exactly the same (except you don't switch colors). Only the heel is different. Here you have to pick up stitches in a different order and start by knitting across the heel flap one more time. And remember that you need to move the start of your round a couple of stitches for the toes.