When to start the toe decreases – sock knitting 101

A step-by-step tutorial showing you when to start with the sock toe – 2 easy methods

So, you are currently working on a pair of socks and now you are wondering about the length of the foot before you start knitting the toes? Well, you came to the right place. Because in this tutorial I will show you two easy methods to determine where you need to begin decreasing.

I love knitting socks, and if you look around my blog you will find a free sock knitting class and many patterns on top of that. A lot of beginners are intimidated by them – for no reason whatsoever. I personally think they are one of the easiest fitted garments to knit if you know a couple of easy rules.

a finished sock with a measuring tape next to it to figure out where you need to start decreasing the toes

So, let’s answer your questions and show you just when do you start the toe decreases, eh?

Note: Check out this tutorial for the easiest heel pattern of them all.

#1 Start Decreasing when you reach the middle of your pinky toe

trying on the work in progress to check if the foot of the socks reaches up to the pinky toe because that's where you need to start decreasing the toes
Let’s say, I decided against introducing you to a close-up shot of my toes 😉

Probably the easiest method to figure out when to start a sock toe is simply trying your work in progress on. And when your knitting reaches about the middle of your pinky toe, that’s where you need to begin decreasing.

So, when I feel I am getting close to the end, I just slip on my socks frequently and check every couple of rounds if I hit that spot. Even if you are knitting in the round with double-pointed knitting needles, you should be able to slip in quite effortlessly without transferring the stitches to a circular needle by then.

finding the spot where you need to start decreasing the toes by trying the work in progress on
The red arrow indicates the place where I will stop knitting the foot and start with the toe decreases

Generations of knitters before you already optimized the fit of the most popular sock toe patterns. So, the shape will be perfect – you only need to find that sweet spot where your foot won’t be long enough.

Sounds too easy to be true? Well, actually it is easy. There is, however, a caveat. First of all, if you have very long toes then this method might not yield perfect results. In this case, you will probably have to knit until you reach the tip of your pinky toe. Maybe you need to unravel once but if you take notes then you will know YOUR perfect spot for all future sock knitting projects.

On my sock knitting tutorial on my youtube channel, I also had a user asking if you had to stretch out the socks as you try them on and see if they reach your pinky toe. That’s a tough question. Generally, I don’t do this because most knitting stitch patterns have much more lateral stretchiness than vertical.

However, some yarns tend to stretch quite a bit after you wash them/wear them once. If you did your swatch the right way, you should know that. And then, sometimes it’s a good thing to account for that by stretching the knitting out a bit. But you will notice that you stretch the socks a little anyway as you try them on and that’s what I feel is all you need.

#2 Calculate your sock toe

doing some easy calculations to figure out the start of the toe decreases - unfinished socks in the background

Now, if you are knitting for somebody else – especially if it’s a gift – then trying on the socks in the making is probably not a possibility. And then you need to start calculating. Don’t be scared, it’s quite easy.

One glance at a shoe size chart will tell you exactly the total length of the foot. But obviously, that will only tell you the length of the finished sock and you don’t know how long your toes are going to be, or do you?

You can easily calculate that! For a standard wedge toe, I always decrease like this:

  1. Knit 3 rounds of plain stockinette stitch.
  2. Decrease every second round until there are only half of your stitches left.
  3. Decrease every round until you halved the stitches again.
  4. Finish with a Kitchener stitch.

Now, there are many other patterns and I urge you to follow the one you like best. But a pattern is a system, and that means math can get you an answer. I’m going to show you how to make the calculation using my example.

So, let’s say your round has 80 stitches (by the way, here’s a tutorial on how many stitches to cast on for socks). Every decrease round will mean 4 stitches less. And you need to count how many rounds you need altogether.

  1. Step 1 in my case means 3 rounds. Easy, write it down.
  2. Step 2 means going down to 40 stitches. That means 10 rounds. But there is a knit round in between, so 20 rounds (40/4=10; 10*2= 20)
  3. Then, you decrease down to 20 stitches, but in every round. That means 5 rounds (20/4=5)
  4. Add all numbers together. So 3+20+5 = 28 rounds.

(Note: If you are using a different pattern, then you have to go through the steps in a similar way. Simply try to knit “on paper”.)

And now, you only need to count out 28 (or whatever your result is) rounds on your almost finished sock, measure it, and that will easily tell you how many inches/centimeters these 28 rounds translate.

Let’s say you end up with 2 inches or 5 centimeters. And that’s how long your toe box will end up when you lay it out flat.

Toes, however, are not flat but 3-dimensional. This means, you also need a little bit of fabric to cover the front. Think of it as a square piece of paper you want to turn into an open box. The box has three closed sides – and not just two.

So, you need to subtract around 1 centimeter (or 0.4 in) from your total measurement and that will tell you exactly when to start the decreases for your socks. (e.g. 5cm – 1cm = 4 cm; Note: The more precise measurement would be half the total height of the toes).

Then you only need to pick up your tape, measure the (current) length of your knitting. And if it’s as long as the typical length of that shoe size minus your final toe box measurement, then you can start with the decreases. (e.g. 24 cm – 4cm = 20 cm)

Important: If you want a really snug fit, then you will probably have to subtract around 10% to account for the vertical tension. This, obviously, depends on the yarn and your personal preferences. Are these be socks you want to go hiking with (needs a nice fit) or socks to keep you warm on the couch (then roomier is probably nicer).

Anyway, I really hope I was able to show you when to start decreasing for the sock toe. Comment below in case you have any questions!

when to start decreasing the toes - step by step tutorial for beginners

3 thoughts on “When to start the toe decreases – sock knitting 101”

  1. Hi Norman,
    I love your YouTube channel! You are such an amazing teacher.
    Thank you Norman 🙂

    I have a question. I have found a “traditional German bandspitze toe” recently and I really want to try! Is there any chance that you can make the tutorial video?

    Thank you!

    • Hey Rita,
      very happy to hear that. If you check out my sock tutorial here on my blog, then you’ll see me knitting a “bandspitze”. All the socks I ever knit feature this toe. So, I guess it’s already all there for you. Just a different name really.

  2. I love this post! I have been trying to figure out when to start sock toe decreases for a while now. Thanks for the help!


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