Sock knitting can become obsessive for a number of reasons. First of all, a pair of socks is a relatively quick project. Those with feet that are smaller or larger than the norm can customize each sock to actually fit! Sock yarn comes in a variety of fibers, which again means that a pair can be customized for the season. Best of all, socks are accessories; colors and patterns that would overwhelm a larger item or seem outlandish worn on a different part of the body are fair game.
Understanding the structural design of a sock can make following a pattern easier; it can also allow the intrepid knitter to bypass a pattern almost entirely. A sock is a combination of two perpendicular tubes, both knit as seamlessly as possible to eliminate chafing that can occur when a shoe rubs a thicker section of material against tender skin. This is why socks are usually worked in the round. Intarsia patterns such as argyle, however, are usually knit flat, and care must be taken to make sure that the seams are put in a comfortable place. Argyle socks, for example, usually have a seam at the back leg and two more on each side of the top of the foot.
At the calf, a sock has some sort of cuff that helps to prevent the fabric from rolling down the leg. Usually, this means some kind of ribbing, but cuffs can also be created out of garter stitch. Itís also possible to have a lace edging that then attaches to and partially or fully covers the ribbing.
Under the cuff, material is knit to bring the sock to its desired length on the leg. For a knee or thigh-high sock, some form of decreasing will be necessary to accommodate the different sizes of the thigh, the knee, the upper calf, and the lower calf. A shorter sock usually doesnít have this issue.
The sock leg is attached to the part of the sock below the ankle. Because feet are perpendicular to legs, this section needs to round over the ankle. Turning the heel of a sock is an important skill to master, as is then knowing how to decrease to accommodate the narrowing of the foot. Some patterns use two steps, a turned heel and a heel gusset; others work the heel as an extension so that the foot is already the correct size once the heel is finished.
The foot of the sock is usually knit in simple stockinette for the bottom, which again means that there is less friction. The top of the foot can continue the leg pattern down to the toe, which needs decreases so that there isnít excess fabric at the toes. The sock is usually closed here; depending on the direction in which the sock is knit, this may mean using the Kitchener stitch or a similar technique to create another seamless area.
When reading a sock pattern, take a moment to determine the direction of the knitting; most are written for either toe-up or top down progress. Following that, break the pattern down into each section and make sure that you understand how each part of the sock is created. This will make the overall progress much easier; it will also allow you to customize each section for desired length and width.
Knowing why you are doing what you are doing is a key skill for any knitter, and recognizing how each sock part works together will help you to create wearable works of art. Enjoy your knitting!