In search of a better sock cuff

I have a bunch of hand-knit socks that I wear in fairly constant rotation, and I’ve noticed over the last few months that the cuff edge is getting very tight indeed.  They were OK when new, but my guess is that the yarn (superwash though it may be) has shrunk slightly with repeated washings.

So I need a better cast on for my top-down socks, and a better cast-off for my toe-up socks.

A quick Google for ‘best sock cast on‘ turns up many, many options, including toe-up and top-down options, but I found the one I was looking for and whose name I couldn’t remember (the German twisted cast-on, also known as the Norwegian cast on, which probably explains my confusion), and I also found something I wasn’t looking for – the tubular cast on.

I’m pretty sure I’ve used a tubular cast on in the past, though I can’t remember when.  I certainly didn’t remember how to do it, either!  But it seemed like a really good option: quick and easy, and since (technically) there is no edge at all when you cast on this way, it must also be just as stretchy as the fabric itself, right?

For my first attempt, I used the instructions from here (scroll down to the ‘Casting on’ section, and read J. Miles’ contribution).  I liked that I only had to cast on half the required cuff stitches using a provisional method, because I haven’t yet found a simple, non-fiddly provisional cast on.  In this case, I went with the crocheted provisional cast on, which I like because I can always remember how to do it; the downside is that you need a crochet hook and waste yarn to hand!

The instructions said to use a needle 1-2 sizes smaller than your main needle for the cast on, which was problematical as I was already planning to use my smallest needles (2.25mm) for the sock, so I ignored that bit and just went ahead. I mentioned above that you only have to cast on half your stitches for this – well, the remainder of the stitches are provided by working the first round as K1, YO.  The cuff looked like this:


Plenty stretchy, but there is definitely excessive yarn at the edge.  I don’t know if it’s from the larger than recommended needle size, or whether the yarn-overs are to blame, or both, but after knitting the whole cuff, I decided I wasn’t going to be able to deal with the loopiness, and I was going to try something else.

Sticking with the tubular cast on theme, I went for these instructions next. (Sort of – but ignore that bit for now).  The main differences with this method are:

  • You cast on all the stitches straight away – no YOs.
  • It specifies a different provisional cast on – and a new one to me.
  • It has you work four foundation rows before starting the ribbing, not just two.

I also took the ‘smaller needle’ recommendation more seriously this time.  I still don’t own any smaller needles, but I worked the provisional cast on on one of my stitch holders, which my needle gauge tells me is smaller than a 2mm needle, if not by how much.


Much better!

I love the way this edge looks; it has a very professional appearance, and is just as stretchy as the ribbing, to boot.  Definitely a keeper.

Now, this was hardly a rigorous test of method, but I will definitely use this particular tubular cast on again.  I don’t know whether the difference was the needle size, the kind of provisional cast on or the lack of yarn overs, but a full comparison may have to wait until I am feeling particularly scientific.  Incidentally, I can highly recommend the Italian provisional cast on, and I may even be able to remember how to do it!  In the past, I’ve used the first method described in Eunny Jang’s provisional cast on article, when I haven’t used the crochet one, and it has three main drawbacks:

  • You need waste yarn, just like the cast on method;
  • If I don’t get all the stitches cast on in one go, I usually have to start over, and I find it hard to get the tensioning of the two yarns right if I’m casting on many stitches;
  • I often end up with half the stitches mounted backwards.  Which I’m sure means I’m doing it wrong!

But none of that matters with the Italian version!  I found it easy to understand what I was doing with the yarn (wrap working yarn around needle; secure with tail), I always wrap the working yarn the same way, so all the stitches are mounted the same, and you don’t even need waste yarn: if you want to, you can use a long tail made of the yarn from the project!  (As it happens, I used waste yarn.  I’d already found some for the crochet version, you see).#foepmeplsp{display:none;visibility:hidden;}

14) Using crochet to reinforce steeks

Last night, J took one look at my poor, neglected Moor, lying all crumpled up next to the sofa, and said, "Haven't you cut that thing up yet?  You wuss!"  Of course, I tried to explain that I need to photograph the steeks for the blog before I cut them, but he just gave me The Look.

So I took the photographs (badly, as usual).  But I haven't cut into it yet.

So!  I have chosen to use crochet to reinforce the steeks1.  I learned this over at Eunny Jang's blog, and no-one (no-one!) is likely to beat her comprehensive survey of steek methods, so I'm not even going to try.  What I can do, though, is give a quick explanation of how this method works, and show you what I've done.

Thing the first

This is about the only steek method done over an odd number of stitches.  I didn't do my research when setting up the steeks, so mine are done over an even number.  It doesn't really matter, but it does mean that the folded-in bits of fabric won't all be the same width.

Thing the second

I didn't think too hard about where to change colours relative to the steek.  This is only important for the steek that will go up the left hand armhole, because that's the point in the round where the colours change.  I'm still not sure what the best answers are, or even if it really matters (Eunny says it does, but I think that – well – you are cutting the yarn anyway.  As long as the steek edge is firm, and the yarn is well worked in at its head and tail ends, I don't think it should matter how short the bit between them is.  But I'm still keeping my fingers crossed!)

How crocheted steeks work

OK, I just said that this kind of steek works across an odd number of stitches, yes?  Well, that's because you are cutting up the middle of the centre stitch.  Incidentally, it doesn't matter if you work your steek as vertical rows of colour or in a checkerboard pattern, but for this, vertical rows are easier to keep your eye on (guess which one I used for my sweater?  Yeah!)

Each stitch is a 'V' of colour.  Assuming your yarn is solid and not too tweedy(!), both legs of the 'V' will be the same colour, and the 'V' in one row is pointing to the row below.  Here's the virtual swatch we will be working on:


Crochet is used to reinforce the cut edges by binding each leg of the central 'V' to the nearest leg of its neighbouring stitch. Essentially, you work one row of double crochet (for UK readers; if you've learned American crochet terms, it's single crochet!) up one side of the steek, and another one down the other.  I don't propose to teach you crochet here, but that means:

  • (*) pull a loop of yarn through from behind the two stitch legs (just the legs on the surface of the fabric; avoid floats or other bits of yarn);
  • pull another loop through that loop;
  • repeat from (*) for each row of knitting in the steek.
  • When you get to the end of the steek, break off your yarn and pull it all the way through the last loop.

You want to use a yarn you can see against your work, one that is fine enough not to distort the stitches, and preferably one that will felt in to the other yarns, too, for maximum strengthening.  You will probably want to use a crochet hook one or two sizes smaller than the knitting needles you used.

Looking at your knitting with the top away from you and right side up, you want to start with the bottom left hand side of the steek, and work your way up.  This graphic shows you the first two stitch 'legs' that you will be binding together:


Work your way up the steek, binding the legs of neighbouring stitches together in turn.  When you're done, it'll look a little like this:


Finish off that row of crochet, break off the yarn, then turn the work around.  Start with what was the top-right stitch in the steek and do it all again, working your way back down the other side.  You will find that the crochet stitches naturally want to fall away from each other, so the steek now looks a bit like an open book (if they don't, you might have done your crochet in the wrong direction).  If you pull gently on each side of the steek, opening it up, you will see a ladder of yarn between your crochet columns:


These horizontal strands are the tops of our central blue stitches, where they wrap around the legs of the stitch above, and they are the bits you are to cut!  Carefully.  And slowly.  Your crochet reinforcement should hold the rest of the stitches tight and firm, and prevent ravelling.  Whew!

So what do they look like in real life?

Well, I can only show you this on the world's shortest steek.  My Moor has four steeks: two armholes, one front neck and one back neck.  The back neckline involves no colourwork, and is only about six rows deep.  But it's worth showing because the fabric is brown and the reinforcing crochet is white. The crochet shows up much, much better in this context than on the patterned bits.

Here is the finished crochet.  See how the stitches lean away from each other?


And here it is, stretched apart.  See the horizontal strands, all ready for cutting?


Now I have no excuse not to slice up my knitting.

1 Steeks, for anyone who doesn't knit and is still reading, are places where you cut into a knitted piece to create openings, usually for sleeves.  They're really handy if you're knitting in the round, because you don't suddenly have to switch to knitting back-and-forth once the body divides for the armholes, or the neckline.  You just decrease as normal, and knit a 'bridge' of several stitches that join the two armhole edges (or neckline edges, or whatever) together.  When you're ready, you cut down the middle of the bridge, and pray like anything that it's going to hold together.  It's scary! Having said that:

  • Knitting tends to unravel up-and-down.  It's quite resistant to unravelling side-to-side, so the steek edges are less unstable than you might think.
  • This is normally done with sticky, woolly wools which tend to felt a little bit, and are quite hard to unravel anyway.
  • You can reinforce the steek edges if you wish, either with hand sewing, machine sewing, or crochet, which I've done here.

Once you've cut your steeks open, you can fold the extra fabric to the inside of the garment.  Then you can pick up stitches round the folded edge for the neck band, armhole bands etc. Then, it's all over bar the finishing!

103) Very nearly a Vest!

It's shocking.

I used to reckon I'd churn out about one sweater-sized project per month; ten sweaters a year, with a few other things thrown in.  This has been on the needles for three months, and it doesn't even have sleeves:


OK, it's a bit fiddly, and I have interrupted it for a few diversions, and I didn't used to spin, or weave, but even so.

The weird shape is because this thing is designed to be steeked.  Yes, folks, I'm going to deliberately cut some of the most complex knitting I've done in a long while.  OK, I did this for my Dad's Christmas Sweater a few years back, but I don't feel any less apprehensive this time.  And it somehow doesn't seem fair that, having cast off this garment, I still have so much to do.  Armholes, deep front neckline and back neck must be prepared for steeking.  Then, blocking, cutting, sewing of shoulder seams and the knitting on of armhole and neckline edgings must be performed – so I'm not there yet!  It suddenly seems a long way to go.

I can't believe I'm preparing to cut into three months' worth of work just to avoid learning to do colourwork on purl rows.  Is it really worth it??

79) Potato-chip knitting

Moor is providing me with the most entertainment and relaxation recently.  I'm not forging ahead at super-productive knitterly rates, but I have completed the first repeat of the pattern:


…and I estimate that I will need to complete slightly more than one more repeat before I start the neck steek.  After that, it should positively *fly* along, because the neck is quite wide and deep.

Last time I was doing stranded colourwork, it was a real race against the clock to finish in time for Christmas.  In fact, I didn't quite manage it, but it was such a focused effort that I even kept a spreadsheet to track my progress against the necessary stitches-per-day for success.  I do like a challenge, particularly if other people think it's 'impossible', but this time, I get to relax and really *enjoy* it.  And I find it remarkably difficult to put down.  "Just one more row" is so compelling when each row is slightly different.  And even though I'm knitting in the round at a relatively small gauge, the rows don't seem to take all that long to complete.


The few 'rest' rows, which are only one colour, fly by.

I foresee more of these kinds of projects in my future.