05 Nov 2008

Favorite Socks – 25 Timeless Designs

Favorite Socks

Author:Ann Budd, Anne Merrow
Publisher: Interweave Press
Spiral-bound: 128 pages
Price: $22.95 US

I have a confession to make. I have never met a sock knitting book I didn’t like.

To those uninitiated in the ways of sock knitting, it may seem as though all sock knitting books are much of a muchness, and that when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Having quite probably read every book about sock knitting that has ever been written, you must trust me when I tell you that, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

It can be argued that the hand of each designer is present in all knitwear, and nowhere is this more true I feel than in the design of the ubiquitous sock. There is something about the sock – perhaps its small scale, perhaps its utility – which concentrates a design, leaving no doubt of the type of person who designed it. There are, you see, but two types of sock designers in the world: Innovators and Traditionalists.

Patterns written by true sock Innovators are few and far between, and entire books even rarer, though they do exist. They are full of tips and clever techniques, and sock patterns, yes, but not as we know them.They start at the top, or the toe, or somewhere in between and feature sinuous cables, extreme shaping, or complex stitch work. The Gothic cathedrals of sock architecture, they break a lot of sock rules, and are anything but mindless. They cannot be knit on auto pilot, and require frequent checks of the pattern to ensure success. They are not for complacent knitters, are stunning in their originality, complexity and beauty, and they do have a place in my sock knitting world. Like rich dark chocolate, I savour the experience of knitting Innovative socks, though I would never try to make a meal of them.

Sock patterns created by Traditionalists, on the other hand, follow a time-honoured form. They usually, although not always, begin at the top, with directions to CO 64. As a number of stitches with which to begin a sock, sixty-four is admirable. It is divisible by 2, 4, 8, 16 and 32, meaning that any stitch pattern with a repeat of these numbers can be plugged into a standard sock pattern with relative success. When confronted by a pattern repeat requiring a different multiple, the Traditionalist will simply increase or decrease the number of stitches, as well as increase or decrease the corresponding needle size, to arrive at a solution. Heels and toe construction techniques may vary between Traditionalist patterns, but are interchangeable according to preference. An adventurous Traditionalist may throw in a twisted stitch rib, or a patterned heel flap for fun, but there are really no surprises within these types of patterns.

And that is as it should be. While there is, admittedly, nothing the least bit exciting about socks constructed along Traditionalist lines, they are solid, sturdy, and dependable types of patterns, and within them you will find infinite beauty and variety. Experienced sock knitters will need little in the way of pattern prompting, once the basics of stitch pattern have been grasped; most will glance at a pattern and “get it”. Far from being boring, however, Traditionalist patterns are invaluable for those times when you just want to get on with it, and knit some socks.

With the word “timeless” in the title, you know exactly what you’re getting with Interweave’s latest sock knitting book, Favorite Socks – 25 Timeless Designs.It does, as they say in the UK, precisely what it says on the tin. The book features seventeen previously published designs, some from Knits, and others from sister publications, SpinOff and PieceWork, as well as half a dozen brand new patterns, commissioned from some of today’s top designers. The spiral binding and clean layout are worth a mention although, truthfully, I’ve become so accustomed to the high standard of quality and easy-to-follow format in books from Interweave Press, anything less would have come as a surprise.

From Austrian twisted stitch, and Latvian mythological symbols, to Eastern European seamless intarsia, the patterns feature a wide variety of knitting traditions from around the world. In general, the range of stitch patterns is broad and offers much variety, although the balance is weighted a little heavily in favour of lace. I do love lace socks, but I could have done with a few more plain but serviceable patterns. There are, I feel, too few unisex patterns, and I’d have liked to see more than the one pattern featuring toe-up construction, with an afterthought heel. However, these are minor quibbles, based on personal preference, and there are plenty of things about the book left to like.

Modern interpretations on the standard sock pattern include a footlet with a double knit padded sole, and patterns that feature calf shaping accomplished by changing needle size rather than altering the stitch pattern. (I wish you could see me grin while I type this.) This latter technique is one I couldn’t wait to try. I used it with a simple broken rib stitch pattern on the last pair of socks I knit and, by golly, it actually works. So simple, so effective. Thank you, Ann Budd. This technique rocks, and I’m kicking myself for not thinking it up on my own.

I suppose little tips and techniques like this are precisely why I’ll keep adding sock knitting books to my already groaning bookshelves. A simple, pretty ribbing I can use on any lace sock. A flirty, lace cuff I can use to dress up any any plain sock. A tidy I-cord edging. A twisted stitch technique I’ve never tried. Good patterns. Classic. Timeless. Traditional. For when I just want to get on with it, and knit some socks.


  1. Saffi wrote:

    Thanks, Brenda. I’ve been thinking about adding this one to my Christmas wish-list, and I think you just pushed me over the edge.

    Now all I need to do is buy some nice new sock yarn in readiness…

    Posted on 11.6.08 ·
  2. Kathmaxted wrote:

    Hi Brenda,

    I have just completed my first pair of socks! I am as proud as punch and my 17month old calls them “pwett way y pwetty”.
    Of course I can’t shut up about them to whoever is around to hear my boasts….but I am now going to “fix” all the problems with the first pair for preparation of the second! With my trusty pencil and notbook.

    I would love a few “sock” books to add to my collection…(also making shelves groan) This is in my top 3. I’m off to browse the net for ideas and inspirations….but still keeping it fairly simple and basic. Little miss Pwetty likes to keep me awake, so theres no way I can knit a pattern without messing it up. Stockinette and rib for the foreseeable future!!

    P.S. Series 3 keeps me company today!


    Posted on 3.5.09 ·

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