By Patricia Ramsey – The following instructions are for a knitter who wants to learn how to knit socks with 4 needles. If you are a knitting beginner, learn how to knit with two needles and practice up before attempting this tutorial.
I love knitting home-spun, hand-knit wool socks. There is no substitute for their fit and warmth. Now, I know some of you will move on to the next article because wool is “scratchy.” The secret to soft wool is to spin it yourself or find someone to spin it for you. The scratchy brittleness of store-bought wool is due to the processing required to remove all the vegetable matter. This entails the use of acids which make the wool brittle. I wash my wool with shampoo and sometimes rinse with hair conditioner if I am not dyeing it. But rather than sacrifice the experience of hand-knit socks because of a reaction to wool, by all means, use a synthetic sock yarn.
Now, let’s begin our socks!
How to Knit Socks with 4 Needles
First, find some yarn. The first pair you knit ought to be with thick yarn—slightly thicker than sport weight, but sport weight will be fine. The thicker yarn will work up faster and may be too thick to wear with shoes but you can use them for slippers by sewing leather to the soles. Once you have chosen your yarn (make sure you have enough), select a knitting needle size just one size smaller than you’d normally use for the yarn you chose. This makes the socks a bit firmer and wear better. Get a set of four double-pointed needles in this smaller size.
To cast on, hold two needles together so that the cast on stitches will be loose. If you have another way to cast on loose, use it. Cast on 56 stitches. This will make an average woman’s size pair of socks on size 4-6 needles. I’ll give you the formula at the end of the instructions.
We will be working in rounds. Work around in a 2×2 rib (that is, k2, p2) until the cuff is as long as you like—approximately six to eight inches, depending on what suits you and how much yarn you have to do both socks. (The cuff of one sock should use no more than a fourth of the yarn for the pair.) When the cuff is long enough, we will work on the heel flap and that is done in flat knitting, not rounds.
The heel flap is worked on only half of the stitches and it can be worked in a contrasting color, so if you are changing colors for the heel and toe, pick up the new color now but do not break off the first color. Knit across 28 stitches and keep them on one needle. Divide the remaining 28 stitches and keep them on one needle. Divide the remaining 28 stitches and keep them on one needle. Divide the remaining 28 stitches between two needles and just leave them alone for now. We will get back to them later.
The flap is worked back and forth in a modified double knit to give it extra thickness. So turn your work, slip the first stitch, purl the next stitch, slip 1, p 1 and repeat this across these 28 stitches.
Turn your work and this is the knit side facing. Slip the first stitch and then knit each stitch across. Repeat the purl/slip row and the knit row, making sure you always slip the first stitch of every row. Count your progress by counting the slipped stitches at the edges of the flap. When you have 14 slip stitches at each edge, the flap should be approximately square. End with a purl/slip row.
Now comes the tricky part—turning the heel. Don’t worry if you don’t get it the first time. Just follow the step one row at a time and you will do fine. If you get stuck, e-mail me!
Turning the heel is worked in short rows—that is, you do not work all the stitches to the end of the needle but turn in the middle of the row, or near it. First row, slip 1 and then knit 14 stitches. Slip the next stitch, k1 and psso (pass slipped stitch over). Knit 1 more stitch and turn. Yes, turn! Next row, slip 1 and purl 4, purl 2 together, purl 1 more and turn. You got it—short row in-between some other stitches still at each edge.
Now with each row, you will be decreasing across the gap between the short row and the stitches at the edges. Always slip the first stitch of each row.
On this third row you will slip 1, knit across until 1 stitch before the gap, slip that stitch, knit 1 stitch from across the gap and psso. Then knit 1 more stitch and turn.
On the next purl row, slip the first stitch, purl to within 1 stitch of the gap. Purl this stitch and one from across the gap together and then purl one more stitch and turn. Continue in this manner until no stitches remain at the edges.
Don’t worry if on the last two rows you don’t have a stitch after the decrease. The heel is turned. If you have made it this far, the rest is a cakewalk!
Make sure to end with a knit row. If you didn’t, just slip 1 and knit across once more.
Now pick up 14 stitches along the edge of the heel flap. The slip stitches here make it easier. IF you knit the heel flap in a different color, change back to the original color after picking up the 14 stitches and break off the heel color. Working with the original color, keeping the 2 x 2 rib pattern, work the stitches across the top of the foot. Pick up another 14 stitches at the other edge of the heel flap. Arrange the stitches on the three needles so that all the ribbing is on one needle and we will call this Needle #2. The remaining stitches need to be divided in half on the other two needles. If you have an odd number of stitches, decrease 1 stitch near the ribbing edge of one needle. We are working rounds again and the sole of the sock will be knit only with the top of the foot in the 2 x 2 ribbing. Needle #1 is the one knit from the center to the ribbing, Needle #2 is the 28 stitches of ribbing, and Needle #3 is knit from the ribbing edge to the center. The number of stitches on Needles #1 and #3 is irrelevant right now.) Work one round keeping the stitches as established. (Do that decrease if you had an odd number to divide between Needles #1 and #3.)
Now we begin the heel gusset. On Needle #1, knit until within three stitches from the end, knit 2 together. Knit the last stitch. Work the ribbing across Needle #2. On Needle #3, knit 1, slip 1, knit 1 and psso. Knit the remaining stitches.
The next round is a plain round where Needles #1 and #3 are just knit with no decreases and Needle #2 is worked in 2 x 2 ribbing. Alternate these two rounds until there are 14 stitches on Needle #1, 28 stitches on Needle #2, and 14 stitches on Needle #3. We are back to our original count of 56 stitches total.
Work in rounds, keeping the top in ribbing and the bottom in stockinet until the length of the foot is two inches shorter than the foot that will be wearing this sock. End with needle #3. If you changed colors for the heel, change to that color again and this time you can break off the original color.
The toe decreases begin now and are similar to the gusset decreases except that the ribbing will now be knit in stockinet and Needle #2 will have decreases in it, also. So knit one round in knit only. On the next with Needle #1, knit until within three stitches of the end, knit 2 together, knit last stitch. Needle #2, knit a slip 1, knit 1 and psso. Knit to within three stitches from end. Knit two together, knit last stitch. Needle #3, knit one, slip one, knit one and psso. Knit to the end. Alternate a decrease round with a plain round until only 16 stitches remain. These can be sewn together using the kitchener stitch or some other method.
Your sock is done! Start the next one and you will find yourself an addicted sock knitter!
Cast on a multiple of four stitches (56) for socks with 2 x 2 ribbing. Heel flaps are always worked on half the number cast on (28). The slip stitch count and stitches that are picked up along the heel edges are half of the heel flap number (14). Decrease at the gussets until you have the original number. The heel is turned at the halfway mark plus one stitch if you count the initial slip stitch. Decrease the tow until it looks good. Usually two inches of stockinet for toe.
Some Good How to Knit Books
Folk Socks by Nancy Bush
Socks, edited by Rita Buchanan and Deborah Robson
A Good Knitting Video
“Knitting Socks” by Nancie Wiseman
I hope this tutorial for how to knit socks with 4 needles is helpful. Happy knitting!
Originally published in Countryside January/February 2002 and regularly vetted for accuracy.