Knitting 101: Top Down Socks

Since we’re ready to get started on our first pair of socks, I have to tell you now that any sock pattern can be cast on either double pointed or circular needles. The trick is that DPNs do not allow you do to two at a time, so while I will touch on how to cast on this pattern with DPNs, you’ll largely be seeing circular needles in the photos for this post. In the next post (Knitting 101: Toe Up Socks), it will be the other way around as we look at how to do toe up socks with DPNs.

I’m going to talk you through this method, and I tend to be a little long winded, so for those of you just looking for the pattern, I’ve included the short version at the end of this post. I am also going to be working this pattern in measurements rather than sizes, so you won’t be stuck making ladies size 9-10 like I am. This is important when you look at your guage because it means that as long as your measurements match, it doesn’t really matter WHAT yarn or needle size you use. Use what feels good or what you have on hand. As for me, I’ll be noting how many stitches or inches I am working in parenthesis and I will be using:


  • 1 Skein Sport weight (3) yarn any brand, fiber, and color (about 275 yards)
  • 1 size US-5 (3.75 mm) circular needles (or 5 DPNs)
  • Split ring markers, locking stitch markers, OR safety pins (at LEAST 2)
  • A measuring tape
  •  medium stitch holder(s)
  • Yarn needle
  • OPTIONAL: Knitting Gauge

Top Down Socks

I’m sure we’re all excited to cast on, but before we do, we’ll need to split up our yarn and  figure out how many stitches to cast on! So, grab your measure tape and take a measurement around your ankle. As I am writing this, I am QUITE pregnant, so my ankles are swollen today. If you have a similar problem, you can either take a little off the measurement (to better match what a normal ankle would be), or  you can take a guess based on your shoe size using the Craft Yarn Council’s foot size chart. Generally speaking your foot circumference and your ankle circumference will be the same measurement. If you have wide or narrow feet, this may not be true though, so be careful.

Another note before we move on: if you’re planning on making knee high or even mid calf high socks, you’ll need to measure you leg at the knee (knee high only), largest part of the calf (both) AND the ankle (both) so that you can increase and decrease circumference as needed.

Being done with the measuring for the moment, let’s split our yarn into two balls or skeins, this can be done with a yarn winder, or by hand as I lay out in my post Yarn Balls, or you can very carefully take the center out of the skein and snip the part tying them together. If you’re going to use that method, be very careful not to tangle  your yarn and remember that the smaller the round of yarn, the less yarn there is. So the inside of the skein has less yards of yarn than the outside of the skein. However you choose to separate your yarn (or if you choose to just use two skeins), make sure they are about even in size.

With measurements done and yarn separated, we’re ready to cast on! This will be the same amount of stitches whether you’re using DPN’s or Circular needles. Either way, you need to make a circular gauge swatch to know how many stitches will equal one inch. Since we really do have to make a gauge swatch, lets just start small. We’ll cast on 20 stitches total.

For those of you using DPNs, you can either cast on all 40 stitches to one needle, or you can cast on 10 at a time across four needles as I show in Knitting 101: The Ever Dreaded Round. Either way you’ll want to make a square with your needles so that all the stitch bottoms are facing inward. You should end up with something looking like this:

DPN square

Just like we did in The Ever Dreaded Round, slip the first stitch you made over to the last needle, lay the working yarn between the first and second stitches, and then slip the first stitch back over to the first needle. This will help to hold the round nicely and keep it from having a loose spot.

For those of you using circular needles, I’m going to show you how to cast on two at a time here, but you only need to work one for the gauge swatch. For the sake of this cast on, I’ll be using two different color yarns so you can see what’s going on, the socks I’m making will actually be the same color though, so don’t feel like you have to make two different socks.

To begin, cast on HALF of the stitches you will need from ball number 1 (the grey ball in my pictures) for our gauge swatch we’ll cast on 40 stitches, so do 20 from ball number 1.

cast on 20

Slide your stitches from ball one onto the cable and cast on ALL your stitches from ball number 2 (the yellow ball in my pictures). For this demonstration, that will be 40 stitches.

cast on 40

Slide all the stitches to the cable part of the needles and find the center of the ball number 2 (yellow) stitches (you’ll have 20 on each side for this gauge swatch). Pull the cable through the center point of the stitches so that half are on one side and half are on the other.

finish cast on

Using the working yarn for ball number 1, cast on the second half of the stitches you will need, and make sure that the bottoms of the stitches are facing, similarly to the DPN method shown above.

Now, I mentioned in the last lesson that one way to cast these on is the long tail method. I will go over some alternate types of casting on in a different post for those of you who are interested, but if you’re BURNING with curiosity, Knittinghelp has a a good you tube that can show you how today. The benefit to using a long tail cast on here is that it is a very stretchy cast on that will give a lot, but the ribbing that we’ll use for the top of the sock should compensate for any lack of stretch.

Once you’re cast on, knit at least an inch long around (remember, you only need to do one gauge swatch) and measure your gauge either with a tape measure or a knitting gauge. For me, about 7 rows is one inch and about 6 stitches in stockinette stitch (knitting every round).


Now that we know how many inches we’ll need and how many stitches in an inch, we’re ready to cast on for REAL. Pick your favorite method from above and cast on 10% less stitches than your ankle measurement calls for (ankle measurement x .1, then ankle measurement – that answer for those of you using the calculator). This will mean your sock is just a little smaller than your leg and will help it to stay up. (I’m using 10 inches as my ankle measurement, so I’ll have 10*.1 = 1 and 10-1 = 9. Then 9 inches *6 sts per inch means I’ll would be casting on 54 sts for my sock, however in order to maintain my k2,p2 evenly I need two more stitches so I’m casting on 56) Math being what it is, you may have to round up or down to get to an even number for casting on. You will need to have an even number of stitches for your cast on. You will also want to make sure that when you divide the number in half (56 / 2 = 28) it is an even number as well. This will help you to keep you ribbing correctly in pattern.

To begin working your stitches, slide the last stitches you cast on down to the cable so you have one needle with stitches on it and one needle free to work. Remember to take your working yarn across your stitches like we did above. Be VERY careful during this first round to keep good tension. If you don’t you’ll end up with sloppy side stitches.

prepare to work

There are all kinds of ways to do a cuff with all kinds of fun things you can work into them, but for today we’ll stick to the basic 2×2 ribbing. So knit 2, purl 2 across your first set of stitches with ball number 1 (28 sts), and then SWITCH and work your second set of stitches with ball number 2 (28 sts), don’t forget to lay the yarn over just like we did for the first set. DO NOT WORK BOTH SETS WITH THE SAME BALL. While the result is interesting and kids seem to think it’s funny, it’s no joke to have your socks stitched together.

Turn the work and very carefully slide the stitches that are on the cable onto the empty needle. If it helps, grab one of your stitch markers and place it the gap just in case you slip and your stitches end up back together. Once you have it turned, work this side the same as the previous side, just remember that you’re starting with ball number 2 this time and ending on ball number 1.

Here comes our next measurement: Cuff length. Relatively long socks will have 5 or more inches for cuff length. I would suggest doing at LEAST one inch of cuff to help keep the sock up. With knitted socks, I feel like two is better. I’m just making ankle socks, so I’ll go with two inches and call it good. When you’re done with your cuff it should look more or less like this:


If you’re making knee high or mid calf socks, it will obviously be longer and have a little shaping as you add and remove stitches to match the circumference of you knee and/or mid calf. Remember as you’re working those, do increases and decreases every OTHER round and calculate how MANY decreases you need total so that you can start enough rounds ahead to do 1-2 increases or decreases PER ROUND, keeping the changes even dispersed around. Otherwise you’ll end up with weird bunched up socks that don’t fit right.

Make sure you have ended your cuff at the beginning of the round so that you’re not working half a round. Once you’re done with the cuff and happy with it, you’re ready to move on to the heel flap. If you’re working with DPNs you’ll want to slide half the stitches onto one or two stitch holders. If you’re working with circular needles, that step is optional, but it may help you as we work back and forth here.

To slide your stitches onto a holder, you’ll want to slide the stitches you just finished working up onto the needle part of your circular needles (obviously DPN users skip this), and carefully slide the stitches straight onto the holder like so:

As you work, slide the stitches off the needle and push the rest forward until you have half your sock on the stitch holder.

heel onto holder

If you feel comfortable working back and forth on just one side of your circular needles (or DPNs) just skip this part and move on to the next step.

The next step is to pull your measure tape out again and measure the height of your heel from the flat of your foot to base of Achilles tendon or just below the Medial Malleolus (the bone that sticks out on the outside of some ankles).  This measurement will tell you how long to make your heel flap. For most adults, this will be about 2 inches.

Ok, pick your knitting back up and slip one stitch as if to purl, then knit across the row. When you get to sock 2, slip one stitch as if to purl  and knit across (this row is identical to sock one of course). STOP when you get to the end of sock two and TURN your work. Slip one as if to purl and purl across the work. Turn the work after, and slip one as if to purl, then knit across. Keep working back and forth in this way until you’ve reached your heel height measurement (2 inches for me). Make sure to end on a purl row so that you’re ready to knit your next row for the heel turning.

When you’re done, you should have something that looks like this:

Notice on the purl side of the sock there are some nice knit-looking rows on either side? Those will be the stitches we pick up when we get to the gusset. Before we get there though, we need to turn the heel and you’ll probably be glad to know we do NOT need the measuring tape for this one.

There are two ways to work this heel turning. This section is short, so I recommend just working the socks one at a time so you don’t’ have to deal with stitch holder here, but if you would like, you can slip the unworked stitches on to stitch holders and work both socks at the same time. Either way you go, slip one stitch as if to knit this time and knit across sock one until you’re within 1.5 inches of the end of the work (9 sts if you’re following my gauge). Leave those stitches unworked and turn your work. This is the first set up row for the turning of the heel.

Next, slip one stitch as if to purl again (we’re not setting up the gusset anymore, so always slip the way you’re stitching going forward) and purl to the last 1.5 inches of the work (9 sts) and leave the rest unworked and turn again. This is the second set up row for turning the heel. Make sure you have the same amount of unworked stitched on both sides before you move on.

Now you’re ready to pick up stitches and make a heel. Slip the first stitch like we’ve been doing, knit across the row until the last stitch on the row (this is the stitch we slipped on the previous row).

Decrease by knitting two together and then knit one more stitch. Turn your work, slip one, purl across to the slipped stitch from the previous row, purl two together and purl one more then turn. Keep working in this way until you have picked up all the unworked stitches from rows one and two. On the last two rows, you’ll be out of stitches after the work 2 tog part, but don’t worry, that’s normal. Just stop when you have worked 2 tog and turn.

Now if you still have all your stitches on circular needles, slide the finished heel onto the stitch holder. If you opted to move your cuff stitches onto the stitch holder, slide your heel stitches onto the empty needle and down onto the cable to hold for later. Then repeat the heel turning instructions for sock two and we’ll be ready to move on to the gusset.

Before we get started on the gusset, get all your stitches back onto your needles (whichever kind you’re using). This would also be a good time to straighten out your yarn and make sure any tangling is dealt with.

To start the gusset, knit across the heel flap we just created–only the first one for now. Then, we’re going to pick up the stitches in that pretty part we made along the side of the heel. You may want to put the stitches for the heel of sock two on a holder for this part because it can get a little tight if you’re working with short circular needles like the ones pictured (30″ or shorter). Working under the stitches we slipped earlier, pick up one stitch for each slipped stitch on you holding needle like so:

pick up gusset stitches

Then knit that stitch. When you get to the corner, pick up one more stitch through the center of the knit and knit that as well.

This will help to keep the gusset tight and reduce the chance of a hole forming where the round comes together. Place a marker to keep track of the corner (9 picked up stitches). Repeat that for sock two (don’t forget to put your stitches back on your needles if you moved them).

Next, knit across the cuff stitches for sock two ONLY (28sts) and place a marker. When you’ve gotten to the end of the cuff stitches for sock two, you’ll pick up the stitches from this side of the heel flap as well as one in the corner. Remember, the corner is the FIRST stitch you will encounter this time rather than the last. Another good thing to remember is that you should be picking up the same amount of stitches on this side as you did on the previous side (9 if you’re knitting along with me). Repeat that for sock 1 and we’re ready to start on our decreases and head toward the foot!

Get your socks ready to work and knit across until the last 3 stitches before the corner marker, knit two together then knit one and move on to sock two repeat. When you get back around to you cuff side, knit across to the marker, slide the marker, knit one more, slip slip knit, and knit the rest of the stitches. Repeat that for sock one. Knit one round even and you have completed the gusset decrease rounds!

Repeat the gusset decrease rounds until you’re back to the same number of stitches that you had for your cuff (56), ending on a work even round.  You should have something that looks like this:

See the triangular area formed by the stitches? That’s the completed gusset! You’re ready for the easiest part of the socks: the foot.

Grab our that measure tape one more time and measure your foot length from the back of your heel to the first joint on your big toe (8 inches). Knit around your socks evenly until they match that measurement from heel to needles.


Now we’re ready to work the toe and finish up our socks. You’ll have to do a little more math for this part, but we’re mostly done with the measuring tape at least. Take your number of stitches and divide it by 8, because you want 8 decreases spaced evenly around (56 / 8 = 7). To evenly space decreases, knit the answer minus two (since you’re knitting two together), then decrease by knitting two together (k5, k2tog) around the sock.

You may get to the end of side one of sock one and have a remainder of two or three stitches. Don’t worry, just pick up the pattern when you get to the other side (I have two knit stitches at the end of side one, so starting on side two I’ll k3, k2tog then continue in the pattern across side two).

If you end up having a decrease with one stitch on side one and one stitch on side two, use a locking stitch marker or small stitch holder to hold that stitch off the needle until you get to side two. Then slide that stitch onto the needle as the first stitch for side two and work your decrease. Use the same holder or marker and hold the finished decrease off the needle. When you get to your knit around round, slide the stitch back on to the needle for side one and knit it. That will keep your sides even.

What do I do if my stitch number isn’t evenly divisible by 8!? It’s ok. If you have one remainder stitch, it’s not going to hurt anything. When you get to the round that has you knitting two together around, just knit three together with the remainder stitch so that both sides of your sock have the same number of stitches.

If you are making small socks (like for a child or for very small feet) or very large socks (like larger men’s socks) you may need to adjust the amount of decreases you are using. For those cases, measure the toes from the first joint to the tip to make sure that the socks are long enough for the rest of the toe to fit. For very small feet you may need to skip a few knit around rounds  to decrease faster or use less than 8 decreases to get the length you need. For very large socks, you may need to do a few more than 8 decreases or add a little to the foot of the sock to get the length you need. The most important thing here is to keep your decreases evenly spaces around the toe and use an even number of decreases.

However you need to adjust your toe, work a round with 8 decreases evenly spaced (just lose one knit stitch each time around, for example if your first decrease round was k5, k2 tog then the next one will be k4, k2tog)  and then knit around until you have finished the round that is k1, k2 tog and knit around one more time.


Take the working yarn and lay it across the toe of the sock. You want the length to be 3-4 times as long as the stitching so that you’re sure you have enough to sew with. Cut the long tail and grab a yarn needle.

long tail

Thread the needle with the long tail and sew the toe of your socks shut by working back and forth through the stitches like this:

sew shut

Just remember as you work to slide the stitches off the needle as you go and pull them gently when you’re done to pick up any slack left over.

If you want to make them REALLY fancy, you can try grafting the toes shut. To graft knitting, you first need to slide both sides of one sock onto the needle portion of your circular needles.

grafting set up

Then, hold that with one hand and use your yarn needle to pull the tail purlwise through the first stitch, leaving the stitch on the needle:

purlwise front

Put the yarn needle through the stitch on the second needle knitwise:

knitwise back

Come back forward and put the needle through the first stitch (the one you already ran purlwise) knitwise and pull the stitch off the needle.

knitwise front

Bring the yarn needle purlwise through the next stitch on the front needle

purl next front

Then bring the yarn needle through the first stitch on the back needle (the one you’ve run through knitwise) purlwise and slide it off the needle.

purlwise back

Bring the yarn needle knitwise through the next stitch on the back needle and you’ve successfully begun your graft.

knit next stitch back

Knit the front stitch and slide it off, purl the next stitch on the front needle, purl the back stitch and slide it off, knit the next stitch on the back needle and keep doing that across your toe until you’re finished and you can tie off the end. (pardon my green for looking clumsy, I used a heavier weight yarn to help the pictures be clearer)

Weave in the loose ends and you’ll have a brand new pair of socks! Good job!

The Short Version


  • 1 Skein Sport weight (3) yarn any brand, fiber, and color (about 275 yards)
  • 1 size US-5 (3.75 mm) circular needles (or 5 DPNs)
  • Split ring markers, locking stitch markers, OR safety pins (at LEAST 2)
  • A measuring tape
  • Medium stitch holder(s)
  • Yarn needle
  •  OPTIONAL: Knitting gauge


7 rows x 6 sts =1×1 inch

Make a gauge swatch to determine your gauge if you are using a different weight yarn or different size needles. Use a tape measure or knitting gauge to help you measure.


  1.  Ankle circumference***
  2. Cuff Length
  3. Heel height from bottom of foot to base of Achilles tendon or just below the Medial Malleolus (the bone that sticks out on the outside of some ankles)
  4. From your big toe joint to the back of your heel

***If you’re planning on making knee high or even mid calf high socks, you’ll need to measure you leg at the knee (knee high only), largest part of the calf (both) AND the ankle (both) so that you can increase and decrease circumference as needed.


Split your skein into two balls (ball 1 and ball 2) and cast on the amount of stitches needed to match Measurement 1. Make sure the number of stitches cast on is both even and when divided by in half is even as well. (example: 56 /2 = 28).

Round 1: k2, p2 around working one sock with ball 1 and one sock with ball 2. Keep working yarn separate so it does not tangle.

Repeat round 1 until cuff reaches desired length.

Longer socks

If you’re making knee high or mid calf socks, add and remove stitches to match the circumference of you knee and/or mid calf. Work increases and decreases every other round and 1-2 increases or decreases per increase or decrease round. Increases and decreases should be worked evenly around.


If desired, slide half the cuff stitches onto a stitch holder.

Row 1: slip one purlwise, knit across half the cuff stitches, turn.

Row 2: slip one purlwise, purl across half the cuff stitches, turn.

Repeat rows 1 and 2 until measurement 3 is reached. End on Row 2.


Work socks one at a time or use stitch holders to hold unworked stitches.

Row 1: Sl 1, k to last 1.5 inches of row, leave last inch unworked and turn.

Row 2: Sl 1, p to last 1.5 inches of row, leave last inch unworked and turn.

Row 3: Sl 1, k to slipped stitch, k2 tog with slipped stitch and unworked stitch, k1 turn.

Row 4: Sl 1, p to slipped stitch, p2 tog with slipped stitch and unworked stitch, p1 turn.

Repeat rows 3 and 4 until one unworked stitch from rows 1 and 2 remain.

Final Row A: Sl 1, k to slipped stitch, k2 tog with slipped stitch and unworked stitch, turn.

Final Row B: Sl 1, p to slipped stitch, p2 tog with slipped stitch and unworked stitch, turn.

If working socks one at a time, place stitches for sock 1 onto a stitch holder and repeat for sock 2


Round 1: k across HEEL stitches. Pick up stitches in slipped stitches on side of HEEL FLAP and one stitch in corner of work place marker. k across cuff stitches and place marker. Pick up stitches in slipped stitches on side of HEEL FLAP. Make sure the same amount of stitches were picked up on both sides of HEEL FLAP.

Round 2: k to 3 before marker, k 2 tog, k 1 move marker. k across to marker, move marker,  k 1, ssk, k to end of round

Round 3: k around

Repeat rounds 2 and 3 until the stitch count is the same as the amount of stitches cast on for CUFF.


Knit around until sock matches Measurement 4 from back of sock HEEL.


Round 1: k,  spacing 8 decreases evenly around.

Round 2: k around

Repeat rounds 1 and 2 until 8 stitches remain on each side of the sock. Sew or graft toe shut with yarn needle, weave in ends.

*See end of blog section for notes on adjusting for very large or very small toes.


4 thoughts on “Knitting 101: Top Down Socks

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