Generic Socks - The Finale
Those of you who know me personally know that I can be a little obsessive compulsive, but I've found that for socks that can be a good thing. If I do certain things the same way everytime, I don't really have to think about doing it, and the socks get knitted faster. First of all, I used to just measure how long a certain part of the sock was, but I found that on the second sock, as I was getting impatient and wanting to finish the pair, I would stretch the sock a little more when I measured it and I'd end up with one sock longer than the other. I now use a row counter. My new favorite is the Mini Kacha Kacha, which hangs around my neck and, unlike the original Kacha Kacha, has a lock on it so 5 year old boys can't just go nuts with the thing. Now I just make a note of how many rounds go into the leg on the first sock and I can match it on the second sock. I also use it to keep track of rounds on the foot as well as my rows on the heel flap.
Because I use the row counter, I developed a new obsession - I do decreases on odd numbered rounds. I use this on gussets and on the first part of toes when you decrease every other round. This way, I don't really have to think about it, if I'm working an odd numbered row in these parts of the sock, I decrease. Even if a pattern is written so that decreases will fall on even numbered rounds, I do them on the odd rounds. At this point it has become a habit and keeping the habit makes it faster for me to knit the socks.
I really prefer to knit socks with 5 DPN's and the only reason I would only use 4 is if Nancy Bush told me to. I like to keep Needle 1 as the first needle for the instep stitches. This puts the end of the round at the side of the foot, but to me it means less juggling of stitches later when you get to the toe. I always mark the Needle 1 by hanging a Lock Ring Marker off of that part of the sock. Some patterns place the end of the round on the bottom of the foot, but I tend to adjust the pattern, unless its very complex or Nancy Bush wrote the pattern. I don't mess with Nancy Bush. She is a sock genius and knows things about socks that we mere mortals don't even know we're missing. If you don't have her books, go get them. You don't even have to knit to own her books - they'll sell them to you and you will have books of glorious socky eye candy to read whenever you want to! I owned Folk Socks for years before I started knitting socks. I don't see anything crazy about that.
Now that I've truly terrified you with my personal kind of crazy, I'll share a few things I've learned about different yarns and stitches. Most people realize that cables tend to eat up your stitches per inch and lace gives you more than the usual stitches per inch, but there are other factors that affect the stretch of socks. Ribbing will pull a sock snugly around the foot, but when its completely stretched out, it has a fewer stitches per inch than stockinette does in the same yarn, on the same needles. Socks that have a stitch pattern that makes diagonal zig zags or arches have less stretch than straight stockinette - Jaywalkers and the Melanie's Twist stitch pattern both do this (although Melanie's Twist is more elastic than the Jaywalker pattern). This is why Feather and Fan socks, while a lace pattern, aren't as elastic as other lace patterns. Some yarns can affect the stretchiness of socks too. As a handspinner, I tend to use medium wools blended with mohair for socks because of the strength they give the socks. Most medium wools don't have as much crimp (the shape of the fiber that gives it bounce) as fine wools do which results in less elasticity. I like to use a stitch pattern that adds elasticity for my handspun socks - ribs or the waffle pattern are good examples of this. I also don't use negative ease on the feet of my handspun socks. That's about all I can think of to tell you about socks. The best advice I can give is to just knit them. Keep on knitting the silly things and you'll figure out what works best for you, your knitting style, and your foot and leg shape. Plus, you'll have warm feet all winter.