Pattern of the Week: Converting Socks, Top Down to Toe Up

A frequent source of controversy in the sock-knitting world revolves around one simple question: Do you knit top down or toe up? Be at peace, sock knitters. With a little planning, converting socks to go the other way can be done!

The objective here isn’t to get an exact match—heel and gusset constructions are often pretty different in the two directions—but to allow you to create a sock that uses stitch patterning and details from a “wrong-way” pattern in the construction you prefer. Most sock knitters have a favorite “vanilla” (mostly stockinette) pattern they enjoy—and you can use that as the template for an easy, math-free conversion. I recommend Ann Budd’s Getting Started Knitting Socks.

Ann Budd provides instructions for knitting socks at five different gauges and in five different sizes.

Converting Socks: Gather the Key Info

Look to the pattern you want to convert and decide which size you plan to knit. Identify the stitch count for the sock at these key points:

• Cuff number: For a top-down sock, this is the number of stitches cast on.

• Leg number: The number of stitches the leg pattern is worked on.

• Foot numbers: The number of stitches used for the foot of the sock, the section between the toe and the gusset; identify the total and the number of stitches for the instep and the sole.

• Toe number: For a top-down sock, this is the number of stitches immediately before the toe decreases start.

The numbers might differ slightly at these four points to accommodate patterning—e.g., the leg pattern requires an odd number of stitches, but the cuff ribbing requires an even number—but it’s not hard to deal with. If they’re all the same, you’ve got your single magic sock number, the number of stitches for the cuff, leg, and foot! If not, the Toe number is the number you need.

Find the size of your vanilla pattern that matches (or is closest to) the number of stitches you need—either that single “magic” number or the Toe number. That will be the size you use for your sock.

Examine the stitch pattern used. Is it an allover pattern or a smaller pattern worked all around? Or a single motif, such as my Pivot Socks. If it’s a single motif, you’ll need to identify how it’s positioned on the sock, relative to the heel. In general, it’s easiest to convert a pattern that has plain toes and heels using nothing more complicated than a heel reinforcement stitch.

Kate Atherley’s Pivot Socks uses an accessible pattern and introduces a single cable motif that is easy to convert into a toe-up sock.

On Changing Top Down to Toe Up

Use your preferred cast-on for toe-up socks and increase to the Toe number— or the closest size in your vanilla sock. Take a look at the foot pattern you want to replicate:

• If the foot is worked in stockinette, work the vanilla sock on the number of stitches closest to your Foot number until the heel turn is complete and then make any stitch count adjustments (distributed evenly around the leg) to get to the Leg number and add any patterning as the leg starts.

• If the foot is patterned and a stitch-count change is required, work one more round after the toe is complete, increasing or decreasing as required to get to the Foot number.

For example, if your top-down sock foot has 61 stitches—31 stitches on the instep and 30 stitches on the sole—work your favorite toe to 60 stitches and then work another round, increasing on the instep for the extra stitch needed. If the foot has 59 stitches—29 on the instep and 30 on the sole—work a decrease in the instep. Sometimes you can simply rearrange your stitches appropriately: 60 stitches might be split as 32 and 28 rather than 30 and 30.

Work the foot pattern as described.

Note: Top-down socks often start the round in the center of the heel. Just remember that the sole is knit plain and the pattern is only worked on the instep. If the top-down sock has you finish the foot on a certain pattern round, start with that round.

Work any gusset and heel you wish on the sole stitches. If your sole stitch number matches your vanilla pattern exactly, it’s easy! But I won’t tell anyone if you need to make a small adjustment. If you’re working a gusset, just increase to the number you need as part of that process.

Once the heel is complete, you’re back to working in the round on the leg. If you need to make a stitch-count adjustment to get to the right number of stitches for the leg, do it in the last row of the heel or the first round of the leg.

If the foot is patterned, then the front of leg stitches are most likely the same number (and pattern) as the instep stitches, so any adjustment required would be on the back of the leg—make those increases or decreases in the last row of the heel.

Knit away until the leg is the length you need before the cuff. Pay attention to the round on which the leg pattern is started: you’ll likely want to end on the same round.

Work one round to make any adjustments to get to the right number of stitches for the cuff and then work the cuff as written. And don’t forget your favorite stretchy bind-off!


Pattern Details

Explore using this technique on the Thames Path Socks from Love of Knitting Fall 2017. Lisa Jacobs added ribbing to the insteps of these socks to prevent them from bunching up in your boots. The top down construction features a long cuff of ribbing for a close fit and an afterthought heel. With the ability to be knit from the top down or the toe up, this pattern will be perfect for any style of sock knitter.

Finished Size 8 (8½, 9)” foot circumference and 8½ (9½, 10. )” long from back of heel to tip of toe; foot length is adjustable. Socks shown measure 8½” in circumference.

Yarn Lorna’s Laces Solemate (55% superwash merino wool, 30% Outlast viscose, 15% nylon; 425 yd [388 m]/3. oz [100 g]): #59ns Dobson, 1 (1, 2) skein(s).

Needles Sizes 1 (2.25 mm) and 2 (2.75 mm). Adjust needle size if necessary to obtain the correct gauge.

Notions Markers (m); cable needle (cn); waste yarn for heel; tapestry needle.

Gauge 32 sts and 42 rows = 4″ in St st on larger needles; 43 sts and 46 rows = 4″ in charted patt on larger needles.


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