Socktoberfest: 5 Ways to Work a Sock Toe

When knitting socks, there are many versions of the top-down sock toe: some pointy, some square, some round; some short, some long; some that require grafting, some that don’t. Each method for working sock toe decreases creates a slightly different look and shape. There are five main variables that control the shape and length of a sock toe:

1. number of decreases per round
2. position of decreases
3. direction of decreases
4. frequency of decreases
5. number of stitches that remain after decreases are worked

Let’s look at how each of these factors changes the shape of your sock toe. (Keep in mind that all of these examples assume that the start of the round is at the center of the heel.)

sock toe decreases

Number of decreases per round

The most common toe shaping methods decrease four stitches per round, but working six or eight decreases at a time—like a classic hat crown—creates a rounder toe.

Position of decreases

The wedge toe places four decreases at the sides of the foot, two stitches apart. The star toe places four decreases distributed evenly around the sock.

Direction of decreases

If all the sock toe decreases are the same—the right-leaning k2tog or the left-leaning ssk—as in the star toe above, an elegant spiral results. The wedge toe and barn toe use a left-leaning decrease on the right side and a right-leaning decrease on the left sides, to create curves in toward the center of the toe.

Frequency of decreases

The length and the angle of the toe are determined by how frequently stitches are decreased. Working a decrease round every round creates a 45° angle, too steep for the average foot. Decreasing less frequently (e.g., every second or third round) creates longer toe at a less steep angle; changing the rate of decrease (slow at first, faster at the end) creates a more natural curved shape. In one classic method (which I’ll call “half and half”), the first half of the decreases alternate with even rounds, while the second half are worked without plain rows between.

Number of stitches left at the end

For a wider, flatter sock toe, stop decreasing earlier; for a longer, pointier toe, work more decrease rounds. A toe ending with only eight to twelve stitches is best closed up by running the yarn through the final stitches and pulling snug. A toe that finishes with more than twelve stitches is best grafted.

These factors can be combined in many ways, although some combinations are more successful than others! When knitting socks, decreasing every other round down to a small number of stitches yields a very pointy toe. A more gradual decrease pattern, as in the star toe or barn toe, creates a much better shape. If you work the sock toe decreases every round to a larger number of stitches, you’ll get a very short and flat toe, ideal for a very wide foot with short toes (if you’re good at grafting).

Toes in Practice

Try these sock toe methods on for size—or find your own combination of decrease and even rounds until you find your perfect fit!

Wedge Toe

sock toe decreases
Decrease rnd: Knit to 3 sts before instep, k2tog, k2, ssk, knit to 3 sts before end of instep, k2tog, k2, ssk, knit to end of rnd—4 sts dec’d.
Alternate even and decrease rnds until about ⅓ of the original number of sts rem. Graft closed.

A wide version can be created by placing the decreases farther away from the edges:
Decrease rnd: Knit to 4 sts before instep, k2tog, k4, ssk, knit to 4 sts before end of instep, k2tog, k4, ssk, knit to end of rnd—4 sts dec’d.

A flatter toe uses a double decrease centered on the sides:
Decrease rnd: Knit to 1 st before instep, sl2kp, knit to 1 st before end of instep, sl2kp, knit to end of rnd—4 sts dec’d

Star Toe

sock toe decreases
Decrease rnd: Knit to 2 sts before instep, k2tog, knit to 2 sts before center of instep, k2tog, knit to 2 sts before end of instep, k2tog, knit to 2 sts before end of rnd, k2tog.
Alternate decrease and even rnds until about ½ the desired decreases have been worked, then work only decrease rnds until 8–10 sts rem. Pass the tail of yarn through the remaining stitches and pull tight to close.

Round Toe

More decreases worked less often makes the decrease lines less visible. You need a multiple of 8 stitches.
Decrease round 1: *K6, k2tog, place marker (pm); rep from * to end.
Work 2 rounds even.
Decrease round 2: *Knit to 2 sts before m, k2tog; rep from * to end.
Work decrease round 2 every 3rd round until eight or ten sts rem. Pass tail through rem sts and cinch closed.

Barn Toe

This is my favorite sock toe. It’s a bit longer than a standard wedge toe and requires no grafting. It uses the same decrease round as the wedge toe, but varies the number of even rounds between.
Decrease round: Knit to 3 sts before instep, k2tog, k2, ssk, knit to 3 sts before end of instep, k2tog, k2, ssk, knit to end of rnd—4 sts dec’d.
Work 3 rnds even.
*Work decrease rnd, then work 2 rnds even. Rep from * 1 more time.
**Work decrease rnd, then work 1 rnd even. Rep from ** 2 more times.
Work decrease rnd until 8 or 10 sts rem. Pass tail through rem sts and cinch closed.

Left and Right Toes

The majority of toes are symmetrical, but there’s no reason they have to be. To create directional toes, work the sock toe decreases as a wedge toe, using the barn toe shaping on the big-toe side and the “half and half” shaping progression (described in the “Frequency of decreases” section above) on the other side. This creates a shape that is roomier close to the big toe and more angled on the outside of the foot. The peak of the toe sits off-center, which better conforms to the shape of most feet.

Ready to cast on for your next pair of socks? Try one of these cast-ons for the perfect cuff!

Get Down with Some Sock Knitting!

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