My current work in progress:

Seaforth designed by Alice Starmore, knit in British Breeds 5-ply Guernsey Wool on US 3 needles.


Gussets and Heels and Foot Length, Oh My!

I’ve gotten some queries lately (via Ravelry and email) concerning toe-up socks. Specifically, how do you know how long to knit the foot before you start increasing for the gusset?

My standard fingering weight sock pattern (pdf link) with a gusset and slip-stitch heel directs you to knit until the length of the foot is about 3″ less than your desired total sock foot length.

I wear a US size 8.5 shoe (a European 39) and my foot is just a bit over 9.5″ long. I knit size medium (this measure is the circumference) socks for my foot.

(Incidentally, Zappos has a great chart here for foot and shoe sizes.)

When I knit socks for myself, I knit the foot to 6.5″ before I start the gusset increases. The gusset itself adds just under 2″ to the length of the foot. The pattern has 22 gusset rows for the medium size and the specified row gauge is 12 rows/inch, so the gusset is about 1.8″ in length.

So after the gusset is done, my sock is about 8.3″ long.

Then, I work the heel. Here is the sock with a completed heel.

Laid out flat, the sock is 9.75″ from the tip of the toe to the back of the heel.

Whoa, there! If my foot is just over 9.5″ long, isn’t the sock too long?

Nope. Because, of course, I’m measuring the sock flat, in 2-D, while my foot is 3-D. Look at the heel flap from the back:

For the size medium, it is 3″ wide. That 3″ is wrapped around the back of the heel and extends around to the sides of my heel (because my heel is not 3″ wide across the back). So about 1.5″ of that heel is on the back of my heel, with .75″ on each side of the heel.

Same goes for the toes. While I measure the total length of the sock foot from the tip of the toe, a bit of that length is taken up around the front of the toes. How much depends on how wide you make your sock toe. I always make mine by starting with half of the total number of foot stitches and I increase 4 stitches every other row up to the total number of stitches. How wide you make your toe is a matter of personal preference — you can start with fewer or more stitches depending on the width of the recipient’s toes.

So, I mentally knock a half inch off the foot length to compensate for toe-width.

Doing that, I’ve got 6″ for foot length before gusset + 1.8″ in gusset + .75″ in heel — adds up to 8.5″ for my just over 9.5″ foot. So my sock is about 90% of the actual length of my foot, which is exactly what I want for a sock that fits well.

Of course, everyone’s foot is different, but I like to think that mine is about average, so it is a good starting point. The “knit until the sock is 3″ shy” rule of thumb pretty much works for all the sizes of my basic pattern because the change in the width of the toe and heel is accounted for in the pattern.

But of course you need to experiment to find your perfect number. Remember, though, that a sock is a somewhat forgiving creature and can stretch to fit, so minor variations are okay.

Okay, enough with the math. It makes my head ache.

As you can see, I did finish the first Swan Song Sock. It handsomely offered to be measured for this exercise.

In other news, although she eschewed all my attempts to help her, Lucy is pleased to report that the speck is gone from her nose.


  1. HeatherB says:

    I used to like math, but that just plain made my head spin. Which is why I leave the sock designing up to you. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Zowie. I have to take your word for it! The sock is fabulous and Lucy is beautiful! luv.m.

  3. What is it with those nose specks? My Sunny (a Birman who greatly resembles a Ragdoll) gets those every now and then and they WILL NOT come off by any means I have attempted. She gets them off somehow. Weird.

  4. Ouch. Brain hurts. May take tomorrow off to compensate for all the thinking you made me do today…….so don’t be doing anything fun, hear?

  5. thanks for the info. I’m thinking of making a document in my computer (knitting/socks/toe up) called length before gusset and just noting this as well as the length I end up with for each of your heel styles. Once it’s done, no more thinking about math ๐Ÿ™‚

    Amazing how Lucy did that. She’s cute with a spot but delightful without it.

  6. Oh, thanks! I had been wanting a toe-up sock pattern that gives different sizes. Should have guessed that The Queen Of Socks — that’s you! — would have one. Just this morning I was mulling over a couple 50 gr balls of Maizy thinking that they looked rather small and and that I should knit socks from it toe-up to be sure not to run out of yarn. I was lamenting to myself that I didn’t really have a good toe-up pattern. Now I do!

    kmkats last blog post..Spring, part the third.

  7. This is a lesson that took me a while to learn and I wish I had earlier, much less ripping would have ensued. I *like* this zappos chart so much better, as it feels more realistic than the others I’ve seen. Thank you! Now I need to measure the current pair and see if it means if I have to rip back or not. It’s soo much easier when you have the sock-foot available for immediate testing. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    pennys last blog post..buttons

  8. Thanks for the lesson, Wendy! I always appreciate your tips as I’m still working out the details of my “perfect” sock. I’m so glad Lucy got rid of that speck. And, as always, I just love your latest sock! : )

    Amys last blog post..I’ve been tagged…

  9. I need to get your basic sock pattern out so I can use it to do the gusset heel portion of the sock I am working on for hubby. Just to be sure I understood correctly, Since his foot is just shy of 11 in long I would knit to 8in then start the increases for the gusset and heel right? I sure hope so ๐Ÿ™‚

    Danielle from SW MOs last blog post..Look Ma I Didnt Burn the Cookies!!

  10. I’m glad the speck is gone! Lucky was worried that Molly came up there and smacked his Lucy!

  11. Thank you so much for clarifying the mysteries of sock sizing! Your patterns–both the published and the freebies–are wonderful. But this additional explanation will help me fine tune the fit. I’m really looking forward to your book.

  12. Lucy managed on her own – she’s so capable! My routine “speck on the nose” sporter won’t let me help her either. But it’s usually kitty clay and won’t come off without help. She occasionally wears it for a day or so.

    Sandra Ds last blog post..In Oklahoma

  13. I just finished a pair of socks using the pattern with the gusset on the bottom of the foot and I loved the way the pattern worked out. But, alas, the 64 stitch sock was perfect in every way except it was too small for my “fluffy” calves. So, my daughter happily accepted them and I was off to knit another pair.
    I took the pattern with the gusset on the bottom of the heel and the pattern with the slip stitch heel and gusset on the side and combined them. After swatching, my new yarn gave me 10 stitches per inch and 12 rows per inch so I used the largest number in the side gusset pattern and inserted the heel on the bottom of the foot. I used my row gauge to figure how long to knit before starting the gusset. It happened to be 6.75″. A lot of math, but I just got to the leg section and tried the sock on and it fits like a dream. Now I think I have the perfect pattern to use with all my hand-dyed sock yarns that look best in stockinette.
    Thanks, Wendy, for giving us these wonderful patterns to use as a jumping off point for creativity!!!!!

  14. Thank for the size chart! I know know why I wear either a Child’s size 3 or a Women’s size 5…they really are the same size! I think the age ranges may be a bit off though. I know I have small feet, but I didn’t think I (at 26) wore the same size as a 7 year old! ๐Ÿ™‚

    julieannes last blog post..So I knit, too!

  15. Barbara-Kay says:

    Well, yes, my eyes were beginning to glaze over by the time we had covered all the requisite math. But thank you for being complete.

    Lucy, you’re still lovely as ever.

  16. I use the short row heel almost exclusively and find that stopping 2 inches short of total foot length works for me.

  17. Wholey moley, that was a seriously thorough and complicated look at the anatomy of a toe up sock. I feel like I should print out this blog entry, so that I can read it again when I am feeling more intelligent ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Gorgeous socks – looking forward to the pattern being available!

  19. This is a great description, and the first one I’ve seen for measring around the feet…usually they are just for length. So, where on the foot do you measure around? I’ve got 11″ in the middle of my foot and 10″ around the pad of my foot. THanks!

    JeanBs last blog post..Jumping for Joy

  20. Liz in IN says:

    Sock math! Whew…thanks for doing the head-hurty work, Wendy.

    Lucy is truly the queen of everything: she still looked regal with a speck on her nose! Glad it’s gone, though.

    That sock is gorgeous!!!

  21. NewJerseyLaura says:

    Thank you for those measurements, refined through many pair of socks :).

  22. Jennifer says:

    yay! we have the same foot-size so I get to copy. ๐Ÿ™‚

  23. If I remember correctly, ski boots are also sized by length and volume of the foot. I had all kinds of “strange” measurements taken to get mine. They also measured both feet separately, since even a pair on the same body do not always match exactly. Such a bunch of fine tuning, but they fit great. I can just see you fine tuning your sock pattern for your left, right….

  24. I agree with Janet, I need to reread the math when I’m feeling smarter. But thank you for the explanation, I’ve attempting more toe-up socks to use up all the yarn. Any extra info helps me prevent ripping out a heel several times due to bad measurements!

    samoofishs last blog post..Wisconsin Trip #8: Memorial Day/Brookies for George

  25. Seriously liking this pattern! Glad you’ll be posting it as a freebie when it’s done ๐Ÿ™‚ May finally be the nudge I need to try toe-up socks. Thank you, nice lady!

    Melanie J.s last blog post..June 5, 1982

  26. I love love this sock pattern. I’m going to keep these instructions until I get the pattern, then I’m going to take the plunge into toe up socks. Can’t wait!

    Marions last blog post..Back to the Drawing Board

  27. That’s a nice explanation of what goes on. I hadn’t been measuring socks flat though for heel placement. I’ve been putting them on to check. I must do a bit of math contemplation of my own to see if this matters. Not having to put them on might be a big help at times. The sock is very pretty, btw.

    P.S. Where did you get your RSC2008 button? It’s prettier than the one I found.

    Ronnis last blog post..Not Enough Chocolate In The World

  28. Thanks for the helpful information about sock lengths for toe-up socks. I always seem to have trouble getting the length just right. Cheers

    Diannes last blog post..Back again

  29. I’ve been putting off knitting your toe up pattern because I’ve been unsure of how the math. Thanks for clearing it up. Nice sock. Love the pattern and color.

    Judy bs last blog post..Knitting