The marvelous mysteries of the sideways sock cuff!
Over the years, our Fiesta Feet pattern has been hugely popular, probably because It’s like knitting a sampler of different stitches. Every now and then a knitter is perplexed by the lack of apparent sizes in the pattern: the pattern is written in seven different sizes, but at no time do we tell you to cast on R (S, T, U, V, W, X) stitches in the normal manner. The secret is the use of the sideways sock cuff.
The basic principle of all socks is that most feet can be comfortably accommodated in a uniform tube, with toe and heel appropriately positioned. For most people the measurement of the ankle above the joint and the measurement around the foot after the arch are the same, so top-down socks can be sized by measuring the ankle with a tape measure. The ankle measurement in inches multiplied by the number of stitches per inch your fabric gives (measured under slight tension) will then result in the number stitches you would require for a sock.
However, with the sideways sock cuff we don’t need to make this calculation: the cuff itself takes the place of the tape measure!
The cuff is cast-on (if I recall correctly, it is 14 stitches tall, but it could be considerably taller), and then it is worked in garter stitch until it is long enough to fit snugly around the ankle of the future wearer. Whilst working the cuff, the fabric acts as a swatch. It gives you the opportunity to determine whether your selected yarn and needle size will create a suitably firm fabric to withstand life as a sock. If not, go back and reduce the needle size.
Once the strip of knitting is long enough to fit around your ankle, and the two ends are joined, you will have the cuff of your sock. The cuff is practical: it has appropriate elasticity from the garter stitch, which allows some vertical stretch around the ankle. It is also aesthetically pleasing, adding a vertical pattern element to the cuff, which is particularly dramatic if you have used alternating two-row stripes of a self-patterning yarn.
The length of the cuff is determined by the ankle size. The number of garter ridges that make up the cuff is determined by the yarn and needle combination you have used. Thus, to fit a particular ankle, a fingering weight sock yarn worked on a 2mm / US#0 needle may have 84 garter ridges, while a sport weight yarn worked on a 3mm / US#3 needle may have 64 garter ridges.
Here’s the magic: The number of ridges in the cuff determines the number of stitches your sock requires for your yarn and needles. This is owing to the serendipitous fact that two rows of garter stitch are conveniently almost exactly the same in height as the width of one stitch with the same yarn and needles!
So, once your cuff is worked, you will be able to knit up the stitches, at one stitch per garter ridge, around the lower edge of the cuff and see the number of stitches you will have for your sock.
Having counted your number of stitches, you simply select this number from the available range of stitch numbers in the pattern. If W stitches is your number and it appears as the sixth figure in the range R (S, T, U, V, W, X), you will now follow this set of figures for the remainder of the pattern! It’s rather reminiscent of the mystery books where the page you turn to is determined by the choice you make in the story. It’s a knitting adventure.
For the daring knitter, this cuff may also be made seamlessly, with the beginning of the cuff invisibly and perfectly grafted back to the end of the cuff. Perfect grafting (without the joggles at the edges) is only possible when you are joining stitches going in the same direction, in this case stitch heads to stitch bottoms. Situations such as shoulder seams and sock toes have joggles at the sides as the stitches to be joined approach each other head to head!
For much much more on the art of grafting (aka Kitchener Stitch) see my Finesse Your Knitting 1 DVD! It’s incredibly exciting and powerful stitch magic.
You can also find this type of sock top used on the Camelot (Pattern # 328) and Mermaid Socks (from Cool Socks Warm Feet).