How do you figure out the right number of stitches to cast on for an ankle-down sock? This can be an especially vexing problem for a first sock. You want the cuff snug, but not constricting; you definitely do not want a loose, baggy cuff (unless that is part of your design!).
You virtuously perform the “stocking stitch gauge under slight tension (sts/in) x ankle measurement = stitches to cast on (rounded down to the nearest multiple of four” calculation, and get going. However the resulting tube looks HUGE.
Sometimes swatches lie (or are mis-measured).
With your first sock, everything is new–the method of knitting (in-the-round), the yarn, the needles. And sometimes swatches lie. Seasoned sock knitters have a wealth of experience to draw upon (something I call ‘mental swatching’) to get to the magic number. They can extrapolate from past experience and when their calculations look ‘off’ they can say to themselves “the number suggests 72 sts, but last time I worked with this yarn and a textured pattern 64 stitches worked beautifully, so I’ll round this down a bit more and cast on 68 sts.” There is often a moment of uncertainty.
A new sock knitter just wants to get the stitches on and get started, not mess around with more swatches, especially when they have already done a couple and are still not getting the right number of stitches.
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