Custom Socks: knit to fit your feet is the type of technical book that I really love. Like me, Kate Atherley has a background in the software industry and that shows through in the systematic approach she has taken to sock knitting.
Custom Socks by Kate Atherley ©Rachel Gibbs
What you need to know before casting on
The book starts with a very comprehensive look at sock sizing, including the results of a survey of 500 volunteers who took measurements of the six different parts of their feet necessary for a good fitting sock. If you only have partial measurements for your sock recipient, or just a shoe size (in US, European or UK sizes for adults and children), there are tables to help you estimate everything you need to know.
Diagram for magic loop ©Rachel Gibbs
The second chapter is called On Yarn, Needles and Gauge. As well as the standard advice on types of needle and yarn, there are sections on estimating yardage, minimising ladders and reinforcing heels. The diagrams are very clear, in an illustrated style, and additional information is found in highlighted boxes.
Basic sock patterns
Chapter 3, On the Basic Pattern, is where the real meat of Custom Socks begins. Kate clearly has a very strong preference for a flap and gusset heel with a square heel turn and so this is the only type the book covers (top down and toe up). A flap and gusset heel is the easiest to adapt to fit any possible foot variation, so it makes sense for a book that is focussed on achieving a perfect fit. In my experience, short row heels are the type people prefer to knit, whereas flap and gusset are the type people prefer to wear.
Top down sock stitch counts table ©Rachel Gibbs
It starts with a look at the basic structure of a flap and gusset sock, then goes into the top down version with advice on stretchy cast ons and picking up stitches. Instructions on the Kitchener stitch are included in the glossary at the back but not in the main text as Kate prefers a wedge toe finished by cinching the final 8-10 stitches. It then has a simple pattern with all the numbers as a blank space. These can either be filled in using the extensive tables or using the formulas given. If you want to really understand where all the numbers come from in a pattern, this book will help you do that.
It then does the same overview of a toe up sock, with instructions on Judy’s Magic Cast On, avoiding holes at the top of the gusset and stretchy bind offs. The toe up sock has its own tables and formulas, as while many numbers are the same there are some key differences.
Chapter 4, On Adding Stitch Patterns, is possibly my favourite thing about knitting I’ve ever read. She doesn’t just explain how difference stitch patterns affect the fabric, she discusses how having a different gauge on the patterned instep to the stocking stitch sole will affect a sock and how to compensate for awkward pattern repeats. There are lots of formulas, but if you’re interested in learning how to design your own socks, this is so important.
Design case study ©Rachel Gibbs
The book then contains 15 patterns, which are very nice and you could very easily just follow and get a good result, but each one also has a design case study on how the decisions were made and the mathematical basis for them.
I found that while every pattern comes in more than one size (and sizing issues are discussed in the case studies), some didn’t go as large as I would have liked, especially the lace ones. Now perhaps the target audience for lacy socks will on average have smaller feet, but I really liked the Jarvis socks and they don’t come in my size.
Jarvis Socks ©Rachel Gibbs
The patterns cover a wide range of styles and techniques, with knit/purl patterns, cables, lace and stranded colourwork. Some also contain both top down and toe up variants. The instructions are charted only, written instructions for the stitch patterns are not provided. All use the flap and gusset heel and square heel turn.
Customising your socks even further
If your feet/legs differ from the standard proportions, there’s a whole chapter On Adjustments for Non-Average Feet. If you’re not interested in designing, but do want to make well fitting plain socks, this chapter could be the answer. There’s still quite a lot of maths and measuring involved but it’s explained well with examples. The chapter covers adapting the leg for skinny legs, shapely legs and knee socks; getting a good fit at the ankle; adjusting the gusset for high or low arches and adapting the toe for a better fit.
I think Custom Socks is full of very useful information and will be beneficial if you just want to knit better fitting socks for yourself, or you want to try designing. It is very maths heavy and while you can just use the tables and patterns to knit blindly, I think you would be missing out on what makes this book special. If you hate flap and gusset heels, this probably isn’t the book for you but perhaps it will help change your mind and realise why those are the easiest type to customise.
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