Kiwiyarns Knits

A blog about New Zealand yarns, knitting and life

All about Mary


After an unexpectedly long gestation period, Mary, Mary, the sock pattern will be released this weekend!  My apologies to some of you whom I know have been waiting for it to be released!

It has been an interesting and educational exercise to design this sock. Before the pattern is released, I thought it would be a good idea to introduce some of the aspects of this sock’s construction, especially for cuff-down knitters like me who are generally leery of toe-up construction.

I know that there are many toe-up fans out there, but until now, I have definitely been in the cuff-down camp.  My primary reason for this is finding that cuff-down socks were so much more intuitive to knit. And as knitting is very much about stress-relief for me, I certainly didn’t want to have stressful experiences knitting my socks!

Mary, Mary

Mary, Mary in Circus Tonic Handmade in the Western Whipbird colourway

The things I observed with dislike about toe-up sock patterns in general were:

  1. Complicated and fiddly cast on instructions for the toe.
  2. Complicated and long instructions for the heel that caused my brain to melt and my eyeballs to roll into the back of my head just reading them.
  3. Often unattractive heel that doesn’t fit very well.
  4. Generally much fiddlier to get ‘right’.
  5. Not very pretty cast-off.

These factors all added up to Unhappy Knitting for me, causing me to shut the pattern and walk away.  Unhappy Knitting is not something you want in your life.  It’s the reason I have taken a very long time to even attempt to design Mary, Mary, which has to be knitted toe-up in order for the central motif to work.

Like most things, if you began sock knitting life as a toe-up knitter, you will probably be reading this and saying “but once you know how, it’s not an issue”.  And I agree.

I decided to be brave and tackle the job of finding solutions to those aspects of Unhappy Knitting because I really, really, wanted to make Mary, Mary.  In the process, I was relieved to find that toe-up socks do not have to be complicated or tricky to knit.

No socks should be difficult to knit.  And I feel strongly that instructions should be clear, to the point, and not intimidating. With this mind, I found ways to knit this sock without it being any harder to do than a cuff-down sock.  I am quite pleased if I may say so myself!

My work-arounds are not unique.  I have used existing cast on and heel instructions that have been used by many other sock designers, but it took a while to find the techniques that I wanted to use. I do need to stress that everyone has their own way of doing things (as is evidenced my the multitude methods of knitting!) and there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of knitting something as long as you get the effect you were after in the first place.

Here I share the elements I used that work really well for me:

The toe:  I have used the Turkish cast on to begin the toe.  Have you tried it yet!?  It is by far, the easiest way to cast on.  So fun!  So simple!  So effective!!  Every time I cast on a toe using this method, I get a very geeky sense of knitterly joy.  It has almost got me hooked on toe-up socks simply because I love this way of casting on so much! I want to cast on all the things using the Turkish cast on!

If you aren’t familiar with this technique, here is a short tutorial from Rebecca Danger:

I have also specified a method of increasing in this pattern which I find helps me to keep track of increase rows by using a yarn over to increase a stitch.  You knit into the back of the loop on the return round, this closes the hole and creates a new stitch.  It also has the benefit of serving as a marker for whether you are on an increase or return round.

Backstory to the heel: My initial thoughts (as you’ll know from previous posts) were to introduce an afterthought heel, a very simple method of heel construction.  I noted that many people do have issues with the fit, and I myself wasn’t entirely satisfied with how it looked in this pattern.  I tried to introduce a slipped stitch into the design. While the modified heel worked for me, my tester did not find it at all satisfactory, so I decided to retire that idea for another day.

The heel:  In researching alternative heels, I came across a heel style used by Wendy Johnson that I have settled on for this sock.  I am not sure of its origins, or even if it has an official name (it is not the short row heel).  I chose it because I like its neatness, tidiness and good fit.  Best of all, the instructions are refreshingly short and there is no “wrapping and turning” required!

Sock heel

The heel turn uses the same concept as a normal cuff down flap heel.  My thanks and acknowledgements go to Wendy Johnson for using this style in some of her socks.  I’m not sure if she invented it, but it is awesome! I adapted the style to suit this design, and am very impressed with how well it fits the heel and ankle.

In the pattern, I also provide guidance on how to work out when to begin your heel turn, which is another source of anxiety for us die-hard cuff-down knitters.

The cuff:  My bind off is always on the tight side, and I have to consciously relax my grip when I do it.  Even then, I often end up with an edge that is less-than-ideal for projects that need stretch, like socks and fingerless gloves.  However, I also don’t like the frilly/flared look and feel of the stretchy bind off, which solves the tight bind off issue.  I have worked out a hybrid style that I have coined the “half-stretchy bind off” to solve my problem with edges. This method could well be used by others too, so I don’t think I should be taking credit for inventing it.

I have put together a demonstration of this method for you.  (Apologies about the bad lighting and not great camera angle.  My camera battery went flat and by the time it recharged it was night and rather than wait another week to have daylight recording time, and delay this post even more, I went ahead and made it anyway. I’ve not had a lot of time at home in the day lately.) For lace shawls, I do use the stretchy bind off, because you need that stretch to block out a beautiful edging.  But for socks and things like necklines on garments, this is what I do:

I hope you found that useful.  Thanks to these discoveries, another part of the sock knitting universe has opened up to me, and I find that very exciting!  I hope this post may encourage a few more knitters to try toe-up socks!

Author: kiwiyarns

Welcome to my blog where I talk about knitting in New Zealand and the beautiful yarns you can find here.

12 thoughts on “All about Mary

  1. I’m looking forward to your pattern! I used to knit cuff-down socks, but once I discovered Wendy Johnson’s toe-up method, I became a convert. Thanks for desiging something so attractive.

  2. Mary, Mary is a lovely design! I’ve had the same “dislikes” as you about toe up socks so I’m keen to do this pattern. I know exactly what yarn I’ll use too…..some lovely emerald green from Ireland.

  3. I have had the same feelings about toe-up socks that you have, I may have to give them another try.

  4. Can’t wait to try this pattern. Thanks for the videos.

  5. I have used this cast on for a while now and love it. Have not seen your half stretchy bindoff before, it will be useful for my granddaughters socks. Love your wee video and this sock pattern. Look forward to working it. Although your anemone pattern is still my favorite.

  6. That sock looks absolutely wonderful ! I will most definitely knit this one once the pattern is released. Thanks for your thorough investigations, I am sure it must have been really time consuming..

  7. Very interesting. Good clear videos. Thank you, looking foreward to the pattern.

  8. This is THE incentive to try toe-up socks. And I have beautiful emerald yarn from John Arbon!

  9. What a fabulous, knitterly, detailed and interesting post.
    What an enormous amount of work must be behind these dazzlingly pretty little things. And that Whip-bird yarn is gorgeous.
    Well done girl!

  10. A very interesting post! I knit all my socks cuff down with 5 dpns so not only do I need to start using the toe up method, I also need to learn how to use circular needles as well when knitting socks 🙂

  11. My main problem with toe up socks is working out when to start the gusset, my row gauge tends to be different from the patterns and I often end up with a sock that’s too short to be properly comfortable. As an example my latest sock (which will shortly be frogged) was 28 rows per 2″, the pattern wanted 24″; despite starting my gusset 1/2″ later it’s still not quite long enough. It seemed to be until I finished the leg; I’m now contemplating whether I reknit it or not as I love the look of the pattern.