Saturday, January 2, 2010

Second Sock Syndrome? Bah!

Ah yes, the Second Sock Syndrome...

Like many sock knitters, I too experience the phenomenon of thoroughly enjoying knitting sock #1, and then having no interest in knitting an identical sock #2.

Various clever and well-meaning souls have suggested cures for this malady. There's the two-at-a-time method. Even the two-in-one method, for daredevil knitters. These and other cures may indeed help increase your chances of finishing your pair of identical socks. But they sidestep the real issue, which is: why do socks have to be identical?

I personally like unmatched pairs, and I know some of you out there agree. But, most people I knit socks for prefer traditional matched pairs. Therein lies the quandary: do I please the recipient, and be bored through sock #2, or do I try to convince the recipient to appreciate unmatched pairs, so I will enjoy my time knitting both socks? (This gets into the whole philosophy of gift-giving, but let's save that discussion for another time.)

Below is a recent pair of socks modeled by their recipient, my dear husband. They look a fine pair, don't they? Well yes, that's the point. But there are, in fact, some important differences.

I knit the first sock (on the left) from the cuff down. I knit the second sock (on the right) from the toe up. This proved to be an interesting exercise, a good excuse to do a few side-to-side comparisons.

Comparison #1
Below on the left is the cuff-down sock, started with stretchy slipknot cast-on. On the right is the toe-up sock, finished with Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off.

Before washing:

When I first posted this blog entry, I was ruminating about the slight flare on JSSBO, irritated that it didn't snap back in as nicely as the slipknot cast on. But then I did the laundry this morning, and found...

After washing (not blocking, just drying flat):

Woohoo! Ok, I'm happy. :)

Up close, and stretched out, here's the slipknot cast-on (left) and JSSBO (right). To offset the slight flare in JSSBO, I added some elastic thread along the top of the inside (which, now that the socks have been washed, I can see was probably unnecessary).

Comparison #2
The cuff-down sock (left) has a star heel. The toe-up sock (right) has a wedge heel. Both were knitted as afterthought heels. Either heel design would have worked starting from either the cuff or the toe.

(back view)

(side view)

Comparison #3
I had a little fun with the toes too. The cuff-down toe (left), the first one I knit, flows smoothly and simply across stockinette. For the toe-up sock (right), I added a decorative channel of purl stitch between the increase stitches, which flowed continuously into the pattern on the foot.

There are more differences still, but they get progressively more hairsplitting and difficult to show in photos. Suffice to say, the two socks look similar enough to the gift recipient to qualify as a matched pair. But at the same time, I enjoyed making the second sock just as much as I enjoyed making the first, because it was a completely fresh sock-knitting experience!


  1. Fascinating. Thanks for the thoughts.

  2. Perfect! I do tend to get bored with the second sock, and I think knitting them differently would make it more fun. I did this with some Coriolis socks last year. But I think for myself I'd be happy with two completely different patterns, as long as the color was the same!

    I do love your stretchy bind off, but I like the look of your cast on even better. And my natural inclination is to go for the cuff down sock, so that will be my next cast on. Thanks for all the pointers!

  3. Oh, how clever!!! That sounds like a brilliant idea, that I will try on my next pair of socks. It is really killing to start with the second identical sock.

    Happy New Year!

  4. I often do a tow up and a cuff down for a pair - works with lots of patterns, sometimes slightly offsetting the appearance (eg Monkey) but usually no-one notices unless it is pointed out to them.

    Or if it's for me - I revel in it!

  5. Since I tend to want to knit things that I know the recipient will like, I almost always run a few designs by them. And since most of the people know nothing about knitting, I usually do some slight differences between feet. I like trying out new heels, new toes, and especially different types of cuffs, and they like getting a pair of cozy socks; it all works out! Unless I really really enjoyed a pattern, I usually like to make slight differences there too.

    Of course, this did lead to me taking a silly challenge to knit a pair of socks that were identical for a friend, since he was amused with my dislike.

  6. Now a question: what sock feels the best?

  7. Wow, what a novel idea, I love it! You get to play around and compare techniques side by side with the same yarn and it's really not noticeable to anyone who is a non-knitter. Aweomse, I'm definiteyl going to try this out. I would also like to kno... which sock feels better? Can he tell a difference in the wear?

  8. I must be one of the few who gets excited to start sock 2, but love your blog Jeny. You are a kick and so positive. A breath of fresh air. (knitwitless on ravelry)

  9. GENIUS! PURE GENIUS! Now I need to learn to knit toe-up, the only ones I've made (so far) have been cuff down. And if only this would work for mittens, too... hmmm, sounds like this year's challenge!

  10. I suffer from second sock syndrome.. I have (4) 1st socks from 4 different pair. (All are cuff down socks.) I love making socks, just not pairs apparently. Thanks for the side by side comparisons. Very interesting!

  11. I LOVE all these comments! Thanks guys!!

    Q: Which sock feels the best?
    A: Structurally they are nearly identical, so they feel the same. The places where you'd be most likely to find differences are the edge of the cuff, toe, and the heel & gusset.

    CUFF: Thanks to JSSBO, the toe-up cuff is just as stretchy as the cuff-down cuff. Yay! :)

    TOE: Thanks to JMCO, I was able to work the toes in perfect reverse of each other -- on the toe-up sock, I started by casting on 8 sts, and used Cat Bordhi's "La-Rinc" and "La-Linc" increases. With the cuff-down sock, I used standard k2tog/ssk decreases, and ended with Kichener stitch across the last 8 sts.

    HEEL & GUSSET: since both heels were worked as afterthought heels, direction would not make a difference in how they feel. However, heel shape could make a difference, even if I'd knitted both socks from the same direction. The wedge heel is more square -- you have pairs of decreases butted up against each other, 1 pair on each side of the heel, resulting in mitered fabric. The star heel is more circular -- 5 decreases distributed equally across the heel sts. So, to minimize the differences in how the wedge heel vs. the star heel would feel while worn, I made the gusset x-large and the heel small (check out the side view of the heels).

  12. Hmmm. I'd noticed the smallness of the heels, but I haven't experimented with balancing heel and gusset, and how one can compensate for changes in the other. Interesting!

    I LOVED this post! Esp. the side-by-side comparison photos.

    Does either sock differ in its staying-up power?

  13. Q: Does either sock differ in its staying-up power?
    A: I have been wearing them all day, and they are both standing up as straight and tall as they are in the photo. :)

  14. I just alternate. I do one plain white (for FH) and then one for myself then I do the mate to his one sock and the mate to mine. Socks are completed and I don't get too bored. I like the idea of doing one toe up and the mate top down. I might do that with the next pair.

  15. Thank you Jeny for the fantastically detailed info.I'm nominating you for a Sunshine Award!