Calf Shaping. There, I said it. It sounds like a dirty phrase, but it’s not. It’s a way to make your socks fit better, and not slouch and bag around your ankles because you can’t get them properly on your leg further than the 3″ above the ankle. I’ve got legs, you see. Legs with calves that don’t go straight up and down. I found that when knitting a full 100 grams of sock yarn, first the stitches stretch to go around my calf, and then they decide not to go around them at all. I thought, since I’m knitting these for me, why not custom-shape my socks? So I started thinking about it, and now I can tell you’re thinking about it, too.
The first thing to think about when you’re thinking about making socks that are tall enough to need calf shaping (which, considering how varied bodies are, this could mean anything from anklets to knee-highs) is the pattern. Is there anywhere in the patterning that would allow you to add in stitches without ruining the carefully set-up patterning? If you’re knitting stockinette or ribbed socks, the answer is “SURE! Put increases anywhere!” If you’re knitting from a pattern, it’s a little harder to tell.
The easy way to figure out if you can use x pattern and do calf shaping is to look for columns of knits and/or purls. For example, the Primavera socks pattern has an 11-stitch repeat where columns of knits sit next to columns of purls. The Wyvern socks have ribbing on the back. The Nutkin socks are stacked knits and purls in nice, neat columns, too. Even the Boyfriend Socks are a good candidate for calf shaping because there are places to hide your increases that won’t affect the patterning of the sock.
The second thing to think about is where exactly you’re going to hide extra stitches. Adding purl stitches to a rib, or to a background that already has lots of purls is a good idea, because it keeps the ribs straight looking (even if they are actually veering). If you’ve got a stockinette background or just a plain stockinette sock, you can (pretty easily) just add more stockinette stitches without too much fuss. I like to put my increases on the back of my sock, just because that’s where my calf is. Because of knitting’s forgiving stretchyness, you could easily put your increases all around the sock, but they’ll look funnier when they’re not on legs if you do.
The third thing to think about is which increases to use to add stitches. Here are a few of my favorite ways to add stitches:
- KFB: adding a purl stitch between ribs, just knit in the front and the back of the last knit stitch of a rib.
- M1(L): the normal make one is a Make 1 Left. I use this on the left half of the sock by lifting the strand between the stitches, putting my left needle in from front to back, and knitting in the back of that ‘stitch’.
- M1R: Used as a mirror to the normal M1 (M1L), add stitches on the right half of the sock by lifting the strand between the stitches, put your left needle through from back to front, and knit in the front of the ‘stitch’.
- M1P (L or R): Make one purl — instead of knitting into the front or back of the strand you pick up to make a stitch (to lean the correct way), purl it instead.
Now for the hard part. The math. No, wait, don’t leave! We’re taking baby steps here! Since we’re knitting socks toe-up, the easiest way to figure this out is to TRY ON THE SOCK. Take your measuring tape and measure the circumference of your leg where your sock is. Write that down somewhere.
Now, take a marking device –a pen works fairly well, but if you can get away with making a non-ink mark on your leg, you can try a pencil or the tines of a fork or something — and, using a measuring tape, measure one inch (or some useful measurement for metric people) above where your sock hits currently and make a mark. Connect your marks with the measuring tape. Measure this part of your leg and write that down somewhere, too.
Here’s the really hard math. Subtract your at-sock-currently number from your 1-inch-above number. Multiply that number by your 1″ stitch gauge. That’s how many stitches (approximately) that you need to add to make your socks fit the next 1 inch of leg. Your husband/wife/significant other/knit group/cat/dog/hamster may look at you funny for having marks on your leg, but this is the easy way to measure.
So let’s say you need to increase 12 stitches in the next 1″ of sock. You know (because you’re good and measure these things like I don’t) that you have a row gauge of 6 rows per inch. You have a couple of different ways to tackle this increasing. You can increase 2 stitches every row, 4 stiches every other row, 6 stitches every third row, or 12 stitches in one row.
If you increase ALL of the stitches in one row, you run the risk of the sock bagging there, because your leg isn’t big enough to fill in that part of the sock. You may also have a more noticeable line where your sock magically becomes bigger all of a sudden. I like to try to match the increase rate to the pattern. If you have a 2-row pattern, increasing on the plain-stitch row (or the plainer-stitch row) will let you see where these increases go without messing up your very careful patterning.
I also like to make my increases symmetrical, so if I increase 1 at the beginning of a row, I also increase at the end of the row. Or if I increase after the first rib, I increase before the last rib (if I have ribbing). Since I knit my socks 2 at once on magic loop, this is fairly easy to remember. If you’re knitting one at a time, WRITE DOWN what you do for one sock and put it in a safe place so you can reproduce it for your second sock. If you do 2 socks on 2 pairs of dpn’s, you can do one increase row and the plain row or rows, then pick up the 2nd set of dpn’s and do the same thing, making slower progress, but progress that will make sure that both of your socks turn out the same.
With a LITTLE math, and a few weird marks on your legs, you can get your socks as tall as you like, and you can get those tall socks onto your legs.