In search of a better sock cuff

I have a bunch of hand-knit socks that I wear in fairly constant rotation, and I’ve noticed over the last few months that the cuff edge is getting very tight indeed.  They were OK when new, but my guess is that the yarn (superwash though it may be) has shrunk slightly with repeated washings.

So I need a better cast on for my top-down socks, and a better cast-off for my toe-up socks.

A quick Google for ‘best sock cast on‘ turns up many, many options, including toe-up and top-down options, but I found the one I was looking for and whose name I couldn’t remember (the German twisted cast-on, also known as the Norwegian cast on, which probably explains my confusion), and I also found something I wasn’t looking for – the tubular cast on.

I’m pretty sure I’ve used a tubular cast on in the past, though I can’t remember when.  I certainly didn’t remember how to do it, either!  But it seemed like a really good option: quick and easy, and since (technically) there is no edge at all when you cast on this way, it must also be just as stretchy as the fabric itself, right?

For my first attempt, I used the instructions from here (scroll down to the ‘Casting on’ section, and read J. Miles’ contribution).  I liked that I only had to cast on half the required cuff stitches using a provisional method, because I haven’t yet found a simple, non-fiddly provisional cast on.  In this case, I went with the crocheted provisional cast on, which I like because I can always remember how to do it; the downside is that you need a crochet hook and waste yarn to hand!

The instructions said to use a needle 1-2 sizes smaller than your main needle for the cast on, which was problematical as I was already planning to use my smallest needles (2.25mm) for the sock, so I ignored that bit and just went ahead. I mentioned above that you only have to cast on half your stitches for this – well, the remainder of the stitches are provided by working the first round as K1, YO.  The cuff looked like this:

hermioneLoop

Plenty stretchy, but there is definitely excessive yarn at the edge.  I don’t know if it’s from the larger than recommended needle size, or whether the yarn-overs are to blame, or both, but after knitting the whole cuff, I decided I wasn’t going to be able to deal with the loopiness, and I was going to try something else.

Sticking with the tubular cast on theme, I went for these instructions next. (Sort of – but ignore that bit for now).  The main differences with this method are:

  • You cast on all the stitches straight away – no YOs.
  • It specifies a different provisional cast on – and a new one to me.
  • It has you work four foundation rows before starting the ribbing, not just two.

I also took the ‘smaller needle’ recommendation more seriously this time.  I still don’t own any smaller needles, but I worked the provisional cast on on one of my stitch holders, which my needle gauge tells me is smaller than a 2mm needle, if not by how much.

hermioneSmooth

Much better!

I love the way this edge looks; it has a very professional appearance, and is just as stretchy as the ribbing, to boot.  Definitely a keeper.

Now, this was hardly a rigorous test of method, but I will definitely use this particular tubular cast on again.  I don’t know whether the difference was the needle size, the kind of provisional cast on or the lack of yarn overs, but a full comparison may have to wait until I am feeling particularly scientific.  Incidentally, I can highly recommend the Italian provisional cast on, and I may even be able to remember how to do it!  In the past, I’ve used the first method described in Eunny Jang’s provisional cast on article, when I haven’t used the crochet one, and it has three main drawbacks:

  • You need waste yarn, just like the cast on method;
  • If I don’t get all the stitches cast on in one go, I usually have to start over, and I find it hard to get the tensioning of the two yarns right if I’m casting on many stitches;
  • I often end up with half the stitches mounted backwards.  Which I’m sure means I’m doing it wrong!

But none of that matters with the Italian version!  I found it easy to understand what I was doing with the yarn (wrap working yarn around needle; secure with tail), I always wrap the working yarn the same way, so all the stitches are mounted the same, and you don’t even need waste yarn: if you want to, you can use a long tail made of the yarn from the project!  (As it happens, I used waste yarn.  I’d already found some for the crochet version, you see).

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