Sock Design 101: Part 5

Before we finish off the sock design series, we have to talk about ribbing.

Ribbing is actually a fairly important design consideration.  Ribbing at the top edge is what keeps a sock up if it is made of a less-stretchy stitch pattern, such as plain stockinette.  And no one is going to wear a pair of socks that keeps falling down all the time.

Ribbing consists of knits and purls in the same row or round, and this combining of both types of stitches results in the fabric having a natural tendency to draw in or compress.  A handy thing to have when you want that fabric to gently grip one’s calf, and not fall sadly to the ankles.

Of course, many a sock leg is knitted in ribbing all the way.  But if this is not the case with your socks, it is up to you the designer how much ribbing you might want at the top edge, and in what stitch pattern.  I’ve never experimented to see what might be the minimum required amount of ribbing to keep a sock up, but I usually figure on at least an inch of ribbing.  Remember the "can’t get something for nothing" rule, and that the ribbing will have to stretch width-wise to go around the leg, and thus will shrink in length.  So even if it looks like you have a long section of ribbing whilst your sock is on the needles, it will not be as long a stretch (get it?) when worn.

If you are using a ribbed stitch pattern already, it may have enough "oomph" to grip the leg and stay up, without adding more ribbing at the top.  Be aware, though, that just because you may have knits and purls in your stitch pattern, doesn’t mean you have functional "ribbing".  The wider your rib, the less compression and elasticity it will have.  The basketweave is technically a 4 x 4 rib, but it doesn’t really have much going for it in terms of elasticity and the fabric hardly pulls in at all when compared to the stockinette portion at the heel.

Depending on which expert you consult, either 1 x 1 or 2 x 2 rib is considered the most "stretchy", and after those two options, the more knits or purls you have clustered together, things just go downhill from there (especially your socks).  But before you jump right in with "K2, P2", consider how your ribbing is going to blend with your stitch pattern.

The basketweave socks had this going on:

  • KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP
  • KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP
  • KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP
  • KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP
  • PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK
  • PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK
  • PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK
  • PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK

I didn’t like the idea of 1 x 1 rib on top of that because it wouldn’t be centered.  I would have:

  • KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp
  • KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp
  • KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp
  • KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp
  • KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp
  • KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp KpKp
  • KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP
  • KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP
  • KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP
  • KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP
  • PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK
  • PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK
  • PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK
  • PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK

Which may not be horrible, but I didn’t like it.  If I did 2 x 2 rib, starting with 2 knits, it would be a little better, I suppose:

  • KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp
  • KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp
  • KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp
  • KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp
  • KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp
  • KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp
  • KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp KKpp
  • KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP
  • KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP
  • KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP
  • KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP
  • PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK
  • PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK
  • PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK
  • PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK

Again, not horrible, but actually this looks more lopsided than the 1 x 1.  What about starting with a single K before going into P2, K2?:

  • KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK
  • KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK
  • KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK
  • KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK
  • KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK
  • KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK KppK
  • KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP
  • KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP
  • KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP
  • KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP
  • PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK
  • PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK
  • PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK
  • PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK

Much better — at least it is centered – but I didn’t like the way that the purl ribs would grow out of the purl sections just fine, but the knit ribs would never be growing out of a knit section.  (Or vice versa, if you start with a single P.)

So the oddball thing that I actually did was this:

  • pKKp KppK pKKp KppK pKKp KppK pKKp KppK
  • pKKp KppK pKKp KppK pKKp KppK pKKp KppK
  • pKKp KppK pKKp KppK pKKp KppK pKKp KppK
  • pKKp KppK pKKp KppK pKKp KppK pKKp KppK
  • pKKp KppK pKKp KppK pKKp KppK pKKp KppK
  • pKKp KppK pKKp KppK pKKp KppK pKKp KppK
  • pKKp KppK pKKp KppK pKKp KppK pKKp KppK
  • KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP
  • KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP
  • KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP
  • KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP
  • PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK
  • PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK
  • PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK
  • PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK PPPP KKKK

See how I now have a 2-K rib coming out of the knit blocks, and a 2-P rib coming out of the purl blocks?  I doubt anyone else would notice on the socks themselves, but it kept me happy and entertained.

basketweave socks

Also notice how this 1×1 / 2×2 hybrid pulls in the basketweave fabric substantially.  Now that’s what you want from your sock ribbing.

The marketers would call this a "design feature".

And last but not least – next time, we’ll talk about binding off!


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