Demystifying Toe-Up Socks Part 1: The Toe

This is the first in a short series of posts to demystify toe-up sock knitting. I'm certainly not a sock aficionado and there are many people who have made plenty more socks and in different ways, but I'm going to show you my favourite way of starting a toe-up sock using a long circular needle and the magic loop method. There will be an afterthought heel in the 'demystified' sock, although you can use this toe with any other heel type you like. I'll talk about the heel in part 2. This is how it's going to work:

This is my favourite way of knitting socks for a number of reasons:
- Using a long circular needle is much less fiddly than using double pointed needles or two circulars. It also makes it less likely that my needles will be lost, and is therefore more portable and convenient.  
- The sock can be easily tried on for size, right from the start.
- It's easy to make both socks at the same time on the same circular needle, avoiding 'second sock syndrome' or a mismatched pair.
- Inserting a stitch pattern into the basic sock can be done without figuring out how to knit the pattern "upside-down" as is usually necessary for cuff-down socks.
- Most importantly, it just feels right. I like my socks toe-up and my jumpers top-down, because that's the way I wear them.

If you want to knit-along you just need sock yarn and needles that are appropriate - usually 2mm or 2.5mm and at least 80 cm long for magic loop.

- I knit 'Continental' style but the same instructions apply to 'English' style knitting - the working yarn is just held in the other hand.
- I'm assuming you can already knit and make increases of the M1L and M1R (leaning) varieties. If you are not sure, take a look at (EDIT) this simplified post (with pics) or the photo tutorial from Twist Collective. 
- The principles in this tutorial can be applied to any number of cast on stitches and for any size sock. For the purposes of the tutorial my "demystified" sock will be a fairly small one so that Little Miss can wear it afterwards.
- The toe shown starts with just 8 stitches so it doesn't take very long to knit - if you find it fiddly (it is, at first) you can keep ripping it out and trying again until you're happy that you have mastered the cast on and magic loop technique.
- I don't especially like knitting with the KnitPro Karbonz shown, but they are easier to photograph than my other shiny needles.

Demystifying toe-up socks, part 1

CASTING ON: Judy's Magic Cast On (JMCO) may look a little fiddly at first, but is totally worth learning - once you know how to do it you'll never look back! There is a very good 12 minute video from Judy Becker herself (here) which covers everything in minute detail. For the purposes of our sock - and those who share my short attention span - the following photos show what you need to know to get started.

Step 1. With your right hand, hold the tips parallel and then make a small gap between them. Leaving a tail which is long enough to cast on the required number of stitches plus a little excess, drape the yarn from back to front, over the rear-most needle.


Step 2. Then with your left hand, hold the yarn tail over your index finger and the working yarn over your thumb as shown (if you know the long tail cast on, you have a head start!). This puts a little twist in the yarn which forms the first stitch on the back needle. The tail will become the stitches on the front needle, and the working yarn will become the stitches on the back needle. I find it easier to pick them up when one tip sticks out further than the other, as pictured below.


Step 3. Move the needles back so that the one in front can pick up yarn from the tail - this is the first stitch on the front needle.


Step 4. Move the needles towards you so the back needle can pick up the working yarn to make the second stitch on that needle.


Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you have the required number of stitches on both needles - once you're into the rhythm it's quick. I'm using 8 stitches on each needle, for a total of 16. TIP: Aim to make the stitch tension about the same as your normal knit stitches so the first row is easy to knit.

*** If you want to try knitting your socks two-at-a-time, now is the time to cast on the second. Check out my earlier tutorial here! ***

With the correct number of stitches, move the needles into your left hand, ready to knit. Make sure the stitches are the right side up - if they look like the photo (fig 5) they are, but if you can see the purl bumps then it's the wrong way around.


Step 5. As the last stitch is now just really a loop of yarn, twist the tail around the working yarn to secure until the first few stitches are done. I like to pull the tail between the needles so it is safe and can act as my marker - when the tail is to the right of the work I know I'm working the top of the foot, and when it's to the left, I'm working on the sole.

KNITTING THE TOE: Now that the cast on is done, it's time to knit the toe! With the right side of the work facing you (fig 6) slide the needle which is currently at the 'bottom' through the stitches until there is enough free cable to knit with it. Work across the stitches on the first needle. TIP: remember to watch out for those purl bumps - they should be to the back!

When you get to the end of the stitches on the first needle, turn the work so it's the other way up with the unworked sts now on the top-most needle. Then readjust the needle tips so that the unworked stitches are to the top/left and the worked stitches are held on the cable below, with the right needle ready to knit (fig 7). You'll see that these stitches are mounted in the wrong direction, for this round only you need to knit into the back of these stitches which will correct this.


The toe needs to increase by four stitches on each alternate round and this is done by adding a stitch at the beginning and end of each needle as follows:
Round 2:  (k1, m1l, k to last st on needle, m1r, k1) repeat on second needle
Round 3: Knit all sts
Repeat rounds 2 and 3 until you have the required number of stitches - I'm using 24 on each needle (48 in total, a usual adult sized sock is approx 60 in total). It's important to keep the yarn tight for the first few stitches on each needle, to prevent laddering - this can take a little practice if you have cables that are not very flexible. Once you've knit a few rounds, hold the work so that the two sets of stitches are parallel as this also helps.


That's all there is to the toe! In part two (here) I'll be back to discuss knitting the 'tube' which will become the foot and leg, and where to place the holder for the afterthought heel. You'll need a tape measure for that. If you don't want to miss the post, you might like to subscribe to the blog by email - simply scroll to the bottom of this page and fill in your email address. I'll also post a link on the CftC Facebook page.

USEFUL LINKS: If you can't wait until then, you may like to check out some of these other resources
My First Socks* sock-knitting class on Craftsy
Socks from the Toe Up* - a great book of toe-up patterns by Wendy Johnson
Knit Socks From the Toe Up* sock-knitting class on Craftsy
- Knit Original Toe Up Socks* sock-design class on Craftsy
- Tube Socks - a free kid's sock pattern by Jane Richmond which doesn't have any heel at all!
- Finally, I have lots of tutorials on various topics which you can find here.

*CftC belongs to the Amazon and Craftsy affiliate programmes. You can read more here


  1. this is exciting! I've been trying to master toe up socks but can't quite work it all out. Definitely casting on and doing it with you!

  2. You go on getting this puppy out.

  3. Thank you for your tutorial, it is brilliantly written. I have just started to knit socks and toe up socks seemed to be the way to go. I am knitting english style and using judy's magic cast on. I seem to end up with my socks inside out and I can't figure out where I am going wrong. Do you have any suggestions, any help would be greatly appreciated!

    1. After you knit a round or two, just turn it "inside-out" by pushing the work through to the other side of the needles x

  4. Hi
    I'm not sure if you'll get this since the original post is a while ago. I've done a lot of magic loop taat socks all cuff down. I'm wanting to do toe up but I get all mucked up. First- normally in magic loop you knit with the other needle- do I knit with the bottom needle for the ENTIRE SOCK (S) or do I end up going to typical magic loop at some point- after the toe is finished? 2) I'm finding that I am getting purl bumps and knit stitches so I'm muffing something up! It feels like what the woman above says-its like the sock is inside out- and it always starts all knit stitches and then around the 2nd row (when I start increase) I end up with a row of purl stitches -I've tinked so many toe up attempts I'm gonna head back to cuff down (although everyone says that toe up is much easier). HELP! In case you don't get this I'll keep looking for part 2. Thanks.

    1. Hi. Hope you found part 2 by now - if not, click on the tag that says de-mystifying toe up socks in the footer of the post and you'll see the whole series. In answer to your question, for the entirety of he project you keep the top and bottom on different needles, so in effect, yes you are always using the bottom needle.

      If you find you're seeing the purl bumps, it means your sock is inside out on the needles - just push it between the needles to turn it back the right way.

      Hopefully that all makes sense.

      Happy knitting!


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