Skip to content

If you consider the price of the yarn and the time invested in making them, handknit socks are costly. Totally worth it!—but costly.

And socks take a terrific amount of abuse when worn. All that rubbing on the carpet under your feet, and in and out of shoes; catching on wood floors, being played with by the cat, and so forth.

If you’re going to go to that much trouble and expense, you want to make socks that last.

This is how you do that.

Step 1: Choose a Good Yarn

For the best socks, choose a yarn that’s made for sock knitting. Look for yarns that have multiple plies tightly twisted around each other.

Feel the yarn. It should feel dense and sturdy—hearty, even. Those deliciously soft singles and loosely spun yarns? Save them for shawls, cowls, and hats.

I don’t love merino for sock knitting. It’s too nice, too soft, too delicate. The softer and more loosely spun a yarn in, the more it will pill. And the problem is not just the shabby appearance.  Pills are the fabric being worn away. The fluff of pills doesn’t just materialize—it’s coming from the yarn, thinning the knitted fabric.

Some of my favorite sock yarns don’t list the breed of the sheep—they are labeled simply as wool, and that’s fine by me. Merino is to knitting as extra-virgin olive oil is to cooking. In the same way that it’s not worthwhile to use a fine olive oil for deep-frying, merino is wasted making socks.

If you are shopping sock yarns by breed, Blue-Faced Leicester (often abbreviated to BFL) is a winner: It’s got much of the sheen that we love in merino, but it’s sturdier. Wensleydale and Polwarth are great, too.

And although I’m a big proponent of natural fibers, I like a little nylon blended in with my sock yarn—up to 25 percent. Nylon adds density and helps the yarn hold its shape over time. If you prefer all-natural fibers, look for one that has similar proportions of silk or mohair blended in . Both of these fibers add strength and warmth.

Most yarns sold as sock yarn are machine washable. Despite the valid debate about the merits of superwash, I prefer it for socks. No matter how careful you are about sorting laundry, socks like to hide in the leg of your jeans.

In the MDK Shop
Secretos Sock’s distinctive four-ply construction gives it delicious bounce and durability without using synthetic fibers. Thanks for shopping with us. Your purchases support everything we do here at MDK.

Step 2: Make a Dense Fabric

Sock fabric is very different from garment fabric. Many brands recommend US #2 (2.75mm) needles, but I find that for the average knitter, that’s often too loose. You should expect to use US #1-1.5 (2.25mm-2.5mm); if you’re a relaxed knitter, a US #0 (2mm) may be required. I know this seems small, but it’s about making socks that last.

A dense fabric makes for a strong sock.

Remember that socks should be worn with negative ease—that is, they are stretched out to fit–so the fabric should be dense even when expanded a little. Test it: Stretch the fabric a little, and rub the purl side of the fabric. It should feel solid, and you shouldn’t be able to feel the individual stitch bumps or the gaps between them.

Too loose: less strong.

Step 3: Reinforce Areas of Wear

Examine a pair of your frequently-worn socks, hand-knit or commercial. Are there areas of pilling, or places where the fabric looks thin? This tells you where you might need to reinforce. Common areas of wear are the back of the heel, the underside of the heel, the ball of the foot, and the tips of the toes.

There are three strategies for reinforcing, and the location of the wear is an important factor in deciding which strategy to use.

Strategy 1: Reinforcement Thread

Sock reinforcement yarn comes on a spool or card.

You’ve always wondered what these were for. Now you know.

This yarn is the same fiber blend as standard sock yarn (75% wool, 25% nylon), but much finer. When working high-wear areas of a sock, hold this strand along with your actual yarn. It’s not thick enough to significantly affect your gauge (or needle size), but it adds density to the fabric.

You don’t necessarily need to purchase a special thread—laceweight yarn leftovers are ideal for reinforcement. I’m particularly fond of using a fine silk/mohair blend, as it adds warmth and strength. And if you live in a cold climate, whether you need the reinforcement or not, consider adding in a yarn like this when you work the toe, for a bit of extra coziness!

A fuzzy toe is a toasty toe.

This strategy is best suited to the heel and toe—small and discrete sections. If you find yourself needing to reinforce the entire sole of the sock, that’s a sign that your yarn isn’t a good choice, or your fabric is too loose.

One note about reinforcement thread: It needs to be yarn, and it needs to be a similar fiber blend. Don’t use sewing thread or woolly nylon or anything like that since these threads are stronger and “sharper” than yarn, and will cut through your knit fabric. Imagine, if you will, knitting a sock with cooked spaghetti, and holding a strand of wire along with the spaghetti. When you stand on the sock, the wire will cut through the spaghetti. In the same way, a cotton, polyester or nylon thread will cut through your yarn.

Strategy 2: Reinforcement Stitch Patterns

Many top-down sock patterns with a flap-and-gusset heel use a slipped-stitch pattern for the heel flap instead of plain stockinette. This classic one is known, not surprisingly, as Heel Stitch.

Heel Stitch—Even Number of Stitches, Worked Flat

RS rows: (Slip 1 pwise wyib, k1) across.

WS rows: Slip 1 pwise wyif, p to end.

to work Heel Stitch on an odd number of stitches, knit the last stitch on the RS rows; otherwise the instructions are the same.

Eye of Partridge Stitch is a charming traditional variation on Heel Stitch.

Eye of Partridge—Even Number of Stitches, Worked Flat

Row 1 (RS): (Slip 1 pwise wyib, k1) across.

Rows 2 & 4 (WS): Slip 1 pwise wyif, p to end.

Row 3 (RS): Slip 1 pwise wyib, (slip 1 pwise wyib, k1) to last st, k1.

To work Eye of Partridge Stitch on an odd number of stitches, add a k1 to the end of Row 1 and omit the k1 at the end of Row 3; otherwise the instructions are the same

You can apply either of these to an existing pattern, or to the recipes I’ve given in my previous columns.

I don’t use these by default in my sock patterns, as not everyone needs the reinforcement there. If a pattern calls for it, you don’t need to do it; and if a pattern doesn’t call for it, you can add it. (And I reserve the right to giggle if I see a Christmas stocking pattern that has a reinforced heel flap. Surely if you need to reinforce anything, it’s the toe?)

I don’t work these reinforcement stitches on my own socks because the heel flap is not where I wear out my socks. For me, the underside of the heel is more prone to pilling and thinning, which is why I most often work a top-down sock with a square heel, as per my previous column.

The square heel brilliantly allows you to continue the reinforcement stitch pattern right on into the turn.  Just keep the reinforcement pattern going. It’s reinforcing! It’s comfy! And I don’t get why it’s not more popular!

Heel Stitch on the bottom of a square heel.
Eye of Partridge Stitch on the bottom of a square heel.

The other types of heel turns don’t lend themselves as easily to this reinforcement, as the stitch count of the turn is always changing. If you’re working one of those, a reinforcement thread is your best choice.

Strategy 3: Pre-darning

The most challenging area to reinforce is the ball of the foot. It’s not necessarily efficient to use a carry-along thread, since you’d end up working a significant part of the foot this way, and the cards and spools don’t have enough yardage for that. And you can’t use a reinforcement stitch pattern on a large area, as it would affect the fit.

If the ball of the foot is prone to wearing out, your best solution is pre-darning: use duplicate stitch (a.k.a. Swiss darning) to thicken up the fabric. It’s comfy, too.

This is also a good solution if you find yourself blowing through the tops of the toes.

Do it preventatively, before you wear the socks, or when you start to notice the fabric thinning in key areas. This is much easier than trying to close up a hole.

And again, consider the yarn you’re using: make sure it’s similar to the original yarn used, and sock-appropriate.

Go forth! Knit socks! And make them last!

In the MDK Shop
This GOTS-certified organic merino is milled with 8 plies—4 sets of 2-ply yarn, which makes for a durable yarn without nylon.
By Neighborhood Fiber Co.

MDK Gems! From March 23 through March 30, 2022 order Barnyard Knits, NFC Organic Studio Sock, and/or Lichen and Lace here and your order confirmation email will include a download code for the Field Guide No. 11 ebook FREE!

This Could Come in Handy
Here’s how to save this article in your MDK account with one click.

About The Author

Kate Atherley is a teacher, designer, author and technical editor. She’s also the publisher of Digits & Threads, a magazine all about Canadian fibre and textile arts.


  • Great tips. Thank you.

  • What a great use for those little bits of KSH floating around. Fuzzy heels for the win!

  • Been knitting socks for years and you’ve proved there’s always something new to be learned. Love the reinforced heel bottoms, and the fuzzy toes!

  • Brilliant, thank you!

    • I’ve found eye of the partridge works perfectly for short row toes – the last slip stitch of each row is the one you wrap and turn. I do all my socks toe up, and if they are for me I use that pattern, because toes are where I get holes. If I’m making them for my sister it’s regular toe, eye of partridge short row heel, because she wears her heels out. Sometimes I continue the eop up the back of the leg an inch or so for her (she wears clogs at work).

  • Why do I always wait for the hole to break through and then struggle with my darning egg and the hole (always where the heel turns)? Because it never occurred to silly me to darn before the the hole breaks completely through. Thank you the tip!

  • Thank you for the tip on reinforcing the bottom. Brilliant! I will be doing this on all my socks now.

  • I have eschewed sock knitting as the couple pairs I made weren’t comfortable, despite the right size. I get why – my knitted fabric was too loose (despite making gauge) and I can feel the purl bumps under my feet when I wear them. I need much smaller needles to make denser fabric. The fuzzy toe ideas are also making me re-think sock knitting!

    • I had to make several pairs of socks before I started making comfortable ones!

    • You may want to try a princess sole, where you put the purl bumps on the outside, instead of the inside. I also know someone that does two socks at a time on two circulars and she uses a smaller needle for the sole than the top of the sock.

      • It tickles me so much to learn that this technique is called a princess sole! Like The Princess and the Pea, for sensitive souls/soles.

  • Great information……just started to researching this very topic….Knitting on my first toe up sock…DEB

  • Love article and it is saved. Have a question, the yarn you sell for socks is merino and article discourages using merino?

    • Most of our sock yarns do have nylon or silk in the blend as Kate suggests, and the others are engineered to add strength via additional plies. All are designed for sock knitting by clever yarn makers, and none are the loosely spun singles Kate is most concerned about.

      Someone once made me a pair of cashmere socks and they practically wore out before they hit the floor; I’m still sad about it!

      • I am always astonished when people talk longingly about cashmere socks, and silently hope they are intended as truly luxurious wearing-in-bed socks only. On the other hand, my hot water bottle has a cashmere cover, and I haven’t regretted that for a minute!

  • I love the striped sock! Is there a pattern for it?

    • That is just a plain stockinette sock using a yarn that is dyed to knit up into stripes all by itself.

  • Do you sell the heel reinforcement yarn?
    Yes, I’ve been bitten by the sock knitting bug…

    • I recently saw that Webs ( has reinforcement yarn. I do not know if they are shipping now, though.

      God bless you and keep you WELL and SAFE.

    • We don’t as yet. There is always more to learn and do! I bet you will have luck finding it at a local yarn shop.

      Have fun with the sock knitting bug!

  • Perfect timing as I am making a pair of socks for a very good friend. I hadn’t knit a sock in such a long time that I had to go to a basic book! But, now I am having FUN and I only knit for those I love Thanks for your well-timed article

  • Wow in this little article I have learned so much!!! Thank you!

  • Great tips, especially love the idea of carrying a lace weight reinforcement. I have some lovely stuff in the stash to try.

    For spinners, I recently read an article in Ply magazine that concluded that cabled yarns make the most durable socks. I haven’t yet tried it but it sounds intriguing.

  • I’m going to start pre-darning on the bottom of all my socks from now on. The freaky thing is I only get a hole under the ball of my right foot. I wonder what is off in my gate that would cause this?

    • Very often folks have one leg a tiny bit longer than the other leg. The other situation altering one’s gait is surgery or an injury I had both on one ankle. Left is smaller as a result.
      Great article, really helpful.

  • How do you reinforce the bottom of a heel with the fish lip heel?

    • I once read Party Jo is working on a pattern eith reinforcements on the bottom of the foot. I do hope she publishes it sometime…..

      So many good tips in this article and comments!

    • This is one of the challenges with that type of heel – not easily reinforced!

    • Maybe do preemptive Swiss darning here?

  • The first row goes slip1, knit1 and the third row is knit1, slip1 so the stitches don’t line up to make the rib effect you get on heel stitch. I had to read the instructions twice to spot the difference even though I knew what I was looking for.

    • Not sure if you’ll see the reply below. Silly typo – look below for update, and we are fixing it! Sorry about that!

    • I’ve looked at R1 and R3 over and over, and although the parentheses are in different places, both rows begin with a “slip 1 wyib” and end with a “k1,” and alternate between the two stitches. I imagine Kate meant to write what is in her book, “Custom Socks,” for Row 3 of Eye of Partridge:

      “Row 3: (right side) Slip 1 purlwise while holding yarn in back, *slip 1 purlwise while holding yarn in back, knit 1; repeat from * to last stitch, knit 1.”

      I hope this helps.

  • One of the reasons I love top-down socks, is that when the toes wear out, I can cut off the damaged part, pick up my stitches, and make a new toe, either with leftover yarn, or I tend to have a couple of balls of Knit Picks laying around for this. (There’s only so many times you can darn a toe before it becomes all darn…)

  • I’ve got a darning basket that would make Jo March tear her beautiful hair out. Always the bottom of the heel and ball of the foot, and it seemed like about ten pairs developed holes at a similar time, even though they were of different vintages, patterns, and even fiber. I knuckled down and tried my darning “skills” on a pair of socks recently when the power was out and I was wearing a headlamp. Since that night I have been afraid to look at them! 🙂

    • Another headlamp knitter here! I once kitchenered a toe when the lights were out because I just had to finish that sock.

  • Agree totally on dense knitting as one of the keys to long sock wear. I take it even further – working on 000s or smaller, doing toe-ups on a minimum of 76 stitches (more if they are for me, or for someone special).

    Also, I find that considerate care and having MORE socks really helps extend life. Hand knits – even from superwash yarns – require a bit more care than plain white cotton athletic socks. While they can be washed in the machine with a cool water wash and rinse/gentle load, they do benefit from being confined in a net bag, and avoiding the dryer. The less chance they get to rub up against other items, the better, especially snaps, hooks and zippers. Don’t tumble dry, even if the yarn label says you can. Dry flat, or draped over a line, preferably not in full sun (which can weaken all fibers over time).

    Why MORE socks? Because invariably every time I knit a pair for someone they fall in love with them, and quickly wear them to death. They kill the new pair in a matter of a month or two, while my own socks – worn in rotation with their siblings – last years.

    How to wear socks to death? Aggressive laundering (see above); wearing the same pair every day for a week before washing, with little chance to let them dry out; wearing them without shoes (especially on carpeting – slippers extend sock life); and stuffing them into shoes that are too tight (you may find that your feet are more comfortable and your socks wear longer if you go up a half size or get slightly wider walking shoes).

    Keep on knitting! (Especially socks).

  • Brilliant. The bottom of the heel on my socks thank you.

  • Good tips. I like the Poste Yarn from Simply Socks myself (superwash Corriedale and nylon). I knit toe up, use contrasting yarns for toes, heels, cuffs. One mistake I make all too often is knitting the sock too small for the recipient. An overly stretched out sock will wear out faster.

  • would love to be able to print this article

  • You’re correct; the EoP row 3 is incorrect. It should be slip two sts, then K1 sl 1 . . .

    • Yup, sorry! We’re fixing it!

      • It’s fixed!

  • Excellent article.

  • Not sure if you’ll see the reply below. Silly typo – look below for update, and we are fixing it! Sorry about that!

  • Ohhh my gosh, I will always add some fuzzy laceweight to the toes from now on. My toes are often cold (frostbite damage) and I never thought to do this. Thank you!!!

  • Thanks Kate. I come back to this for help every time I make socks. Your instructions are the best.
    Happy New Year.

  • The situation I’ve got is that a sister of mine is absolutely, totally, completely allergic to animal fibers (including alpaca, softest merino, etc.) and I’m wanting to reinforce the toes of her socks (usually knitted with Plymouth Diversity or CoBaSi). I’d seen on a youtube video that poly thread could be used, but after reading your post, I’ve got my doubts. What could you recommend? Thanks!

    • Maybe a laceweight silk or silk/nylon yarn?

  • Can you use a very thin nylon thread as a 2ply with spun single BFL yaren for making socks or does it have to be spun into the BFL? THANKS, LILLIE TAULBEE.

  • I am knitting my first sock and am so grateful for these pointers. May I add, I have learned to extend the life of my SmartWool socks just by keeping my toenails trimmed all winter long!

  • I love the idea of holding a piece of mohair/silk but won’t that shrink in the wash?

  • Nice article. Good tips

  • For starters, simple sophistication is all about locating the right mix in between simplicity and fanciness. Envision straight lines and a eternal look that never goes out of fashion.

    Let me jump into glistening touches. They’re like fancy coatings that can make hardwood look really trendy. Imagine how the brightness plays on these floors, turning your place into a super stylish showcase of contemporary design.

    For all you folks, how do simple sophistication add a touch of glamour to your spaces? Are you into the minimalist yet chic vibe of glistening touches in your choice of flooring? Share your thoughts and let’s chat about these trendsetting styles.

    By learning about these building trends, we can easily get a view into exactly how our style decisions can improve our living places. Be a part of the dialogue as all of us explore the details of these general trends and the way they determine the way our homes look and feel.
    [url=]Low VOC wood finishing fashion for green-minded homes refinishing} Paradise Valley[/url]

  • Initially, streamlined style is all about choosing the right balance anywhere between simplicity and elegance. Envision straight lines and a eternal image that never goes out of style.

    Let us dive into glistening touches. They’re like modern coatings that can make wooden floors look really cool. Imagine how the light plays on these floors, turning your place into a super stylish showcase of contemporary design.

    For folks, how do streamlined style add a touch of style to your spaces? Are you into the minimalist yet chic vibe of glistening touches in your choice of flooring? Share your thoughts and let’s discuss about these innovative styles.

    By comprehending these designing trends, we will get a glimpse into just how our design and style decisions can improve our living areas. Participate in the conversation as we explore the details of such trends and the way they determine the way our dwellings feel and look.
    [url=]Mahogany flooring price styles for a timeless look restoration} Fountain Hills[/url]

  • Hey there design and style fanatics! Engage in the domain of hardwood flooring, in which we investigate current trends altering our living quarters. Your engineered floors are more than a strong footing; they unlock the door to enduring grace. One noteworthy trend is the ascent of imaginative coatings, elevating both the aesthetics and durability related to your floorings, giving them a lasting makeover.

    let’s uncover the nucleus of progressive ideas and incorporating advanced tech. Imagine floors that adapt to your lifestyle, adapting to shifts in temperature, offering adjustable lighting choices, and even warning you about potential maintenance issues. It’s a perfect fusion of aesthetics and functionality, bringing a touch of innovation to your residence. Were you aware that engineered flooring is not only beautiful but also beneficial to our environment? Wooden can be renewed, turning it into an eco-friendly option for those with a green mindset. Furthermore, you can refinish it, prolonging its lifespan and lessening the requirement for substitution. Become part of the dialogue and share what’s on your mind on these compelling innovations. Prepared to improve your dwelling with the enduring elegance and evolution in hardwood floor design?
    [url=]Fashionable timber flooring cost trend in consideration of exclusive looks restoration} Central Phoenix[/url]

My Cart0
There are no products in the cart!
Continue shopping