I am a top-down sock knitter. I am, however, on the record as not being a grafter of toes.
Two reasons for this, one strategic, and one practical, although I will confess that I made the practical decision before I had the knowledge to declare it strategic.
The practical reason is that grafting—also known as Kitchener stitch—is a fiddly, multi-step process that takes a while to learn. There are keychains, wallet cards, project bag hang-tags, and even tattoos that are designed to help you remember the steps. Socks are my portable project of choice, and grafting just seemed to add an unnecessary degree of complication to the process.
The strategic reason is that a grafted toe is fairly flat at the top, and doesn’t fit my feet very well. I have—to coin a phrase—pointy-shoe toes, with a curvy top and a longer second toe. The typical graft-when-a-third-of-the-total-stitches-remain toe is too wide for me. Early in my sock knitting career, I found a recipe for a no-graft toe that fits me well, and it’s the standard one I use for most of my patterns. It’s also useful for my sock knitting classes, as it’s a very beginner-friendly finish.
This is not to say that grafted toes are bad. Not at all! Grafting gives a very tidy finish, and I know many like how it looks and how it fits. I’m all about finding the right fit for you, after all.
But if you do graft toes, you might find that you suffer from the “ear” problem.
An unmodified grafted toe tends to stick up at the sides. This is because the grafted row is essentially an even row, in pattern, and you’re breaking the angle of the toe decreases. If the last round you work before the graft with an even round, you’re effectively working two even rounds in pattern, causing the side edges to straighten.
And it’s often worse on one side: if you work with the start of the round in the center of the sole, you end up having to knit to the end of the sole/start of instep before you can work the graft, which means that on one side, you’ve actually got three even rounds above the decrease in that one spot.
If this happens to you, I offer some solutions, in order of cleverness/amount of attention you need to pay.
Trick #1: Adjust How You Set Up the Toe
Eliminate that extra even round before you start the graft, and level out the decreases.
No matter where the start of round is, make sure you end the toe shaping with a decrease rather than an even round.
Many top-down heel flap socks have the start of round at the center of the sole. If this is the case, before you start the toe, move the start of the round to the start of the sole
Even without any further tricks, these will neaten things up nicely.
Ah, that’s better already.
In addition, any of the three following solutions build on this improved alignment.
In the MDK Shop
Trick #2: Skip the Graft Set-up Step
This helps because it pulls the first and last stitch on each side closer to its neighbor than if you’d worked it as a full stitch.
Simply skip the whole palaver of “work through the first stitch on the front needle as if to purl and leave on, and work through the first stitch on the back needle as if to knit and leave on.” Just start right in on the front with the “repeat,” as follows:
Front needle: through the first stitch as if to knit and slip off, through the second stitch as if to purl and leave on
Back needle: through the first stitch as if to purl and slip off, through the second stitch as if to knit and leave on.
And when you get to the end, drop the last 2 stitches off the needle after the first time you work through them. That is, when working the second time through the second-last stitch, you’ll work through the first one, slip it off as usual, work through the second one (the last one) and drop that off, too.
Trick #3: Work Decreases in the Graft
This pulls two stitches on each side together, allowing the toe top edges to curve in alignment with the rest of the toe shaping.
Work the setup as usual, and continue as normal, working a “graft-2-tog” in the decrease positions.
To graft-2-tog, work through 2 stitches as if they are one: If you are putting the needle through knitwise, put it through two stitches as if you are doing a k2tog; if you are putting the needle through purlwise, put it through two stitches as if you are doing a p2tog.
A good tip on this one from the very clever Cari A.: before you start, put a removable stitch marker or safety pin into the 2 stitches that will be worked together. This makes it much easier to identify them once you’re working.
Specifically, if your toe decreases were worked 1 st in from the edge, it goes as follows:
Work the standard setup steps:
Through the first stitch on the front needle purlwise and leave on. Through the first stitch on the back needle knitwise and leave on.
Then through the first stitch on the front needle knitwise, and slip off; then through the next 2 stitches purlwise—together!—and leave on. Then through the first stitch on the back needle purlwise and slip off, and then through the next 2 stitches knitwise—together!—and leave on. And of course, treat those 2 stitches as one in the start of the next step.
Then continue normally, until 4 stitches remain on each side. You’ll work the first step on each side as normal—insert needle and slip off—but the second step has you work through the next 2 stitches. And continue as before, treating those 2 stitches on each side as one.
Trick #4: Work Directional Decreases in the Graft
As with the previous solution, this changes the alignment of the edges in the grafted row, keeping the angle set by the toe shaping.
The improvement is that the decreases themselves stay aligned with the decreases worked in the toe shaping. Whether this detail matters is up to you, of course! It’s a smidge fiddly, and not necessarily visible at sock gauge, and certainly not in a dark color, but it’s definitely more pleasing to people who are particular. And it would be very nice in a mitten top.
Work the setup as usual, and continue as normal, working the appropriate “graft-2-tog” in the decrease positions.
(As with the previous trick, use a removable marker/pin to designate which stitches will be grafted together.)
You need to create the following decreases:
Ssk on the facing side, k2tog on the facing side; k2tog on the far side, ssk on the far side.
To create k2tog on the facing or far side, it’s as above: if you are putting the needle through knitwise, put it through two stitches as if you are doing a k2tog; if you are putting the needle through purlwise, put it through two stitches as if you are doing a p2tog.
To create an ssk on the facing side, work as follows.
The first time you work through the two stitches (after you’ve done the knit & slip step), using the darning needle, slip the next two stitches, one-by-one, knitwise; return them to the left needle in this new position. Put the needle through the first two stitches as if to p2tog-tbl, and then leave them on the needle. The second time you work through the stitches, put the needle through them as if to k2tog-tbl, and slip them off.
To create an ssk on the far side, work as follows:
The first time you work through the two stitches (after you’ve done the purl & slip step), using the darning needle, slip the next two stitches, one-by-one, knitwise; return them to the left needle in this new position. Put the needle through the first two stitches as if to k2tog-tbl, and then leave them on the needle. The second time you work through the stitches, put the needle through the as if to p2tog-tbl, and slip them off.
If I’ve thoroughly frightened you, or you’re just interested, here’s my favorite non-graft toe.
Using the decrease round as given below, work a decrease round, followed by 3 even rounds.
[Work a decrease round, followed by 2 even rounds] twice.
[Work a decrease round, followed by 1 even round] three times.
Work only decrease rounds until 8-10 stitches remain.
Cut yarn and pull through final stitches to secure.
The decrease round is the standard.
If the start of round is in the center of the sole, it goes as follows:
K to 3 sts before instep, k2tog, k1; k1, ssk, k to 3 sts before end of instep, k2tog, k1; k1, ssk, k to end of round. 4 sts decreased.
If the start of round is at the side of the foot it goes as follows:
K1, ssk, k to 3 sts before end of instep, k2tog, k1; k1, ssk, k to last 3 sts of sole, k2tog, k1. 4 sts decreased.