Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Socks falling down? Consider elastic

Socks won't stay up? You're not alone. Socks are a very popular item to knit but recurrent discussions on Internet knitting forums show falling-down socks are a problem to many.

There are many, many ways to solve this problem, but one of the most direct is elastic. Here are four different methods.

Elastic garters inside the sock 

TECHknitting blog has already shown how to make knitted hems, both sewn shut and knitted shut.  If you create one of these hems at the top of a sock, you can insert an elastic garter into the hem, thus turning the hem into a "casing" ("casing" = a fancy word for a hem which is encasing something: a hem with something inside of it).
wear the garter around
the house for a while checking

for circulation problems

A few tips:
  • Make the garter out of non-roll elastic because if it gets twisted inside the casing, you'll have a hard time straightening it.  I use 3/4 inch wide non-roll, but some prefer one-inch wide.
  • There are various weights and strengths of non-roll elastics--try to feel of them before you buy because some are quite thick and stiff.
  • Make up the garter by cutting the elastic longer than you think, then pin or tack it down (tack = sew quickly with a couple of big stitches) into a circle of approximately the same diameter as your leg, sock-top-high.  Leave some overlap so you can adjust as needed.  WEAR the pinned/tacked garter around the house for a while, trying it on both legs before you sew it down permanently.  Elastic garters need not be very tight to do their work--your underwear elastic doesn't bite into your flesh and neither does the elastic on store-bought socks, yet they both work.  By wearing the garter around for a while, you can adjust it until it is as loose as possible while still doing its job.  Also, remember--it will be slightly tighter inside the casing than around your bare leg, since it has to stretch slightly further. 
  • You can insert the garter into its casing at the sock top either by sewing the casing shut over the elastic as the last step in finishing the sock, or--for a top-down sock--knitting the casing shut as-you-go with the garter trapped inside.  
  • Elastic can loose its oomph long before a handknit sock wears out, so if you do sew the casing shut, use a contrasting color yarn--that'll make it easy to snip and resew a new garter in.
  • An elastic garter sewn into a casing often makes the sock top stand out because the unstretched garter is larger than the unstretched sock top, but when you put the sock on, all will be well. 
...the sock top stands out because the
unstretched garter is wider than the
unstretched sock...

...but when you put it on
all will be well

Thread elastic added afterwards

Another method to make your socks stay up is to use thread elastic, threading this onto a needle and working this around and around the inside of the sock ribbing in a spiral.  The easiest way I know is to catch the elastic under ONE arm of a knit column on the inside.  This is a (receding) purl column on the front of the sock, which helps hide the elastic. Don't over-tension the elastic as you sew it in.  In fact, don't tension it much, if at all--the inside of a sock is a lot smaller than the outside of your leg, so an elastic worked into a sock top must have enough slack to stretch as the sock does.

thread elastic worked into the ribbing at the top of a sock

Working thread elastic into sock ribbing is an good solution for already-made socks.  The only drawback to thread elastic is that it doesn't last very long--a few years at most, whereas a hand-knit sock might last many times that.  However, it is no great chore to snip out the old elastic and insert new.

Knitting in elastic as-you-go

It is also possible to knit in elastic as you go.  This trick is possible with thread elastic, but, unless the thread elastic is the same color as your yarn, there is the possibility of the elastic peeping out when you wear the socks. Plus, you know, thread elastic loses its oomph pretty quick. A better sort of elastic to knit in is a European product called "knitting elastic" which is invisible. (And that's why there's no illustration--it is literally hard to see this stuff even when it's in your hand.)

The trouble with knitting in elastic is knowing how strongly to tension it as you knit. Start by tensioning as little as possible, rather than trying to stretch it as you knit, then tighten up from there if that's unsatisfactory. I haven't used the knitting elastic product very extensively and so don't know how long it is likely to last.  If you have more experience, maybe sing out in the comments? I will say that the stuff has amazing stretch and feels very sturdy, at least when it is new.  It also washes up OK, but I haven't yet tried it in a dryer.

Elastic garters worn outside the sock
The first three methods of adding elastic all work on the inside of the sock.  However, traditionally, it was understood that socks and stockings were likely to fall down, and that's why many ethnic and historical costumes include socks and stockings held up with garters worn OUTSIDE the sock.  (aaand, for history buffs, these garters were traditionally knitted in garter stitch,which is why...)

My maternal grandparents (born 1896 and 1902, respectively) wore ordinary business attire, not ethnic costume, but they did keep their socks up with elastic sock garters every day of their lives--grandpa used the men's version, grandma used an elastic garter at the top of each thigh-high nylon.  Retro-style garters like this are still for sale on-line, and the men's version has always remained part of a formal-wear outfit.

The cheapest modern equivalent to outside garters are rubber bands. Snap one around each sock top, flip the ribbing down, and you've got a garter.

For a better-fitting version, you can make custom elastic garters, as in the first part of this post.  However, because these are now meant to be worn outside the sock, under the flip of the ribbing, use narrower elastic.  There is no need to use non-roll elastic either, since you can easily reach the elastic to straighten it. One pair of custom garters will work for all socks of the same length--a time saver over knitting a pair of garters into each pair of socks: easier and less clunky, too.

If you do opt to make elastic garters, you can gussie these up by sewing a ribbon onto the garter, arranged such that the ribbon peeks out from under the folded-down sock top. This trick makes it look as if the ribbon itself is holding up the sock, while the elastic remains hidden. These little ribbon ends are called "garter flashes" and they can also be made out of woolen fabric--particularly for wear with kilt hose.

ribbon-end garter flashes

 (We'll end with a link to a handsome fellow wearing kilt hose held up with garters showing garter flashes. Remember to look at his socks, OK?)

Good knitting, TK

ADDENDUM September 2014: Too-loose ribbing can be recalled to sense of duty by smocking, which adds a surprising springiness. Although is not traditional to smock sock ribbng, it can be done, and would perhaps look particularly well on a cabled or texture-knit sock with a deep top 1/1 or 1/3 ribbing.  Here is a post on invisible after-thought smocking of the type which could be applied in such a situation.

ADDENDUM 2: November 2015:  IF YOU HAVE ANY CIRCULATION ISSUES (or even if you don't) remember to experimentally wear external garter bands at home before heading out, just as you would with an internal elastic garter you were planning to knit into a sock. Why the capital letters? A lady just wrote to me  saying that she tried rubber bands and they held her socks up, alright; didn't hurt, even.  Yet, she wound up suffering from varicose veins as a result of the interference with her circulation.  Now you know--try this at home first to check the effect.  Better to let your socks fall down than suffer like this.
You have been reading TECHknitting blog on what to do if your socks fall down.


Blogger m1k1 said...

yes. yes. i looked at his socks. eventually.

February 16, 2011 at 12:56 AM  
Anonymous Kiwi J9 said...

Look at his socks? Fat chance!

February 16, 2011 at 1:12 AM  
Blogger corycoakley said...

What a wonderful blog morning!
Um, he can wear whatever kind of socks he wants. I promise not to tease him one bit about ribbons on his socks!

February 16, 2011 at 5:51 AM  
OpenID sparkeespud said...

Great idea! I've been using the threaded elastic trick for a couple years on my hats. I never seem to get the ribbing to be "elastic" on its own, so I "cheat" afterwards. makes for a hat that doesn't slip around. I like the idea of applying this to other garments.

February 16, 2011 at 7:31 AM  
Blogger Susanne said...

I love your info on elastic for socks. May I just suggest however that people should avoid anything that leaves a mark on their legs or cuts in to their flesh. I do footcare for a living and although my work is mostly with seniors, I am often alarmed at what I see when removing their socks. Many people suffer unknowingly from fluid retention or poor circulation or both! If you are diabetic, it is imperative that you don't have anything that cuts into your flesh or leaves a mark of any sort. Thus the "diabetic socks" that you see on the retail shelves. My suggestion would be to use the elastic thread, all be it loosely, in the top of the leg. Ensure that it is not too tight!

Thanks for all the great info you impart. I still say there is a book there!!!

February 16, 2011 at 9:15 AM  
Blogger TECHknitter said...

Hi Susanne--yes! I agree with you about not making the elastic too tight, which is why the post STRESSES wearing the garter around and making it as LOOSE as possible consistent with it staying up. Elastic biting into flesh is bad news.

February 16, 2011 at 9:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, as usual, and I love the little treat at the end.

February 16, 2011 at 12:25 PM  
Blogger Donna said...

Don't really need the tip (so far) as what I really like about hand knit socks is that they stay up without having the too-tight elastic of purchased socks--guess I've just been lucky--but I really did appreciate the treat at the end of the post! He was wearing socks?

February 16, 2011 at 4:00 PM  
Blogger Regina said...

Since I knit my knee-socks with replaceable soles which gives really long wear I have to change the elastic from time to time. I use knit-on casings and leave two stitches free when knitting them shut. To do so I cast on two stitches "normally" before picking up the rest on a crocheted chain. the tiny gap is not remarkable in daily wear but makes any adjustment/replacement a snap.
Thank you for all the information in your blog!

February 16, 2011 at 5:55 PM  
Anonymous Rochelle said...

Oops, posted my comment in the wrong blog. I just saved 4 wonderful pair of my (women's) argyle knee socks by making casings with elastic. I doubt they could be bought any more.

February 16, 2011 at 10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anne Frances said...

When I was a child, in postwar UK, knee high socks -usually grey - were standard for boys (school uniform was usually grey wool flannel shorts and long socks) and girls (pleated skirts or jumpers and long socks). So elastic garters, over which the ribbing top of the sock folded, were a really everyday item of clothing. Thanbks for reminding me that they would still work!
My experience with European invisible knittting elastic is that it won't stand the drier for very long at at all.

February 17, 2011 at 2:45 AM  
Anonymous Rochelle said...

I wear knee socks all winter because I can't wear slacks made of wool. Knee socks are still a classic here, but many store-bought ones are in acrylic now. I hope to be knitting my own socks soon.

February 17, 2011 at 3:39 AM  
Blogger TECHknitter said...

Hi Anne Frances--thanks for sharing your recollections. So interesting. Thanks too, for the heads-up about European elastic and the dryer. I kind of thought that might be the case, which is why the experiment had not been tried. One day I will knit a swatch and see what actually does happen, but until then, your advice will be heeded and those socks kept from the dryer. Thanks again for writing. TK

February 17, 2011 at 7:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the socks are narrow enough to grip the ankle nicely, they are less likely to fall down.
I always knit the legs of my socks tapered from top to ankle. Then the work of keeping them up is distributed throughout the leg and is not the job of the top ribbing. In fact, all the top ribbing does is keep the sock from rolling.

February 17, 2011 at 12:55 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

Oh, yeah, I guess he is wearing socks...Excellent post, chock full'o food for thought & eye-candy too!

February 17, 2011 at 1:10 PM  
Blogger Karin Rush said...

Great information thanks!

February 17, 2011 at 2:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Thank you! .. He was wearing socks??

February 17, 2011 at 8:16 PM  
Blogger ciproano said...

By golly, I think that elastic thread method could work for the Jaywalker socks I have which don't have much give in the fabric and the ribbing isn't strong enough to fight with the fabric to stay up. Adding some elastic thread would "bring in the cavalry" to help!

February 18, 2011 at 11:41 AM  
Blogger judysquiltsandthings said...

He was wearing socks? Let me go back and look again. Oh, yeah, he is wearing socks.
I will have to try the elastic thread on some hats from when I first learned to knit, the ribbing is real loose.
You know, I may need to go back and look at those 'socks' again. (wink, wink)

February 18, 2011 at 4:32 PM  
Blogger Nickname unavailable said...

It's interesting that you should be posting about this subject. I've been thinking about knitting a strapless top for myself and encasing elastic at the top. I'll use a knitted hem, the technique where you pick up stitches from the cast-on edge. I think it should work.

February 19, 2011 at 12:27 PM  
Anonymous Ferrers Locke said...

Knitting-in elastic is odd. It does its job, but after so much washing and wearing (I wear things until they disintegrate, so that might be quite a lot of wearing and washing), it starts to break, and poke out little ends. It's probable that no-one other than the wearer notices the poking-out ends, and breaking knitting-in elastic continues to hold fast and pull the fabric in; that being the clear advantage of knitting in rather than threading through. I found the poky ends very annoying, however.

I would not subject knitting-in elastic to the tumble dryer. It's pretty fragile stuff.

February 26, 2011 at 4:12 AM  
Blogger TECHknitter said...

Hi FL--I sort of thought that the knitting-in elastic might break--it seems a LOT like the kind of elastic around the leg holes and straps of bathing suits, and that stuff, too, breaks and pokes out, although, as you say, it does continue, somehow, to hold up the suit, at least for a while. Thanks, too, for confirming the thought that the stuff is unlikely to be able to stand up to a dryer.

February 26, 2011 at 8:17 AM  
Blogger KateM said...

He's wearing his kilt backwards, for any of you that looked at the middle on the way to the socks .. the pleats go in the back. Otherwise quite nice, yes.

February 26, 2011 at 7:24 PM  
Blogger janna said...

Hee hee! When this post first came up, I didn't read it, because I figured I already knew this stuff. Glad I decided to take a look at it anyway this morning! However, his socks could have been falling down around his ankles and I might not have noticed....

March 6, 2011 at 11:00 AM  
Blogger ADBreon said...

KateM (and other interested parties) he isn't so much wearing the kilt backwards as wearing a pleated skirt. His garment is yoked, which a kilt would never be (the pleats are adjusted to make up the difference in hip and waist measure).

As to the topic at hand, I tack in clear elastics into the tops of my knee socks (I think this may betray that I sew more than knit) I just cut a strip of clear elastic the right size and sew it into a loop then I tack the loop to the sock in about 6 places or so with sewing thread. the elastic isn't really stretched, it's just- sticky, for lack of a better description. I've also used japanese sock glue.

March 8, 2011 at 11:33 PM  
Anonymous Rochelle said...

AdBreon-- where did you get Japanese sock glue, and what is it made of? Not the acetone-based fabric glue that's sold in sewing stores here, I hope. And why is it specified as sock glue? Do Japanese socks need gluing more than Japanese shirts or slacks? :)

April 8, 2011 at 1:15 AM  
Blogger Lea said...

I am trying to add the sewing elastic to socks I made for my boyfriend. How do you secure the ends of the elastic?

April 30, 2011 at 9:30 AM  
Blogger TECHknitter said...

Hi Lea--it is traditional to secure the ends of the elastic to one another, thus forming an elastic garter. The actual sewing is done by overlaping the ends slightly and "tacking" them down (tack=sew with a few quick stitches, then knot off the thread). Try to bring the thread over one edge of the elastic, and then the other, to hold the elastic out flat, as opposed to putting all the stitches in the middle, which would cause a flat elastic to roll.

May 1, 2011 at 7:09 PM  
Blogger Lea said...

I have a spool of elastic thread, so I would be threading that through the stitches of the sock. I just don't know how to secure the ends other than tying it to the leg of a stitch, which wouldn't be very neat.

May 2, 2011 at 11:58 AM  
Blogger TECHknitter said...

Hi Lea--you can actually overlap the end of the thread elastic over a length of thread elastic in the row below and sew these together--a tiny stitch or two through the casing of both held together, done while wearing reading (magnifying) glasses, and then wrap, wrap, wrap the thread around the loose mess at the edge (the elastic itself plus the unraveling casing) for about 1/4 inch, then run the end of the thread into the wrap you just made to finish it off.

May 2, 2011 at 1:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Socks? Did the guy have socks on?

January 22, 2012 at 10:04 AM  
Blogger mm1124c said...


Skip the words. Scroll down to pic.

April 20, 2013 at 6:20 PM  
Blogger Sheila Smallwood said...

I don't know if anyone is still monitoring this blog but it was extremely helpful. I made a hat for my daughter and it was too big. I put three rows of elastic thread as shown and now it fits me. It is a Christmas gift. Can't wait until she gets it and let's me know. Thank so much for this. I was contemplating ripping it back and starting again.

December 22, 2013 at 11:25 PM  
Blogger TECHknitter said...

Hi Sheila--thanks for writing, I am glad to hear you found the elastic trick useful! Best regards, TK

December 24, 2013 at 2:32 PM  
Blogger Sophia Oggi said...

Wow! The only thing he's missing is some chest hair!

December 24, 2013 at 4:09 PM  
Blogger TECHknitter said...

Hi Sophia--I'm assuming he spent a lot of (possibly painful) effort to achieve the hairless look! --TK

December 24, 2013 at 4:53 PM  

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