How to Surprise Someone with Hand Knit Socks

Lately, on Facebook I have seen a lot of posts in knitting groups by knitters who want to surprise someone with hand knit socks but do not have the wearer's measurements.  Knitting socks without the exact measurements of the wearer is not ideal, but it is possible. I have done it a few times myself. Here are a few tips to help you out.
Firstly, try to take the path of least resistance.  If you would rather not ask the recipient directly, can you ask their spouse/child/loved one/someone who has access to the recipient to do some reconnaissance on your behalf?

If not, you may be able to get some information from your intended recipient without them realizing that you are planning surprise socks for them.  Here are some sneaky ways to gather info when you are on a surprise sock mission:

  • Admire their shoes, pick them up or try them on and sneak a peek at the wearer's shoe size - at a minimum you will require their shoe size to knit them socks.
  • You can casually mention that you are knitting socks for someone about their size and build then work size, preferences and fit into the conversation.
  • Notice the width of their feet in comparison to yours - are they wider at the ball of the foot? narrower than your feet?
  • Try to notice their ankles and calves (easier in the summer when we tend to wear clothes that expose our ankles and calves).  Are their calves narrower or wider than yours?  thick or thin ankles?  
By noticing the attributes of their feet in comparison to your own, you will have a basis for deciding on a circumference.  For example, if you have a narrower foot and usually make a sock with a 7 inch (17cm) circumference, you might decide that your intended recipient's feet are a bit wider than yours (mayble 8 inch (17cm) circumference?) or noticeably wider (9 inch/ 23 cm circumference?).  One of the benefits of being an obsessive sock knitter is that people are not weirded out (anymore) when I am observant of their feet.  Or if they are weirded out they have mastered hiding it.

Once you have estimated the circumference and sleuthed their shoe size, you need to find yarn and a pattern.

  •  I recommend a pattern with a lot of ribbing.  Lots of ribbing = lots of stretch-ability, and will give your wearer some wiggle room with the fit if your guesstimates are a bit off.
  • Avoid patterns that result in a dense fabric without a lot of stretch. 
  • Choose a yarn that requires maintenance that is compatible with the wearer's lifestyle (buy machine washable if there is any doubt) so that all your hard work does not result in a pair of single-use socks
  • I recommend a pattern with a heel flap and gusset when knitting a surprise gift.  In my experience, a heel flap and gusset is the most forgiving and accommodates most heel and instep anatomies: high instep, wide heel, narrow heel.. 
  • If your recipient has a noticeably wide heel, a square heel can be a good option. If they have a noticeably narrow heel, half-handkerchief heel might fit them well. 
  • If you happen to know that the wearer has a high arch/instep  add a few extra rows to the heel flap (and a pick up a few extra gusset stitches to compensate) to give them a better fit in the heel and across the top of the foot; do the opposite if you know that they have a low arch or flatter foot.  
  • Here is a link to a chart that converts shoe sizes to inches so you know how long the sock needs to be.
  • If you know your recipient has a wide to area, use a rounded toe.  If you know they have a narrow toe area, use a wedge toe. 
If you are on a secret-gift-sock-knitting mission, I hope you find this helpful.