What’s in a Sock? The World War I Sock

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement 

Those who know me know that I’m an avid knitter.  I started the hobby three years ago, am largely self-taught (thank you YouTube!), and I absolutely adore it.  There is something so satisfying about creating something with a piece of string and two needles.

Directions for Making Socks, as appeared in the Ontario Reformer, Friday Sept 3, 1915, p5
Directions for Making Socks, as appeared in the Ontario Reformer, Friday Sept 3, 1915, p5

Knowing my affinity for the craft, my interest was piqued when I stumbled across a sock pattern in the Ontario Reformer from September 3, 1915.  Simply titled “Directions for Making Socks,” I knew this was a pattern I would love to try!  As this sock pattern appeared in the newspaper while World War I was happening, it is very likely this pattern was published to encourage to homefront to make these socks and send them overseas to soldiers.

Before starting this project, I was still very much a sock newbie; I had only made one pair of socks previously.  However I was up to the challenge.  I’m always trying new techniques and bigger and better patterns.  How else is one to learn?

My WWI Sock – Knitting the Leg

While making the sock, I found two things particularly challenging: the wording/language and my patience (or lack thereof!).   Patience is not a virtue I possess, especially when it comes to knitting.  I love bulky yarn and short patterns and the immediate satisfaction that comes from quickly completing a project.  The first step of the sock was ribbing (Knit 2, Purl 1 repeat) for 12 inches.  Twelve inches!  I estimated that my average time for knitting an inch while ribbing was about 1 inch/hour. Knitting the leg alone was a test of my dedication to this sock.  The foot was also a test, knitting ‘plain’ (knit stitch around) for eight inches.  I am faster with just an knit stitch, but it can be rather boring work.

My WWI Sock - Turning the heel
My WWI Sock – Turning the heel

The language was also challenging.  I found some of the terms slightly hard to follow, and right before I turned the heel, I called my grandmother and asked her advice on what the pattern was asking!

On and off, I was working on this sock for 7 weeks.  It would have been done faster if it was the only project I was working on, but I have to have a few things going to keep me engaged.

116th Knitting Society Notes, Ontario Reformer Dec 7, 1917
116th Knitting Society Notes, Ontario Reformer Dec 7, 1917

During the First World War, Oshawa’s 116th Knitting Society was busy making socks for the men at the front; the Ontario Reformer in December 1917 reported the Knitting Society sent 56 pairs to France.  If the socks were anything like the one I made, then I commend the members of the Knitting Society, and I’m sure they were much appreciated by the soldiers.

My finished WWI Sock
My finished WWI Sock


Directions for Making Socks, Ontario Reformer, Sept 3, 1915

Cast on 72 stitches; divide among your DPNs (I used 3: 18 sts, 36 sts, 18 sts), join, and knit rib (K2, P1) until the leg measured 12”.

Once 12”, knit to the needle with 36 sts – work these 36 sts plain (WS), and K1 S1 (RS) until it is 2 1/2” long.

Transfer instep sts to one needle; divide heel stitches among 3 needles, 12 sts on each – knit the 12 stitches on the first needle then follow heel shape instructions:

Shape heel:
* keep 12 sts on middle needle:
RS slip one stitch from side needle & k2tog, k10, slip 1 st from side needle and k2tog (11 sts, 12 sts, 11sts on the three needles);
WS: knit the 12 middle needle sts

* cont working 12 middle needle sts in this mannor until each side needle has 1 st each (14 sts total) – slip those 2 side needle sts to the middle needle

Pick up and knit 16 sts along heel side – knit across 36 sts – pick up and knit 16 sts from opposite heel side – divide sts among 3 needles (82 sts total – 24 on needle 1, 34 instep stson needle 2, 24 on needle 3)

Shape Instep:
Needle 1: knit to last 4 sts; k2tog, k2
Needle 2: knit
Needle 3: k2, ssk, knit to end Next round: knit -Repeat these two rounds until 68 sts total

Knit plain until foot measures 8 inches;

Decrease for toe:
First round: k6, k2tog, rep to last 4 sts which are knit
Next 5 rounds: knit plain
Next row: k5, k2tog, rep to last 4 sts which are knit
Next row: k4, k2tog, rep to last 4 sts which are knit
Next row: k3, k2tog, rep to last 4 sts which are knit
Next row: k2, k2tog, rep around
Next row: k1, k2tog, rep around
Next row: k2tog, rep around – 9 sts remain

Break yarn, leaving a tail. Draw through the stitches (I drew through 3 times) and fasten with a darning needle.

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