No-Bull Book Review: Big Foot Knits, by Andi Smith

Savvy knitters have long been aware that the best way to create sweaters that truly fit is to customize. So if measuring your body and crafting a sweater designed to accommodate body measurements makes sense, why don’t more knitters do the same for their socks? Designer Andi Smith gives knitters the knowledge and tools to do so–along with a selection of 12 lovely patterns– in her new book, Big Foot Knits (Cooperative Press; PDF $16.95, PDF + hard copy $26.95). I recently received a review copy of Big Foot Knits, so let’s take a No-Bull look.

smith cover


Smith begins by reminding us of a whole host of reasons why our feet might not be exactly the size we think they are, including the sad fact that our feet tend to get larger as we age. She presents a basic sock template, but cautions us that while it’s a great starting point, it isn’t likely to provide perfect fit since most people do not have feet that are shaped like straight, unshaped tubes. No, our feet have curves, narrower places and wider places, and each person’s foot has wider and narrower places at different points along the way. All the more reason to customize, Smith advises. Before showing exactly how to do so,  Smith explains her own take on the sock (she doesn’t use gussets; favors the afterthought instead of flap heel; and prefers toe-up construction) but reassures readers that they can easily adapt the methods they prefer to her techniques and patterns.

Next up: measuring. And for a book where custom-fit is paramount, measuring plays a crucial role. Helpful diagrams show where Smith wants you to measure, and charts provide a handy place to keep track of results. Smith advocates taking a slew of measurements, basically working your way down the leg and foot at one-inch intervals. Why? Precision of measurement. Smith also asks the knitter to consider the shape of various foot parts. Is your heel rounded, square or pointy? What shape is your toe box? Seems obvious, but this is not a terribly common approach to sock knitting. How sensible it is to first consider the precise shape of, say, the toes and then adapt a sock (perhaps even selecting the precise method of toe shaping) to best fit that shape. Drawings and photographs help the knitter make sense of different shapes and approaches to knitting them. Well done.

Next is an overview of gauge, including  suggestions for how to measure gauge accurately, a discussion of negative ease, and some negative ease calculations for you.  It’s still not time to start in on the patterns yet; Smith is thorough, and covers decreases and increases. She discusses types, such as right-leaning and left-leaning options, but also the timing of decreases (for example, the difference between spacing decreases out over a number of rounds so they’re gradual, vs. clustering them together so they happen more abruptly), again something very helpful, particularly when customizing patterns, but a topic not always covered in technique books. Next up are cuffs, including multiple cuff options and worksheets; the afterthought heel; and different-shaped toe boxes. Then comes the personal worksheet, combining all that information into a chart that you can fill in to create your own custom-fitting sock. Before casting on, Smith talks about the use of different stitch patterns and other elements, urging the knitter to swatch them, and giving instructions on how to incorporate custom fitting into the book’s patterns.  Good stuff.

And now onto the patterns.

Let’s start with Pavarti, the first pattern in the pattern section.

smith pavarti

Named after the Hindu goddess of love, these socks feature an interesting stitch pattern over a purl ground. They are lovely socks but when you take a look at the pattern itself, you really can see the brilliance of Smith’s approach.  Two versions of the pattern are offered, one top down, one toe up, so no matter where you want to start, you’re covered. Second, both versions are given in worksheet form, with places to plug in your own leg and foot length, and tips for adjusting the pattern to account for that. An inset box includes specific methods for modifying the pattern. Now if you’re a “I just want to follow the pattern exactly” type, you might find this takes a little getting used to, but for those of us with atypically-sized or -shaped feet, this is a very user-friendly way to get customized socks — and not plain vanilla socks, but ones with style and pizzazz. This approach is taken with all of the patterns in the book. (The amount of extra work that this approach takes is a major reason why there are 12 patterns in the book, rather than, say, 20.)

Marama features a terrific cable motif:

smith marama

while Eos uses vertical columns of stitchwork, including a slim cable motif.

smith eos

If you like lace, check out Eidothea.

smith eidothea

while Arundhati features eyelets peeking from between ribs (love the way the vertical lines of the ribs contrast with the subtle horizontal gradations of the yarn).

smith arundhati

Freya takes advantage of twisted ribs and eyelets for an extra forgiving fit;

smith freya

likewise, Seyu features an elastic cable pattern, thus requiring fewer modifications for many knitters.

smith selu

One of the photos given for the Mielikki socks is very revealing; note how two very different shaped feet both get a perfect fit, due to Smith’s tips and techniques:

smith mielikki

Note that each pattern comes in three sizes, 10.5, 13 and 14.5 inch circumference, with room for length and shape modifications. Keep in mind that larger socks require more than the usual 100g/400 yds of yarn, so check the pattern you’re considering and the yardage you’ve got before casting on. In case you’re wondering about the shoes shown in many of the photos, I have been informed that they are Fleuvogs.

Summing up, I really like all of the accessible technical information contained in Big Foot Knits and the way that each pattern is customizable in terms of how one knits it as well as for fit. The socks are stylish and attractive, and look interesting to knit. As someone with Fred Flintstone feet (completely flat and very wide), I’m delighted to discover a book that will help people with less-than-tiny feet make good-looking, well-fitting socks.

And to help you along in your journey, please note that I have just uploaded to my shop several skeins of BFL Jumbo, 150g skeins of sock yarn (650 yds), which would be perfect for making many of the lovely patterns in this book. For the next five days, use BIGFEET for free shipping (ends midnight, July 30th).

byzantine 1


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