Lesson Three: Planning a Turned Heel

Extra Credit Unit: Dutch Heel
Back to Lesson Two | On to Lesson Four

In Lesson Two, you knitted the leg of your sock in a two-color pattern to the length where it's time to start the heel. You should have stopped at a point in the pattern where the next round will be a plain one-color round, if at all possible, and ended at the center of the back of the leg.

For this sock we'll be designing and knitting a turned heel. A turned heel is formed by knitting a heel flap back and forth on half the stitches of the sock. This flap is then curved into a cup to enclose your foot's heel by knitting short rows which pull the two sides of the flap together, that is, "turning" the heel. There are a few choices to make about how you want to do it.

Options for the heel flap

The three socks I've used for the samples for this class show three different treatments for the heel flap.

The gold-and-rust sock in the simplest design pattern has a salt-and-pepper heel, made by knitting alternate stitches in the two colors. This gives a double thickness to the heel fabric, for cushioning and better wear. It has the additional advantage of carrying both colors through to the foot, so you don't have to cut one off and re-join it when you're done with the heel.

The olive-and-natural sock in the 8-stitch pattern has a plain stockinette heel flap. This is thinner than the other options, so it's easier to fit into a shoe, and because it is a single color it reduces the amount you need of the other color of yarn. However, I think the stockinette heel flap looks a little baggy in a round heel (which is the one we'll be using in the main lesson). If you choose this option, you might consider the Dutch heel, which is explained in the extra credit unit. I think it gives a snugger fit.

The white-and-navy sock with the fanciest pattern demonstrates the well-known "heel stitch." This is a slip-stitch texture pattern which gives extra thickness to the heel, and also pulls in a bit to avoid bagginess. The heel stitch is made by working *knit one, slip one (as if to purl)* across the flap on the right side, and purling all stitches on the wrong side.

Whichever style of flap you choose, the instructions for working the heel will be the same.

Divide for the heel

The heel is worked on half the stitches, while the instep stitches are held until later. If your pattern needs to be centered on a single stitch at the front of the leg--for example, the center of the cross on the complex design--then both the heel and the instep numbers will have to be odd. For example, instead of dividing 52 stitches into 26 + 26, divide them into 25 (heel) + 27 (instep).

Knit to the center of the back of the leg. If you are going to knit the heel in a solid color, cut off the other color. If you will be doing a color pattern on the heel (such as salt-and-pepper), begin the color patterning.

Knit half the heel number, turn, slip one as if to purl, and purl until you have the entire number of heel stitches on one needle. This is the heel needle. The "seamline" where the rounds began and ended are centered above the heel.

Knit the heel flap back-and-forth, slipping the first stitch (as if to knit on knit rows, as if to purl on purl rows). Continue until you have as many slipped stitches along the sides as half the number of heel stitches, ending ready to start a knit row.

If you will be making the foot on a number of stitches that is very different from the number used in the leg, you can prepare for this by knitting a shorter or longer heel flap. If the difference is small it can be accomplished by a few gusset decreases more or less instead.

Turn a round heel on an even or odd number of stitches

Mark the center 2 to 5 (fewer for a coarser gauge, a larger number for a finer gauge) stitches of the heel flap. The photo shows the center few stitches marked by tying scrap yarn around the needle. This yarn can be removed after two rows, when the turning pattern is established.

Make sure the number of stitches on either side of these stitches is equal, or the heel won't be centered. This means that if your total number of heel stitches is odd, the number marked for the center of the heel must be odd; if the total is even, then the center stitches must be even.

Slip one as if to knit, and begin knitting across the heel until you've knitted the center stitches. SSK (this means slip as if to knit, slip as if to knit, knit the two stitches together), knit one, and turn. Slip one as if to purl, purl one plus the center stitches, purl two together, purl one, and turn. Now do another reality check: do you have the same number of stitches to the left and right of the gaps where the work was turned? If so, proceed.

Work the heel flap back and forth, always slipping the first stitch and continuing to the gap, working together the two stitches across the gap, plus one more stitch before turning. The slipped stitches along the edge of the heel flap provide a convenient series of loops for picking up the gusset stitches. You should end ready to begin a knit row.

You are now ready to begin picking up stitches along the sides of the heel for the gusset, which will be covered in the last lesson.

Note that there are many different ways to work heels on socks. You can find good explanations of several of them in the Tips and Tricks section of the Socknitters site.

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