Sock Design 101: Part 4

OK, I admit I got a little off track, and sort of forgot I had this sock design series going.  Apologies to both of you who have been sitting on the edge of your computer chairs, waiting breathlessly for the next post in the series.

What do you mean, you weren’t?

Oh, of course.  You were knitting.  Silly me.

So when we left off, the toe-up basketweave sock design was at the stage of working our way up the foot.  We discussed how to set up the stitch pattern, and went over some of the issues you may run into when choosing other stitch patterns.

And now we’re almost ready to do the heel. 

Well, I have to admit something else.  I’ve never done a flap-n-gusset style heel from the toe up.  I figured out a while ago that I don’t like ’em when done top-down, and I tested out a whole bunch of short row heels and found or invented a couple of techniques that I really like, and have never looked back.  That said, F’n’G toe-up heels do exist.  Feel free to make one.  Your choice, although I’m not going to be a lot of help.

But, in any style of heel that I am aware of, the standard is that the heel is worked over one half of the total sock stitches.

The short-row heel is started when the sock foot is just long enough to meet the right-angle bend of the ankle.  (I have no idea when the F’n’G heel starts, except that I believe it’s further down the foot, so you have to start it sooner.)  You the designer have to figure out when your sock foot is long enough, although I can suggest that you not stretch the foot of the sock to within an inch of its little life in order to get it there.

I can also suggest that you probably ought to try the sock on the wearer’s foot, rather than going by a measurement of said foot.  The reason is, socks are usually made to fit snugly around the foot.  This means that the knitting has to stretch sideways somewhat when the sock is worn.  And that means the length of the sock foot gets a wee bit shorter, because unfortunately, in this world you can’t get something for nothing:  if the knitting stretches sideways, it’s gotta shrink lengthwise.

Of course, if you have already made some socks that fit the grateful wearer, you can take measurements off of those.

But whoa there, Nellie!

One rather important thing to remember is:  on exactly which round of your pattern stitch are you leaving off on the instep?  In a simple pattern such as this basketweave, it’s usually not a big problem to go back and figure it out by looking at the knitting.  In other cases, it’s not always so simple.

I often include a place in my published sock patterns for knitters to write down what was the last round of the pattern stitch on the instep.  Not only does this keep you on track after the heel, it also makes it much easier to make that second matching sock.

OK, now we are ready to do the heel.

A common complaint about the short row heel is that it is not roomy enough, which causes the sock to be tight at the ankle.  I have a couple of ideas to get around that problem.

One is, to do some increasing on the sole stitches just before you start the heel.  You’ll have to do some experimenting, probably — but if you were to throw in a few make 1’s on that half of the sock just before you start the heel, it will definitely give you a bigger heel pocket.

You probably want to write down just how many that was, because you probably want to decrease back down to the original number of sts after you finish the heel. 

And if you find what works for you, you’ll probably want to turn that into a percentage and memorize it – i.e. "increase 10% of the number of heels sts" as opposed to "increase 3 heel sts" because as we all know, sts vary in size.  Or possibly, "increase heel from 3.5 inches to 3.75 inches" could work, too.

Once you know how much you want to increase, you could also be a bit more organized about it, and borrow an idea from the F’n’G style heel (did I say that?  OK, I know a little more about the toe-up F’n’G style heel than I let on).

Specifically, start a tiny little gusset on either side of your heel sts — again, this will need to happen a few rounds prior to the start of your actual heel — to get you a few more stitches on which to perform your short rows.

It works like this: on the heel stitches only, K2, make 1, work to last 2 sts, make 1, K2.  Alternate this with a plain round, and soon you’ll have a tidy little pair of gussets, and plenty of stitches to do your short rows on.

To decrease back down after the completion of the heel, you’ll need to keep the heel sts in plain stock for a few rounds (see below for more on this nifty notion) and again on the heel stitches only, K2, SSK, work to last 4 sts, K2tog, K2.  Another cute little pair o’ gussets, in reverse.  I bet it looks adorable.

If you don’t like that idea, or you already started on your short-row heel, a completely different option is to add a width-wise heel gusset.  (NO, not flap-and-gusset!)  Take a look at this idea, which will also give you a more roomy heel pocket.  At least one knitter was brave enough to try it.  And it didn’t ruin her socks!

So anyway, you’ve got your heel done, and we’re about to start up the leg of the sock.  Fortunately for us, we know exactly which round of the pattern stitch to start with because we wrote it down, right?  And this part’s easy — because we did all the hard part of setting things up on the instep — so we jump right in and start doing the pattern stitch all the way around the sock leg now.

Hmmm.  But what if your heel came at a point in the stitch pattern that isn’t an aesthetically pleasing place to start the stitch pattern on the back of the sock?

For example: on DH’s socks, suppose the heel turn was done at Round 3 of the basketweave pattern.

I would do my heel, and then I’d start off with Round 4 all the way around, and thus I’d have this one little lonely round of (K4, P4) before I switched on Round 5 to (P4, K4).

That might not look so great.  In fact, it might look like a mistake, now mightn’t it?

Or what if you are doing a stitch pattern with increases on one round that are compensated for by decs on another round?  Not so uncommon as you might think.

Simplest thing to do here is to keep the sole/heel stitches in stockinette until you get to a point in the pattern stitch that is amenable to starting on the back of the sock.  There’s no law that says your pattern stitch on the back half of the leg must start IMMEDIATELY upon the completion of the heel.

In fact, back in the day — when sock knitting was usually top-down, and often just a ribbed leg and a plain stockinette foot — I read a suggestion to include an inch or so of plain stockinette between the leg ribbing and the heel flap for a better fit.  IIRC, the suggestion was that commercial socks are made this way, and a small sample (N=2) of my commercial socks seems to indicate this is true — although the amount of plain stock varies quite a bit.  If you are patterning your instep already, of course you don’t want to have an inch of stock in there, but you sure as heck can have some on the back side.

So:  do some plain stock if necessary on the back, while continuing the pattern stitch on the instep/front from where you left off.  And then start motoring up the leg…

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