Friday, February 8, 2008

Short Row Heels and Afterthought Heels

Look, Ma! No holes!

My second project when I got back into knitting (after the world's largest sweater) was a pair of socks. I had the advantage of not having someone to tell me that socks are difficult and tricky and are best left for more advanced knitters. Consequently, I didn't find socks to be difficult, tricky or better left to more advanced knitters. I thought they were great fun! My husband and I were on vacation, we popped into what was my favorite yarn shop and I picked up a sock kit and needles. Later in Barnes & Noble I picked up a book on knitting, and went back to my sister's house to sit cross-legged on the bed that night, knitting my first pair of socks on double-pointed needles. And I've never looked back.

That original pair of socks was designed with the traditional flap-and-turn heel, and I really thought that my first heel turn was a little knitting miracle. I still feel that way about heels. To think that you can shape knitting to go around corners is pretty darned cool. And so for years, that was the way all the socks I knitted were made, with the heel flap, then the heel turn, and then the gusset. About a year ago, though, I discovered short-row heels, and baby, let me tell you, THAT is the way to go!

What I like about short-row heels is that they are quicker to work, and for me - even with my high instep - they fit better, more snugly, than a flap-and-turn does. To me, they are also the perfect way to show hand-painted or self-patterning yarns to their best advantage. I've now worked several pairs of short-row heel socks, with several variations of the technique.

If you haven't worked a short-row heel before now, you are probably reading this and thinking, But Lynda, ALL heels are worked with short-rows! And you would not be wrong. With a flap-and-turn heel you work a long heel flap, work a short-row pocket for the heel, then pick up sts along both sides of the heel flap and incorporate these with the heel and the instep sts, gradually decreasing sts from the gusset sides until you are back at your original number of sts. The short-rows in that type of heel are worked from the narrower center of the heel, out towards the side edges, like this: <

With a short-row heel you work the sock to the point where it is time to throw a heel in, and begin working your short rows by starting at the outer edges of your heel sts, working towards a narrow center of the heel, and then back out to reincorporate those outer heel sts back into the knitting. Once that is done, you simply begin working in the round, with your instep sts and heel sts all reunited in sock happiness once more. >< Picture bringing the two legs of the top V together, and doing the same with the bottom V. No flaps, no gussets. Simple, easy, makes me happy.

The first short-row heel I ever worked was one called The Sherman Heel, and I talked about it in detail here on my own blog, Luna Knits. This heel can be adopted to any sock pattern.

Other short-row heels that I have worked have all used some manner of YOs that are worked along with the regular sts in the second half of the heel, at the time when you are bringing all your held side sts back into the knitting. Some examples you might want to look at are in the William Street Socks from Interweave Knits, and the Snicket Socks, from Magknits. I've made a both pairs of these socks, and they each use a different method of accomplishing the short-row heel, both very nice.

Another heel variation is the Afterthought Heel. Think of a cross between either a mitten thumb set-up and then a sock toe; or an afterthought pocket set-up, followed by a sock toe.

If you know exactly where you want to put your heel, your work the sock to that point, knit across all of your heel sts (normally 1/2 of your total sts, though I have seen suggested 2/3) with a piece of waste yarn. Then slip the waste yarn sts back to your left needle, and with your working yarn, knit across these same sts again. Continue with the rest of your sock leaving the heel for later.

When it is time to work the heel, slip the working yarn sts on either side of the waste yarn - top and bottom - onto dpns or two circs. Pull out the waste yarn, leaving live sts on both your top and bottom needles. Using your working yarn, begin knitting an classic sock toe - *K to last 3 sts on your first needle, K2tog, K1. Next needle, K1, SSK.* Repeat to the end of the round. Knit one round, repeat those two rounds until you are left with the same # of sts you ended your toe with, Kitchener the remaining sts together.

Since Yarn Harlot did such a great job of explaining the Afterthought Heel done from working yarn rather than waste yarn (and using my Afterthought Pocket post as a reference) I will refer to her post here on how to make that happen.

Keep in mind that there are as many ways to knit a pair of socks as there are knitters. It means that no one is wrong, and everybody is happy. Experiment with new ways to make the same old thing - new techniques, new stitch patterns - and see what an inspiration that is in all of your projects.

1 comment:

Shannon said...

Hi - I really like the idea of an afterthought heel, but have found in the past when I've knit short row heels, they are far too snug for my very high instep. Does an afterthought heel present these same problems or is it much deeper? I like to knit toe up and have been doing the upside down heel flap since the short row thing just wasn't working out. Thoughts?