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17. February 2010 09:07
by Jobo

How to knit an "Afterthought Heel"

17. February 2010 09:07 by Jobo | 23 Comments

There are many different techniques and methods for knitting great fitting socks.  I have tried out many of the different options...

comparison Really when you think about it - a Sock is a Tube.

One end is closed (to keep your toes warm) and usually there is a bend in the tube for the heel (for a more comfy fit)

So not surprising I suppose that there are so many different ways to make socks.  Toe-up.  Cuff-down.  Gusset Heels.  Short Row Heels and Toes.  Tube socks with no heels at all.  Round Toes.  Grafting Toes Kitchener Style.  Sometimes the simpler an item is to construct, the more practical variations there can be!

Today, while considering the options for my Iron Knitter Round 3 Socks I got to pondering the whole Heel Dilemma.  There are many sorts of Heels, they all get the job done and make the socks fit the foot better... but which one should be favored where?  Is there a better heel for a certain situation?  I set out today to learn more about Heels.

First of all.... the variations themselves:

Gusset / Heel Flap

-these are the first heels I learned to make... out of an old really worn out Beehive Yarn Book of socks for the family that my Mom had around the house when I was little.  Basically half of the stitches are taken on two needles and then knit back and forth to make a flap, then the flap stitches are decreased in to make a little short rows triangle, and then stitches are picked up along the flap and gradually decreased away as the rest of the foot progresses.  This method is common for traditional Cuff-down socks and makes a comfortable well-fitting heel.  The flap can be patterned or padded (like with a slip stitch design where extra yarn is carried behind) or completely plain depending on the desired effect.

Short Rows Heels

- Once you've learned to make a short rows toe... it can be tempting to knit all heels this way!  Basically taking half of the stitches, Knitting gradually shorter and shorter rows (with wrapped stitches along the ends of the rows so as to minimize holes and gaps when increasing again) until reaching the desired decrease and then knitting progressively longer rows picking up the wraps as you go.  This kind of heel looks the most like commercially made socks that I have found with the line from the decreases and pickups that runs from the heel up towards the ankle.  They seem to fit quite well, and often compliment design elements of socks. Short rows heels look great in self striping yarn too (tend to break up the continuity of the yarn's intrinsic pattern less than the more traditional flap / gusset heel)

Variation Heels

- there are lots of patterns out there that like to take construction creativity to new lengths and combine the basics of Gusset / Flap heels and short rows to make unique heels that are part of each method.  I have made a few pairs of such socks, but somehow I usually end up going back to one or the other - my old standby.  I think this is because after having knit about 2 dozen pairs of socks, I can turn a heel without following a pattern or even watching too closely what I am doing.  The varied construction ones require me to focus; sometimes I actually like brainless.

So what of this Afterthought heel I have been reading about lately... Honestly I would never have thought of knitting a tube, grafting an end for the toes and then *cutting* into the tube at the right place to insert a heel.  I am still a bit squeamish about the idea of cutting ANY knitting.  I learned at an early age, when you cut knit fabric it ravels.   I think this is why Steeking makes me a little nauseous, even though I know that people have been doing it forever and it works out fine, no one really cries, and the wearer doesn't end up like the subject of that 90's Weezer song ("watch me unravel, I'll soon be naked... Lying on the floor, lying on the floor... I've come Undone!")

Now there are two schools of thought on the afterthought heel... one involves the cutting bit and the other a slightly less faint-inducing strategy.

Elizabeth Zimmerman Afterthought heel

- After finishing the tube, the spot for the heel is chosen, and then you are supposed to snip one strand in the middle of the row and then pick up the required number of stitches (usually half the number of the tube itself) as you ravel across the row by that one strand revealing 2 rows (one above and one below the snip) of live stitches.

Waste Yarn Afterthought Heel Method

- At the place where the heel should be added, knit across half the row with a waste yarn, and then reknit those stitches and continue in pattern until the rest of the sock is done.  This leaves a contrasting yarn "zipper" in the work - all you have to do is carefully start removing that contrast yarn and pick up the live stitches above and below it.

The end result of both methods is the same:  you get live stitches where the heel should have been in the first place.

The heel is then knitted in the same way as one normally knits wedge toes (aka decreases at regular intervals creating a wedge) and then kitchener graft the end of the heel.  Some folks who absolutely hate/fear Kitchener will actually work "round" heels similar in shape to the top of a mitten, with star shaped decreases and then when down to a small number of stitches draw tight through the remaining stitches and tie off without grafting at all.

Ok... here we go step by step!

afterthought heel 4


- At the place where the heel should be located... knit across half of the row's stitches in a contrasting color (similar to how you would work the first row of a "short row heel") Knit the stitches with your working yarn again - this results in a waste yarn row sandwiched between two rows of the working yarn.

- This is the place where you will "unzip" the waste yarn to expose live stitches upon which to work your heel!


afterthought heel 3  


- Using a knitting needle, gently pick up the stitches on the row above and below the waste yarn row:  The stitches will likely feel tight on your needle.  I like to use a needle one size smaller, so they will slide on easier.

- See the red stitches between the new white ones?  you can start removing the waste yarn before all the stitches have been picked up if you like.  I find it easier to pick up the stitches if you loosen the waste row just a little.


afterthought heel 2

- Now that you have all of your new "live" stitches, you can now divide them onto more than two needles so you can work around and around just like you were finishing a toe.

- I like to divide mine on 4 needles, and decrease until approximately 1/3 of the original stitches are left (i.e. in this case the heel began at 72 stitches per round, and decreased to 24 stitches)

- then use Kitchener stitch to close the back of the heel, just like you would finish a toe and weave in the ends.


afterthought heel 1


- You may find that you need to knit a few stitches together at the "corners" to keep from having a little hole where the main body of the sock meets the heel... just like you would when working a short rows heel

- if you need help with your Kitchener Technique... go here :) for a great article from Knitty.

- Voila!  Even though the heel looks a little pointy in this photo it fits exactly like a short row heel, and feels nice and smooth on the foot.

finished afterthought heel

- I hope this little tutorial gives you the inspiration and the courage to try working an afterthought heel! Once it's completed, you really can't tell the difference between this kind of heel and a standard short-rows heel. 

- The other nice thing about this heel is that it is easily replaceable when the fabric starts to thin from wearing.  Basically you just snip and unravel the heel, pick up the same live stitches as in the beginning and work your heel again!  

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