Our last thrilling installment was a recipe for inserting a flap-and-gusset heel into any cuff-down sock pattern. Today, we approach that heel from the other direction.
The following is a recipe for a flap-and-gusset heel that you can plug into your favorite toe-up sock pattern. It’s easy and fun, and I’m very fond of it.
Map of a Heel
start at the toe, and knit the foot first. then the fun begins.
This bit’s an easy conversion: instead of decreases at the edges of the sole, you work increases.
When the sock is the right length (see below for calculations on placement of the heel), work as follows:
In this recipe, the instep is the first half of the round, and the sole is the second half.
Gusset round 1. Set up markers for heel. Work across instep in pattern. M1R, place a removable marker on the needle, k to end of sole sts, place a removable marker on the needle, M1L. 2 sts increased.
It’s easier if you keep the increases grouped together with the sole stitches. The markers are there for two reasons: to help you keep count of the gusset stitches, and to guide you with the heel turn. You’re not working the increases beside the markers, as you might think, but at the very ends of the sole stitches. Removable markers make the first row of the heel flap a little easier.
Gusset round 2. Work across instep in pattern, k to end of round.
Gusset round 3. Work across instep in pattern, M1R, k to end of round, slipping markers when you come to them, M1L. 2 sts increased.
Gusset round 4. Work across instep in pattern as set, k to end of round.
Repeat rounds 2 and 3 until you’ve increased to the required stitch count.
Your gusset will look something like this.
What is the required stitch count? See below for information on how to decide.
Begin the Heel Turn
My preferred toe-up heel is heavily inspired by the work of Wendy Johnson.
We begin with what is, effectively, the first step of a short-row heel. It creates a tidy round under the back of the heel.
Note: I’m using German Short Rows for this as I think they’re somewhat easier to do than a traditional wrap and turn, and they are significantly easier to make tidy.
With a wrap and turn, you make a wrap around a specific stitch and turn your work. With German Short Rows, the steps are slightly different. Instead of putting a wrap around a stitch, you work it—knit or purl as appropriate.
Work the stitch that would have been wrapped.
Then turn your work. Then you create a doubled stitch, abbreviated as DS.
To do this, first slip the stitch just worked purlwise wyif.
Then tug on the working yarn so that it pulls the just-slipped stitch up onto to the needle, so that both legs of the stitch are on the needle; keep tugging and take the working yarn over the needle into position for the next stitch.
In the instructions below call this process “make DS” in the instructions below.
This doubled stitch is the stitch that would have been wrapped in the wrap and turn.
The Heel Turn
Heel turn row 1 (RS). Work across instep in pattern as set; k to last marker, turn work.
Heel turn row 2 (WS). Make DS, p to marker, turn work.
Heel turn row 3. Make DS, k to DS, turn work.
Heel turn row 4. Make DS, p to DS, turn work.
Each time, you’re working one stitch less, making the new DS beside the previous one.
Work back and forth until about a third of the heel stitches remain unworked in the center, ending with a WS row. With RS facing, count your DS. You should have one more DS on the left side of the heel than on the right. The “missing” DS will be made in the first row of the heel flap.
Once it’s there, it will look like this:
In the first two rows, you’ll knit or purl each DS you created. It’s actually very simple: just work into the stitch as normal, catching both legs of the DS.
On the left needle: a DS ready to work.
And that’s all there is to it.
Heel flap row 1 (RS). DS, k to 1 st before the gusset marker. Remove the marker from its existing position and place it here. (You’re moving it one stitch to the left.) SSK, turn. 1 gusset st decreased.
Heel flap row 2 (WS). Slip 1 pwise wyif, p to 1 st before the gusset marker. Remove the marker from its existing position and replace it here. (You’re moving it one stitch to the left.) P2tog, turn. 1 gusset st decreased.
Heel flap row 3 (RS). Sl 1 pwise wyif, slip marker, k to second marker, slip marker, ssk, turn. 1 gusset st decreased.
Heel flap row 4 (WS). Slip 1 pwise wyif, p slip marker, k to second marker, slip marker, p2tog, turn. 1 gusset st decreased.
Repeat heel flap rows 3 and 4 until 1 gusset st remains on each side.
The flap is nearly done.
You might expect to just continue until all the gusset stitches are decreased, but I find that doing this makes for a gap on either side of the heel. It’s much better if you work the final two gusset stitches in the first round of the leg, as follows.
First round of leg. Sl 1 pwise wyif, remove marker, k to second marker, remove marker, ssk; work across instep in pattern as set; k2tog on last gusset st and first heel flap st, k to end of heel.
The start of round is positioned at the start of the instep. You’re back to working in the round and can finish the leg as you wish.
In the MDK Shop
Notes on Heel Placement
Here’s the rub to this heel: you have to work out exactly when to start the process, to make sure the foot turns out to be the right length.
It’s not difficult, but requires two (possibly surprising) steps.
Step 1: Measure Your Round Gauge.
When you’ve worked about two inches past the toe, slip the sts to scrap yarn (or the cord of your magic loop) and soak the sock in lukewarm water for 10 or 15 minutes. Squeeze the water out and the let it dry overnight.
Once it’s dry, measure your round gauge: count the number of rounds in 2 inches, and divide that by 2, to get the number of rounds in one inch.
A swatch gauge comes in handy here. I’m getting 12 rounds per inch.
Step 2: Work Out How Long Your Gusset and Heel Will Be.
Decide how many gusset stitches you want. For the average adult foot, I suggest 20% of the overall sock stitches, on each side.
My usual sock has 56 stitches. 56 x .2 = 11.2, which I round down to 11.
This means that I’ll have 22 rounds in my gusset, because each increase round is followed by an even round. And at 12 rounds per inch, that’s going to take up 22 ÷ 12 = 1.83 inches.
Next you need to work out how long the heel is. For this, multiply the number of heel stitches by 2/3, and round the result down to the nearest even number. (Put another way, you’re calculating the number of rows you work back and forth until the central third of the stitches are unwrapped.) For my 56-stitch sock, my heel stitch count is 28, and 28 x 2/3 = (28 x 2) ÷ 3 = 56 ÷ 3 = 18.667, which I will round down to the nearest even number. This is the number of rows in the heel turn.
And 18 rows at 12 rounds per inch, that’s going to take up 18 ÷ 12 = 1.5 inches.
What does this mean? Add those together lengths, and that’s how much space you need for the gusset and the heel turn. For me, at this gauge, with these numbers, my heel and gusset will take up 1.83 + 1.5 inches = 3.33 inches.
Then I work the foot in the round until it measures the desired foot length minus that much.
My foot is 9 inches long, so once the toe increases are complete I’m going to work the sock foot until it’s 9 – 3.33, or 5.67 inches long. At that point, I’ll start the gusset.
You’re Asking Me To Do What?
If you’re still with me at this point, you’ll have realized that for all the fun and advantages of toe-up sock knitting, the trade-off is that you need to do a quick bit of measurement and arithmetic. If you don’t, the risk is that the heel turn won’t hit in the right place, and your sock foot could come out too short or too long, neither of which is desirable. The good news is that you only need to do this on the first sock. For the second one, just keep track of the rounds and make sure you match the first.
Whether this is a deterrent or not is up to you. The alternative—working from the cuff down—isn’t entirely measurement free. You do have to decide when to start the toe.
I think it’s worth trying the flap-and-gusset heel in a toe-up sock. If the short-row heel doesn’t work for you, this structure offers an improved fit, and the flexibility to fine-tune it.