Skip to content

It’s a topic of passionate debate among sock knitters: short-row or flap-and-gusset heels?

Today I’m focusing on flap-and-gusset heels.

Sock Heel History

The flap-and-gusset heel construction is traditional;  it’s how most hand-knit socks have been made. But it’s rather fallen out of favor, for a few reasons. The first is that some find it a bit trickier to work—fair enough, although trickiness is often a question of familiarity. The second is that a short-row heel is very easily adapted to toe-up socks—you can work it in either direction. As toe-up construction got more popular, so did the short-row heel.

But the third reason is the most interesting. We love a sock with a short-row heel because it looks like the socks we buy in the stores. But here’s the funny bit: store-bought socks look like that because it was all the original sock knitting machines were capable of making.  But as I mentioned in my previous piece, the short-row heel isn’t always the best fit.

Flap-and-Gusset Construction Explained

The big benefit to flap-and-gusset construction is that it results in a sock that is expanded in the heel area, and in the foot in front of the heel, which matches the shape of many adult feet.

The three crucial fit points of a sock.
A foot, happily ensconced in a flap-and-gusset Heel sock.

A flap-and-gusset heel is constructed in three steps.

Step 1: The Flap

Once the leg is complete, you first work a length of fabric back-and-forth in rows, on half the sock stitches. This fabric will sit on the back of your heel. It’s typically worked so that you’ve got about the same number of rows as you have stitches.

RS rows: Slip 1 purlwise (pwise) with yarn in back (wyib), k to end.

WS rows: Slip 1 pwise with yarn in front (wyif), p to end.

End with a WS row.

Here, the flap has been worked, and markers have been placed for the next step.

(For reinforcement, the heel flap can be worked in a slip-stitch pattern.  More on this in a future column.)

Step 2: The Turn

The heel turn is worked on the flap stitches, and sits under the foot.

There are a few heels turns that work well in this construction.

Half Handkerchief, so-called because it looks like the triangle of a folded handkerchief.
Round. No prizes for guessing for why it’s called that.

The square heel is my favorite, because it’s easy to work on any number of stitches, and has a nice tidy fit. This is the one I’m going to give you the instructions for.


Another view of the square heel on the bottom of the foot.

For each type of heel, the turn is shaped using decreases. Not a single short row wrap and turn is required! For some knitters, this is reason enough to change methods.

Working the Turn

To start, divide the heel stitches as evenly as possible into thirds. Does the number of stitches divide evenly by 3? If so, then you’ve got equal thirds. If the number of stitches doesn’t divide evenly by 3, you’ll have two thirds that are the same, and one that doesn’t match, that’s either one more or one less. For example, 27 is 9/9/9, 28 is 9/10/9, 29 is 10/9/10, and so forth.

Place stitch markers to divide the heel flap stitches into thirds. If you’ve got a non-matching number, that’s the middle set.

There are those markers again.

Heel turn row 1 (RS): Slip 1 pwise wyib, k to 2nd marker, slip marker, ssk, turn.

After the decrease, there will be stitches leftover at the end of the row. Ignore them for now. Turn really means turn! You’ll come and back later and decrease them away.

Heel turn row 2 (WS): Slip 1 pwise wyif, p to 1st marker, slip marker, p2tog, turn.

There will be stitches leftover on both sides, with a bit of a gap separating the leftover stitches from those in the middle.

The first two rows of the turn are complete. You can see the decreases, just outside the markers, and the gaps just past the decreases.

In each of the following rows, you’ll decrease away one of the leftover stitches. The decrease is always worked in the same place, just outside the marker, so it’s easy to keep track of where you are.

Heel turn row 3 (RS): Slip 1 pwise wyib, k to 2nd marker, slip marker, ssk, turn.

Heel turn row 4 (WS): Slip 1 pwise wyif, p to 1st marker, slip marker, p2tog, turn.

Repeat rows 3 and 4 until you’ve worked all the stitches, and only 1 stitch remains either side of the marker. A helpful tip: after a WS decrease is worked, you should have the same number of stitches after the gap on both sides.

Done! That wasn’t hard, was it?

Step 3: Reunite the Round

Once the heel is turned, you have two sock parts: the heel on one side and the instep on the other, with two giant gaps either side.

To close these gaps and resume working in the round, you pick up stitches on each side, between the heel turn and the instep. This construction, by design, results in more stitches—and thus more fabric—to fit comfortably around this usually larger part of the foot.

stitches picked up for the gusset.

You then work decreases to narrow the sock as you head towards the toe, matching the shape of your foot.  (This is why it’s called a gusset. Gusset is a tailoring term for a triangular insert of fabric. The triangle in the sock is created with the decreases.)

Gusset decreases.

Creating the Gusset

Foot setup round:

Knit across the heel stitches, pick up and knit stitches along the first edge of the heel flap, using the slipped stitches as a guide.

How many stitches? Usually, it’s one for every slipped stitch. I like to pick up one or two extra to help avoid a hole.

There’s a trick to this: don’t pick up in the “corner,” but rather continue in the straight line, up a little bit into the leg of the sock. Much tidier: no hole!

Then work across the instep stitches in pattern as set. (Your pattern may be plain stockinette, as shown in the photos.)

Pick up and knit stitches along the second edge of the heel flap, trying your best to get the same number you got on the first side. (If it’s one off, you’ll be fine—I won’t tell anyone.) Then knit until you’re at the midpoint of the heel stitches. This is the new start of round.

Here’s a refresher on how to pick up stitches. 

You will have more stitches than you started with. That’s by design, to create that extra space in front of the heel.

At this point, it’s helpful to arrange your needles so that the instep stitches are grouped together on one needle. If you’re on magic loop or two circulars or flexible DPNs, the sole stitches should be on one needle, and place a marker in the middle to designate the start of the round. If you’re on traditional DPNs, the start of the round is at the start of the first needle; put the instep stitches on a second, and the rest of the round on a third. This way you can easily keep track of where you are.

Work a round to settle and tidy up the picked-up stitches:

K to the end of the heel stitches, work ktbl (knit through the back of the loop) on all the picked up stitches up to the instep; work across the instep normally; work ktbl on all the picked up stitches (down to the heel) and k to end of round.

Gusset decrease round 1: K to 3 sts before instep, k2tog, k1; work across instep in pattern as set; k1, ssk, k to end of round.

Gusset decrease round 2: K to instep; work across instep in pattern as set; k to end of round.

Repeat the last 2 rounds until you’re back to your original stitch count. Then complete the sock as written.

Plug and Play!

You can use this heel construction on any top-down sock pattern without requiring any further pattern changes. Try it!  

In the MDK Shop
However you knit 'em, keep 'em clean. Your Shop purchases support everything we do here at MDK—Thanks!
This Could Come in Handy
Here’s how to save this article in your MDK account with one click.

About The Author

Kate Atherley is a teacher, designer, author and technical editor. She’s also the publisher of Digits & Threads, a magazine all about Canadian fibre and textile arts.


  • So can this be done on toe up socks?

    • It can be done on anything

    • Stay tuned!!

    • See “Socks from the Toe Up” by Wendy D. Johnson . I like the whole book. See slip stitch heel basic socks with gusset and heel flap generic patt on page 41 with photo page 40. Copyright 2009. The 20+ patts in the book use this method. 3 patterns are for sportweight that “feature the gusset heel which is not as bulky as the slip stitch heel” (pp. 114-123).
      After a long hiatus from sock knitting I really spent time looking for this method which works best for my high instep.

      • I use Wendy’s method for all my socks, unless there’s a really good reason not to. (Pairfect sock yarn, for example.) I really like the toe-up method, and the flap and gusset seems to fit my heels the best out of every type I’ve tried.

    • You can do a heel flap for tow-up socks, but the construction is different. Kate lines it out in one of her books, but you do the gusset backwards by increasing before the heel instead of decreasing down the foot. From there, you have to turn the heel (can’t remember how) and then finish decreasing stiches as you work your way up the back of the heel. It’s been a while since I’ve done it, but it can be done.

    • No, I don’t think so.

      • The University of Youtube says that “toe up socks heel flap and gusset” are possible.

      • Yes!! Wendy (wendyknits ?) has free pattern(s?) for this on ravelry. I think One is called Toe Up with a difference.

        • Yes! Wendy shows you how to up style

        • I think there must be a free pattern on knitty that uses a toe up heel flap construction because I’ve knitted a few pairs and I’ve never bought a pattern. Ravelry will have a link if you search the construction method.

  • That’s the nicest looking flap heel I’ve ever seen. I abandoned flap heels for short row heels because they can look so clunky and, well, home-made. I’ll have to give yours a try! Thanks.

  • Thank you for this, Kate! Your articles are always so beautifully clear. I am now knitting your wise Hilda sock for the second or third time. I’ve knit many many socks, but it is the best pattern I’ve used. And in spite of being an experienced socknitter, it’s taught me some new things. Thank you so much. I noticed here your gusset decrease is slightly different from what’s written in your basic pattern, in that you decrease and knit a stitch before the InStep, here. In the basic pattern it’s just decrease and do the InStep. Is that because the next stitch is a Purl stitch?

    • Yes, that’s precisely it! I like the decrease sitting up against the purl stitch. In general, I avoid doing a decrease exactly at the start or end of a needle when working in the round like this, as it can exacerbate ladders.

  • My default is always heel flap and gusset socks. I prefer the fit and find them fun and slightly magical to execute. If you turn a heel in public, non-knitters are just gobsmacked. I will add your trick for eliminating that pesky hole to my arsenal of tricks for that (since there are quite a few out there, I tend to do the one that suits my mood when I get up to that part but yours sounds less fiddly than most).

  • Team heel flap here. I’ve got high arches and this is much easier to me than doing tricks to get a short row heel to fit. I’m glad we all have options for different fits and types of socks.

    • And I love it for my flat feet!

  • I’m a heel flap girl! I can do it in my sleep. But I love reading about skills, I always seem to learn something new. I have to try your square flap. Question, why do you knit through the back loop on the first row of picked up stitches? Am I understanding that correctly?

    • Correct! Barbara’s comment above is exactly right.

    • Judy, you knit your picked up stitches tbl because doing that twists and, therefore, tightens those stitches making them look neater and eliminates the elongated stitches and there are no holes.

      • Thanks! I’ve been wondering how to deal with those loose stitches!!!. Of course that means I’ll have to knit yet another pair in order to practise. ha ha

  • Love your tutorials, Kate!
    One thing I’ve always wondered is why, after the heel, the start of row marker is put in the center of the heel? Why not put it where it will become the start of the top of the foot? That way it is the start of the top of the toe when you get there. (It might be the bottom of the foot/toe, I don’t have a sock in hand at the moment). Thanks!

    • I think it’s mostly tradition, honestly. It’s an arrangement that makes the most sense if you’re working on DPNs – it’s a little fiddly if you’re on other needles. It also makes sure that you’ve got the same number of rounds on both sides of the gusset, and that you don’t have to cut and rejoin the yarn.

  • Thank you! Heel flap and gusset with the Half Handkerchief heel turn (which is magic) was the first heel I learned to do from multiple sources and never knew what to call it. Thanks for the clear explanation of what I have been doing. Now, I can communicate what that is!

  • Love this article, it’s definitely a keeper! Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

  • I cannot find a picture showing how to maneuver doing two sock gussets at a time on a magic loop.

    • You basically do one heel turn completely until you’re back in the round on that sock and then do the second one.

  • Thank you Kate! This article is a keeper. I’ve only knit one sock and I did heel flap and gusset because I found a video showing that method and it looked easiest to follow;) I was so amazed by how it looked like a “real sock” and so proud of myself

  • Just wondering why you don’t do the traditional reinforcing stitch for the heal flap (sliping everyother knit stitch purl wise)?
    I find the denser stitching helps prevent wear in the heal.

    • I agree!!! (Tho haven’t read it yet)

    • I think she said that method will come in a later article.

      • Seems like it could have been added here. I’m quite surprised at what a very slow roll this sock thing is taking. Based on the first two I knit, before internet from written words alone.

        Also this may not be true but because I have narrow heels, I think it’s easier to subtract 10% from heel flap but this could just be my faulty memory.

        Also with short row I’m alwaus worried about where to begin Gusset.

  • So funny to me thst u waited so long to talk about this. My first and most of my socks (of my maybe 5 prs) were done this way, guess that’s why I think it’s easier. No pesky holes and so nice and cushy.

  • I wish that Kate would do the same amazing explanation for those of us who are sworn to toe up construction.

    • Oh, it’s coming!

  • I am top-down, heel-flap-and-gusset all the way! I’ve made a couple top-down pairs of socks and short row heels, but I really just adore making a heel flap (I tend to do Eye of Partridge) and turning a heel. It makes me feel like a real knitter!

    • I too knit the heel flap, top down sock. I never could get the toe-up version to fit correctly (always too big every time.) And I just love the way a good gusset looks…so tidy. I have done the after-thought heel in the Smooth Operator Sock by Susan B Anderson, and I love the way it looks, especially with contrast yarn. It fits me just fine, but I hesitate to use it in socks I knit as gifts, so I default to the heel flap and gusset; no complaints from the recipiso far.

  • This has been my go to heel and it is great as it is adjustable. Love it with the slip one stitch pattern. Will you please write about different toe finishes for cuff down socks?

  • When it’s time to work the heel turn, the instructions say: Heel turn row 1 (RS): Slip 1 pwise wyib, k to 2nd marker, slip marker, ssk, turn.
    Which marker is the second marker? Do I knit past one marker to the next one? I’m confused.

    • Hello! Thanks for your patience – I only just found your comment. Exactly right – knit past the one marker, to the second one. Don’t overthink it!

  • I have a question about comfort. I have Neuropathy due to DDD and Eds. My feet are numb and over sensitive. What sock pattern would have less bumps and seams that might cause a bit less discomfort especially along the edge of my feet?
    I have only toyed with knitting a sample sock and that pattern had thick seams I didn’t care for.
    Any ideas you have would be so welcome! I want to knit my own socks that I will have for a long time.
    Thank you.

    • Hello! Thanks for your patience, I only just found your question. I have a sock pattern that’s specifically designed for comfort – look up Both Sides Now and Then on Ravelry. I hope that helps!

  • HI Kate can you possibly provide the name of a pattern that has the square heel incorporated in the pattern – I much prefer a cuff down please? Finding that on all my socks I am wearing them out just under the heel and these would really help with this thanks so much

  • I really like these socks and plan to make them soon. I have a question though. How can reinforce the heel and toe?

  • thank ypu so much. may I ask how come your SSK’s are so neat and beautiful? mine are awful.

  • I have learned that not all sock patterns are created equal! Some sock patterns may have a lovely design for the leg section and then fall apart with the heel or toe directions. This tutorial is a lifesaver! I don’t make socks often enough to internalize the process. This will certainly help!

  • Hi! How would this work if you want to do a contrast color for the heel? Thanks!

  • I’ve knitted this twice and one side of the square heel is really neat, the other side (rs) doesn’t look so neat, no matter how I try there’s like a ladder of loose stitches. I’m keeping the pattern to reinforce the heel going through turning the heel.

  • I’m a fairly new sock knitter so forgive me. What happens to the two ‘unworked’ stitches on the outside of your stitch markers, what do you do with them?

  • This was really helpful! I didn’t know any of this. I’m working on my first flap-gusset heal. So, now I know what all the flap is about! Thanks you!

  • fyi the pic in the top of the article is not showing.

  • hello 🙂
    Wonderful instructions and info on the heel flap and heel turn.
    I have knitted a lot of socks and there are many different types of heels that I have read about.
    I have come across a type of gusset that is supposed to be good for keeping the pattern on a colorwork sock consistent. It is called the Sole Gusset and is placed under the foot.
    Do you have instructions or a video on how to do this type of gusset? I see it on some socks on ravelry but can’t seem to find videos on how to do it when I search online. I downloaded the pattern for a Sole Gusset from Janna Talvitie, but I tried it on a sock and it’s not working out. A video would be helpful.
    Thanks for any help 🙂

Come Shop With Us

My Cart0
There are no products in the cart!
Continue shopping