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Heels 101


I have a lot of feelings about the heels of hand knit socks.

I had to knit 12 different pairs before I found MY favorite recipe, the one that looked and felt good on my feet. Because that’s the thing – some heels won’t work for some folks. While the knitter might enjoy knitting a certain type of heel because of how easy or practical it is during the process, the wearer might be uncomfortable or find that the top of the foot stretches a lot.

My latest pattern, Dust in the Wind, does not include heel instructions because I know a lot of sock knitters don’t follow them anyway. I am one of them. We buy a pattern because the design is pretty, but we inevitably end up figuring out a way to just apply the design to our favorite recipe.

I strongly encourage you to explore all the different free patterns to experiment and become comfortable enough with the process of knitting socks that you come up with your own magic combo. By doing so, you will also become more familiar with the process and the structure of knitting socks. This will make you more confident and independant in your knitting, and you’ll be able to adapt almost any sock pattern.

So, the goal of this blog post is to give you a primer on the main types of heels and my favorite resources to learn. I will not make my own – lots of people out there are already doing an awesome job at putting out tutorials on their blogs and on Youtube.

Ok, you ready? Let’s dive right in.

THE CLASSIC – Heel flap
Main characteristics: Easier to knit from the cuff down. Consists of 4 main steps: knitting the flap itself (back and forth), turning the heel (short rows), picking up stitches to work the foot, and the gusset. Traditionally, the flap is knit with a texture that makes it thicker and more durable.
Pros: Durable, confortable, deep heel, can easily be worked in a contrasting color
Cons: The structure can be hard to understand for beginner knitters. While it can be worked on a toe-up sock, it’s hard to know when to start making the gusset increases. The structure also « breaks » the pattern of self-striping yarns or yarns with a « magic design » (you know, the ones that look like you put in a lot of effort but really the colors just change and it creates an interesting pattern?)
When to start knitting the heel on toe-up socks: kinda hard to tell, I have seen people saying 2″ less than desired final length of the foot, and some will say up to 4″. I recommend using the Fleegle heel method (see below)

Recommended ressources:
VeryPink Knits (video) – for cuff down socks, heel is covered over 3 videos
KNITFreedom (video) – faux heel flap for toe-up socks

THE MODERN – Short row heel
Main characteristics: Many different versions: the ones I see most often are the fish lips kiss heel and the german short row heel. The heel is shaped with short rows and the short row method will result in different looks.
Pros: Great for working with two colors. Works well with either cuff-down or toe-up. Very nice option for magic loop and mini circs. Simple structure, great for beginners.
Cons: Shallow. Can result in stretched instep. Some methods create little « holes ».
When to start knitting the heel on toe-up socks: about 2″ before you have reached the desired length of the sock.

Recommended ressources:
Fish Lips Kiss Heel (pattern*)
German Short Row Heel (blog post and video) 
Good first sock pattern (uses German short row heel) (blog post and video)

THE PRACTICAL – Afterthought heel
Main characteristics: As the name suggests, this heel is knit last and it is added to your knitted tube. Two methods – one with scrap yarn and one where you cut one stitch. It is essentially like knitting the toe decreases of a cuff-down sock .
Pros: The best thing with this heel is you just knit a tube and make the heel after. Perfect for on-the-go knitting. Also great for a contrasting color heel, and amazing with self-striping yarn. Works well with either cuff-down or toe-up.
Cons: Shallow. Can result in stretched instep. Needs grafting.
When to start knitting the heel on toe-up socks: at the end of your work! but if you are using the scrap yarn technique, place your scrap yarn about 2″ before the desired length of the sock.

Recommended ressources:
Scrap yarn method (video – by Andrea Mowry!)
No scrap yarn method (blog post)

MY FAVORITE – The Fleegle Heel
Main characteristics: Made for toe-up socks. You knit gusset increases and then a « short row no-flap flap ».
Pros: It has the depth of the heel flap but is easy like a short row heel. Easy to memorize, too.
Cons: You have to try it on the first few times you use it to figure out when to start the gusset increases. Breaks self-stripping yarn sequences like a heel flap. Not very suitable for contrasting heels.
When to start knitting the heel: See recommended ressources.

Recommended ressources:
KnitFreedom’s article and videos
The original blog post

Vanilla is the New Black (pattern)
Skew (pattern)
Sawdl (Welsh heel) (video)
Kannanottoja- A Ravelry project with A LOT of different heels and links