how to work a heel.

One thing that discourages new sock knitters the most is the heel flap, turn, and the double gusset. The first time I ever knit (*attempted to knit) a sock, those were the most confusing parts to me. Unfortunately, that section (and some sizing issues that were . . . noticeable. . .) kept me away from sock knitting for a good year or two, and I wasted good time moping on how all socks were way too hard for me.

NOTE: The next part of this post is not a pattern—it is just an explanation of what is happening during a sock’s heel.

How to work a heel | The Sock Monkey
How to work a heel | The Sock Monkey

[A] The easiest part of the heel’s construction would have to be the heel flap. It is worked in rows over half of the leg stitches (give or take—this just depends on the pattern). Since it is the part of the heel that receives the most abrasion, many patterns and sock books recommend knitting it tighter, on smaller needles, with doubled yarn, or reinforcing the fabric with slipped stitches. The edge stitches on either side are slipped; this creates a chain-type edge that is easier to pick up stitches to continue knitting the foot. The heel flap is usually about 2 inches long—maybe a bit more your sock’s circumference is a little bit larger than usual.

[B] The heel turn comes next, and this is the most satisfying bit to complete. Makes me feel smart each time I do it. It’s knit in partial rows (sometimes called short rows) so that the fabric eventually becomes shaped like a half moon. This doesn’t lay flat like the heel flap; instead, it curves under it, making a 90 degree angle. It also doesn’t add any more length to the flap.

After all this, you have a detached flap of fabric. How will you ever get back to knitting in the round again? Well, remember when you were making the heel flap, and the edge stitches were slipped to create a chain look? This is how you get back to knitting in the home stretch.

There is a technique called “picking up stitches”. This is putting live stitches where there are no stitches—be that on the edge of your fabric, or in the center of it. The basically, you put your needle in an edge of knitted fabric where there are no live stitches, wrap your unattached yarn around the underside of the fabric, and pull the yarn through the fabric, creating a stitch.

You pick up a stitch in each of the heel’s edge (selvedge) stitches until you reach the instep (top) of the sock. Then you knit those stitches as the pattern suggests (Well, you could get creative with this, but do so at your own risk. . .) until you reach the end of them. There is now a gaping hole on just one side of your sock. This is not counting the part where your foot will have to go when wearing the sock. Pick up the stitches on the other side of the heel, and you’re good to go.
Now comes the gussets. I’m going to describe the process traditionally used; just know that there are many other ways to do this.

[C] Alright. After the last part, you have what now looks to be a half of a sock. If you are using two circulars, or the magic loop method, the instep half of the sock is on one cable and the sole half is on the other cable. If you’re using 4 double pointed needles, the instep is on one needle, and the sole is split between two others, while the fourth one is free and ready to knit with. 5 dpns: The sole is split between two needles; the instep split between another two; the fifth one free. But you have a problem. There are WAY too many stitches on the sole. Like, WAY too many.

What to do? Decrease them.

Fortunately, most people’s feet are a little wider at the spot where you’re knitting than the rest of their feet, so you do not have to do it at a rapid pace (K19tog anyone?), just a constant one. Most patterns require a pace of two stitches decreased every other round. These decreases can be made anywhere on the face of the sock, but traditionally, they are done on both edges of the sole, right next to the instep.

After the stitches are decreased to the required stitch count, you can knit all the way up to the toe, which I will not tell you how to do here. After all, this is a description of how to work through the heel section, right?

If you need a larger description of what to do in this part, or are squinting at the screen wondering how on earth anyone could understand all this jargon, please click the comment button below and ask me to clarify (preferably kindly).


5 thoughts on “how to work a heel.

  1. Well written. Of course photos would be most helpful for knitters new to socks who may not know any of the technical terms like gusset and slipped stitches. Greetings from the Oregon coast.


  2. I think you have two sections labeled “C” and no “B.” Looked at your photo again. Missed that it was labeled my first read through. Why is there a gusset, anyway? Not every sock has a gusset. Why not? Hmmm…


  3. Hi Hope! Thanks for your thoughts and correction; I will change that right away. As for photos, I was going to do a photo tutorial, but I didn’t have a sock going at the moment–otherwise I definitely would have. Another post, maybe? Speaking of other posts, yes, not all socks have gussets. I will cover this on Wednesday (Hopefully; it could be another week…), so stick around. Thanks a bunch for checking out mah blog!


  4. You do feel like a magician when you turn a heel no matter how many times you do it.
    Last year I decided it was only yarn and I don’t need to be scared do it so taught myself socks! What a perfect project to have on hand. Love your knitty pattern…in the queue!


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