Sunday, September 14, 2014

Three Types of Handknitted Heels, and Their Advantages and Disadvantages

From my recent projects: A quick comparison of three types of handknitted sock heels, and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

(Left to right above: pink striped sock with short-row heel; blue and green sock with round heel; and thick white sock with afterthought heel.)

The round heel, pictured above center, is, as far as I can tell, the most commonly-knitted heel in the United States and Europe (though the short-row heel is giving it a run for its money lately). It is knitted in three parts: the heel flap, the heel turn, and a triangle-shaped gusset to accommodate the width of the human ankle.

  • Advantages: The round heel can be knitted from the toe up or from the top down. It is probably the best-fitting heel, as it most closely follows the contours of the human foot. The heel flap, which involves knitting back and forth across half the leg stitches to produce a rectangle, lends itself to all kinds of artistic expression; it can be knitted in patterns or with a pretty color design. Special stitch patterns used along the heel flap can guard against wear and tear.
  • Disadvantages: The heel turn, which is actually quite simple, intimidates a lot of novice knitters. Because of its three-step construction, a round heel is a bear to replace if it gets worn or develops holes. And the complex construction can take a fair amount of time.

The short-row heel, pictured above left, is common in Asian knitting and gaining popularity in the United States and Europe, primarily because of its ease and versatility. It is knitted in two steps: a decreasing set of short rows, to a small point, followed by increases back to the starting number of stitches. Increases and decreases can be accomplished in a variety of ways, but are most commonly made with the "wrap-and-turn" or the "yarn-over" method.

  • Advantages: The short-row is fast - by your second or third attempt at it, you'll be a speed demon. It can be done from the toe up or the top down, and it's constructed the same either way. It can even be used to make a toe. It's fairly simple to rip out and replace, if necessary.
  • Disadvantages: It can be tricky to master either of the short-row techniques, and knitters often become frustrated trying to avoid the holes that commonly develop along the edges of the heels. (The holes can be avoided, but it takes some practice.) Because of their shape, short-row heels do not always lend themselves to fancy patterns or pictures. And they don't always fit well; their two-part simplicity is balanced out by a one-size-fits-all sort of heel.

The afterthought (or peasant) heel, pictured above right, is inserted into an otherwise complete sock (hence its name). (See my last post for details on its construction.) It is knitted in one step: decreasing rounds to just a few stitches, which are then grafted or sewn together. It is constructed exactly the same way as a wedge toe, making it a great choice for beginners or those who are intimidated by wraps and/or turns.

  • Advantages: This is the heel to put into the sock that is going to get worn heavily. An afterthought heel can be ripped out and replaced very easily; just unravel it back to the starting point and knit it again. You can even move it up or down the foot, or use a different color from the body of the sock. Its simple construction is great for those who are having trouble learning short-row or heel-turning techniques. And the fit can be personalized by adjusting the frequency of the decreases.
  • Disadvantages: This is not a particularly attractive sock. The lines of decreases form something that looks and feels like a thick seam along the ankle, and besides being unsightly, the thick line can be irritating inside shoes. I use this heel only for motorcycle socks for my husband, or for socks for myself that I intend to wear around the house without shoes.
Here are the Ravelry project pages for each of the above-pictured socks.

Crazy Color socks (the pink ones with the short-row heel)

I don't know why these are rotated. Weird. But at least you can see the heel clearly.

Green and blue striped socks (with the round heel)

And Vanilla Baby Cable Socks (with the afterthought heel).

Also rotated. Whatever.

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