Saturday, September 6, 2014

Vanilla Baby Cable Socks With Afterthought Heel

I usually knit socks the traditional way - the way I learned when I was a student - with four double-pointed needles, a round heel, and a wedge toe grafted, at the tip, with Kitchener stitch. The round heel is the one that novice knitters fear: it is constructed with a heel flap, the dreaded and legendary heel turn, and a gusset that involves picking up stitches and then decreasing them before knitting the foot. All in all, it's a fairly complicated operation, and though it produces a pretty result, the process of turning a heel scares a lot of knitters off.

A fairly traditional hand-knitted sock with a classic round (turned) heel and wedge toe.

But there are a million ways to make a heel, and several of them involve no turning at all. If you are a beginning knitter, or even an experienced one who is put off at the prospect of a complicated heel, consider my latest pair of socks, made with an "afterthought" heel:

The afterthought heel, which is sometimes referred to as a peasant heel, could not be simpler. It's an excellent way for beginner sock knitters to make a strong, well-fitted heel that can be easily replaced if it's worn out.

Here are the basics. Start your sock the usual way, knitting a tube from the top down. When you get to the place where you want the heel to begin, drop the working yarn and work across half the stitches with a strand of waste yarn. (In my photo, for clarity, the waste yarn is bright pink.) Then go back and pick up the working yarn, and knit those same stitches again.

The pink yarn is the waste yarn, knitted across half the stitches where the heel will go.

A helpful hint: run a lifeline before and after knitting the waste yarn. (To run a lifeline, thread a needle with a different color of waste yarn, and slip the needle through the stitches to "anchor" them.) This will make the stitches easier to pick up after you remove the knitted strand of waste yarn.

Continue to knit the sock in rounds. If the leg is knitted in a pattern, continue the pattern down the instep, but knit the stitches below your waste yarn. These will become the bottom of the foot later.

Knit a wedge toe: divide the stitches among three needles, with the round beginning at the center of the bottom of the foot. One quarter of your stitches will be on needle 1; half your stitches (the instep stitches) will be on needle 2, and the remaining one quarter will be on needle 3. Alternate rows 1 and 2 as follows until half your stitches remain:

Row 1: (needle 1) K to last 3 stitches, K2tog, K1; (needle 2) K1, SSK, K to last 3 stitches, K2tog, K1; (needle 3) K1, SSK, knit to end.

Row 2: Knit around.

When half the total stitches remain, repeat Row 1 only, until a total of 8 stitches remain. Divide those 8 stitches between 2 needles and graft them together with Kitchener stitch.

When the toe is complete, remove the waste yarn, opening up the back of the sock and exposing live stitches across the back half of the sock. If you have used lifelines, it will look something like this:

Pick up the live stitches and divide them among your three double-pointed needles, with the round beginning at the bottom center of the foot. (You will have one extra stitch on one of your foot needles; on the first round, knit it together with the stitch next to it to even out the numbers.)

Back on the needles and ready to knit the heel.

Then - and here's the fun and easy part - you just knit another wedge toe. It's that simple. When you get down to 8 stitches again, graft them together, and you have a heel that looks exactly like your toe. No flap, no turning, no wrapping, nothing. Your decreases will look like a thick seam running slantwise across the heel.

Close-up of the completed afterthought heel.

The great advantage of the afterthought heel, besides its simplicity, is its easy replaceability. If it wears a hole, you can unravel it back to its beginnings and just knit it again. You can even move the heel up or down on the sock. Some fearless knitters make afterthought heels without waste yarn, deciding at the last minute where to place the heel and (gasp!) snipping the sock open to insert the heel. (I don't do that and I don't recommend it unless you are a bigger risk-taker than I am!)

Some people don't like the thick decrease line the afterthought produces, but I don't mind it at all. It's a nice look for a cozy pair of winter socks, a practical touch for boot socks for my husband (he tends to wear out his heels first), and a sturdy, easy method of construction. Give it a try on your next pair.

Click here for the Ravelry link for my Vanilla Baby Cable Socks (this will bring you to a project page with yarn, needle, and gauge information for this particular project).

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