Now that the leg of our sock is completed, it’s time to consider the construction of the Heel and the Gusset. The Heel part of your pattern will usually form the strip that goes down the last part of your leg to the ground, and then will magically turn into a little triangle for the back of your heel to sit in to. The Gusset will then come off that flap and triangle to create the part that goes along your ankle bone. Both are very important, and may take some trial and error to find the heel and size that works for you. The Gusset also provides the space for your instep, so that the top of your foot has the room it needs, and will also help with the sock being able to slip up over your ankle.
The Heel: Every pattern will give you instructions for the heel. Depending on the type of construction they are using, you will typically get a section for a Heel Flap and a section for Heel. The Heel Flap is that strip going down the back of the leg I was talking about. This is normally knit back and forth over a certain amount of stitches, while the other stitches just sit around doing nothing for a while. So, you will have knits and purls going on here, and you will have both a right side and a wrong side. The right side will be the part of the fabric that will go on the outside. The wrong side will be the part that touches your foot on the inside of the fabric. Many patterns use a variation on knitting, purling and slipping stitches to create a thicker and more durable fabric. But, there are many different ways of doing this. If you are working on a very detailed pattern, you might find that the pattern runs down the heel flap as well. It may help for you to take a measurement to see just how long you want that heel flap. I tend to measure from the top of my ankle bone to the floor, and since my feet are two different sizes, I make sure to measure both. They are both actually 3″. However, the socks do have some stretch, so I typically will take off about 20%. That ends up being 2.4″. Since the patterns tend to suggest 2.5″, I will go with that number. If you have a high instep, you might want to consider making your heel a bit longer. The biggest reason is to allow the sock to not only go over your ankle, but to give you room to have your foot feel comfortable.
As you knit socks, you will start to learn what feels most comfortable for you. This can be a bit of trial and error, because there are different heel constructions. The heel flap and heel tend to be short rows. That means you will be knitting part of the row, and then turning your work and leaving some of the stitches of the heel unworked. However, there are other options. I found a great page with information on all the various heels that are available here. As you will see there are many. You can knit the heel as you work the sock, or you can do an afterthought heel, which means you put in a piece of spare yarn and keep knitting a tube. Then later you come back and pick up the stitches on that spare yarn and make your heel. You can also consider doing the heels and toes a different color, for a contrast heel. There are so many ways to spruce up those heels!
Gusset: When you work the gusset (and I’m going to continue on the assumption that we are going to work a basic short row heel), you will be picking up stitches along the heel flap. You are going to end up with a lot of stitches on your needles at first. In general, you will be picking up about 16 stitches on each side of that heel flap (the exact number will always appear in your pattern). This will make things fiddly and bulky for a bit. If you are knitting on circular needles, then you’ll just have a lot of stitches to work with, and you’ll find your way through. This is how I normally will work. If you are using double pointed needles, then you’ll have just a couple needles stuffed full, but you’ll also just have to work your way through. Make sure that you follow the pattern very closely when arranging your stitches. There is a particular line up of stitches, because you will still have one set that is for the top of your foot (instep), and you will be decreasing stitches in your gusset on either side of that just before and just after those instep stitches. You don’t want to decrease within the instep itself. These decreases all happen on what will become the bottom of your foot (sole). The gusset decreases in the sock will create a little triangle along both sides of your ankle.
The great thing is that once you have completed those gusset decreases, you are in the home stretch! You are now onto the foot! I think one of my first recommendations is to follow the pattern exactly as written for that first sock. The heel is going to seem very strange at first, but I promise that if you follow it exactly it magically turns into a heel. One my first sock I was really nervous. The instructions seemed so strange! And then suddenly…poof heel! It was pretty cool, actually. I felt very accomplished. 😀 Also, be prepared to not have a well fitting sock at first. All patterns are written for what I will call the average foot, and goes off the sizings written by places like shoe companies and manufacturers. The best place to start for any knitwear sizing is the Craft Yarn Council. They have a great chart here. But, again, these are average sizes.
If you are making socks for someone with a high instep you have a couple options. When you work the heel flap, consider increasing it by a half inch to an inch. For example, if you measure your heel at about 4″ (mine was at 3″), then you subtract 20% from that, you will get 3.2″. I would knit the heel to 3″ instead of the patterns typical 2.5″. This will mean that you will also be picking up more stitches than the pattern suggests. You will pick up every single stitch along the side. So, if you worked 20 right side rows and 20 wrong side rows, you will be picking up 20 stitches on each side of the heel flap. This will also mean that you will do more Gusset decreases. However, this is where you can adjust for a higher arch, as well. If you have a taller foot at the arch, then do not decrease as much as the pattern suggests. Stop with about 4 more stitches remaining than they recommend. And easy way to calculate what you will need in terms of numbers of stitches, is to take the number you are given in the pattern for stitch gauge. It should be written as a number per four inches. Divide that number by 4, and that will give you the number of stitches per inch. If you feel like you need an extra inch, then leave about that many stitches not decreased. If you do not get a whole number, round up or down to the nearest inch. I’ll explain how to deal with that change in number for the toes in the next installment. 😀
I know this is a lot of information, but this really is the most complicated and adjustable part of the entire sock. Once you get this part figured out, you will be well ahead of the game! Be sure to check out the link above for heel construction options. But, as with anything, there is no number one thing that works for everyone. A lot of people adore the Fish Lips Kiss Heel, but a lot of people also find it doesn’t fit them well. Also, many of these heel variations are their own pattern, and are available for sale by the designers. They will also provide their own instructions on how to blend it into any sock, and how to properly take measurements to create the best fit possible.
I hope you are enjoying working on your new socks! The best thing is that hand knit socks can be worn all year round. If you find the legs too warm, then shorten that cuff down to only 1-2″ before you start the heel flap, and you have a wonderful ankle sock. If you want them to be more airy, then find a nice lace pattern for the leg and top of the foot, and you’ll get a wonderful breeze through those socks.
Hopefully I have given you enough information to work through that first heel. 😀 Stay tuned for the next edition, which will be all about those toes!
Thanks for reading!!