How to Turn a Heel on a Sock
How do you add a corner to a tube? Elizabeth Bagwell unravels the mystery of sock heels.
Turning the heel on a sock is a knitting Everest. Many people look at the problem and decide they don’t need the challenge while others try multiple different routes, just because it’s there. Unlike Everest, turning a sock heel is safe and surprisingly easy. You won’t need oxygen – although you might need a porter to help move your sock yarn collection, once you get hooked!
How do I knit a sock heel?
We’ve talked about sock heels before, including in my earlier post 4 ways to knit a sock heel. The best method for a beginner is to choose a reliable pattern (i.e. one from a professionally tech edited book or that has been knit dozens of times by other knitters) and follow the instructions to the letter. Read carefully and do exactly what the designer says. Your project will look like nothing on earth at various points, but it will all work out in the end.
On your second heel (or third, if you like your socks match) you can start tweaking the heel to get your perfect fit.
How do sock heels work?
A sock heel is a way of putting a corner (the heel) into a tube (the rest of the sock). The picture below is of a short row heel, which is one of the simplest kinds of heel. It’s the kind you’ll see on most factory-made socks.
Knit a tube until the line marked A. At this point, divide the stitches in half (A and C). Work back and forth on A making short rows. Short rows are quite literally rows where you stop short – you don’t knit all the way to the end before you turn and work back. This creates a wedge or triangle shape. When you work back, including the extra stitches on the row one by one, you create two wedges joined together which make a corner (between A and B). At B, you add all the stitches you left waiting at C and continue knitting your tube. It will now have a 3 dimensional bulge sticking out one side.
As you can see in this second picture, the direction the stitches lie changes as you knit the short row heel. Luckily, as knitting stretches, you don’t need any special tools to handle this corner and can continue knitting your tube as though nothing odd had happened.
OK, but what about heel flaps?
There’s more than one way to turn a corner in knitting. The heel flap is another popular method. In this case, you divide your stitches in half at A and B. Working only on the ‘A’ stitches, you knit back and forth to make a flat flap. You then do a short row or flattened short row heel to force the ‘A’ stitches around the corner.
Next, you pick up stitches along the flap edge (C). These will automatically be at a right angle to the stitches in the flap (see diagram below) and will line up neatly with A.
Because knitting stretches, you can now add all the stitches left at B back in, and continue knitting a tube. You’ll have made a 3D bulge on the side, but all the stitches from B and C will lie happily next to each other.
Of course, you’ve added quite a few stitches when you picked up, so you’ll usually decrease (line D) until you’ve got the number you started with (around E).
A heel flap gives you a bit more space around the heel than a basic short row, and many knitters find it more comfortable.
This final diagram shows you the direction the stitches lie, so you can easily see where the corner is. Because knit stitches are both flexible and 3 dimensional, they’re happy to lean round corners and lie at jaunty angles without affecting the integrity of the fabric.
It’s magic, really – making a corner in a more rigid material, such as wood or even woven cotton fabric, is a lot trickier. That’s one reason that commercial socks still use knitted fabric and a short row heel, even though the threads have got so fine that a hand knitter would despair.
Ready to turn a heel? Get started with our sock patterns and yarn now!
Last updated: June 29th, 2015.