A few weeks ago I blogged about my spring folly, deviating from my tried-and-true sock recipe to try something new by doing an afterthought heel for the first time. While the fit of the heel was OK and I certainly wasn't disappointed with it, it could still be tweaked further. So here I am back again with another afterthought heel experiment.
For this pair I used Regia Cotton Tutti Frutti in the colorway Dragonfruit for the main color. I wear hand-knit wool socks around the year so I rarely have to resort to store-bought cotton socks. But what about hand-knit cotton socks? That's something new!
The Cotton Tutti Frutti was surprisingly enjoyable to knit with. Because of the high cotton content (over 70%), the yarn feels very soft and smooth to the touch. The remainder is synthetic fibers which make the yarn very stretchy and elastic. The relaxed yarn on the skein looks quite loosely plied and this made me wonder whether it would split easily. Quite the opposite: I didn't encounter any splitting and the yarn behaves much like wool when you knit it. If I didn't know any better, I'd guess it was merino!
I searched high and low to find the perfect accent color for these socks and then ended up stumbling over it in the most unlikeliest of places: my own stash. The bright apple green on the toes, heels, and cuffs is Sandnes Garn Sisu. A wool sock yarn was a great choice for the ribbing as cotton would most likely stretch out over time, making the socks droop.
And now for the beef of this blog post: how to knit afterthought heels that actually fit?
Improving Afterthought Heel Fit: Short-Row Mini Gusset
The widest part of your foot is the section that goes diagonally from the heel to ankle. This is also the part that places most strain on your sock and can make instep stitches opposite the heel feel uncomfortably tight.
To counteract that you need to add more room in the heel. The mini gusset is worked back and forth in short rows and creates a crescent-shaped wedge in the corner of the heel where the front and back stitches meet.
The instructions below refer to "front needle" and "back needle" — they are the two sides of the heel on each end of one circular needle. DS is double stitch in German short rows but you can substitute it with your favorite short-row method. For the placement of the afterthought heel I recommend following Louise Tilbrook's excellent instructions.
Start the mini gusset on the next row after working one full round with all stitches.
Row 1 (RS): K3 from front needle, turn and make DS.
Row 2 (WS): P to end of front needle, P3 from back needle, turn and make DS.
Row 3 (RS): K to 2 sts past previous DS on front needle, turn and make DS.
Row 4 (WS): P to 2 sts past previous DS on back needle, turn and make DS.
Repeat the last two rows twice more so that you've turned four times total on both front and back needles.
Next you'll work to the other end of the heel and do the same mini gusset on that side as well.
Row 5 (RS): K to end of front needle, K3 from back needle, turn and make DS.
Row 6 (WS): P to end of back needle, P3 from front needle, turn and make DS.
Row 7 (RS): K to 2 sts past previous DS on back needle, turn and make DS.
Row 8 (WS): P to 2 sts past previous DS front needle, turn and make DS.
Repeat the last two rows twice more. K to end of round and start heel decreases.
Improving Afterthought Heel Shape: Rounded Decreases
Traditionally the heel decreases are worked as in a classic wedge toe, decreasing one stitch on either end of each needle on every other round. If you remember my quandary from the previous pair, I found that heel type a little too pointy.
For smoother, rounder decreases, you need to switch from every-other-round decreases to every-round decreases for approximately the last half or last third of the decreases (experiment with what works best for your heel shape). Comparing the regular wedge toe/heel with this rounded, mini-gusseted heel you'll see that it's a little wider at the sides where the gussets are. It's also flatter and the last few decreases curve smoothly rather than coming to a pointy, squared-off end.
Here's how I worked the rounded decreases.
Decrease Round: (K1, SSK, K to last 3 sts on this side, K2tog, K1), repeat once more; 4 sts decreased.
Next round: K all sts.
Repeat the last two rounds until you've worked approx. half to two thirds of the decreases required. Then repeat the Decrease Round only until you've worked all the remaining decreases. To close up the heel, graft the remaining stitches together using Kitchener stitch.
After these improvements to fit and shape, the modified afterthought heel fits my feet perfectly. The rounded heel mimics the anatomy of the human foot and the mini gusset adds extra room so that the instep stitches are not pulled tight, yet the socks fit nice and snug. I may actually learn to like afterthought heels now.
On Ravelry: Do Dragons Even Eat Fruit?
Pattern: Toe-up vanilla socks on 64 sts and an improved afterthought heel
Needles: 2.5 mm circular needles
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