A few weeks ago someone on the Ravelry Techniques forum asked whether it makes more sense to do short-row mini gussets for afterthought heels going from longest to shortest or shortest to longest short row. I was intrigued! I've always done my mini gussets starting with the shortest short rows first. It had never even occurred to me that they could be done the other way around.
So which one should you use? Does one way fit better than the other? Is there any difference between the two approaches? And what are short-row mini gussets anyway? Let's find out!
Short-row Mini Gussets: What, When, and Why?
Short-row mini gussets are a way to improve the fit of afterthought or peasant/forethought heels.
Afterthought heels are a popular method for constructing sock heels after the rest of the sock has been completed. This technique involves knitting a tube for the sock leg and foot, and either knitting in waste yarn that's removed in the end (forethought a.k.a. peasant heel) or unraveling half a round's worth of stitches (true afterthought heel), creating an opening where the heel will be knitted. While this type of heel construction is quite easy and convenient to do, it can sometimes lack in fit and shaping.
The widest part of the foot is the section that goes diagonally from the back of heel to the front of the ankle, also called the heel diagonal. On a sock with a gusset-and-flap heel construction, heel diagonal is not an issue. This is precisely what gusset increases are for: to add extra stitches to the circumference of the sock at the ankle to accommodate for the heel diagonal.
But by design, an afterthought or forethought heel (or a short-row heel, for that matter) has the same number of rows going in the vertical, horizontal, and diagonal directions. With this heel construction, the heel diagonal is the part of the foot that places most strain on the sock heel and can make instep stitches on the front of the ankle stretch out and feel uncomfortably tight, especially if you have high arches.
To counteract the tightness on top of the ankle, you need more room for the heel. Here's where short-row mini gussets come in. They are crescent- or triangle-shaped wedges of extra fabric that are worked back and forth in the corner of the heel where the instep and back leg stitches meet. They can be used to fill in the missing rows on the diagonal, reducing the strain on the instep stitches and making a better-fitting heel. They can also alleviate the stretch on the stitches that are picked up where the instep and back leg meet, preventing (or at least diminishing) holes that tend to form in the corner of the heel.
The instructions below for the two ways to knit mini gussets are written using German short rows but you can substitute them with any other short-row method. I've trialed-and-errored with different numbers of stitches over the years and have found out that, for my feet, I prefer the fit when the shortest short rows are made 4 stitches in from the corner of the heel and with 4 short-row turns on either side of the heel. Feel free to experiment with your own numbers.
Shortest Short Rows First
This is my go-to method for knitting short-row mini gussets. It creates a triangle-shaped patch of fabric with a rounded corner in which the shortest short rows are placed in the tip of the corner and further rows then extend outwards as more and more heel stitches are incorporated into the work.
Here's how to work them:
The mini-gussets start after picking up heel stitches and working one round even. Remember to work each DS through both legs as you encounter them.
Row 1 (RS): K4, turn and make double stitch (DS).
Row 2 (WS): P to corner, P4, turn and make DS.
Row 3 (RS): K to corner, K to 2 sts past previous DS, turn and make DS.
Row 4 (WS): P to corner, P to 2 sts past previous DS, turn and make DS.
Repeat the last two rows twice more so that you have 4 double stitches on both sides of the corner of the heel. The last DSs are made 10 sts in from the corner.
Knit to the other corner, then repeat once more from Row 1 for the other side, and continue on with the rest of the heel. I prefer the fit of a rounded heel instead of a common wedge heel.
Longest Short Rows First
For experimentation purposes I worked the other side of the heel in the opposite direction, starting with the longest short rows first. This also creates a triangle in the corner of the heel but the shape is slightly different. Whereas the shortest-to-longest mini gusset creates an acute or right angle in the corner, with this approach the angle tends to open up more. In geometry this is known as an obtuse triangle, that is, the angle is more than 90 degrees.
Again, after picking up heel stitches and working one round even, here's how you knit the mini gusset:
Row 1 (RS): K10, turn and make double stitch (DS).
Row 2 (WS): P to corner, P10, turn and make DS.
Row 3 (RS): K to corner, K to 1 st before last DS, turn and make DS.
Row 4 (WS): P to corner, P to 1 st before last DS, turn and make DS.
Repeat the last two rows twice more so that you have 4 double stitches on both sides of the corner of the heel. The last DSs are now made 4 sts in from the corner.
Knit to the opposite corner (working each DS through both legs as you encounter them), repeat once more from Row 1 for the other side, then work the rest of the heel.
Which Way Is Better?
So far so same: both methods produce a mini gusset that adds fabric to the corner of the heel, giving extra room for the heel diagonal and alleviating the strain on the instep stitches on top of the ankle. But aside from creating acute versus obtuse triangles, is there a difference in terms of fit between the two ways to knit a short-row mini gusset? Turns out there is.
Looking at the profile of the heel folded over itself, the first approach that goes from shortest to longest short rows (on the left) creates a smooth, rounded transition from mini gusset to heel decreases.
When the sock is laid flat, the corner of the heel also lies flat.
However, the second approach that starts with the longest short rows (on the right) creates a more abrupt change, starting first with a straight edge, then going into a 45-degree angle where the decreases start. When the sock is laid flat (below), this abrupt change results in a bulging bit of fabric that protrudes out of the side of the heel. When worn, the bulge almost disappears, especially if worn on the outside of the foot. Almost.
And for that reason I'll stick to my tried-and-true method of doing mini gussets starting with the shortest short rows first. I actually found that little bulge so annoying that, after taking photos for this blog post, I ripped out the heel and re-knit it.
Conceptually, it makes more sense to fill in the corner of the heel from the center out and the fit test confirms that. It's the same idea as with doing short rows in round yokes versus raglans: be mindful of the fit issue you're facing, what causes it, and choose the right way to fix it. Don't try to fit a square peg into a round hole, or in this case, an upside-down triangle peg into a right-side-up triangle hole.
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