Adapting Short Row Heels (A Knitting Post)

(Please note: if you are not a knitter or have put down your needles for the Northern summer, you probably won't be interested in this post. Its purpose is to share my experiments and failures and to give me access to my notes in the future when I've forgotten what I've done and how I felt about the various steps. It's also likely to be picture heavy, although pictures will probably be poor quality because it's hard to photograph your feet in socks, especially at this time of the year when legs are not usually on display and therefore not at their [ahem] best.)

With two different socks on the go, and wanting a simple heel that fits my foot, I've been looking at short row heels. Amongst sock aficionados I'm not sure that short row heels rank very highly which shouldn't bother me, but it does. I started with short row heels and love their simplicity but have ventured into other types when the pattern calls for it or when I've wanted to be seen to be doing what everyone else does. However the typical flap and gusset heel much loved by those with high arches ends up swimming around my ankle. It would appear that I do not have a high arch which is supposedly the sign of good breeding (or if I do, it's offset by my narrow heel). Sigh. Obviously to continue to fool people I need to keep my feet well hidden.

But back to the purpose of this post. The general consensus is that short row heels are not roomy enough. They work for me extremely well on socks knit in the heavier weight yarns but I wasn't sure how they would work on sock weight yarns. Ribbing on smaller needles works well with heavier yarns, too, but I've found that with sock yarns that there's no way I can get the sock over my foot if I go down a size in needles. In fact, I often add a few stitches to the ribbing and have to cast off e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y loosely when using sock weight yarns if I want to be able to get the sock on my foot. So just because something works in one yarn weight doesn't necessarily mean it will work in another (at least for me).

Thus began a search on the internet which led me to this post. Out of all the options I read for making short row heels roomier, I liked TessM's theory that short rowing down, then partway up, then down again would solve the problem.

And so I decided to experiment. If it didn't work, I could rip it out. No biggie. I've decided to call it The Up Down Short Row Heel until I think of a better name. (Suggestions, anyone?) The heel looks funny when the sock is being worked and not being worn, but, believe me, it fits just fine - at least at this stage. Perhaps later socks will require some tweaking - I think there is some room for improvement, especially to stop that 'extra pocket' - but for now I'd like to share what I've done. (Again, this is not my original idea, having gleaned it from the afore mentioned post, but I could not find any posts on her blog where she actually tried and tested her hypothesis.)

The Up Down Short Row Heel

(The following instructions assume some knowledge of short row heels/toes. For some good tutorials go here, here, and here.)

1. Determine the number of stitches that the heel will be worked over. Short row heels are usually worked on half the total number of stitches (i.e. the sole stitches). For my sock, there were 60 stitches, so I worked the heel on 30.

2. Beginning when sock is approximately 2.5" shorter than desired length, work short rows until half the heel stitches have been worked, ending with a purl row. You may be one stitch above or below the half way mark to ensure equal unworked stitches either end. I worked until there were 16 stitches still 'live'.

3. Work short rows back up until approximately two thirds of all stitches have been worked, ending with a purl row. I worked until there were 22 stitches (yes, I went a little higher than 20 because I wanted more rows than there would have been had I only worked from 16 stitches to 20).

4. Work short rows back down until one third or 0.4 of the heels stitches are left (I prefer 0.4 but one third is acceptable too), ending with a purl row. For me, this was 12 stitches.

5. Work short rows until all stitches have been worked (original number of heel stitches).

The Up Down Heel and a picture of how the pattern is turning out. Isn't it pretty?
As I said, this heel worked just fine, but I wasn't done with experimenting. I had another sock on needles after all and so The Get Down Short Row Heel where I short rowed down and then down again was born. 

The Get Down Short Row Heel

(Please note that I have just realised this is very similar to this method used by TessM although I don't think she does a round on the instep stitches partway through. I can't be sure if I saw this post before or after I did my experiment - I read so many articles on short row heels - but obviously I cannot take credit for this method.)

What I did;

1. Three inches (3") less than the finished length of my sock I began increasing one stitch each end of the sole stitches every other row. I did this three times which gave me six stitches - approximately one fifth (0.2%) of the stitches for the sole or ten percent (0.1%) of my total number of stitches. For this example I had 32 stitches and I increased to 38.

2. I worked one row across the instep and then began short rows on the sole/heel stitches. I short rowed down to 12 stitches which was roughly one third of the stitches on the heel (or approximately 0.4 of the original number of stitches - see, I said I liked using 0.4!), ending with a purl row.

3. I turned, and knit across the heel stitches (about two thirds since I had just ended with 12 stitches 'live') and then across the instep stitches.

4. When I reached the beginning of the heel stitches I began short rowing down again from the original number of heel stitches after I'd increased (in this example from 38).

5. I stopped when I had 14 stitches 'live' because I tried the sock on and thought that was enough. I could have done possibly a few short rows less.

6. I turned the work, knit across the 'live' stitches, and then decreased three stitches evenly over the wrapped stitches. I worked across the instep stitches and then when I reached the heel, decreased three stitches evenly across the wrapped stitches at the beginning of the row. I did this to quickly get rid of the six stitches I had originally increased to begin the heel and because I thought I could hide them better by knitting two wrapped stitches together (however see my note below where I explain that I don't pick up the wrap and knit it with the wrapped stitch - if you do this method you might want to find another way to decrease the stitches to avoid knitting four together).

7. I then began knitting in the round, doing a few more rounds of stocking stitch on the heel for (a) preference (I like additional stocking stitch above my heel so that I'm not trying to scrunch cables into the heel of my shoes), and (b) to get to a place in the pattern where I could start it on the back of the leg in a pleasing manner.


The pink threads are 'lifelines' in case I wanted to undo what I'd knitted (which I did - I just decided to undo it after I'd already removed the lifelines. Sigh). They also show the wedges that formed from short rowing down twice. 
Which brings me to the last heel: The Short Row and Gusset Heel. Sometimes the simple solutions are the best: keep the short rows but combine them with a mini gusset. Approximately 10% of the original number of stitches are increased either side of the needle holding the sole stitches, and then short rows down and up are worked over the original number of sole stitches. Finally the gusset stitches are decreased.

The Short Row and Gusset Heel

(Again, I cannot take credit for this method. Although I did not find any written instructions, from comments on blogs and forums as I was searching, I am certain this is a method used by many lovers of short row heels.)

What I did:

1. Approximately 3" short of the length of the foot, I began increasing one stitch either end of the sole stitches every alternate row until I had increased a total of ten stitches (5 each side, which was just shy of 20% of the total which was 66 - 34 stitches on the instep and 32 on the sole). As mentioned above, I have a narrow heel and this was enough of a gusset. The most accurate way to determine how many stitches are required would be to measure around the foot and heel and, using your gauge (unlike me, I'm sure you did a gauge swatch), calculate how many additional stitches you require. If you can't be bothered, ten percent either side of the sole stitches seems to be a general guideline.

2. I then began the short rows on the original number of sole stitches which had been 32. I had to knit the first five stitches the first time (the stitches I increased) but not subsequent times. Hence, I started with knit 36, wrap next stitch (remaining 5 stitches were increase stitches on other end), turn, purl 30, wrap and turn, knit 29, purl 28, etc until I reached purl 12. Then I turned and went back up until purl 30, wrap and turn and knit to the end.

3. I knit across the instep stitches and continued to work in the round, decreasing one stitch each end of the heel stitches every second row until 32 stitches remained on the needle holding what was now the stitches for the back of the leg (since we've 'turned the corner' and can no longer call them sole stitches).

4. I began the pattern for the back of the leg six rounds after all the decreases had been worked. This again is a matter of preference and the pattern could have been started much earlier, even before the decreases had been finished if these stitches had not been included in the pattern (unless of course you needed an extra stitch or two which can sometimes happen with stitch patterns).

Yes, it looks a little weird and chunky but I think this is because I chose to do all that stocking stitch before beginning the pattern on the back of the leg. I could also have done a plain ribbing instead of the stocking stitch above the heel and before commencing the cable pattern. However I like the way the sock fits and feels and that's all that counts!

Advantages and Disadvantages

All three methods have their advantages and disadvantages, although currently I'm leaning toward the last method. For the moment I'm all done with experimenting (i.e. no sock yarn or needles left to cast on another sock - and, yes, I do have to do the heels exactly the same on both socks in a pair. There are some things that I just cannot live with.) I've not split the list into good and bad because what one considers an advantage another may not.

The Up Down Heel
Looks a little funny, especially when working it;
Quick and easy to work;
Maths is easy to calculate;
I like the way the wraps cause darts to form;
Has an extra 'pocket' which could be seen to be unattractive (your heel fills it out when it's on);
May need tweaking to fit individual feet.

The Get Down Heel
Easy to work but takes longer than The Up Down Heel;
A small gusset is made (although this could possibly be eliminated);
Sock hugs foot in a comfortable manner when the sock is worn;
Heel looks sloppy when sock not on (is there a heel there or not?);
Tendency for holes to form between instep and back of leg stitches.
(Despite finding it comfortable, I ended up undoing this heel and experimenting again.)

The Short Row and Gusset Heel
Easy and quick to work;
Takes less yarn than The Get Down Heel (and possibly than The Up Down Heel as well but I didn't put it to the test);
Gusset can be made to fit individual feet by measuring around the foot and heel and determining the number of stitches required based on gauge;
My gusset was a little messy but this was because I tried a different increase method. I'll be going back to my tried and true 'knit front and back' next time;
I did experiment with a slip stitch pattern for above the heel but was not successful (may have been my technique because in theory I think it should work);
It's still a short row heel and if you don't like short row heels you're probably not going to like this one;
Looks and feels like a heel;
Fits me comfortably but everyone is different.

A word about wrapped stitches:

I taught myself to wrap and turn without any video tutorial. Consequently, it was only recently that I learnt I was doing it wrong. Going down is fine, but apparently coming back up I am meant to 'hide' the wraps by picking them up and knitting them together with the stitch they wrap. I don't. I let them lie in peace and actually like the 'seam' they create on the outside of the sock (um, wouldn't knitting wrap and stitch together create a ridge on the inside of the sock where it could rub?). I have no intention of changing the way I do wrap and turn in the near future. Socks I made a number of years ago have required darning but never at the wrap and turn junctions (no, usually on the soles or heels when dearly beloved think they can deal out the same rough treatment to hand knitted socks that they do to commercial ones) so I don't think my method affects the integrity of the sock. Besides, they are my socks and I think I can do them the way I like.

The Get Down Heel and The Up Down Heel.


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