Happy Wanderer

A new experiment with short row heels.

Let's face it. Short row heels seem to work for me and my nearest and dearest, but I've avoided them in sock yarns because well, short row heels are so plebeian. They seem to be frowned upon: the poor cousins of proper heels as it were.

But proper heels - at least gusset and flap heels on toe-up socks - I have found difficult to fit (which is the exact problem attributed numerous times to short row heels). On more occasions than I care to recount I have ripped them out and added more stitches in an attempt to get them to fit properly, and then, even with more stitches and rows than usually recommended they can be on the tight side. And let's not even mention my one attempt at top down socks with heel and flap that had me with nowhere near enough room even though I had done extra rows on the flap in an attempt to rectify this problem.

But they do look good. Still, what is the point of a good looking sock if it can't be worn?

So ... and after DH had commented that he didn't know why I just didn't stick with what worked - ie short row heels (men are so practical when it comes to things like this, not understanding the subtle and non-subtle pressure to produce the most intricately executed heel that actually fits and wows all your contemporary knitters - who said fashion or vanity had to be comfortable?) - I decided to go back to short row heels. But I couldn't stop there. I had to try something different, didn't I? (Still that desire to 'wow' somebody.)

There are already variations of the short row heel out there such as the Fish Lips Heel and the Sweet Tomato Heel (see links at bottom of post). I like the way the Fish Lip Heel fits but not the look of it. I've yet to try the Sweet Tomato Heel but I'll be honest: while it looks great, I like to use all my stitches on the instep in the pattern, and keeping out a third of those stitches so that they can be absorbed into the heel later does not appeal. Ordinary short row heels fit just fine so I could just stop here and forget about experimenting and pulling my hair out and all that sort of thing, but of course I had to start wondering and that led to wanting to try adding a small gusset and a mini flap.

This is not a new idea. In fact, this is NOT my idea. I first saw it on Ravelry as gusset and mini flap (and also elsewhere, I think as the German heel, although I can't find the link now. However I think the Yo-Yo/Jo-Jo heel may be similar). While these ideas appear to be similar or even exactly the same as what I've 'discovered', I can't say that I was thrilled with their names. (I'm sure part of the reason I don't like Fish Lips Heel or Sweet Tomato Heel is due to the names).

So ... I changed the name. Since I'm the only person who will probably ever use this new name, and since, once having heard of the concept and doing it my way (even though it's possibly the exact same way the others are doing theirs - I just never took the time to read and find out before plunging in and experimenting), I think I may have a case to call it whatever I want.

Usually I'm not very good with names, but this heel suggested a number of possible options:

The Box Heel. (It's kind of boxy looking but I think there might already be one by this name out there although I can't seem to find it.)

The Pouch Heel. (At times, the heel reminds me of a pouch but it's not a very exciting name.)

The Alligator Heel. (Doesn't it remind you of an alligator's snout? Not that I've ever seen one. And being Australian, crocodile would be more appropriate, except that crocodiles have longer snouts.)

The Ugly Heel. (Because let's face it, when you're working this heel and looking at it as your sock grows, it's rather ugly. But the magic is in how it fits.

No, I needed a better name.

Hence the Happy Wanderer Heel or HWH was born.

Happy because it's easy and I don't need notes to follow it and it fits (hopefully);

and Wanderer because I can just wander along at my own pace not worrying about increasing for gussets until I am almost at the heel. And then I can get gussets, heel turn, and flap executed in record time. Besides, it's also quicker to work than a normal heel and flap and more interesting than a plain short row heel.

And if you have a template like this

determining where to start said gusset and heel becomes even easier. This is one of those great ideas I got from the Fish Lips Heel (well worth the small cost just for this) even though I used similar measurements on paper prior to this (I just never thought of making a permanent cardboard template for everyone I make socks for). As you can see I have added my notes and construction marks to make it work for whatever heel I'm knitting. (I am not going to give instructions on how to make this template as Sox Therapist has done all the hard work and should receive the credit. As stated earlier, the cost of Fish Lips Heel is worth it just to get this template and, who knows, you may even decide that you prefer the Fish Lips Heel to anything I am going to show you.)

Let's get down to details.

The Happy Wanderer Heel.

If you've worked a short row toe (and you should because I think they look great), this part is easy. On your template, or on paper, measure and mark the depth of your short row toe. You can just slip the toe over the heel part of your template and mark it. This line will be where you start your short row heel.

However, if you want to add a gusset, you'll need to start that earlier. How to find where that begins? Easy. I like to add one third to the sole stitches. So if you have 36 sole stitches, you will add 12 stitches. That's 6 stitches either side.

I like to increase every second row. So 6 stitches either side every second row means I will have to work twelve rows. (As you can see, the total number of stitches that will be increased is the total number of rows, so if you know you need to increase, say 8 stitches, then you will need 8 rows.)

This is where it pays to know your gauge/tension so that you can determine how far back from the heel line you need to start increasing. You'll probably find it's about 2cm or 3/4" so if you don't want to work out gauge/tension, you could just try starting your gusset that far back.

As to how and where to increase your gussets, it's up to you. I do it on either end of the instep stitches so that when I do the short row heel, these stitches are already out of the way. Once the short row heel is complete, I slip these gusset stitches to the sole needle and absorb them that way (but we're not up to that part yet so don't panic - I'll get to it). If you knit two up at a time, then you'll want to do your gusset increases on your sole needle. It's easier, believe me, than trying to move them from the front needle to the back needle when you have two socks on the go.

On this sample sock I increased the gusset stitches in reverse stocking stitch (stockinette) since I already had two stitches on the side of the instep in this pattern. I could have just as easily increased in straight stocking stitch and the stitches would have been hidden in the sole stitches, but I wanted to see if I could make a feature of the gusset stitches. One day I'd like to try garter stitch or even another stitch pattern such as Moss or Seed stitch for the gusset stitches. If you want them obvious, consider stitches that will show them off; if you want them hidden then do the gussets in the same stitch as the sole.

Once you've increased your gusset stitches, ending on your instep needles with a non-increase round (does that make sense?) you now need to do your short row heel on the original number of heel stitches. If you increased on your sole needle (which is perfectly acceptable to do) you may want to put markers before and after the original number of heel stitches to make it easier when it comes to working your short row heel. You do not want to include the gusset stitches in your short row heel. We'll worry about them later.

I work short rows on the original number of stitches (in this example, 36 stitches) down to about a third 'live' stitches (in this case, 12 stitches left unwrapped). A sock with 32 or 34 stitches I might short row to 10 or 12, depending on what I felt was needed. One third or 40% is usual practice.

I've mentioned before that I do my short row heel (and toe) differently because I was self taught. I wrap and turn as I go down to less live stitches, but then I wrap and turn as I come up again. No picking up wraps and knitting them, no yarn overs, no knitting stitches together, just more wrap and turns, which gives me a subtle seam along the turning points but no holes. If you want to do it my way, do so, but I'm sure you can also do it any other way that you prefer. I don't think the magic is in the way I wrap and turn.

Once all stitches but one have been wrapped and turned and the heel [almost] complete, it's time to absorb those extra stitches into the mini flap. This is when I move the gusset stitches from the instep needle to the sole needle.

Your first row will be a purl row because remember, we have one wrapped stitch not yet wrapped. If you don't understand this, or choose not to do this, that's okay. You'll just have a gusset stitch left over when you've completed the rest that will need to be absorbed into your first full round. No drama. It might even work better.

So first row which is the last row of your short row heel (seriously I am not trying to confuse you here) will be worked thus: slip one stitch purlwise, purl all but last heel st, purl 2 together (this will be the last heel stitch and one gusset stitch); turn.

Next row (right side row): slip one stitch knitwise, knit all sole stitches but one, ssk.

You will note that you will work a ssk or p2tog on one sole stitch and one gusset stitch. Continue until all gusset stitches have been worked (or all but one if you didn't follow the directions prior about working the first gusset stitch on the last heel row), ending with a right side row. Now, rather than turning, work across the instep stitches, i.e. work in the round.

Now continue on with your pattern in the round to your heart's desire. Unlike some other short row heels, there is no need to work an inch or so of plain knitting at the back of the heel because the flap fulfills this role, but you can if you like. In fact, you can do whatever you like. It's your sock and what makes a pattern great is the way you interpret it on your sock with your yarn and your particular number of stitches. If you need to decrease or increase a stitch or two to accommodate the pattern, I do it after the heel flap is complete.

And that's it. Easier in practice than this wordy post suggests. Really.

Now I've discovered how fabulous this heel is (and it seems to fit perfectly) there are a few more 'tweaks' for experimentation I'm keen to try.

One bonus with this heel has been in keeping records for future socks (or for when the day comes that it's time to replace a heel). I simply note down HWH 36/12/+12 which being interpreted means Happy Wanderer Heel, short rows worked on 36 stitches to 12 stitches with 12 gusset stitches.

But best of all, there have been absolutely no complaints from male sock recipients!


Another post coming soon:
In my most recent knitting experiment I did my gusset increases in the centre of the sole and when I came to knit the short row heel, I separated out the number of gusset stitches from either end of the sole needle (these, however, where not the actual increased stitches). I worked my short row heel on the stitches left in the middle of the needle but stopped when I had one wrapped stitch either end still not worked. I then began absorbing the gusset stitches at this point with ssk on the right side and p2tog on the wrong side, where the first stitch was the uncorked wrapped stitch. I then worked as per above instructions. Starting the mini flap before the short row heel was fully completed prevented the holes that can form on the side with short row heels when you begin working in the round again. So, win-win situation.


Sharlene said…
I cannot knit, so I am a little jealous of your nice socks. I especially like your grey and green sock.