Twice, I have tried and failed to make a pair of Darjeeling socks. Twice, the part that tripped me up was the heel. The first time, I wasn’t too unhappy about having to frog, since the yarn I was using (the delightfully yummy Araucania Ranco) apparently wasn’t the greatest for a pair of socks. The second time, I was really mad. At myself, at the pattern, at the yarn, at the time I had wasted working out the stitch counts to make the sock big enough for my ogre-sized feet.

The pattern itself isn’t hard. Every fourth row is a purl row, but it’s not difficult, just tedious, because purling is boring. The problem I was having was that it was ending up too long. After the second frogging, I put the pattern in the fuck-it pile and made a bunch of gift socks with Fleegle heels. And doing a bunch of socks with different yarns and needles for different sized feet, taught me how to use my row gauge to figure out where to start the increases.

A Fleegle heel is a package deal: it both creates the heel cup and decreases away the extra gusset stitches at the same time. That also makes the math relatively simple: you use your row gauge to calculate the length of your gusset increase sections. Mine is generally around 12 rows/inch with fingering weight yarn and 1.5 needles. In a 76 stitch sock, I’ll want to increase until I have 74 stitches on my heel needle. subtract 38 (original number of heel stitches) from 74, and the result is 36. I’ll have to increase 36 stitches. Since there are 2 increased stitches per round, that’s 18 increase rounds, and since I like to do my increases every third round rather than every other, multiply by 3 to figure out how many rows it will take to go from 36 to 74 (in this case, 54). Divide 54 by 12 to determine the  length of my gusset in inches (4.5) and then subtract that from the total foot length (10.75″ in my case). In this example, I will knit until the sock is 6.25″ long, and then begin increasing.

The Darjeeling heel* doesn’t multitask like Fleegle. I suppose you could just knit until the sole was the length of the foot, then begin the decreases, but  it would create a rather flat, boxy, and ill-fitting heel. By adding the short rows, it allows for the back of the sock to follow the rounded curve of the heel. And by doing the decreases in a vertical line rather than an ever-widening V, it provides a nice, flat canvas for whatever stitch pattern you’re using. If you’re like me and prefer to bring your stitch pattern down as far on the heel and toe as you can, it’s really kind of perfect.

The thing to remember (and the thing I wasn’t getting) is that those short rows also add length to the sock. So they also must be included in the calculation of length. In this case, there were 9 wrapped stitches, or 18 short rows. That’s an inch and a half that should be subtracted from the length calculations. And it’s precisely why both my attempts at the Darjeeling pattern itself were coming out entirely too long.

I used 9 because, basically, that’s what was in the pattern. The largest size of the pattern calls for a 70 stitch sock, and mine was 68, so I didn’t have to change much. In the pattern, the increases are between markers, and the number of stitches between the markers is equal to half the total number of stitches (which is also the number of stitches on the instep needle), so I just increased until I had 34 between the markers.

The gussets are added in the middle of the sole (as arch expansions) rather than at the outer edges, although I’m sure you could do it either way. However, adding the stitches in the middle requires the use of markers, and the markers provide an easier way to count your increase progress. They come in a lot of handy when you’re short rowing and decreasing.

Once the short rows are done, the decreasing begins. Because I had the 34 between the markers and that’s the number I needed to decrease back to, the marker provided the turning point. I knit to the marker, and ssk’d around it, so to speak: the first stitch of the ssk was before the marker, and the second stitch was after it. The same was true on the opposite side when I did a p2tog. After this point, the markers could be removed, because there was that helpful little gap we so often see in heel turning.

For someone who’s used to the ssk, k1, turn/p2tog, p1, turn of the Fleegle heel, it’s important to remember not to work an additional stitch after the decrease. This gives a nice, clean vertical line of decreases. After turning, the first stitch (the ssk or p2tog you just did) is slipped. As in the Fleegle, the final decreases are done after in-the-round knitting is resumed, although in this case, I only had to do one decrease. The final p2tog was abandoned and instead worked as a k2tog on the following round.

I’m really a fan of this heel, and I will probably be doing it on a lot more socks in the future. I’m not touting it as a time-saver, because the time you spend not picking up is instead dedicated to creating short rows. For someone like myself, though, who hates picking up stitches, it’s glorious. And as someone who also likes for the stitch pattern to extend as far down the heels and toes as possible, it provides a nice, square canvas. It’s a beautiful thing.

*The pattern’s page on Ravelry has it tagged as a Dutch heel. I have poked around a bit online, and I’m not really sure what determines the nationality of this particular heel. They all seemed to be constructed a different way. The least appealing of these consisted of a mini-flap about an inch wide, and picked up stitches all the way around. Not only does it look rather uncomfortable, with those pick-up ridges right in the middle of the sole, but picking up is exactly what I’m trying to avoid.