I have a pretty standard sock recipe. I still buy and download patterns because I am not clever enough to use stitch dictionaries or come up with clever stitch patterns on my own, but I rarely if ever follow the directions to them completely. (The last time I did, I ended up with a too-small sock, even though my gauge was slightly larger than the pattern called for). Basically, unless the construction is fairly unique (á la Skew), I take the stitch pattern, tweak it if necessary (usually by adding a stitch to a knit or purl column) so it will be big enough, then cast on the toes.
Occasionally I’ll start with the cuffs. It’s rare, and there’s usually no rhyme or reason to it (the exception being when I knit John Huston, the Tarnished Hero, because I didn’t feel like doing the math necessary to make sure the chevron would split the gusset in just the right place). If I do that, I knit a Strong heel, and I don’t do any specific measurements then, I just knit until it’s long enough to fit comfortably around my heel. (One reason I don’t like heel flaps is because I always have to make them longer than the pattern instructs, because I have big heels. Not that I mind going off-pattern, I just don’t much like knitting s1k1. And the longer the flap, the more stitches you have to pick up, and I hate picking up stitches.)
Because of the big-heels thing, I cannot knit a plain afterthought or a plain short-row heel. Even the “add a mini-gusset” thing doesn’t really help, because I have a high instep too. I pretty much stick to either a Fleegle or a variant of it that I think of as a Straight heel. I first encountered this heel in Cat Bordhi’s Darjeeling; it basically has you increase the gussets in the same manner as the Fleegle (Darjeeling has you increase in the middle of the sole, but you can put the increases on the sides, or even in the middle of the instep, as in The Architect of Rivendell). Then you add a few short rows in the middle of the sole stitches, work across the entire width of the heel, then decrease, turn, work across to the other end of the heel sts, decrease. The little semicircle of short rows makes the faux flap curve around the back of the heel, and using ssks on the RS and p2togs on the WS makes a nice neat line up the sides.
The Darjeeling pattern itself calls this a Dutch heel, but there doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus as to what a Dutch heel is. A superficial search through the Ravelry pattern database brings up these patterns:
- Gentleman’s Plain Winter Sock with Dutch Heel by Nancy Bush: this is what I thought a Dutch heel was, that narrow strip in the center
At any rate, the straight up-and-down sides of the heel lend themselves nicely to many of the patterns I want to make, and it allows me to extend the design down from the back of the leg almost all the way to the heel turn. I realize this is not a practical thing for everyone to do, but since I almost always wear backless shoes with my handknits, I don’t need reinforcement, and since I hate making heel flaps anyway, it works out nicely for me. Plus, those short rows give the heel the roominess it needs to prevent the instep stitches from distorting too much.
Every time I start a pair of socks, though, I have to sit there and dig around in my brain to figure out what I need to measure and what arithmetic I am supposed to use to figure out how far to knit before I start the gusset increases. Many patterns instruct to knit to X inches short of the heel before beginning gussets, but I don’t usually go by that measurement because I like to do my increases every three rounds rather than every two, plus I tend to knit fairly tight. I do the math because I’m fastidious, but I also feel like it makes my socks fit better.
I decided to sit and write out the formula for working a heel, just so I know where to find it. It’s like making a batch of cookies and knowing which drawer the measuring cups are in.A. Row gauge = _____ (ex: 12 per 1″) B. Total # of sts in sock = _____ (ex: 72) C. Number of gusset sts = _____ [(B ÷ 2) – 2] (ex: 34) D. Desired inc rate = every _____ rounds (ex: 3) E. # of inc rounds = _____ [C ÷ 2] (ex: 17) F. Total gusset rounds = _____ [E x D] (ex: 51) G. Total gusset length = _____” [F ÷ A] (ex: 4.25) Short Row section (about 1″) = _____ pairs of short rows [A ÷ 2] (ex: 6) H. Total foot length = _____ ” (ex: 10.75)
H – 1″ (short rows) – G = length to work to before beginning gusset increases
So for the example numbers, I would work to 5.5. To knit myself a sock with a gauge of 10 rows/inch, on a 68 st sock, increasing every 3 rounds, I would work to 4.95″ (although I’d probably stop a little before that, maybe 4.75″ to allow a little stretch room).
As far as bringing the pattern down, I still have to do this on a piece of graph or notebook paper. I just don’t quite have the mental capacity to do it in my head, and sometimes I can’t even remember where to start. So in the interest of spelling it out in plain language for ease of reference, this is how I take a stitch pattern down to the heel of a sock worked toe-up:
Determine # of sts you’re decreasing TO: _____ (let’s call this N). For a Fleegle heel, this will be ([B ÷ 2] +3). For a straight heel, ([B ÷ 2] +1).
Actual chart used for an actual pair of socks: