How to knit short-row sock heels

Find out how to work short-row heels, when to use them, and how to adapt them for wider or narrower heels. Clare Devine is your guide.

Clare Devine Ananas socks

Take almost any pair of commercially produced socks from your sock drawer and it is likely that you’ll find a short-row heel.

This heel is created in the same way, regardless of whether you are knitting top-down or toe-up. It is knitted in two stages using short-row shaping.

Typically, it is worked using the wrap-and-turn method of creating short rows, but you can opt for your favourite short-row method. Shadow wraps and Japanese short rows are good options to try.

The theory

During the first stage you gradually reduce the width of the heel panel, resulting in a set of unworked stitches in the centre and a set of wrapped stitches on either side.

Short row sock heels 1

The second stage involves widening the heel panel, working longer short rows each time to complete the heel.

Short row sock heels 2

The sock is then joined for working in the round again, and you are ready for the work on the leg or foot to be completed. In the picture below, a stocking stitch short-row heel has been used.

Stocking stitch short row heel

The two main drawbacks of the short-row heel are linked to fit and durability. The lack of a gusset means this is not always the best option for people whose feet have a high instep. You can adjust the fit, but you certainly do not have as much flexibility as you would with a heel flap. The short-row heel is also harder to reinforce, leaving it slightly lagging in the durability stakes.

Drawbacks aside, this is an excellent heel type to use if you are working with a self-striping yarn, as there will be minimal disruption to the colour pattern.

A fabulous variation of this heel is worked in garter stitch. The squishy texture of garter stitch creates a wonderfully comfortable heel. The added bonus with this option is easier short rows. If you are working a standard wrap-and- turn, you do not need to pick up the wraps when you knit back as the garter stitch will mask them.

Garter stitch short row heel

One thing to bear in mind is that garter rows tend to be more condensed than stocking stitch rows, and therefore you will get a slightly shallower heel. This can be countered by working a longer, narrower heel.

The details

The sample stitch counts given here are based on a cast-on stitch count of 56 (64:72) sts.

Narrowing the heel

Row 1 (RS) K to last st, w&t.
Row 2 (WS) P to last st, w&t.
Row 3 K to stitch before the first wrapped st you come to, w&t.
Row 4 P to stitch before the first wrapped st you come to, w&t.
Rep rows 3 and 4 until 9 (10:12) sts are wrapped on either side of 10 (12:12) unwrapped centre sts.

Widening the heel

Row 1 (RS) Sl 1, K to first wrapped st, work wrap and next st together, w&t (this stitch will now have two wraps).
Row 2 (WS) Sl 1, P to first wrapped st, work wrap and next st together, w&t (this stitch will now have two wraps).
Row 3 Sl 1, K to next wrapped st, work both wraps and next st together, w&t (this stitch will now have two wraps).
Row 4 Sl 1, P to next wrapped st, work both wrap and next st together, w&t (this stitch will now have two wraps).
Rep rows 3 and 4 until you have one wrapped on either side.
Next row Sl 1, K to last wrapped st, work wrap and next st together, pm; do not turn work: this will be the start of your new rnd.
Next rnd Knit across instep, work wrap and st together, K to end of rnd.

Phalanges sock by Clare Devine
A short-row stocking stitch heel is used on ‘Phalanges’ by Clare Devine.

Tips

  • To work a garter stitch heel, simply knit every row and don’t worry about picking up those wraps.
  • You can adjust the width of your heel by adjusting the number of short rows you work. When changing the numbers, always make sure your unwrapped centre stitches plus all wrapped side stitches equal the total number of heel stitches.

Main image: Ananas socks by Clare Devine from The Knitter issue 86.

Want to try another sock heel method? Take a look at our afterthought heels tutorial.

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