Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tutorial: Afterthought heel on self-striping sock

Apologies up front: I’ve never posted detailed instructions for something like this online, and I’m not sure how much is too much.  I took both still photos and video.  You should be able to follow along using just words and photos – the videos show more detail.  Hope this is useful to someone!IMG_8518So, when is an afterthought heel appropriate? My favorite time to employ one is when I’m knitting with self-striping yarn and want to preserve the stripe sequence down the top of the sock (as with Felici yarn, which you know I love!).  The afterthought heel would be attractive when using a contrasting yarn for heel, toe, and/or cuff.  It could be a solution to a sock yarn shortage, as well.

My afterthought heel uses a line of waste yarn.  Recently the Yarn Harlot showed a way to insert an afterthought heel without having inserted waste yarn – I haven’t tried that!

Here is my shorthand pattern for a plain vanilla sock with afterthought heel, sized to fit a woman:

My gauge: 8 st/in and 11 rounds/in in stockinette on 2.0 mm (US 0) needles (I use 2 circular needles)

CO 64. *K2 P2* rib for 15 rounds. Work in stockinette for 68 rounds. Insert waste yarn (over 32 stitches). Continue in stockinette for 63 more rounds, then begin toe.

Round 1: K1, SSK, K to last 3 stitches, K2tog, K1 on top needle – repeat for other needle (4 stitches decreased on round)
Round 2: K
Repeat rounds 1-2 until 28 stitches remain, then repeat round 1 only until 8 stitches remain (4 on each needle).  Break yarn and pull through 8 stitches.

Heel: pick up stitches around waste yarn and remove waste yarn (64 stitches).  Pick up extra stitches in gusset to suit you (I show 2 options below).  Decrease as for toe decrease rounds 1-2 until 24 stitches remain (12 on each needle).  Kitchener stitch.

Now let’s break it down…

Before you cast on, consider whether you would like your socks to match exactly.  If you want them to match, you need to begin in a way that is replicable when it’s time to begin the second sock.  I pull yarn out of the ball until I see the first color change, and I cut the yarn there.  Then I continue to pull until the color changes again and hold the yarn at the color change.  I fold the yarn so that I can find the exact middle of one color, and put my slip knot at that midpoint.  Then I cast on.  There are lots of other ways you could do this, but I tend to use this one because it doesn’t require a tape measure.  It works well when color changes are long.

When you think your cuff/leg is long enough, knit waste yarn onto one half of the total number of stitches (for me, this is 32).  Use a contrasting color so that it is easy to see.  When I knit with wide stripes, I like to stop in the middle of a stripe (later, I will begin knitting the heel in that same color – just my personal preference!). (See Video – Afterthought Heel – step 1.)IMG_8392 Then keep knitting with the main color.  (See Video – Afterthought Heel – step 2 and Video – Afterthought Heel – step 3.)  The waste yarn is easier to see after you’ve gotten past it a bit:IMG_8473 Put your favorite toe on the sock.  How do you know when it’s time to begin the toe?  I started my toe decrease about 5.5” past the waste yarn, but this will vary by length of foot.  I’m a little on the picky side about sock fit, so when I’m using a yarn for the first time, I will stop and put in the afterthought heel BEFORE finishing the toe, so that I can try the sock on and measure the foot length precisely.  Also, an afterthought heel takes up fewer stitches and less fabric than a flap-style heel, so take this into account if you are using another sock as a guide.  [Also note that the toe in the video is a little pointier than the one I described in the pattern above – I improved it later…]

Now you have a tube sock with waste yarn in the middle of half of it:IMG_8467It’s time to get the waste yarn OUT and your needles back IN.  Look closely at the line of waste yarn – it’s just a line of knit stitches.  Make sure you can see the Vs (if your Vs are upside down, you might need to flip the sock – hold it in the direction you originally knit it).  Now look at the row of knitting just above (and below) the waste yarn and see the Vs.  Pick up the right leg of each V stitch on that row (it helps to use a pointy needle if you have one).  You should get 32.  (See Video – Afterthought Heel – step 4.) IMG_8476 IMG_8477 All done!IMG_8480If you picked up the left leg of the V instead of the right leg, don’t fret.  Your stitch will be twisted, but this is easily corrected – either reposition the stitch on the needle when you come to it, or knit it through the back loop when you come to it.

Now it’s time to remove the waste yarn.  Start at one end and pick it out with whatever is handy (like a tapestry needle or a spare knitting needle). Keep an eye on the loops on the needle cable as you release the pink yarn to make sure you aren’t losing a stitch.  A gap will open up as you go (see Video – Afterthought Heel – step 5): IMG_8482 When the waste yarn has been completely removed, it should look like this:IMG_8484 Now you are ready to begin knitting the heel.

If you want your socks to match, take care that you begin working with your heel yarn in a replicable way.  Here is what I do: I like the heel to begin in the same color as the stripe out of which it emerges (remember, I purposely made my heel gap fall in the middle of a stripe).  I pull yarn out of the ball until I find the spot where one color green changes into the green of the heel gap, and I cut it at the color change.  Then I measure from the end so that my yarn tail is the length of the leg of the sock (it could be any length, but the sock leg is a handy measuring device) and begin knitting there.

If you simply knit the 64 stitches that you have, you would immediately see some gaps in the gusset area (where the needle changes are).  I like to pick up some extra stitches there to help minimize this.  I’ll show two ways to do this and you can decide which you like best:

Option A: Position your needle so that you’re ready to knit.  Pick up one stitch in the gap between the needles and knit it together with the first loop on your needle.  Do the same thing with the second needle (you’ll pick up a stitch in the other gap between the two needles).  Each needle will still have 32 stitches on it when you’re done with this round.  Begin the regular heel decrease. (See Video – Afterthought Heel – step 6a and Video – Afterthought Heel – step 7a.)

Note about Option A: I still get a small gusset gap when I use this method.  You can sew it tighter when you’re weaving in ends.  One of the two gusset gaps is where you began knitting the heel, so you can use the tail to sew it closed.  You’ll have to use a fresh scrap of yarn to get the one on the other side, though.  Sometimes I think my gusset area looks a bit pucker-y when I do this, though I do not find that this affects fit at all.  Here is a close up of a gusset closed with this technique:IMG_8521

Option B: In this version, you pick up TWO stitches in each gap between the needles, and criss-cross them before beginning to knit in the round (as you do when joining the cast-on round of stitches when knitting socks on two circulars).  I first saw this idea on YouTube – stell66 offers 3 videos showing how she knits an afterthought heel.  One of the two needle gaps will be more pronounced (“gappier” is the word I use in the video) than the other – begin your heel here so that you can use the tail to tighten it up when you weave in the ends.  Since you’re picking up four stitches, your first round has 68 stitches in all.  I knit that first round straight before beginning the every-other-round decreases.(See Video – Afterthought Heel – step 6b and Video – Afterthought Heel – step 7b.)

Note about Option B: I had less noticeable gaps when using this technique, and a less pucker-y gusset area.  I used the tail end to tighten up the larger gap, and I didn’t bother with the other one at all.  The finished gusset shows the criss-crossed stitches, no doubt about it.  But really, how many people look closely at the gusset of your socks while you’re wearing them?  I think I’ll do my next afterthought heel like this again.  Here is a close up of a gusset closed with this technique:IMG_8523Decrease until you have 24 stitches total (12 on each needle) and graft them with Kitchener stitch.  For a narrower heel, decrease more before grafting; for a wider heel, decrease less before grafting.

All done!  Everything matches:IMG_8527 I feel like it took as long to put this post together as it does to knit a sock.  Truly, this is a highly portable project that will fly off your needles.


  1. This post wins the Goldilocks award - not too much, not too little - it's just right and so very, very helpful! With all your pictures, videos, helpful hints, notes and options, I don't have a single remaining excuse for not knitting striped socks. I'm off to order some Felici right now to try the afterthought heel. THANK YOU!!

  2. This is very exciting AND timely as I just started a new sock that will have a complimentary cuff, heel, and toe. I am ON this, sista! I'm a little scared, but feel emboldened by your fabulous post.

  3. Thanks for posting this. I haven't made a sock since last July. I think I will start one today! I have never done an afterthought heel. It scares me a little! LOL! What is your name on Ravelry? I'm MikaG

  4. Wonderful! Thank you so much for taking the time to put these videos together and share them. Now I know exactly how this works. Perfect!

  5. Thanks, everyone!

    I may just have to begin ANOTHER Felici sock again right away... I'm feeling the itch. :)

  6. I first saw the afterthought heel from Stella. The one you mentioned in your post. She actually did that post for me. I love it. Yours, however is even more detailed and easier to see. I love that you not only have a written tutorial, but the videos as well. Now all I need to do is find someone who teaches the "Kitchener" stitch and I think I can complete my first set of socks. Thanks so MUCH. I have pinned this on my pinterest site as well.

  7. I just found this post through an Internet search and I am so glad I did! I've done afterthought heels before, so the technique was not new, but where you helped was in suggesting that I knit the heel before going on to the toe! Honestly, that had never occurred to me! I am far enough past the waste yarn that I can knit in the heel and now get the perfect toe length when the time comes! Thank you! A simple suggestion, but the solution I was looking for tonight! Blessings! Erin

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