Like most of you, I am sure, I have been furiously knitting away on some holiday presents. One of these is a pair of really warm wool socks for my son who will be attending a football game soon. I am anticipating it being really cold, and his feet have grown considerably since I last knitted him a pair of socks. I have been making socks for over 20 years. They were the second knitted item I learned to make, and I love knitting them. They make for a great carry-around project for a busy mother on the go with teens like me.
I originally learned to make the traditional gusset heel, knitting from the top down, and was very happy doing so for many years. However, about five years ago, I learned Priscilla Gibson-Roberts short-row heel technique from her book Simple Socks: Plain and Fancy. She uses a type of yarn-over where you bring the yarn forward before yarning over when forming a knit stitch and where you bring it back before purling. Later, you decrease the yarn-overs, making sure to adjust the stitch mount when doing so, after the heel expansion is complete. The book is excellent and explains everything in great step-by-step detail. It took me a little bit of effort at first to understand exactly what she was explaining, but once I got it, I loved the result. Now I use this heel every time I knit a sock. The great thing is that the same exact short-row method can be used to form the toe when knitting toe-up socks. As a result, I have since converted to toe-up sock knitting! Lastly, her book not only describes this excellent method of knitting socks but also includes a detailed explanation of measuring feet for sock knitting and methods to turn a simple sock into a fancier sock.
Here are some pictures of two socks I have in progress using this method. The first one is the one for my son, which is a heavier sock, knit in DK weight yarn (Paton's Classic Wool, Dk, Superwash). Notice in the second photo how tidy the short-row heel on this sock looks. No holes!
The only detail I added to the sock is the three by one rib. The next pair is one I have been working on for my daughter. Hers got put on on the back burner since she won't be going to the game. Hers are made from a lighter weight sock yarn (Fortissima Colori Socka Color in Disco) using the Hermione's Everyday Socks free pattern on Ravelry.
You can really see how nice and tidy the heel increases look on the second photo above. I also like the way the stripes form at the heel around the increases. Lastly, the advantage I see to this type of heel construction over gussets is how easy they are to make once you get the hang of them. When I used to make gussets, I felt like I had to do them in a quiet corner so that I could focus on picking up the stitches well in order to avoid holes. They took concentration and weren't something I was likely to do on the road or sitting in a gym watching basketball/volleyball. However, the PGR short-row heels are easy as pie and take only a little concentration once you get the hang of them. The trick to really knowing how to do them without reading her instructions is to understand why she is doing what she is doing for each step. Once I understood this, it became intuitive.
As for the toe-up construction, I have mixed feelings. I have made this type of sock top-down and toe-up. When I made them top-down, I use the toe decrease method I always used for my gusset socks with a grafted close to the toe. I like this method a lot, and I don't mind the look of the toe or the way it feels as some people do. (I don't use PGR's method of closing the toe when knitting from the top-down since I don't think I would like the way it would feel under my foot.) As for toe-up construction, the advantages are that I don't have to cast on as many stitches since I use a crochet provisional cast-on that I learned from, you guessed it, wendyknits, or one I recently learned, Judy's Magic Cast-on (You-Tube Instruction for Judy's Magic Cast-on).
When using either of the provisional cast-on methods above, you only have to cast on half the number of stitches you would cast on for a top-down sock. You also don't need to worry about joining the round and possibly twisting your stitches. If you decide to use Judy's Magic Cast-on, though, I highly recommend using at least one circular needle along with your other needle (it can be a dpn) until you get the first couple of rows knitted. It really helps to be able to utilize the cable part of the needle to make it easier to enter the stitches at first. Judy Becker shows this on the video link above. Overall, I really like starting at the toe since it provides some interest right way and allows me to have the wearer try on the sock in progress.
The downside that I have noticed when knitting toe-up socks is the problem of how to bind-off the top. I normally use PGR's method in Simple Socks; I like the look of it. However, on my son's socks, I was worried about using her method since I had the three-by-one rib and her explanation made it sound like that might not work so well. I tried another "miraculous elastic bind off" that seemed to work well and stays on his leg well; however, I am not completely happy with the way it looks. See for yourself and let me know what you think.
For comparison, here is an older sock where I used PGR's bind off technique. I like the way it looks better, but notice it is a two-by-tow rib, not a three-by-one.
Well that is enough about socks! I need to stop writing about them and get back to knitting them so that they will make it under the Christmas tree and on a boy's feet!