Unbelievably, there are over dozens of ways to knit the heel of a sock: french (aka round), dutch (aka square), half-handkerchief (aka v-heel), gusset, fish lips, Fleegle, german short row, an afterthought, etc. Of course, the heel I found that fits best when I was knitting cuff-down socks is a heel that gets little to no attention for toe-up socks. My preferred heel is the french/round heel. I like this heel because it consists of a heel flap and gusset that can easily be adjusted from a flat instep to an extremely high instep. It’s also a narrow and snug heel, which is what everyone in my family has. In this blog post, I’ll talk a little about how to determine your instep and what alterations you can make, as well as cuff-down methods for knitting the french/round heel.
What I’ll be talking about today is the heel flap (royal blue), heel turn (light blue), and gusset/instep (purple). Depending on the size and shape of your instep, you can change the fit of your sock by simply adjusting the length of the heel flap, which in turn will change how the gusset fits.
Measuring Your Instep
I have a very flat arch and a narrow instep (measured at a diagonal around the heel). Ryan has a very high arch and, therefore, a wide instep. I need less room in this area of my sock, and he needs a lot more room. This is why I ended up using the heel flap/gusset design to easily adjust the fit for our odd feet.
Adjusting the Instep
The key information to concentrate on is the number of stitches of the gusset you need along the heel flap‘s edge. I do not include the stitches associated with the heel turn. Those are in addition to the gusset stitches that transition from the heel flap to the gusset. In the color image below, I’m talking about the number of yellow gusset stitches you have along the red heel flap, not the yellow stitches along the purple heel turn. This is the number of stitches you would pick up after knitting the heel flap and heel turn for cuff-down socks.
For example, let’s say your sock has 60 stitches around, 30 for the instep and 30 for the sole. If you have an average instep, then the number of stitches you’ll have at the gusset/heel flap transition is 15, in other words (60 ÷ 4). If you have a flat instep like me, I only have 14 stitches. For Ryan, who has a high instep, he has 16 stitches, though I think he could go up to 17 stitches easily.
Whatever your overall sock stitch count, divide that by 4, and you’ll have the “average” number of stitches you’ll need to pick after completing your heel flap. For a smaller foot that’s 56 stitches around, an average instep will need 14 stitches (56 ÷ 4 = 14). For larger feet with 64 stitches around, an average instep will need 16 stitches (64 ÷ 4 = 16). Then you can adjust up and down by a stitch depending on the shape of the foot. Flat feet will need less room and high arches will need more.
I will include each of the three instep sizes in my instructions for how to knit the french/round heel cuff-down. For reference, I use the magic loop method for knitting.
Average (small, large) instep for a sock with 60 stitches.
- dec – decrease
- inc – increase
- k – knit
- k2tog – knit 2 stitches together (1 stitch dec)
- m1L – make one left
- m1R – make one right
- m1P – make one purlwise
- p2tog – purl 2 stitches together (1 stitch dec)
- rnd(s) – round(s)
- RS – right side
- sl – slip stitch
- sm – slip marker
- ssk – slip 1 stitch knitwise, slip a second stitch knitwise, move these 2 stitches back to the left needle and k2tog tbl (1 stitch dec)
- st(s) – stitch(es)
- tbl – through the back loop
- WS – wrong side
You will work back and forth over only the second half of your stitches for the heel flap. Leave the other 30 stitches on hold. If using the magic loop method, you don’t need to do anything, just work back and forth on the second half of stitches. The 40″ circular needle is long enough to keep the stitches on hold without having to move the stitches to a new needle.
- Row 1 (WS): Sl1, purl to end.
- Row 2 (RS): [Sl1, k1] 15 times.
- Repeat these two rows 13 (12, 14) more times.
- Repeat Row 1
Typically, you pick up one stitch for every two rows worked on your heel flap. The slipped stitches at the beginning of each row during the heel flap has created a nice edge and will make picking up stitches easier.
You should have worked a total of 29 (27, 31) heel flap rows. The next step, the heel turn, will add an additional row so you’ll be able to pick up every other stitch for the gusset. Depending on how many stitches you need to pick up for your gusset (see discussion under Adjusting the Instep), multiply that number by 2 and subtract 1. That’s how many rows to work for the heel flap:
- For an average heel of 15 stitches: (15 × 2) – 1 = 30 – 1 = 29.
- For a smaller heel of 14 stitches: (14 × 2) – 1 = 28 – 1 = 27.
- For a higher heel of 16 stitches: (16 × 2) – 1 = 32 – 1 = 31.
Again, remember that you’ll add back 1 row during the heel turn, so the 29 rows you worked for an average heel will become 30, and then you can pick up 15 stitches easily.
The heel turn is the same no matter what size instep you are knitting. Continuing on the same needle as the heel flap:
- Row 1 (RS): Sl1 (knitwise), k17, k2tog, k1, turn; 1 st dec.
- Row 2 (WS): Sl1 (purlwise), p7, p2tog, p1, turn; 1 st dec.
- Row 3: Sl1 (knitwise), k8, k2tog, k1, turn; 1 st dec.
- Row 4: Sl1 (purlwise), p9, p2tog, p1, turn; 1 st dec.
- Row 5: Sl1 (knitwise), k10, k2tog, k1, turn; 1 st dec.
- Row 6: Sl1 (purlwise), p11, p2tog, p1, turn; 1 st dec.
- Row 7: Sl1 (knitwise), k12, k2tog, k1, turn; 1 st dec.
- Row 8: Sl1 (purlwise), p13, p2tog, p1, turn; 1 st dec.
- Row 9: Sl1 (knitwise), k14, k2tog, k1, turn; 1 st dec.
- Row 10: Sl1 (purlwise), p15, p2tog, p1, turn; 1 st dec.
- Row 11: Sl1 (knitwise), k16, k2tog, turn; 1 st dec.
- Row 12: Sl1 (purlwise), p16, p2tog, turn; 1 st dec.
- Row 13: Sl1 (knitwise), knit to end.
You should have a total of 18 stitches remaining on your heel flap / working needle and 30 stitches on hold for your instep. Now you should be ready to pick up stitches for the gusset.
Using your needle with the heel stitches, pick up and knit 15 (14, 16) stitches along the heel flap edge. You should have the correct number of slipped stitches along this edge. Pick up and knit one additional stitch to close the gap. Place a marker. Knit the first 15 stitches of the 30 stitches that have been sitting on hold. This is now Needle 1.
For Needle 2, knit the next 15 stitches. Place a marker. Pick up and knit one additional stitch to close the gap. Then pick up and knit 15 (14, 16) stitches along the heel flap edge. Knit 9 heel stitches. This is now Needle 2.
You should now have 40 (39, 41) stitches on each needle: 80 (78, 82) stitches total.
You just completed Rnd 1 of the gusset.
Work the Gusset
- Rnd 2 (Needle 1): Knit to 2 sts before marker, ssk, sm, knit to end; 1 st dec.
- Rnd 2 (Needle 2): Knit to marker, sm, k2tog, knit to end; 1 st dec.
- Rnd 3 (Needle 1): Knit to 3 sts before marker, k2tog, k1, sm, knit to end; 1 st dec.
- Rnd 3 (Needle 2): Knit to marker, sm, k1, ssk, knit to end; 1 st dec.
- Rnd 4 (Needles 1 & 2): Knit, slipping marker as encountered.
Repeat [Rnds 3 & 4] 8 (7, 9) more times until 30 stitches remain on both needles. You should have knit a total of 20 (18, 22) rounds.
Redistribute stitches and remove markers as encountered, placing 30 instep stitches (top of the foot) on the front needle and 30 sole stitches (bottom of the foot) on the back needle.
Knit to the desired length. For a size M11 / W13 foot, that means knit 50 (52, 48) rounds for a total of 70 rounds. Now you are ready to knit your toe. See my previous blog post about how I knit my toe and finish the sock.
This type of heel is not uncommon for cuff-down socks. There are many free sock patterns on Ravelry that feature this type of heel. However, there aren’t any patterns that provide instruction on adjusting the heel flap’s length to accommodate different types of insteps.
If you aren’t sure about the method, don’t be afraid to place a lifeline before starting your heel flap. That way, you can rip out the heel if it doesn’t work and easily start again. Happy knitting. My next blog post will show you how to do this heel for toe-up socks, which is far less common. I actually never found any free patterns on Ravelry that shows you how.
If you want instructions for knitting this heel with different sizes, look up Christy Houghton on Ravelry. She has a ton of vanilla sock patterns:
I realize I have not given you my stitch gauge for sock knitting at any point during this series. That’s for a good reason. I’ve seen such a large range of values in patterns that make me think what people report isn’t true. I would honestly love to see 36 sts / 4″ in stockinette. I’m not sure those numbers are even possible. The point of knitting socks is to have a tight gauge. You want the gauge as tight as you can get it. If your stitches are so tight, you won’t be able to knit them off the needle. The smaller the stitch, the more comfortable the sock. That’s why I ignore gauge on patterns; I know I need my socks to be 60 stitches. Any fewer stitches, the sock is a compression sock—any more stitches, the sock is too loose. Once you know how many stitches you need for your socks, you too can ignore gauge on patterns!