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Afterthought Heels

September 4, 2011

If you’re a member of the Three Irish Girls Sock Yarnista club, you’ve probably received your August yarn and pattern by now – and it’s on the way if you haven’t! I’m pleased to share that this month’s pattern is my Coquihalla Socks. (For those of you not in the club, it will be available for purchase directly from Three Irish Girls soonly, and I will be sure to update you when it is!)

Coquihalla SocksA toe-up pattern designed to obscure the pooling that is so common with handpainted yarns, this is a quick knit.  When I first designed the pattern, I used my standard toe-up gusset-and-flap heel.  When it came time to knit the sample, however, I was on a road trip with Trisha – driving all day and into the night on the way back to her house.  Unfortunately, the older I’ve gotten, the worse my motion sickness has become, and I have trouble knitting anything in the car that requires me to look at it (or anything written) for too long.  My standard heel required way too much looking at my knitting to keep track of what I was doing, so I decided to place an afterthought heel instead. I’d been playing around with this new-to-me construction a fair amount lately and thought that this sock would be the perfect time to put it into action.  Luckily, I was right, and the Coquihalla Sock was born!

One of my original concerns about an afterthought heel centered around the lack of a gusset.  Now, there are ways around this (which will be revealed in another soon-to-be-published TAAT design!) , but for this sock I didn’t use any of those methods because the stretchy stitch pattern means that the sock fits incredibly well even without the addition of a gusset – so those of you who are nervous about the lack of a gusset, have no fear!

I did want to take this opportunity to share a few photos that might help those of you who are unfamiliar with the afterthought heel construction method.  It’s a really versatile technique which makes it really simple to replace the heel if it wears out or to knit the heel in a different color of yarn, too, and I highly recommend giving it a try.

The first step is to determine the placement of the heel. The pattern gives some guidance on this which will help you figure out just where to put the heel for your specific foot length – if you are knitting socks for someone else, the Craft Yarn Council Foot Size Chart will help you determine the recipient’s foot length. Once you have done that, you will place waste yarn as a placeholder for the heel. This looks something like this:

 The red yarn is the waste yarn, which acts as the placeholder.  Notice that the leg pattern begins immediately after the waste yarn is placed – it looks funny now, but once the heel is added in it will look normal.  Something to note is that once you have inserted the heel placeholder it will become very difficult to try the sock on while knitting – so do be sure to do that just before placing the heel.

After you have finished knitting the sock you will come back to the waste yarn to work the heel.  Ideally you will make sure you have saved some yarn for this, but if you prefer you can knit the sock in one color and the heel in another!

This next step can be done using several different methods, but I prefer to pick up stitches from the top and bottom of the waste yarn first. I use one long circular needle, although you can also do this using DPNs or two circulars, and pick up the specified number of stitches. Do note that due to the nature of knitted fabric, if you just pick up the loops that are “held” by the waste yarn, you will have one less loop on the top as on the bottom, but it is simple enough to fudge this and pick up one extra loop so that you have an even number of loops.

Once this step is done, remove the waste yarn!  I usually just unpick it stitch by stitch but if you are impatient you can just snip each strand and pull the remaining bits out of the knitted fabric. Don’t worry, your knitting won’t unravel as long as you have picked up each of the loops that were held by the waste yarn.

Now that you’ve done that, the final step is to start knitting the heel!  Just pick up your yarn end and start knitting across the live stitches on your needle.  You may have a small gap at either end, and depending on the pattern you might be instructed to pick up stitches in that gap, or just close it up when you are weaving your in ends. Either method works just fine.

So there you have it, folks – an afterthought heel in pictures! Hopefully this will help take the stress out of knitting your very own pair of Coquihalla Socks and trying out what may be a new-to-you heel construction!

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