The first time I knitted socks (for my boyfriend, many decades ago), I barely knew how to knit in the round. I had never heard of a short row. So when it came time to shape the heel, I could hardly believe what I was reading. Knit partway across, then turn and go back? And then do it again? What? What?
I blindly followed the instructions and the heel began to cup before my very eyes, and it was thrilling. Many years and many socks later, I’m still thrilled by the turning process, when the tube takes on its sculptural shape. It happens about halfway through the sock, when one might become bored otherwise. I understand how it works now, but it’s still a bit of magic.
I was flipping through PieceWork’s new Weldon’s Practical Stocking Knitter eBook, and was delighted to see not one, not two, but ten different ways to turn a heel. Common, Balbriggan (that would be Irish), Dutch, French, German, Welsh, and Swiss, each has its own little refinement and shape. Some are easier to knit, some are sturdier, some fit better across a high instep (that would be the French one), some are a little lumpy but so what. Then there are some methods borrowed from the early sock knitting industry, which had its own ways. They are all so clever! I can’t help but wonder—who borrowed from whom? Or was there a lot of parallel invention?
Children’s patterns tend to be specified by age: stocking for a nine-year-old girl; stocking for a four-year-old boy. As if children came in standard sizes. I was a bit chubby when I was nine, so that would have had to be accounted for I’m sure.
My friend and colleague Ann Budd knits all the socks for all the people in her family, which I find incredibly thoughtful (or maybe obsessive). Perfectly fitting handknit socks are such a luxury, and with ten heels to choose from, you could certainly find the perfect one for every foot type. The Weldon’s instructions assume a certain proficiency on the part of the knitter, but if you start with the basic heel, you can surely work out the others. It would be fun.
Originally published June 18, 2015; updated December 4, 2023.