Saturday, April 2, 2022

Jeny's Square Peg Heel

Meet Jeny's Square Peg Heel, or JSPH. Because I am nothing if not a square peg!

JSPH is an original variation on a traditional square heel. But before I dive into the details of JSPH and why I think it's so cool, I need to start with this... 

There is no such thing as a cuff down heel. Just about every book, video tutorial or blog post about sock knitting classifies standard heels into cuff down or toe up. But any heel that can be worked from one direction can also be worked from the other, it just takes a little reverse engineering. I enjoy knitting socks all kinds of ways, and I won’t let any part of the sock constrain me on how I work. Because I am the boss of my knitting.


Flap & turn heels in particular are thought to be cuff down only. When you work a flap & turn heel traditionally, a "heel flap" is worked in the back, then turned at the bottom. But if you work from the toe up, the term "heel flap" becomes imprecise. So for this post, I am using the following terminology for flap & turn heel anatomy: 

  • Gusset (purple) - Where more stitches accommodate the widest part of the foot/ankle.
  • Heel Back (red) - Goes around the back of the heel.
  • Sole (blue) - Goes under the weight bearing area of the heel.

When working a square heel using the traditional cuff down method, first you work a flap, and then you turn it at the base. Hence the name "flap & turn." Then you pick up sts along the sides of the flap and work gusset decreases in the round. 

Toe up, you simply work in the opposite order:

1. Increase by the number of desired gusset sts.
2. Work the sole as a flap.
3. Pick up the edge sts around the sole flap, then work back-and-forth across the heel back, working the last stitch on each side with a gusset stitch on each turn. 

Hopefully you can see now why I want to avoid using the term "heel flap." It's used to describe the flap worked at the back of the heel. However, when you work toe up, the sole is the flap, and the heel back is the turn. 

The remainder of this post will demonstrate two different ways to knit JSPH: toe up, and cuff down. See this companion post for a tutorial on how I do a standard square heel from the toe up.

Gauge & Sizing

All instructions below are based on standard sock gauge of 32 sts x 44 rows = 4" in stockinette using fingering weight yarn on US size 1 needles. Stitch counts conform to standard sizes XS[S, M, L, XL] in which unstretched sock circumference is 6[7, 8, 9, 10] inches.

Jeny’s Square Peg Heel (JSPH)

JSPH morphs and moves around the parts of the square heel and yet somehow ends up with a fit that is identical to a standard square heel of the same sole width. I really enjoy coming up with designs and techniques that seem like they can't possibly work, but then they do! JSPH is like that. 

If you look at the JSPH sample next to my square heel, you can see that the sections of the heel have different shapes and positions, but still have the same fit.

Left: My square heel. Right: JSPH.

With JSPH, the gusset is worked above the heel, rather than as part of the foot. Because of this structure, JSPH gives you design opportunities you wouldn't have with a standard flap & turn heel. Brenda Dayne's Funky Grandpa socks below demonstrate this nicely. Because the gusset is worked above the heel turn, the stripes worked in the round can extend an additional 2" further down compared with a traditional square heel.  

(c) Brenda Dayne, 2022.

JSPH can be worked either toe up or cuff down. Let’s continue with the toe up direction for now, because the method is similar to that of my basic toe up square heel.  Below is the chart you can use for finding your JSPH size and numbers. This chart applies to working either cuff down or toe up. 

Click on the chart to see a larger image.

JSPH Toe up

The basic method for working JSPH toe up is the same as the basic square heel, except that working the gusset now happens last, and is worked in decreases rather than increases. And of course the shapes of the heel back and sole are quite different. 

1. Work the sole turn as a flap.

Work the foot over 48[56, 64, 72, 80] sts until you would normally begin working gusset increases (for me, this is about the middle of the arch). Select the desired location for the sole. From the center of this location, k 8[9, 10, 11, 12] sts, turn. Sl 1 pw, p 15[17, 19, 21, 23] sts, turn.

Work the sole flap back and forth until you can count 13[15, 17, 19, 21] sts along the RS left edge of the flap, starting 1 row below the live sts on the needle, up to & including in the last full round below the flap. 

2. Work the heel back

Pick up and knit tbl 13[15, 17, 19, 21] sts along the RS left edge of the sole flap, working the last into an ssk with the adjacent gusset stitch to its left, turn. Sl 1 pw, purl back to other edge of the sole flap, pick up and purl 13[15, 17, 19, 21] sts along WS left edge, working the last into a p2tog with the adjacent gusset stitch, turn.

For a video tutorial on picking up and working the edge sts and in particular the first decrease of each row, visit this video on the My Edge technique for picking up sts.  The images below give a preview of the demo for this technique.
Video sections:  
0:00 - Pick up and knit
4:23 - Pick up and purl
6:58 - Working decreases with picked up sts 

* Pro-tip #1: The ssk and p2tog on this first set of turns will each have a gap if you work them traditionally. See ssk example below. 

If you work the ssk traditionally, there will be a hole in your work.

The 2 sts to be worked together should be oriented so that they are leaning in 
opposite directions. For the ssk, the first st is R leg forward, the next st is R leg back. 
(For the p2tog, it's the opposite.)

Slip both sts back to L needle and k tbl. The front stitch of your ssk 
twists to the left, just like all the rest of the sts on this row.

Work back and forth from edge to edge, each time ending with an ssk (RS) or p2tog (WS), until you have decreased by 4[5, 6, 7, 8] sts on each side. Your heel back will be a total of 8[10, 12, 14, 16] rows high. 

* Pro-tip #2: To avoid having a gap at the top of the heel back on the right side, after you work the last ssk, continue working around the front of the sock, and work that last decrease as a k2tog from the RS. In the image below, do a k2tog into the first 2 sts on the L needle.

* Pro-tip #3: I always get loose stitches on the left side of my heel back. To help with this, I use the hungry stitch method to tighten up this side. Even after using hungry stitch, I still manually distribute the slack across the rows as needed. In the photo below, the stitches in the lower half of the heel back have been manually adjusted, and those in the upper half have not. 

3. Work the gusset decreases

Working in the round, decrease by 2 sts every other round until you have returned to your starting stitch count of 48[56, 64, 72, 80] sts. 

JSPH Cuff down

This method is essentially the same as working a standard flap and turn heel except 1) you work the gusset first, as part of the leg, and 2) the shapes of the heel back and sole are very different!  

1. Work the gusset increases

Starting with 48[56, 64, 72, 80] sts, work the leg to the point where you would normally start working the flap for the heel back. Instead, work the gusset. Increase by 2 sts every other round until you have increased by 9[10, 11, 12, 13] sts on each side. 

The gusset needs to be shaped in a particular way to fit together with the heel flap. Divide your stitches into those in front and those in back, with an equal number in each group. Then:
- Work across the front stitches.
- Work 1 left leaning increase, work across all the back stitches, work 1 right leaning increase. 2 stitches increased on the back side; front side is still 1/2 of original stitch count.
- Work 1 full non-shaping round.  
- Repeat the last shaping round, placing the new increases on the outside of the back sts. 
- Alternate shaping and non-shaping rounds until you have increased by the target number of gusset stitches, all on the back side.

2. Work the heel back (flap)

From the center of the heel back, k [24, 27, 30, 33]  sts, turn. Sl 1 pw, p 41[47, 53, 59, 65], turn. Continue working the flap from edge to edge until you have worked a total of  8[10, 12, 14, 16] rows. You should be able to count 4[5, 6, 7, 8] sts along the RS left edge of the flap, starting 1 row below the live sts on the needle, up to & including in the last full round below the flap.

3. Work the sole

Work to the halfway point of the flap, then k 7[8, 9, 10, 11], ssk, turn. Sl 1 pw, p 14[16, 18, 20, 22], p2tog. Work back and forth, each time decreasing the last sole st into the flap, until you have integrated all the flap sts into the sole.

* Pro-tip #3: See above.

From the present location of the working yarn, pick up and knit 4[5, 6, 7, 8] edge sts along the heel back flap, k across the front of the foot to the other flap edge, then pick up and knit another 4[5, 6, 7, 8] sts. Your present stitch count should now be your original 48[56, 64, 72, 80], and you can continue working the foot in the round.

You made it to the end! 

Congratulations! Now, would you like to hear something else fun?

Epilogue. If you take any heel + gusset assembly and work it upside down in your sock pattern (i.e., work a supposedly "cuff down" heel and gusset from the toe up), it's likely it will fit you just as well as if worked as instructed. You may have already noticed that JSPH visually resembles a square heel flipped upside down. The pictures below show that both of these heel structures fit me equally well worn upside-down or upside-up.

Left: My square heel.   Right: JSPH.
Worn upside-down:

Worn upside-up:

I dare you to play with this. Welcome to my sandbox! 

Please stay tuned for upcoming designs featuring this heel structure, there are several in the works.  


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