Friday, April 22, 2022

My Edge.

I often come up with my own knitting methods instead of using traditional ones, and picking up & working edge stitches is no exception. The traditional method works well for sweaters, but I don’t think it’s the best method for socks. 

In this post I will cover the following:

  • Brief review & recommended tutorials for traditional method of picking up and knitting edge sts
  • Tutorial for my method, and why I prefer it to the traditional one
  • Details specific to working flap & turn heels from the toe up, like JSPH (Jeny's Square Peg Heel)

I will start with a brief word about the last point above, because JSPH has completely transformed the way I think about working edge sts. If you’re working a flap & turn heel from the toe up, picking up and knitting the flap edge stitches is only part of the picture. You also have to pick up and purl on the opposite side of the flap, and also work decreases with picked up sts on the first row. Neither of these is hard to do, just slightly fussy.

If you prefer learning by video rather than still images, I made this video just for you. 

0:00 - Pick up and knit
4:23 - Pick up and purl
6:58 - Working decreases with picked up sts 

Traditional Method

Here is an example photo of what the traditional method of picking up and knitting sts looks like worked in stockinette, RS and WS.

There are lots of tutorials available on the internet on “How to pick up and knit edge stitches.” These generally all demonstrate the same method. I personally recommend this photo tutorial on Modern Daily Knitting written by Kate Atherley, and this illustrated tutorial by TECHknitter (“Added Yarn Method” section). Bear in mind that with socks, it’s not necessary to skip every 2nd or 3rd stitch as you would need to do if you were making a sweater or large garment. 

My Method

Let me explain why I don’t use the traditional method when I’m making socks. Look closely at the photos above. The RS looks ok, but on the WS you can see there is a prominent seam. This is fine for sweaters, but for socks it is potentially uncomfortable. 

Whereas, this is what I get when I do it my way:

Viewed from the RS, the two methods just look a little different.

But, viewed from the WS, you can see that my method eliminates the bulk of the seam.

I do think the traditional method looks nicer on the inside than mine does. But if it's on the inside, I'm much more concerned about comfort than I am about appearance. 

There are two key structural differences between my method and the traditional one: 1) I pick up and work through only the outside leg of the edge stitch, rather than both legs; 2) I twist the leg in a particular way as I work it. 

Tutorials on the traditional method often state that working edge stitches through both legs makes the joint more secure, but that's not necessarily the case. The real game changer is to twist the picked up leg as you work it. 

Let’s zoom out for a minute...

See how the traditional method is taller at the joint? And the gauge of the new sts (off-white) is slightly expanded right there? And the edge sts (purple) pooch out a little bit? These are all subtle indicators that the traditional method is looser and therefore less secure than mine. Again I’m sure it works well for sweaters, but for socks I think my method works better.

Tutorial - My method

Here is what the flap looks like just before I start working edge stitches. The example shows a sock heel sample. The colors indicate different parts: the purple section represents the foot, the blue section is the flap, and the magenta working yarn represents the first row of edge stitches. Rows begin and end in the middle of the flap.

It's easier to see the stitches on the WS. There are exactly 12 edge stitches that I'm going to pick up, numbered 1-12  below. Stitch #1 is immediately below the last stitch worked, and stitch #12 is actually below the first turn of the flap; the color change indicates that this stitch was worked in the round. 

The stitches can each be picked up and immediately worked, or you can pick them all up first and then work them. I personally prefer to pick them all up before working any of them. I start at #12 and work my way up to #1, but the direction of pickup doesn't matter.

To pick up: I insert the R needle into the middle of the edge stitch, then continue to the next. I typically use a needle 1-2 sizes smaller, because these can be tight.

The resulting row of sts will sit on the R needle just like normal stitches, leading with right leg in front.

Once the stitches are all picked up, knit each one through the back leg. (Note that stitch #1 has been worked once already.) This will twist each stitch and tighten up the joint.  

*Note that if you are working a toe-up flap & turn heel, there will be an ssk at the end of the row. This decrease and the p2tog on the other side are worked a little differently from normal. This is discussed in more detail in the last section.

The picked up stitches can be twisted either way, but I prefer the look of them when they are twisted as described above. Below is a comparison example - the stitches on the right half were twisted in the other direction. These are slightly looser and  more prominent. 

Toe up flap & turn heels 

So far I’ve given you everything you need to know for using my edge stitch method with a standard cuff down flap & turn heel. For working toe up, there are some remaining details to cover.

Picking up and purling

(Jump to 4:23 in my video)

Picking up and purling is slightly trickier than picking up and knitting, but it is not difficult. I find it easiest to hold the flap WS facing me with the edge at the bottom, then rotate it in order to work the purls. Note that even though you have worked down and back from the other side, there are the same number of rows on this side from which you will pick up stitches. Once again, stitch #1 is immediately below the one just worked, and stitch #12 was worked in the round just below the flap.

To pick up: I insert the R needle into each edge stitch, then continue to the next. 

This time, the stitches sit on the needle in the opposite direction, leading with the right leg in back.

Now purl each stitch through its front (left) loop. When you turn it to the RS, you will see that the picked up stitches twist in the opposite direction as those on the other side of the flap. 

Working decreases with picked up stitches

(Jump to 6:58 in my video)

If you are working a toe up flap & turn heel, your first RS and WS row of the heel back are worked as you are simultaneously picking up and working sts. This calls for a bit of jiggery-pokery.

In both cases, if you work the decrease normally you will get a hole. This is what the ssk would look like if worked normally:

So in order to hide this hole, you will twist only the front stitch. When working the ssk, slip the first st purlwise so that it still sits on the needle leading with right leg in front. Slip the next st knitwise. Now both sts lean towards each other on the back side of the needle. 

Slip both sts back to the L needle purlwise, then k2 tbl. The resulting decrease twists to the left, just like all the other edge sts that were picked up and knitted (tbl).

To work the adjusted decrease on the purl side, you do something very similar. Both sts are already in the position you need -- they lean towards each other on the front side of the needle. 

With the sts in this position, work a p2tog. When you turn back to the RS, you will see that this decrease now twists to the right, matching the other edge sts.

I work these adjusted decreases on the first rows only; for subsequent rows I work regular ssk's and p2tog's. 

Thanks for reading! 


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.