Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Long and the Short (Row) Of It..

We have what we like to think of as "generously proportioned" ankles here at Chez Riotous. So when I make socks, they tend to be of the old fashioned, gusset and flap heel construction - which has a little more room across the heel.The main alternative - a short row heel - is much closer to the heel of a commercially produced sock. You might think that commercial socks are made in this way because they have the best fit for the mass market. Actually, that isn't the reason. Quite simply it's much easier (read cheaper) to set up a machine to make a short row heel than it is to make a gusset and flap heel.

Even for a confirmed flap heel knitter like me, there are occasions when you might want to work a short row heel, for reasons of fit, design or to maximize yarn. And it is the most commonly used (but not only) heel construction used in socks knit from the toe up. 
So when it came time to prepare for a new workshop on knitting socks from the toe up, it was natural to start with short row heels. Given the short row is a lesser spotted beastie in my collection, I needed to work a few more examples for class.  I have to say I'm often unimpressed with examples of short row heels that you see in patterns and knitting books. Many of them have a scrappy, amateurish look, like  they've been snacked on by hungry moths - even when worked by the most experienced of knitters. Of course, there are short rows and short rows, with wraps, without wraps, yarn over, make 1, single wraps, double wraps...and each style has its devotees, so which one is best?...
Let's see... No, it isn't a sock for a centipede, rather a comparison of short row heel variations (with a couple of toes thrown in for the heck of it!). Each little "sock" was worked over 40 sts and each heel was worked on 20sts (50% of the total which is typical for short row heels.) All knit in 12ply Bendigo Classic (a worsted weight yarn) on 4.5mm needles. Which made it much quicker to knit than regular sock yarn, with the downside that knitting socks with a thicker yarn shows every little hole and imperfection quite plainly. Although, perhaps that aspect is actually an added bonus in this case - because I deliberately didn't tidy up the result by weaving in yarn tails or performing surgery on the holes so what you get is a warts-and-all comparison of 10 different short row heel treatments. Presenting from L to R (in the photo above):
1) No Treatment Short Rows (Green yarn - above) 
We all know that the downside of working short rows is that they leave little holes in the knitting. But just how bad are they? As a control sample - I knit the first heel without using any jiggery-pokery to hide the holes - this is short rows, no wraps, no yarn overs, no nothing! As you can see, while the holes are quite tidy, they are very obvious, so aside from rare applications in lacy patterns, working short rows without some kind of associated wizardry isn't going to be useful in many circumstances.
2) "Regular" Short Row Heels (Blue yarn - above) 
This one is probably the most commonly used of all short row heels; with single wraps in the decrease section and each stitch getting an extra wrap as you turn to work in the opposite direction (resulting in double wraps around each stitch) in the increase section. The wraps were hidden by picking up and knitting together with the stitches around which they were wrapped. I didn't remount the wraps or change their order on the needles so they are still visible in places, particularly on the purl side of the heel (which is shown on the right hand side of the photo above - in fact I've set all the heel photos in this piece in pairs with the knit side on the left hand side and the purl side of the heel on the right). You can actually see a double line of wraps in the RH photo. It's not a bad result, not too holey, but really doesn't cut it if you want each side of the heel to match. They really don't. 
3) Hiding the wraps #1 (Pink yarn-above)
As with #2 we have single wraps in the decrease section and double wraps in the increase section. The wraps are also hidden by picking up and knitting together. The difference is that the stitches and the wraps are remounted so that the stitch ends up on top of the wraps- then k3tog or p3tog depending on which side of the heel you are working. To be honest, I can't see a huge difference between this version and Regular version #2, except that there is only a single row of  wraps in the right hand photo (one wrap is hidden). But the different sides of the heel still don't match. Worse still, pulling the stitches around to remount them causes a bit of stretching so you can see holes at the corners.
4)Not hiding the wraps #1(Red yarn - above)
And then you wonder - why bother hiding the wraps at all? I don't actually mind the defined diagonal line across the heel. What's more, when you hide wraps they add a bulky ridge inside the heel. Not so bad in fine yarns, but noticeably uncomfortable in thicker yarns. I've never actually seen anyone use ssk's on a short row heel, but I thought that rather than worrying about hiding them, it would be better to try and get the wraps to match.

Anywhooo... wraps, double wraps and remounting of stitches were worked the same way in #4 as in #2 and 3. The only difference is that instead of working k3tog (on the knit side) and p3tog(on the purl side) I replaced the ktogs with ssk's, still working p3togs on the other side. That simple. And what you get is a diagonal (and similar, but not identical) line on both sides of the heel. But again, as you can see, there are little gaps at the tops of the heels, where remounting the stitches has caused the stitches to gape open. Still, an acceptable solution - particularly in lighter yarns.
5) Hiding the wraps #2 (Green yarn - above)
This one is almost the same #3.The only difference is that once the stitches and the wraps are remounted you k3tog (on the knit side) and or p3tog tbl (through the back loop) on the purl side. Yes it matches pretty well, but this gives the "holiest" result of the wrap variants - that p3togtbl really yanks the yarn about and makes the corners gappy. I wouldn't recommend this for DK or heavier weight yarns, but it could be a winner for sock yarn. 
6) Not hiding the wraps #2 - the D'oh! Treatment (Blue yarn-above)
On this one the wraps and double wraps are worked in the usual way. But instead of pfaffing about trying to hide the wraps, I just ignored the wraps - left them untouched and worked the stitches alone. You know what? it's one of the tidiest, stretchiest and least holey results. Yes, I know, everyone thinks you have to hide the wraps and this one has very obvious matched lines of wraps, but I like it! Do nothing - who knew? D'oh!

7) No wrap #1 (Pink yarn) &  8) No wrap #2 - the Priscilla Wild Method (Red yarn) 
Both 7 and 8 are wrap-less short row methods. Both solve the problem of short row holes by using variants of m1; i.e. picking up the bar from the stitch below the gap and working it together with the active heel stitch. This is exactly what you do to close up any corner holes in flap heel gussets and is very easy to work. But ironically, while the diagonals close up well lower down the line, this treatment actually leaves nasty holes at the top corners of the heels. Certainly, this is more obvious in thick yarn and to be fair, I've probably made it worse by jiggling the stitches around to try and photograph them. But of course that's true of the other examples as well. So I don't think I would be choosing this method without expecting to perform some additional "corner surgery" to neaten things up.
9) No wrap, yarn over - the Priscilla Gibson Roberts Method (Green yarn)
There are no wraps in this clever short heel, nutted out by Priscilla Gibson Roberts. Instead, you add a yarn over (worked in the opposite to normal direction - to decrease the amount of loose yarn). You end up with a series of stitch and yarn over pairs, which are knit (or purled) together to close the gap. This has by far the best matching diagonals. Sure, there are some little holes here, but these are not noticeable when you use finer yarns. One of the best!
10) Garter stitch short row heel (Pink yarn - above)
Perhaps including this one is like comparing apples and pears, but the garter stitch variant is still a short row heel. It is worked in exactly the same way as the "Regular" short row heel (with wraps) - except all of the rows are garter stitch. Yes, it is a little smaller than the others (and for that reason I would recommend that you work on at least 60% of the sock stitches for this one rather than the usual 50%.) Plus, it's extremely stretchy, so the diminutive size is not such a problem. You might also think that a garter stitch heel would be uncomfortable. Actually, it's really quite cushy to wear! I'm notoriously fussy about lumps and bumps on the inside of my socks (which is another reason why I'm not a huge fan of the hidden short row method), but I do often make socks with garter stitch short row heels.

So there you have it. One architecture, loads of variants (oh, yes there are more.) My personal hit parade of short row heels:
  • 1st place:  Not hiding the wraps #2 - the D'oh! Treatment
                   (no lumps, no bumps and they match!)
  • 2nd place: No wrap, yarn overs
                    (Nicely done, Priscilla)
  • 3rd place: Garter Stitch Short Row Heels
Still awake?


Jules said...

Great stuff! I'm not a sock knitter myself but always thoroughly interested in techique geekery ;) and will remember this post in case I ever feel the urge!

Really hoping I can make it to your colourwork class - the display in the shop window looks great xx

Sue said...

I'm a sucker for geekery : See you in school :)

Lynne said...

My go- to heel is a no wrap, yarn over method explained by Lyyne Vogel I nThe Twisters Sock Workbook! Many of my workshop attendees got really cross because "it doesn't make sense"! But I really love it!

rainbowjunkiecorner said...

You have probably moved on by by now but I loved your comparison of different methods of making short row heels - very useful. (Want to do something similar myself) Loved your centipede! sock. Only slight puzzle is that having finally found a way of picking up wraps and knitting with the stitch so I don't get in a mess I find that both sides do come out the same as (if you were interested) you can see here: http://rainbowjunkiecorner.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/toe-up-socks-with-wraps-mini-tutorial/- near the bottom. Not that I knit as neatly as you do.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone done any study of which heel tends to be more durable - short row or flap heel?