When I knitted my first socks two years ago, the entire process of making socks was a mystery. What’s a gusset? What’s a heel turn or a heel flap, and are those two different things? What’s this Kitchener stitch everyone talks about with reverence and awe but can never seem to remember?
My first pair of socks found me, as I signed up for a subscription service that sent a sock kit as the new subscriber freebie. I had pondered trying to knit a pair of socks for some time, but even as an experienced knitter, I couldn’t figure out how in the world the process worked. But I gamely got myself an outrageously small set of circular needles and dove in.
This first pattern I tackled featured an “afterthought” heel. You make the body of the sock and go back and knit the heel afterwards. This process includes putting in a lifeline and the terrifying act of pulling the lifeline out on this project you’ve toiled over for a week, trying to get the thing back on your toothpick sized needles. I survived the experience, presented my husband with the cozy wool socks he had asked for years ago, but pondered whether I would have the nerve to knit another pair.
A month later, I gathered myself and tried another sock pattern. This time, mercifully, there were no afterthought heels or any other high wire acts involving life lines. As I got to the heel flap (whatever that was), I slavishly followed the instructions through a mystifying process of slip stitches, picked up stitches around a tiny rectangle, and a series of decreases that somehow looked like an increasingly larger triangle. But finally, I successfully rounded the corner of the heel and ended up with a piece of knitting that actually looked like the embryo of a sock. I even mastered the Kitchener stitch and sewed up the toe neat and pretty.
Was this steep learning curve worth the effort? Oh yes. Hand-knitted socks are a luxury on par with hot chocolate made with real cream and topped with high-end marshmallows. On a cold day, nothing compares.
I admit I have not tried any more afterthought heels. Life seems too short to deal with lifelines when you don’t have to. But who knows what the future holds? Live dangerously once in a while. I do like the color contrasts you get when you make the heel a different color, so I might give it another go one of these days.
Want to learn to make socks?
- This is my go to resource for sock knitting – a classic, in my opinion: Getting Started Knitting Socks by Ann Budd. It includes everything you need to know about knitting socks. Invaluable is an extensive stitch dictionary for adding pizzaz to your socks. You can make them as plain or fancy as you want.
- Want to try a new method? A new book with a new and innovative method is coming out soon, Knit 2 Socks in 1 by Safiyyah Talley. I’ve gotten a pre-publication peek at this book. You basically make one long tube, then make a cuff, a toe, and afterthought heels later.
Will I try afterthought heels and the dreaded lifelines again? Maybe. The beauty of trying and succeeding something challenging is that you gain both mastery and a new sense of confidence in your work. Worth it? Oh yes.
Blessing to those trying new knitting techniques! Cindy
Cynthia Coe is the author of The Prayer Shawl Chronicles, a collection of interrelated short stories about knitters and those they meet through knitting and sharing prayer shawls.
Copyright 2022 Cynthia Coe
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