What You Need to Know to Repair Handknit Socks: Adding a New Afterthought Heel

One of the reasons I love my mother is because she gives me back the hand-knit socks I made her to repair.  Today I’m going to show you why I love afterthought heels, and how easy it is to replace the heel in an afterthought heel sock.

These socks are Pomatomus, an older pattern on Knitty.  You might notice here that my stitches on the sole are twisted… I had a theory a few years back that socks with twisted stitches might wear better.  While I don’t think that’s the case anymore, please just ignore the twisted stitches if you notice such things.

holes in my hand knitted sock
Holes in the Sock

As you can see above, a hole has developed between the heel and the body of the sock.  This is due to a few different things – first, I didn’t really know how to weave in my ends as well as I do now, so things are not staying together as well.  Second, my mother has a rather wide heel-to-ankle ratio (like me) and I’ve learned since I made this pair that it’s better to add a bit of extra room at the heel.  Finally, these socks are over five years old, and one of my mother’s favorite pairs I’ve made her – so they are just wearing out.

holes in my hand knitted sock thin yarn
Thin Stitches

You can see how thin the stitches are wearing.

So I’m going to make my mother a new pair of heels, and in the process save the yarn to do some other repairs to the sock (mostly reinforcing).  The first step is to remove the old heel.

cutting away knitting heel
Make small cuts!

I used scissors to just cut the first few rows because the yarn was so felted together there, and I’d done a better job weaving in the end at the heel, so I could find the end to unravel.


holes in my hand knitted sock
All Gone!

Heel tip is gone.

I then began pulling the little bits of cut stitches away from the yarn that didn’t get snipped, until the fuzzies were all out.

unraveling afterthought heel
Removing little fuzzies

It took a while, and I ended up with a lot of lint to throw away.

Then I found an end to start pulling.  It worked for about half a row, and then ended, because I had snipped it in the process of snipping out the other end.

pulling out old afterthought heel
pulling yarn

The second end I started pulling was good. I kept pulling that until I was on the last row of the afterthought heel.  I then started picking up stitches as I pulled out each stitch.  I was slow and careful – I didn’t want to drop any stitches!

picking up stitches
Picking up stitches

The thing that worked to my advantage was that this sock has been washed and dried many times – the yarn wanted to stay in the place where it had been – in the stitch.  So I’d have to actively tug at stitches in order to make then drop, because the yarn is so matted together with wear.

kinky yarn

As you can see, the yarn wanted to stay crinkly even after I’d pulled it all out.  It reminded me of a spring.

kinky old yarn

This yarn I gathered up and made into a mini-skein.  I wet it down, hung it from a hook in the Farm’s basement, and hung a wrench from it until it was dry, to straighten the yarn out again so I could use it for other repairs.

But back to the sock heel.

When you’ve picked up all the stitches on both sides, it should look like the sock has sprouted a mouth.

stitches picked up for heel
open heel


You’ll notice how, at each side of the live stitches on the cable to the needle, there’s a little gap, where there’s no stitches.  In a bit, when we’re working with the new yarn, we’ll pick up stitches along those gaps so there aren’t any holes.

knitting new heel

I like to slip to the middle of the sock to join my new yarn.  This makes the join less obvious, and also because I think it’s easier to weave in ends in plain stockinette rather than where the gaps are. (Another trick I learned since making these socks!)

knitting new heel

I joined the yarn by just beginning to knit with the new yarn, along the old stitches.  I left the tail hanging, as I’d weave that in later.

picking up heel stitches to close hole

When I got to the gaps I was talking about earlier, I picked up 2 stitches, along the edge, trying to keep the yarn nice and tight here, so the stitches didn’t become sloppy.

Then I kept knitting all around, doing the same for the 2nd gap as I did for the 1st gap.  After I knitted all around, then I began my preferred method of decreases, whichever you prefer for an after-thought heel.

knitting new afterthought heel

I worked, continuing to decrease, until I only had a few stitches left.  Rather than doing the Kitchener, I just mattress stitched the live stitches together, pulling tight as I went.  I think it creates a nicer ending, rather than trying to get my Kitchener stitches to match my gauge.

You’ll note, below, that I happened to work the heel in a slightly tighter gauge than the rest of the sock.  This happened for three reasons.  First, my gauge has changed in the last five years. Second, the yarn I used for the heel is slightly lighter weight than the yarn for the sock.  This is because I wanted to match for color rather than for the exact right yarn.  Third, I used a smaller needle size to accommodate the smaller yarn.  I think, after wearing them  a few times, the difference in gauge will even out, or at least become less noticeable.

new afterthought heel in sock
fixed sock – the stitch marker is to mark a place I need to fix

Got questions?  Shout them out!  I’d love to help troubleshoot your own sock repairs!

Newport and it’s Namesake

I wanted to share this story the day that it happened, but couldn’t, because it would have given things away for Classic Elite, and they like their surprises.  But now that the design is out, I can tell you about it.

I wrote the Newport design nearly ten months ago.  By October, I had put the design out of my mind, and was working on other things.  I got an email from Classic Elite; they needed me to resend my pattern and, by the way, here’s some of the pictures from the photoshoot for the sample.

The pictures, which you can see on Ravelry, or in the previous pictures in my blog, were stunning.  I could hardly contain myself.  I went to call my mother, after forwarding her the email (probably against the rules, as I’m not supposed to make public the details of my design until they publish it, but I thought my mother could be… mum. heh.)  I’d forgotten that my mother and my two grandmothers had taken a trip that weekend TO Newport.

You can’t see it so clearly in any of the pictures used for Newport, but in Bondi, pictured at right, you can see some of the resort/hotels/condos that are typical of the Newport Beaches.  While I didn’t know for certain, I mentioned to my mother and grandmothers that I *thought* they had done the photoshoot in Newport.

I should have known that was dangerous.  Before I could say more, my grandmothers had declared that they were going to look and see if they could find the stretch of beach where the pictures were taken.

My poor mother knows not to protest when my grandmothers go off on a tear.

Me?  I could hardly contain my laughter.  Mostly because had I been with them, I would have been searching the beaches too.

Mom’s Bowl of Fruit

I thought I had written about the other present I made for Christmas, until it was pointed out to me that I actually had not.  This set of gifts comes with a story.

My mother is a registered Dietary Nutritionist, and she’s constantly looking for ways to engage her clients and classes and demonstrate healthy eating.  When we were younger and the food pyramid had just come out, McDonald’s released little toys in the shape of fruits and vegetables, milk, cheese, bread, etc. to support the release of the food pyramid.  She had the whole neighborhood scouting out the toys so she could get the whole collection.  Over the years we’ve gotten her stuffed animals from Ikea in the shape of vegetables and fruit and other things.  However, lately her demo toys have become quite ragged, and some of them broken.  After a none-too-subtle hint that she’d like some new toy fruit to use, I took up the challenge to create my mother a super-awesome bowl of fruit and veggies.

What did I make her?  Well, I needed a good selection, and I wanted ones that were both iconic, and some that were harder to find (IE: don’t come in your typical plastic toy selection for children)  I made her: an apple, carrot, broccoli, pumpkin, cherries, pomegranate, peas in a pod, and a little set of cherries.  She was really excited.

I love giving things I make to my mother.  On Christmas day she was wearing one of the pairs of socks I made for her nearly two years ago.  She takes good care of the items I make for her, follows the washing directions, and knows how much time each of them takes me.  Like most mothers, she also treasures them the same way she treasures the holiday ornament made out of marshmallows when I was three – important and precious not only because they are lovely in themselves, but because her children made them.  Inspired by my mother, I’m hoping to make a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables this year – a series of patterns so that anyone can have cute vegetables where they need them.  I just got to do some more testing – some of the ones I made for my mother are great and could be written up and published within the month… others, I need to take some time to think about them.