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Unraveling the Short Row Heel

Oh, I love knitting socks. The tiny needles and tiny stitches and beautiful wool. I only have one problem: I suffer from extreme second sock syndrome. There are no less than five handmade socks in my drawer without their respective partners. I complete pairs for family and babies (of course!), but I cannot seem to do the same for myself.

Alas, my inability to complete certain projects is not what I want to talk about, today. I want to talk about my favorite part of socks: the heel!

Do you love the heel like I do? You work the leg in whatever pattern and you get to the brink of monotony, and then BAM! You have something new to work. You have to suddenly start working back and forth. Your interest is renewed and you are almost surely going to finish this sock!

Most patterns will write out specific instructions for the heel, but did you know you can work a short row heel on just about any pattern? It is absolutely perfect for adding a contrasting color.

Eat my short rows!

Short rows are a method of shaping. This shaping utilizes part of your knit rounds. Instead of working the entire round, you turn and work across the purl side — you are working short rows.

There are several different techniques you can use to work short rows. If you are new to them, go on and take Carol Feller’s FREE Short Rows Craftsy class, where you’ll learn four different short row techniques.

When a sock pattern calls for short rows, they almost always mean the wrap and turn method, but it’s always nice to know different ways to do the same thing. Sometimes you want to change it up! Figure out what short row method you like and then read on to figure out how to work the short row heel.

Your heel, her heel, my heel

The heel is worked over half of your sock stitches. I suggest putting the heel stitches on one needle and the rest on a flexible stitch holder (like a piece of smooth yarn).

The general pattern is easy to memorize and is the same for whatever short row method you decide to use. For clarity’s sake, I am going to write it out with the wrap and turn method in mind:

Row 1: Knit to 1 stitch before the end of the heel, wrap and turn.
Row 2: Purl to 1 stitch before the end of the heel, wrap and turn.
Row 3: Knit to 2 stitches before the end of the heel, wrap and turn.
Row 4: Purl to 2 stitches before the end of the heel, wrap and turn.

Continue in this manner, working one less stitch at each end until you have about a third of your heel stitches left in the center. If your heel stitch number is not divisible by three, distribute them as such: one extra to the center or one extra to each side.

Once you have only a third unwrapped in the center, you have to work back out:

Row 1: Knit to your first wrapped stitch, knit the wrap AND stitch together, wrap and turn (you are wrapping the stitch after the one you just worked, so now this stitch has TWO wraps on it).
Row 2: Purl to your first wrapped stitch, purl the wrap AND stitch together, wrap and turn.
Row 3: Knit to your next wrapped stitch, knit BOTH wraps and the stitch together, wrap and turn.
Row 4: Purl to your next wrapped stitch, purl BOTH wraps and the stitch together, wrap and turn.

Work as established until you have knit all the way across the stitches. You will be wrapping around the stitches a second time, so make sure to knit both wraps when you get to them.

This heel pattern is the same for the other methods of working short rows. You work to one before the end both ways, then two, then three, and so on, until a third are left in the center. Then, you work back out, picking up a stitch on each side until you have all your original heel stitches back on one needle. Now, you can work the foot of your sock!

Note: I worked the Japanese method on the sock in the photo above. It was my first time trying it and now it’s my favorite! What did we say about learning different ways to do the same thing? Oh yeah, it’s FUN! Go ahead and give the short row heel a try.

What is your favorite heel? Do you like the short row heel, if so which is your favorite method?


Ann crick

I had the same affliction of SSS!! Until I mastered TAAT magic loop method. (Feel free to send me your lonely socks ill happily make its partner. Obv on the condition I get to keep the pair!!!) lol


I love short row heels for toe up socks, it looks perfectly seamless and professional

Nicki Merrall

I love short row heels and toes for toe up socks. Using the same method for both makes it easier to remember how to do the shaping!

Janine Melnitz

I’m with Ann Crick; you’d be a fool not to a) knit them using magic loop on a long circular and b) do two at a time.


Everyone talks about how to knit a heel, but no one ever discusses WHEN to start knitting the heel of a sock. Try doing that!


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