Summer School, Heels and Toes, Changeful

On Monday we talked a bit about heels and toes, and for the rest of the week I’ll be showing off some of my personal favorites.

These are Changeful, there are actually three different versions of the sock in the pattern, and they’re 25% off on ravelry with the code SUMMER SCHOOL through the end of the day, eastern time, Tuesday July 14.

This is a perfect example of what I mean when I suggest you find an element of the sock that you can carry all the way through the heel and toe.  Sure you could have just had plain stockinette in those spots, but look how much cuter it is if you do something a little more intentional!

The toes mirror the ribbing at the cuff (the cuff is often a great place to look if the pattern you’re following has plain bits and you want to fancy things up a bit).

And the heels do the same thing, pick up on the lines from the body of the sock and continue them all the way through.  The result is socks that look cohesive and carefully considered in every detail!




Summer School, Heels and Toes

Remember how last week I told you you were the boss of your socks, and that if you wanted thick and cozy socks you could have them?  Yeah, well you being the boss of your knitting thing is a theme.  You can also have pretty (and well fitting) heels and toes if you want them!


Both heels and toes can both be adjusted to fit your foot.  As always, put a big mental asterisk here and pretend it leads you to a footnote saying ‘usually…they can usually be adjusted.’ I can’t ever make promises for anyone else’s pattern, and there are even a few of my own where there’s some sort of constraint that means you need to work them as written.  But the vast majority of the time, you can tweak things and get something that works perfectly for you.


Adjusting the height of your heel flap is key to sock happiness.  No really.  If your socks don’t fit quite right, there’s a good chance you can fix it by fiddling with the heel flap.

Many patterns have you take the number of stitches in a round, divide it in half, and work that many rows for the heel flap.  That probably works for some people, but it gives me a sock that’s too tight right where the top of my foot meets my leg (it pulls across the crease of my ankle, the part that’s bent when you’re standing up, and it’s awful).  I need a longer heel flap to have a comfortable sock.

Luckily, you can usually add rows to a heel flap with reckless abandon.  Most of my patterns say something like “work the Heel Chart until the heel flap reaches desired length” rather than “work the Heel Chart 16 times.”  That’s because I want you to make it fit you, not to work it a specific number of times. If that’s 32 rows, that’s fine.  If it’s 40 rows, that’s fine too.  The number doesn’t matter, all that matters is that it’s the right length for your foot.

Now, as for how you know what that length is…part of it is trial and error (which I realize is inefficient), but to get started, you can measure.  Stand in your bare feet on a hard surface.  Have someone measure from the ground to the middle of the knobby bone on the outside of your ankle.  Make a note of that number, and try making your heel flaps that long.  You may find you need to adjust it a hair one way or the other, but that’s a really good starting place for most people.

Keep in mind that if you’ve changed the length of your heel flap, you will probably also need to change how many stitches you pick up along the side of the heel flap.  Again, most of my patterns say something like “pick up and knit stitches along the side of the heel flap” rather than “pick up and knit 18 stitches along the side of the heel flap.”  That’s because the number of stitches you pick up will depend on how tall your heel flap is (pick up one stitch in each elongated stitch on the edge of the heel flap, and one at the top if you’d like).  Pick up as many as you need to work all the way along the heel flap, however many that may be.

That different number of picked up stitches might also mean you’ll need to do a different number of gusset decreases.  This is also not a big deal.  My patterns generally say something like “alternate decrease and non decrease round until 56 [64, 72, 80] stitches remain” rather than “work the decrease row ten times.”  And again, that works no matter how many stitches you picked up on the side of the heel flap.  You just keep going till you hit that target number.

Seriously…fiddle with your heel flaps (even if the pattern you’re following doesn’t seem to encourage it).  This is totally a spot where you can fine tune things.  It’s a tiny tweak, but it will make your socks fit so much better!


Toes are just as adjustable as heels, and you should feel free to modify them too.

Most of my toes have you work decreases every other row for the first half of the decreases, then every row for the second half of the decreases.  That works well for most people, but it’s not the only way to do it.

If you have particularly pointy toes, you can work decreases every other row until you’ve worked about three quarters of your decreases (and just do a handful of rows with decreases on every row).  Or, if your toes are a bit flatter, you can work decreases every other row until you’ve worked about one quarter of your decreases (and do most of the rows with decreases on every row).  If your big toe is especially prominent, you can even do shaped left and right socks where you work decreases only on the outside of your foot for a while to make the fabric taper over your smaller toes.

And, just like finding the perfect heel flap height takes a bit of trial and error, finding the perfect toe length can too.  I know on me, if I start my toe decreases right when the sock hits the start of my pinky toe toenail, it will fit perfectly.  Some people like to work the sock to the base of their big toe or to the tip of their pinky toe, and that’s all fine.  As always, the pattern is just a suggestion…it gives you a formula that works pretty well for most people.  Feel free to experiment and find a version that works perfectly for you!


Folks often tell me they can tell one of my socks before they see my name because they just have a certain look to them.  And while this is tremendously flattering (hopefully?), and perhaps I should pretend it’s just some mystical sock essence, I think I know what the real reason is.  I am generally not inclined to leave my heels or toes plain.  I like to continue the pattern, or at least aspects of it, onto both the heels and the toes.  And I think that helps them look distinctive.

Now, there are a few practical considerations.  You don’t generally want to have holes (like in lace) on the heels or toes (they’d make the heels a bit weak, and they’d catch on your toenails on your toes).  You probably also don’t want to have big cables on your heels or toes because they’d feel lumpy in your shoes (little cables are fine, I just try to avoid ones where you’re using more than four stitches at a time in sensitive spots).  But you absolutely can continue ribbing or other knit purl patterns right down the heel and toe.

You can often look to the cuff for a ribbing that flows nicely from the pattern, or you can look at what’s happening on the plainer rows of the main stitch pattern (so in a cable pattern, look at the rows without cable crosses, or in a lace pattern, look at the rows without increases and decreases).


Someone out there is about to say ‘ack, don’t you need to do some sort of slipped stitch thing to reinforce the heel?!?’  To which I say you certainly can, but you don’t have to.  If you find that the back of your heel is a heavy wear spot for you, you may want to.  But I’ve never ever had my socks (or any of the knit socks in my care) wear out there.

And even if you do want to incorporate some slipped stitches, you can often do that while continuing the lines from the leg of the sock.  Grab a piece of graph paper and try charting out a few options.  Look for anywhere you’ve got a couple of knit stitches next to each other, and you can work in a few slip stitches if you want (but it totally doesn’t have to be every other stitch on every other row, there are lots of options).


The same holds true for the toes.  There’s no reason at all they have to be plain stockinette.  You can almost always continue some of the lines from the pattern onto the toes, and sneak in decreases as needed.

The way I usually do that is to find a line of knit stitches near each side of the toe and do my decreases along that line.  Again, graphing it out can help if you’re feeling nervous (or you can just throw in a life and experiment for a row or two, toes are fast)!

Again, the theme for all of this is that you’re in charge.  You can totally modify things to suit you.  That can mean adjusting the length of the heel flap or the rate of the toe decreases.  Or it can mean extending the pretty bits onto heels and toes (even if the pattern you’re working from has you working plain bits there).  If you’re going to take all the time to knit socks, you might as well knit ones you’ll really love!


Cover your filthy face holes, part 2

Did you read the last post?  If not, go read the last post so this makes a bit more sense.  And if you did, it’s time to flaunt the pretty.  We’ll just roll through these folded and unfolded, then do the info thing.




Those are all well rinsed and still damp (so they’ll get a little bit lighter when they’re totally dry, but not much).

Now, we should talk a little bit about indigo (as always, amazon links are affiliate links).  Indigo is a natural dye and it has Rather Strong Opinions.  It loves to fade, and it loves to rub off on things.  You can do a lot to minimize this, but you’re never going to absolutely remove all risk of it.

I prepped my fabric by washing it with synthrapol, the magic dye catching detergent that you totally want to have on hand anyway for that red shirt that bleeds all over everything.  I let the dye oxidize for a long time after each dip (an hour during the day, then overnight at the end).  I rinsed the fabric really well, then washed them in hot water (again with synthrapol) soaked them in vinegar for an hour, and then washed them with synthrapol again.

After that, I was able to rub a damp mask against my arm hard for a full minute and not get any dye transfer and wear one for an hour and not get any dye on my face.

Would I nuzzle my face up against a white silk couch while wearing one?  No (for a variety of reasons…).  Am I perfectly comfortable wearing one for ten minutes while I pick up takeout?  Yes.  Can I pinky swear you’ll have the exact same results? Nope.  Your water or your washing machine or your skin chemistry could be different from mine, and you could have a different result.  I think you’ll be fine, especially if you rinse well and wash them with the magic detergent (I’ve heard soaking them in salt water or ironing them can help too, but at this point I am not having any problems, so I’m not doing anything else to prevent it).  But there always is a risk with indigo, and I want you to be informed so you can make your own decisions.

And if you really don’t want to be bothered with the dipping and the waiting and dipping and the waiting the occasionally opinionated nature of indigo, you can totally fake it.  This kit has a lot of the same colors with way less drama (and there’s a neon version too if you want the more traditional tie dye color range, or this one has even more colors).

But whatever you do, whether you’re sewing custom fitted masterpieces or going with the most basic mask you can find, just wear something.  It’s the right thing to do (yes, even if it’s hot, yes, even if you feel a bit silly, yes, even if it is a bit uncomfortable), and you can totally do it.

Cover your filthy face holes

You know how you’re supposed to be wearing a mask when you’re around other people?  And you know how you are an awesome person and are totally doing that because you are not a selfish asshole?*  Right, well there’s absolutely nothing that says you can’t turn the whole mask thing into an absurd craft project.  I did, and it was fun!

I started by buying a 50 pack of very boring white cotton masks.  I got these (amazon links are affiliate links), but these and these and these look similar in case they’re out of stock (just make sure they’re cotton, the dye won’t take well otherwise).

Then I ordered an indigo tie dye kit (the same one I used four years ago when I decided to dye a whole bunch of napkins, and those napkins are still going strong, so I know it works), washed and soaked my fabric, and set to work with the rubber bands.

Once everything was bundled up, I sent them into the indigo vat (I set that up according to the directions on the box, be a smart kid, read the instructions).

I highly recommend using a scrap of yarn to tie them together by the elastics so you can lower and raise them all at once…the less you have to reach into the vat and fish around for things the less swearing you’ll do and the less blue you’ll be at the end of the day.

Then, it’s just a matter of dipping, waiting, lifting, and waiting.  I left mine in the dye for about 15 minutes then in the air for about an hour all afternoon long.

Indigo is kind of magic.  Stuff comes out green and then turns blue as the oxygen hits it.

Each subsequent dip and lift makes it a bit darker, and you just keep dipping until it reaches the intensity you’re going for.  Keep in mind that wet fabric looks much darker than dry fabric, and that you’ll loose some color when you rinse, so err on the side of too dark rather than too light.

I left mine out on the deck overnight (half because it was bedtime, half to let the color really oxidize), and then it was time for the rinsing and unfurling.  We’ll cover that next time (yes, yes I am a tease)!

Oh, and there is way more dye here than you need for masks, so if you have any unsuspecting fabric (cough, or yarn, cough) lying around that you might want to turn a lovely shade of blue, have at it.

If you dye enough stuff, it’s possible things will start coming out blue (instead of green) at some point.  That usually means you’ve gotten too much oxygen in the vat. Stirring a box of this stuff sorts that right out.  It basically doubles the amount of fabric I’m able to dye from one box of indigo, so it seems worth buying if you want to dye as much as possible with your kit.

If you want to read more about indigo in general, this is a good place to start (again, I am so not qualified to troubleshoot your vat…I just googled around for an afternoon and followed the directions on the box because this is just a fun diversion, not something I’m super invested in).  If you want to get really into it, both of these books look like a fun place to start (or if you want a more general guide to natural dyes, you can’t go wrong with this).

You get the glamor shots next time.  Until then, stay home if you can, wear a mask if you can’t, and for the love of yarn wash your hands!

* Here’s the deal.  If you live in an area where COVID-19 isn’t under control (hint, that’s all of the US and a whole bunch of the rest of the world, too), and you are capable of wearing a mask, you should be wearing one when you’re around other people.  If you’re able to wear one (and the vast, vast, vast majority of people are), and you elect not to, you are a selfish asshole.

And I can’t stop you from being a selfish asshole!  But I can make it really clear that I think less of you for it.  That’s it.  That’s the only consequence I can impose on you.  I, a stranger on the internet, can think very poorly of you.  But it turns out, selfish assholes get very upset when you tell them you have noticed that they are selfish assholes.  So that’s what I’m doing.  I’m telling everyone who could wear a mask and decides not to that they’re terrible people and that I think poorly of them.  If you want me to think well of you, wear a mask!