Work Fair Isle Socks Without Gussets

Bandelier Fair Isle socks by Lisa Shroyer

Years ago, I designed the Bandelier Socks (get the kit!), a pair of Fair Isle socks, for Interweave Knits. In order to have a solid, contrast-color heel but minimal interruption to the colorwork of the foot, I had to avoid a traditional sock gusset.

Why? Well, when you work a traditional heel flap, back and forth in rows, then pick up a gusset along its edges and work the whole foot in rounds, you gradually decrease out the picked-up gusset stitches. At first you have a lot more stitches in your round; then, every other round, the stitch count decreases, until the foot has the same number of stitches as the upper leg. This gradually-decreasing gusset creates a triangle at each side of the foot. Check out my rude illustration, with the gusset shaded in,  at left.

Snowflake Fair Isle socks

Snowflake Socks by Chrissy Gardiner

That extra fabric, and constantly changing stitch count, made it difficult for me to deal with my large colorwork motif in the Bandelier Socks.

For some Fair Isle socks, such as the Snowflake Socks at right, the designer chooses to work the gusset stitches in a different, smaller-repeat pattern than the main motif (the gusset and sole are worked in stripes in this example). But I wanted my sole and instep to feature the same pattern, without a special gusset pattern in between. You can see, in my photo at right, that the Bandelier Socks have no triangular gusset, just a triangular heel.

Check out the short-row heel on the Bandelier Fair Isle socks.

Bandelier Sock heel

Once the heel is finished, you have the same number of stitches as you did in the leg, right off the bat! This is achieved by working a special short-row heel called the Priscilla Gibson-Roberts heel. This is a wonderful heel to have in your sock-knitting toolkit, especially if you’ve pondered how to arrange stitch patterns on socks. The pattern for the Bandelier Socks includes full directions for the heel, but you might like to review a tutorial on the heel technique; you can find that in Priscilla’s very own Dream Socks Pattern in the Fall 2000 issue of Interweave Knits. 

But wait a minute…I pulled out my ole Bandeliers to write about sock heels and other tips for Fair Isle sock knitting, but then I really looked at my socks. These socks are about 6 years old and I wear them a lot. With seven colors and all those floats on the wrong side, they are deliciously warm and cushy and soft and comfortable. But look at them!

A well-loved pair of Fair Isle Socks. This is Lisa Shroyer's Bandelier knit socks pattern.

They look awful! So here I am, realizing it’s time I washed and blocked these socks. The worn bits, the matted fuzz, they may not go away, but I could get the dirt off of them! And try to give them some shape again. The wool I used for these socks is NOT superwash, it’s a gorgeous 100% wool from Brown Sheep called Nature Spun Fingering and I chose it because it comes in 80+ colors (great for finding the right Fair Isle color combination), and because the balls have abundant yardage, but are very affordable. If I’m asking knitters to buy seven balls of yarn to make a pair of socks, I want those balls to be lower in price than your usual sock skeins. So! These socks cannot just go in the wash with my other handknit socks and T-shirts and so forth. I need to handwash them.

Lucky for me, I just got some new woolwash in the mail from the lovely folks at Bijou Basin Ranch. Allure is their new product, designed for handknits and precious fabrics. What excites me is the promise that this woolwash “provides a superior wash that removes soils and odors yet still guards colors.” This is key for my Fair Isle socks. It also comes in Fragrance Free, which is important to me as scents tend to really bother me. But there are also fragrances, if that’s your thing!

You can find Allure for sale here—I think the smaller bottles would make great stocking stuffers and goodies for your crafty friends this Winter. Well, I will go give these babies a soak and see what happens. I hope my Fair Isle socks spring back to shapely brilliance, as the photo at the top of this post shows their original state. I’ll be back with more real soon, happy knitting,

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