Clever Lithuanian Heels


Donna Druchunas explores all aspects of Lithuanian sock knitting in her new DVD.

I've looked at lots of pictures of old socks from museum archives, and the heels are always ratty. It's what you'd expect—that's where friction is most likely to happen. Today, we spinners sometimes ply a little nylon thread into the heels, or maybe sewing thread. At the least, we make the heel yarn especially well twisted so it won't pill and shred. But the real issue is shaping that heel so it cups neatly to the foot.

The challenge of heels, unless you're a veteran sock knitter, is simply trusting the instructions. The most typical shaped heel involves short-rows, which to my mind are not intuitive. You knit most but not all the way across the heel flap; you screech to a halt before you reach the end of the row; you go back the way you came; you screech to a halt again as if you're trapped. And so on. It works out beautifully in the end, but that's not necessarily obvious as you do your hesitation waltz back and forth.

I was mesmerized watching Donna Druchunas in our video studio reproduce three different heel styles derived from Lithuanian socks. One of them involved short-rows (with some differences), but two seemed remarkably fresh and original. Especially the T-shaped heel. It's hard to explain in words, so I'll just say it involves no short-rows and no decreases. How can that be? It's like an origami knitting trick.

Another heel style involves creating a little triangle at the bottom of the heel flap, simply by decreasing at the ends of the rows. Simple, simple. Probably the simplest heel I've ever seen, short of a tube sock which doesn't really have one.

But back to Donna's short-row heel. I like to call it the "toe-shaped" heel, because the toe and heel are worked identically in this particular sock—one of three pairs whose instructions are included in the DVD. Because of this, the heel sticks out at the back in a jaunty way, at least until you put the sock on, at which point it behaves like a perfectly little cup. It's knitted entirely in garter stitch, which makes it cushy and somewhat wear-proof. The short-row turns do not involve that special wrapping motion that prevents holes; instead, the holes are encouraged and are part of the design and charm.

The various ways of turning heels have been documented endlessly in knitting literature, so I was surprised to find methods I'd never seen before. Good clever ones, at that.

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