Contrast Heels and Toes and Perfect Stripes

Morning everyone. It’s Sunday morning here in the UK and it’s unusually bright for November, with clear blue skies and no rain. It feels more like a late Summer’s day than the run up to Christmas. Let’s hope it continues.

Last night, I managed to finish one of my self striping socks and I made a start on the second sock straight away. I sat happily knitting whilst watching Strictly Come Dancing, only to realise (once I’d finished the cuff) that I had knitted the wrong cuff. I usually knit a 2 x 2 rib for my sock cuffs, but because I’m knitting Emma Potter’s Dotty Socks, I decided to tweak the cuff to match the pattern, with a 3 x 1 rib. Oh no – all that wasted knitted. But I didn’t unravel the cuff, I simply cut off the yarn and I’ll keep it for another pair at some point.

So off I set again, this time knitting the correct cuff. I love a 3 x 1 cuff as I like the wider, plain band that is created. I think I’ll use it a lot more in my sock knitting.

I’ve had a few questions about where to change colour for the cuff so I thought it would be good to share my method, for a standard heel flap.

First of all, for a top-down cuff, knit to the point of your heel, following your pattern, but on the last round of knitting, stop knitting when half of your heel stitches are left, before the stitch marker. So for my socks, with a 64-stitch sock, my full heel stitches are 32 stitches. Half of 32 is 16, therefore I leave 16 stitches unworked, before the end of the last leg round.

Next, change colour and using a double-pointed needle, knit the last 16 stitches of the round in your contrast yarn.

Note: there are a few different ways to change colour. You can simply start knitting in your new colour and weave in the ends later (there may be a small hole, but this will disappear when you tighten up the yarn tails and weave them in),
Alternatively, you can twist the contrast yarn around the main yarn before you start knitting, or you could try the Russian Join, which doesn’t leave any ends to weave in (link is at end of post). 

Next, remove your stitch marker and knit the second half of your heel stitches (for me this is another 16 stitches).

Turn your work and using a second double-pointed needle, purl all of your heel stitches. Turn and continue working on these stitches to knit the heel flap and turn, according to your pattern.

You will now have two yarns attached to your sock – the main yarn which is located at the base of the heel and the contrast yarn which is attached to your heel.

For the first option, you can return to your main yarn and start your gusset from that point. Start by picking up stitches along heel (according to your pattern), then knit across the base of the heel, then pick up the stitches along next side of the heel, place marker, and finally, knit across the instep stitches, place marker (the markers are used for the gusset decreasing section). Cut off your contrast yarn and leave enough yarn to weave in later. Now continue decreasing as per your pattern and knit your foot.

But for me, I don’t like to do this with a self-striping yarn. 

I find that the main problem area with self-striping yarn is the gusset. This is because when you have picked up your gusset/instep stitches around your heel, you have about 18-20 more stitches than you originally had for your leg. Therefore, your stripes will be shorted in depth than the stripes on your leg and foot, because you have more stitches to knit on each round. 

If your stripes are really deep then it won’t be too noticeable. But if your stripes are only around 4 rounds deep, then it will be quite noticeable. I’m not a huge fan of my stripes going off-piste around the instep, so I use my ‘cut and paste’ method by piecing in pieces of yarn of the same colour stripe and if you can master the Russian Join then you won’t have lots of yarn to weave in.

So when I’ve finished shaping my heel, I start the pick-up round with my contrast yarn, first knitting across the heel stitches with my short circulars.

 Next, I pick up and knit up one side of the heel.

Then I place a marker and knit across the instep stitches, place another marker and pick up and knit along the next side of the heel and passing the main yarn as I do this. Then still using my contrast yarn, I continue with the next round until I reach the main yarn for the second time, at which point I stop and change back to the main yarn and cut off the contrast yarn.

By using the contrast yarn to pick up the gusset stitches and knit part of the next round, it gives you the extra couple of rounds across the instep section, which you need to keep the stripe the same depth as the leg stripes.

Then, for the next three or four stripes (until I have finished the decreasing section of the gusset), I add extra little strips of yarn to make each subsequent stripe the correct depth (because each stripe of the gusset is1 round short per stripe).

Whilst it may seem fiddly, I like how this creates the perfect stripes and makes me happier with my socks.

You can then knit the leg, following your pattern, and always leave in the gusset stitch markers so that you know where to start your toe decreasing.

Once you reach the length required, you can change colour again to start your toes and follow your pattern for the correct instructions. You may need to adjust the starting point of your toes, depending on where your stripes finish. So for this sock, the last round of my leg stripe was Red, which means that my toe section looks a little longer than usual.

So that’s how I create my perfect stripes. I hope it gives you some ideas for playing with your own self-striping yarn. On the other hand, perhaps life is too short to worry about these short stripes – I’d welcome your views and whether it’s something that bothers you or whether you just accept it as a quirky part of your self striping socks. Perhaps I should pay attention to my own reflections:


Don’t forget to enter your socks on social media or my Ravelry group, using the hashtags #novemberselfstripingsocks #yearofhandknitsocks #lynnerowe

This months prize is a fabulous book by The Loveliest Yarn Company, containing lots of amazing mini sock patterns for your Sockmas socks, along with a canvas tote bag and a few extras from me.

Here are all the links mentioned above:

Christine Perry (Winwick Mum): Basic Socks (Ravelry)

Winwick Mum website

Lynne Rowe: Lynne’s Perfect Socks (Ravelry)

Dotty Socks by Potter & Bloom

Russian Join
Happy stripey sock knitting, 
Lynne xx


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One Comment

  1. Thank you for these notes to help solve the issue when you want to use a heel flap, but also want your stripes to stay nice.

    One thing I don't quite understand. You say: "Then still using my contrast yarn, I continue with the next round until I reach the main yarn for the second time, at which point I stop and change back to the main yarn and cut off the contrast yarn."

    But you've left your main yarn in the middle of the top of the heel flap, so I don't see how you would start with it again on a gusset round without cutting it. Clearly, I'm missing something here.

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