How to Do a Heel Turn While Knitting Socks

Knit socks
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Beginning to Turn the Heel

End of the first row of turning the heel
Sarah E. White

Turning the heel is the part of sock knitting that scares most knitters away from ever knitting socks. The truth is, turning a heel isn't any more difficult than any other part of knitting a sock, you just need to pay a bit of attention. If this is your first time turning a heel, read the directions several before you begin, and double check each step before you move on to the next. 

The instructions for turning a heel will typically read:

  • Row 1: Slip 1, purl 14, purl 2 together, purl 1, turn.
  • Row 2: Slip 1, knit 4, slip, slip, knit, knit 1, turn.

The first thing you'll notice is that you aren't working all of the stitches all the way across the row. That makes many first-timers nervous, but it is the way it must be done to make the proper curve. The process is known as knitting short rows, and it is the key to making a heel that's actually kind of heel shaped.

Trust the pattern and do what it says, no matter how complicated it sounds. If you were working a sock with the instructions as noted above, then you would slip the first stitch, purl 14, purl two together, purl one more, and then turn the work like you normally do at the end of a row, leaving the unworked stitches on the needle, as shown.

Working the Second Row

Second row of heel turning.
Sarah E. White

At the end of the first row of the heel turning, you will have some stitches unworked still on the left-hand needle. Don't worry about them as they'll be fine.

Instead, turn the work as you would in regular flat knitting when you reached the end of the row. That means the needle with those unworked stitches should now be in your right hand and the needle with the stitches you worked on the last row will be in your left hand.

Knit back across these stitches as the pattern indicates. In the case of our example, you'd slip the first stitch, knit 4, slip, slip, knit, knit one more and turn the work again. Now you have unworked stitches on both needles and just a few stitches that have been worked on both rows.

Finishing Turning the Heel

Finished turned heel
Sarah E. White

Now that you've made it through the second row, just turn the work again as before and continue as established in the pattern. If you were knitting the sock we have been using in this example, for instance, on the next row you'd slip one, purl 5, purl 2 together, purl 1 and turn.

The next row would be slip 1, knit 6, slip, slip, knit, knit 1 and turn, and so on until eventually all the stitches have been worked. This accomplishes a knitted cup that will hold your heel when you wear the sock.