Sweet Tomato Heel

I love knitting socks. Whenever I grab a pair of skinny circs and a hundred grams of equally skinny yarn, I get fizzy and tingly, and all thoughts of chocolate and earthly delights leave my brain.

So imagine the biological upheaval that took place when I discovered that Cat Bordhi developed a new heel technique last summer, which she calls the sweet tomato. It produces a smooth, round heel without holes and other weirdness, and it’s one of those things that works right the first time. The heel uses short rows, but there’s no wrapping or picking up stitches, and once you practice it on medium weight yarn, you will understand what to do when working with the skinny stuff.

After you learn to do it, you can purchase her ebook for patterns. The book is a pdf file, which you can save as text, and it includes both text and charted instructions.

The Sweet Tomato Heel Explained

Bordhi describes her technique for the sweet tomato heel in a YouTube video. Her directions are easy to follow until, of course, the crucial step—hence this tutorial.

For our purposes, let’s say you’re making a slipper sock with medium weight yarn and 4 or 4.5 mm needles (i.e., worsted weight yarn and size 6 or 7needles). Because you like your slippers roomy, you’ll make them 36 stitches around, and because you’re a great planner, your math will be simple and your yarn will be big enough for you to identify things without too much trouble.

1. Start your slipper sock in the usual way. You can work cuff-down or toe-up. It doesn’t matter. Just do what you do until you’re ready to work the heel. (For this example, remember your slipper is 36 stitches around.)
2. For the heel, you will use two thirds of the stitches (24 of the 36), so separate the heel stitches from the instep stitches. You can use a pair of markers to let you know where the heel stitches begin and end, or you can put the instep stitches on one needle and the heel stitches on a different circ or on two dpn’s.
3. Knit across all (24) heel stitches, and stop.
4. Turn the work, slip one stitch, and purl across the rest of the heel stitches. Make a point of tightening the two stitches after the slipped stitch by giving the working yarn an extra tug as you finish each.
5. Run a finger over the work. You’ll notice a wide space between the stitches at the point where you turned in Step 4. A new gap like this one will appear every time you turn the work. Get to know it since it’ll help you decide when to turn again.
6. Turn the work, slip one stitch, and knit across the heel stitches. Stop when you are two stitches away from the gap. Make a point of tightening the two stitches after the slipped stitch by giving the working yarn an extra tug as you finish each.
7. Turn the work, slip one stitch, and purl across the heel stitches. Stop when you are two stitches away from the gap. Make a point of tightening the two stitches after the slipped stitch by giving the working yarn an extra tug as you finish each.
8. Repeat Steps 6 and 7, always turning when you are two stitches away from the nearest gap. Stop when there is about an inch or 2.5 cm between the two center most gaps. The last row is a purl row.

If you’ve played the video, you got this far without any problems at all. The trouble begins with what comes next. Here’s a sampling of my notes:

1 st before gap:
Let me lift this off.
Daughter, mother, grandmother; ignore grandmother.
Mother says, “Let me ride that horse with you. I’ll sit in front.”
Put Mother on the horse.
Call this “thanks, Ma.”

Now, if the movie in your head didn’t feature a lonely prairie and a cowboy with lots of stamina, you’re not as normal as the rest of us.

But I digress.

9. Turn the work, and knit the entire round. Do the following as you work across each section of the round:
a. As you work across the first half of the heel stitches, pause when you’re one stitch away from each gap. Insert the tip of the left needle into the stitch below the one you are about to knit; place that stitch on the left needle; and knit those two stitches together. You are not working a k2tog across the gap: you are knitting the stitch before the gap together with the stitch below it.
b. As you work across the instep, knit all stitches if you’re making a plain slipper sock, or work in pattern if you have a cable or some other fancy stitch going.
c. As you work across the second half of the heel stitches, pause after you knit the stitch before each gap. Insert the tip of the left needle into the stitch below the one you are about to knit; place that stitch on the left needle; and knit those two stitches together. You are not working a k2tog across the gap: you are knitting the stitch after the gap together with the stitch below it.
10. Knit two or 3 rounds even.
11. Repeat Steps 3 through 10 two more times, working three heel wedges in all.
12. Continue the slipper sock in the usual way.

Tips for Finding the Stitch Below

In Step 9, locating the “stitch below” is tricky the first couple of times, so practicing with larger yarn is a good idea.
• Some knitters suggest putting a pin in those stitches. This way, you can just grab the pin and lift the stitch onto the needle. This method works, but it can stretch the stitch out a little, which is what you’re trying to avoid in general.
• Another approach is to use your thumbnail to find the correct strand. When you’re working the first half of the heel, the strand is easier to locate on the public side, and when you’re working the second half of the heel, the strand is easier to locate from the wrong side of the slipper. In both cases, the strand is the outermost vertical line.
• A third way to find the “stitch below” is to make the “stitch above” submissive. When you’re working the first half of the heel, separate the needles so that the stitch you just worked and the one you are about to work are far apart; then use your thumb or the tip of the right needle to slide the “stitch below” toward the left needle. If you’ve got the correct stitch, it’ll slide. When you’re working the second half of the heel, slip the stitch you are about to work to the right needle and separate the needles; then use your thumb or the tip of the left needle to slide the “stitch below” toward the right needle. If you’ve got the correct stitch, it’ll slide.

Variations on a Theme for the Sweet Tomato Heel

I haven’t been working with this heel long enough to have strong opinions about it, but two things I noticed during my early experiments are these:

A. The heel might be a little tidier if you use k2tog tbl in the second half of the heel.
B. You can use this technique when working a more traditional short-row heel. Just make each row one stitch shorter than the previous one as you would when working the first half of the standard short-row heel. Then as you work Step 9 (above), knit each of the sloppy short-row stitches together with the stitch below it. Work the foot right after that, or work a couple of rounds even then do exactly what you did before.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. The Duchess
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 01:34:24

    Very detailed! This is interesting, I’m going to look at it more closely soon as I’ve always struggled with heels. x

    Reply

  2. Elaine Anderson
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 01:04:41

    I’ve tried this heel about four times now. I love the simplicity of it. However, I know I amdoing something wrong on the right hand sts. The left half or first part of the heel is uniform and tight with no gaps. The second a part of the heel ends up with a row of diamond-shaped gaps. Will knitting through the back solve that problem? It looks as if there is a twist somewhere. Just at that point in the video, the knitting goes out of the frame.

    Thanks.

    Reply

  3. crystal
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 21:43:12

    If the holes are on the side, the book says to place one edge stitch from the sides of the front on a stitch marker. When all the wedges are done you can use this stitch to ladder up the sides. If this is as clear as mud you can also try the ravelry group for Sweet Tomato Heels.

    http://www.ravelry.com/groups/cats-sweet-tomato-heels

    Reply

    • Elaine Anderson
      Jun 27, 2012 @ 22:39:57

      Thank you for that advice. Your instruction to look for the stitch that slides turned on the light bulb for me. I am still finding gaps at the hinges so your advice is great.

      Reply

  4. Anna
    Apr 18, 2013 @ 10:24:33

    I had the same problem, because I the the thanks ma going uphill the same way I did going downhill! Check Cat’s book!

    Reply

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