When I first learned how to knit I desperately wanted to make socks. It was 1997 and to my knowledge people didn't do things like make socks anymore, it was old fashioned and weird. I knew it could be done, but didn't know how to find out how to make them. If you are a recent knitter, like started knitting in the past 5 years, you have to realize that there was no knitting online and no one published sock patterns. There were Alice Starmore sweaters, Kristin Nicholas over at Classic Elite had some great intarsia going on and then there was just "yarn." But people didn't make socks. Maybe I'll get flack for this statement, but for me at that time it was true. My LYS carried no sock books, no sock patterns and come to think of it no sock yarn. I had a really hard time finding double pointed needles too. My LYS didn't carry them and you couldn't buy them online because no one sold knitting things on the internet. The internet was still just for email and porn! Lisa didn't carry double pointed needles when she and Jennifer opened up shop in 1995, who would? I remember going into shops and asking for them and getting a range of responses from blank stare to downright hostility. Young people didn't knit and I'm sure people assumed I was not going to use these for actual knitting. Who knows what they thought I was up to. Or maybe they thought if they sold them to me I'd come in every day and make their staff help me use them, and obviously I was an idiot and in over my head! In sock knitting's defense, there were probably some sock patterns published, and maybe even a book but I certainly didn't know how to get a hold of them. People knit sweaters. I knew that socks had been knit, but as far as I knew they hadn't been for hundres of year. The answer to my sock-less dilemma was to figure it out for myself. So I thought about all the ways to make a curve in a plane. I knew nothing of short rows and I had never heard of a heel flap. I had the idea that if I did a bunch of decreases really fast the fabric would create a pocket of sorts. I cast on some stitches and just knit back and forth and tried out my hypothesis. It worked! If I decreased really fast in the middle of the square the fabric wouldn't lay flat. So I got some double pointed needles, which incidently were also hard to find, and I cast on. Essentially what I ended up doing was a heel flap, but it also answered the problem of the gusset at the same time.
The "heel flap" is knit over 1/2 of the cast on sts and a decrease is worked at the beginning of each row, or at the beginning and end of every other row until you've decreased to 2-4 sts. When you knit back around on all the stitches and pick up the heel flap stitches you have basically knit the heel turn and gusset into the heel flap. A typical heel flap is rectangular. So, when you pick up the stitches along each side you still have the instep stitches and the stitches for the bottom of the heel. In short, you have more stitches than you need. You have all the stitches you started with PLUS the stitches you've picked up along the sides of the heel flap. In a typical sock you then turn the heel to make a "pouch" for your heel to fit into and then you work a gusset by decreasing the stitches along the sides to get rid of all those extra stitches. With this heel since you haven't added any stitches there is no need to decrease them afterwards so no gusset necessary. Also, the decreasing shapes the heel flap creating a natural "pouch" for your heel. Fewer steps, less time fussing, more time knitting around and around. A more sensible sock if you ask me.
I used about 30 gms of Koigu mill ends from Rosie's Yarn Cellar for these baby socks on size 2.5 mm dpns. I have to confess though, I haven't knit a grown up sock with this heel so who knows how it'll work. Any volunteers?
In the meantime, here's the pattern for the baby socks. Try it for yourself!