I’m halfway through my third pair of holiday socks, and I’ve come down with a bit of a case of second sock syndrome. As I cast on my second Wedge sock and flipped through knit. sock. love. to pick a pair for to cast on for my great-aunt, I imagine that I felt a little like Julie Powell felt about Mastering the Art of French Cooking: a heady mixture of awe and inspiration, with more than a touch of stubborn determination to complete the task at hand, no matter how long it takes (because I’m not crazy, right?)
Much like French cooking, sock knitting is the art of making something mundane truely beautiful and special. Like cooking someone a fantastic meal, the time and care involved in knitting a pair of socks is a way of making something quotidian memorable and fantastic. And like French cooking, sock knitting has it’s innovators. These wedge socks are one of the few patterns that has made me stand back and ask, “How did someone come up with that?” Like moebius knitting or Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Surprise Jacket, these socks are not simply a clever variation on an existing pattern – they seem (at least to me) wholly new.
Innovating in knitting is not easy, it involves a deep understanding of knitting as a mathematical discipline, and an ability to craft really lovely clothing that people want to make and give. It is also not always something that comes with credit: the genius who developped the kitchener stitch (a method for grafting the toe of socks that I used to finish this wedge sock) remains the stuff of urban legend. Herbert Kitchener, the 1st Earl of Kitchener is credited by wikipedia with devising it for use in Red Cross sock knitting, during the First World War. However, there is a major lack of evidence to support that; the kitchener stitch, may in fact, have originated on this side of the Atlantic at sometime between the wars.
Before the contemporary era of ravelry and knitting blogs, knitting skills were passed down orally, through families, and so their origins become nearly impossible to trace. Like me, many knitters still remember their first time picking up needles on their grandmother’s couch or across a well worn kitchen table. It’s part of what is so appealing to me about knitting – skills and ideas are rarely owned, but shared across generations, so that they can be used and improved.
When I knit, I feel like I am in conversation with my departed grandmothers, and the grandmothers that taught them to knit, on and on backwards through a community of women (and men) who took the time to think about how to do things better and differently and who crafted beautiful, practical objects to keep people warm – whether they were for the small children in the backyard or for the young men on far off battlefields in Europe. Today, I’m grateful again, to have had such magnificent grandparents, who continue to share their skills and their wisdom.