Thoughts While Learning to Knit a Sock

Suzanne Linford

July, 2004
© 2004 Linford

The hand-knitted sock is a nearly extinct species
rarely seen,
except outside fishing cottages
growing from the needles of women worn prematurely old,
dressed in black
and surrounded by white stones.

Few examples were photographed
or etched, unless some attic library
has yet to surface testaments to this
act of extreme duty, love or art?

My knitting teacher, who has the same name and age of my daughter
ardently believes hand knitted socks are an art form.
Her young, supple fingers patiently and kindly show our class
of women, who are old enough to be her mother,
how to manipulate 4 double pointed knitting needles with
yarn stitches slipping off all 8 pointed ends,
to create an object d’art art that will conform to the
strange contours of a human foot.

While I participate in this new rite,
I think I hear the voice of my mother
(who promised that her death would not remove her
watchful presence from my life), watching and saying:

"I remember my grandmother saying that her grandmother
celebrated when machine knitted socks became
available in the Sears Roebuck Catalog."

Watching me here now, with the needles sticking out at angles
Like a yarn porcupine,
Mom must wonder again (out loud, as usual)
If my peculiar interests weren't symptoms of some mutations
Caused by the stress of WW II, when she was pregnant with me.

She had raised me and my sisters with all the advantages of plastic,
frozen vegetables, polyester, and household machine appliances.
Only I showed regressive genes to a backward, rural time
when our ancestors lived on farms and had to make everything including
growing their own vegetables and getting their hands dirty pulling them
out of their kitchen gardens and even
cooking animals they had fed and touched and who
weren't even dogs!

In the 1950's Communists in Russia still lived that way, too.

Where is the mother of our knitting instructor tonight?
Is she so skilled in sock knitting that she effortlessly creates socks out of cashmere
and knitted designs of birds and Celtic crosses with perfectly turned heels and gussets
showing an even gauge and no gaping holes?

It seems that knitted socks are rare
but not extinct. Perhaps still more examples will be found in some
new archaeological find,
but not in Egypt,
all the tomb paintings there show people
sensibly barefoot.

It is an exotic thought that examples of Egyptian dynastic footwear
may still be unearthed and more interesting to think
about than the exact alignment of the heel stitches to
the gusset.
A sock has surprisingly many parts, each with a name
And a story that fascinates our teacher. (whose mother had to have
Been pregnant with her during the Vietnam War).

Creating art requires a price in love and labor.
I calculate that these socks will add up to approximately
$1000 per pair and will adversely affect the love
of my tribe of relatives,
When they put them in the clothes dryer or,
let their dog chew on them, or
lose them on river trips, or
keep them tucked away in some forgotten
place to prevent damage or loss and when I offer to help them look,
suddenly remember that they loaned them to a friend who wanted to wear the socks in their sister's wedding (and who says I am the only creative mutant in the family?)

Even then, I would scan their feet hopefully
For years despite finding only machine-made
socks and tactful excuses of finding
my art too fine to wear (or even to find).
Guilt is hard on love.

It is a stigma here in this class, to knit a badly knitted sock,
With an uneven gauge, gaping holes, and strange pointed heels that
Would not fit any human foot I have seen, unless,
of course, some hospitals might take them to give
To unfortunates with birth defects or those
who stepped on land mines while
Defending our country against communists
Who planted those mines wearing hand knitted socks.

How many agrarian aged fishermen,
farmers, and peasants would have actually worn
hand-knitted socks? The knitting instructor reassures
that many women for hundreds of years
knitted intricate, beautiful socks for their husbands
and children from memory. They loved to knit
socks, she says smiling confidently.

She is still very young and wears no wedding ring, and
romantic love wasn't widely practiced in centuries past
before indoor plumbing and deodorants.

I unravel the sock for the 3rd time and begin again.
Those women must have danced when they saw their first machine made socks, I think.
There are a lot of paintings of women dancing in the fields, barefoot.
They couldn't have danced just because of the harvest.

There could have been a few sock artists, and my mother would have explained them as being utero casualties of the 30 Year War
or the Napoleonic Wars or their pregnant mothers having had
the Black Plague.

I'm glad I took this class because I now realize that my family would probably prefer to receive some manufactured
gift, something practical, machine washable, identical in size and gauge with perfectly rounded heels and toes.

Other writings by Susie Linford


Susie Linford