Saturday, 30 May 2015

Sock It To Me, Baby!

The humble sock - it features in so many of our phrases
  • I'm 4'11½" in my socks
  • the teacher told me to pull my socks up and finish my homework
  • his singing was dreadful, and his sister said he should put a sock in it
  • the academic girl was a real blue stocking
  • these peppermints could blow your socks off!
  • sock it to me, baby!
The Romans wore sock type foot-coverings, and up at Vindolanda, a fort on Hadrian's Wall, writings  were discovered about udonum, socks of woven woollen cloth.
The Latin word was soccus, the Anglo Saxons referred to brocs, and later, stoccs.
By Tudor times, people spoke of hose, chausses [French] Jersey Hose, and longpikes [these were stockings with soles attached] Shakespear refers to socks as buskins
Handknitting ones' socks was a popular craft throughout Europe - in Denmark they held bindestues [knitting bees] in Wales once Autumn arrived, that meant noswaith weu [knitting nights] The Lithuanians dyed their wool yellow with the amber resin, and the Norwegians made flammegarn - an amazing striped yarn, produced by tie dyeing hanks of wool. The women of Yorkshire wound the wool round a thropple - an amazing gadget produced from the dried windpipe of a goose, formed into a circle with pebbles inside. If they dropped it in the dim light, they could hear where the ball had rolled! 
Back to socks again - Latvians believed that if you wore your socks inside out at seed sowing time, it would confuse the Devil and result in good crops. Also, that if you got lost, and put your socks on inside out, you would be able to find your way home again!

I learned all this from Nancy Bushes amazing book about folk socks. It is full of great historical facts, information on techniques [heel and toe shaping etc] and 17 traditional patterns from Europe [and one Egyptian design]
I got this from the library but I am seriously considering investing in my own copy.
WHY did I get this book out? Blame Liz, the latest knitting enthusiast in the family. She gave me two balls of sock yarn at Easter - having purchased them herself, she decided she didn't want to use them after all. So I thought I should have a go.

But I confess that when it came to it, I chickened out rather. I do have some double pointed needles [inherited from my wonderful Mother in law] but in the end I went back to the twin needle sock pattern which I purchased from Web of Wool in Leamington Spa many, many years ago.

It is very quick, and the seam is up the inside of the foot and calf, so does not rub your soles. The toe is joined with Kitchener stitch.

The yarn came from Tiger, that chain of Danish homeware shops, and was relatively inexpensive. It will be interesting to see how well it washes and wears.

I think I should persevere with the 4-needle method though - this 15th Century painting from Germany clearly shows the child Jesus reading, while his mother labours away on her dpns, knitting 'in the round'. If the BVM can do it, then I ought to try harder at this craft.


  1. I recently watched an episode of Hustle, where one of the characters is called 3 socks, I hadn't heard the expression befor so looked it up & it's quite rude, lol!

  2. Thank you for posting all the fascinating information about socks! Knitting with double pointed needles isn't difficult. The active knitting is done on only two needles at any one time, the other needles are only holding the stitches. If you think the stitches might slip off the other needles, I believe you can get little tips to place at the ends of the needles. I am sure you will be able to master knitting in the round!

  3. Yes, *do* persevere. I too avoided the 4 needles, believing it to be too difficult. But after the first pair - which involved a lot of muttering and unpicking - I quickly got the hang of it. Such a treat to simply cast off and have a sock, right there, ready to wear with no further 'sewing up' required :-)

  4. I've got the needles, and the yarn, and I am all set to have a go with the WinwickMum's Sockalong instructions when I have finished the current scarf which is on the needles now. My grandmother used to knit socks and it is something I am determined to get sorted out in my brain one of these days - it is one of my aims for 2015 - to be wearing a pair of my handknitted socks by Christmas!

  5. If it's any help, I've knitted loads of socks and I find pure wool holes quickly, 90% wool + 10% nylon wears well but goes fuzzy and can felt a bit, 50/50 wool and nylon/acrylic is hard wearing but not too warm and the yarn becomes less soft. 70-80% wool seems to be best. I do love your posts about words; very interesting!

  6. Oh, and I knit on 4 needles and I don't wear a wooly while knitting or the tail ends of the needles get caught in my clothing.

  7. What a fun history you've provided. I'm not a knitter, but I do appreciate those who do. I didn't know the BVM knitted, but why not?

  8. Great sock history, I love the yarn you've mad your socks from.

  9. I love kitting socks! I haven't made a pair in ages. I might try doing some for hubby as a fathers day gift.
    Google silvers sock class for a step by step tutorial on Dpn socks
    X x


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