Get Your Socks On

This be a sock.

new sock

I started it today, and it is one of those tasks that is absolutely simple and terrifyingly complex at the same time. The cozy pumpkin color belies the difficulty – you have to juggle these four two-pointed toothpicks and tiny-gauge sock yarn and somehow get it to all hang together. First, the ribbed top, then the body, then the heel and the gusset and a toe. I’m not even sure yet what a gusset does.

The whole time I’m beginning to learn the technique – from a master knitter – I’m distracted by the thing’s similarity to the Ojo de Dios, the God’s Eye, which originated with the Huichol Indians of Jalisco, Mexico. Also called a Sikuli, which means “the power to see and understand things unknown.” When a child is born, the central eye is woven by the father on perpendicular sticks.


Then an eye, or strand of color, is added for every year of the child’s life until the child reaches the age of five. The eye is the source of visions, power and enlightenment. The colors have different meanings: red equals life itself; yellow equals the sun, moon and stars; blue is the sky and water; brown the soil; green represents plants; black, death.

My new sock is my Sikuli. Albeit a single-tone Sikuli, a pumpkin Sikuli. Let’s say pumpkin means… calm, mellow, the value of the non-frenetic. A sacred meaning for today.

Socks have always been sacred. Historians say that the earliest evidence of knitted clothing found were fragments of socks that were made in Egypt.

brown 2 toed socksThis two-toed number (sandal-ready) came off of a single needle but is remarkably like the knitting we see today. It was recovered in the Christian burial ground of the late Roman period in the present day city of Bahnasa in Egypt, made between 410-540 ad.

Islamic socks had dazzling designs.


What was life like before it was possible to keep your toes warm? Try to imagine a Viking going to sea with cold-numb feet. Ancient shoes have been dug up that were stuffed with tufts of grass for warmth.

By the time the rich could afford it, in the late middle ages, stylish stockings had been devised.


It was men who laboriously crafted these luxury items from 1640, with their tiny thread count and delicate designs. The first, all-male trade union devoted to knitting professionals was founded in 1527 in Paris. The business moved to England. By the late 1600s, millions of stockings were exported from Britain to various parts of Europe.

Women took it up.


(Shetland knitter from Nancy Bush’s formidable Folk Socks.)

Somehow we managed to walk and knit, rock a baby and knit, stir a soup and knit. Things could go wrong in a household, in a life, but everybody needed socks.

Machine knitting relieved a carpal tunnel epidemic.


By now stocks had sexy garters and such. I think I’d like to have lived in 1851 just to slip this one on.

machine knitted stocking 1851

But there was still something about the hand-knit stocking, as witness this 1942 British poster. In a trench, would you rather have yer ma’s woolly sock or the cheap department store model?

1942 British poster

My favorites originated with the heritage sheep at Stone Barns, the farm near my house.


So warm and natural, wearing them is almost like wrapping my feet in sun-toasted grass. They fuel my work, my play, and even my ability to knit things I’ve never knitted before.

Please knit now.

1 Comment

Filed under History, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting

One response to “Get Your Socks On

  1. Lori

    I knit quite avidly. Just now I am nearing the end of a knitted sweater for my sister’s dachshund, Barney. He’s a dear little fellow whom I get to see about as often as I see my sister.
    The main color is blood red. The accent color is a deep marine blue. There is a blue strip around the ribbed neck, a pair of stripes down the back to accent the patterned stripe down the back, and a strip around each front leg. The legs are also knit in ribbing.
    Have knitted many socks. The best advise I could give you at this point is to have patience with yourself. Expect to make mistakes, and don’t fret too much when you do. However, do persevere. When you have knitted your first sock you will be so happy with yourself. You might want to do another right away. By all means, do knit more socks! I made all the Christmas socks for my kids and even a few for other family members.
    My grandmother once told me that when she was in high school — she was born in 1902 — she and her girlfriends would always have a knitting bag with them. She said that during lunch at school they would sit somewhere and knit socks for “our boys over seas”. Mind you, my mother taught me to knit when I was 8, but I kept it up on my own, and today I knit better than she does. My Grandmother has been gone since 1997. She knew we both shared a love of handiwork, and I can’t pick up my needles without thinking of her.
    Good luck with the sock!

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