There’s a little plastic bag squished into the corner of my big knitting bag. A little plastic bag with a squish together top whose creases and worn softness tell the story of a project that’s long been carted around, knit a bit and stuffed away, knit a bit and put out of sight. And now that bag is empty.
I have finished a pair of socks. By itself this shouldn’t be particularly noteworthy but if you’ve been reading here for a little while would you like to guess the last time you saw these socks, or sock singular as it then was?
Before Pip was born?
Before Kitty even?
That it has taken me since 2011 to knit the second sock gives this pair the unenviable honour of having suffered from the worst bout of second sock syndrome I ever inflicted on a pile of yarn, and even that first sock took its time.
Time for a moment of candour. I cast on this pair of socks on 30 August 2008 (yes you read that right) and finished them on 8 July 2017. Nine years. Nine whole years of largely being tucked away down the bottom of the knitting bag, of being the constant WIP at the top of my Ravelry notebook, or being out of sight but never quite forgotten.
I’m not quite sure what it was that prompted me to pick it back up again after so long, perhaps simply wanting to make space for more yarn in my tent stash, or, more likely, the realisation that a lot of my socks have all reached the end of their natural life span together and we have something of a cold feet problem in the house, and it really shouldn’t have been a challenge. I am a good knitter, a knitter with a capital K, who loves to wrap her brain around the complicated and the crazy and put them into order, stitch by tiny stitch and yet this second sock (and probably the first one too) had me questioning everything I ever thought I knew about being a knitter.
Forgive me if you’re learning, or it’s something that you never quite wrapped your brain around, but for me, after 30 years practice, knitting is my second language, a language of stitches, one after the other, that I speak with native fluency (which is far more than can be said for my French), and yet there is not a single section, not one in all thirteen sections, Richard to Vain, that I did not have to rip back and do over. And I don’t care how much will power you have, how much you love your craft, how clever it makes you feel when you get it right, that amount of frogging would crush Pollyanna.
To get to this point, where I can show you a whole two socks, warm and snuggly and covered in grass because I live in a tent and it turns out to be impossible to take “rainbow in the sky” pictures without at some stage stepping on the lawn, took determination, and a finely judged amount of pink wine.
The truth is that to knit something beautiful and complicated is easy when your hands hold the muscle memory to make it easy. I can smile and accept a compliment because yes I did just take sticks and string and make clothes, but it’s like a toddler marvelling at an adult for reading Swallows and Amazons while they’re still working out That’s Not My Train.
It’s when the muscle memory isn’t there, and you find a pattern that you love that stretches you, either in the knitting or because it’s not written in the way that your brain works, that’s when you step up and earn every one of those knitterly stripes. And that means that these could have been the ugliest socks ever to be cast off, and I would still rate them, not as a favourite knit, but as a worthy adversary.
So let me tell you a bit more about them. The pattern is the Seven Chakras, formerly known as the In Tsuspense Project, sent as part of the 2008 Tsock Club and designed by the late Tsarina of Tsocks, Lisa Grossman. Each section arrived as instructions and the relevant constituent part of the rainbow rolled up into little balls of Holiday Yarns Flock Sock, you followed the direction and waited for the next month and we were probably on the third instalment before we even knew it was a sock, given that it started at the heel.
The pattern runs out from the heel through the different elements for the Chakras until finally at the toe and cuff you find the heart. It’s a clever design, typical of Lisa’s creativity, and I love that there is so much going on below the surface of what is otherwise just a beautiful soft rainbow sock.
Aside from all of the ripping back, I learnt a new way to cast on, I learnt that I don’t particularly like that new way to cast on, and in this second sock especially, I got to grips with knitting socks on two circulars, and also decided that I really do like my nice shiny purple metal DPNs.
If you want a pair of rainbow socks, there are far far easier patterns out there, even before you’ve got anywhere near self striping rainbow yarn, but that isn’t what these socks are about; they’re about seeing a project through to the end, about never giving up, about accepting that it is OK to find a project infuriatingly wonderfully hard, and just a little bit about the fact that come the winter, I’m going to have amazingly cosy rainbow toes.