What I Wish Was On Sandi’s Needles

Note from Sandi: Welcome to my little corner of Knitting Daily! Every Thursday, I'll be sharing stories of my knitting adventures, as well as some tips and tricks I've learned along the way. Thanks for coming by!

This past weekend, I fell in love with a pair of socks. Given that I spent last weekend at Sock Summit, if I hadn't fallen in love with at least one pair of socks, you folks would have likely thought that poor Sandi had lost her little stitch markers, and needed to be gently wrapped in wool and carted off to the Home For the Knitterly Insane. (No fear: Sock love still intact. All good.)

The socks were not by Cookie A (although, she is as funny and charming as you would expect); they were not by Nancy Bush (who is lovely and passionate about folk knitting traditions); they were not by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts (who ended up being a total hoot, with her unexpected South Texas drawl and her story-telling). In fact, these socks were not designed by any modern designer.

The socks I love are 175 years old, knitted by a long-dead lady's maid. They belong to Judith MacKenzie McCuin, who showed them to us as part of her classes on spinning sock yarn. One of the socks is pictured in the photo above.

These lace socks are knee-high, creamy white, and knitted on needles so fine that we would refer to them as "wires." The socks fit one's foot and leg like a glove, hugging curves and holding their shape, even after 175 years (Judith still wears them occasionally).

This is all pretty amazing…especially given that they are knit, not out of wool, but cotton. Cotton thread, in fact.

This surprised all of us in class. We knitters are taught from Day One that cotton has no memory, that it will not hold its shape, and that it is really a poor choice for socks–and probably a pretty stupid choice for anything that is supposed to hug curves, like a knee-sock.

Nonetheless: Delicate cotton lace knee-high socks. Still wearable after 175 years.

I should be so lucky as to knit anything that will be wearable in the year 2184. (Think of that!)

The secret, as Judith explained it to us, is in the stitches themselves:
The knitter, a humble maid servant, knew which stitch patterns were inherently stretchy, no matter what yarn was used; and which stitch patterns were firm, lending structure as needed. See the toe? Our lady's maid knew that stockinette, knit at a wee gauge, will withstand much wear. Now look at the cuff: She also knew that some rib and lace patterns have so much give that they will provide "memory" in the fabric even if your yarn lacks any memory itself.

It is still true that a good sock yarn must have two things: elasticity and strength.
However, as our maidservant's sock show us, it is possible to use a yarn without one of these qualities, if the stitches make up the difference. I knew this in theory, but to see such a dramatic example of the clever usage of stitch patterns to provide elasticity in a cotton sock was amazing.

So: In my fantasies, these amazing socks are on my needles…except that I really couldn't knit on piano wires, and even if I did get past using the wires, I would finish one sock–just one–in, oh, about…175 years. 🙂

Who else did I see at Sock Summit?

None other than our very own Kathleen Cubley, editor of Knitting Daily! We chattered like old friends until it was time to go–and she posed for a photo with Nikki, my little traveling lamb friend (a gift from my husband to keep me company on long plane rides).

But wait! There's more!

Meg Swanson (!!) hugged me. I also got Barbara Walker's (!!) signature on a book, and I learned an entirely new way to increase (!!) in Lucy Neatby's sock class.

In the marketplace, I spotted Abby Franquemont showing that yes, indeed, she can spin yarn on anything (shown here: she's spinning on a cheap ballpoint pen!).

As for those of you who were worried that there wouldn't be enough space in my suitcase for new purchases…uh…shall we just say I am an expert packer? 😉

There was more–but I have to go over to the new house with some things so I can start organizing my new studio…

Knit with joy,

– Sandi

Next week: I'm moving, so I'm trying to keep it simple. More baby blanket stars? Or perhaps I just ought to knit up some large squares of garter stitch and sew them into a straitjacket–moving makes me feel crazy!

P.S. Let me know what you think! You can leave a comment below or even email me at sandi@knittingdaily.com.

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