Fireworks Socks: Inspired by Traditional Knitting and Embroidery

It’s no secret that PieceWork adores handknitted socks and stockings. Our adoration led us to dedicate the twelfth annual Historical Knitting issue, January/February 2018, to these humble foot coverings. Past Historical Knitting issues also contain stunning examples of socks. Anna Zilboorg’s Firework socks, featured on the cover of January/February 2011, are a particular favorite. Here’s Anna to tell you more about the inspiration for her socks:

In the past, knitting traveled by artifact. A traveler took a knitted object to a new location, where people who were intrigued by what they saw figured out how they could do it themselves. Then they made their own artifacts patterned according to their own imaginations. Thus developed different knitting methods and different ethnic patterns and styles. Today, when the knowledge of knitting travels through magazines, books, the Internet, and teachers, we have access to all the ways people knit and the things they make. We can engage in World Knitting, a genre that does not depend on the whims of the moment but draws its inspiration from many traditions, melding them harmoniously.

Fireworks Socks

Anna Zilborg’s knitted and embroidered Fireworks socks. Photos by Joe Coca

These particular socks began with a wedding sock from Konya in Turkey. Turkish wedding socks were always of fine white wool with tiny, delicate patterns of twisted traveling stitches (the technique that moved to the Austrian Alps and gave us those wonderful surface decorations that look like wood carving). I wanted the spirit of these socks without having to knit at 12 stitches per inch (about 5 stitches per cm).

In addition, I wanted to embroider my knitting. Embroidery is native to so many peoples.

Some years ago, I found myself sitting with two young women in a field in Uzbekistan. They were watching a flock of sheep and embroidering small pieces of cloth. I had joined them to see what they were doing. I expect it was as exotic an experience for them as it was for me, but it was then and there that I decided that somehow I would embroider my knitting in a way that complemented both the knitting and the stitching. Now thinking of a wedding sock, I was looking for a stitch pattern to embroider.

I found the pattern, which speaks to me of fireworks, in The Harmony Guide to Knitting: Techniques and Stitches, edited by Debra Mountford (New York: Harmony Books, 1992). I do not know where it came from, but I would guess that it originated in a nineteenth-century counterpane pattern because of its similarity to other shell-shaped patterns and its use of garter stitch. I brought it up to date a bit by improving the looks of the decreases—a detail that speaks to me of our current technical prissiness.

Fireworks Socks

Detail of Anna Zilboorg’s Fireworks socks, showing the heel and foot.

The shaping techniques in these socks are modern. The short-row toe until recently was used only in machine-made socks. I like its simplicity and ease. The Eastern toe beginning needs no seaming or grafting. The ankle shaping and heel represent a new integration of the heel into the foot by master knitting engineer Cat Bordhi. It is fun to do, and it is easy to adjust the circumference of the ankle by increasing more or fewer stitches on the foot. The upper edge of the sock uses a sewn bind-off that is more elastic than any other I know. It was a gift to the knitting world from our patron saint, Elizabeth Zimmermann.

—Anna Zilboorg


The pattern for Anna Zilboorg “Fireworks Socks: Inspired by Traditional Knitting and Embroidery” is available in PieceWork’s January/February 2011 issue, our 5th annual Historical Knitting issue. Find more stunning socks to knit in the January/February 2018 issue. To learn a unique knitted sock heel based on a pair of Turkish wedding socks, read our blog post “Knit This Ingenious Heel from a Pair of Turkish Socks.”

Master knitter Anna Zilboorg lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, spending her time knitting, designing, and spinning.

Featured Image: Detail of Anna Zilboorg’s Fireworks socks, showing the toe.


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