The Kurdish Socks of Iraq

When I was in Iraq [1991–1997], though awed by the beauty and Mideast flair of the [Kurdish knitted] socks, I was not a knitter and could not appreciate all that it took to make them. Now a passionate knitter, I marvel even more at these exquisite socks, knowing how much time and skill was involved in their construction.

Traditional knitted Kurdish socks Barb Sobkoviak purchased during the years she lived in Iraq—1991–1997. Photos by George Boe.

Traditional knitted Kurdish socks Barb Sobkoviak purchased during the years she lived in Iraq—1991–1997. Photos by George Boe.

The overall knitting proficiency and intricate knitting techniques that create their design amaze me. I have six pairs of socks, each pair unique. Some are knitted of handspun wool, others of acrylic yarn, and one from cotton. Several have stranded patterns at the toe, and most include complex design elements—lace, cables, traveling-stitch patterns—adding to their beauty. Several pairs share a similar design concept and some of the same patterns. Yet each sock has its individual elements that give it a distinct flair.

Traditional knitted Kurdish socks from the collection of Barb Sobkoviak.

Traditional knitted Kurdish socks from the collection of Barb Sobkoviak.

Because many Kurds cannot read or write, they did not have patterns or knitting books; instead, knowledge was passed on person to person. That knowledge had to be applied and reproduced to create such beautiful works of tradition, function, and art. The women spun the wool from their own sheep on drop spindles, spent hours knitting, and then sold their socks for a pittance at the shops run by their male relatives.

—Barb Sobkoviak

To read more of Barb Sobkoviak’s article, “The Kurdish Socks of Iraq,” and make Vicki Square’s stunning adaptation of traditional Kurdish socks, “Kurdish Socks to Knit,” pick up PieceWork March/April 2018, our 25th-Anniversary issue.

During the six years Barb Sobkoviak lived in Iraq, she learned to love the Kurds, speak their language, and to develop hundreds of friendships. She also met her husband, Ron, there; they now live in northern Michigan, where she homeschools their six children. When she checked out a few knitting books from the library thinking that the children might learn how to knit, her librarian offered to teach them. From knitting, they started raising Angora goats and long wool sheep, which led to learning to spin, more sheep, and more knitting.

Featured Image: Detail of the toe of a pair of Kurdish socks from the collection of Barb Sobkoviak.


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