A version of this article was originally published in the Fall 2009 edition of Interweave Knits Magazine, which can be purchased here.
It was midnight in cold January and my apartment walls were vibrating, the bass from the music upstairs ricocheting off the old plaster. Cowering under the bed covers, I wondered how I was going to get through another night. I sighed and turned on the light, reached for the knitting bag on the floor, and adjusted my earplugs. Pillows propped up against the bed frame, I settled in to turn my first heel, determined to make something good out of this awful situation.
I taught myself to knit socks while living alone in a small New York City apartment with unruly upstairs neighbors, who tortured me nightly with loud rap music and many screaming teenagers. Unable to sleep, I needed something to get me through the night; even if I had owned a television, I couldn’t have heard it above the noise. A knitter for several years, I had become intrigued by the fabulous sock yarn on the shelves of many NYC yarn stores. Being able to knit socks seemed incredibly technical to me, a sign that one had progressed to being a “real” knitter. It was a club I wanted desperately to join.
Happily, for Christmas that year my sister presented me with sock yarn, instructions, and a set of double pointed needles. I was elated until I tried wrangling the thin yarn around the tiny wooden needles, and I silently swore at the pattern that instructed me to “join, being careful not to twist”. The yarn and needles conspired against me, insisting on twisting and turning despite my death grip. This would take some practice.
Every night that winter I would call the local police precinct to file a noise complaint, and then turn to my knitting. Watching the stitches line up over and over again was soothing, and it gave me something productive to do until the party upstairs closed down for the night. I was exhausted every morning at 7 am when the alarm roused me to get ready for work, but there was always the satisfaction of a few additional inches to counteract my grogginess.
After six months I moved, completely sleep deprived but with several pairs of socks to keep my feet warm. However, I was now officially obsessed. Learning to knit socks changed my life. I went from a casual, knit-so-I-don’t-eat-in-front-of-the-TV knitter to a full-on knitting demon. I cannot put my needles down. When I leave the house I make sure I have my wallet, my keys and my knitting. Sock needles fall out of my purse when I try to pay for my groceries. During slow moments at work I sneak a few rows at my desk, and when it’s too cold or rainy to go out for lunch, I sit in our break room and kitchener stitch sock toes. My friends post photos of their kids and pets on their Facebook page; I post photos of my finished hand-knit socks.
The thing about knitting socks is, they’re hard…until they’re easy. And once they become easy, you feel like you can knit ANYTHING. I cannot imagine anything more thrilling than turning a heel; I get giddy every time I do it. It’s MATH! It’s ANATOMY! It’s AMAZING! I don’t even mind making two of the same thing because it’s a challenge to see if they will turn out identical or fraternal. Plus, there are so many possibilities – a cable here, a leaf there, a 1 x 1 or a 2 x 2 rib…it’s virtually endless! And, because I have small feet, they are done by the time I start to tire of them. Then there’s the yarn itself, which I can buy without too much guilt and stash away in random corners of my home. Beautifully dyed, the yarns are works of art in their own right. And then, once knit, the yarn keeps my feet warm and happy – what’s not to love?
I now live in suburban Boston and have a long train commute into the city each day, enabling me to produce a new pair of socks every few weeks or so. Each morning the ticket agent on the train stops to check my progress; she’s fascinated by how my beautifully colored string and a couple of tiny wooden needles can churn out a pretty and functional sock. Ten months into my sock habit, I’m still pretty amazed myself.