Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Theology of Socks

I've been thinking about it, and I'm pretty sure I've had a pair of socks on the needles almost all the time since July of last year. I've done other things, too (wee little snow people spring to mind, for example), but socks have been the mainstay of the knitting repertoire. Even when the "main" knitting is something else, I've had a sock going in the background. In fact, I've become a bit evangelistic about them, trying to convince others that they need to learn to knit socks, too. (There really is no experience so magical as turning a heel. You should try it.) You might say I've gotten Sock Religion, and I'm feeling pretty confident about my decision to join the Church of Sock.  

Or I was. These goddamned socks have made me doubt everything. The problem is that I can't figure out whether they're representatives of God sent to test me, or representatives of Satan sent to make me lose faith in socks and their designers.

Here they are:

I wanted natural light, so she obligingly stuck her feet in the window. : )
Cute, aren't they? They're modeled by my mom, the intended recipient. She chose the yarn, but I chose the pattern. The first tenet of Sock Theology is:

1. We choose our own damnation.

Why did I choose this pattern? I wanted to make something "complicated." That is, I wanted to make something that looked complicated, but that I would breeze through, something that would garner admiring sighs even from my fellow knitters and blatant awe from nonknitters. Something that would allow me to lower my eyelids demurely and say in a modest voice, "Oh, it was nothing" in that tone that means I know perfectly well that I am the supreme knitting goddess of all the world, but that I am too well bred to say so.

In short, ladies and gentlemen, I chose this pattern because of hubris.

I started this pattern last July, but didn't get very far because I didn't like the yarn-pattern combination and switched to another design. But I did find an error before I quit, and on this go-round I knew I would need to use the chart instead of the written instructions. So I should've been prepared for errors in other parts of the pattern as well. The second tenet of Sock Theology is:

2. Much like scripture, knitting patterns may be inspired, but they are ultimately a human production and are full of mistakes. In evaluating a pattern's validity and accuracy, confer with experts and use your own best judgment.

I should've checked for pattern corrections before I even started knitting. I should've read the notes written by the 49 other knitters on Ravelry who have knit this pattern before me. Instead, I forged ahead alone, convinced that I knew what I was doing, that I didn't need input from anyone else on MY socks.

So when I got to the instruction that informed me that I was supposed to have 33 stitches over two needles, but I only had 32, I assumed it was my fault. I tinked back and rekint. And still had 32. So I recounted the stitches on my needles. Yup, still 32. I counted the stitches in the pattern. 32. But then in the very next line it insisted that there should be 33, and the next step in the pattern did require 33 stitches.

Still, incredibly, I assumed the fault must be mine. Feeling like a bit of a failure, I increased a stitch in what I hoped would be an inconspicuous spot and muddled on. Much like trying to live according to a literal interpretation of 2,000+-year-old book, I found myself feeling vaguely guilty for something I couldn't quite put my finger on. I just wasn't a good enough knitter, and I was starting to feel a crinkle between my eyebrows every time I thought about it.

And I thought about it a lot. I was thinking about these socks one Sunday during church. (Sorry, Amy.) I believe it was while we were singing the Doxology ("Praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Praise God, all creatures here below . . .") that the thought? inspiration? voice of God? came to me:

"You'd better check Ravelry for errata."

So when I got home, I did. And found more than a page of corrections. Of course, they wouldn't be so long if they weren't so rambling and preceded by statements like "I would've reknit this sooner, but I'm working on my book" (god help her tech editor, assuming she bothered to hire one, and no, I do not want THAT book for Christmas) and "This is probably all my fault." Let me help you with any doubts you may harbor, Ms. Designer: It. Is. All. Your. Fault.

And the ultimate insult: "LOL!"

Kiddos, I am not LOLing.


That was about 2-1/2 weeks ago. I muddled through the corrections and worked out just what the hell the designer was trying to accomplish. The second sock moved along at a leisurely pace and has the distinction of being the victim of my first-ever episode of Second-Sock Syndrome. Luckily it only got put down three times, once for about a week while I knit the January square of a square-a-month afghan, and twice for 24-hour projects because I needed a break. At one point I dropped a stitch in the gusset decrease without noticing and had to rip back 6 rounds, so I got frustrated with myself all over again.

But they're done. They're in warm, washable wool, and I happen to know that they're on Mom's feet as I type this. They caused me aggravation like nothing since college algebra, but she seems to like them, so I suppose they were worth it.

If they hadn't been a gift for someone else, I probably would've carefully woven in the ends, blocked them neatly, and then burnt them in a small bonfire in the backyard as a sacrifice to appease the knitting gods.

Sock Theology tenets 3, 4, and 5:

3. Don't expect perfection from others that you can't achieve yourself, and don't model your knitting on someone else's vision of perfection. 
4. No one is forcing you to knit. If you aren't enjoying it, you should stop. 
(4a. Recipients of gifts like this shouldn't feel guilty about enjoying something we knitters complain about so bitterly. Like many religious people, many knitters have a bit of a masochistic streak. If we didn't enjoy torturing ourselves just a little, we'd be watching Netflix instead of trying to figure out where the hell the extra stitch came from.)
5. Knitting is supposed to be relaxing, so pull your head out of your ass, have a giggle at yourself for taking it all so seriously, and move the hell on.