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The Domestic Soundscape
Swaledale sea socks – a maritime yarn

This is the first sock I have made in which sound was an influence, and I think it may well be my very favourite sock.

Last year when I was staying in Sussex, Kate and I took a walk on the beach and I found myself comparing the gorgeously light crunch of the seashells and sand underfoot with the delicious crispness of some Swaledale yarn I had acquired from Prick Your Finger. Excitedly listening to the amplified sound of shells and sand through my Edirol and thrusting my headphones upon poor Kate insisting that she too participate in the sonic rapture, I began wondering how this white, sandy yarn could be used – both visually and with its touch – to evoke my whole sense of that place.

Now I know that crispiness is not ordinarily a quality one desires in a yarn, but the distinctive, delicate, sheeply scrunch of my DK Swaledale from Prick Your Finger struck me as being special, and as soon as I heard/touched it, I set about trying to find a way of bringing out its excellent, tactile qualities. The texture of this yarn is very similar, I feel, to that of a sandy beach. The initial touch is soft and pleasurable, but on further handling you realise you are touching something elemental, strong and enduring. I believe this yarn is worsted spun as it is heavier and smoother than one would expect from the wool of one of the country’s hardiest sheep breeds, and the exacting way it has been spun by at Diamond Fibres has lent the yarn a strength and density that make it ideal for walking wear. The more I walk in my woollen socks, the more I desire the sense of sturdy fibres underfoot and the more I want a firm fabric that – while cushioning my feet against the inside of my boots – will not be worn through after a few wearings.

At first I experimented with recreating the textures of the beach at Dymchurch using stitch-patterns.

…but I was unsatisfied with the resulting fabric, and how it somehow made this fine, straight yarn appear thin and curly, and how it failed to showcase the delicious variations of creams and whites within the fibres. After buying some blue Organic Cornish Wool to make the lettering inside Mark’s sweater, I realised that perhaps the best way to emphasise these creams and whites, was through contrast.

This photo doesn’t quite do justice to the incredibly rich blue of the Organic Cornish Wool placed beside the Swaledale, but hopefully you can see the wonderful hairiness of the Swaledale beside this much darker shade, and how the semi-solid blues echo the mix of whites that comprise the Swaledale. I adore these yarns together, and with the floats on the back, the resultant fabric is incredibly warm and strong.

To inform my design, I read Priscilla A. Gibson-Roberts’ book, Simple Socks; Plain and Fancy, which offers several ideas and forumlas for designing socks using short-rows at both heels and toes. This method allows for heels and toes to be replaced with greater ease than in other methods of construction, and this – along with the sturdy fabric created by two-handed colourwork – seems an infinitely practical choice for the development of a hard-wearing sock, for walking.

Because this sock reminds me of a crunchy beach walk with Kate and because I now associate the i-cord bind-off entirely with her, I decided to finish my sock off like this.

I love it and can’t wait to finish the second sock, so that I may thrust my feet inside my boots and go off in search of further sonic inspiration…

Sock #1 ravelled here.

12 Responses to Swaledale sea socks – a maritime yarn

  1. kate says:

    Wot a beauteous thing it is, and how well I recall all the sounds and sensations our marvellous walk at Dymchurch. I also recall that pub where a man in fatigues tried to buy your hat!

  2. JoannaD says:

    Probably the most interesting sock post I have ever read. Thank you. Very inspiring – I feel like knitting some myself for walking. It seems obvious that colourwork would produce the perfect walking-sock fabric, but I’ve never see it mentioned before.

  3. jane says:

    What a glorious sock! I must finish my colourwork socks. And, for that matter, I must go to Prick Your Finger – I can’t believe I have never visited! What an interesting post this was, and I really am quite captivated by the loveliness of your sock. Blue and white… just perfect.

  4. Liz T. says:

    I always order my yarn extra crispy nowadays! I love your sock – it’s a thing of beauty.

  5. Philippa says:

    Hooray for this post! I love everything about it – words, pictures, imagined sounds, colourwork, sock. And yes, I think crispness is a very desirable characteristic in a yarn – in the same way that a friend, soon after having her first baby, told me that the only thing she really missed was the first crisp cup of tea of the day all to herself, and I thought, is a cup of tea crisp? and then, yes!

  6. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Blog Archive » Audible Fields

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  8. Karen says:

    I know this is a very late comment, but I just discovered your blog via Kate (Needled)’s link and I want to tell you that I think this post is fascinating and the sock is stunning! I am now “subscribed” to your blog. Thanks!

  9. LauraB says:

    AMAZING! I loved the story at Kate’s, your write-up here and am loving beyond belief the sonic pleasure of the sea here in my rather dry Texas surroundings. Thanks for that link. As for the socks? You tempt me to colorwork, you do! GORGEOUS.

  10. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Blog Archive » FO: Swaledale Socks #2

  11. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Archive » Knitted seas.

  12. Libby says:

    Besides being a lovely, thought-provoking writeup of the creation process, this post has alerted me to a possibility I can’t believe I never realized: that of concealing the ribbed cuff INSIDE the sock, by design or in wearing. !!!

    Thanks for this glimpse!

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