Site specific socks

I really enjoyed reading Kate’s recent post on walking and how we build up imaginative representations of places as we patrol them. It made me think about my familiar routes, the places which I habitually visit, the things I note along the way, and how I remember places.

Pigeons in the snow in Palmer Park, February 2009

Pigeons in Palmer Park, March 2009

I make recordings on a regular basis – of everything from buying a pint of milk in my local shop to walking down the road – and what amazes me is how, in listening back to my many sound-recordings, (all with the equally unrecognisable filename of ‘R09_000##’) I am often able to identify where the recording was made, and when. Sound can describe the architecture and surface qualities of places in ways that are 3-dimensional and in ways that contain time, so that when I listen back to a 10-minute recording made of frying onions, the 10 minutes in which that happened are somehow preserved.

To me, sound is very physical, inscribing itself against the paper-thin membrane of my eardrums in a very tangible way, and conveying a constant stream of information about the material world in all its scratchy, flawed, repetitive glory. I am not aware of the physical sensation of seeing in the same way that I am aware of the physical sensation of hearing, and I find that in listening to banal reality I become intensely aware of the material world around me. Sound activates the surfaces around me, (how do soundwaves bounce between the surfaces?) and describes the size of any space, (how does sound resonate in that space?) and the more I work with sound, the more I appreciate and am inspired by the physical and detailed way that it describes textures as well as places… for instance, anyone who has ever fried an egg knows the specific tone of oil that is too hot for the task, or the disappointing non-sizzle that lukewarm oil produces on contact with your raw egg. With knitting, I find I am also interested in the extremely small differences in the sound of one yarn or another when I knit, and in the role that sound plays – as well as touch – in conveying its texture to me. In non-domestic situations, I find this obsession with material qualities extends to the built and natural environment outdoors, and I am interested in why sounds seem brittle when there is a lot of ice on the ground, or how the noise of traffic changes between wide, open roads and roads flanked by tall buildings.

The he(a)r(e) / deliberately listening to this tags I made, for exploring the relationship between place and listening

Followers of this blog may recall that I combined some of these ideas – listening and a sense of place – in the Swaledale Sea Socks that were inspired by a combination of the crispy sound of the Swaledale yarn, and my memory of the crunching sand near Romney Marshes. Since knitting these socks and getting hours and hours of pleasurable wear out of them, I have had a number of thoughts on the design.

1. I would prefer these socks if they were knit in such a way that both heel and toe could be picked up and knit down at the end, so that heel and toe are easy to replace
2. The double-thickness of the fabric (created by using 2 colours and having short floats on the back of the fabric) acts very much like the double layer of the 1000 mile socks that have given my feet such comfort on long distance walks
3. I very much like the mix of place/sound/materials that inspired the design

With these thoughts in mind, I dyed the remainder of my 100% Swaledale DK yarn from Prick Your Finger using the walnut hulls I found at St Mary’s Butts in Reading, with the intention of doing something related to that site itself, in knitting.

Here is the wool that I dyed, at the foot of the Walnut tree from which the dye came.

However, once I had wound the balls of yarn, I realised they look far less like the lovely tree and much more like the church that stands directly behind it!

I also noticed that the simple patterns I had employed in the original Swaledale Socks could be perfectly adapted to celebrate the iconic brickwork of the church – which is a landmark and a regular visual feature of my walks around Reading.

I am enjoying making my socks immensely and the visual/material/colourwork aspects of the project are highly satisfying in linking site, tree, materiality, place, colour and creative process in a useful pair of socks. However, the main sound associated with St Mary’s Butts is the sonorous, slightly chaotic bell-ringing that radiates from its handsome tower every Sunday morning at around 11am. In my habitual wanderings around Reading I have noticed this sound and been uplifted by its joyous insistence and by the many different tones of stone and metal and rope and human effort that combine in its fullsome ringing.

The church and the walnut tree, January 2010

The church, November 2009

I went to the church last Sunday to make recordings of the bell ringing and to think about how I could translate some elements of this sound into the design. I am not sure yet that I can, nor of what this might add to the usefulness of the socks. However I did make a radio feature for The Hub this week which brought the knitting ideas and the sound of the bells together, and I am enjoying the process of thinking about all the ideas in this territory… place, materiality, listening, sound, texture, site and movement. It’s a good journey, this one, into a broad and rich set of ideas.

And for those kinds of adventures, I like a good pair of socks.

The pattern will be available to buy from Prick Your Finger when I finish writing it up!

4 Responses to Site specific socks

  1. Petit Filoux says:

    Your yarn is fantastic! And definitely looks like the church! x

  2. jane says:

    Your insights into the world of sound are so interesting and I really feel that I appreciate the texture and dimension that sound gives to the world so much more from reading your blog. It’s funny, people always seem to say that if they could lose one sense (a horrible thought, whichever it might be, of course) that they would choose hearing, but I’m really beginning to realise quite how flat life would be without sound, in so many ways that I had never even thought about. Sound can be familiar and comforting and can invoke a genuine sense of warmth and relaxation, and yet it can also be incredibly unsettling and disconcerting. It’s amazing, really.
    I love what you have done with the yarn. The sock looks lovely – I have passed that church myself many times (although never been in). The brickwork is gorgeous and you have definitely done it justice with your hand-dyed, specially designed socks! Yippeee for a very good pair of socks indeed!

  3. mjm says:

    Have you thought of a EZimmermann afterthought heel for your sock. basically knit a length of scrap yarn where you want the heel to start. pull it out when you have finished the rest of the sock and put the sts on your needles knit a heel and graft to finish. love the socks. I have been dying also and want to dye with walnuts just haven’t gotten around to it yet. got some beautiful oranges from jewelweed(in the impatiant family) this summer.

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

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