Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Skew Sock

The skew sock is an innovative bit of sockitecture (yes, sockitecture, I have been assured by my wife that this is a perfectly legitimate piece of technical vocabulary frequently used by knitters) invented here in Terre Haute by a friend of mine, Lana Holden, a few years ago.  I was around when it was being beta-tested.  Then it was published by Knitty magazine in their winter 2009 issue.  The local kniterati (you know like literati) held a party at the time and she was honored at River Wools, Terre Haute's LYS (Local Yarn Store).  It's a bit hard to gauge the popularity of knitting patterns (gauge, eesh didn't even try for that one).  It's not like they have Nielsen's ratings or box office numbers to go by, but it is clear from Knitty's own downloads and from the projects on Ravelry (a popular knitting social networking site) that Lana's pattern has already gotten widespread, international popularity.  I'm informed that Ravelry currently rates the skew sock as the 6th most popular sock pattern.
Here is one of over a thousand skew socks publicly displayed on Ravelry, a German knitter knit a set in the German national colors for her father, after her father had seen and lusted after the set she made for her brother.

The skew sock is, by all accounts, a totally bizarre pattern.  Everything is done on a diagonal to how you think it ought to be.  It makes no sense, to common sense, that it works at all, but the math came out nice, and indeed if you make one it does in fact work.  In fact, by the reports I've heard, the heel is a lot more natural than in most sock patterns.  The finished product usually looks pretty bizarre too, artsy, intentionally heterodox, full of odd diagonals.  The pattern is not really for beginners; it is rated "piquant" by Knitty, meaning more or less, challenging but not arduous.  And everything about it screams, math.

The skew sock is not a pattern one would come up with using knitting alone.  Lana describes herself in the author section of the pattern by saying "the designer has two math degrees and is a contributing author of the book Making Mathematics with Needlework, but dropped out of grad school twice because she prefers to do research with yarn. She is a technique junkie, a process knitter, and occasionally a machine for turning coffee into socks."  (This last is a riff on the great 20th century mathematician Paul Erdos who famously defined a mathematician as a device for transforming coffee into theorems).  Several of the pictures of the sock on the official pattern site even feature math texts prominently.

I just love that art, math, coziness, and community can come together like this.  Here is an intellectual achievement that finds practical and artistic expression, and a global community of knitters so, er, uhm, tightly-knit, that a cool innovation in Terre Haute can make loved one's feet more stylishly comfortable in Germany a few months later.  It is an age of wonders we live in and never doubt it, and Terre Haute too plays our little part.  The Skew sock is  

Just one more reason I'm proud of Terre Haute.


  1. Truly I am impressed by your ability to incorporate new vocabulary into your brain. Well done! Love the sock, too.

  2. Kniterati Dream - a plaque somewhere announcing Terre Haute as the place where the Skew Sock was designed...or one on the RiverWools building "Lana Holden knit and crocheted here."