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  • aspen socks & legwarmers: the inspiration

    photo by Kathy Cadigan

    The days seem to be flying by at an alarming rate these days - I can't believe it's already mid-November. But the good news is that means last weekend Tolt Yarn and Wool celebrated their second anniversary with a big party! (A party, I should mention, that I was very sad not to be attending.) In conjunction with the anniversary, Tolt's new book Farm to Needle: Stories of Wool was finally released! Excited cheers all around! As I mentioned earlier this fall, I had the great honor of designing a pattern for this special book alongside some really talented folks, who can be seen in this fantastic photo taken by Anna's husband Greg (if you look closely, you may also spot my face in 2D, thanks to the creative genius of Anna and Lara). This was an incredibly interesting project to work on - they usually are, when Anna's involved - and so I thought it'd be nice to write a little bit about the process of designing my pattern, Aspen.

    When Anna approached me this spring about the book, she asked if I'd be interested in designing a pair of cozy over-the-knee socks (with a legwarmer option) in Tolt's own Snoqualmie Valley Yarn. One of the best things about working with the Tolt team is that Anna often already has a great idea to start with, and instead of building something from scratch, I get to build off of her idea and her vision. I love Tolt and I'd been wanting to work with Snoqualmie Valley Yarn since it had first been released, so saying yes was a no brainer (even though I had an international move on the near horizon). Once I had the yarn in hand, however - all five skeins of it - I realized that I'd signed myself up for a challenge.

    Anna sent over a few mood boards after I'd signed on: one to give a feel for the book as a whole, and one specifically filled with inspiration for my pattern assignment. It was full of beautiful pictures of all kinds of socks and legwarmers, most of which were textured in some way with cables or lace, all in neutral colors. It was beautiful, and I was excited to get working, but... colorwork is my muse. And here I was, with five skeins of undyed creamy white yarn, wondering where on earth to start.

    From the beginning the pattern was going to be written for one size. Because of this, I really wanted to keep things simple, initially. I wanted to. But once I started swatching, I realized my muse had other plans. I did more swatching for this design than I've done for any other pattern I've done, I think. I swatched all sorts of stitch patterns and combinations. I swatched cables - at the beginning I was so sure this design would have cables. The whole process got hung up for a little while during the swatching phase. 

    In the midst of this phase, I realized that tall textured socks made of undyed wool reminded me of something very specific - bunad strømper. Strømper is the Norwegian word for stockings, and the bunad is the national folk costume (which varies from region to region). The men's bunad typically features knitted stockings tucked into a pair of breeches.

    Bunadstrømper from Vest Agder (image source: norskflid.no)

    Bunadstrømper from Gauldal in Sør-Trøndelag (image source: norskflid.no)

    While they're not always this off-white color (the stockings for my region are black and white), many of them are, and as I started swatching I couldn't help but think about bunad stockings (which also bear a notable resemblance to Scottish kilt hose, right down to the sock bands tucked into the breeches). I enjoyed perusing this pamphlet from yarnmaker Raumagarn:

    Bunad Strømper og Luer ("Bunad stockings and caps")

    Even before I started filling my brain with Norwegian stockings, the motif I kept coming back to was one of the first I swatched: the eight-pointed star that features on the front of the Aspen pattern.

    photo by Kathy Cadigan

    Given my proclivity for colorwork, it's really not shocking that this is the motif I kept returning to. Using this as the main motif would mean the whole pattern got a little more complicated than I initially planned on, but in the end I realized it was going to be this motif or it was going to be a pattern I wasn't actually that stoked on. So I gave in. And I'm so glad I did!

    After I decided to start with this motif, I was able to choose a secondary motif to wrap around the back of the leg on either side, working in a calf gusset at the very back of the leg where the two secondary motifs met. Knowing that this pattern would only be one size, I designed it with modifications in mind, and I'm putting together a post that will give an overview of some of the ways you can modify the pattern if you find that you need to make changes. Look for that soon!

    photo by Kathy Cadigan