August 2011 Archives

More on Turkish Socks


My mother asked me if I was knitting the socks shown in the last post. I'm not, but I designed my own pattern based on some of the things I've been learning from the sock books I'm reading.

Pervane socks

This is the first of the pair. I used the toe I like most, which turns out to not work so well with a Turkish sock design. The central motif (that looks like a weird spider; I have the sock tipped over so you can also see the side pattern) is called pervane, which means a moth that flies towards light. The word for a wool moth is actually something else entirely, which should tell you something about Turks.

The side pattern is a pair of variations on themes and ideas that come up often in Turkish sock knitting, though actually the curved lines I put into this design are rare. I was happy to start reading Betty Harrell's excellent (and again, out of print) Anatolian Knitting Designs, which is written by somebody who both spoke Turkish and spoke directly to the knitters. She also concentrated on one specific cultural group, Sivas women in an Istanbul shantytown, so in her book the same pattern does not have eighteen different names. When I make a scan of the appropriate page, I can also show you what the actual elma -- apple -- pattern looks like.

That book has a lot more detail on the development of patterns and how they go together on the sock. I'm nowhere near as relaxed about perfection as the villagers are, though, so I spent a week fiddling with the details of my design in Photoshop, making a perfect chart and resolving all the weird intersections of patterns. Definitely a first-world problem.

Anyway, in a couple of days of knitting I've gotten halfway up the foot on the first sock, and things are moving along rapidly. I've also learned why Turkish socks are structured the way they are. The common square Turkish toe, made from a strip of fabric knitted up and then stitches picked up to add two more sides works well with the usual structure of a front, side, and back pattern that each end up on their own needle.

My next challenge is to learn how to spin the proper yarn for socks, which turns out to also be the proper yarn for knotted-pile rugs, as they used the same stuff.

I discovered something fascinating last week, just by accident.

Noel and I take a weekly Turkish class, and I often have knitting with me to work on until class starts (at which point both brain and hands are actively engaged in the class). Anyway, we got onto the subject of Turkish socks, which are sort of notorious there in the same way that those foam cheese heads are famous here. Our teacher said, "we call them baklava socks."

And then it clicked for me. I have Anna Zilboorg's very fine book Simply Socks (also published as Fancy Feet). In it there is a pattern that confused me, because it is called "apple," but it looks absolutely nothing like an apple.



That's a photo of one of a pair of lovely socks knitted by Flickr user hiddimaus, and that big central diamond pattern there is the "apple" pattern. (The Ravelry project page for these socks is here.)

Now, Turks know their apples.

How about them apples?

This is Noel next to one of many many enormous piles of apples we saw while driving around in the countryside. No Turkish peasant would be at all confused about what an apple looks like. And other patterns that are meant to look like things like dogs or knives or mustaches actually kind of look like the thing in question. So why is the pattern called "apple" when it so obviously is not an apple?

As it happens, a native speaker of English (and most other European languages) may not know that in Turkish, you pluralize words by adding "-lar" or "-ler" (depending on the rules of vowel harmony that don't matter much right now), rather than by adding an "s" as we do. And for reasons that can only be full understood if you grow up with a Turk, there are a lot of words that look and sound similar that mean totally different things. So if a native English speaker looks up the word "elmas" in the translating dictionary, they are likely to stop at "elma" which means "apple," assuming the "s" just makes it plural, rather than continuing down to "elmas" which means, of all things, "diamond."

The pattern is a diamond. Elma means apple, elmalar means apples, and elmas means diamond (elmaslar means diamonds).

This is what can happen when you translate blindly with a dictionary.

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