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African-Inspired Knitting

It has been a great week! I hope that my enthusiasm pours out of this screen and into your life. Things inside me are happy right now.

The African Collection (and Travel Stories)…

When I went to Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya and Egypt) in 2004-05, I promised myself I could knit whatever I wanted to knit for that 38-day stretch. A windfall had funded the trip. Therefore, I could take it as a true vacation from my business and just knit for the pure joy of it.

Usually I knit with a mind toward what is easy to explain, or what is a good teaching project. Often I find a yarn that “tells me” what it wants to be.

I rarely just get to knit whatever is in my heart. For 5 weeks, I did just that.

I didn’t worry if it was hard to explain, or if someone might run away from it because it looked complicated. I just made beautiful things, the way I wanted them to look. (Actually, I also knit a bunch of simple socks for the joy of moving my fingers… but today I want to talk about the stars of the trip.)

Knitting Purely from My Heart

Perhaps you’ve seen these two socks before?

Kenya: Nairobi and Mombasa

The green sock at left, was inspired by gardens in Kenya. The garden I spent the most time in had many beautiful ironwork gates and walls. (It also had a 2nd floor balcony, ironically, just as the house where I’m staying in Montreal does.)

Flowers grow incredibly well  in Kenya (they grow carnations commercially in open fields, without greenhouses). This sock contains my memories of that lushness.

Ethiopia: Addis Ababa, Gondar, Bahar Dar and Lalibela

The white sock at right, was inspired by many things Ethiopian. It’s in the colors of the Ethiopian flag. At the top and on the heel, the texture reminds me of shepherd’s hats I saw in northern Ethiopia. The middle of the leg was inspired by Ethiopian baskets traditionally used as dinner tables. There was a small basket of this sort in my bedroom in Ethiopia. I referred to that basket as I worked.

When I was in Ethiopia, I made “friends” with many people who didn’t speak English, because of this pair of socks. Just by a glance, they could see that I loved their country and traditions. It was heartwarming to meet people this way.

Egypt: Cairo and Alexandria

When we were in Egypt, I took notes on possible sock design motifs. I scribbled a chart/graph and tucked it into my journals. This week I got out those journals and started transcribing the notes, changing a bit as the size restrictions of a sock leg required. And started knitting a sample.

The Actual Work

The goal is a collection of patterns and corresponding travel stories. I intend to package the patterns separately, for those who want only one or two. I’m also planning a full-project e-book of all projects and stories.

(Starting this project is why I came to Montreal, to write without normal obligations. A friend of a friend had a room to rent, and I jumped at the opportunity.)

I’ve graphed the Ethiopian Basket and Kenyan Garden sock leg patterns. I also knit a sample from the first draft of my Egyptian-inspired graph.

The colorwork is reminiscent of netted beadwork. I saw a bit of this in the jewelry collection at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. This is also where King Tut’s treasures reside.

Sketching on the Needles

I’m doing a child-sized sock to test out the ideas on that one. I usually design by knitting and adjusting as I work. I’m liking how it looks, though I’ll tweak a bit in the final design.

A Potpourri of Techniques

Above are the three fanciest of the designs which will be in the Africa collection when I’m done. There are also some non-colorwork socks, in groupings. I knit a total of 10 sock designs on the trip, and also some wristwarmers. I’m thinking that this will end up being 7 designs, at least 2 of them with 2-3 variations.

The collection includes variety in structures: top down, with differing leg treatments, no-purl flap heel and wedge toe; toe-up footies with stripes and a Crystal Heel; and a thicker-yarn toe-up sock with wrapped cast on and heel flap.

The Ethiopian and Kenyan socks are top down with heel flap and turn (one is a Dutch Heel Turn, one is a standard half-handkerchief turn). The Egyptian sock is toe up with my “start with a square” Bosnian toe and a Crystal Heel.

It’s a big project. I’m excited about it. One day at a time, it’s coming together more in my mind. When I get a full picture I’ll let you know how the patterns will be released.

I currently plan to write them as individual patterns, as well as a series with travelogue stories/ photos to go with the collection. Once I get writing more, we’ll see how it plays out.

Catch you soon!


4 Responses to “African-Inspired Knitting”

  1. Diana Troldahl Says:

    I’m loving the socks, especially the Egyptian one!

  2. Marcy Conder Says:

    Beautiful. Can hardly wait to for the ebook to be out.

  3. Helen Sanders Says:

    I love the socks and reading about them. I don’t knit socks but I think they are wonderful.

  4. JaM Says:

    Beautiful socks. That sock inspired by Kenya has my name on it… or maybe the Egyptian one…

    Must get back to learning colourwork.