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Fanatical Details on Turkish Socks

OK, you are warned: I’m fanatical about Turkish socks. I now own four pair, thanks to a family I have recently befriended, originally from Polatli, Ankara, Turkey (I hope I read his writing properly to spell that right). Ankara is the place English-speakers have often called “Angora.” Well, since soft fiber from bunnies is called angora fiber, and sturdy mohair fiber is from angora goats, this is a place with a long history with fiber, I’m sure.

I intend to be a worthy recipient of these fine items. I have documented them as best I could. If you are not very interested in this subject, today’s post may be far too detailed for you, but in the interest of honoring the makers of the socks I will indulge my tendency to over-explain today.

I received four pair of socks. I will call them by their most noticeable color: Cream, Turquoise, Orange and Red. What they all have in common is that they are from neighboring geographical districts in west-central Turkey, they are knit from handspun wool, they are handknit. They are all knit toe up. That is where the similarities end.

Three are knit with multiple colors, but even how those colors are handled in the knitting is different on each pair. They all have heels I have never knit before… two look similar to some in Priscilla Gibson-Roberts’ excellent book Ethnic Socks and Stockings. One looks approximately like a “peasant heel” (an afterthought heel, knit after the rest of the sock is finished) as described by Nancy Bush in her book, Folk Socks. And one pair has what looks a bit like an afterthought heel but it is shaped in a way I have never seen nor heard of… though it brings to mind a Dutch heel in a way.

Since I am in love with the details of these pieces, I have taken many photographs. For the first time I have chosen to show small “thumbnail” photos here in the blog text, but you will be able to click on the thumbnail to see the larger photo… which should not take too long to load. (I surf on a 33.6 modem and so I’m really fanatical about image size, and these load pretty fast even on my connection, eleven seconds for the largest image, with an empty cache.)

Later I plan to put together a static web page to show these items properly, but for now I want to get them here on my weblog quickly for all to see. If you choose to click to the larger photo, you will need to click the “Back” button at the top left of your browser program window to get back.

Shall we begin?

Cream Lace
The cream pair is from a village or town called Gunyuzu in a district (something like a county) of Turkey called Eskisehir. It is the only one with just one color of wool. My friend (who got these for me, and whose father helped him find this particular pair) says that this is the type of socks they wore when he was a child, under rubber boots, when it was cold. They use the natural color of wool straight from the sheep. These are about a sportweight yarn, knit at 7.5 st/in.

This pair has some wide ribs alternated with vertical areas of lace. I’m not a lace knitter, so I can not give more detail than the photos I am providing.

The knitting appears to me to be what we call a twisted stitch, where the loop of yarn crosses itself at its base. This makes for a denser and more sturdy sock, and is also very pretty. At the top of the sock the knitter has increased in the flat stockinette rib areas, by two stitches around, one increase every three inches or so, to make the top more roomy for a calf. The top is a knit 2 purl 2 ribbing.

This pair has a toe which is flawlessly constructed, toe up in a wedge shape. This is what I expected to see in most of the socks I got, but it did not end up being the case.

The heel may fool me but I think it was knit as a “peasant heel” or basically a sort of toe, added after the tube of the socks was completed. You can see a ridge at the top of the heel where they probably picked up stitches for the final heel work. What is interesting is that on the inside, you can not see where that ridge might be. It doesn’t show any unusual detail at all. There is another pair with a similar ridge on the front of the sock (at the joint between foot and cuff), which makes me believe they put it there deliberately, as a decorative element.

The heel is shaped differently than the toe, but has its decreases on just two sides, in a sort of wedge as well, though more rounded in shaping. The last four stitches or so may have been grafted or maybe just sewn together in some way. This heel looks a lot like the toe style I prefer on my own socks.

Cream pair photos: One sock, detail (this looks right on for color, on my monitor), heel, toe.

Unique Turquoise Stranded Pair
The second “turquoise” pair is natural cream with turquoise and black patterns. (The patterns on the cuff are only on the front of the leg but stranded with long vertical floats, see detail picture.) This pair was from the area called Afyon in Turkey. If I remember what my friend said, they have hot springs in Afyon which are well-loved as a holiday destination.

Afyon is also famous for a special dessert/candy called Turkish Delight. I had the distinct pleasure of sampling several different flavors of Turkish Delight last week. Yum! I’ve seen it at mideastern markets but never tried it. I always think of the Chronicles of Narnia books by CS Lewis when I think “Turkish Delight” (because the dessert figures importantly in one of the stories)… but I digress.

These socks are actually slightly different sizes, no doubt because they were knit at slightly different gauges. The leg and half of the foot of one sock were knit at about 5 st/in, not tightly, more like a sweater in the US. However, the toe-half of that sock (and the other entire sock as far as I can tell) was done closer to 6 st/in.

What is intriguing in particular about this pair is the unusual methods used to create the heels and toes. The heel is an afterthought as far as I can see (added after the tube of the sock was knit) but it has shaping that looks a lot like a Dutch heel. However, a Dutch heel has a band of stitches on the bottom of the foot… and in this pair, the band is considered decorative apparently, because it runs up the back of the heel as a detail.

The toe is very hard for me to analyze, I’ll have to take some time to figure out how they did it. I just couldn’t get a very good picture. You can see that there is a sort of ridge going one direction. On the other side there is also one single ridge. So it is not a wedge with two sets of paired inreases on each side, and it also is not a star or round toe with multiple sections (typically these are 4 or more equal sections). It has increases on only one side of the top and one side of the bottom. I must try this and see if I can figure it out. It looks twisted in the picture (and in real life) because it’s not centered. It also has a knot tied in the yarn at the toe, on the inside of the sock. These days in the US you don’t typically see knots inside a sock because it can chafe and cause irritation, but I understand you do find them in folk socks from different areas.

Turquoise pair photographs: pair, toe, heel, stranding inside.

Orange Tiger Stripes and Patterns
The next pair I call my Tiger socks. The pair is knit of two colors: orange and an almost-black brown. The patterns are reminiscent of rug patterns and my friends say that yes, this looks to them a pattern that might have been used in rugmaking. This sock and the next do remind me of some in Anna Zilboorg’s book Fancy Feet/Simply Socks. These socks are also from Afyon.

This pair is knit at 8 st/in on the foot and 9st/in on the cuff. The sole has a different diagonal pattern than the rest of the sock, and the heel is striped (knit like some in the Ethnic Socks and Stockings book). It sure looks like there are 2 rows of single crochet to graft the top of the heel to the cuff. The toe is a round or star toe with tufts at the tip.

Orange pair photos: Pair, stitch detail, heel, toe.

Red Magnificence
And the last pair: What a prize. These are priceless to me. I am seriously considering getting these and the orange pair framed or somehow set up for display. My friend’s wife said to me that sometimes in Turkey this sort of sock is hung up from the ceiling so that they can be seen and appreciated from all sides. I can see why, because this is an artform, not just clothing.

This last pair is from the town/village called Bayat in Afyon. They are knit at over 9 stitches per inch, in deeply/brightly dyed yarns in six different colors of wool, predominantly a gorgeous dark red. The wool is very scratchy and knit much more densely than any knitting I’ve seen by a modern US knitter. These would hurt my hands, to knit that tightly with this very solid yarn. (Picture of the yarn was on August 26th’s post.) It’s almost stiff, not stretchy at all.

I imagine this is the sort of thing Anna Zilboorg mentions in her book, where she says they are difficult to get on the foot because they are so densely knit, but once coaxed upon the feet, the scratchy/dense socks make one’s feet warm and toasty in no time.

The toe is knit as a wedge (without plain knit stitches between increases) but with a tuft at the tip. The heel is elegantly knit in 2 colors per row with a vertical seam or faux-seam up the back and a double row of single crochet, again, at the top of the heel to graft it together. In this case, those two rows are in contrasting yarn so the intent of decoration is clear. It also makes it obvious that indeed, this is single crochet.

The top of the cuff is a sideways-knit stranded two-color pattern with a picot edge. Perhaps the picot edge was crocheted on, I can not tell for sure but it would be a natural for that sort of detail.

Red pair photos: Pair, inside out foot, heel, top detail, toe.

My friend said that this last pair he got by asking around at each store he found. Many of the stores where he asked, they did not have any of these traditional socks, but they sometimes gave him hints as to where he might find some. In this case, he was at a store which didn’t have any socks, but a customer in the store said she had some at home, would he please come to her home?

Apparently traditionally at weddings often socks are/were given as gifts. This red pair was knit by the grandmother for the wedding of the mother of the woman who sold them to my friend. It sort of makes me sad that someone might consider selling a family treasure (or maybe it was not as much a treasure to her as it would have been to me). I wonder about why they would sell this at all, but we in the US have so much wealth we can not even know how far our money goes somewhere else. Surely money was a big inducement to let go of the socks but we can not know for sure what meaning they had to the seller.

I am sure to be a grateful and worthy recipient and owner of this treasure. I hope you enjoy checking out the beauty of these lovely works of art. (You know, I think I’ve used up my share of superlative words for a while… I’m going to have to speak less enthusiastically for the rest of the week to make up for today!)

(Note added years later: I wrote an article and based three designs on these socks, which were published in Dawn Brocco’s Heels and Toes Gazette (issues 14, 15 & 16, from the year 2004) and which are still available as back issues from Dawn.

The most basic of the three designs I wrote, which is knit in essentially the structure of the turquoise-stranded pair but with only one yarn, I also offer as a single pattern leaflet on my shopping cart. The pattern is called Turkish-Style Toe-Up Socks. It includes a Turkish Cast on using DPNs and a band heel with the flap underneath the heel of the foot, and a simple slip-stitch pattern up the front of the sock which is particularly nice if knit in a handpainted yarn. This pattern is also available as a downloadable PDF file from Mary Moran’s Knittingzone.com site if you click here.)

16 Responses to “Fanatical Details on Turkish Socks”

  1. Jen Says:

    What a fabulous post! Thank you so much for your description of your new treasures. I wish I had known about Turkish socks when my mother was over there for a holiday earlier this year! The final pair truly are a treasure with a wonderful story to tell.

  2. julie Says:

    Thank you for sharing your socks with us! They are beautiful and I enjoyed reading every word of what you had to say. There weren’t too many superlatives for me. I’ve been enjoying reading your posts. You always seem to have a positive outlook on everything which is very rare these days.

  3. Tasha Says:

    According to “Folk Knitting in Estonia” by Nancy Bush, a woman would knit mittens and socks and weave belts to give as gifts to her husband’s family at her wedding. I’m having a Viking wedding, but I’m considering having a display of my handwork as a demonstration of my worth to him as a wife (very medieval, I know, but it’s a medieval wedding!) I’d do the gift giving thing if I had the time to get ready for Christmas, make the clothing for the wedding party, and do that too, but somewhere in there I need to sleep…

  4. huguette ropchan Says:

    Lynn: Why is it that I can only print the first page of the Fanatical Details on Turkish Socks….. The second page onwards I only get the info that is on the left of your page, i.e. recent entries, etc.
    Please help….
    I am so enthused by your luck of finding such treasures as well as our luck in your sharing with us that I would like to study those socks. I have accumulated such a stash in anticipation of knitting turkish socks!!!!!!!
    Thanks so much for your generosity in sharing.
    Huguette in Beautiful Alberta, Canada

  5. Ketutar Says:

    About the red socks.
    Yes, the cuff is crocheted – not only the picot, but the blue and red striping too. They use quite a lot crocheting in the socks. I had a pair of socks with all crocheted heel.

    About how one can sell family heirlooms… Of course, I can’t know the situation, but I can think of several reasons – other than money.

    Firstly, they are socks. She might have dozens of pairs, and perhaps doesn’t use them herself, and here we have this “crazy American” who’s ready to pay for a pair of old socks… Some decades ago old quilts were thrown away, used as animal blankets and stuffed inside walls to work as insulation. Now we pay fortune for these same quilts.

    Secondly, she sold them to a collector, someone who will appreciate them and love them and honor them… had she kept the socks, no-one would ever have seen them. Now her family heirloom is in USA and appreciated by the whole world through internet… I’d love my grandmother’s crafts to be elevated to that kind of status :-)

    Thirdly, perhaps she didn’t have children and there was family heirs…

    We never know. :-) All I know is that I’m glad the socks found a nice home and an owner who will love them as long as she lives :-)

  6. Jilly Says:

    Hi, I have the Anna Zilbourg Turkish socks knitting pattern book and would LOVE to make a pair but cannot make head nor tail of how to make the pattern as described in the book! Do you have a pattern that will give me a blow by blow account of each stage? If so do you have a telephone number so that I could order it over the phone and pay by card. If not I will gladly send the cash. Please help I am desperately drooling over the wonderful pictures in my book and feel very frustrated!
    Very many thanks, Jilly

  7. Sarah Says:

    Jilly, you can always cheat, as I did with Anna Zilboorg’s Turkish sock patterns. I am a machine knitter rather than hand knitter, but you could use the same technique with hand knitting. I knitted the socks in 3 flat pieces, 1 piece to go over the front of the foot with a point at the toe, 1 piece down the back of the leg with point finishing at the point of the heel and a lozenge shaped piece with a point at each end for the sole. I then crocheted around all the pieces with a row of what you call single crochet in the US (in the UK it is double crochet), where I put the hook through the stitch on front piece, drew a loop of wool through, then put the hook through stich on back piece, drew the wool though and finally drew yarn through the 3 loops on the hook, and s on. I finished off the top with more crochet. It took longer to join the pieces than knit them!
    In case hand-knitting purists are horrified at the thought of using a machine, Anna Zilboorg does suggest using the patterns with a knitting machine for other garments.

  8. Sarah Says:

    I realise I rather garbled the instructions for grafting the pieces together above. After crocheting a single row around each piece, you then use those rows, putting the hook through a stitch on one piece, drawing the yarn through, then putting the hook through the second piece and draw the yarn through and finally draw the yarn through the 3 loops on the hook to create one joining stitch. It gives less of a ridge along the side than doing the stitch through both pieces at the same time.

  9. Jilly Says:

    Hi Sarah, I can hardly believe it! I have just been to Turkey & have bought some beautiful pairs of antique Turkish socks & one divine pair in cotton, very old and with intricate patterns. I have ordered more books on Turkish socks online & was looking for anything I could find on the internet about Turkish socks & came across this posting. Lo and behold I found my question written to you over a year ago! I had forgotten that I had asked you a question & am so grateful for your answer! Thankyou very much. I will gladly photograph my socks. I think you will drool over the cotton pair, they are expertly knitted, just AMAZING. I will gladly send you photos of my socks if you give mne your email address. I am going to start knitting mittens in traditional Turkish designs as I think they will be easier than the socks, no heels! Very many thanks, Jilly.

  10. jellybelly Says:

    we love ur socks and we say hi to them :P
    love jellybelly x

  11. knancy Says:

    I love the Red Magnificent socks from Turkey. I knit socks with Turkish colorwork….. more satisfying for me than self striping yarn.

  12. Mikki Says:

    Wonderful hand work .. beautiful in composition. My question is how costly are they? if that is not being to nosie.. you can email me the answer is you dont want it published.. thanks

  13. Bob Says:

    I am assuming that those who are knitters here know about Ravelry.com – there are several people there doing this kind of work.

    I live in Istanbul, and have friends whose mothers do it. Here are pictures of a rather worn pair done in a Hemshin (E. Black Sea) pattern:


    My next door neighbor also has a collection of old socks from all over the country. The last pair with the “spiral” stitch on the toe is also crocheted with a simple slip stitch.


  14. Bob Says:

    On the “twisted” toe – It’s very simple actually. Use your favorite cast-on (Turkish, Judy’s – here some of them do what amounts to a long-tail cast on over two DPNs, then pick up the stitches on the bottom edge and start working. I’m looking at a pair of socks made by women from Balıkesir they start with 8 stitches.

    Knit halfway along one side, start with a new needle and finish the row, and add a loop. Do the same on the other side (or keep it on 3 needles if you like, it’s up to you). On the instep and sole side you just add one loop every time. The “ridge” you see is composed of the increases. The increased stitches on one of the two needles will build up; you can just knit one onto the first needle every other round to keep them even.

    Depending on whether you’re knitting English/continental or round-the-neck, you’ll make the loop towards or away; whatever works so that when you come around next time and knit the stitch, it will not untwist. (Most village women knit round the neck and everything’s done from the reverse side; i.e. it’s all purled, with knit stitches being used mostly for ribbing.) Continue this way until you’ve reached your desired width and then take off up the body.

    You don’t have to use loop increases; you can actually use any one you want. I’m doing it with M1 (yarn up); you just do it on one side, every round, until you reach the desired stitch count.

  15. Carol Says:

    I have very much enjoyed reading about your Turkish socks. I agree, they are wonderful. I recently visited Turkey on a tour and was the only person in my group who brought yarn and socks home to the USA. I’m learning to knit socks and hopefully in the future will knit socks a bit closer to a traditional Turkish sock. Thanks for the inspiration.

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