Socks are the perfect thing to knit in August! They are small, so however wooly, they still aren’t too hot to knit. They consist of long — but not that long — stretches of plain work interspersed with the occasional flurry of shaping activity to keep you interested. And they’re little and quick enough that frogging doesn’t break your heart.

Frog I did. I was using a modern sock pattern that I found online. It specified the type of yarn that I am actually using (how often does that happen?) and it is part of being a hip cyber-knitter to troll the web for free patterns. But it had a nasty square heel and ugly perpindicular gusset. It would be a sock when it was finished, of course, it could be worn, but where is the elegance? Where the satisfaction of making a real sock?

Back to Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book. In her discussion of socks, she begins with some prehistoric ones, with no ribbing and a division for the toes, and talks about the evolution of socks (hose) up to the Middle Ages. At that point, she says, the evolution was complete. There have been no big changes since then. She continues to give directions for knitting a perfect sock, any size, any yarn, any length. And, if you follow her directions, you will always achieve a lovely sock.

Mary Thomas’s book was written shortly after Mencken’s Treatise on the Gods. We have made great progress, socially, since then. We would not now accept the kind of things Mencken says about the Jewish people, to take just one example, without outrage. We would not allow a popular newspaperman to dismiss most of the world’s people as “savages.” But our progress in knitting is not so exemplary. As Thomas points out, it took 1500 years for the sock to reach the marvelous stage of engineering at which it stopped — the kind of sock now made by machine. Why, in the name of hipness, should we now be willing to throw away that hard-won perfection just so that everyone can make a sock without having to learn to turn a heel properly?

Of course, no one is forcing me to use the new sock pattern. But I offer this unsolicited advice to the new breed of knitter: buy your socks. There is nothig wrong with machine-made socks, even if they don’t have beads and fur on them. The knitters who don’t know what “skpsso” means, whose natural gauge is 3 to the inch, who hate dpns — let them make scarves!