For the second project in our “Making It, Ourselves” series—our series of DIY projects inspired by history—we look back to Dr. Gustav Jaeger and his animal-fiber philosophy. He and his adherents claimed that all dress should be not only practical but healthful, which for him meant clothing made purely of wool, camel, mohair or other animal material. (For the full post, see our Brief History of Long Underwear from back in February.) Inspired by the Jaeger story and its reverberations in the Rational Dress Movement of the same era, I set off to create my own animal-based garment to insulate, ventilate, regulate, circulate, and uhh de-fluxionate(?) my body. I found just the garment in Dianna Walla’s Aspen Socks.
As I said in the original post, I’ve had a yen for the Aspens since I first glimpsed them on Instagram last year. Not only are they gorgeous—in that natural cream-colored Snoqualmie Valley wool and with their charming star-motif design—but I also knew I would actually wear them. As a longtime leg warmer wearer (say that three times fast!), I love having easy layers to add over or under jeans or leggings. (That said, I finished these in mid-April, so they might not get a ton of wear until the Fall hits. Or maybe they’ll prove to be the perfect transitional garment?)
As beautiful as the finished stockings are, one of my favorite moments of this project came at the very beginning, before I had cast on a single stitch. It was the day my package arrived from Tolt Yarn and Wool. As much as I love a free pattern or a cheap download, I secretly savored having an excuse to order the Farm to Needle book to access the Aspen pattern. I don’t usually indulge in hard copy patterns, so receiving this little gem, with its embossed sheep cover and its photo-filled pages, was such a treat. And now I can knit all the other patterns in there, too! (Hello, Anna Vest—better late to the KAL than never, right?)
And there was the yarn—have I mentioned the YARN?! This was my first Snoqualmie experience, and I’m so glad I opted to go with the recommended yarn. When it was still skeined, I couldn’t stop squishing it and smelling it. It’s that perfect balance of heartiness and squish, and it still has small flecks of hay in it every so often, not enough to scratch but enough to remind you that—duh—this yarn used to be on a sheep. The Aspens would look great in other fibers or other colors (in fact I’ve seen some really lovely ones like these and these), but they do seem to be truly made for this creamy hue. So thank you, Tolt and Dianna, for teaming up to such a stunning result.
Once I got out all my page-gazing and skein-squishing, I finally cast on. I knit them up exactly as directed except for one modification: I used size 2 and 3 needles instead of the recommended 3 and 4, because I tend to be a loose knitter. (Even still, the finished leg warmers are slightly slippy/bunchy on my bare legs, but they’ll stay put over leggings or tights.)
It had been a while since I’d knit such an intricate pattern, or from a chart, so the first few days were slow-going. I kept the book at my right hand for the whole duration, because invariably I would need to double check my work or remind myself about the next row. Maybe this is normal, but as I said I hadn’t knit this kind of pattern in a while, so I was frustrated that I couldn’t just memorize the stitch pattern and then be off to the races. Eventually, my head managed to wrap itself around the steps, and the process sped up. By the second half of the second stocking, I was finally confident enough to read my own work and just zoom.
I might be making the process sound a little tedious, but I loved it. And now I’m itching to knit from charts more often. There is something so satisfying about watching an artful design, like Dianna’s diamonds and stars, appear bit by bit. It’s almost magical. And all the more so when you’ve gotten caught up in making sure you’re following the chart correctly stitch by stitch and then you finally step back and see what you’ve made. Voilaaaaaaaa! So cool.
Thank you, Tolt–
Thank you, Dianna–
And thank you, readers!
I’ll wear my natural, undyed, animal-fiber leg warmers next to my skin as often as possible. It’s the healthy and rational thing to do.