Q & A with Knitted Socks East and West Author Judy Sumner
How did you learn to knit?
I learned to knit when I was twelve. My friend and I bought one of the Little Green Books—these were ten-cent books with instructions on how to knit, crochet, tat, and maybe even embroider—and taught ourselves to crochet and then to knit. The first thing I ever knitted was a pair of mittens on double-pointed needles. I didn’t know it was supposed to be hard.
Which project in Knitted Socks East and West was the most fun to work on and why? Which project was the most challenging?
The most challenging were the Ikebana socks because of their length and the number of rows (thirty) in the pattern. It was also the last pair I finished and my eyes were giving me fits by then. It’s hard to say which were the most fun—each pair was such a wonderful adventure as I tried out the new patterns—but Biwa, Kaiso, and Katsura definitely come to mind.
If you could use only one word to describe your book, what would it be?
Beautiful—though that’s because the editor did such a great job.
You’ve spent a lot of time studying Japanese stitch dictionaries. Do these dictionaries give you the impression that Japanese knitters approach their stitchwork any differently than American knitters?
When I look at some Japanese patterns, I get the feeling that they are willing to do a lot more detailed work than you’ll find in typical American patterns. I saw one pattern with sixty different rows! I also feel as though they find more ways to translate nature into their knitting than I’ve seen anywhere else.
When you were a child, what did you imagine you would be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a writer who knitted and ended up being a knitter who writes.
How did you start designing socks?
I had knitted a few pairs of socks for my dad in my late teens and once for a boyfriend in my twenties, but then didn’t make any other socks until thirty years later, when I discovered that I could knit during management meetings at my job as a developmental psychologist. Shortly before I retired, I saw a notice in Knitter’s magazine about a sock contest. My brain immediately jumped to the possibility of knitting socks using a feather-and-fan stitch I had just used on sweaters for my twin granddaughters. I entered the contest and my sock design won an honorary mention, plus it appeared in the book Socks, Socks, Socks. Not long after that, I sold a slip-stitch sock pattern to Lorna Miser, then the owner of Lorna’s Laces. I have designed a few sweaters, bags, and hats, but for me there is something magical about socks.
If you could spend an afternoon knitting with one person in history, who would it be?
I first thought of Elizabeth Zimmermann, but after thinking a moment longer, I realized it would be Eleanor Roosevelt. I have a beautiful piece of metal art hanging in my house that has a quote from her written on it: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” I love believing that I can really do anything I conceive of in my life or with my knitwear designs. She was a knitter, and I suspect it would be a wonderful afternoon.
What kinds of knitting needles do you like best?
I love any needles with great points! I do a lot of lace knitting and twisted stitches and need very sharp points in order to maneuver the stitches.
What kind of knitting bag do you carry?
It depends on what day it is. Like so many other knitters, I have a closet full of bags stuffed with multiple ongoing projects.
What is your favorite place to knit?
My sunroom, hands down.
What is the most unusual or exotic place you’ve ever knitted?
The Smoky Mountains, while sitting on a big rock in the middle of a mountain stream.
What is your happiest knitting memory?
That would have to be the time I was knitting sweaters for my expected grandchild when my daughter called to tell me that she was going to have twins and I’d have to make two of everything.
What are you making now?
I’m knitting the Nimbus cardigan designed by Annie Modesitt, a wrap vest, a cabled, short-sleeved cardigan, and a pair of socks for my son-in-law. (There are many more UFO’s hiding in my office, too.)