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IN STITCHES. Judy Sumnerís Knitted Socks East and West features 30 different projects matching design and color with various aspects of Japanese art and culture.

From The Asian Reporter, V19, #34 (September 1, 2009), page 11.

Sock loverís book combines Japanese patterns with personal expression

Knitted Socks East and West

By Judy Sumner

Photographs by Yoko Inoue

Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2009

Paperback, 144 pages, $22.50

By Allison Voigts

Socks, to me, are like a canvas you have to put your art on," says Judy Sumner, the author of a new book, Knitted Socks East and West, which brings Japanese stitch patterns to western knitters.

Flipping through the bookís slick pages full of beautiful photographs by Japanese magazine photographer Yoko Inoue, itís easy to become enraptured with the humble art of socks. Sumnerís 30 different projects match design and color with various aspects of Japanese art and culture, such as floral design, origami, and traditional clothing.

The 75-year-old Sumner knitted throughout her life and designed socks since 1998, yet never encountered a Japanese stitch pattern. Two years ago, her knitting world changed when she ordered a pattern book from Japan.

"When I opened it, my mouth fell open and I made some kind of noise. My husband looked at me like I was crazy," she says.

The patterns looked completely foreign compared to the western patterns she had taught and designed with all her life. Sumner didnít recognize any of the symbols in the bookís charts, even the simpler ones. To further the challenge, the explanation of the patterns was in Japanese, a language the Knoxville, Tennessee native couldnít read.

Despite the daunting task of deciphering the symbols and translating the patterns into English, Sumner was hooked.

"I knew if I got that excited about these patterns, other sock knitters would too."

During the yearlong process, she found the Japanese designs mixed many familiar techniques with a handful of specifically eastern stitches to create complex patterns full of lace and other decorative touches. Whereas western stitch charts might contain 10 to 20 rows, the Japanese used as many as 60 rows, with very long stitch repeats.

Sumner deciphered four of the unfamiliar Japanese techniques for the book, naming them the "Pkok (or Peacock)," "Wrap," "Twist/Slip Stitch," and "Three-Stitch Lift," which she says "almost blew my mind." In the end, Sumner discovered the Japanese patterns were not difficult, just a different version of the patterns western crafters already knew.

Her favorite design in Knitted Socks East and West is "Ikebana," one of the many natural-themed designs, which attempts to capture the ancient form of flower arrangement. The intricate pattern includes lace, bobbles, and twisted stitches that call to mind buds, vines, and ferns using a pale green yarn.

For beginning knitters there is the "Samurai," a walnut-colored sock in a thick cable pattern that mimics heavy armor and twists unexpectedly to the left or right. Some of the most eye-catching socks in the book are the "Shiatsu," a golden knee-sock that flows from a complex top down to stirrups, and the "Japanese Fan Tabi," a brick-red tabi sock (with a separated big toe) that incorporates a fan pattern.

At least in Portland, the sock craze is quickly catching on. Sumner spoke at the Sock Summit, the countryís first sock-knitting convention, at the Oregon Convention Center in August. At a Knitted Socks East and West event at Powellís City of Books, Sumner spoke again to a full audience, many of whom knitted during the talk.

For knitters who have not already found their blank slate in the sock, Knitted Socks East and West will show them how. And for non-knitters, Sumnerís unique designs and Inoueís sleek images of them may just inspire people to pick up a pair of knitting needles.

For more information about Sumnerís designs, visit <>.


To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books