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Article: SABİHA TANSUĞ Photo: İRFAN ERTEL
Old friends of hands and feet
Socks and gloves
Socks and gloves have been necessities of everyday life since the earliest times. And those worked with traditional Anatolian designs express ‘their master’s voice’.
In Anatolian culture, socks and gloves are a virtual lexicon of knitting motifs, each one with its own distinct meaning. Tailored to the anatomy of hand and foot with a specific function in everyday life, the socks and gloves that are knitted with either two or five knitting needles made of either metal or wood are vital items of apparel. Let us lend an ear then to the voice of the socks and gloves that protect hands and feet against natural phenomena of every kind, adorning them with a thousand and one motifs and beliefs, as well as adding vibrancy and meaning to conditions of hardship.
A SHORT HISTORY OF SOCKS
The felt socks that were found in the Altay Pazyryk ‘kurgan’ in the 5th century B.C. are evidence that the sock tradition among the Turks dates back to the earliest times. The ancient Greek poet Hesiod mentions a shoe lining (piloi) woven from animal hairs. This woven item used to line shoes could very well have been a sock. Sock-like pieces of footwear that were cut from felt or animal skins and stitched together but did not stretch to fit the foot snugly are known to have been produced starting from the 2nd century A.D.
Socks similar to those in Anatolian culture are seen in the Balkan countries, in Greece, in Turkmenistan, and among the nomadic communities that wandered from place to place grazing their animals. The word ‘çorap’ (sock) in Turkish is of Persian origin. Originally ‘gorab’, it passed into Arabic as ‘jurab’, from there to Turkish in the form ‘çorap’, entering the Balkan languages as well. In Turkmenistan the sock is called ‘ceşka’. The word sock in English derives from the Latin ‘soccus’, which was originally used to denote a light, low-heeled shoe. The Romans took the word from the ancient Greeks, who wore ‘sukkhos’, in other words a light shoe made from animal skin and wrapped around the foot. In Roman times these shoes found their way to Britain under the Roman occupation and were adopted by the Anglo-Saxons, who realized that they could protect their feet by wearing socks of this sort inside their boots. But the present-day form of the originally hand-knitted sock came about thanks to William Leey, who invented the knitting machine in the 17th century. It was followed by the production of silk stockings. Then, with the invention of nylon in the 1930s, the industry was freed from its dependence on silk, and the more durable nylon stockings slowly began to appear on the market. The 15th of May 1940 when the first nylon stockings produced in the United States went on sale was even declared ‘nylon day’. The new stockings sold out in a single day when long lines formed in front of stores even before they opened.
In Anatolia socks are knitted with yarn made from fibers such as wool, mohair, camelhair and goathair. There is hardly a woman in Anatolia who doesn’t know how to knit socks and gloves. She knits while traveling, while chatting with her neighbors at the door or visiting a friend’s home, even while driving the herd, and, of course, in her spare time, the five needles turning constantly in her fingers, the motifs coming to life stitch by stitch. In some areas even the men do their part by knitting their own socks and gloves at gatherings in the coffeehouse or the village meeting room. Gloves are knitted starting from the wrist. When the hand section is finished, the five fingers are knitted on, always red at the tip to signify the ‘hennaed’ hand. Socks too employ a variety of fascinating knitting techniques for the toe, heel, sole, ankle and cuff.
THE LANGUAGE OF THE MOTIFS
The socks and gloves of the Anatolian villager express his life philosophy in short, pithy statements. A wide variety of motifs are employed to lend the hands a lucky touch and healing power and make the feet tough as a camel’s hoof, ensuring the wearer’s return safe and sound from any road gone down, and safeguarding him/her against natural disasters, accidents and other catastrophes and, of course the evil eye. These motifs, which are also observed in carpets, kilims and other textiles, are adapted in stylized form from plants, flowers, and the sacred parts of animals, from the tools and instruments used in everyday life, and sometimes from the imagination itself. Literally hundreds of terms are used to express these lively and diverse sock motifs, such as ‘hair fastener’, ‘little beak’, ‘blackberry blossom’, ‘ram’s horn’, ‘grape vine’, ‘rose garden’, and ‘bulbul’s eye’. The married man traveling from the village to the town market wears a sock displaying the ‘big agha’ motif, while an unmarried man’s socks display the ‘little agha’ motif. If a young man’s sweetheart has left him for another, he sports a sock worked with a ‘they stole my beloved from me’ motif. New brides meanwhile wears socks with rose motifs and bridegrooms socks with branch and tendril motifs. Socks also make a valuable present. At least 20-25 pairs are knitted for a young girl’s trousseau, some of them for distribution to others in her surroundings. Girls knit and send socks to their fiancés too. And socks are given as gifts to infants, children, and the young and old at weddings and on holidays and special feast days.
The colorful and decorative Anatolian socks that are machine-made and snugly fitting today, and therefore wearable with shoes, boots and sandals, were an important invention hundreds of years ago. Created by nomadic communities in myriad varieties, socks and gloves continue to be a vital necessity of everyday life even today.
The socks and gloves seen in the photographs are taken from the Sabiha Tansuğ Collection.