incubus Muse won that round, as is only right. Even if your medium is something as apparently inconsequential (to normal people, I mean) as sock design, it never pays to disregard the promptings of the Muse. Do that enough times and the Muse will abandon you altogether, and then you may as well start pushing paper for a living. Whereas when the Muse wins, nobody loses.
Whose note full many a man doth mark,
And dares not answer nay.
It was an epic battle, though. As I said in my last, I’ve had this tsock in mind for a long time, and I was so sure I knew how I was going to do it that I had knitted most of it, and was already more than half-way through writing it and discussing it with the test knitter when the No-No-You-Have-To-Do-It-THIS-Way Thunderbolt hit me. Giving that up was hard. HARD.
And to make you suffer with me, I’m going to take you through it more or less in excruciating chronological sequence. (As before, if you can’t stand the pain you can always scroll down. But you might miss something. You never know.)
Gentles, perchance you wonder at this show;
But wonder on, till truth make all things plain.
This tsock, then - Tsock #2 of the 2012 Art for your Feet Tsock Club - is “Bottom’s Dream,” the second and final part of the Midsummer Night’s Dream miNIZZeries. Think of it as the low-comedy obverse of the ethereal fairy business that is “Love in Idleness.” They do say the pun is the lowest form of wit, yes? And so I give you Shakespeare, channeling his inner naughty twelve-year-old in just that form, by having Puck put the head of an Ass on the shoulders of a character named Bottom.
(The OED, incidentally, claims that there is no such pun here; that in Shakespeare’s time “ass” was not used to mean the same thing as “Bottom.” Sorry, OED dear, but on this one you are just plain WRONG. The theme of the transformation of man into ass owes something to Apuleius and very possibly also something to Ovid, but Nick Bottom the weaver is Shakespeare’s own - I think we do know the sweet Roman hand - and there is just no way his name is a coincidence.)
You may recall that in the first episode of this miNIZZeries we saw Oberon plotting to sprinkle the juice of Love-in-Idleness on Titania’s sleeping eyelids so that on waking she would immediately dote on the next creature she saw. Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, the Rude Mechanicals are rehearsing their ludicrous version of Pyramus and Thisbe; Puck, discovering them, seizes the opportunity to clap an ass’s head on the greatest oaf among them, and places him where Titania can’t help but see him when she awakens. Puck then scampers back to Oberon and announces “My mistress with a monster is in love” - and sure enough she spends the better part of the night murmuring sweet nothings in the huge hairy ears of Bottom the Ass, and sending her fairies hither and yon to bring him delicacies; while Oberon, as planned, takes advantage of her distraction to steal away her changeling page.
Well, I had the whole thing figured out ages ago. I was going to build a tsock out of all the best bits of the Hempen Homespuns and their silly play-within-the-play. I was going to approach the construction as it were the yang to the previous episode’s yin; a warm earthy colorway where the other was cool and mysterious; themes expressed in chewy textures where the other was all delicate lace. I was going to use Wall (”O sweet and lovely Wall”) as the background and Lion (”well roared, Lion”) and Moon (”this lanthorn doth the hornèd moon present”) as motifs, with maybe a little bit of Cobweb and Moth here and there. I was going to make Bottom in his Ass’s Head the high-instep focal point on this one, as Titania was on its predecessor. (Thus putting Bottom on Top… but I digress.)
I sent Betty links to a bunch of Brueghel’s “peasant” paintings, the various wedding dances and such…
…and as requested she made me a wonderfully rich, subtly variegated colorway from those characteristically earthy reds with touches of brown. I amused myself by dubbing it “Fustian” - and while waiting for the final version of it I started swatching textured motifs.
I made a Wall.
I made a Moon.
(This is an early unfinished swatch in a different yarn, but you get the gist.)
I toyed with Moth.
I made Lion.
I made the Ass’s Head.
I loved them. Everyone on the Team loved them, too.
By this point I had the real yarn, so I made a seed stitch toe, and I built a Wall on top of it, and I put the Ass’s Head on the instep, and I wrote and charted these things and sent them off to the test knitter, and she knitted them, and everybody was happy. (Not to mention comfortably ahead of schedule.) And then…
… then came the Thunderbolt. And what the Thunderbolt told me was that the WHOLE APPROACH WAS ALL WRONG. It showed me a foot and it showed me an Ass’s head and it dinned incessantly in my ear that the resemblance between them, like Nick Bottom’s name, was no coincidence, and that to ignore it would be to fly in the face of providence, indeed to look a gift Ass in the mouth.
And at last it broke me down.
Cursing a blue streak, I brought the design/testing process to a screeching halt, went straight back to the drawing board, and within minutes had… this:
More cursing and fulmination, more struggles and attempts at denial, but still I cast on to try it out right away, and as I knitted I knew. I knew. I knew. There was no help for it. The Tsock IS the Ass. The Ass IS the Tsock. All that other little cute stuff is just other little cute stuff. The little lion and the little ass won’t go to waste, but they will just have to live on the back burner for a while, because THIS is Bottom’s Dream.
See what I mean?
Go Big Ass Or Go Home.
Actually, once I stopped resisting, the whole thing flowed smoothly, and the original texture-and-outline idiom lent itself beautifully to the new form.
The muzzle is worked in seed stitch, with stockinette nostrils outlined in twisted stitches…
… while the increase lines at the sides of the toe naturally form the mouth. The face is mostly stockinette, with ridges defined by reverse stockinette. Then the Eyes, like the Nostrils, are outlined in twisted stitches, with the whites done in seed stitch and the eyeball in reverse stockinette.
Between the Eyes the widening of the brow ridge produces additional ease for the rise of the instep; above the brow ridge, of course, is the Forelock…
Methinks I am marvellous hairy about the face; and I am such a tender ass, if my hair do but tickle me, I must scratch.
… worked, incidentally, in what I flatter myself is an entirely new version of Loop stitch, much more stable than any I’ve ever run across.
Above the Forelock and the skull rises the mad glory of the three-dimensional Ears.
These stand out from the sides of the ankle in an anatomically-plausible fashion; they are worked in-line and are lined in a woven stitch - alums of The Boid will recognize their old friend Plaited Basket, here rechristened Tabby Weave in tribute to Bottom’s profession.
Between them a glimpse of the aforementioned Wall, its “crannied chink” formed by the gap in the short-rowed welt that gives volume to its stones…
… and above that the Hornèd Moon appears on the cuff:
As for the heel? Why, a Peasant Heel, of course. What else would you use for this group of clods? I’ll spare you the rant about the difference between a Peasant Heel and an Afterthought Heel (it’s all there in the pattern, though), and merely point out that in this particular case the shaping is done by means of semi-randomly staggered decreases…
… to enhance the curve of the Ass’s Cheek - because Shakespeare doesn’t have a monopoly on childish humor, and sometimes I too am twelve.
And if you think that’s the end of the story, think again. Because after the prototype was finished and the pattern written and charted and in the final stages of testing, I looked at the eyes and decided they were too slitty. I blocked them and stretched them and they were still too slitty. So I frogged the heel (”and it shall be called Bottom’s Dream, because it hath no bottom”), and then I performed major surgery on the sock, snipping a stitch in the middle of the heel setup round, pulling out the strand a stitch at a time, and delicately dismantling the whole thing, splitting it in two.
Bad phone pictures, I’m afraid, but at least they do give you some idea of the extent of the carnage…
… not to mention the slittiness of the eyes, pre-surgery.
Frogged back to the beginning of the eyes and reworked them, wider awake and less demonic this time, and then grafted the whole thing back together and recreated the heel.
With the help of a surgeon he might yet recover, and prove an ass.
And NOW truly methought I was enamour’d of an ass.
“Bottom’s Dream” went into the mail today (well… Monday, I mean), and should start landing on knitters’ doorsteps by Wednesday.
As for me - after all these struggles and thunderbolts I have an exposition of sleep come upon me.
… Sing me now asleep;
Then to your offices and let me rest.