Cynara, in my fashion

The tender-hearted artichoke dressed in its armor, built its modest cupola and stood erect, impenetrable beneath a lamina of leaves, burnished to a pomegranate glow. And then one day, with all the other artichokes in willow baskets, our artichoke set out to market to realize its dream; life as a soldier. But look, here comes Maria with her shopping basket. Unintimidated, she selects our artichoke, she buys it, she drops it in a shopping bag. Once home and in the kitchen she drowns it in a pot. And thus ends in peace the saga of the armored vegetable we call the artichoke, as leaf by leaf we unsheathe its delights and eat the peaceable flesh of its green heart.

Pablo Neruda,
Ode to an Artichoke


Ahhhhh. A brief hiatus between Purdah and Purdah. Club Tsock #4 is being printed and packed, so it’s time to show it to you.

I’ve always had a weakness for artichokes - as food for palate, as food for thought, as food for metaphor. They may well be the most misunderstood and controversial vegetable ever. I’m telling you… it isn’t just any piece of produce that could get itself banned in New York as a casus belli (or maybe that should be casus belly) for the Cosa Nostra.

Blessed Thistle       Somewhere on my overcrowded back burner is a pile of preliminary notes and research for a gastro-botanico-historico-literary monograph on the subject, and this design has absorbed a fair amount of that literary juice. Shakespeare, Neruda, Dumas, Sabatini, Pliny, Theophrastus, Cesare Borgia - they all play a part here, along with the occasional nod to Greek mythology and romantic poetry.

Here, then, is what I thought was going to be this year’s tsimple tsock - Blessed Thistle.

Blessed Thistle

It’s an artichoke, see? Well, kind of an upside-down artichoke, with the ribbed cuff for the stem, and little vestigial leaves just like on the stem of a real artichoke.

Blessed Thistle

(Yes, I know. Technically they are not leaves, they’re bracts. So sue me.)

Blessed Thistle

Blessed Thistle

Um. Maybe you can tell I’m kinda proud of those? And maybe you’ll concede that I have reason to be, when I tell you that they are worked in-line as part of the cuff, so there are NO ENDS TO WEAVE IN! NONE!

And then comes the part that should have been simple - that I actually thought WAS simple until I started trying to explain how I had done it.

As on a real artichoke, there are smallish leaves at the base, i.e. on the ankle…

Blessed Thistle

… and as with a real artichoke the leaves get bigger as you reach the widest point of the circumference.

Blessed Thistle

So the leaf lace pattern is worked in three different sizes, omitting a single set of decreases to accomplish each transition, so that the sock widens as the leaves do, with the biggest leaves forming the instep.

Blessed Thistle

Then a couple of the leaves curl under to form the heel…

Blessed Thistle

… and then there’s this funky little Japanese-inspired pickup thing that happens underneath to start the sole moving forward…

Blessed Thistle

… into a kinky little short-rowing sequence. And then the leaves start getting smaller again, until at last the whole thing ends in a puddle of melted butter at the toe.

Blessed Thistle

It all seemed very organic while I was doing it - in fact, I got so cocky with the omitted-decreases trick that I actually scaled the lace pattern to four different sizes, using #1-#3 for the medium-size tsock and #2-#4 for the large. And then… then I sat down to try to explain it all, and that’s when my brain exploded into a thousand pieces. (Some of them splattered so far and wide that they hit my poor test knitter, at a range of a coupla hundred miles, and she was wiping up the mess for days. That woman is made of stern stuff, I’m here to tell you.) Sometimes the things that are the simplest to do are the hardest to describe. And vice versa. I mean, it’s just a plant, right? What could be simpler or more natural than smaller leaves growing into bigger leaves?


It turns out that when you make something grow really organically on your needles it is almost impossible to go back and figure out, not only how you did it (actually, I always understood how; it was only articulating it that was hard), but where. Like trying to retrace a woven-in end that you’ve hidden too skilfully, or undo a graft that you’ve worked too evenly. The unincreased increases turned out to be sneaky little devils, hiding their lights under the bushel of angled-stitch camouflage.

Then there are all the red herrings inherent in working a half-drop lace pattern in the round, even at only ONE size let alone four. Then there’s the only-half-intentional invention of a newish (so far as I know) kind of heel.

All in all, what I came away with was partly this: next time I set out to design something tsimple… PLEASE will you slap me upside the head and remind me what that word MEANS!

And yet. And yet the tsock is not difficult to knit. No, seriously; I mean it - stop laughing. It’s NOT. I think - I hope - I trust - that it’s pretty straightforward even if you just follow the directions and charts carefully. But if you are any kind of a hand at all at reading your knitting and following its rhythm… it’s practically a walk in the park. Or at any rate in a field of not-too-prickly thistles.

39 Responses to “Cynara, in my fashion”

  1. Jesh Says:

    Oh holy *crap* the patterning on the heel/instep. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of artichokes (or vegetables in general, ew) but that right there is a thing of beauty.

  2. Carys Says:

    Wow, those are beautiufl, and that yarn is *perfect* for them!!

  3. Derick Says:

    Wow, now I really want an artichoke. And those little leaves on the cuff… I just want to pull them right off, just as I would on a real artichoke. Warm up the garlic butter!

  4. Marina Stern Says:

    Tsarina, I laughed out loud and clapped my hands when I saw this. I *love* artichokes, both as a foodstuff and as an ornament. I adore these socks– the silly little leaves on the ankles!– and look forward to knitting them.

  5. onafixedincome Says:

    Wow. WOW!!! Good Lord o’Vegetables, lady, you have DONE IT! :) Beautifully, too, as usual.

    On the whole ‘I made it up as I went along’ theme…have you cconsidered a nice little voice recorder turned on whilst you knit and you can tell it what you just did? Mind you, listening to it LATER is something I’d pay to see you do…. :) :)

    WHEE!! You’ve done it again. :)

  6. kelly Says:

    Now that is awesome!!!! I love artichokes and that sock is just perfect!!! Simple, I don’t think so, but really beautiful!!! You rock!!

  7. Linda Schaefer Says:

    I’m not well-experienced with artichokes, but I have a feeling I’m gonna love these! Those goofy little leaves, well, they speak to me. What can I say? :-) And, anything at all in the universe made with butter has GOT to be good.

  8. Anne Says:

    This tsock is a thing of beauty. It is tsimple in execution; exquisite in design. It was an honor to join the creative process.

    (and I have a very strong urge to yell “clean up on aisle 3″)

  9. Donna Says:

    They are beautiful. The color is perfect. I think I’m not going to be able to open the package when it appears in my mailbox. I’m on a no new cast ons diet, and I’m afraid these will break me. If I open the package, I’ll be in the yarn room closet, casting on, and pretending I’m not.

  10. Presbytera Says:

    Is there a Hollandaise toe option?

  11. gwynivar Says:

    Presbytera, for you, there COULD be a Hollandaise toe option ;-)

  12. cyndy Says:

    Brilliant !

    I’ve loved artichokes since my highschool art teacher first served them to me during lunch one day! What a great idea to make them into socks! Love that cuff ;-)

  13. Karen Says:

    Hmmmmmmmmmm (the happiness is so great, one is made inarticulate and only hums, much like eating artichokes right out of the fields).

    And thank you for the Neruda passage — I hadn’t read it yet.


    Cheers, Karen

  14. Marcy Says:

    Heeee! Lovely thistle! And I love the leetle purply bits in the green yarn!

    I am concerned, though, about the butter on the toes. Does that mean we’re supposed to suck our toes? Or eat our feets after we peel off the socks?

    You’re such a bract, though. Cynara? Later, baybee!

  15. helen (of troy) Says:

    So, where is the choke? (and i am claiming all the sweet tender hearts!)

    (the socks are really lovely–(you’re photo’s almost do them justice!))

  16. soxanne Says:


  17. Colleen Says:

    love (1)

  18. Pat Says:

    I’ve loved artichokes since I was introduced to them by my grandmother at a very early age - I’ve passed on the love to all my kids - these socks are going to so much fun - LOVE them and can’t wait to start!

  19. Melissa Says:

    Heh, it still looks asparagus-y to me. That’s a good thing! Lovely colorway, and really interesting lacework–I like it a lot.

    I’m 2/3 up the cuff (two at a time) of the Oktoberfests that have been lingering on needles for more than a year now, and I have 1/3 of my second Frozen Margarita to finish. I’m not allowed to start a new Tsock until one of those is done (and preferably both). The yarns for Fearful Symmetry and York & Lancaster are all wound and ready….don’t know yet which will be next.

    I’m having a bout of Finishitis. I’m going with it. Socks are being completed. This is good. Never mind that tam I started last night–it’s already halfway done and won’t derail me for long.

  20. chalyn Says:

    i already know i’m going to love these tsocks. they’re fantastic.

    and who’s to say they aren’t tsimple? or at least tsimple-ish? i didn’t think Tyger Tyger was that hard, these can’t be any worse than the pseudo-entrelac.

  21. naomi Says:

    So, is there a not-in-Flock delay that means my budget is safe from these at Rhinebeck?

  22. Astrid Bear Says:

    Fabuloso! But, y’know, you also need a mayonnaise toe option . . .

  23. Tan Says:

    Oh cute! This is not an insult. Sometimes cute is good.

  24. alwen Says:

    Yeah, my knitted fishie is like that. I know exactly how to do it . . . but how to tell someone else how to knit it.

    It seems so obvious to me (of course it has to increase here and sprout a fin there) it’s so hard to stop and write it step by step so someone else can follow the dreckshuns.

  25. Gretch Says:

    Love love love love them. Love. Them. Freakin’ genius.

  26. Jennifer Says:

    Asparagus? That’s also genius. — Tsarina, can you design some toe socks in asparagus? One spear for each individual toe? You could add little bobbin things for those odd lumpy bits. I hate toe socks, but I’d wear asparagus.

    The more I look at these artichokes, the more I want the mailman to hurry up. Life is too short for cast on diets. Bring it on. Can’t wait to do the little vestigial bracts. In fact, I may start kintting them randomly on everything just because they’re so funky and have no ends to weave in.

    Then my daughter will want a pair of the artichokes, so I’ll have to order more yarn for her, because the originals are mine, all mine…

  27. Karen Says:

    Hi! Awesome socks! Can’t wait until they escape from Tsock Club seclusion so those of us on the outside can try the awesome pattern. I am a fan of knitting anything with leaves, and artichokes are among my favorite vegetables - what better symphony of circumstance!

    I have plenty of knitting to keep me busy until then…

  28. Laura Says:

    Oh, my. I hope those become available to non-club-members, because if not I might have to accost one in a dark alley and steal the kit; these are so gorgeous. I like the little bits of purple in the yarn, and the leaves on the heel, and the bit of butter at the toe, and really in truth I love the whole thing.

    Again I say, oh, my.

  29. RobinH Says:

    Very clever- I love the heel.

  30. BaaBaa Says:

    Yummy. Delicious green.
    Delectable Neruda quote.
    As Garcia Lorca said,
    “Verde, que te quiero verde.”
    (And purple, tooooooo.)

  31. Gwen Says:

    Artichokes and dry salami. Favorite special foods from childhood. And I love artichokes even more now than I used to. (salami’s pretty good too) Kind of like driving through artichoke fields on the way to Monterey, too.

  32. Erica Says:

    I love artichokes! They sell blooming artichokes in all the local farmer’s markets here, and they’re such cool flowers. The bracts are genius, as is your heel turn. I don’t know how you get so much detail in one sock. And the hidden increases? I completely sympathize. Things always make sense to me when I’m knitting them, but trying to explain “organic” knitting is a whole ‘nother matter. That’s a good trick to put in the collection, though…thanks!

  33. karin maag-tanchak Says:


  34. marta Says:

    Brilliant. Simply brilliant. I have a weak spot for artichokes and thistles, too. To the point where I let those beautiful, tall, purple headed spires grow in the furthest corner of the back yard where the nosey, lookiloo neighbors can’t report the so-called weed.

  35. Tsock « knitters = angry mob Says:

    […] It has occurred to me (well, over the weekend it occurred to me) that while I am thrilled about the artichoke tsock, which I saw and then commented on and then drooled over some more, I have not yet knit the last […]

  36. Dan/Brewergnome Says:

    That is gorgeous! I love it!

  37. Bond-As Versatile As It Is Beautiful « Sheepwreck Says:

    […] knitting currently is focused on the Blessed Thistle Tsock pattern by Lisa Grossman.  I am currently much further than the above, but still not done with the ribbing and the little […]

  38. Baiba Says:

    Is it possible to get/purchase this pattern, please? If yes, i would like it…

  39. Barbara Fritz-Elliott Says:

    Where can I find these patterns or purchase the kits! I love these socks!

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