A Trick of the Light

Spoiler alert: Ordinarily I wait to blog a new tsock design until after it has shipped, or even after the first packages have arrived. This one, however, is still a couple of days away from shipping, and I’m blogging it anyway for crass reasons of my own; so if you don’t want to spoil the surprise I suggest you look away immediately after reading the following paragraph. You have been warned.

Crass reasons alert: A couple of weeks ago I did a phone interview with Lara Neel for her Crafty Living podcast at the JournalGazette. That podcast is now live, and it’s… well, I had fun, anyway! Go listen. The tsock will still be here. (Incidentally, if you read her blog post before listening to the podcast, you may want to cut to the chase; the interview starts about 9:35.)


N    ow attend and listen, O Best Beloved, for this is a tale of the High and Far-Off Times.

Some years ago, A Certain Dyer was experimenting with new colorways. She brought fiber samples to a gathering of her friends, in the hope that they would spin them and provide her with feedback. One of these friends - sock designer by day, spinner by night - made grabby-hands at an indeterminate shade that somehow vaguely reminded her of both blackberries and lemonade. This she spun a few days later, with great enjoyment, and she wound off the singles to a storage bobbin. The next morning she looked for this bobbin - sought high and sought low - but it was nowhere to be found. It was quite half an hour before it dawned on her that she had in fact been staring at it all morning and had simply failed to recognize it. No, her memory had not failed her; it was the yarn itself that had changed color. Spun in the evening, under incandescent light, it had been a soft vibrant magenta. Seen in the cold light of morning, it was an unrecognizable deep steel grey. Later, under fluorescent light, it was found to be a murky green.

And this it was that became the first of the Mystical Moose Chameleon colorways.

Chameleon Composite
The original Chameleon Colorway; same fiber, different lights. L-R: Incandescent, Daylight, Fluorescent.

It was the gift that kept on giving, the parlor trick that wouldn’t die. Betty’s been producing freaky-beautiful shade/depth variations on the Mystic colorways ever since, and every time anyone in our crowd sees them, every time we spin or knit with them, every time we show them to someone… we still feel compelled to scurry to a lamp, to a window, to a work light - step indoors! step outdoors! do it again! don’t take your eyes off the fiber! look, look, it’s changing! - and to marvel and laugh like loons. The magic trick just never gets old.

Of course, it was inevitable that such a colorway should eventually trigger a tsock design… a design devoted to things that are not as they seem, to things that are hidden in plain sight.

One thing that was hidden in plain sight, in a way, was the theme itself. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson, last time around, about trying to fool the Muse, right? Hah. Not so much. Not. So. Very. Much.

This time around, I tried to fake myself out of my first idea because it was… oh, you know, just a little far-fetched. I reasoned - the whole point of this is that I’m using a Chameleon yarn, so it should be a tsock about actual Chameleons, yes? So I studied up on Chameleons, which may I say are pretty damned fascinating - went into the subspecies and the varieties and the habits and the characteristics and the behavior and the folklore and generally swam around in Denial (my favorite river in Egypt) for a week or two before I finally faced the fact that… lizards just don’t do it for me. I admire and respect them and all that, and I’m not sorry I boned up on them, not to mention - ooh shiny, pretty colors! But as a tsock theme, or at any rate as THIS tsock theme - not for me. There was just no talking myself into it.

It was with considerable relief that I fell gently back into Plan A, remembering that I had felt the usual jolt of recognition when it first jumped so improbably into my head. You should never never never… well, at any rate, I should never never never never NEVER try to ignore that jolt of recognition.

When it’s right, it’s right. If that means that Right is also A Little Far-Fetched… So be it. After all, it’s not as if we’re not used to that.

Where's Your Breakfast Cover
You know how they tell you “Do not adjust your monitor”?
Go ahead and adjust your monitor. Tilt it; tilt your head. Shift both side to side.
Remember the eyes of the Mona Lisa? Watch what happens to the shadow animals.

“Where’s Your Breakfast?” uses a Chameleon variant we’re calling “Gaslight” - same Mystic Moose dye technique; same befuddling effect; slightly different shades.

Bit by bit - the Giraffe began it, because his legs were the longest - they went away from the High Veldt. They scuttled for days and days and days till they came to a great forest, ’sclusively full of trees and bushes and stripy, speckly, patchy-blatchy shadows, and there they hid: after another long time, what with standing half in the shade and half out of it, and what with the slippery-slidy shadows of the trees falling on them, the Giraffe grew blotchy, and the Zebra grew stripy; and so, though you could hear them and smell them, you could very seldom see them, and then only when you knew precisely where to look.

Rudyard Kipling, Just So Stories;
“How the Leopard Got His Spots”


There are three levels of meta-illusion going on here.

  1. The patterning is done in Illusion Knitting, so it is only decipherable from certain angles, and otherwise it’s just a series of two-row stripes;
  2. The Gaslight yarn itself changes colors in different lights, varying the interplay of the illusion striping;
  3. The second color matches one of the Gaslight shades, so that if you look at the sock under warm incandescent light even the stripes get lost and all you see is a bumpy fabric in one near-solid color.

Yarns under cold light
Two Yarns Under Cold Light

Yarns under warm light
Two Yarns Under Warm Light

Fabric under cold light    Fabric under warm light

Same fabric - L-R: Daylight, Lamplight.

Incidentally, in case you’re wondering whether there’s trick photography at play here? the answer is a resounding YES. You bet. Every single one of these pictures is Photoshopped. The camera - even the super-fancy high-tech digital Nikon I borrowed and could barely heft - just does not see this stuff the way the eye does, and every camera sees it differently, no matter what you do with exposure and light balance. It’s one illusion wrapped in another. So I’ve faked these up to look like what I actually see before me. Your monitor may vary, but so does everything else.

Not so incidentally - that was hard enough with the yarn, but it’s close to impossible with the sock. Illusion knitting. Illusion knitting on a sock. Illusion knitting in weird phototropic colors, on a sock. Illusion knitting in weird phototropic colors, with traveling jogless color changes between stripes (thank you, TechKnitter!), on a sock.

Ah, forget it. I was just gaslighting you anyway. It’s really just a plain purplish sock.

Sock under warm light

Oh, wait, maybe it’s a plain striped sock.

Sock under cold light

All that other shadowy stuff, the giraffe, the zebra?




Probably just figments of my fevered imagination. Or… you know… a trick of the light.

     “How is it done?”
     “Let us up,” said the Zebra, “and we will show you.”
     They let the Zebra and the Giraffe get up; and Zebra moved away to some little thorn-bushes where the sunlight fell all stripy, and Giraffe moved off to some tallish trees where the shadows fell all blotchy.
     “Now watch” said the Zebra and the Giraffe. “This is the way it’s done. One - two - three! And where’s your breakfast?”
     Leopard stared, and Ethiopian stared, but all they could see were stripy shadows and blotched shadows in the forest, but never a sign of Zebra and Giraffe. They had just walked off and hidden themselves in the shadowy forest.

Mr. One Two Three

20 Responses to “A Trick of the Light”

  1. ProgrammerAtArms Says:

    You are tricksy.

  2. Caroline M Says:

    The trouble is that only the knitter will ever appreciate them, everyone else that they try to explain them to will glaze over, back away slowly and then run like hell.

  3. Genny Says:

    So it’s actualy a *giraffe* with an invisibility cloak! You are a devious Tsarina!

    Srsly, though, this might be the coolest Tsock I’ve seen yet. Even cooler than Quantum Paratsocks.

  4. barbara bonn Says:

    Is this the beginning of a new Subtle and Mysterious Mode?
    If so, I like it. No wonder you were kvetching about how hard the yarn was to photograph.
    Betty and you are both getting stranger by the day — a very good thing, in my book.
    Can’t wait to do this one: a sock that reinforces the idea that all of life is an illusion.

  5. Kate Says:

    I like!! Wonders how to bribe postal peeps to deliver faster.

  6. Winterhart Says:

    This is MARVELOUS. I am not usually a tricksy sock knitter, preferring them to be quiet and work themselves out in small spaces so that there’s no danger of losing the pattern mid-airport and whatnot, but between this and the Nine Tailors sock you are converting me. Plus that yarn is just DAMN COOL!

    Love the story, too! You’ve inspired me to find some Just So Stories during lunch… it’s been so long.

  7. Astrid Says:

    You have officially crossed over into sock magic. That is astonishing, on so many levels!

  8. Caroline Says:

    When I first read the title of the post I thought of the most recent book by mystery novelist Louise Penny. Do you know her? You might like.

  9. Another Joan Says:

    Oh My Best Beloved - this idea is why I KICK myself for not signing up for Tsock Club. Dang!! And disappearing into the shadows…

  10. Marcy Says:

    Crazypants. You and Betty both. You’re feeding off each other. Will the next installment be the Empress’ New Tsocks?

  11. Lynne in Florida Says:

    My first reaction to that sock was “Holy $hit!”. After rereading, staring at the pictures, adjusting my monitor, rereading, etc. that still about covers it. I so very deeply regret I’m not a member of the club, and have to wait an entire, interminable, year before I can knit this incredible magic. It’s no wonder this sock is so delayed, even without the May Madness. Your brain must be ’sploding! If any club member complains that the sock isn’t worth the wait, send ‘em to see me. My cousin Luigi will help me adjust their attitudes. But I doubt there will be any complaints. Fulsome compliments, awed worship, and incredulity, yes.

  12. Karen in McLean Says:

    This is so fine! [Ch.: So-o fine] I wish it was mine [Ch.: Ah-ahll mine] -

    Now, can the two of you do Cherenkov radiation? There is no more beautiful blue. Or fireflies? Or what happens to the reflection off soap bubbles when they pop?

    Cheers, Karen

  13. Chalyn Says:

    This is So COOL.

  14. Jen S Says:

    Just got the kit in the mail. (Hadn’t read this blog beforehand.) I have to admit at first look, I was so disappointed — I was sure somebody had made a mistake packing the kit, since both skeins were exactly the same color (under incandescent light!). How on earth was I supposed to knit a sock that looked like the cover illustration on the pattern booklet with only one color of yarn?? Then I started reading the pattern booklet, and there was this reference to changing colors. Hmmm. Never heard of that in yarn before. Ran outside (thankfully there was still some daylight left). Wow! Ran back inside to find a fluorescent light. Yet a third color! Wow again! This is absolutely amazing. But the best part, as always, is the extraordinarily clever use of the material in your design. You truly are a genius! Got to run now and cast on!

  15. Veriton Says:

    WOW! Just wow!!!
    How do I get this kit if I’m not part of the club? This is just amazing, I’m always in awe at your designs, but this has me with my mouth wide open I tell you.

  16. Lynne in Florida Says:

    Somebody has been playing with the website … does this mean progress is being made?

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    See what I mean?

  17. The Tsarina Tsays… » Blog Archive » Wait, what? ALREADY????? Says:

    […] Main « A Trick of the Light […]

  18. Nicole Says:

    Hi I’m interested in buying so lovely shark socks - in particular the white and grey ones. Do you sell them? If so please feel to contact me on my email. If not I just want to say they are quite simply, innovative and very impressive. My proverbial hat off to you!

  19. Denise Says:

    Thank you for the update on the Shark socks

  20. Barbara Formica Says:

    I read and read and read, yet I’ve failed to find out how/where to order patterns and am emotionally upset because I’ve waited patiently since 2011 and still have no idea of whether the money I’ve saved will be adequate for patterns, kits, whatever … ???

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