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Effortless Mastery is the name of a book subtitled "Freeing the master musician within." It's right up there with The Inner Game of Music and A Soprano On Her Head, as far as I'm concerned, for great books about becoming one with oneself as a musician. I've pontificated before in other places about Gerald Eskelin's brilliant Lies My Music Teacher Taught Me, and I won't go off on the intricacies of temperament or bore you with a discussion of modes. (For those of you who don't know, I'm also a bit of a musician, so I do actually think and talk about things like this.)

It's the term "effortless mastery" that I want to delve into here. I don't think the individual musician can ever know the moment or series of moments at which it is achieved, if it ever is achieved. Rather, he finds himself a few weeks or months or years later suddenly able to do something with such ease and facility that he realises he's pretty good at this. I think we can apply this term to lots of different disciplines: I'm remembering now the story of a student interpreter for the deaf at the University of Southwestern Louisiana. He was in a biology class, merrily signing the lecture as the professor gave it. A difficult word came along, and he spelled it without thinking about it, then stared at his hand in disbelief. The deaf students applauded, and the class was briefly interrupted as he had to explain to the hearing students (and the instructor) what had just happened. That's as good an illustration as any of the moment of realisation.

I was thinking about the Spiraling Coriolis, after I made a plain pair. These were finished last Monday night, and Monday when I got home from class I cast on another pair. I used a Plymouth Sockotta I'd bought in the States in 2007 because I wasn't completely enamoured of the colourway and it was a prototype sock.

First of all, I was dead wrong about the colourway: It is gorgeous, and the other ball of Sockotta I have in different colours but similar patterning will become a pair of very plain socks to show off that lovely colourway.

It occurred to me that I could put that spiralling stripe in in any sort of pattern I liked: all I'd have to do would be to make sure the increases and decreases followed properly along. So, after I'd finished the toe (still in my short-term memory from the other pair) and increased to 100% (same number as before as I was getting almost exactly the same tension), I started a six-stitch braided cable on one side of the sock, bounded by a purl stitch on either side. I made the cable appear to move around the sock by adding increases on one side and decreases on the other. When I got to the point at which the 'gusset' increases start, I just changed the decrease to a twisted stitch to give it some relief and carried on. Rather than continuing the cable round the back of the sock, I twisted it back in on itself. This has resulted in some puckering on the front of the sock although it looks fine on the foot. I didn't want to have the cable be working its way around the back of the sock when I had to start the heel: that would have been awkward.

The one thing I don't like about the completed sock is that the cable, which is twisting around the front of the sock, pulls pretty tightly. Cat Bordhi suggests in the Coriolis notes that if you want to widen the leg, just leave out some of the decreases on whichever side of the spiral you're doing, but I tried that for a couple of rounds and it seemed to upset the rhythm of the cable in a way it hadn't done on the foot. For the second sock I'll make a series of invisible increases on the back of the sock above the heel, to see if that makes the fit of the cable more relaxed.

So.

Why was I going on about the moment at which we realise we have mastered something (in this case sock architecture and the beginnings of decent design)?

Because I made these socks up as I went along. And I achieved what is probably a new speed knitting record for me (I'm a slow knitter)-- one sock in two days.



What would you call these socks?
What would you call these socks?
Yes, I know they'll look better in a solid or a semisolid; that's coming up next. But I really wanted to knit with the Sockotta, and it's lovely.
Foot detail. :)
Foot detail. :)

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April 2011

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