For Nancy Bush, designer, author, and owner of The Wooly West yarn and supply company in Utah, sock knitting is not just a hobby – It is her life's work! Nancy has meticulously observed the knitting traditions in many European countries, often delving into museum collections and archival and library materials for her extensive research.
|She has written three books specifically about sock knitting (Folk Socks , Knitting on the Road , and Knitting Vintage Socks  ) and has written many articles and designs for various books and magazines. Nancy's work now focuses primarily on the knitting traditions and heritage of Estonia. All of this while she teaches workshops around the country, designs for a myriad of publications, and runs the day-to-day business of The Wooly West!|
She kindly agreed to do two interviews with me last week in honor of Socktoberfest: one over email, the other over the telephone.
Do you recall your very first pair of socks? How did you learn to knit socks?
My first pair of socks were for my Dad and I cast on so tightly that he never liked wearing them. I think it was one of the first times I had used small (#1) needles! Now I teach several ways to last on loosely for socks. I taught myself to knit socks from a rare (in those days – the early 80's) pattern I found – don't remember where it came from.
How has your background in Art History affected your research, writing, and design of socks?
I always want to know about the history of anything I am interested in, be it knitting socks or some kind of food. I like to find out how it came to be and about the place it was created. I specialized in Japanese Folk Art in college and then went to the other side of the world for my career! My Art history studies taught me how to research and also to take photos that tell a story. I think it has been a great help in what I do now.
|What was the biggest challenge you faced when compiling and adapting the patterns in Knitting Vintage Socks? The nineteenth-century patterns are so intricate, it must have been a real task to match them with modern yarns, needles, and knitting techniques.|
I think the biggest challenge was spending day after day reading small gray type. It is the kind of type one tends (wants to) to overlook, but I had to read it word for word and sort out what the patterns were telling me to do. It became easier as I went along. There was no mention of weight or yardage for any of the yarns, nor gauge, so I had to rely on what I know the yarns would do and how the patterns could be changed or adjusted to work with them.
In Knitting on the Road, you point to the weaving school in Dalarna, Sweden as the place where you really learned to knit. Did the weaving school help you understand knitting technique and practice better? What did you learn there that you did not know about knitting before?
I wanted to learn everything I could during my time there (I also did spinning, lace making, felting by hand -no washing machines for us- and nålbinding) and knitting was a part of the whole experience. Except, I discovered that knitting was more than an interesting textile technique and had a very long history. It was the 'everyman's (or woman's) craft, not requiring a lot of equipment and success could be achieved rather quickly (once one learned how to cast on!!) I saw so many amazing knitted things in the museums and it was there that I discovered how really wonderful knitting is! By the way – it took me about 5 minutes to learn to cast on and it was the beginning of the rest of my life!
With your business, designing, and your workshop teaching, do you have any time to knit for pleasure? If so, what are you currently working on?
|Right now, nope – knitting is always a pleasure, but I haven't had time to knit just for me in a very long time. Between creating new classes (for Camp Stitches and SOAR, coming up in a few weeks) and writing and designing for PieceWork Magazine for every issue for the last 3 years, and the occasional other designs and working on a book – time to knit for me is way off the radar.|
I do think about 'retirement' fondly, thinking I may have time to knit all the things I have wanted to try but had no time – its very hard it imagine not being so busy!
What is next for Nancy Bush? do you have some new designs and a book "up your sleeve"?
Well…I have been working on and off for a few years researching Estonian knitted lace. Now I am hoping to be completely immersed in it for the next year, the result will be my next book. I am so interested in Estonia and their knitting, it is really all I want to be doing, most of the time, so this next year should be a good one for me.
Question from Socktoberfest participant, PrimitiveSpirit: How do you choose color for your sock designs? Are you inspired by the color, the wool? What is the process?
What is one of the most exciting stories that you have encountered in your research?
Nancy graciously agreed to do a recording where she tells of her sock knitting experience at the home of Tasha Tudor, a well-known and much-loved American children's book illustrator.
- Nancy's Memorable Sock Story (a portion of my phone interview with Nancy, in .mp3 format) You can also read the transcript of her sock story here.
(Please forgive the low-tech equipment and the slight echo!)
Thanks for this opportunity. Good luck with your 'fest'!
Thank you, Nancy! Happy Socktoberfest!