Monday, April 03, 2006

Walking With God

Beginning new socks, the beautiful "Mamluke Socks" from Nancy Bush's "Folk Socks". Link to book can be found HERE.
I knew I had to make these socks the moment I saw them on Yarn Harlot: HERE. Ran out and immediately bought this wonderful book. While there is a photo of a similar sock in a textile museum, there is no explanation about the pattern's history. But being a fan of woven Fair Isle, repetitive Islamic geometric patterns, and the art of Arabic Calligraphy, this pattern is a revelation. Suddenly the possibilities of knitting in Arabic and copying architectural arabesques and geometric patterns in yarn exploded in my mind. Started them on Saturday morning.
One thing that made me question:
The Arabic on the socks reads "Allah" over and over in a circle on both the ankle and the heel. The other repetitive geometric patterns are common patterns found in the stone, tile, and stucco work of Mamluk mosques. I have seen whole domes covered in zig-zags, and tiles and screens in the diamond patterns. This, along with the photo of the disintegrated sock in the textile museum, makes me believe that this is indeed a historical pattern. So my question: Was it acceptable to copy mosque patterns, including the cursive script name of God Himself, for use on a sock that would be worn on the sole of the foot? Would one be, in essence, trodding upon the name of God? In this day and age, where people are killed in rioting over an offensive caricature in an editorial cartoon, it is nice to see that people hundreds of years ago may have seen things in a more forgiving light.
My mother suggested that perhaps this specific pattern was a Mosque-Sock. Maybe a prayerful Mamluk would come to the mosque, perform the ablutions, and after removing his shoes, would slip on the socks to warm and decorate his feet while he prayed. The pattern of the sock would mirror the beauty and devotion around the prayerful. The rows of kneeling prayers in back of the wearer would also see the pattern. And as we knitters know, somewhere there was a knitter who lovingly and meditatively reproduced the name of God in her stitches as a devotion to the comfort of the wearer, a tribute to the architect, and the holy name of her God.
I am even reminded of the generations of women who have decorated churches by embroidering altar cloths and robes for their priests. Perhaps these socks were a gift to the Immam, and warmed his feet while he did his sacred work.
Instead of my modern pessimism immediately thinking about trodding upon God, I am reminded of all the devotion that is evident in our little meditative craft. These socks are a sign that knitters through history have felt the link between repetitive meditation and the sacred. That we have shown our love for our family and community by embracing them with the warmth and labor of our needles. And that appreciation of the grand art and devotion of sacred spaces is reflected in the small womanly craft of knitting.
I think about all this with every stitch of this pattern, and this women's history, mosque architecture, and the faith and devotion of people who lived years ago in a far off empire perhaps can be conjured and appreciated through the work. I haven't been this excited about a pattern in a very long time.
My mother had another suggestion. With their feet encircled and protected by the name of God, perhaps the wearer is reminded that with every step, he walks with God. He is protected by God, and walks in the path chosen by God. Perhaps we would all choose our steps more carefully if we wore such socks as these.

Update: This page has more fun with Arabic patterns, including a more authentic redesign of this historical sock.

1 comment:

Stafford Yeo's said...

Thank you for your thoughtful essay on the nature of knitting in mindfulness. I am working on the Mamluke socks now and just love how peaceful the entire pattern makes me feel. There's so much harmony in the charted knitting -- left to right is balanced, top and down are balanced, and in the middle the name of God.

Stafford Springs, Connecticut, USA