My interest in knitting has been kept alive over the years
by the almost infinite variety of color, pattern, and texture
that is found in collections of knitters and museums around
the world. Although I love the smooth, quiet repetition of knitting
a rectangular scarf in garter stitch using a luxurious yarn,
it is the endless diversity of technique and style that keeps
me interested in knitting as more than a way to keep my hands
busy while watching TV.
Bosnian Socks “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out
your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t
keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might
be swept off to.”
--from The Lord of The Rings by J.R.R.
I'm not only a crazy-obsessed knitter, but I am also a crazy-obsessed
traveler. A few years ago while visiting a friend in England,
I mentioned that I wanted to learn more about Eastern European
knitting. Before I knew it, June was putting a book into
my hands. The title, Black Lambs and Grey Falcons: Women
Travelling in the Balkans got my attention right away.
"Don't miss the chapter about Edith Durham," June
said. "She traveled in Yugoslavia before World War I
and collected traditional clothing."
I started flipping through the pages.
"Oh," June said as if it were an afterthought. "Edith
Durham's collection is at a museum in Halifax. We'll be passing
by that way when I take you to the airport."
I tried to remain calm, but I knew I would have to visit
that museum before I headed back to the states.
Such was the beginning of my love affair with Balkan knitting.
Before I stumbled onto Black Lambs and Grey Falcons andthe
socks in the Edith Durham collection, the only thing I knew
about the former Yugoslavia and the Balkans was that it was
a violent, dangerous part of the world. I remember reading
articles in the paper about Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians,
Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, and Muslims. (The region
is currently peaceful, the economy is growing, and tourism
is increasing. I hope it will remain that way.)
All of these, often conflicting, cultures have contributed
to the unique flavor of the traditional knitting patterns
of the region. Almost every history of the knitting that
I've read places the birth of knitting somewhere in the Middle
East, spreading later into Europe, and finally to North America
only a few hundred years ago. Because the Balkans were invaded
by the Ottoman empire, even today a strong Turkish influence
can be seen in the knitting patterns and techniques of the
Turkish knitting may have been developed first by shepherds
who had easy access to wool, and who were already familiar
with spinning, dyeing, and working with yarn to make rugs.
I can easily imagine Moorish knitters taking their new craft
with them into Eastern Europe, Portugal and Spain. With my
active imagination, I wasn't at all surprised when I read Fancy
Feet: Traditional Knitting Patterns of Turkey, and learned
that Anna Zilboorg also envisioned the spread of knitting
following the spread of Islam. Later Roman Catholic missionaries
and colonists brought the same style of knitting across the
Atlantic to South America.
One of my favorite things about knitting is the amazing
variety of pattern and technique. From just two simple stitches
(knit and purl), endless combinations of texture and color
can be created. The socks of this region, tucked away between
the worlds of East and West, are often called jorabs,
from the Arabic word for socks. They are worked from the
toe up, with several different types of toe shaping. The
Bosnian toe, which is worked back and forth in stockinette
stitch with no purls, is one of my favorites (if that sounds
mysterious, check out the instructions in the pattern below.)
The heels are often added after the body of the sock is complete.
Knitted from heavy, coarse wool, they are probably the warmest
socks I have ever worn. The designs are brightly colored
with horizontal or vertical bands of brightly-colored geometric
patterns, possibly because of the Islamic prohibition against
making pictures of living things. Many of the patterns used
in Eastern European socks include motifs that remind me of
Although each stitch is just a simple
loop, people around the world have invented some ingenious
methods of working the knit and purl stitch. Traditionally
in many Eastern countries, knitters tensioned their yarn
by stringing it around their neck, with the balls of yarn
held on the knitter’s
left, and the yarn traveling around the back of the neck
to attach to the needles from the right. Similar techniques
were used in Turkey, in the Balkans, and in Greece, Portugal,
Because I haven't visited the Balkans yet, I'm not sure
exactly how women in the nations of former Yugoslavia held
their knitting and worked their stitches. I do know that
today many knitters work in the Continental style that we
are more familiar with in Western Europe and America. But
in Portugal and Peru, most knitters still tenstion their
yarn in the old style.
In some places, circular knitting is worked on the inside
of the tube, and stitches are purled by flicking the yarn
around the tip of the needle with the right thumb. This creates
a stockinette stitch fabric with the knit surface on the
To tension the yarn, place the ball of yarn on your left
and run the yarn around the back of your neck from left to
right. (Wearing a turtleneck or a shirt with a collar will
keep you from getting friction burn on the back of your neck.)
The yarn should be taut, like a guitar string. If you need
extra tension, try putting some extra drag on it by setting
your yarn on the floor or running it under your left arm
before it goes around your neck. Or, you can follow the Portuguese
example and buy a special knitting pin to run your yarn through.
Tensioning the Yarn
Position your knitting so the join where the working yarn
is attached to the knitting is away from you, on the far
side of the tube. Because this type of knitting is worked
from the inside, all stitches are purled to acheive stockinette
stitch. The knit side will be on the outside of the needles,
just as with standard American and European techniques.
Holding the Knitting
To make a stitch with the yarn tensioned around your neck:
Insert the right needle into the front loop of the first
stitch on the left needle as if to purl, and use your left
thumb to pull the yarn around the back of the front needle
from right to left.
Purling with Your Thumb
Pull out your thumb and let the yarn catch on the needle,
then pull the yarn through to complete the stitch. (When
you pull your thumb out, the working yarn will catch on the
needle and you can pull the new loop through. If the yarn
falls off the needle, your yarn is not tensioned tightly
Making the new Stitch
When you are working with two colors on the same row, use
your right thumb to separate the strands of yarn. When you
purl with the main color, lift the contrasting color up and
out of the way. When you purl with the contrasting color,
pull the main color down and out of the way.
Managing Two Colors
This neck-tensioning technique makes
it very easy to work with multiple colors, but Balkan patterns
can be knit with any knitting style. When working with
two colors, you can carry both colors in your left hand,
both in your right hand, or one in each. Working with more
than two colors in a row, however, requires more nimble
fingers if you’re not
tensioning the yarn around your neck! If you’ve never
worked with multiple colors before, socks make great starter
projects. They’re small enough that you won’t
be intimidated by a year-long project but big enough to give
you enough practice to feel like you’re getting somewhere.
These slipper socks are inspired by
several pairs I saw in the Edith Durham
Collection at the Bankfield Museum
in England. I was so intrigued by the
designs and construction, that I had
to learn more. I have since purchased
several pairs from Bosnian knitters
for my own collection.
The Loopy Ewe Solid Series [100% superwash merino; 220
yd per 55g skein]; 1 [1, 1] skein each of:
Butter (color# 23-20)
Ivory (color# 03-40)
Charcoal (color# 22-88)
Cobalt (color# 55-70)
Strawberry (color# 64-3)
Recommended needle size [always use a needle size that
gives you the gauge listed below --
every knitter's gauge is unique]
set US #2/2.75mm double-point needles OR
1 US #2/2.75mm circular needle for magic loop OR
2 US #2/2.75mm circular needles for two-circulars
set US #4/3.5mm double-point needles OR
1 US #4/3.5mm circular needle for magic loop OR
2 US #4/3.5mm circular needles for two-circulars
yarn of a similar weight in a contrasting
32 sts/36 rounds = 4
inches in stockinette stitch over stranded
color knitting on larger needles
[Knitty's list of standard abbreviations and techniques can be found here.]
These socks are worked from the toe up with
a Bosnian toe. The initial portion of the toe is worked flat,
the rest of the sock is worked in the round. Stitches are worked
in scrap yarn to create the heel opening. The scrap yarn is
removed and the heel worked after the rest of the sock is complete.
The small amount of red in the Instep chart on rows 24-32
can be knit in as you go or added with duplicate stitch after
the knitting is complete.
The charts for this pattern are very large.
Each fits on a letter-sized page.
Click below and print each resulting page.
Using the long-tail cast on and holding two of the smaller needles tog,
with D, CO 11 sts. Note: Casting on over two needles
makes the first row of stitches a little looser than usual; this makes
it easier when you have to pick up these stitches in the second step.
Remove one ndl. Row 1 [RS]: K11, do not turn.
Slide sts to other end of dpn and strand
working yarn loosely across the back
of your work so the sts lie flat and
do not draw up into a tube.
Work this row 15 more times - 16 rows worked.
With RS facing, pick up and knit 13 sts
along side first of this rectangle, 10
sts along CO edge, and 14 sts along other
side—48 sts total.
Knit one round even.
Change to larger needles.
Foot Round: Work appropriate size of Sole Chart across first
24 sts of round, work appropriate size of Instep Chart across second
half of round.
Continue Foot Round, including increases as indicated, to the
end of row 7[9, 13]. 60[66, 72] sts.
Cont working charts as established until sock measures 7[7.5, 8] inches
or 3 inches short of desired foot length, repeating rows 21-52 of the
With scrap yarn, knit across the first 30[34, 36] sts of the round.
Beginning again at the start of the round, working over the scrap yarn,
work around the leg as follows:
Leg round, sizes S & L: Starting at the
row where you left off on the foot, work Instep chart twice across round.
Leg round, size M only:
Starting at the row where you left off
on the foot, work sts 2-33 of Instep
chart on first 32 sts of round, work
full Instep chart on rem 34 sts of round.
Continue, work Leg round for appropriate size, repeating Instep
Chart rows 21-52 as set until leg measures 5.5 inches from heel position,
or .5 inches less than desired length.
Cuff Cuff round: Work Cuff Chart across round.
Continue until all rows of Cuff Chart are complete.
Knit 2 rounds even with MC.
Work braided edge as follows: Round 1: [K1 MC, k1 C] to end.
Round 2: Bring both yarns to the front to purl. [P1 MC, p1
C] to end, bringing the new color UNDER the old color for each stitc.
The yarns will become twisted, but will untwist on next round.
Round 3: Keep both yarns to
the front to purl again. [P1 MC, p1
C] to end, but this time bring the
new color OVER the old color to work
each stitch. This will untwist the
yarn from the previous rnd.
Rounds 4 & 5: With MC,
BO all sts loosely with MC. Leave a 6-inch tail on both colors.
Carefully Remove waste yarn and distribute heel sts onto needles as you
prefer – you should have 60[68, 74] sts total – 30[34, 36]
from the top and 30[34, 36] from the bottom. The start of the round is
at the side edge between the bottom of the heel and the back of the heel.
Heel round: Work appropriate
size of Heel Chart twice across round.
Continue until all rows of Heel Chart
are complete. 40 sts rem.
BO knitwise with D.
With sock right-side out, whip
stitch the heel seam together or, if you prefer,
graft the stitches together. Turn the BO edge
to the inside and sew down so the braid is
at the top edge of the sock. Weave in ends.
If desired, pull the ends from the bind off
at the cuff to the outside and braid them together.