Hammersen begins with an introduction, explaining why she made the connection between oriental rugs and hand-knit socks:
They actually have rather a lot in common. They are made from similar materials, have long histories, and are intended to keep their users warm and comfortable. They are both testaments to patience and skill. Socks take thousands of tiny stitches and rugs take tens of thousands of tiny knots to complete. More importantly, both are utilitarian objects that people have chosen to make more beautiful.
Hammersen sketches the history of the Silk Road, a trading route that extended from China to Turkey. She then takes a thorough look at the history of rugs in this region, including methods of construction and dyeing. I liked the use of historical paintings in this section to give more historical flavor. The last introductory section covers basic instructions: how to read the directions, using the charts, resizing the socks, gauge, and ways to adjust the patterns to custom-fit your feet.
The remainder of the book is dedicated to the patterns: a total of 14. (Don't be perturbed that there aren't more patterns included; these are complex patterns with lots of intricate stitchwork. Undoubtedly they took longer to design, knit and edit as a result.) Each pattern is named after a geographic location or tribe found along the Silk Road.
The introduction to the pattern explains the significance of the name, along with the kinds of rugs attributed to this area or tribe (and a hand-drawn illustration evocative of the type of rugs).
My favorites? The Serab, with the lace motif at cuff and toe, the beautiful swirls of the Nain and Joshagan socks, the assymetric Senneh socks, and the Usak socks,with a decorative cuff followed by a stylized floral design on the foot.
Patterns include charts (these are all textured stitch patterns, rather than colorwork, so the black-and-white charts work just nicely), and several photos, including close-ups, of each sock. These are not line-by-line, holding-your-hand sort of patterns; they are designed for the sock knitter who knows what she's doing and rely heavily on the charts rather than written-out directions. The sock patterns come in one size only, due to their complexity and the length of various charts and stitch repeats, but tips are given in the introductory section for modifying fit. The socks are mainly knit in sockweight yarn with some in sport/DK weight, and most are mid-calf height.
We've heard a lot about the brave new world of alternative publishing, and it's exciting to see a quality book with interesting and intricate patterns come from a small indie publishing company (Cooperative Press, the brainchild of Shannon Okey). Hammersen is a very talented designer with some fascinating patterns for the intermediate-to-advanced sock knitter, and I like the way the book draws its inspiration from a textile tradition not directly related to knitting. The historical overview in the beginning of the book is interesting and the sock designs are beautiful. For the passionate sock knitter or indeed any knitter looking for some knockout textured designs, Silk Road Socks is certainly worth a look. And it will also be fun to see what future projects come from the talented needles of Hunter Hammersen.