Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Succumbing to The Madness

It's official: I am certified. And I now belong to a group who are all equally as nuts. The Sock Madness Forever group on Ravelry are sock aficionados who, for the last seven years, have competitively knit socks beginning in March, at the time of the NCAA college basketball championship games. It's always seemed that the elimination events were interminable, and finally some knitters said enough was enough: 'Bout time we had our own March Madness. So Sock Madness was born. It's evolved and grown over seven years, moving from a webpage and a yahoo group to the present day group home on Ravelry.

The premise is simple: Knit socks as fast as you can. And knit them exactly as they are written from a pattern that is emailed to registered participants, who then almost instantaneously begin to knit them up.

Seven different pairs of them.

Not all at once, but progressing in difficulty with each pair. Each participant is placed on a Team with knitters of roughly equivalent skill and tempo. The number of slots on a Team is significantly fewer than the number of participants on a Team, so time is of the essence. The first to finish move on to the next round. The slowpokes then cheer from the sidelines. 

Knitters are eliminated each round as others on the team finish ahead of them  for the coveted spots. There are several fewer spots each round than there are knitters remaining on the Team, so the pressure gets a little intense. And there are SEVEN rounds. And every round gets harder. And you have to work faster. And there are fewer spots on each Team as you progress. This goes on until the last round, Round Seven, when only one representative from each team remains to knit the mother-of-all-sock patterns. A real lulu. The best of the best knit a crazily impossible (well, almost) pattern. Only one knitter emerges victorious, and that is the Sock Madness winner of the year. 

If you thought the NCAA tournament is long, then you have a big shock: Sock Madness runs from early March to June. So yes, Sock Madness participants truly are Mad. 
The evil geniuses behind the friendly competition are Julie Sprague and Tricia Weatherston, who organize the event each year, fielding sock designs and prizes from donors for the next Madness from around the globe. They knit pretty much nonstop in an effort to determine their degree of difficulty. From the legions of hopeful designers, nine are chosen: a Pre-Madness sock, seven competition socks, and an Optional Round sock. Julie and Tricia are tireless promoters, cheerleaders, counselors, tricksters, hand-holders, fairy godmothers, and magicians. 

Prizes are distributed throughout the competition: They're awarded for everything from taking an unusual photo of finished socks, to making interesting modifications to optional round socks, to suggesting names for the Teams, to posting helpful techniques info, to soothing knitters who experience broken needles, to guessing the total number of pairs of socks that will be completed during Sock Madness, to  .... well, it goes on and on. Participants can receive a prize for anything the organizers have a whim to award one for. 

This year is the first year I've participated, and I am proud to say that I made it all the way to Round Five before being eliminated. That's a couple of rounds further than I ever dreamed I'd be able to accomplish. At first I wondered if I were even 'competitive knitting material'. But the Madness is so friendly, the participants so eager to help each other that it became apparent that all of us were winners, no matter how far we were able to progress. Our sock knitting chops are stretched to the limit and beyond. Everyone, it seems, experiences something that is new to them or learns a new technique. These are my socks from the madness this year. All of them are destined to be gifts, and I am happy to call this bunch of international sock knitting maniacs friends. 

and the optional round sock, which I haven't had time to complete yet:

While I wait for Sock Madness 8 in 2014, I'll happily knit away on the socks that I was unable to complete during the competition. I'll need all the rest I can get until then, when the non-stop Madness continues.


  1. Love it !!! It was my first year have covered the flavour of this adventure excellently !!

  2. What a lovely description of SM. I'm always curious to see how people describe it and you have done SM proud.

    Tricia Weatherston


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