Sock Genetics

I told M yesterday after blogging that I had forgotten to take pictures of the single Braided Cable Sock before packing it up to ship. He didn’t say anything, got his box knife, slit open the box and then said, “You should have pictures and blog about it.” I see. This led me to thinking, which led me to science geeking–be glad you only know me virtually. So I present to you today a lesson in Sock Genetics.

First we must examine our specimen overall in isolation (Figure 1):
Braided Cable Sock
Figure 1: The Specimen Sock in Isolation.

Well, the background is a bit lurid and distorts the colors, and the camera angle makes the foot look very long, but we can still ascertain that this sock is comprised of a ribbed cuff, a braided cable with a garter-type rib, a garter-edged heel flap of some sort and a non-standard looking toe. From whence came this combination?

Looking through my hand knit sock drawer, I think I can deduce the parents of this sock as shown in Figure 2:
Cable Genetics
Figure 2: The Specimen Sock (center) with its two potential parent socks on each side.
On the left, we can see a braided cable sock with a ribbed cuff and a single knit stitch rib between braids. On the right, although harder to see, is a simple rope cable but a garter rib identical to our specimen sock. These data strongly suggest that these two socks are the parents of our specimen. However, our specimen seems to have evolved a more pleasing ribbed cuff that flows into the cable pattern more nicely than the grey parent (1×1 rib), and is perhaps less clunky than the pink parent.

Heel flaps can be very distinctive. Figure 3 compares the three heel flaps:
Heel Flap Genetics
Figure 3: Heel flap comparisons among the specimen socks and its proposed parent socks.
All three socks have a garter edge to their heel flaps; it makes for a very nice transition to the gusset (see below). The grey sock has a simple slipped stitch heel flap–very functional. The pink sock breaks back into the rib from the cuff, but does again look somewhat clunky. Our specimen also returns to the rib, suggesting that this is a dominant genetic trait in a Mendelian manner.

Here in Figure 4, we can see how well the garter edge to the heel flap transitions to the gusset. In this scientist’s humble opinion, it is a most desirable trait. We also note, that this photo, even with its strange black hole at the bottom, does represent the sock colors most accurately.
Gusset BCS
Figure 4: A shameless show-off of a nice heel flap-instep-gusset design and execution.

Finally, the toe is often a distinguishing trait among socks. Figure 5 compares the pink and specimen socks. The grey sock has cabling until the toe and has a standard, grafted toe (data not shown).
Toe Genetics
Figure 5: Toe comparison between the specimen sock and the pink sock, a potential parent sock.

Both the pink sock and our specimen sock return to ribbing for the final part of the sock foot (above the top of the ball of the foot), clearly evolved for comfort to its wearer when the wearer is shod. It should be noted that a comfortable sock is more often worn, and being worn is generally considered the goal of a sock. Considering the sock toes, the pink sock clearly exhibits a standard, grafted toe as does the grey parent sock. Intriguingly, our specimen sock appears to have an entirely different toe! This may be due to a recessive allele present in each parent. Let’s try to get a closer examination in Figure 6:
Star Toe of 3 Points
Figure 6: A single point of a Star Toe of 3 Points.

A Star Toe of 3 Points! A Nancy Bush recessive trait. My, this sock might have what it takes to go places. Each parent must have a gene for the Star Toe of 3 Points, but it is masked by the more dominant Standard Toe gene. Our specimen sock must have inherited the ST3P gene from each parent, like some human children with blue eyes can have parents with brown eyes. Well, I wasn’t expecting that.

Clearly our data indicate that we have found the parents to our Specimen Sock.Β  We hope that our findings are of use to the reader and sock knitter, and may help to explain, in some small part, the socks running out in the wild.

17 thoughts on “Sock Genetics”

  • I must say, I have not enjoyed a blog post so much in a long time! Years ago…too many years…I toyed with genetics as an occupation (but didn’t really think I was “science” material, the result of years of being patted on the head and being told “girls aren’t good at math/science!”)

    What fun to read this … and remember my fascination with the subject. And so clever – a Nancy Bush recessive trait indeed!!

    Creative! (and the socks are lovely, too!)

  • I am cracking up! Only because there’s that part of my brain going “uh huh, I see it….” Gives us a whole new way to classify our knitting…..

  • Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!! That’s the funniest post EVER. Mostly because I’m currently working on a sock while reading my genetics homework. Thanks for making my afternoon!

  • Hi Debra,
    Well, it’s Nov. 1 and I must sheepishly admit that your package did not go in the mail today. I’m so sorry! But I am working on it. Realistically, I think it’ll go out Monday. I just wanted to let you know that I absolutely have not forgotten about you. I’m really enjoying the pattern and yarn I chose and I hope you’ll enjoy ’em too.
    BTW, I love the sock you made for your pal. I’m so impressed you designed it yourself. When I saw it here I felt like that was the pattern I had been looking for for you!
    Sorry, again.
    All the best,
    your single sock pal

  • I love it! Even though I’m a psychologist, I actually took genetics when I was an undergraduate. I find it so interesting! I can definitely see the family resemblance. πŸ˜‰

  • HI. I came from a comment you left on Kims blog.

    I love your genetics lession. I suspect we’ll get lesson in mosaics too huh? Love your knitting. I am a NICU nurse and have seen many of the rare genetic syndromes in my long and learning career. 4p-, 5p-, Mobius syndrome, 21’s, 18’s, 13’s. All sad and yet beautiful in their own ways.

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