Katharine Cobey knits stockings. Christmas stockings, that is -- and she's practically sold out until 1992.

Her customers place requests more than a year in advance and pay a $48 commission. Still, Cobey's work is not made to order. She doesn't take well to instructions, she says, and besides, artistic freedom is part of the joy of her work.

"It's so much more interesting if people give me an adjective to describe what they'd like their stocking to be."

Like irascible?

"Yup. That was one of my favorite requests," she says.

But just what does irascible look like?

"It's red with something wild, which translates to a mixture of yarns and colors."

Then there's "bumptious," "moody" and "shy," but you'd probably have to see them to understand.

The stockings -- monochromatic and polychromatic and adorned with bells -- hang on the walls of Cobey's Torpedo Factory studio in Old Town Alexandria, looking sort of like mismatched booties for an overgrown elf.

Cobey first created an exhibit of Christmas stockings four years ago and truly considers them an art form. Now she makes 52 a year.

"That's one a week," she says. "I don't want to do more than that because there's no two alike and I have to keep the designs mischievous, fresh and wicked."

But for goodness' sake, don't worry. Cobey's stockings -- 20 inches from the top to the tip of the toe -- can hold at least a couple of lumps of coal.