Sunday, November 24, 2019

Care and Feeding of Elderly Socks

As the weather grew colder this fall, I took stock of the living room and decided it was time to tidy up the stacks of knitting, one of which was not exactly decorative.  I am referring to (cue horror music): the darning basket.

Naturally my first stop was the fireplace mantel, which I have staged with needles, thread, my little tin of knitting tools, and sewing scissors (inside the covered casserole dish) and with a gravy boat/bird's nest stuffed with yarn scraps.  It's surprising how often yarn scraps come in handy, and I never have to go looking as long as the birds are keeping them safe.  I had removed them for this picture but they are a pair of wooden tree ornaments I bought in England last year.

They like vintage buttons too, apparently. Birds after my own heart. 

And now, on to our story.

My winter boots, as it turns out, are not handknit-sock friendly.  Or maybe they are too friendly, nuzzling up against the stitches to the point of destruction?

The first time I took them off at a friend's place and discovered my actual toe sticking out from the sock toe, I thought, Well, I guess these socks were getting old anyway.  The second time, the hole was on the top of my foot on one side and I thought, okay... maybe that was a weak spot.  The third time, I knew the boots were chewing on the stitches, and stocked a few pairs of acrylic or cotton socks to wear on days when the snow and slush and general slick are definitely going to be too much for my treadless Blundstones.

Also I am hunting for new boots.

Darning is one of those things you know about but maybe don't do.  I am pretty sure I have done it in the distant past, because I have vague recollections of stringing yarn across a hole in two directions, weaving a sort of fabric where stitches used to nestle together.  Jan uses a darning egg for her socks, which is to say, my socks - I guess I haven't knit her enough yet to keep the ones she has from wearing through - but I haven't got a darning egg so I had to use my hand to keep the fabric steady. Also, importantly, to keep the fresh yarn from going through the opposite side of the sock and creating an entirely new problem.

The results are not exactly pretty, but let's face it, socks this worn are lucky to get any kind of a facelift.

I guess darning is like everything else in life: you have to do it a lot to get good at it.

My stash of leftover yarn scraps included a sample of pretty much every sock I've ever knit, so I was able to find matching colours for most of the holes, but it was a shock to see how much the vibrancy had faded over years of wear and washing.  Check out the leg of this sock, down the right side of this picture!

I mean, I wouldn't feel easy about a sock dye that didn't fade ever, but it did make me question whether I should be trying to match the new faded colour rather than the original.  The outside of the sock looks a lot better than you'd expect after looking at the inside, thank goodness.

Is it worth darning an old sock?  I think so.  I mean, the alternative is pretty horrifying.  Throwing out all those hours of work? Wool biodegrades in a year thanks to its strong supply of nitrogen, and these socks are all 100% wool, but it still means losing a whole hard-won pair.

Alternatively I could have cut off the feet and used the legs as legwarmers, or tried to pick up stitches at the bottom of the leg to reknit right from the heel, but that might look a bit weird.

Possibly not weirder than darning, but weird. This poor sock has a lot of problems, doesn't it?  The red stitches look like they're disintegrating. But it was one of my most favourite stripe combinations and I couldn't let it go.  It's better from a distance.

Okay, maybe it's not that much better.

This one also looks a bit iffy, but I don't know how I could have matched peach and turquoise stripes, while closing a hole that crossed both.

If that earlier sock is made up with one of my most favourite stripes, this is the colour combination that makes me swoon:

I still can't believe I risked ruining these inside my boots.  I also can't believe this is FOUR pairs of socks that were ruined in the same way, because it means I was even slower to catch the problem than I thought when I started writing this post.

Anyway, all these socks are back in circulation now.  They just needed a little patching, and while I was at it, a little reinforcement.  I probably won't put any of them to work on a 6-hour urban hike because there are younger socks that can take on that job, but they will still be perfect for short walks to the grocery store, or for curling up in a chair with a good book, or for sleeping.  Slower things that won't put too much strain on their joints, because I want to keep them with me for a long time yet.

Thanks for coming by today, and take care till we meet up again!

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