Wool Socks

hate mending.  I just despise it.  Most especially because most of the mending I get is Knut’s work clothes, many of them still dirty and with 20 other patches, and I just want to throw them out and start fresh.  One of his work sweatshirts literally had 30 patches on it.  I bought him a new one to replace it, but he said it was too nice for work.  If you need to know anything about farmers, it’s that they rarely throw anything out.  I guess for city people like myself, when we throw things out, we imagine they disappear.  When farmers throw stuff out, they know it’s going in some landfill somewhere and that unsettles them.  Farmers love their land.

So, in spite of my less than enthusiastic feelings towards mending, a few years ago I picked up a darning egg at an antique shop for $3.  Because…wool, knitting, homemade.  All good feelings.

It is becoming increasingly obvious to me that it is time to put this darning egg to use.  Let me explain.

If there’s anything I hate more than mending, it’s socks.  Can I get an Amen! from other mothers out there?  Socks are everywhere in my house.  They overtake wintertime hours.  We have 7 people in this house, and let’s say the 5 little ones wear 2 pairs a day (at least, because…kids do) that is 12 socks being washed a day.  That’s 84 pairs of socks that need matching a week.  Nobody has time for that.

This is why, a few years ago, Knut and I made a very purposeful decision to start to transition our family over to wool socks.  Ironically, this push came from Knut more than me, but the more he explained it to me, the more genius it was.  The reasons are mainly in the wool vs. cotton explanation.

– Cotton socks lose their form quickly.  They are slouchy by the end of the day on a good day.

– Cotton socks absorb moisture.  That means they absorb sweat.  Cotton socks get smelly quickly.

– Cotton socks need to be washed after every wear.  They come a dime a dozen, and everyone in the house sees their worth as disposable.  Which is why they are everywhere and no one cares.

On the other hand…

– Wool socks (if they have anywhere between 10-25% nylon in them) keep their form.  They are slouchy by day 3-5.

– Wool socks repel moisture.  That means they breathe out sweat without letting it seep into the fibers.  Wool socks take a long time and extreme circumstances to get sweaty.  Trust me on this one.

– Washable wool socks need to be thrown in the laundry every 3-5 days.  We can pull off a week pretty easily around here depending on how hard we wear them.  They are special, treasured, and the kids don’t dare leave them around the house because they are their favorites and they don’t want their siblings using them.

-wool insulates heat, but is breathable enough to not overheat.  It’s like a kid playing outside in the snow’s dream.  Also a dream for people with cold floors in the winter.  ahem.  

-Wool is easy to wash.  Though I don’t think wool is tough to hand wash, it is annoying to dry.  BUT we just through our super-wash wool (a special wool treated so it doesn’t felt) in the washer and dryer with our other clothes.

Sound like magic?  Well, it kinda is.  That’s why people get obsessed with wool.  The stuff is magical.

Now, I’ll state the obvious, they are expensive.  We spend about $15/pair.  You could buy a lot of cotton socks with them.  But they are replacing a lot of cotton socks.  Think about the laundry saved.  Think about how wonderful less socks is.  Think about the matching up responsibilities that disappear.  We like the Smartwool brand best, though there are other brands out there, and Knut has a larger, cheaper collection of wool socks that he uses for work, but secretly hates.  (If any of you have a brand you like, shout it out in the comments, because I’d love to look into them!)  Smartwool socks are super soft, not at all itchy, and have a good snug fit.

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(my current wool-sock mending pile)

We started giving the kids a new pair of wool socks every year as a part of their Christmas stocking.  Well, the kids who are old enough to cross country ski get wool socks.  I’m starting to make wool socks for the little ones, because it’s almost cheaper to do so with little feet, as you can whip out several pairs with one skein of $15 yarn.  I really like this free pattern.  The kids absolutely love wool socks.  They are worn nearly constantly all fall, winter, and spring.  After a couple of years, my kids each have 2-3 pairs at their disposal.  With each pair lasting them a few days, folding socks for hours every day has disappeared.

Are you starting to see the thinking here?

We still have cotton socks, but the kids rarely reach for those.  Once you go wool, it’s hard to go back.

My problem this year, is that we have been wearing the few socks we have so hard the last few years, that my “fix holes” pile now looks like this.  I could replace them.  But they are $15-20 a pair.  A lot of money could be saved by just fixing the holes, and a lot of laundry is saved if we just stick with the wool socks during the cooler months, which is most of the year up here.  Plus, then Knut doesn’t have to have nightmares of hole-y socks buried in a field somewhere.

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So I’m learning how to darn, and spending my movie evenings with some scrap sock yarn, and one by one, each sock is becoming usable again.  I’m using this article for reference, and I think it’s fantastic.  I have fixed immediate holes first, because I don’t have a proper darning needle yet.  (I’m making do with an embroidery needle.)  I need to pick one of those up, and then I think I’m going to try the “swiss darning” technique mentioned in the article, on how to reinforce weak spots of the socks that are nearly holes, but not there yet.  Knut and Silje’s socks especially could use some reinforcing.  I need to find myself a good darning needle because the embroidery one just isn’t cutting it for the swiss darning.

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I have a mending basket in my sewing room.  I have been dying to try the Fringe Supply Co’s bento bags, and I found that the size small is perfect for 1 pair of socks, a darning egg, little scissors, my needle, and my spare yarn for mending.  (Yes, all the socks will get that same charcoal color yarn for patches.) That way, when I find I have 15 minutes or so with antsy hands, I don’t have to spend the 15 minutes looking for all the supplies.  It’s my little darning package ready to go in my mending basket, even on the road if needed.

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It is work, but I believe, work that saves me work, and money.  Which is the best kind of work.  And also, I’m not sure if wool mending is as terrible as regular work-clothes mending.  Because…wool.  (Have I mentioned I love wool?)  It’s strangely calming, and wonderfully satisfying.

IMG_3877We are that odd family that gets so excited for cold weather.  Really, my kids are quite strange in that department.  Bring it on!  Our toes are ready.

 

Comments

  1. says

    I love your wool sock plan! We live in TX right now, so we rarely wear socks at all for a large part of the year, but if we ever move to someplace colder I’m going to have to invest in wool socks for the whole family! How lovely!

  2. Karen says

    Thanks for that link. My husband’s goal is to switch to all hand knit socks. I have a pile of socks to mend right now. I’m experimenting with strategies to reinforce the heels when I’m knitting to prevent holes later.

    • Gretchen says

      That is a very ambitious goal! I wouldn’t mind all hand knit socks. My only issue with that is there are so very many projects I want to knit. I like knitting socks, but I don’t want to give up my other knitting either. Not. enough. time. :)

  3. Brooke says

    We too love Smartwool socks!! The kids don’t use them yet, but in time hopefully. I would love to sit with you and learn this darning process, since Kevin’s are getting holes. :/ And it would be fun to just sit and chat as well!

  4. Mom says

    Your Grandma used to darn socks using an old lightbulb. When she worked the night shift at the hospital, she would gather up socks to put in her work bag for when she had a quiet moment at work after rounds. We wore a lot of darned socks growing up. A nice tradition to follow!

    • Gretchen says

      I remember that story about the lightbulbs, and I’m actually thinking I would like a rounder “darning egg” like that, but low and behold, all my lightbulbs are spirals. I need to find some old school ones. I’m sure I have some somewhere.

  5. Megan says

    Thanks for the ideas. I love wool socks for myself, but can never find small ones for my kids. It’s a good idea to make them. I also hate how I burn through the bottoms of my wool socks. That makes it hard for me to justify $15-20/pair. I might need to try darning, although I don’t love the idea of making more work for myself. It’s not exactly a “fun” knitting project.

    • Gretchen says

      Oh I hear you! The only way I can talk myself into it is by reminding myself that I don’t have to match and fold as many! Ha! It feels more like embroidery than knitting, though I would still prefer embroidering. But like my mom said, it does feel like a connection to the past generations as well, and I like that part of it.

  6. says

    I love this. I just recently placed all of my SmartWool’s with holes in a pile with the intention of researching darning. It’s nice to know it’s possible. Great post.

  7. Molly says

    My husband (we’re in our 30’s) still wears the heavy duty wool socks he got as a instructor at boyscout camp probably 15 years ago. He tells me they were really expensive… but I’ve never had to buy him winter socks!

    I made him a pair of handmade socks about 6 years ago – they’ve finally lost their shape and worn too many holes in (they weren’t pure wool either) so six years later we’re on to the next pair of homemade socks!

  8. says

    I’ve never learned the art of darning! My dad bought me a pair of rockies brand wool socks for Christmas the first year I went away to college. They were such a treasure to me and I only wore them out two years ago. Ten years isn’t bad for a pair of socks… and now I regret cutting them up (to patch other things) because I should have just darned them! Thanks for sharing!

  9. says

    I love, love, LOVE wool socks! SmartWool is a pretty great brand, I agree. I only have a few pairs of wool socks and a whole drawer full of cotton…but the cotton ones are never touched…and I only wear the wool socks…. But like you said, once you use wool, you can never turn back! :)

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