I was talking recently to someone about knitting. She used to knit, although I don’t remember ever seeing her do it and I’m guessing it wasn’t her favorite hobby. She asked me what kinds of things I knit.
“Oh, my favorites are gloves, mittens, socks.”
There’s a pause. “Socks? People knit socks?”
“Sure! Lots of people knit socks.”
“Well, I can understand hats and scarves, but socks? Why in the world would anyone knit socks?”
I didn’t have anything thing to say after that. I mean, what do you say when someone views your chosen hobby with such disdain? I think I mumbled something about warmth and softness and the conversation quickly turned to other topics. But it got me to thinking.
Why do I knit socks?
I’m not alone in my wondering; most sock knitters have wondered the same thing at least ten times in their lives. New sock knitters, as they carefully balance four slippery needles in an attempt to join without twisting, ask themselves this question a lot. The eminent knitting authors of our time have attempted to answer this question. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee devotes two essays to the topic in her books.
Like all sock knitters, I’m perfectly aware that I can buy socks. In packages. Cheaply. In any color I’d like. I can buy great socks. In fact, I’m a little ashamed to admit, I wear my store-bought socks more often than my knitted socks. (Partially that’s because I don’t own enough knitted socks. Damn second-sock syndrome.) I think that proves that I am not some idiot who believes that socks are not plentiful and easy to come by.
No one is going to argue that buying socks is faster and cheaper than knitting them yourself. I wonder: say you wanted to bake some bread. How many people would mock you? Tell you that you can buy bread, any kind of bread, at the supermarket? How many people would mock the minutes spent kneading the dough and waiting for it to rise? Well, I guess some people would. But homemade bread is so delicious. Much better than store-bought, if you ask me.
Aren’t socks the same way? Aren’t hand knit socks so comfortable? Tailor made to your foot? Extra warm?
Let’s take a detour. (See, by saying that, I can go off on a tangent but it’s not bad writing.) I know some of the reasons that I knit socks. I like that they are small. I like working with thin yarn, tiny needles. I like that I can shove a sock project in a small bag and take it anywhere. I like that I can be a total dork and work on my sock while I’m getting highlights in my hair or waiting for dinner at a restaurant. There’s so many activities that are more pleasant when I can carry my knitting with me. It keeps my hands busy, which is a must for me. I’m a chronic fidgeter.
I also like that socks change often. Think about it. You knit the cuff, then the leg, then the heel flap, then turn the heel, then there’s the gusset, and the foot and finally the toe. (Or the other way around, if you’re doing toe-up.) And each section is subtly different from the others. I am very much a process knitter and I knit to learn as well as make things. I strongly dislike doing the same stitch pattern over and over; plain stockinette stitch makes me fall down and twitch. Might be why I get hit pretty hard with Second Sock Syndrome.
From a design standpoint, I like the challenges socks present. Horizontal lines on the foot merging into vertical lines on the leg. Finding a stitch pattern or cable that looks right but retains the stretchiness to get over the arch without making the leg too loose. And how does the heel fit into the design? There are so many variables.
And the yarn! Everyone knows that sock yarn doesn’t count as stash. All those beautiful yarns and all I need is one or two skeins to make socks. Not 7 or 12 like sweaters. So soft, so colorful, so many different fibers.
But anything that I’ve said so far, except for the size factor, can be said about any knitting. And let’s face it, no one is going to see these socks but you. And maybe your knitting friends and housemate. Most of the time, your beautiful hand knit socks are going to be in your shoes, getting walked on. These socks are going to take a beating. Not like that pretty cardigan or hat that everyone can see.
Well, I’m not doing this for anyone else, am I? Do I care if anyone sees my pretty, pretty socks? Would they even appreciate the socks if they could see? The terms “Fair Isle” and “cables” are lost on the non-knitters. These socks are for me. I don’t need someone else telling me that they are good. I know they are, because I made them. I picked the yarn and swatched (or not) and I cast on and knit the ribbing (only a little bit shorter because I got bored) and I knit the leg and the heel flap and turned the heel (and it only took me three tries to pick up the right number of stitches) and I decreased during the gusset and I grafted the toe together (very slowly). It’s a luxury. It’s taking time for myself, it’s pampering myself by knitting with a luscious yarn so that each stitch is a joy, it’s sliding that warm and soft completed sock on my foot. It’s making something that is just for me, in every sense of the words.
Or, you know, something for the people I give socks to as gifts.
I don’t think I’ve quite hit it on the head yet. There are other reasons for the sock obsession, I know it. I must think more on this issue.