I frequent a Facebook site called Addicted to Sock Knitting, on which hundreds of women, and a few men, post photos and comments about yarn, needles, and patterns all day and all night.
Technically, a behavior is not an “addiction” if you can walk away from it and if it’s actually wholesome, without adverse effects on your life. By such definition, knitting may not qualify as an addiction. Knitting is compelling and joy-inducing. I’ve got it pretty bad right now. About socks.
Everywhere I go lately, I carry a zip lock bag with two balls of yarn, two socks-in-progress, each on a set of four tiny double-point needles. Socks are knit tight with very thin yarn. They’re time consuming, and they’re a luxury.
I’m not at all in the dark about why I love to knit socks and wear socks made out of beautiful yarn.
I got my first taste of wanting to be like other kids — and having that desire thwarted — when I was in first grade. It was winter in Illinois, and in those days, girls were still required to wear dresses or skirts to school, no matter how freezing cold it was. We wore tights to keep our legs warm. Over the tights, most of the girls wore cute knee socks that were either red or white or navy blue with a contrasting color embedded into the fabric, going up the leg. I loved these socks and kept asking my mother to let me have some. She hated these socks and said: No. No. No.
It was the first of countless times when she arbitrarily said no to my ordinary childish desires. I was not allowed to sleep with stuffed animals. Then, later, I was not allowed to have stuffed animals. In fourth grade I wanted white patent leather boots and a white fake fur coat like everyone else had. No. I wanted to eat those chocolate Hostess cupcakes with the white swirl of frosting on top. No. Never. But any other kind of junk food was A-OK.
When she sensed that there was something I really, really wanted, the answer was “no.” As a very young child, I did not understand that this woman was mentally ill. I just felt sad and deprived. I channeled my energy into the mind world. I was an A student, read everything I could, and dwelled in my head – a place where her nonsense seemed to have less access than in regard to what I wore or ate.
She was cheap as could be about some things and not others. She made a full-time job of shopping for bargains, including at a local PX store for military families. Starting when I was around twelve, she discovered that she could buy me really cheap, crappy men’s black or blue socks, and that they were almost small enough for my size 6 feet. They were ugly, made of nylon or polyester. They sloshed around a bit inside shoes and they were so thin that they did nothing to cushion my feet. They had holes. I hated these socks, and it was pointless to complain about it.
I don’t recall ever having a nice pair of socks throughout childhood. But there were so many outrages in our house that I didn’t dwell on this particular deprivation.
As soon as I was able to buy my own clothes, I started seeking out good socks. Not necessarily expensive socks but socks made of wool or cotton that feel good and last. When I was 21, I discovered the L.L. Bean catalog and for years, I ordered their packs of three pairs of thick, cabled wool knee socks. To this day, I think nothing of going into the REI sporting goods store each fall and dropping $100 or so on a bunch of good wool socks. My sock drawer runneth over.
I’ve been a knitter for most of my life and went whole hog with it – meaning that I knit daily and whenever I have a bit of spare time — about seven years ago. When the local yarn store offered a class on learning to knit socks, I jumped right in – with both feet. Socks are challenging because they are knit in the round, with delicate yarn and a lot of shaping for the ankle, heel, foot and toe.
I’ve made about a dozen pairs and have collected scores of free patterns as I fantasize about all the socks I can make in years to come.
Addicted to sock knitting means we’re also addicted to collecting beautiful sock yarn. I have what is called a “stash” of it. I don’t collect just any old sock yarn but, rather, special skeins that are hand-dyed, subtly variegated or self-striping. I buy unusual skeins from shops in places I visit and on-line. (Just doing my duty to keep other crafters in business!)
This year the Addicted to Sock Knitting Facebook group has members posting about a year-long “stash buster” in which we are committing to working down our stash by knitting a pair a month from yarn we already have. It doesn’t mean no one will buy more yarn, just that we will use up some of our treasures.
What is it about sock knitting socks that is so thrilling? Knitting in general is touted for all sorts of good effects: it’s meditatively relaxing, it helps lower blood pressure, the counting and instruction-following are believed to prevent dementia. I think it has to do with the multi-sensory experience of hand-eye-brain coordination while watching color take shape and feeling, even smelling, beautiful fiber. With something as fussy as socks, it also has to do with achieving a kind of ridiculous shape and being able to tailor it exactly to one’s own leg and foot size. I try mine on as I go.
I don’t know what all else motivates other sock knitters, but I know that for me it has everything to do with providing luxury items for and by myself. I have looked on-line for the winter knee socks I didn’t get to have as a young child. I haven’t found them, and I’m not inclined to try to make them. I have grown-up tastes now. The desire for beauty and comfort remains.
The difference between then and now is that I’ve been my own mother for a very long time. No one says “no” to me now. And my feet are never cold.