Socks are my absolute favourite knitting project, especially for the holidays. On a practical level, every adult needs more socks, and they are less vulnerable to issues with sizing and personal style than other articles of clothing. Yet, the appeal of knitting socks for my loved ones runs a lot deeper than that; there is something really significant about putting that much time and love into a mundane object. Socks are among the most mass produced and disposable items of clothing in our society. We are really seperated from their production, they are the type of thing we buy in bulk at drug stores and Wal-Marts. As such, socks are something that we rarely give much thought to. As a result, knitting socks becomes a little eccentric. After all, who would devote 10 (or 20 or 40) hours to making something as humble as a sock? Someone who wants to transform an object as quotidian as a sock into something beautiful and meaningful.
I’ve been reading Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft, and his polemic on the significance of manual work has helped me to really understand why knitting socks, particularly as gifts, means so much to me. He writes that “The satisfications of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy. They seem to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth. He can simply point.” I would say the intimacy of creating an article of clothing for someone takes the act of knitting socks one step further – it’s not a simply a statement of competency or worth, but a statement of love. They not only relieve the knitter of the need to offer interpretations of herself (or himself), but they also relieve the knitter of the need to offer explanations of her love and appreciation. Handknit socks are so different from mass produced socks, because of the care that is required to produce them. When I take out my toothpick thin size 0 needles and begin a pair of socks, I hope that the wearer will feel the time and care required for each stitch as a testament of the love, appreciation and respect that I bear them. I hope the socks will say what I cannot.
One glance at a pair of handknit socks distinguishes them as something that has taken someone a lot of time, care and competence to produce. This is especially true of some of the more complex patterns available (like those in Cookie A’s Knit. Sock. Love. and Hunter Hammersen’s Silk Road Socks – 2 books that I recently picked up and have yet to try out). To own a pair of these socks is to be really loved by a knitter.
It is at this point that I should admit, I think I have bitten off more than I can chew this holiday season. My list of holiday gifts includes six pairs of handknit socks. For the sake of time, so far, I have stuck to the familiar, choosing patterns from Wendy Johnson’s excellent Socks from the Toe Up. I’ve used this book countless times, knitting multiple pairs of the Dead Simple Lace, Traditional Gansey, Diamond Gansey, Mock Cable, Van Dyke, and Serpentine Socks. For my first holiday socks, I chose her flat gusset heel basic socks, letting this beautiful stash yarn speak for itself (truth be told, I bought it so long ago, I don’t even remember what it is). Given that I have only finished one pair so far, it may be time to scale back my plans. I’d love to hear some of your favourite (quick) knitted gifts.