A defense of socks

I’ll start with a basic concept: the modern world runs on efficiency. We use mechanical looms to weave gigantic swaths of fabric for all purposes, making the skill of weaving technically obsolete, we use knitting machines to produce basic knitted fabric at a speed that leaves even the fastest hand-knitters in the dust, and these two devices use thread spun by machines that can out-pace any hand-spinner, to exceptional effect.

Now consider the hand-knit sock. For example, I’ve already spent the greater part of a week knitting, and I’m only just nearing finishing the calf and beginning the heel on my current sock (the first of this pair.) Why should I even bother knitting socks when I can go to a store and buy it cheaper than this ever will be? Hell, it costs less to buy multiple pairs of machine-made socks than it does to buy the yarn to knit one pair of socks. To be fair, I’ve heard of people going through over 50g of sock yarn a day (50g is generally how much is needed to knit a sock.) So I’m not an extremely fast knitter; I still am churning along fairly well on this. The point is, Why bother? Why knit socks when they’re available for so much less money, time, and effort, if I just go to a store?

Because I can’t buy these socks.

The socks I buy at a store are a general design, made to fit anyone between shoe sizes 8 and 13 (Never mind that I wear 9.5 5E . . . ) If I’m wearing one of those socks, the heel can be anywhere from partway up my calf to under my instep. Or it may be a tube sock, a formless thing that stretches to make a heel where it’s necessary, lessening the useful life of the sock in the process. Quite honestly, this is a poor solution. In either case, we achieve convenience, at the cost of the lifespan of the product. Cotton socks like the ones I just mentioned wear out rapidly because they’re made with a thread that’s finer than embroidery floss, and they are often not the correct size or even shape — thus any part that is reinforced to last longer (especially in the heel) is generally useless. These socks are designed to be used and then thrown away.

I compare that, then, to hand-knitted socks: when knitting my socks, I know exactly how large my feet are; I measure them to get the length I need to knit the instep. The heel lands squarely on my heel, and is in fact shaped exactly to a real human heel, turning at a 90° angle when at rest, so it can flex in all the directions a sock needs to flex. It’s large enough that it’s not stretching in any spot any more than any other, and it fits as close to perfectly as it needs to. The yarn used is thick and strong, most often wool reinforced with nylon; wool, in of itself, is stretchier than cotton and more resilient; when combined in the spinning with nylon – instead of having it threaded through later, as most machined socks are — it becomes able to easily return to its proper shape, even after deforming to fit a foot. Well-knit socks fit like a glove, with no slippage or creases.

After finishing my first pair of socks, I swore I would never knit them again; it took too long, for too little result. I’ve decided that I was wrong then; instead of looking to the finished product as the goal now, I look to the relaxation of the process, the concentration and escape knitting affords me in the here-and-now. It helps that I’ve gotten faster, so what was once two or more weeks is now a few days; the real joy, however, is in the technical skill. I’m producing something of use to me, but also simply doing something skilled, something technical that most other people cannot do. While they could learn, I’ve already taken the leap, and I’m now improving with each additional stitch.


  1. Or…you could just not wear socks /because/ of the hassle that their fit is. That’s mostly what I do. That and the washer/dryer eats the little buggers, I don’t have matched pairs for long. xD

    • Ben
    • January 5th, 2011

    I like socks though . . . in general. What I dislike is when they’re annoying. I’ve found some super-short socks I like, though. They’re all Canadian-made, recycled cotton, etc. I picked them up for cheap at a discount store here. They still don’t compare to hand-knits, though. As much as I said I hated knitting socks, I’ve come to love it.

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