socks

Some folk who “think” that they know me, label me as cheap. I can only conclude that this label has been assigned to me because of my propensity not to throw anything away.

If an appliance stops working, I try to fix it. If moths attack one of my garments, I send it to a reputable invisible mending or weaving shop. Even when a suit goes out of style, it remains in my closet in anticipation of the style being in vogue in the future. When I do not finish a meal, it goes into the refrigerator to finish at a later time or another day.

I do not consider myself to be cheap, despite these practices or others not mentioned in today’s column. Rather, my behavior is consistent with my Zodiac sign and if you know anything about Capricorns, then you know that they are economical. But I understand this label being attached to me when it comes to socks. Unlike me, most people simply throw their socks in the trash when a hole appears. How many people do you know, who like me, darn their socks? Darning socks was a practice of many of our parents, particularly mothers, back in the day.

A problem I face with taking trips back in time is the lack of familiarity, on the part of some of today’s readers with some practices that were popular in the past.

When I asked some of my Millennial friends about darning socks, they gave me a puzzled look and asked, “What is darning socks?” Although a fair question, before I go down this road, let me share with you something that I uncovered as I pulled together my thoughts for this column.

A blog post on the site Shosett by Diana Pantaia titled “The History of Socks” delves into a subject that I, like many of you, had given little thought. While you may find it hard to believe, of all clothing, socks are the oldest type of clothing that is still in use today. If this subject interests you, I suggest that you explore Ms. Pantaia’s blog.

Socks have an interesting evolution from the Stone Ages with the use of animal skins worn in the past to nylons and knit socks that are worn today. In fact, she points out that socks have been around long before the concept of trousers or T-shirts. Also, socks were not easy to come by and for some time were worn only by those of the noble class.

So, fast forward to a more recent time and consider how many of us did not dispose of our socks but found a way to used them over and over again back in the day.

There are a number of ways that our socks can develop holes and tempt us to throw them away. Perhaps your toenails are too long, and they poke a hole in your socks. You may also get a hole in your socks because your shoes are worn out and there is a hole in your shoe sole. Or, a hole appears in one of your socks because of excessive washing or carelessness.

For young ladies, a snag or hole can appear in your silk stockings out of nowhere. For many of you, the answer is quite simple. There is the trash can and your socks or stockings with holes go directly into the trash. Some of you recall observing your mother avoiding the trash and repairing that hole in your sock. Can you visualize that small tool, shaped like a miniature bowling pen, that is called a darning egg or darning spool?

Jen Smith in her online post on Sept. 18, 2016, titled, “How to Fix a Hole in Your Sock,” points out that most homemakers repaired socks in the past as it was something that they just did. Darning socks was not viewed as being weird or special, but it was something that was done as it was a part of maintaining clothing. As Smith points out, socks are pretty inexpensive so why bother to repair them. But the process is so easy and provides a second life for an otherwise perfectly good pair of socks.

Mothers would place a wooden darning spool inside of the sock to keep the fabric nice and tight while the hole was being stitched. In some households, however, anything with a rounded end was used in place of the darning spool. Some people used a cup or a glass. One of my colleagues recalls his mother using a hardboiled egg in place of a darning spool. Whether it was a darning egg or a darning spool, the goal was to stitch up little holes and tears.

Then, there was the larger goal of extending the life of one’s socks instead of discarding them. This was particularly true with women who dared not to go out bare-legged as this was viewed as disrespectful. Today, however, the bare-legged look is “in.” It is an acceptable practice and was made more acceptable by former first lady Michelle Obama who was observed bare-legged.

So, when preparing to go out and a run appeared in their stockings, they darned their nylon stockings in a crude manner or they may have placed nail polish on the run to prevent it from getting larger. This was something that most females did in emergency situations and to get by until they could get to a store to purchase a new pair. This enabled their stockings to last a few more days rather than having nothing on their legs when going out in public.

It should be kept in mind that the darning process does not require specialized equipment and can be inexpensive. Also, as Smith points out in her online post, and as those of us that have darned socks know, the process can be inexpensive and does not take much time. Furthermore, it feeds one’s ego because there is pride in taking care of what you have, you save money and you feel that you have done something useful. One of my close friends from North Jersey is a very fashionable dresser who shops and purchases his clothing from places like Barneys of New York. Yet, to this day, he continues to darns his socks. Interestingly, this is a habit he developed from his mother’s craft, a habit that I also developed from the diligent darning carried out by my mother, back in the day.

Let me pause and make certain that we are all on the same page when it comes to understanding darning. In a Jan. 11, 2018 Internet posting titled, “Remember When Mom Used To Darn Your Darn Socks?”

Randy McDaniel describes darning as a sewing technique for repairing holes or worn areas in fabric or knitting using needle and thread alone. He goes on to point out that the technique is usually done by hand, but it is also possible to darn with a sewing machine. Hand darning employs the darning stich, or simply running stich in which the thread is woven in rows along the grain of the fabric, with the stitch reversing direction at the end of each row, and then filling in the framework thus appearing as weaving. I hope that none of you believe that I darned my socks in such a tedious manner.

While I called it darning, it was simply stitching. While my mother had the traditional darning tools; I simply used a needle and thread. The hole was pulled closed and the hole was stitched. In its simplest form, my form of darning consists of securing the thread in the fabric on the edge of the hole and carrying it across the gap. I would then anchor the thread on the other side. By crisscrossing enough threads over the hole, the hole was eventually covered. I still use this technique today.

A number of my friends used a similar technique but did not like it; their complaint was that the knot left in their socks by this type of stitching was annoying to the wearer. I recall a period when I had so many socks that required darning until I took them to my neighborhood cleaners/tailor to have them repaired. As you may have concluded, this was not inexpensive so darning or stitching my socks was usually what I personally did. I repaired my socks because there were always those special socks that I owned that could not be replaced at my favorite men’s store. My friend from North Jersey told me that it was his inability to replaced socks that had holes that caused him to resort to darning. I understand this as I have some favorite socks and I do not know where they were purchased. For that reason, I must repair them today, just as I used to do, back in the day.

So, hold on to this column as a reminder of what you can to do the next time you get a hole in your socks. Do as I do and save a few dollars. Furthermore, you will be able to hold on to your favorite socks. Darning socks will work today just as it worked for our parents, back in the day.

Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at backintheday@phillytrib.com or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, PA 19146

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