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Now that it’s January, I am industriously into the stay-at-home activities I had lined up to keep me from dipping too deeply into weather-driven incarceration lunacy. Be assured, if the temperature rises above 45 degrees and the wind is not howling, I will go forth into the outdoors and walk along the pathways of the lower altitudes. There are still many areas to choose from should this event occur. I’m having trouble conceiving of any other type of outdoor adventures appropriate for a southern Appalachian winter. Though we do get the occasional snowfall, it’s never enough or lasts as long as needed for skiing, sledding or snowshoeing. I should have moved to Vermont. Then I remember how long the season drags on there and am content with our winter of short duration and the indoor distractions I’ve lined up.
One activity to which I have attached my attention is darning my socks. I realize this sounds like a grievously boring hobby. It appears, at first glance, to be one of those pioneer-woman chores which I have previously scorned. At best, it is work my foremothers might have taken up during some war or another in our collective American history. Back before Dollar General reared it’s ugly head. Back before everything on earth was made in China with the cheapest possible materials by child laborers in cold, influenza-inducing rooms. Socks were important. Many were hand knitted by hardy, industrious New England women (at least in my family). They weren’t just tossed at the barest hint of a hole. They were darned.
I love that word. My darned socks need darning. Well, I’ll be darned if I rush off to the sock store to buy some more. Even the expensive ones, touting their long-range wearability, get holes after a couple years of hiking and playing bocce in them. Only one brand has refused to succumb to eventual holiness and that is my one pair of Darn Tough socks–made in Vermont (which is in New England) by women who don’t want to hear my whining. I’m wearing them now, because it’s 35 degrees today. My other beloved socks are sitting on my desk, holes exposed and awaiting my expert ministrations.
It initially dawned on me that I really don’t know how to properly darn socks. So, of course I Googled it and found a plethora (ok, a couple) of U-Tube videos demonstrating the best method of repairing (for some reason called darning) your old foot coverings. First you need a “mushroom,” a piece of wood that looks like, you guessed it!, a mushroom. Then you’ll need to scrounge around in your long-abandoned knitting supplies for an appropriate yarn. Here’s where it gets really fun…at least in sock-darning circles. You get to choose whether you want your repair work to be of the same color as the sock or you wish to go all out on the fun and funky side of life and use an entirely different color. Being somewhat of a mavin of quirkiness, I chose a contrasting color, even though I will be the only person seeing my handiwork out there in the shoe-wearing world. Also, I only had a few colors of yarn to work with and none of them matched my holey socks.
As to the mushroom, I am entirely too impatient to submit an order for one darning mushroom with the woodworking enterprise in my basement, so I improvised with a ball. It’s a bit rounder than the mushroom, but it substituted with elation since it mostly has spent its time abandoned in a drawer and needed only some useful occupation to restore its self-esteem. Video, ball, sock, yarn. I was ready. I forgot about the needle. I suppose some long-forgotten sewing needle company still makes an actual darning needle in case some old gal misplaces her grandmother’s heirloom one. I have no such hand-me-down. But I do have a sewing basket to scrounge around in.
Going through the depths of my sewing basket is like embarking upon a hero’s quest. The time-commitment alone is admirable since one can be held up by battling dragons of gnarled up stuff as well as discoveries of infinite delight. One has to delve through layer upon layer of magical implements and hordes of flotsam, all bound up in joyous memories. Threads which spark feelings of nostalgia, embroidery floss, the pin cushion where other sewing needles have been lost to oblivion–pushed them in too far and can’t get them out, small containers of buttons, ribbons, elastic, gauges, decorative cords, thimbles, patches never attached to anything I own, and yes, packets of needles. Once I made that miraculous travel through time, I settle down to consider my collection of sewing needles.
I uncovered a packet of needles with the following designations: chair/sofas, carpets & heavy work, fur coats/gloves/leather, tents/deck-chairs/canvas, sacks & hampers and mattresses. Having no choice labeled “darning,” I decided I just needed something with a large enough eye through which to pass a lightweight yarn and a sharp enough point to draw easily through the sock wool. I chose fur coats/gloves/leather as the tool most likely to cause the least amount of swearing, though I was leery of the pointy-ness of the point. I wondered if I would ever have the occasion to sew a hamper or a mattress.
Still, I had to use a magnifying glass along with multiple applications of spit and flattenings of the yarn fibers. to cram the yarn through the eye of the needle, I finally settled on taping the end of the yarn and trimming that tape to slide easily (relatively speaking) through the eye of the needle. Once done, I needed nourishment to boost my enthusiasm for continuing. After lunch, I started darning. It’s much like weaving and a little like sewing. I have had plenty of experience with both procedures. My inclination was to just pull the hole sides together and be done with it. However, the art of darning is actually replacing the lost fibers in a patchwork of weaving. So, the hole is still there, just covered up with a little sewn on weaving. My first two attempts were dismal as the target area was teeny-tiny, like a Barbie headband. I kept thinking a smaller needle would be better, but then the yarn had to be threaded through a much smaller hole and I was not up for that ensuing ordeal.
This is when I visualized that whole patchwork thing and that it was essential that the darning process be more like weaving and less like homicidal strangulation. Things went smoother once I eased up a bit. It was at this point, that I had an aha moment. An existential, sock-darning epiphany. We all have holes in our lives which require repair. Breaches in relationships. Battles with ourselves. If we find the appropriate tools for healing the rift, and approach it with calm and conscientious care, we can rely on a stronger bond–even if it is a patchwork of different colors inexpertly applied. I decided to channel my grandmother’s spirit and started singing while darning those darn holes. My socks now look as if they have been through months of psychotherapy, with healed scars and new functionality.
The year 2024 finds me darning socks and singing old hymns and ancient Celtic melodies to pass the tedious, indoor winter hours. My ancestors may not have originated from these particular mountains, but I feel them influencing me and I now have a strange hankering for clam chowder. On the coldest days, I am snug in my wintery mountain home, darning socks and baking. Baking a lot. By spring I should have well-covered feet and an extra twenty pounds to haul up those hilly trails.
May your socks be warm and heart be warmer,