Last night I spent most of the evening with my feet up on the couch, darning socks. Yup, darning socks, weaving the holes closed with the blunt-ended needle and darning thread in the photo.
If you've ever darned, you know that it's a pretty meditative process. You have to pay enough attention to securely anchor your threads, keep them straight and weave (or knit) the darn over the hole. But the process involves a lot of repetition, and that allows the mind to wander. (If you haven't darned, check out this video, or these instructions.)
I had let the holes in my socks get bigger than I should have before attending to them. In case you wondered about the origin of the homily "A stitch in time saves nine," I'm guessing it came from darning. The sooner you patch the hole, the less stitches and thread required. Much less, as I can now attest after spending a couple of hours darning holes in the heels of my favorite socks.
As I carefully stitched lines of anchoring threads around the holes, and then ran threads across the hole from top to bottom and wove threads through those from side to side, I thought about the act of darning.
It's been a long time since I did any darning--a couple of decades, in fact, since I was a starving biologist working for the federal government on a seasonal basis. Back then, I had to darn my wool socks: the heels wore out long before the socks did and I couldn't afford to replace them often. So when my socks got holes, I darned them.
I quit darning when I started making more money. I had good excuses: I was navigating a new marriage, raising a step-daughter, and starting a writing career, and I could afford to discard socks with holes in them. The real reason, I think though, was that darning just didn't fit my "important" lifestyle
Darning didn't cross my mind again until last week when the holes in my favorite Smartwool socks, the ones with the flowers, got so big that my heels got cold when I wore the socks. I would probably have thrown those socks away with great regret and bought a new pair, but for two things:
There is no "away." With more than 3 billion people in this country, there is no place to put trash without displacing someone, whether human or wild. Where I live, trash goes to the county dump, which I would nominate for the award of dump with the most beautiful dump if there was such an honor. It occupies a mesa lying between a wall of peaks rising to over 14,000 feet elevation on one side, and knobby granitic hills splotched with Technicolor aspen groves on the other. Sacrificing this site to house our refuse in near-perpetuity seems so wrong that Richard and I now recycle or reuse the bulk of our discards.
Then there's the personal reason: I can't just replace the socks, even if I did have a way to recycle them. They're last year's design; in a triumph of planned sock obsolescence, it's not produced anymore.
So I spent a couple of hours teaching myself how to darn again. It wasn't hard, and when I finished darning the hole in the first sock and slipped it on, my foot felt cozy and warm. (Not to mention quite stylish.) I learned an aphorism I've always thought charming but outdated is actually relevant to my life--I will save stitches and yarn by not letting the holes in my socks get so big before darning next time. I learned yet again that the amount of waste we create is not actually a necessary consequence of modern life. It is possible to give my favorite socks, and much of the other material we thoughtlessly discard longer lives.
Darning socks may seem like a small act when compared to the mountains of trash we humans generate. But it has had a big impact by changing my view of my favorite pair of socks. Despite the holes in the heels, they are not trash: after darning, they're still warming my feet. There's something very satisfying in finding a way to reuse what I am so fond of despite its obselescence.