The Simple Peace of Mending Socks
This piece was originally going to be about bone carving and my love/hate relationship with the material. When I wrote it out, it seemed forced. I waxed poetical about the porous nature of bone allowing it to keep a smooth finish and be perfect for needles, etc whilst absorbing oils from skin and getting a natural patina over time. I whined about how it’s an awkward sod since it can be quite hard (hard in material terms), and how my lack of experience and proper tools (mainly experience) is resulting in difficulty forming even basic shapes for stuff like naalbinding needles.
It seemed forced, and I think it was just on my mind at the time due to frustrations. What I really want to do with this piece, is write about socks. Specifically, socks with holes in them. Throughout my upbringing, I absorbed through cultural osmosis the trope that ‘men’ often wore socks with holes in them, and that their partners (in my preteen head this was usually equated to ciswomen) often berated them for it. I never really thought about it. When I moved out of home to go to Uni, I had acquired an abundance of socks and I threw many away for being threadbare or basically tubes. Many remained, or were replaced over the next few years. Often, they would develop holes.
It wasn’t until a serious relationship in 2013 that this came up as an issue. My partner at the time (let’s call her V) found it absolutely deplorable that I had holes in my socks, and I remember walking into the bedroom one day to find her sorting through my socks and discarding the ones that she found particularly offensive. I seem to remember being shocked, but fairly amused and I trivialised the matter; laughing it off, letting her get on, and moving on.
Skip forward a few years, and I’m in another serious relationship where my current partner (B) has taken issue with socks that have developed holes. I’ve laughed it off and wiggled toes at her. And generally after a stare or glare we move onto finishing getting dressed and getting on with our day. This Christmas, I was sitting in a café in Madrid with V and the issue of the socks came up. This time, she framed it as an issue of male privilege. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t quite get it at first. I quickly and recursively ran through my head why I didn’t feel the need to dispose of the socks, and justified it to myself that I hated waste, and that purchasing new socks when some only had small holes in them was wasteful and offensive to the labourers who made them as well as environmental concerns for the planet and the water involved in producing cotton socks.
All of this, on the surface, is true. I do hate waste, and I would find it grating in my red-blooded veins if I saw people trivialising sweatshop labour by essentially viewing clothing as disposable. However, that wasn’t my way of thinking at the time. In fact I simply hadn’t thought at all about the socks. When I realised that the privilege alarm bells started ringing. In my current framework, not having to worry about something is tantamount to privilege. After that, all it took was a quick two or three minute explanation by V to see the “socks with holes” trope as a product of patriarchy. Women, in general, are held to a ridiculous standard of personal hygiene and appearance under patriarchy; and in addition to this they’re expected to worry about not only their own appearance, but that of others as well. I think we can all agree on that. I’d never before realised that this extended to socks, but it totally makes sense. In a perfect world, all people across the world could enjoy their holey socks. In this world, I’d have to up my game to be subject to the same pressures as my women comrades and try to lessen the places where they may feel stress due to my actions or inactions regarding these issues.
Next problem. If I hate waste, and can’t have holes in my socks, what the hell do I do? Obvious answer: fix my gorram socks.
I’m lucky in that my parents were each brought up in proper working class families during the 60s and 70s. Whilst they climbed a rung on the class ladder and afforded me some economic privilege growing up that they’d not enjoyed; our money situation was such that they didn’t just replace things willy nilly when it could be fixed. To that end, I have strong memories of my mother busting out the sewing kit once or twice a year for my school trousers when they’d get holes in the crotch. And every few weeks for loose shirt buttons etc. My point is, I’m lucky to have parents who managed to impart to me that attitude of “If it is broke, try to fix it first” when it came to bits and pieces. Eventually, around the age of 14, I managed to pick up some rudimentary sewing skills from my mother and the bits of the Web. Enough to sew my own gorram trouser crotch closed! This is a practice I’ve kept up to this day. Whenever my work trousers get a hole, I sew it shut. My skills are not perfect, but it beats dropping £20 on new trousers when 98% of the fabric on a current pair is intact.
Why I’ve never thought about fixing socks before now, I’ll never know. Anyway, starting after my return from Madrid I began to sew the holes in my socks shut whenever I saw them. I did throw out a whole bunch of socks that were beyond saving. What has this got to do with an inner peace, albeit a simple one? I could wax poetical again about carrying on a tradition in my family of fixing stuff rather than buying new ones. I could probably talk about the rhythmic motion of sewing thread, and how I can sit outside and listen to the sounds of the suburbs as I fix my socks. All of this is true. What I think about when I’m fixing my socks, however, is trying to do my small bit to lessen waste, and fight against my own privilege. I feel that every stitch is a small step towards an apology to those whose socks I’ve never given a second thought to even though they’re under pressure to be perfect, and who’ve wrongly felt responsible for the holes in my own socks.
Mostly, I like mending things. I like mending things about the same as I like trying to create new things. When I’m carving, I look at everyone else’s projects and compare my efforts to theirs (I don’t come out looking too good). When I’m mending socks, there’s no real pressure to make it look a particular way. I’m pretty much just restoring its function. I can happily work with my hands, and make a hole disappear, and it’s not designed to be a beautiful piece of work. The pressure is off, even though others will be able to fix socks faster/better than I can; they’re not going to have access to my socks. I invert the sock, I sew the hole, I invert it again, and find a slight scar from where the material is bound but that’s it.
I like that a lot.