If hats are easy, the only word to describe socks is “not”. They require custom fitting and tedious measuring and remeasuring. I’ve probably knitted 18 pair of those—one pair each for my eight children, three pairs for my grandmother, one pair for a sock exchange and the rest for myself. Socks say, “I love you enough to spend 25 hours of my life making something for you to walk all over.” Socks say, “Here is my heart for you.” Socks are very talkative, even though they are highly functional and usually hidden. They are a huge investment of time because they are made from such thin yarn. You can knit an entire sweater out of bulky yarn in the amount of time it takes to knit a pair of footies in fingering weight yarn, which is very thin wool. Wool is wonderful for socks because it’s very warm but also light-weight, and because it not only wicks but also absorbs moisture. In fact, wool can absorb 30% of its weight in water without feeling wet.
I once started a pair of over-the-calf socks for my second husband. I knit the leg, turned the heel, and knit most of the foot. I ripped it out after our divorce. He had been too uninvolved to try it on so I could close the toe. I will use that yarn to make a pair for myself. I like wool socks enough to be willing to try them on!
I will never forget the smile on Grandmother’s face when I slipped that first pair of hand-made wool socks on her feet. “Aaaah,” she said. Then she wiggled her toes.
“Do you like them?” I asked. My smile was as big as hers.
“Yes, thank you,” she said. I think probably no one has ever been as appreciative of my knitted socks as she was, unless I count myself.
Of course, Grandmother didn’t walk in her socks. By the time I made them for her, she was bed-ridden and in the nursing home. She’d always had cold feet, but after she stopped walking on her own, it was a constant complaint. Except for the first pair, I mostly knit those socks on the way to visit her. My mother drove the 90 mile round trip five times most weeks, and I went along for three of them. I have all of those socks now, except the first pair, which disappeared in the facility laundry.
When I think back and see my hands knitting those socks for her, I also see her hands making clothes for me when I was young. At one time, she made everything I wore except for my underthings. When I got older and petulantly demanded store-bought stuff, thinking it was better, she made clothes for my dolls. And when I was older yet, she made bed quilts for my first six children. On the last one, for my third son, the stitching lines are crooked in a way that she never would have tolerated from her younger self. To me, it is the most beautiful of the bunch. She couldn’t sew at all by the time the seventh and eighth were born. I wonder now if these same thoughts went through her mind when I gifted her with those socks.
My mother has also made blankets for most of my children, and is currently working on the last two. Hand-made, wearable love is a family tradition.
My current project is one I have been working on, off and on, for six years. I have started and finished many other things while stitching on this blanket I call “Hocks.” Its name is “Hocks” because when I started it, my then-baby could not yet pronounce the letter “s”—she called socks, hocks. It htuck. The blanket is made of hock yarn. It is thin, warm, and nearly weightless given its size. It is probably four feet square now, unstretched. Eventually, it will fit my double bed.
Hocks is composed of mitered squares, each one built on the two below and beside it, so that the squares sit like diamonds. It is done in garter stitch: I knit across the row, taking out two stitches in the middle, and then I knit back. The small squares are about two inches diagonally, require 12 yards of yarn, and take 45 minutes to knit. The larger squares are four square inches and require 45 yards and 120 minutes. Knitting on it reminds me of how I live. One thing builds on the thing before.
The blanket is being knit with what basically amounts to scraps. Some are my own leftovers, some have come from friends, and I have even received some from strangers. Sometimes a scrap is so small I get only get one square, but sometimes I get several. People, like the yarn scraps, come and go.
The backside is a mess, with loose ends everywhere, just begging for me to take a minute and weave them in. Unwoven ends are unfinished business. I know I will have to take of them eventually, but for now, I can choose to just look at the pretty side.
Sometimes a set of squares clash as I am working up close and personal on a particular area, but when I spread it all out and step back, it is beautiful, all crazy colors and mixed up randomness. It’s the unexpected events in life, the random ones that take your breath away, that are the most wonderful. Those are the kind of moments that make it worth getting up in the morning.
It takes years to make a bed-sized blanket from sock yarn. It looks very messy while you are doing it. It requires persistence and determination. The only thing that stays consistent in this blanket is the knitter. Though the yarn has come from many places, the knitting is all mine, just as no one else can do my living. Sometimes, I have to grit my teeth and force myself to work on it. Maybe I should have just called it “Life.”