Socks: Good as New and Newer Trends

Published on January 01, 2015
Written by Ray Access

The art of darning, particularly popular with thick, woolen socks, has rapidly deteriorated over the centuries. Now that cheap, easily replaced socks are widely available, one doesn’t need to spend hours recreating the original curved toes of a sock or reinforcing the rapidly thinning swerve of a heel. Instead, we just go buy new ones when a hole appears.

Our Appalachian foremothers, however, could darn a sock six ways from Sunday. Very often, they used a wooden egg or mushroom to hold the shape while pulling threads through the errant hole. Darning refers to the running stich that follows the weave of the fabric across the hole, followed by weaving the threads across in the opposite direction. It’s a technique handed down from mother to daughter and was a vital skill for keeping everyone clothed properly, especially in the colder winter mountain days and nights.

Stronger Than Ever

A darned sock is much stronger than the original and good for many more winter forays into the hills. Whether you’re working outdoors or hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains, you will stay warm and comfortable with your toes and heels darned for durability.

Darning is a lost art, though knitters have long recognized the value of a darned heel when making socks. After knitting up a pair of cozies for your family during the holidays, it may be wise to add a layer of protection with a darning stich over the heels, an area of the sock that wears out quicker than the rest because of the sliding that goes on in a wearer’s boots and shoes.

Taken From Nature

Sock makers think they are so smart with newfangled fabrics like Smart Wool and Merino Layers, but all they really do is take from nature what seems to work just fine with no human interference. Take the merino sheep that live in the extreme reaches of the Southern Alps in New Zealand. Regular sheep would wither and freeze in these arctic Alps.

So using the wool from the hearty merino only makes sense. It naturally adapts to weather extremes — breathable in summer and insulating in winter. It’s soft and light, which won’t add cumbersome weight to your walk. Companies such as Icebreaker, LL Bean and Minus33 tout their “revolutionary” merino wool socks as ideal for mountain sportsmen and women.

A Little Credit

Humans may be smart, but nature has them beat in so many ways. At the same time, technology does have its merits. Non-slip flaps on the back of crew socks, reinforced toes made of high-tech soft rubber and non-slip heels are just a few of the innovations that make socks work better, especially for athletes, hikers and workers who are hard on their feet.

Our Appalachian grandmothers may be shocked to learn there even are “sock engineers” working to come up with even newer and better designs for the ultimate sock. Shin, calf and toe protectors, lightweight spandex weaves, ventilation, arch support and cushioned soles may not have been on their minds when they darned the worn heels of their family’s socks, but they might appreciate the sentiment. After all, without a little loving for the feet, there ain’t much hiking up the hill to fetch a pail of water going on.