These two ideas, the Slow Fashion October prompts for this and last week, fit so perfectly together that I’m just going to pretend I planned it this way. I am very much a creature of habit. I like new things and change, but I also like what I like, whether that’s a certain item on a brunch menu, a cocktail or an item (or style) of clothing.
As a result, when I like something a lot, I will purchase — or, increasingly, make, it — in multiples. For me, this is beauty of being able to make my own clothes: I can find what I like, and then make it over and over again, with simple changes, like different colours or patterns. The garments I love most see weekly wear and, I’m almost embarrassed to say, I sometimes regret wearing them because that takes them out of rotation for the rest of the week (working in an office, even a casual one, means I try not to repeat too much Monday-Friday).
But, more than any other garment (or category of garments) in my hand-made wardrobe, the ones that are, for me, totally irreplaceable — the things that will keep me knitting for the rest of my life, because truly, there is no store-bought equivalent — is socks. I am almost self-conscious about bringing this up, since I have written quite a lot about socks, but the more I think about it (and I wrote a whole other draft of this post before I realized it), the more I think hand-knit socks are my ultimate symbol of slow fashion.
Socks are disposable items of clothing. Yes, you can spend quite a bit of money on fancy ones, but I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who didn’t wear their socks into the ground and then toss them without a second glance. But, at the same time, a great pair of socks is so, so great. I actually hated socks before I started knitting my own. I didn’t like that they required readjusting and that no matter what brand I bought, my feet were always cold, and I really didn’t like that when I finally did find a pair of socks I liked, they’d wear out within a year. Useless.
Socks were the second thing I learned to knit and in that first year I knit two pairs of worsted weight socks (I still have them both). I still remember the shock of switching to fingering-weight yarn and teeny tiny needles. It took me so long to knit that first lighter-weight pair, and then the next, and then the next. By the time I had a few pairs, almost without realizing it I stopped even looking at my drawer of store-bought socks. I was so proud of what I was making, and, almost more than that, I was proud of how useful they were!
For the last three or so years, I’ve worn hand-knit socks every day for about eight and a half months of the year. Although I now have more than a dozen pairs of hand-knit socks in regular rotation (that rotation doesn’t include lace socks or worsted-weight socks, which are worn as called upon by weather, etc.) three years ago, I only had about eight pairs of hand-knit socks, so there was a lot of washing (and, sometimes, multiple wears between washings) going on, and all those pairs saw a lot of wear. The thing about this kind of heavy rotation is that it means things wear out. This is especially true when you’re just getting started and your rotation is small.
Just as socks were the first garment that really showed me in a practical way the value of handmade (emotionally and philosophically, I understood it already), they were also my first foray into making a real effort to make my clothes last. I’m not wasteful, but I will admit a certain temptation to let a worn-out something go as a way to justify getting something new. This t-shirt is stained? Oh darn, guess I’ll just buy that new one I’ve been eyeing. I don’t (usually) shop for the sake of shopping, but the allure of something new when what you have is old is real.
I do mend my socks, and I take care with how I wash them to ensure they last. I have noticed, though, that my older pairs — faded, mended, maybe starting to felt and/or lose their shape a little — have been pushed to the edges of my rotation. I wear them around the house, or sometimes to bed, but they are dropping out of regular use, and I’m not sure what to do with them. Part of this dilemma, I will admit, is entirely selfish: I really enjoy knitting socks, but how many pairs does one person need? If I let some pairs drift out of use, that gives me an excuse to replace them, but is that just cheating? (Yes, I knit them for others too, but still).
I can’t be the only person who produces hand-made items faster than they wear out, but this is a side of the hand-made wardrobe we rarely talk about. I love my hand made items; I wear them daily; and even though I’m not producing at a frantic rate, I still outpace myself (and not just with socks — how many sweaters do I really need? How many pairs of mitts? Etc.). The next months of making are dedicated to holiday gifts, so I have some time to think about all of this, but still — do you notice this same dilemma in your own making? How to do you deal with it?