Many years ago, when my Granny would come and visit me, she would shake her head at the holey socks I always wore, start rummaging around in my sock drawer, and next week would return with a bouquet of freshly darned socks.
'But Grandma', I would say, 'They are only $2 socks. When they wear out I'll just buy more.'
'Well, now you won't have to, dear,' she would reply with a small, satisfied smile, while no doubt secretly appalled in her Depression-era raised soul at the profligate ways of the younger generation.
I remembered her last week as I contemplated the ladder in the toe of Rosy's expensive ballet stockings. I haven't really ever darned anything since Grandma taught me how as a teenager, but decided to try. I don't have a nifty wooden darning mushroom like she did, but The Ever Practical Man suggested the stainless steel coffee tamper that we use with the coffee machine, which worked perfectly, flat on top, rounded at the sides, and beautifully smooth so as not to snag the stocking. Darning really is a very satisfying art. It is really just a fiddly form of weaving as you can see in this incredibly boring but informative video. I used one strand of embroidery thread for Rosy's stockings, which turned them into a work of thrifty domestic art, whilst leaving me slightly cross eyed. Then, totally inspired by my small success, I kept on going. One strand of black embroidery thread for the black dress socks that the men of the house wear to work and school, and some stitches in time to save nine, sewing up all the tiny holes in the girls' socks that I would have previously ignored until they got too large and had to be thrown away.
Suddenly, Grandma's passion for darning began to make sense. It is about cherishing and respecting what you have, whether that is expensive ballet tights or two dollar socks. As I sit in the evening and darn it occurs to me to think about the people being paid a pittance to make these socks in the first place, half a world away, and to wonder if there isn't a better alternative. It makes me wonder, too, how much of our income I am frittering away on 'disposable' cheap socks. And that brings me back to the issue of 'stuff' again. Some months ago I set out to become the queen of clean, but somewhwere along the way it all became a giant exercise in decluttering, because you can't clean clutter. And then I realised just how much stuff we have that we don't need, and then I realised how much stuff we waste, which was a horrifying revelation for someone who thinks she cares about the state of the world we live in. I am now more determined than ever not to let all that 'stuff' in through the door. The more I sit and darn and think, the more I am convinced that the mindless attrition of cheap socks (please substitute your own current bugbear here - plastic happy meal toys, perhaps, or new electric kitchen gadgets)isn't respectful - of ourselves, because we are kidding ourselves if we think new socks are the key to happiness, of the planet, because buying new socks is a colossal waste of resources (and where, I wonder, did I imagine all those old socks went - to a lovely sock retirement farm somewhere? Or was I convinced that elastene is somehow compostable?), or of the people who make the socks in some revolting third world factory, maybe with child labour, maybe with unsafe working conditions, certainly without a reasonable wage. Bad socks! Will be going on the Do Not Buy list.
Darning can become quite a subversive activity. You have been warned.
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