Round the Needle

Wash those socks! April 02, 2016 17:07

Green sock

I make a lot of hand knit socks, and eventually hand knit socks get holes in them.  My usual method of darning is to say, “Oh darn!” and drop the pair in the trash, because I think it’s easier to knit a new pair than to repair the holes.

However, there are exceptions.

Last month Ray showed me a hole in the bottom of his current favorite pair of socks.  I was a bit puzzled, as they’re knit from a workhorse yarn that almost never wears out, they’re only two years old, and he only uses them as slippers.  I just didn’t understand how they could have gotten a hole in the sole this fast, if at all.

Then he said the magic words. “It’s not like I washed them a lot.”

Hmm.  I probed a bit to see what he meant by “a lot.”  Well, turns out what he meant was “never.”  As in, “I have been wearing these socks for two years and I have never washed them.”

Before you get carried away with “Ew!” and “Gross!” let me tell you that he is not alone.  I have heard this story before from friends about their husbands and socks.  They don’t wear them often (the socks, not the husbands,) sometimes only as slippers, and they are not smelly or visibly dirty (again, the socks...) Since they are hand knit, the men (and sometimes women) believe that it’s best not to machine wash them, and never think to hand wash them. Then the socks get holes in record time and everyone is puzzled.

The answer:  Wash those socks.

Dirt is abrasive and dirty socks will wear out faster than socks that you keep clean.  Even if you can’t see dirt, or smell a funny smell, your socks are picking up dirt, especially if you wear them as slippers.  That dirt builds up in the soles and begins to wear away at the wool fibers, like tiny pieces of embedded sand paper.  Then you get a hole.

When I took a good look at Ray’s socks I found the fabric around the hole was a bit stiff.  That’s what happens when it gets dirty, and the stiff fibers are more prone to breakage.  It’s easily remedied by a quick wash, and the beauty of most sock yarn is that it’s superwash.  That means even if you gently hand wash every hand knit you own, you can almost always machine wash your socks.  I lay mine flat to dry when I’m done, but I know people who send theirs through the dryer with no problem. (NOTE OF CAUTION: don’t try this with socks knit from non-superwash yarn. You will end up with small, felted shoes for elves.

You can hand wash your socks if you like, but the truth is that hand washing doesn’t really get them clean.  It works wonderfully for sweaters, cowls, and even hats, but socks get DIRTY.  A gentle soak and swish will result in dirty water, but it will also leave a lot of dirt behind in the fabric to chew on your wool sock fibers.  If those socks are knit from superwash yarn, toss them in the machine, set it on a gentle cycle with cold water and get those puppies clean!

Now, back to the hole in Ray’s socks.  As I said, these were a favorite pair.  I knitted them two years ago while he was in the hospital, from one of my favorite yarns that is now out of production.  Nicely cabled and very stretchy, he says they are one of the most comfortable pairs of socks he has every owned, so I conceded and agreed to fix the hole.  I located some matching yarn, and thanks to this knitted patch repair method that I find MUCH easier than darning, they are almost as good as new.  If he keeps them washed, they should last a long, long time.

You might want to run along now and check your sock drawer.   I think you might just find some things that need washing!