"There’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes!" (Old Scottish saying)
There are hundreds of different styles of winter socks to choose from in the stores theses days. However, they seem to all have one thing in common – the elasticized band that cuts off your circulation. (And my feet are triple-A skinny with ankles to match. I don’t know how men can wear these ankle-biting socks. It isn’t healthy.)
Even a search for hand loomed or knit socks like we wore in my childhood days up on the farm, or my high school days in Belfast, has come up empty handed.
Back then, winter socks were wool and mostly white, mostly hand knit. (We did knit some argyle socks for dress socks, but the norm was white wool. Maine Guides, with the winter hiatus, would knit white wool socks to sell for a few spare bucks. I remember my cousin Berle, a guide, who would knit several pair each season. No one, to my knowledge, ever made any negative remarks about it. The fact that he stood 6’5’ might have had something to do with it.)
We girls in high school went most the winter with black moccasins and heavy white wool socks. (Back then, there weren’t any really warm boots and no tall boots.) The moccasins, made from heavy chrome leather, were soleless, meaning no man-made sole sewn on the bottom — just the leather, Indian style. To make them waterproof, we heated chicken fat on the wood stove and rubbed it on the moccasins. That worked real well. Such moccasins today are as scarce as heavy white wool socks that don’t cut your leg in half.
I’ve dug out my yarns and needles to knit some quick tube socks from a pattern I used decades ago for boot socks for my sons. But that still takes time and my feet are cold now — especially in bed. I don’t heat my bedroom for two reasons: to save on heat and because I sleep better in a cold room. However, cold bedrooms mean cold sheets and cold feet.
I just like to pull on socks. And I have found a quick alternative to all the hours to knit a pair just to wear to bed, not to mention the cost of wool these days.
In days gone by, they had other ways to keeps toes warm in bed. There’d be the shiny, copper or brass bed-warmer hanging by the fireplace or the stove. Somewhat like a frying pan with a hinged lid and a long handle, it would be filled with hot coals and slipped between the sheets to run up and down, warming the bed before one climbed in. Lacking a fancy bed-warmer, you could heat up a brick on the stove, wrap it in flannel and put down at the foot of the bed between the sheets. (They also used flannel sheets that had no ‘foot’ but were one long sheet, folding back from the foot back up along the bed for the top sheet. This helped keep in body heat – particularly for the feet – and to keep out cold air from sneaking in.)
I remember the last time I saw my Grampa Roy, he was living with relatives in Wiscasset. The farm had burned some years before and Grammie Mable had passed away. It was the first time he had lived in a house with a furnace. He rather liked it as, as he said,“It’s nice to wake up in the morning without your toenails chattering.”
Before I got around to hunting up wool for knitting a pair of socks, I picked up some sweaters at a thrift shop to cut up and make ‘emergency” mittens and hats. (I admonish my grandkids to have a bag in their cars with a pair of wool mittens, hat, socks and scarf along with a glass jar and candle and matches. Light a candle in a glass jar and you have a lamp, light and warmth. If you have an accident and find yourself at the mercy of the weather until help arrives, this bag of goodies would be mighty welcome.
To make these sweater-mittens and such from sweaters, you first have to have 100-percent wool. Look for ones that have at least two colors — three to four are best. For each color of yarn, there is an extra layer of thickness as the yarns are carried over in back. Then felt them. That is done simply by washing in hot water and drying hot in the dryer. In other words, shrink it. This makes a super warm mitten.
With the sweater wrong side out, take a marker pen and outline the person’s hand, utilizing the waist or arm band for the wrist of the mitten. Make one left and one right mitten. On a machine, using a zigzag stitch, and allowing for a ¼-inch seam, sew twice around. Cut, turn and — voila, quick mittens! (This is a great way to make extra warm mittens for children too. Wool, even when wet, will keep hands warm. Acrylic mittens ought to be outlawed!)
So, as I was getting ready to cut the sweater I was working on, I thought: “Hey, why not cut a pair of tube socks?” So, using the arms of the sweater, with the cuff for the ribbing, I cut a rounded ‘toe’ about 12” up the sleeve, sewed it shut and pulled on a perfect paid of ‘bed-socks.”
With about 15 minutes of time and an old sweater, I’m set for the winter – with no worry about chattering toenails.
Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award winning columnist, is a graduate of Belfast now living in Morrill.