Saturday, February 21, 2009

Waste Not

I was putting away the laundry the other day and noticed that several of my socks had developed small holes. These are not fancy socks. They are plain white cotton ones with an elasticized middle, which I like because they don't slide around inside my boots. Nor are they expensive, though I must admit I have no idea how much a pair of plain white socks might cost. Two dollars? Three?

My question is, should I darn these socks? I have needles; I have thread; I have a darning egg that I bought in a fit of domestic optimism in the 1970s and never used. I even have that scarcest of all commodities: time. What I don't have is the inclination.

I would rather write than mend socks. I would rather draw. I would even rather cook. And I would much rather read a book. But when I hear about how we Americans are going to have to make big changes in the way we live, I think it may mean that we should start mending our socks.

I grew up with mended socks. Mending stuff, in the Spain of the 1950s, was just another routine household activity, like dusting or ironing. If your family was particularly hard on clothes, you could hire a woman to come one afternoon a week to help with the mending. Otherwise it was up to the lady of the house and her maid to keep things in shape (not many people in the middle class had cars, but everyone had a live-in maid).

Besides socks, my mother and the maid mended bottom sheets –the flat, not the fitted kind. When they got worn in the center, they split them down the middle and then sewed the outside edges together. They turned shirt collars so the worn part was underneath. They mended my school uniforms. They even mended kitchen towels.

There was an art to mending. You picked the right color thread and then wove the edges of the rip together so that you ended with a smooth, flat surface. The edges of the mended patch were supposed to be straight and even, the stitches tiny, the result nearly invisible.

There was one thing my mother didn't mend: her stockings. When she got a run she took them around the corner to the lady who specialized in mending stockings. My mother and my aunts were forever running to the stocking mending lady.

I've been throwing away socks with holes during my entire adult life. And I have thrown away an entire rubber plantation's worth of pantyhose. Pantyhose make great ties for tomato plants, but I would have had to cover the entire east coast with tomatoes to use up all my torn pantyhose. I read somewhere that you could make a warm, attractive quilt by sewing lots of little square bags out of leftover fabric, stuffing them with old pantyhose and sewing the squares together, but I never got around to doing that.

I realize that the stories about my mother's mending sound like the ones told by Americans who lived through the Great Depression. But my mother and the European women of her generation who devoted themselves to mending were hardly on the brink of financial disaster. They were simply doing what their mothers and grandmothers had always done: squeezing the last bit of usefulness out of material things.

I have pleasant memories of those sock-mending times (of course I wasn't doing any mending): women sitting by a window, surrounded by clean-smelling laundry, talking, giving a satisfied sigh and folding each piece away as it was finished.

Maybe I could get a sock-mending group together....



7 comments :

  1. The pantyhose quilt? It's a puff quilt. And stuffed with pantyhose, it's lumpy and rather unattractive. Stuffed with puffs of wool or cotton or polyester, though, it can be cute.

    I don't mend socks. I do save the old ones in a bag in the top of my closet and they get reused as puppets, stuffing for sock animals my mother and my daughter have taken to making, and dust rags.

    I do mend other things; I have made summer dresses for 2 or 3 year old girls out of Mike's old shirts. I have a number of denim blankets made of old jeans.

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  2. i wonder if you would like it if you tried it. my mother is not naturally domestic, despite raising ten children. she is a marvelous cook and a slapdash cleaner but she hates sewing, with a deep passion. she learned to be pretty good at it; she made the Ninth Grade Day dresses for each of us girls, and sewed us gym bags and book covers and once made me (regrettably) a pair of hot pants with a matching vest.

    but mending? anything that needed hemming or mending ended up in a big basket in the dining room, where it spent the rest of its days.

    i have inherited her abhorrence of the needle. i currently have three pairs of pants that need hemming. bought on deep discount....last spring.

    perhaps i will get to them today.

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  3. Or.....you could cut the socks into 1" sections, loop them together, and bring them to Crazy as a Loom.....and I will weave them into a rug for you.....NOW we are being THRIFTY.

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  4. Alas, no sewing skills. I used my old socks as rags, unless they are clearly beyond that.

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  5. hats off to you. last night i hemmed one pair of pants, in your honor. one down, two to go.

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  6. Bridgett, you are such a domestic goddess! You're the first person I've ever met who knows about "puff" quilts!

    Laurie, I love hearing about people's domestic habits--such as the basket of mending in the living room. And don't you feel good now that the pants are hemmed? Try putting on some music when you do the next pair.

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  7. Hilary, do you make all your rugs out of recycled materials? If so, this economy probably bodes quite well for your business.

    Indigo, was anybody in your generation taught to sew? Both my daughters took shop in school.

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