Imagine, you are a mother living in the 1940s. You have 2 sons, a husband and endless socks which need mending. It seems that as soon as they put a pair of new socks on their feet, they has a hole in them. Your daughter is just as bad, alway catching her stockings on something or other. You seem to spend all your time mending! Thank goodness for the sock darner your mother gave you. It is an unusual design, with the heel and toe on the same darner, but so useful. You swear it cuts the mending time in half, and you can mend a stocking so you can hardly see the hole!
Although some of the adults had some interesting ideas for how to use this item, the children could not see any use at all for this odd shaped object. They had never seen anything like it, and when they learned what it was used for, and saw the second darner I had with me which included instructions, that too came as a surprise. To them, socks are throwaway item, simply discarded when they develop holes. As they said, socks are cheap and easy to buy, and most people have many pairs. From their point of view, the idea of spending lots of time mending socks and stockings was just silly. As one child said 'why spend all that time mending them when you can buy a new pair for a few dollars?'
This was not always the case though. Today we might take the humble sock for granted, but they are actually very important, and were probably one of the first articles of clothing humans wore! Although socks have a very long history, we might not recognise early 'socks' as socks at all, as they were very different to the socks we wear today. In the stone age, socks were just strips of fur tied around the ankle and foot, and later on the Greeks and Romans simply wrapped animal hair around their feet and legs. Later, methods of knitting and weaving thread into socks were created, and socks became more like those we wear today. They were still very expensive and time consuming to make though.
When people give socks as a gift today, it is quite often a gift which is not appreciated, but in the early days, even kings liked being given socks as presents! Socks are so important that in times of war, even in the Second World War, there were appeals for people to knit socks for soldiers. You can see some appeals for socks from the American Civil War here. They were also far too valuable to simply throw out when they developed a hole. Commercially made socks were expensive and knitting a new pair was far more time consuming than simply mending the holes in the old ones. After all, socks were knitted on fine needles and with fine wool, and took a long time to make. Instead, people mended their socks very carefully, often using a tool like the sock darners I showed the children to ensure the mend was well done. They also mended other clothing and homewears. This was not a throwaway society, and things were far too valuable to simply throw away when they got a hole. Yet why are socks in particular so important? Socks protect a very important part of our body, our feet, providing warmth and protection and even helping to draw sweat away from the feet, protecting against fungal infections. This is one of the main functions of socks, and probably the reason people first started wearing them. After all, when surviving relied on moving around and hunting, the feet were one of our most important body parts and needed to be looked after! Even today, we wear socks to look after our feet. If you would like to learn more about the history of socks, click here.