Sunday, February 27, 2011

Learning To Knit Socks

The soldiers liked the warm wool boot socks;
The family loved the soft cotton ones.
Let's face it. Socks are a useful entity. How hard could it be to knit them? Small, portable, warm. After all, I'd been knitting for years and had many sweaters under my belt. Socks offered a new challenge. So I began looking for a class.

I had a reason for wanting to learn. It was 2007 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan looked like they were never going to end. My  Korean Vet husband and I often spoke of what we might be able to do for our troops, but we never came up with a workable answer. Then one day while I was browsing one of my favorite online yarn shops, my eye caught just the smallest ad stuck off in a corner,  asking if anyone was interested in knitting socks for soldiers. I was hooked.

 I remembered back to when knitters did the same thing during WWII, and  although my mom didn't knit, she did her part as the hostess she always was, and cooked lunch for the knitters all gathered at one of the churches in our small town. She took me with her and even today I can still see all those ladies sitting in a circle, needles flying and wool coming together into an ugly, brownish-green sock. There were other women there too, standing at long tables on the far side of the room,  rolling strips of white cloth into long rolls. I tugged at mom's arm and asked what they were doing. "Winding bandages for the wounded," she said. I was confused. I had seen window signs all over town asking people to knit socks for the soldiers; I'd not seen a single request for rolled bandages. That was the day I began worrying about my Navy uncle off to war, a medic who may actually use those rolled  bandages. That day brought the war home to the child that I was.

I asked my husband if he considered knitting socks for soldiers something we could do as a team. I could knit the socks; he would pack the boxes, deliver them to the post office and pay the postage. We agreed almost immediately, for the scripture that came to both of us was Matthew 25: 35-36, and 40 "For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me. Then the King (Jesus) will answer and say to them, Assuredly, I say to you inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brehren, you did it to Me." I didn't find out until much later, and through the many letters and emails received from the troops themselves, that the military-issued socks were acrylic, didn't last long, and were anything but warm. Most who contacted us complained of black and bitter nights on the desert and how cold they were--especially their feet.

That alone was the reason I enrolled in the class and paid the fees. The store where I took my class limited the group to six people. The first night we all received a pattern, five short, pointy needles, and were told to chose a sock yarn of our choice. All the women but me chose a mannish color, saying they were knitting the socks for their hubbies. I considered the yarrns they'd chosen to be ugly.  I was willing to learn to knit socks, but I sure wasn't going to do it with such a depressing color. I'm a person who likes lots of color in her world. As you can imagine, I chose a ball of fiery colors fit for any gypsy passing through. Except they were for me. And was I ever glad I only wore a size 6 shoe--because creating those socks turned out to be a huge challenge.

Those needles themselves were miniscule--about the size of toothpicks. Worse yet, I had to use four of them at a time. Plus, the yarn was thin, reminding me of sewing thread. The thought flashed through my mind that perhaps I'd bitten off more than I could chew. Even so, I stuck with it. I knitted the ribbed top, then the leg section, then I turned the heel and finally, on toward the toe. It was a cumbersome, confusing job, but I stuck with it for the full six weeks. Half way through the once--a-week class, I did begin wondering why my sock didn't look like everyone else's but put it down to the lively colors of my yarn.

On the last day of  class, the the six of us sat around the table, the instructor at the head. One by one the teacher took each knitter's sock and held it up to show the finished product to the rest of us. We oo'd and aw'd over each sock.  Then she held up my sock and to my horror, announced to the class that I had somehow managed to knit a condom. The other ladies were so busy laughing (some almost hysterically) I could barely focus on my colorful contribution. But sure enough, that's exactly what my sock looked like. Why hadn't I seen it before?   I laughed with the other girls, then tossed the whole tangley mess in my yarn bag and went home to unravel the disaster so I could start over.

 It took me weeks of trying to get my sock to look like a sock, but I did finally accomplish the task. The boot socks got knitted; the troops wrote how warm they were and could I make some for their buddies who also had frozen feet. Now-a-days my socks are in great demand.  I tell you the truth, by now my family all wanted socks so they created a list with their name and shoe size, then hung it on my sewing room wall. Then they ploughed through my sock stash and put their names on the yarn they wanted.  Some wanted warm wool for winter; others, soft cotton for summer. They stand in line now to get them. And you know what? Nobody's  laughing any more.

Even Nurse Maryanan, Jim's Parkinson' physical therapist, asked for some socks and one weekend, when we were all up at our trailer near Julian, I knitted them up for her. She cared for Jim as though he was her own grandpa. How we love her. She was with us for two years before she left to join the military. She blamed her choice on us and when I asked why, she told us it was because she saw how much we loved our troops and she wanted to be part of them. Who would have ever have seen that coming? To date, she is still in the Army. We remain in touch.

Copyright by Sandra L Keith, 2011
Photos are the property of the author and may not be used without permission.


  1. i love getting socks from you :) it's totally one of my favorite things!

  2. Great story! And Nurse Maryann looks like a professional model!

  3. Oh my you are a fast knitter! Socks in a weekend?! I'm still at the socks-in-six weeks stage. I finally made a pair for my husband. Now he wants to only wear hand-made socks! I could not keep all those double-pointed needles in the socks, so now I use 2 circulars. Actually I use circulars for almost everything, they are good with children around because they don't fall out as easily.

    But my favorite part of your story is how your love inspired your husband's nurse to sign up for the army. That is beautiful!

    Your writing is also beautiful. You draw me in and I want to read more. Glad to have found you!

  4. I never thought of knitting socks for the troops. I'm going to start with two of my nephews and get socks to them right away!