Darning

There is a joke in my house around Christmastime. One year, my sister came home from out west (British Columbia) and had apparently developed a hole in one of her socks. She wanted to go out to get some more, and for some reason the trip was particularly inconvenient. (Not that sock-shopping is ever convenient…) But I remember asking her (or maybe it was mom who asked her), “We have needle and wool. Why don’t you just darn it.?” She looked at me quite seriously and said,

“Darn it. I have a hole in my sock.” Ba dum dum.

My father used to do a lot of the darning when I was a kid; he used a little darning mushroom to support the socks, and sewed patches where his socks had worn through. (These days I use an old burned out light bulb.) He had particularly good socks. These days most of my socks are more the typical $1 per pair: the wear-through and throw-away kind. But I do have some that were a good $10 a pair, that I use on days that are particularly cold or I have to do a lot of walking. (Canadian winters are bad: combined with some of our distances becomes terrible. Do I sound like Dad yet?) I do get holes in them. So I learned to darn.

I’ve discovered it’s rather therapeutic. It’s something to do while watching TV that does not distract from the show, but feels productive when done. (The picture above was taken by my husband in one of my bouts of intense darning.) It can extend the life of a pair of socks significantly, and I find myself applying the darning paradigm to other items that are a bit worn out. From an environmental perspective (never mind my personal budget), it is generally much more effective to fix something that has a slight flaw than to send it to a landfill and use resources to make/buy a new one. Consider the packaging that one is ultimately forced to buy, the environmental argument is even stronger. But as the decades have progressed, many people have lost the skills needed to do minor repairs: until today, when “repair” is a almost bad word, and it it so expensive to do so (buying materials, finding someone who can do it) that it has almost become cheaper to just get a new one… every time.

I was talking about this at a party just last night: about the shift in our Western economic model. Over the last several decades (much of my life) we’ve shifted into a method of using something once, or a few times until it wears a bit, and then throwing it out. Planned obsolescence was a concept introduced in the 30s, and reached an art form in the 60s. Today it is a standard method of production. (The Economist, 2008) Every year my camera comes out with a new version, each with slightly higher resolution; every year new versions of mobile devices come out and everyone has to have one. Smart-phones are the same. Sometime I feel I’m the only one with immunity against the need to purchase.

This works great for industries and business, but not so much for the private citizen: who must react to the planned obsolescence of products we need and rely on. But as economics become tighter, I think we are waking up to reality. Unfortunately we all look back to the 50s and 60s, when everything was new and flashy and throw-away, with a certain nostalgia: even if it is totally false. We want to go back to a time of simplicity: even if it was only “simple” for us because we were children. We were protected, even if we didn’t know it. We’re grown now. We need to instead look forward at the future: re-learning how to work with our world and with each other. We must learn again how to darn our socks, fix our cars, cook our meals and repair our culture.


This post was originally published on Gather.com, and is reproduced here (primarily to try to keep my writing in one spot).

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