November 16, 2006

A sock a day?

I gathered, as I read some of the comments yesterday about my intention to knit a sock a day for some time to come, that there were those among you, my esteemed colleagues, who felt that this statement spoke to a certain "je ne sais quoi" in the area of my sanity.

There were also those of you that came right out and called me nuts, a few who wondered how many hours were in my days now that I can warp the time space continuum, and one person who felt compelled to send me a charming private note asking me to kindly seek help for my knitting addiction before I hurt myself.

The writer, whom I feel absolutely certain is not a knitter (and must really not read this blog at all), urged me to (and I quote) "try and get out a little more". When I got up off the floor - where luckily, my as yet unpacked suitcase cushioned my fall (get out a little more indeed.) I got to thinking about this sock a day plan. When I was younger my grandfather used to say that if one person told you that you were wrong, you could safely ignore them. If two people mentioned it, then you had to check, and that if three people brought something to your attention then, no matter how convinced you were of your were likely wrong. This was more than three people, so I did a little research.

The first thing I did was stop and notice that I didn't need a whole lot of research. I knew a sock a day was possible. I did it.

(Admittely, this pair is a's only kids socks.)

Then I did it again.


Full size adult socks (Fleece Artist Merino Sock yarn, my pattern, not theirs) A full one knit yesterday and a half one for today, which is only half over so I think I'm on target there.

Moreover, while I definitely spent a good chunk of my time over the last couple of days knitting and/or thinking about knitting (which is sort of my job as well as what I do anyway) I didn't think that was a problem, since I also fed my kids, went to the grocery store, made a nice dinner, did two loads of laundry, spoke to the other people who live here and went to Knit Night with my buddies. In short, I had a pretty normal day...except that whenever possible, if my hands were free for even a moment...
I knit. I multi-tasked.

Granted, I've got 34 years of knitting experience and I'm on the quick side of normal, but I still didn't think that this whole sock a day thing was so crazy. I looked to history for a little support.
I totally found it. How about this from the Icelandic Knitting Website:

By the eighteenth century, an Icelandic servant girl was expected to be able to produce one long stocking, or to card. spin. and knit a pair of short socks each day.

Dudes... card spin and knit? Remember too that these people had other stuff going on. Totally. They couldn't order pizza to get it done, their husbands didn't do any laundry to help free up knitting time, they couldn't buy butter already churned to save time....The servant girl wasn't employed for the purpose of turning out stockings. She was doing her knitting in her idle "extra" moments, like me and you. She multitasked.

In Folk Socks (one of my most favourite knitting books of all time) Nancy Bush writes:

In 1595 the collectors of Aulnage (excise duty for woolen cloth) reasoned that one knitter made two pairs of stockings per week.

For this to be the average...and remembering that a stocking goes to the knee (or better) and is therefore probably three socks to a stocking - knitting wise, this means that most knitters would easily have been turning out the modern equivalent of a sock a day while meeting their other responsibilities.

How about Richard Rutt in A History of Hand Knitting:

Moreover, it is a mistake to think that the early knitting -frame quickly speeded up the bulk production of stockings. A framework knitter working hard might produce ten pairs a week, while a good hand knitter could make six.

Six pairs of stockings in a week? Twelve stockings? Admittedly, Bishop Rutt is here speaking of professional knitters working at it for a living, but seriously...If I lifted all burdens from you for eight hours a day and let you work at stocking knitting for a living...would you be producing six pair a week? I'd be gibbering in a corner.

How the hell did they do it?


Image from Folk Socks

This is the chief employment of the women. The dexterity and expedition with which they dispatch a pair of stockings are almost incredible. To them light and darkness are indifferent. A woman seen walking without a stocking in her hand is stigmatized with idleness.

Richard Valpy 1754-1836
(Describing Jersey, in Richard Rutt's History of Handknitting)

It's incredible to think of. Children as young as four were being taught to knit at this time in England, and certainly by the time that they were seven or eight they were expected to be making stockings in a way that contributed to the families income. Women, men, children...all knitting away at stockings, producing certainly far greater than my measly sock a day while chopping wood for the fire, baking bread, sewing and mending clothes, knitting all the other items that the family needed to keep warm, caring for their children and in general leading an extraordinarily difficult life with far less leisure time.

Contrasting that with my trifling idea to knit a sock a day while watching Lost on DVDs and I'm not sure you have a knitting obsessed manic on her way to a mental breakdown or that I'm even perhaps headed for some sort of vague incident concerning the men with the huggy coats and a sedative blowdart....

As a matter of fact, historically speaking? I might be a slacker.

Posted by Stephanie at November 16, 2006 2:35 PM