Handmade socks are, in no particular order: to be knitted by a log fire, or the ticking of central heating, under a blanket, in close proximity to a hot mug of chocolate, orange spiced tea or mulled wine, they are wrapped in brown paper and hidden under the tree, falling down inside your wellies as you stomp through mulched orange leaves, or like me, knitted groggily at 6.30am on the Metropolitan line as I journey for 4 hours a day travelling to the studios 5 days a week. Suffice it to say, my socks are coming on quickly.
The funnest of commutes is when I unknowingly sit down opposite a fellow knitter. Then the fun really starts. This can go one of two ways: the kindred spirit, appreciative, let's knit together my brother sort of journey. Or, more testing but often more rewarding, the competitive journey. Having sat down opposite an extremely tall, very hip chap complete with royal blue braces and trousers tucked into his matching royal blue socks (think the Fresh Prince meets Hoxton), you can imagine my complete joy when he pulls out a giant snood in progress on circular needles knitted with a chunky, blue and green twisted wool.
I very slowly reached into my bag and pulled out my black, grey and blue self striping sock on 4 double pointed needles (the traditional enemy of the lazy circular needle), and set to knitting at a much faster rate than I am used to or at all comfortable with. We did not acknowledge each other, steam coming out of my ears as I struggled to match his smooth, easy, calm knitting whilst I frantically clattered all over the place. Onlookers watched with amusement, I kept sneaking glances at my opponent's progress whilst he remained utterly composed throughout. My socks advanced the same amount in that short 15 minute leg of the journey as they normally would in an entire hour long sleepy slog, so in some ways it was a success. As I got up to continue my journey, almost unable to contain my excitement at finally sharing a knowing smile, a wink or an appreciative nod to my knitting partner, he did not look up, he continued to knit as though nothing had happened and only smirked gently into his snood as I stepped off the train. What a pro.
Knitted socks are the corner stone of my handmade christmas presents this year. As difficult as they are to master, it is a life skill. Everyone finds comfort in a soft, new pair of socks; everyone wears not one, but two- every day! They seem to have garnered a bit of a bad reputation during the festive season as the unwanted present, the 'Dad' present, or the dull stocking filler. But think twice this Christmas when you wander past the knitting stall at the local craft market, or the expensive 'handmade in Peru' boutique pair in the window of that shop, or whilst unwrapping the old familiar sock shaped package from Nan. They will have taken many hours to create, they will probably have travelled all over the place as a work in progress, they will have been passed round at work proudly, and caused a few sweats when Downton Abbey got really dramatic and suddenly half your instep's fallen off. But consider buying handmade over machine/mass made, appreciating the usually unappreciated gift, and spending that little bit extra in support of this old craft. And if you spot a tiny mend or a little imperfection, blame a bump in the Metropolitan line. Or Julian Fellowes.