Friday, 13 March 2009

Darning Socks

Did you see the TV adaptations of Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallender novels, with Kenneth Branagh as the Swedish detective? I found the gritty realism set against the beautiful flat landscape around Ystad quite compelling - so like the Cambridgeshire fen landscape of my childhood and my dreams. I'm looking forward to more of them, and Susanna has found a new literary enthusiasm in Wallender. A couple of days ago she read me this little extract from The Fifth Woman. Wallender is talking to his grown-up daughter Linda.

Linda poured herself some tea and suddenly asked him why it was so difficult to live in Sweden.
“Sometimes I think it’s because we’ve stopped darning our socks,” Wallander said. She gave him a perplexed look. “I mean it,” he continued. “When I was growing up, Sweden was still a country where people darned their socks. I even learned how to do it in school myself. Then suddenly one day it was over. Socks with holes in them were thrown out. No-one bothered to repair them. The whole society changed. ‘Wear it out and toss it’ was the only rule that applied. As long as it was just a matter of our socks, the change didn’t make much difference. But then it started to spread, until finally it became a kind of invisible moral code. I think it changed our view of right and wrong, of what you were allowed to do to other people and what you weren’t.”

My mother, God bless her, kept up the old ways - she was a champion knitter right up to her death, and for every family birthday, Christmas and Easter she produced new pairs of lovely woolly socks. I still have one pair left which I wear in my hiking boots, still intact because I don't use them very often. As a teenager and young adult it was an everyday task to darn socks, or sew a button on a shirt, but as Mankell observes like everyone else I have long since stopped doing so.

It's increasingly clear that our throw-away culture and the attitudes that go with it are unsustainable. We throw away things, and we throw away people too, where once we mended broken things, and cared for broken people. Is Wallander right to detect a link between all that and ceasing to darn?


Anonymous said...

I still darn socks but it's a skill that most people don't have. I was lucky enough to be taught how to sew but very many people weren't and it amazes me that people can't even sew on a button. We need to return to learning these basic skills before we can take the next step of returning to mending and repurposing. I think the will is there among a lot of people.

Joc Sanders said...

If you still darn socks, you must have proper ones! I can't conceive of darning the slightly stretchy machine-made cotton/synthetic-mix socks I now use - the darn would pull out immediately.
The poor may have to return to these ancient skills of make-do-and-mend in this depression, but I do think the rest of us need to recover the old virtue of frugality to keep them company. I hope you're right that the will is there for it!

Anonymous said...

I only darn William's thick woollen walking socks which wouldn't need done if nail clippers were more often used and the socks didn't cost an arm and a leg or ones of an unusual colour which I don't want rid of. My annoyance comes not so much with throwing out things like socks etc but that people will throw out a shirt because a couple of buttons have come loose. I took the elastic out of the wrist bands of a jacket belonging to a teenage girl from across the road a couple of months ago. She was going to throw out a new jacket because the cuffs were too tight. I've seen her wearing it since. It was a very simple job but she didn't know how to go about it. A little simple needlework could save a lot of waste and money.