Sock and awe

So…socks, right? Just about everybody wears them, especially in Montreal this time of year.

(Note: this is probably not going to be one of those “useful” or “coherent” posts, because I didn’t get hardly any sleep last night. Just FYI.)

Anyway, socks. I seem to be getting low on socks without giant holes in them, and while I do darn my own socks of course, sooner or later they get so patchy as to be unwearable. At which point they can be reused as dustrags or (if they’re made of actual wool rather than cotton and manky elastic) disassembled for their component yarn. But I still need new socks.

So obviously going to Wal-Mart and buying socks made by Cambodian children out of pesticide-ridden cotton grown on former rainforest land is not the best option here.

Can I get Canadian-made socks? Not at any store within five kilometres of my house, certainly, according to my unscientific and time-consuming survey. Let’s do some googling. The first result for “socks made in Quebec” is some children’s book; the second is The Great Canadian Sox Co. Inc. Hey, that sounds promising. Locally made socks, that’s good, right? Let’s look around their site a bit more. And…their yarn is made by Monsanto and Dupont. Huh. Maybe I’ll give that one a pass.

Okay, back to The Google. Sock monkey doll kit…no. Les Bas de Julie…okay, that’s better. Hand-finished wool socks made in Waterloo, Quebec. Definite bonus points for being local and non-sweatshop. Doesn’t say where the wool is gotten from – it says “Shetland wool” but I think that’s the breed of sheep? I don’t know much about sheep. I could phone them and find out, but…the socks are $34.95 a pair. I need at least five new pairs of socks at the moment, so that’s going to be a problem on a part-time paycheck.

The thing is, I don’t actually know what’s a reasonable price for socks. I mean, I know how much you generally pay for them: you can get made-in-China-and-sold-in-a-plastic-wrapper socks about five for $12 at the PharmaPrix. But I don’t know what the materials cost of a pair of socks is, I don’t know how long a pair takes to make (at least, on a machine; by hand it takes frickin’ days), I don’t know how much skilled labour it takes to operate a sock-knitting machine…There’s a lot about the sock industry that is a mystery to me.

Back to Google. BonjourQuebec plugging Les Bas de Julie to tourists. More sock monkeys on eBay. Le Plein Air d’Abord, a shop in Quebec City. Well, they do sell socks, let’s see who their suppliers are. Acorn and Smartwool. Acorn’s website does list “Animal-Friendly” and “Eco-Friendly” collections, but the Eco-Friendly set (“featuring all-natural, renewable materials that are sustainably grown, biodegradeable and organic”) doesn’t include any socks. They don’t say anything on their website about where their socks are made. But they’re made of “fleece”, which is one of those things that everyone knows what it looks like but if you ask them what it’s actually made of, they’ll go “duh…goats maybe?” Actually there are two things called “fleece”, one of which is unprocessed wool (like the Golden Fleece); the other one is made of petroleum. These socks look like the second kind. I think maybe I don’t want extra-flammable socks.

Smartwool looks better; their website has a lot of stuff about sustainability and caring for the planet. They sponsor a lot of programs about conservation, wilderness education for urban kids, bicycling, and so on. I would feel good about giving money to this company. They do, however, import their wool from New Zealand. Admittedly, they talk a lot about animal welfare and take great pains to assure customers that these are very happy sheep, but still…New Zealand to Quebec, that’s a long way even direct, let alone with detours to wherever the socks are actually made, which I couldn’t find.

Googleoogleoogle…ballet slippers on shopbot, Winter Clothing in 19th Century Quebec Thematic Tours, some article that I have to sign up for an account to read, so I won’t. That’s page one. I’ve now spent about forty-five minutes on this, and seeing as I’m a child of the internet age, that’s, like, forever.

Maybe it’s time to look at some other options. What about used clothing stores? Okay, I do buy most of my jeans at the Salvation Army, likewise my current winter coat, etc., but I think I’m going to have to draw the line at socks. (And well before underwear. Okay, I don’t know if they actually sell underwear, but they sell swimwear, which is basically the same thing. Ew.) There’s something kind of gross about wearing socks that used to be somebody else’s. Possibly I’m being overly squeamish on this, but you know what, I’m okay with that.

Right, so if that’s no good, what about making my own socks? Ontario and Quebec certainly have quite a number of sheep farms, some of which sell wool, and my local yarn store could probably order me some locally made yarn.

Digression: Rose Haven, back in my parents’ hometown in Ontario, sells locally made yarn with adorable photos of baby sheep on the label, and you can also order lamb meat direct from them. Which made some people squeamish, but seriously, folks, where do you think it comes from? (I’m not vegetarian – tried it a few times, ended up in a bad way medically each time, can’t figure out why and please no comments about how the world will be saved by the miracle of flax seed oil or something, because I have talked to dieticians and so on about it and that isn’t it.) Anyway my point is, if you can’t bear to think about the idea that your lamb roast used to be a cute little furry critter skipping about the meadows, perhaps you should not be eating it, right? Either embrace your ancestral omnivorousness or don’t, but don’t delude yourself. Cause that’s just annoying.

Meh, that aside, it’s a lot easier to find local yarn than local finished socks. So this looks like the best option so far, in terms of locality, non-exploitation of workers, and using natural renewable resources. (Yes, I know animal farming is far less efficient and eco-friendly than plants. But try growing cotton up here.)

The only other downside is the time it takes. I knitted a pair of socks for a friend this past summer, and it took I would say about 10 hours per sock (I’m a slow knitter though). So, 20 hours a pair, and about $15 for the yarn…suddenly that $34.95 up above starts to look pretty reasonable actually.

On the other hand, it’s not like I don’t have the time. I’ve got a half-hour commute every morning and evening, and even if I only get a seat on the metro about half the time, that’s still some good knitting time, there. Plus it happens to be something I actually enjoy and find relaxing, which is helpful.

So, it looks like the project for this month is sock knitting. I’ll let y’all know how it goes.


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