An ode to woollen socks

The allure of warmth and sunshine last Saturday proved too tempting. So, hubby and I threw on our summer clothes and hopped in the boat for a little R&R. Though the air temperature was a balmy 73 degrees, the lake was 50 degrees. Not freezing, but quite uncomfortable when you have to weigh the anchor by hand because *someone* snapped the anchor line with the prop. Ahem.

Anchor maintenance aside, it gets awfully wet on a boat. I dressed in my quick drying pants (thank goodness for those, really) and a dark shirt to get the best drying power out of the sun. Threw on my breathable hat and sunglasses and I was ready to go!

All was well as we puttered around the lake. I got a little bit of knitting done, but mostly I was messing with the anchor or otherwise getting myself wet and filthy. But there were a few speedboaters there who decided that the speed and safety rules did not apply to them, and continuously caused pretty serious wake around the shore and the many anchored fishing boats. (If you’re a boater, please be considerate. Really. There are people like me out there who will report you. just sayin’.) When you’re in a little boat like ours, the wake of a boat speeding by a dozen yards from you is unavoidable and pretty rough. After about an hour, we realized we’d taken on quite a bit of water from all the wake. I made hubby chug his water bottle, and then cut the bottle in half to use as a bailing bucket. The water was pretty gross – the recent storms had made the water murky and there was a good bit of debris in it. Then there was… well, what happens when you go fishing.

So how was it that we could be standing around in all this 50 degree water, me in my trail runners and he in his loafers, and not notice? Wool socks!

We were both wearing socks that I’d made. Despite the weather, I wear wool socks all year long. (He does too, mostly, if he wears socks at all!) They are so insulating, so absorbent, that neither of us noticed our wet shoes and socks. Thank goodness we hadn’t worn our cotton socks. We would have had pruny, cold, blistered feet by then.

There is a phrase often used in the outdoor-enthusiast community: cotton kills. While cotton is a wonderfully soft and light fabric, it doesn’t allow moisture to evaporate rapidly. This might not be a big deal at the office or on the golf course, but when you are in the great outdoors, this property can become deadly (or at least very uncomfortable). Imagine you’re backpacking in heavy terrain wearing a cotton shirt. Through the afternoon, you work up a pretty good sweat under your pack. When the weather cools a little, little breezes make that wet fabric feel pretty good. But as night descends, that wet fabric won’t dry quickly – and it will become extremely cold, taking your body heat with it. In extreme environments where there is a great temperature shift, this can lead to hypothermia. This is also true in snowy areas.

In contrast, wool acts as an insulator. Wool can retain about 1/3 of its weight in water without feeling particularly wet, and even when damp will still be insulating. It traps air between fibers, and it’s that warm air that keeps you warm. Wool is less likely to transfer its moisture to your skin, resulting in much less chafing and blistering than you would get from wet cotton. Wool is also great because, in the event that you’re drying your wet self by the fire and an ember lands on it, it won’t burn. When the ignition source is removed it self-extinguishes. So, you have a better chance of escaping unscathed from a wool burn.

For these reasons, wool is absolutely my fabric of choice for outdoor activities. Don’t get me wrong, I wear cotton pretty much every day (my skirt today is cotton!) and love it for its near-weighlessness and versatility. But if I’m out on the boat, or the dock, or the mountain, or… wherever, you can bet I’ll be wearing wool!

There are a lot of synthetic fabrics available now for those who enjoy the great outdoors but have wool allergies. As long as the fabric is both insulating and designed to wick away moisture from your skin, it’ll be appropriate for outdoor activities. (Things like workout wear and bike clothes are often made of these fabrics.) My next big adventure in sewing is to track down some merino wool jersey and make my own base layers. That should be fun, because Merino base layers are expensive, and I need a lot of them!

Well, all of that is a roundabout way of saying that wool socks are really so much more than a fashion statement or funky accessory. They are a wonderful year-round garment that will be worth their weight in gold when you’re caught in the snow, a freak summer rainstorm, the middle of the desert, or even the mall.

For great summer socks, try the Spring in Your Step Anklets or the Fancy Feet Anklets kits. These feature easy one-ball anklets that will go great with your summer shoes, and keep your tootsies warm in the cold office! For great quick thick socks, try the Speedy Sport Socks.

For more traditional socks, try the Sock Cocktails, or any of our great free sock patterns.

As someone with a healthy appreciation for wool socks, I can’t say enough about how awesome they are. If you haven’t tried socks before but are curious, now would be a great time to learn. Socks are a great portable project – just right for travelling and hot days (I’ll be knitting socks in the desert next week… can’t wait!). If you’re a veteran sock knitter, cheers! You already know why I’m so smitten. 😉

Now, off to go knit on my current project… what else, but more socks!