(Note from Robbyn/thebackforty: Today’s wonderful guest post comes from the writers at the homesteading blog Grow The Changes. Welcome!)
For a change, when you sort through the second hand clothing bins, or the bottom of your own drawers and closet for unwanted clothing, look upon this under-utilized resource, not as clothing gone out of style, or otherwise discarded, but as material for re-purposed sewing projects. Instead of choosing articles for their style and size, scout for fabrics, textures and colors. It will open a whole new world in your favorite second hand shop. I have re-purposed second-hand tops and sweaters primarily for socks, although I have also made some gloves, neck warmers, and am in search of the perfect over-sized sweater to transform into long-johns for next winter.
I used to knit all of our winter socks, but both my time and the wool is expensive, and I figured I was spending $3 and 3 hours of my time for each pair, which would inevitably get holes within a few months. And I was still purchasing flimsy summer work socks. Lamenting about this one day, it was my husband who looked at my sewing machine in the corner, and asked why I couldn’t just sew up some work socks from old sweaters. At first, I thought it would not work, they would have no heel and would slip down, and the seam would be irritating. But I am terrible at darning, and I had 3 or 4 pairs of hand-knit wool socks with gaping holes from being over worked, and we need some pretty warm wool socks to make it through our winters. So I dove into the bag of unwanted clothes at the back of the closet and pulled out two medium weight, tightly knitted wool/synthetic blend sweaters, and made the first prototypes. The first thing we discovered was that the seams did not bother a bit, and after making a few pairs, I started to see how I could make these tube socks so that they would not slip and sag.
My next trip to the second hand store was in search of the perfect winter sock material, and I found that the best socks were made from out-dated ski sweaters, the kind with a very tight stitch to prevent wind from penetrating. These knee-hi winter socks stood the test of time and work, outlasting my own knitted wool socks because I never had the patience to knit socks with such tiny stitches.
Now take some measurements of the feet and calves the socks are intended for. Measure around the foot, ankle, and the thickest part of the calf. Then measure the length along the bottom of the foot, from the toe to the heel and up behind the heel, taking note of the length to reach ankle, mid-calf, and knee-hi. For example, my measurements are 14″ long for ankle socks, 19″ long for mid-calf socks, and 24″ long for knee-hi socks. With these measurements you will be able to decide what to do with your fabrics. If your tops are long enough, and you want to make calf-hi or knee-hi socks, then you will want to cut strips wide enough to fit the circumference of the calf. If you are making ankle-hi socks, the strips can be cut to the width of the foot.
One trick I have learned after making a few pairs of these tube socks is that a good fit is particularly important to preventing the sock from sagging since they lack a pre-formed heel. This is the reason I choose stretchy fabrics. The other trick is that the stretch in the fabric will be taken into account in the measurement. But as long as you start with a wide enough strip of fabric, you can narrow it down after trying them on, to make a good fit. When I come across a particularly stretchy fabric, I measure the fabric when stretched out, rather than relaxed.
One XL men’s top will usually make four pairs of calf or knee-hi socks. Use the waist and wrist edges, whether ribbed or hemmed, as the finished edge of the sock. Measuring across the body of the shirt or sweater, plan out where to cut out your socks, depending on your foot/calf measurements. Below is an XL men’s fleece sweatshirt, measuring 30 inches across the body. This is an ideal sweater to make two pairs of knee-hi socks from the body, and one mid-calf pair from the sleeves, and one ankle-hi pair from the flanks under the armholes.
For the sleeves, measure the wrist opening and make sure it is wide enough for your foot or calf, if it is too narrow for a calf-hi sock, you can make an ankle sock, or cut the original hem until you reach a point in the sleeve where it is wide enough, and sew a new hem for the finished sock. In this picture I left all of the trimmings, showing where I cut. The wedges on the outer edge of the sleeves are scraps, and where I cut the narrow strip along the armhole are also are scraps.
Today’s guest writers post under the pen names Freija and Beringian Fritillary and can be found at their wonderful blog Grow The Changes. On their homestead, as in their blog, they practice and advocate human-scaled food systems, with an intimate hands-on approach, as a way for everyone on this earth to be nutritiously and sustainably fed, from the first world to the third world.