My son came up to me the other day and asked why someone in a book he was reading said "darn it." He's into word derivations these days, and we're learning all sorts of things, but this one I didn't have to look up -- I liked that, as it made me feel smarter than a nine year old for once! We did talk a little about how "darn it" can be used to replace a more offensive term, but then we concentrated on the concept of mending or darning clothing and socks.
(keep reading; there's lots more)
Darning's one of those skills that most people have pretty much abandoned over the last half-century or so (and yes, I definitely count myself among those people). Clothing and socks have become so cheap, and time so precious, that it simply hasn't seemed worth it for most people to learn the intricate details of darning. Heck, I've amazed my friends with my ability to apply a patch or a button -- fixing a hole in a sock or a mitten is so far beyond their scope of imagination that they wouldn't even ever contemplate it. But several factors are leading to a resurgence of the traditional skill of darning.
First is the fact that so many people have rediscovered the joys of hand knitting -- and when you spend so much time making a masterpiece, you're not going to want to throw it away if it gets worn out (or, heaven forbid, moth eaten). Instead, you'll want to learn how to fix that hole!
Secondly is the realization that everything has an inherent cost -- and not just the money you pay to buy or make it, but the cost to the environment, the people who produce it, the resources used in its production and distribution, etc. Along with that realization comes an acknowledgment that things simply cannot be "disposable", that we have a responsibility to extend their useful life as long as possible.
Third is making the most of what you have -- and in a world where I endeavor to only purchase fairly produced, sustainable items, I don't necessarily have as much as I would if I bought the $3 shirts you can find everywhere when you don't care about the ethics and environmental aspects. If you pay a fair price for a gorgeous pair of handknit alpaca socks (like the ones keeping my tootsies warm today), you can't necessarily easily replace them should your toe get a snag. You can, however, fairly quickly repair them ... and keep wearing them for another year or ten!
And fourth, of course, is simple economics -- regardless of how much money or time you've spent on anything, regardless of how much money or time you may have, it only makes sense to save both money and time whenever possible.
The old expression "a stitch in time saves nine" exists for a reason -- it's a lot easier to fix a small snag or worn spot than a big one, so I encourage you to start now! Here are some very good tutorials about darning socks and other knit items (and you can, of course, find all sorts of information about patching and other mending online should you want to do that too, which I highly recommend):
How to darn a sock from eHow
How to darn a sock, complete with a demonstration on a mitten -- and you'll finally get to see what a darning egg is used for! I found this amazing for some reason -- reading this and looking at the pictures really helped me "get it."
Step-by-step directions, complete with cartoons.
a video on YouTube showing how to darn socks using a darning mushroom, for the visual learners among us.
As you've seen, darning doesn't require socks -- it's useful for any sort of knit. Mittens, sweaters, scarves, blankets, and the like. Socks, mittens, and anything curved will definitely benefit from a darning egg, a darning mushroom, an old incandescent lightbulb (though I'd always be afraid of breaking one), or something similarly shaped to work on. It'll help the stitches sit right, and the end results feel right. It's also invaluable for closing sock toes using the Kitchener Stitch. Should you decide you want a darning egg of your very own, they're easy enough to find with an internet search.
Okay, so even with all my enthusiasm, you're still not convinced you want to start darning socks (though I can't imagine how that could be), yet you have mismatched, holey, and otherwise undesirable socks sitting around that you just can't throw out. What to do with them? Fear not, for it's Tara and the Amazing Internet (Wikihow and Instructables) to the rescue. (In my spare time, I think I'll start a band called Tara and the Amazing Internet. How could I let a name like that go to waste?) Here are some ideas:
Make Sock Sacks, which are especially sweet when made from patterned baby and kid socks. Somehow I'd never thought of these, but now I can't wait to get home and make holiday gift bags from socks -- how much easier could it possibly be???
Make a Sock Doll -- this one really impressed me, for some reason!
Going along with the sock doll, try making a Sock Monkey, which is a favorite of young and old alike, or make a Sock Skeleton which is much like a Sock Monkey except quite a bit creepier.
This one's more silly than anything else, but you can always make a plant hanger from old socks -- I could see those being interesting party favors, if nothing else, but I'd want to find a nontoxic paint for waterproofing! Winnie complains that there's no picture of the sock plant hangers, but I suspect that's a deliberate omission.
Make the ubiquitous Sock Puppets, which kids love regardless of how simple the puppets may look. After all, it's not the puppet, it's the person behind the puppet who gives it life! A bag of sock puppets makes an absolutely splendid gift for a favorite little one, sure to be played with and remembered for years to come. (If you want to get a bit fancier, you can make an LED-eyed Sock Puppet.)
Make Rice Socks for yourself and other people in pain who would benefit from warm or cool compresses. What they lack in looks they make up in comfort. (You can also make Microwavable Mitten Warmers -- same concept, but smaller and oh-so-useful in the wintertime. Great stocking stuffers and white elephant gifts, too, if you're into that sort of thing.)
Catnip toys are another easy, quick way to use old socks to make goodies that will definitely be appreciated.
Here's a nice long list of ways to repurpose old socks; there's got to be at least one in there to strike your fancy.
I currently use an old toddler sock as an iPod cover -- no link for that one; I just didn't want to pay for a cover but did want to protect my iPod, so I dug through the aforementioned bag of old socks until I found a sock of the right size and tucked my iPod safely inside. It's happy, I'm happy, and the sock now has a new job. Someday I may embellish the sock a bit, but realistically that falls pretty low on my list of priorities.