Once a darner, always a darner

Nearly 200 readers declare sock-darning pride

December 20, 2010|By Dan Rodricks

With one exception — the woman who snapped that she no longer darns socks because "women have better things to do" — everyone who called or wrote to me on Sunday seemed quite pleasant, even charming. Each was a proud darner of socks: frugal menders and fixers who hate to throw things away and who refuse to participate in our disposable society.

"I've been a darner all my life, I even darn towels," said Linda Foster, one of nearly 200 readers who responded to my survey questions: Does anyone darn socks in 21st Century America? Has anyone taken it up — or gone back to it — since the Great Recession?

Pundits have speculated that the economic collapse and credit crisis could foster a new age of thrift in the United States. But are we adjusting to the shocks of the Great Recession by reverting to the customs of the Great Depression, to the point of saving socks with needle, thread and darning egg? I decided this might be a good measure of a trend, so I asked the question.

My conclusion: People who are darning today have done so for years. People might be using less plastic than they did before the Great Recession, but they don't seem to be using more thread on socks.

As I suspected, most darners are men and women of a certain age.

"I darn my own socks, thank you very much," said Clarence Morey, 81 years old and one of several men who responded to my survey.

"I am 84," said Lucille Coleman. "I have a darning egg and I've been using it since I was a teenager."

"I started darning in the service," said Andy Schatz, 77. "I still darn socks. My family thinks I'm a little goofy."

"I started darning in 1928, and I'm still darning," said Leon Greenebaum.

"I can't help myself," said Chrysanthe Pappas. "I'm a child of the Depression."

But I heard from a handful of youngsters, too — women born after World War II.

"I'm a darner," said Linda Brown. "I never throw things out that I like. It hasn't been a way of life, but I just don't like a disposable society. I guess that goes against the grain for a baby boomer."

"I'm 44 years old and I have four kids," said Wendy Hallameyer. "Yes, I still darn socks. No, it doesn't have a whole lot to do with the Great Recession. If we stopped throwing things away and valued things, we wouldn't be such a consumer-based society."

Please note one Gen-Yer heard from, Kate Kernan of Ocean City. "I'll be seeing my 25th year on this planet on Jan. 7 and I am a self-proclaimed darner," she wrote. "I find myself darning a couple things every year. Whether they be a favorite pair of knitted gloves, woolen knee-highs, or a boucle sweater that's seen better days, I find darning to be a saving grace in the winter months. … Something as simple as darning a sock serves to support the 'waste not, want not' mindset that, in these times of green living and environmental focus, should be the standard."

On Saturday, I spoke with a man who might be the last maker of darning eggs in the United States. Doug Frederickson is the owner of PineCraft in the Oregon town of Milwaukie. PineCraft's biggest customer is Crafts Americana Group, an online supplier of knitting and art supplies. To make their product, Mr. Frederickson and his one employee attach a four-inch Shaker peg to a sphere of wood shaped like an egg. That instrument is used by darners to hold a sock in place while a hole is stitched. Mr. Frederickson's shop makes between 2,500 and 3,000 darning eggs per year.

A few readers pointed out that a darning egg does not a darner make. Some darners stretch a sock over a spent standard light bulb before they start stitching. It provides the "perfect shape," said Sue Carbaugh, and gives the bulb and sock a second life.

Carol Powell agreed but expressed concern that this fine, frugal tradition may end as the coiled-tube compact fluorescent light bulb replaces the pear-shaped incandescent.

Come now, my dear woman. The CFLs are more fuel-efficient, and if all you light bulb darners bought wooden, made-in-the-U.S.A. darning eggs from Doug Frederickson, maybe the guy could hire another couple of employees next year.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is the host of Midday on WYPR, 88.1 FM. His e-mail is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

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