The Sidewalk Sock Project

In the summer of 2014, I decided I wanted to learn to knit socks.

The thing about learning how to make something new is that it often takes a few tries to get it right. A problem I face all the time in my crafty pursuits is that I end up with way more finished products than I have room for. The initial fix was to give my projects away as gifts, although that got old pretty quickly too.

Around the same time, I was very involved in a homeless outreach program at my school. We sent groups downtown once or twice a week to hand out food to the homeless and attempt to interact with them, since most people wouldn’t give them the time of day. Through this program, I got to speak with a few people living on the streets of Vancouver. It surprised me that many of them rejected our offerings of food, saying that they had already eaten, didn’t want anymore granola bars, or couldn’t eat/chew them. When asked what we could do to help them, they told us that what they really appreciate that we can give is socks. It makes sense. Things like blankets and sleeping bags are bulky and expensive, so a small group like ourselves wouldn’t be able to help them in that sense, but socks are cheap and easy to distribute, and it can make all the difference when you’re out in the cold.

And so The Sidewalk Sock Project was born. This was a way I could learn to make socks, practice, and give them away for a good cause. I started by making a colorful range with the letters TSSP stitched on the bottom to sell to willing family members, friends, and friends of friends. With the profit from those sales, I purchased more supplies and knitted mass amounts of socks to give away to the homeless.

Basic socks are not difficult to make. I did find flaws in the first few versions but through trials and modifications I’m slowly improving my design. Among my difficulties were:

Tight cuffs–allow more yarn and cast on loosely

A hole in the ankles–when you’re done, use your needle to pull the threads and spread out the extra yarn along the chain (I have yet to find a way to avoid this hole in the first place)

Laddering (common in knitting in the round)–I think this is more of a technique flaw that goes away over time with practice. Washing the socks in the laundry also helps even out the tension so I haven’t had significant problems, but I find it to be less of a problem now that I’m speed knitting socks without even thinking about it.

I did try making a more complicated pair of socks, but those were more trouble than they were worth. These simple socks are now an ongoing project for me in between periods of inspiration. I managed to raise way more money than I anticipated, and I had promised that 100% of the proceeds would go towards hand-knitted socks for the homeless (minus a few blankets), thus it seems like I’ll be knitting socks for many more years to come. I have become so good at it now though that I can make them while watching TV and really only checking in to what I’m doing every so often. It keeps my itchy fingers busy when my brain needs to relax!

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