Nestled between Russia and Sweden lies a country unlike any other. It has one of the finest education systems in the world, and for a good reason: Kids are taught to knit woollen socks at school. Kids are also taught to play the recorder, an elementary version of the flute. Before the 90s recession spoilt the party, the state was so kind as to let everybody keep their recorders when they finished their primary school. It gives me great comfort to know that at any given moment the entire population of Finland would be able to perform a skull-splittingly shrill rendition of a song about buying sausages.
The genius who introduced sock-knitting in the Finnish curriculum, however, deserves a medal and then some. If we were to rate the importance of, say, being able to name exotic insects never seen North of Tropic or perform apparatus gymnastics, I’m telling you that being able to knit your own socks ranks pretty high up there. While aware that for many people knitting woollen socks evoke feelings closer to horror than hygge, I still urge you to revive your skills and give it a go.
Woollen socks are the most versatile item of clothing you will own. You’ll wear them all year round (NB. Nordics and Japanese take their shoes off once at home. Woollen socks come in particularly handy in these places). Want to relax on the couch, yet want to keep your toes warm? Long haul flight? Crazy air-conditioning at a hotel? Hiking boots chafing into your feet? Woollen socks is your answer.
You might need to refresh your memory by watching a video and/or reading good instructions. I am linking some useful sources here and here.
Then the most important thing: Yarn.
Even the first test-round pair deserves to be knitted using quality 100% wool. Trying your luck with acrylic or polyester yarn will leave you with a pitiful, sweaty mess and put you off knitting forever. When you reach cruising altitude, start experimenting with alpaca and cashmere. Yes, cashmere will cost a King’s ransom, but will still be cheaper than the posh socks you can buy in shops. Never skimp on the quality of the yarn. Always buy the best you can afford. We are not talking about insane amounts of wool anyway.
Reading while knitting
This is tricky. You can have magazines at ready, but I recommend sloppy magazines that stay put themselves, not the stiffly bound magazines of the Monocle -variety that will drive you to absolute distraction. You’ll need both your hands for knitting. Same for books. Only consider those that don’t require your hands to prevent the pages from turning. As regards knitting, watching TV is exceptionally better than reading. My knitting-TV of choice includes Orange is the New Black, Gilmore Girls, and the Danish Borgen. A friend watches Bruce Willis action films while she knits, so you can really go wild with this.
Stripes or no stripes?
I recommend stripes for all beginners, as it makes the project appear to be advancing quicker.
Cannot deal with the thought of knitting the heel?
Fully understand. It can be overwhelming (and frustrating). Skip that part, continue knitting the rib and make yourself nifty leg warmers instead. Get back to the sock-business once you’re comfortable enough. There’s no pressure.
Once you get the hang of it, knitting will become one of your favourite ways to relax. It’s meditative and helps you concentrate. Do watch out that you don’t get too relaxed, though. Drinking wine while knitting is a fine art that only very few master.
Finland celebrates its centenary as an independent country today. I have my finest woollen socks on to show my gratitude to the country that taught me to knit, read and write – for free. Despite having learned all kinds of other things through the decades, these are the three skills that any person truly needs in life. Such a shame I lost the recorder, though.