The humble sock is a wonderful thing. I’ve appreciated wearing socks for about as long as I’ve stood on my own two feet, but I’ve only just fallen in love with them as a creative medium. This is all thanks to Imogen Harvey-Lewis who was leading a sock creature workshop last weekend at the Stroud International Textiles festival. I still have trouble keeping a straight face when mentioning SIT, because ‘Stroud’ and ‘International’ are strange words to put together, at least for the average English ear. However, Stroud has every reason to be proud of its awesome textile heritage (Cotswold wool), and the festival, now in its 6th year, is garnering a formidable reputation amongst those who know about cloth, fabric and thread-based things.
Imogen is an illustrator and one-time stained glass restorer (she worked on some of the windows in Gloucester Cathedral) and her strong sense of line informs the way she approaches sewing. She started making sock creatures a couple of years ago inspired by this enchanting book. Daunted by the ‘correct’ sewist approach to creating 3-D forms, Imogen simply began to draw her creatures, first with a soft pencil, then with a needle (either by hand or using an old treadle Singer sewing machine) straight onto the sock. She has figured out her own technique by trial and error and the resulting method is inventive, quirky and really refreshing.
Sewing just as she draws, Imogen’s dogs, elephants and cats, for example, have four legs all in a line rather than two one side, two the other in a more anatomically correct style. What is helpful about working with a knitted sock in this way is that, once stuffed, it yields and stretches – sometimes a little unpredictably but always adding curves and interest to the simply drawn flat figure.
Imogen has given her quirky sock creatures the generic name ‘Soon’. She can’t really explain why: it was just a name that appealed. I suggested to her that they were fairly quick to make, so ‘soon’ was fitting for that reason. It also has a slightly wistful quality which suits (I almost wrote ‘soots’) these characterful creations so well. Many of them do look as if they need to be loved. And soon.
Our workshop group began by making a simple owl from part of a toddler-sized sock. With this we mastered the basics of managing the sewing tension on a stretchy sock, remembering to leave a little hole to turn and stuff our owls (guess which one of the class forgot this [blushes]), filling our creature with beaded pellets (making sure not to over-fill our endlessly stretching socks), selecting and sewing on eyes (4-holed buttons give a wide-awake look, 2-holed ones a sleepy one), and embroidering a beak. This last element was possibly the hardest of all as not pulling the beak too tight was unexpectedly tricky.
Then we moved on to more complex creatures, such as rabbits, cats, dogs and elephants.
We’d been advised to bring along old socks, which I had plenty of. However, once at the workshop I soon (Soon!) realised that it would be a waste of effort to upcycle a really tatty old sock into one of these delightful creatures. Also, the designs often make full feature use of the heel and toe gusseting, so an old sock thinning in the usual areas wouldn’t work well at all. Imogen looks out for interesting new socks everywhere (supermarkets etc), and only uses new for the Soons she sells to the public as she thinks (rightly, I’d guess) that people will not want to buy used ones. Soons made for family members are another thing.
Never one to pass up an upcycling opportunity, I managed to make a Soon dog from one of my old socks, though frankly I feel he’s a bit of a rough mutt next to Imogen’s fresh-from-the-packet versions (he’s proving camera-shy, by the way – I haven’t managed to take a decent picture of him yet). This leaves me with a bit of an upcycler’s dilemma as I’d really rather not go buying new socks to turn into Soons. Principles can be so inconvenient. Still, it’s nice to add another method to the growing battery of Scrapiana upcycling skills: I could upcycle an old sock into a sock creature even if I choose not to.
Imogen sells her enchanting Soons at Stroud Farmers’ Market plus via a few select outlets in Bristol etc and is currently exploring options to sell online. You can contact Imogen here for further information. Meanwhile, the Stroud International Textiles festival continues until Sunday 22nd May.