When I started my locally dressed journey, I feared that everything I would wear would be handmade - but my local region offers comfy socks. Most socks have a small percentage of nylon or lycra or use US fibers through collectives rather than 100% local fibers, but these pairs satisfy.
Challenge Update: Wool socks created in this region are typically made with a bit of nylon and/or elastic. Local mills create specific sock yarns as well. These yarns have 15-20% nylon to increase durability. Some mills add elastic on the top during the knitting process to help them stay up. Since my goal is to lift up local suppliers, I decided that socks created with 20% man-made fibers with the bulk of material locally grown (or combined with US wool) and processed locally were sufficient for my challenge to test out the difference between mill knitted socks and handmade ones of 100% wool.
Handmade 100% Wool
I have sought out 100% socks as well to be knit for me, I have purchased anklet, mid-calf, and knee socks (image shows anklet lighter weight summer socks). I worked with a local knitter through Etsy to procure these socks and they don't disappoint. I will compare the wear of these socks versus mill made with nylon during the year. But, having beautiful handmade socks will be a joy even if they don't quite wear as well as socks made with some nylon (a fossil fuel fiber).
I visited several local festivals and was able to pick up several pairs of socks. I ventured less than 2 hours from my southwestern New Hampshire home to visit Putney, VT, Springfield, MA, and several farms in Hillsborough County, NH gathering my sock collection. At each fiber festival, there was so much more than socks. I learned about wool pillows, picked up a pair of fingerless gloves, a hat, and of course wool fiber for crocheting and knitting!
"One can never have enough socks," said Dumbledore. "Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn't get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.” J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
First UP - The Green Mountain Spinnery Pop Up - Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival
This popup event was right around the corner from my home at the Green Mountain Spinnery in celebration of the Vermont Fiber Festival. Last fall the main event was virtual with smaller gatherings around that state for shoppers.
1. Purchasing local with added benefit! Each purchase of socks from Meadow Bee Farm helps fund farm experiences for youths. These socks were an easy purchase as the wool was grown locally in MA and mill knitted to raise money for youth experiential education on farms and in nature. The sock itself is all wool with a bit of elastic added on top to hold the sock up. Hiker height at mid-calf and all season. I see wearing these year-round when hiking. These socks were $30 but considering money goes to charity with the purchase it makes doing good easy.
2. Bonus! I got a mohair hat! I couldn't resist the unique style and beautiful autumn colors. The hat is made from local mohair (goat fiber) mixed with sheep wool at the Spinnery. Although not guaranteed to be 100% local wool, it is 100% US wool. At $65 it is likely beyond many shoppers' budgets. I know from my own experiences creating clothing that knitting a hat takes time, this cost goes into the price of the garment as well as the price of the mohair fiber. This is a reasonable price if not a price point for all consumers.
"Granny always said finding justice was as tough as putting socks on a rooster.” Jessica Maria Tuccelli, Glow
The Wool Arts Tour in Hillsborough County, NH
The next event is held annually in Hillsborough County NH highlighting several farms. This event is a 'drive around' to several locations. It wasn't just the farm fiber or the animals, but other local vendors selling their work. Much like a 4-spot pop-up event.
This year one location also featured the new owners of the Pict Mill in Milton, NH. They announced in early December their first batch of spun yarn on their Facebook Page. Their goal is to process local custom yarns. Be sure to check them out and see them grow and produce more yarns for sale!
I picked up two pairs of Alpaca socks from a local alpaca farmer, Alpaca-Brats Farm. These socks cannot be guaranteed to be 100% local fiber as they are produced by the New England Fiber Collective which sources from around the country. But local fiber farms are part of this collective. Although containing more nylon and elastic than I accepted above, these socks are a great option for locals as they come in varying thicknesses for year-round wear and are priced comparably to commercial socks. Both pairs have a nice loft on the bottom of the sock but the winter weight had much more. The backpacker sock was just as you expect, no extra weight but a nice light feel good for year-round wear. Note that these have a high content of elastic and nylon being made up of only 60% alpaca. These heavier socks again were good for a couple of days of wear without loss of loft or producing any odor. These socks are 78% alpaca wool and I will wear them. They have become my new lighter slippers with a loft that stays wear after wear. These winter hikers are on the top of my winter sock pile now! I could see taking the backpackers out for days and still having a fresh foot feeling. Alpaca wool, like sheep's wool, has antibacterial qualities, in fact, some outdoor adventure groups only allow wool undergarments on trips away from showers for days for exactly this reason.
Not Local But so Worth Reading About - US Socks
I include these links to socks that are created in the US, from US wool or global wool by US workers in factories in NC and VT. Both companies use the superwash process on their merino wool. This means that microplastics will be released from the wool as well as the nylon/lycra/elastane synthetic materials used in the sock creation by home washing.
Darn Tough, with its mill in VT is local but doesn't source all wool in the US. They do purchased RWS certified wool a voluntary standard that certifies a standard of animal and land care which represents only a small portion of global wool. You can read more about why they do what they do on their sustainability page. There they also discuss the issue of super washing, stating clearly that they use this process. So far they haven't found a solution to stop super washing their wool that provides the same characteristics for their socks. I like that they name it and are willing to go on record.
Farm to Feet sells 100% US wool fiber socks located in NC. They provide their back story on the Our Story pages but I wasn't able to find any mention of their super washing process. I emailed them and received a reply that didn't answer my question and felt a bit evasive. I was able to find an Outside Journal article from 2017 that stated their wool was super washed. I feel not being up front about processes is a miss for a company with so many other pluses to support purchasing their socks. Let's hope this means they are working on an alternative sock.
I also will embrace socks made from recycled cotton clothing. Solmate is a B-Corporation that is creating a circular economy around cotton socks. They gather reclaimed cotton from secondhand or remnant clothing. RecoverTex takes the fibers and creates sock yarn. Their proprietary process has a low Higgs Index MSI (a measure of 5 discrete sustainability measures). Although there are questions about how the Higg Index evaluates natural fibers and thus isn't the final word on sustainability, it is a rating that presently exists. Although made in North Carolina, these socks address multiple sustainable needs in the US marketplace if not strictly local.
I plan to wear fewer socks over the coming year. My sock drawer is full of synthetic socks I accumulated over time mixed with wool hikers and runners. I plan to send old socks to Material Return for recycling - learn more here (scroll down to see address to mail clean socks). My challenge is a time to thin down my closet and get to the essentials of what is needed. And, this is as true for socks as it is for tops and bottoms. What will I do with these fibers? I am planning a clothing swap for the spring! Watch out for more details if you live in the Monadnock Region!