Island living certainly has its perks and for Pat De Clark, a resident of Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands), she was quick to realize that the secret to living in a community full of fishermen, loggers, and outdoor buffs starts with keeping all those feet warm and dry. In an oceanic climate where the average rainfall amount is second only to the tropics, wool socks are in constant demand and are preferred over cotton for their ability to wick away moisture and retain elasticity, not to mention they offer a nice layer of padding inside boots or shoes. Pat arrived in the Village of Queen Charlotte off the coast of B.C. in 1983 on a six week stint as an x-ray technician and never left. “It’s quite lovely knowing and being known by everyone in town.” says Pat of Charlotte Island Knitting, who began knitting socks more than thirty years ago initially by hand and then on a double-bed machine, and has since made a cottage industry out of it.
Let’s get to know our sock knitting queen-
MM: Hi Pat, thank you for stopping by today to chat with us. Would you like a tea or coffee before we get started?
PDC: Yes, I’m a tea drinker, thank you.
MM: There is something so magical about gifting someone with a pair of knitted wool socks, and watching the reaction as they slip them on their feet. Your socks are all quite beautiful. Are these made on a machine?
PDC: The ones that you are looking at are all made on an old home knitting machine. It’s a double-bed Superba, and some of your senior readers may recognize it. Machine knitting became popular in Europe after WWII and later spread to this continent. It was a very popular hobby and also a means of extra income. Machine knitting lasted until about the mid-nineties when it suddenly lost popularity and the manufacturers and support structure disappeared from the economy. There are very few of us left now.
MM: Have you always been a knitter and can you tell us how you got started in this business?
PDC: Well…… my lovely English grandmother taught me how to knit when I was five, and I started to knit socks when I was about seventeen. I’ve just never quit! A friend bought me an old knitting machine at an auction and instantly I was hooked. It soon became apparent that I could make much more knitwear that I could ever use so I started selling at Christmas craft fairs and it just morphed from there. During the eighties and nineties, most of my production was for men. That has all changed now…it’s about half and half. It became obvious that I could sell more socks that I could ever possibly make, so now I just focus on the annual Christmas craft fair and a few special orders in between.
MM: Do you have a set schedule that you follow… for instance, how many pairs of socks can you knit in a week?
PDC: Yes. I do set my goals for each season, divide them into months and weeks, consult my yarn supply and start knitting. My current goal is ten pairs of socks per week.
MM: Wow! That is quite a lot for the rest of us sock knitters to aspire to. What are some of the responses you have had from those who wear your socks?
PDC: People like the fact that they are wool…..we live in a rain forest and are primarily outdoor enthusiasts, whether it is for work or play. Wool keeps the feet warm even if they get wet. There is no elastic in the ribbing to constrict, yet the ribbing I make is firm and stays up. This is especially good for diabetics. My socks are seamless, comfortable and last well, I have had customers who have been buying them from me for thirty years, and I have others who say their mothers bought them from me. I seem to have become an Island tradition.
MM: Yes….and I hear you are now taking to the open seas, to teach sock knitting on cruise ships. How did this come about?
PDC: Oh quite by accident actually. While on a cruise to Hawaii, part of the daily routine was a knit ‘n’ stitch get-together each morning. I took my sock knitting along and it went from there. I met some lovely women and had a really great time and still get emails on a regular basis from these women, many of them showing their latest achievements. Very rewarding. There is a big interest in sock knitting as I’m sure you know, there also seems to be a myth about how difficult it is. My job is to demystify it.
MM: What three little tips would you like to pass on to brand new sock knitters?