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Learning to Darn and Other Sustainable Gifting Ideas
Weaving the vertical lines into the grid
Weaving the vertical lines into the grid
Like many of us in the West, I celebrated Christmas in December. I’m pretty committed to reducing my waste year round, but the holiday season brings additional challenges - challenges that persist long past Christmastime. How to give gifts, without adding to the waste burden on Mother Earth?

Of course, one can use reusable wrapping, but what about the gifts themselves? A big focus of GreenFriends is source reduction, in other words, reducing our waste at the source as opposed to after the fact.

I like to make gifts wherever possible. Or give gifts of time (presence over presents!) such as attending a show, a favorite activity, or offering a special service. Intangible gifts are my favorite.

This year, my husband wanted socks for Christmas because all of his socks had holes. Knowing the impact of new clothes on our beautiful planet, both of us already tend to wear our clothes till they’re threadbare and no longer useful. Well, his socks were in rough shape, and by most standards, he needed new ones.

I reflected on the idea of replacing his socks with new ones… and I didn’t like it. The majority of the sock was fine. There were just a few holes in the heel or the toe. Could I really toss all that perfectly good material in the garbage? No, I decided, I could not.

We ourselves are full of good qualities, mixed in with some ugly ones. Does Amma toss us out when we show our ‘holes’? No. In fact, she lovingly embraces us and helps to soften or repair all those rough spots in our personalities.

With this in mind, I looked at the socks. Though the holes were big, there was still more good material than not. Yes, the sock can be reused or repurposed as a cleaning cloth, but one only needs so many of those. Our cleaning cloths are reusable: we wash them and use them again, so there is no need to replace them with old socks.

The sock should be reused as a sock, I thought. It was time to learn the art of darning.

A completed darning grid
A completed darning grid

For context, I never learned how to sew as a child. Actually, as an adult, I had a sewing machine at home for 2 years before I found the courage to turn it on and use it. I tried numerous times and failed to get that thing working. In other words, this kind of handiwork does not come easily to me. If I can do it, you can too!

I searched online and watched some YouTube videos that explained darning. I went to the dollar store and picked up some cotton yarn (my online teachers recommended a 2 or 3-ply yarn). I practiced on my own socks first to get a feel for my new project. And then I set to work, stealthily removing ‘holy’ socks from my husband’s drawer and weaving a colorful grid pattern into them.

Darning is simple. One weaves over, under, over, under, along a horizontal line, back and forth until the entire threadbare area is covered. If there’s a full hole that’s okay, the yarn will just stretch across the hole, with a few over/under stitches on the edges of the hole. Then it continues in a vertical pattern, weaving over and under the horizontal lines you just made.

Beginning the horizontal grid lines over a threadbare sock
Beginning the horizontal grid lines over a threadbare sock

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The work is methodical, and within a short time, the yarn was sliding through my fingers like the beads of a mala, allowing me to chant my mantra easily as I worked.

A finished pair of socks
A finished pair of socks

In the end, I had a gift that was thoughtful, practical, and sustainable. It was the thing my husband had asked for (new socks) but presented in an unexpected way (repaired old socks). I also felt like it was a gift to Mother Nature, extending the useful life of an item that requires so much effort and resources to produce. Thus, we avoided adding material to the landfill and avoided buying a new item. This is source reduction.

"It is the duty of human beings to serve and take care of Nature. In return, Nature will return all the good." - Amma

This was a LOT of darning for one sock
This was a LOT of darning for one sock

I should add: this is not quick. It’s a labor of love, and based on the amount of time invested, we joke that these are now the world’s most expensive socks. But as Amma says, where there is love, everything becomes effortless.

While on the topic of sustainable gift ideas, I can hardly pass up the opportunity to share an advent calendar I made for my son. Advent calendars are fun for kids; they get to open a new door each day in December, finding a little chocolate inside, until the 24th. It builds their anticipation for Christmas Day.

Several years ago, I couldn’t bring myself to buy a new one. It’s typically a single-use item, wrapped in plastic, with a plastic tray inside holding each chocolate. In 2015, I had purchased myself a tea calendar, with 24 little tins of loose leaf tea. I had already repurposed all the little tins (to hold homemade deodorant samples, as a means of encouraging others to try a plastic-free and sustainable deodorant), and the following year, I decided to repurpose the box.

A repurposed advent calendar
A repurposed advent calendar

I picked up 24 little foil-wrapped chocolates to put behind each door, and gave it to my young son as his advent calendar. This year, I upped our reusable advent calendar by filling it with two chocolates behind each door: one for him, the other for gifting, because the act of giving can bring even more joy than receiving.

With all the joy I gain from gifting, I pray that I will continue to find ways to give and to serve others in ways that also serve Mother Nature.

"Most people are concerned only with what they can get from the world, but it is what we are able to give to others that determines the quality of our life." - Amma

Natasha - Toronto, Ontario

The gift of gifting
The gift of gifting

Read about Habitat Restoration in the Q1 2022 newsletter >>

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