December has brought a harsh reminder of what winter can mean in Canada. With wind chills in the -30′s here in Alberta, good shelter and clothing are life or death concerns. Across Canada there are many folks for whom securing these things is a daily struggle. Fortunately there are generous individuals willing to lend a helping hand and Bob Rutherford and the Socks by Bob “knitting crew” are among them.
Socks by Bob is a Saskatoon based group that makes thousands of pairs of wool socks per year and donates them to drop-in centres and community outreach programs across Canada. They got started in 2010 when Bob Rutherford, at age 82, was looking for a way to pass the time while at home caring for his wife, Edith. He decided to dust off an old knitting machine he had made out of PVC sewer piping (once a farm mechanics instructor, Bob has a knack for finicky mechanical machines). He knit a few pairs of socks and his son, Scot, took them down to the Hope Mission in Edmonton, where the socks were much needed. When Edith passed away Bob quit working on the knitting machine, but after a few months he thought “I need something to get me out of this rut”. He had the Saskatoon StarPhoenix run an article to ask for volunteers to help with cutting and sewing the socks. The next day there was a phone call from Glynn offering her help and Socks by Bob was born.
Since then Socks by Bob has been knitting a steady stream of socks and its been great for everyone involved. There are four main volunteers in the group: Bob (88 years on this earth) who knits continuous tubing on the machine, approximately 4 lbs worth at a time; George (about 85 years) who cuts the tubing into sock lengths; and Glynn (92 years) and Barney (a young guy in his late 60′s) who hem the tops and sew the toes resulting in 20″ long, one-size-fits-all woolen socks. Bob says when you get past the age of 80 there’s not a lot to do but sit and stare at the wall – making the socks gives members in the group something meaningful to do and over the years it has developed into a tight knit social group too (no pun intended)!
To date the group has knit 10,450 pairs of socks. That’s 41,800 linear feet or 7.9 miles of tubing and approximately 2,600 lbs of Custom Woolen Mills Mule Spinner Sock Yarn knit. We donate just over half of the yarn and Scot Rutherford, Bob’s son, raises the funds for the rest of the yarn and shipping. Its a pretty big commitment supplying four busy seniors with yarn, but for Scot, its worth it – many people have warmer feet as a result and his dad is kept active and engaged. Many of our customers from the Saskatoon area have done their little part by transporting yarn back to Bob from the mill, and folks who have more raw wool then they need have often donated it to be made into sock yarn for Socks by Bob.
The majority of the socks are distributed in Alberta by Scot, and Saskatoon by Bob, however, some go as far east as Northern Ontario and others as far west as Vancouver Island. 41,800 linear feet of knitting at 90 stitches per second can make the head spin at times but Bob says just thinking of folks asleep on a cool drop-in centre floor, or worse yet, out in the cold is enough to keep him motivated to continue. “I knit up into socks whatever wool appears at my front door and as long as I and my workers are able we will continue what we are doing”. What warm sentiments for a cold, snowy time of year!
Thank you to Scot Rutherford for the video of Bob’s machines in action!