Leeanne socks it to us

June 22nd, 2023Leeanne socks it to us

Finding an enterprise that makes beautiful handmade socks in every colour of the rainbow in Clunes is really not so odd.
Clunes’ Leanne Wills . Image: Eve Lamb.

Finding an enterprise that makes beautiful handmade socks in every colour of the rainbow in Clunes is really not so odd.

The Odd Sockery’s slogan is ‘Bringing Sock Making Back to Clunes one Pair at a Time” and, as owner and sock maker Leanne Wills (pictured above) says, that’s because commercial sock making actually happened here way back.

“The history does fascinate me,” she says.

“Historically Clunes did have a sock manufacturer here and that history really struck a chord with me, the fact that it ties in with the history of Clunes.”

The Odd Sockery has now been bringing sock making back to Clunes since 2018, and to do so Leanne brought her own considerable background in textiles – and a vintage Gearheart Circular Sock Knitting Machine circa 1904.

“This is a circular sock knitting machine that I found on eBay. It had been in a museum home in America. It was in parts and when we brought it out we didn’t know if it was all there and we didn’t know if it was working. We took a punt,” she laughs.

Fortunately, it was a punt that paid off and now, from this machine and other restored and newly built machines, Leanne designs and creates a wide range of socks – all hand cranked and dyed.

They forge a link to the town’s rich history of sock manufacturing going back to 1939 when the Interknit Hosiery Company produced its first pair of socks in Clunes.

“I’ve been able to go on from there and develop into a whole array of experimentation. I’ve discovered the whole world of colour and my confidence has just burst through and I’m loving working with dyes,” Leanne says.

Visiting this rare little enterprise that has its main shopfront at BOOM Clunes in the town’s Fraser Street, is a sock fanciers’ dream come true as the colours come in just about every hue imaginable, striped and solid, and the yarns used are a tactile treat.

To reel off a few options in The Odd Sockery range, there’s merino hand-dyed numbers, there’s the striped sock, the ribbed top shortie, the possum merino, the custom sock designed to meet individuals’ health, circulation and colour palette wants and needs.

There’s the art gallery collection, designed originally by Leanne in collaboration with the Ballarat Art Gallery shop where they’re also stocked.

 “They feature a loose rib top boot sock with contrasting cuff, heel and toes made using Nundle woollen mills Australian merino yarn – which I just love – and Danish self striping yarns that are processed in Italy,” Leanne says.

She says The Odd Sockery socks are all finished using the famed “Kitchener stitch” so named after the British Secretary of State during World War One.

“Commercial socks today have a ridge at the toe but the socks I make on this machine are the same as a hand knitted sock,” says Leanne who knows her sock history.

“The Kitchener stitch is hand stitching when the sock is being finished and it was developed to help prevent trench foot in the war because a big threat to the army was trench foot which was exacerbated by ridging on socks causing irritation and infection.”

She says the ultra warm merino possum range is a recent addition and has “a lovely story” behind it.

“I’d been asked a few times about possum but I wasn’t sure about it. Then unsolicited, I had a local Aboriginal elder approach me and she took me aside and said I give you permission to bring back possum.

“The possum wool we use comes from New Zealand where the possum is an environmental pest. We don’t get any of it from here where it’s protected. They’ve set it up in New Zealand as a way of controlling its numbers.

“I’m just delighted with the whole story of these. I feel very privileged to have had the Aboriginal elder’s blessing on that.”

Another new development is the very recent introduction of The Odd Sockery’s Donegal tweed range which Leanne makes using tweed yarn imported especially from Donegal, Ireland.

“It is the warmest sock – apart from the merino possum – that I’ve ever worn,” she says.

“These are a sock for those who are truly dedicated to warm feet. They’re more suited to being a dress sock and they also make wonderful bed socks.”

Leanne says having BOOM Clunes as a main shopfront has been great for her unique little enterprise.

BOOM also operates as a co-working space and also stocks a wide range of other creations made by local craftspeople, artisans, writers and producers. The money that comes in stays in the local community.

At this time of year Leanne is at full stretch meeting demand as many sock fanciers can’t wait to slip on a warming pair of The Odd Sockery’s lovingly hand cranked and hand dyed foot apparel.

“I do have trouble keeping up because everyone wants them at the same time,” she laughs.

“It is slow fashion. Yes I am using technology, but it’s industrial revolution technology.”

While the manufacturing process may be retro, the Odd Sockery’s sales mechanisms are more up to the minute, and the Clunes-made socks are now finding their way all around Australia via The Odd Sockery’s online shop.

Leanne has even started a Facebook group – Circular Sock Knitting Machines and Knitters of AUS – for those keen to learn more about the rare old trade. It has over 500 members and quite a few of them also regularly get together in person in Bendigo.

Words and Images: Eve Lamb

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