Updated: Jul 30, 2019
Wanderous Affair's editor-in-chief, Emily Fata, shares a peek into Finland's only traditional woollen sock factory. These ultra-warm socks are made in Helsinki's Roihupelto neighbourhood, in a factory reminiscent of the WWII-era. This article delves into the incredible process that goes into creating each individual sock, up to the moment you slip them on your feet.
On my first day in Helsinki, I received a pair of grey pure woollen socks that promised to keep my feet warm against snowy Nordic temperatures. I wore them while museum-hopping, walking through flurries on my way between galleries and restaurants, and found myself remarking about halfway through the day that it seemed much warmer in Helsinki than back at home. Being so used to my body heat escaping through the bottoms of my feet (I've been known to wear thin ankle socks year round), I quickly realized that my new ultra-warm socks were the only explanation. This revalation, in combination with the fact that I'm an extremely curious person when it comes to how things are made, led me to booking a private tour with the Helsinki Woollen Sock Factory (Helsingin Villasukkatehdas, in Finnish).
We were picked up from our hotel by the factory’s friendly machinist, Lauri Puirola, and delivered directly to the factory. Here, we had the opportunity to tour with Pekka Auveri (the company's apparel design engineer) and the factory owner, Jukka-Pekka Kumpulainen (or JP for short).
It is the small but lovely details of the country’s only traditional woollen sock factory that lend in making it such a treat to explore. Much like me, JP is fascinated by antiques and the Art Nouveau era, furnishing his incredible factory with memorabilia from this time period. Pekka explained how many of the factory's vintage furnishings — from a tall wooden wardrobe, to a late-Victorian bicycle, to their rotary phones — were given to JP for safe-keeping. His factory has become a haven for these treasures in the midst of an often unforgiving modern age, where we unfortunately tend to replace the old with a constant stream of new gadgets. A central vintage radio keeps everyone at the Helsinki Woollen Sock Factory entertained, as cell phones are not allowed on the floor, in order to ensure complete focus on the product, and are stashed within socks in the staff break room (see photo below, on right). Even computers are virtually not allowed, with the company's only PC located in a back room, where it is checked on only a few times each day by Pekka.
Among these treasures are two beautiful motorbikes from the 1970s, perfectly complimenting the factory's infamous automobile, a vintage Kleinbus 74. They rest in the front hall, protected from the cold temperatures outside while still open to be enjoyed visually, on display.
Even the machines making the socks are vintage: the Bentley Komet was designed in the 1920s and electrified in the 1950s, and knits long tube-like socks into a basket (see photos below). It is here that our new friend Lauri Puirola, the machinist, keeps an eye on the needles to ensure that they are knitting smoothly, replacing needles when they snap, as well as fixing any of the machines when they break down.
By hand, the tubes are separated into individual socks and the toe seam is sewn into place with a strong thread. After they are done, the seams are checked individually to ensure the most durable quality before being shipped for dyeing.
They are all initially created in a light grey colour before being shipped out in boxes containing one hundred socks to a local dye shop, which is where they get the different colours you can buy in-store: black, deep blue, sky blue, emerald, crimson, deep red, orange, and the original light grey. The freshly dyed socks arrive back laundered, and are put out to dry on special foot-shaped stretchers. The final shape is accomplished here, while someone carefully inspects each one to ensure that there are no pulls, holes, or other anomalies in the knit.
Amazingly, one sock takes roughly forty minutes to make! Each pair is truly a work of art.
Now that I’m back home in Toronto and experiencing temperatures of -19°C today, it’s safe to say that I won’t be taking my woollen socks until bedtime. Hey Canada, when are you going to import these socks, so that I can stock up? This cold girl could use a few more pairs in our local shops!
Stay warm, friends!
To read more of our posts on Helsinki, click here.