Sock Serenity 2: Fibre and Yarn Selection

We are going to speak more heresy here: many sock instructions will tell you that you must have a certain type of fibre for sock-knitting, or that your yarn must be high-twist, or should have nylon included, or some other such nonsense.

YOU are in control, remember.

The choice is yours. You may have good reason for choosing an “unsuitable” fibre type or yarn characteristic. These are your socks. Make them the way that you want to. Regard what follows as a general discussion – take from it only what you need.

Fibre

Wool is good. Feet like wool. It breathes. It’s soft and cushiony. Wool yarn is stretchy. It keeps your feet warm and cosy. There are good reasons why so many quality socks are made from wool. The chances are that if you have spun your yarn it is a wool or a wool blend. If you want hard wearing socks, give some thought to your sheep breed and its wool characteristics – they vary widely and not all sheep are equal when it comes to making socks.

Shetland yarn makes wonderfully soft socks, but they soon have to migrate to the darning basket if you wear them every day inside your wellies. Ryeland wool is a traditional wool for sock making. Queen Elizabeth I had her stockings especially made from the wool from Ryeland sheep. Gill made some Ryeland socks for her husband to wear with his walking boots or wellies and they’re still going strong. BFL makes excellent socks, quite robust. Merino makes soft cushy socks but does need to be a high twist yarn, or be blended with nylon to get any wear from your socks.

Silk socks are comfortable and luxurous but require attention to sizing and fitting, silk blended with wool is marvellous to wear – and easier to size. Bamboo and bamboo blends are very foot-friendly, being cool and having anti-bacterial properties (good for teenage boys!) Mohair offers perhaps the greatest surprise – who would have thought that mohair would be ideal for making socks? It has anti-bacterial properties like bamboo, has the cool-in-summer/warm-in-winter benefits of hollow fibre, it’s soft, luxurious, non-allergenic, and hard-wearing. Mohair socks are said to be favoured by lorry drivers, being slow to wear into holes on the sole of the accelerator foot. Mohair and mohair blends are well worth trying for your sock.

Yarn

For hard-wearing socks, aim for a firmly spun and tightly plyed yarn. Loosely plyed and soft  fluffy yarns will tend to felt. A little felting may not be a bad thing, but serious felting will lead to wear holes.

On the other hand, if you want to make soft cosy bed socks, make or choose a yarn as soft as you wish – those socks are not going to receive much wear at all and you want your feet to be comfortable and warm in the middle of winter; go mad, splurge on angora, we won’t tell.

Slipper socks may also do well in soft cushy yarns – much depends on whether you want to pull them on in front of the fire and just vegetate on the sofa. If, like Beth, you paddle around in stocking feet all day and eschew shoes… well, you are going to need something tougher. You can of course sew some suede soles onto them, or apply some liquid rubbery stuff to the bottom.

Pure Cashmere, knitted with love

There’s nothing wrong in making cashmere socks for special occasion wear either – the recipient will love them, just try not to hover over your DH when he’s dressing and say “you’re not going to wear those to the office, are you?” and mentally start threading the darning needle. Beth’s hub has worn his cashmere socks for anniversary dinner for several  years running now.  He’s very well trained and only wears them otherwise in extremely cold weather or when he is in need of comfort (man ‘flu, that kind of thing) and there are no holes yet.

The point we are making is – there  is sound advice about yarn choice but we continue to stress, these are your socks and  you should make them your way. The Knitting Police are not going to care if you choose not to conform.

You can strengthen your fibre by blending it with nylon before you spin – or some other natural or man-made fibre with harder-wearing characteristics than your main fibre has. Try somewhere such as World of Wool: Nylon; Tencel; Silk; Bamboo. It is  also possible to compensate by reinforcing in areas of wear when you are knitting your socks and we shall discuss this later.

 

Gill’s Socks

For the toe-up socks that Gill will be making, she’s elected to use some of her generic 2-ply Jacob yarn.

Jacob 2 ply

She plied one black strand to a white strand and came up with a lovely barber-stripe yarn that makes a fantastic mottled fabric. This yarn is a bit variable in thickness, but it has a good amount of loft which she wants as it will make good wellie socks and will end up semi-felted.

Beth’s Socks

Beth has elected to use these skeins

Corriedale/Romney cross

Spun from a shearling Corriedale/Romney X fleece. The staple was very long, with some good crimp. Overall, the fleece was very clean and open. Although the fleece varied in character from very soft downy fibre to a much stronger hairy staple, it was not sorted or blended. The fibre was taken as single locks,  flick-carded and then spun from the fold. It was chain-plyed to a 3 ply. Not the best plying ever (what an understatement!), it has some lumps and bumps that ought to disqualify it from making socks but it was the best choice to hand when we decided to write this series. One skein is natural, the other has been indigo-dyed. At 12 WPI, (approximately Sport/5 ply weight) these will just about make shoe socks. There may be a pair of mohair-blend boot socks along to join them, if time can be found in which to spin the yarn…

Not my best

To be truthful, it was only once the yarn was photographed that Beth realised just how not-very-good it is. Never mind, it will serve to show that you don’t need perfect yarn to make a fair pair of socks.

NEXT: Needles and Architecture