Finding Your Ideal Sock Yarn
A favorite sock yarn can be as individual as one's favorite perfume. Figuring out which yarn is best for you is often a trial-and-error process.
What feels one way to the hand often feels completely different against the calf and foot. Some people will experience a heightened sensitivity to scratchy wool. Others find they have a greater tolerance for rough yarns in socks that they'd never bear as scarves or sweaters.
Besides only using yarns with "Sock Yarn" on the label, how do you know if a yarn will work for socks? Here are some general guidelines to get you started.
A good pair of socks will take tremendous abuse without ever showing signs of fatigue. The essential ingredient for durability is nylon, acrylic, or some form of synthetic material. Even staunch woolaholics agree.
This doesn't mean you can only knit socks out of acrylic yarn. Rather, you can choose a yarn that has some synthetic content, or you can add nylon reinforcement to your socks after they're done.
Don't take this to mean that you must always knit socks with nylon reinforcement, however. If you tend to wear loose shoes -- clogs, for example -- you can get away with more exotic fibers. Some of my favorite socks contain alpaca, angora, and even a touch of cashmere.
Don't start those pure angora socks yet! There's another factor you need to keep in mind: elasticity.
Part of the abuse socks endure is from the simple act of being dragged over the heel every time they are put on and taken off. Wool has the best bounce and fiber memory, while cotton, angora, and alpaca have less elasticity.
If you're fond of any less-elastic fibers, your best bet is to pick a blend. For example, Lang Jawoll Cotton has the look and feel of cotton but actually is 49% wool and 16% nylon; Lang Jawoll Color looks like wool but also has 18% nylon and 7% acrylic.
Even if you weren't called "Stinky Feet" as a child, chances are you still need to wash your socks once in a while. Most self-proclaimed sock yarns are superwash, which means you can slip them off and toss them in the washing machine before your nose has the chance to detect any unpleasant odor.
For those who don't mind getting their hands wet, the fiber world is your oyster. Washing non-superwash socks by hand is as painless as washing a few dishes in the sink.
For more on how to care for handknits that aren't superwash -- including soap recommendations -- read "Dirty Work: Washing Your Knitted Garments."
If you live in a warm climate, you'll probably want to stick with cotton or cotton-blend yarns. If you like a little more warmth, nothing beats wool. It can absorb up to one-third of its weight in moisture before it begins to feel moist.
Pure synthetics, on the other hand, won't provide as much long-lasting warmth. Lacking wool's moisture-wicking ability, they hold moisture directly against your feet, making them feel cold and clammy with wear.
If you're cursed with perpetually cold feet, nothing beats the heating power of angora. Even a small amount of angora in an otherwise wool sock boosts its heating capacity significantly.
I have a special pair of pure angora turbo-booster socks that I keep by my desk for particularly chilly moments. They're loose and have no elasticity whatsoever. But if I'm willing to sit still, they sure do the trick.
The most common sock yarns are fingering, sport, and DK weight, ranging in gauge from 6 to 8 stitches per inch. Normally the finer the gauge, the more fluid and form-fitting the sock.
It's entirely possible to knit socks in worsted-weight yarn at gauges up to 4 stitches per inch. But remember, the thicker the yarn, the thicker the sock, and the more space you'll need in your shoes.
You'll also be more likely to feel the knitting on the bottom of your sock when you walk -- rather like those German self-massaging shoes with nubby soles.
Yarn Reviews More to come!
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Previous reader comments
"I like knitting socks on two circular needles & am quite sure that other readers would like to do the same." mbschmitt, 10/9/2001
"Cherry Tree Hill supersock merino is my favorite sock yarn!" echo, 10/8/2001
"I love knitting socks with Koigu and with Lorna's Laces. Both have the ability to provide variety and interest through the use of glorious colors and both are wonderful on the hands and on the feet." ermabomb, 10/5/2001
"It has long been known among knitters who spin that an important feature of good sock yarn is that it be worsted-spun, in other words, with the fibers in parallel alignment rather than jumbled, as with a lofty, woolen type yarn. The reason for this is that worsted yarns have fewer stray fibers to pill, or wear. In addition to lasting longer, a worsted yarn (not worsted weight, necessarily) won't itch as much!" adinasc, 10/5/2001