This post begins a new series for us where we take a look at each weight (and sometimes special types) of yarn to let you know what characteristics make them what they are.
At Knitcrate, you know we love knitting socks! That’s why we have not one, but two sock subscriptions, Sock Membership Crate, and Sock Artisan Crate. We love finding the best sock yarns for our subscribers as much as we adore filling our own drawers with cozy, hand-knitted socks, giving them as gifts, and collecting all the pretty skeins.
What makes a yarn a sock yarn, though? For newer knitters, which yarns are sock yarns – and not just fingering weight yarns – can be a big mental question mark. There are three main elements that make a yarn a sock yarn, and we’re here to decode them for you.
Usually, the easiest way to know if a yarn is designed for socks is to look at the label. Most sock yarns will have some amount of nylon content, added in for stretch and durability. Nylon is a man-made fiber that you might see at between 25 - 10% in your sock yarns. Too much nylon can cut into the primary fiber and make your socks less durable, but the right amount can keep your heels and toes from wearing thin too fast, and add a bit of stretch to every stitch.
The base fiber in sock yarns can be widely varied - different soft to the touch wool breeds are preferable, so your socks don’t feel scratchy (our favorites are Superwash Merino, Merino, BFL, Cormo, Rambouillet, and even Corriedale). You may also see another fiber added in, like cashmere, angora or mohair for softness, yak or alpaca for warmth, bamboo for wicking, or silk for a bit of shine.
Even with nylon content, some yarns just aren’t suitable for socks. If the yarn seems to have a lot of slinky drape, it’s probably not going to stay up on your foot, and might be better for a shawl, scarf, or sweater. Likewise, nylon content isn’t necessary for great socks if the twist, and ply are just right – there are many great sock yarns that don’t have any synthetic fibers at all!
Twist is the other key ingredient in great sock yarns. A tighter twist usually means more durable yarn – especially with multiple plies – but too much twist can go overboard and make the yarn feel stiff, yielding uncomfortable socks. The right twist should feel bouncy, and maybe have just a little bit of plyback – where the yarn will twist back on itself if given the opportunity. In the hank, it should feel soft and springy.
The number of plies in a sock yarn can make or break how long it lasts. Single ply yarns aren’t good for socks, even if the content and twist is right, because they don’t have any other supporting fibers to carry the load of everyday wear. Two ply sock yarns can work – if the twist is a little over – but aren’t considered as durable as three, four, six, or eight-ply yarns. Additionally, some sock yarns may be cable-plied, which can add extra durability and interesting surface texture to plain stitches like stockinette.
A Note on Care
While it might be tempting to only buy superwash sock yarns for ease of care, remember that many superwash wools must be washed and then machine-dried to retain their shape. This will fuzz the fabrics faster over time than hand-washing standard wools. Superwashing coats the wool’s fibers, or strips the scales off the wool, so may also result in socks that are a little less warm than non-superwashed wools. This might be perfect if you live in a warmer climate and still want to enjoy hand-knit socks, but might leave you with chilly toes in colder places.
Tools like sock blockers can come in handy for sock knitters who want to dry their socks flat (often, they come out of the washing machine or bath looking like elongated tubes!) They’re also a pretty way to display hand-knitted socks for finished object photographs.
Darning your socks is the process of mending them. Almost all socks will need to be darned at some point. Even the most durable fibers and well-made socks will succumb to high-wear points on the foot (toes, heels, etc.) You can increase the life of your socks by several years by mending these patches when necessary. Hannah, our Creative Director, has a great darning guide here.