So… what DOES make a good sock yarn?
Whether you are spinning your own, or shopping for a skein at your LYS, it’s important to pay attention to the properties of your yarn. These can affect the comfort and longevity of your finished project, and you will be praising (or cursing) your decisions for the lifespan of your socks.
What properties do we want in a sock yarn?
If all of these qualities are present, your sock should hug your foot while keeping it warm and comfortable for years to come.
What attributes do we consider when choosing or creating sock yarn?
Weight is the thinness or fineness of your yarn. Most knitters choose sock yarns that are labeled either fingering or sport. Fingering is slightly thinner than sport weight and may be more suited for delicate patterns or socks that needs to fit inside a tight shoes. Sport weight will knit up quickly into a thick, warm pair of hiking socks.
In the UK, New Zealand and Australia, these weights are also referred to as 4 ply or 5 ply respectively. Please do not confuse the UK term ‘ply’ with universal term used by spinners to describe the number of individual strands twisted together to create a length of yarn. In the UK, 4 or 5 ply yarn is always the same amount of thickness but could be created from any number of strands twisted together.
In addition, the Yarn Craft Council has it’s own standards for determining yarn weight; 1: Super Fine and 2: Fine are both used to describe Fingering and Sport weight yarns.
Spinners, how do we determine the weight of our yarn? Studying the ‘wraps per inch’ is a good way. Wraps per Inch, or WPI, is determined by counting how many times your yarn can wrap around 1 inch of space, such as around a ruler or Yarn Gauge. If your yarn can be wrapped into that space 8 times comfortably, it is considered to be “8 wpi”. Most fingering and sport yarns are measured at 12-14 wpi.
Most skeins of sock yarn come in 100 g or 115 g portions. Each one of these can contain 400-450 yards of yarn, which is a generous amont to create a pair of socks with. However, if your socks will be unusually large, or if you want to create much taller socks, consider purchasing two of these skeins instead. This rule can be applied to spinners as well – if you spin 100 grams of fibre and create 400 yards of plied yarn, you should have more than enough to knit one pair of socks.
Some fibres are more suited to being knit into socks than others. Wool is a good, standard choice because it provides warmth and elasticity. Silk or nylon can be blended into the yarn to provide additional strength, smoothness and shine. Some preparations are labeled ‘Superwash’; this means it can be washed (carefully!) in the washing machine without felting the yarn.
High twist yarn means high strength yarn. This yarn can stand up to higher abrasion, which is important when you consider how much friction the toes and heels of your socks will meet on the floor or inside your shoes.
Number of Plies
A good sock yarn usually contains 3 or more plies (individual strands spun together to create yarn). The more plies your yarn has, the rounder, more consistent and more durable it will be. When a yarn is plied together, the individual strands wrap around each other and protect one another from abrasion. The more plies, the less exposed surface area each ply has, and it becomes harder to wear your yarn out.
Colour is the only attribute of your sock yarn that is really dependant on personal preference. If you are knitting a lace or cabled sock pattern, choosing a solid coloured yarn showcases the texture you have spent hours creating. Self-striping yarns create an intricate look without actually changing between skeins of yarn every few rows. Variegated colourways give you a wonderful shift in colour that keeps life interesting as you knit them up.
A Good Swatch
Think you have picked out the right yarn? Then it’s time to knit a swatch! Try knitting a sample with the patterns recommended needle size, then wash and block your swatch. Do you like what you feel? Does the yarn feel smooth and strong? Your knitted sample shouldn’t drape too much or feel inconsistent; this might cause your finished socks to slip off your feet or cause irritation to sensitive skin.
When creating or choosing a sock yarn, please don’t forget to consider beauty and pleasure as important attributes as well. Your yarn should be inspiring and beautiful, featuring colours and textures that will make you smile long after you have cast off.