Summer of Socks: The Ultimate Sock Recipe

Sock. The most beautiful thing in the world.

ParkCitySock_01

Park City Sock by Felicia Lo

It’s one of the very first things I learned to knit, and still remains my go-to project for virtually any occasion imaginable.

A hand-knit sock is outrageously practical and shockingly easy to make. It carries a connotation for everything that’s good in life – playing with yarn, instant gratification, the right to clash stripes in any holy or unholy combination you can think of – in such a neat little package that you can but ask yourself in awe, ”how on earth did not the first caveman patent this and make a googolplex of money”.

I’ve made hundreds of pairs of socks in my life. Hundreds. Back in the day I made 37 pairs for a single Christmas market. Sheesh, my Mom alone goes through at least five pairs a year.

Barney Socks by Liisa Nieminen

Barney Socks by Liisa Nieminen

And yet, most of the socks I make are simple, plain stockinette socks, with the same number of stitches, the same needles, and more or less the same type of yarn, because I know that with these parameters I will get a finished pair that’s wearable, durable and functional.

Ah, functional. My favorite word.

In case you haven’t already gathered from my previous blog posts, all of my knitting revolves around functionality. I only make things that serve a purpose, and with yarns that fit in with that purpose. It also means paying enormous attention to making sure that the finished item keeps on looking gorgeous after months and years of use.

When I make socks, they’re sturdy and well-fitting. They won’t break, and they won’t droop. If I go through all the trouble a pair of socks entails, I want them to last forever.

Here’s my recipe for a pair of socks that will do just that.

Add plies.

At some point in time, someone, somewhere, decided that from now on they would use the term ”sock yarn” synonymously with ”fingering-weight yarn”. Grave, grave error. It made people think that any yarn of a certain thickness, possibly even containing the word ”sock” in the label, is good for making socks.

THIS IS A MISCONCEPTION AND I AM HERE TO CORRECT IT.

I corrected them, sir

I corrected them, sir

Socks should not be knit with yarns that are made of two plies or less. Two plies will not tie the fibres together tightly enough to make the yarn durable and resistant to pilling – particularly when it comes to merino fibre, which is so very prevalent in these so-called ”sock yarns”. Your beautiful finished pair will soon be beautiful no more, unless combined with a stupendously tight gauge and/or a more hardwearing fibre, such as BFL or Romney.

2-ply yarn vs 3-ply yarn

2-ply yarn vs 3-ply yarn

Yarns made with three or more plies will last infinitely longer as socks, simply because there’s more force to keep everything in place.

Add nylon.

One of my favorite things to do is to silence a room full of knitters by proclaiming my affection for nylon. YES. I LIKE NYLON. GET OVER IT.

Nylon is good. Nylon is awesome. I wouldn’t make a sweater out of it, but I won’t have my socks without it. Literally. There’s not a single pair of socks I’ve made in my entire knitting history that didn’t contain a small portion of nylon. For a fibre that’s as ubiquitous and yet as delicate as merino, a dash of nylon will increase its durability enormously without affecting the feel of it. Generally, a nylon content of 20% or less will evoke its positive qualities without making the yarn feel plasticky or less breathable. If you’re a hardcore hater of oil-derivative products, you can replace nylon with mohair, but commercial yarns of that type are rare.

Without nylon, you’re basically on your own. Unless…

Strengthen where it counts.

The average number of steps we take each day is between 5000 and 7000. Every step equals more than double of our body weight in pressure. Sock heels have to take this force without complaint.

There’s a gazillion different heel types out there, but most of them weren’t designed with durability in mind. They may look good and have lots of clever quirks, but they’re worth buzz-all if they don’t live up to the expected lifecycle (which we’ve previously established as ”forever”).

Reinforce your heel (or if you’re a front-stepper, the toes or the ball of the foot) by using a slip-stitch pattern or by carrying an additional thread of nylon with the main yarn as you knit it – and be sure to close up all of the little holes that short-row heels particularly tend to create. These two things will greatly reduce the stress any individual stitch faces around the heel area. For all the effort you put into making a pair of socks, this will be the least time-consuming and most rewarding decision you can make. Do it. You’ll thank me later.

Close-up of heel

Close-up of heel

Fit the size.

Sock patterns are often very finicky about gauge. They tell you to measure very carefully and ensure you make a swatch and all that.

Ditch the swatch, I say.

Socks face more wear and tear than any other piece of knitting it might occur to you to make. The second you start wearing your socks, the fabric will start to loosen and shift depending on the direction the pressure is coming from, which is individual to your anatomy and moving patterns. You cannot swatch accurately for this, and most sock patterns I’ve seen don’t account for the added stretching, so all I can say is to experiment until you find the right size for you.

Stack of handknit socks by Liisa

Stack of handknit socks by Liisa

I make my socks insanely tight to begin with. Like, hard-to-put-on-and-blood-clots-emerging, 2-inches-of-negative-ease kind of tight. I regularly take out at least 4-8 stitches from the instructed number (if, heaven forbid, I am following a pattern) to account for the eventual stretching of the fabric. The first day or so is incredibly uncomfortable, but then the socks relax and conform to your feet, and you’re left with a pair that actually fits and won’t lose their shape.

Bonus round: Don’t let the love die.

While the finished pair ideally requires zero maintenance, it’s no excuse to stop treating your socks like the wonderous, beautiful things they are. Love them. Appreciate them. Wear them until they can be worn no more. Only wash them if your feet feel super gross – otherwise airing them is enough – and use your hands instead of a machine. Never tumble dry and never hang to dry! Gently place them flat on a towel and marvel as they dry.

So there you go — the ultimate sock, the trusted fluffy friend to hug your feet and keep you happy for years to come. Is there truly anything more beautiful? And is there any acceptable reason why you’re not already making some?

  • marta

    thank you for this post, i did only one pair of socks in my life so I need more and more advises

  • Missy Bimbamboum

    Thank you so much for this post, very intersting you convinced me totally!!!

  • Leah

    Love this post!! I especially support nylon!! If you are going to spend hours on a project it should last! I don’t know why nylon gets a bad rap. I also love the idea of ditching the swatch! I’ve knit so many socks now I can guesstimate about how big they should be. The risk is all part of the fun! ;) Thanks for such an awesome post! I look forward to more!