The perfect sock yarn is an elusive thing.
Socks demand a lot from a yarn – a days wear sees a lot of friction, warmth and moisture. So sock yarn needs to be tough or you’ll be seeing holes very quickly.
So I wanted to talk a little about a couple of sock yarns.
First up is our 70% Blue Faced Leicester 30% nylon blend. The wool in this blend has been super wash treated so it won’t felt. That’s useful for socks which get subjected to a lot of warmth, moisture and friction – pretty much what you need to make felt. BFL is a great sock yarn as it has a good staple length, so a high twist spin locks the fibers in to give you a hard wearing yarn. Super wash treating the yarn takes off the little hooks, so it can make the yarn more suitable for sensitive skin. Yarn that’s been super wash treated can be machine washed without shrinking (use a 30 degree wash and check a swatch first though). The downside is that it’s another process and it uses some powerful chemicals.
The second yarn we recommend for socks is Britsock. Britsock is 40% Blue Faced Leiecester, 20% Wensleydale, 20% alpaca and 20% nylon. This yarn is custom spun for us by John Arbon, so we were able to choose the fiber blend and twist we wanted. The wools in the blend aren’t super wash treated, so over time the fibers will felt together giving your socks a beautifully warm and hard wearing sole. As we weren’t using supwer wash fibers we added alpaca and nylon to the blend – both contribute to the strength of the finished yarn and the nylon adds an element that won’t felt easily.
Why does twist matter?
One thing that all of our sock yarns have in common is that they are spun with a high twist. Sock yarn is made up of singles (a single is an unplied yarn) which are plied together to create the finished yarn. Yarns with a higher twist are stronger because the individual fibers are more firmly fixed in place.
What else helps?
Tension. Socks need to be knitted tightly. I remember talking to a customer at a show a few years back who was complaining that she wore though every pair of socks she knitted in a matter of days. She was knitting 4ply (fingering) weight yarn on 4mm needles, and while the fabric would have been perfect for a drapey shawl it wasn’t strong enough for socks. So if you ever want to knit socks from something that isn’t ideal as a sock yarn then smaller knitting needles are your friend.