The Perfect Sock Yarn

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 the sock yarns which will make up our sock club in 2019.

First up is our 75% Blue Faced Leicester 25% 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.

For the first time we’ll also have  non nylon sock yarn in our club lineup in 2019. I doubt that anyone is unaware of the damage that plastics are doing to our environment, and offering an alternative means you can choose the yarn which suits you best. Nylon is typically added to wool for strength, and we’ve replaced this with mohair. When we had our first batch of no nylon sock yarn spun we used super wash BFL as the wool. We opted for super wash treated wool as mohair can felt and we wanted to be absolutely sure that we hadn’t created a yarn which would felt too easily. During 2019 we’ll be moving from BFL mohair to Corriedale mohair. The Corriedale is not super wash treated so it’s an even greener option. The other reason for the change is that the BFL mohair was custom spun for us and led times with the mill mean we’re likely to run out of it before another batch is ready.

My first pair of BFL mohair socks were knitted in February this year and they’re standing up to being worn inside boots at the workshop where I can be on my feet for 8 hours a day.

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.

So that’s the low down on the sock yarns we’ll be offering you for 2019. Tomorrow I’ll be talking about the shawl club and the gorgeous BFL Masham base which we’re using for that.

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