Kiwiyarns Knits

A blog about New Zealand yarns, knitting and life

Secrets of the socks, Part I

17 Comments

A lovely reader asked about super twist yarn in one of my last posts, and what makes it different.  I thought her question benefited a post of its own, so here it is!

To address super twist sock yarn then, and how it is different to other sock yarns and yarns that you might normally choose for a garment or shawl:

This is a super twist yarn.  (For the purposes of this post, I’ve used my lovely stash of Knitsch Yarns Sock to illustrate the point).

Knitsch 100% merino sock yarn

Can you see how the yarn looks almost ropey?  That’s because the twist in the yarn is tight.  Super twist is invariably a two-ply yarn, and spun very tightly, to literally ‘super twist’ the yarn.  The spinning process has created a yarn with many more twists per inch than a “regular” yarn.  When spun this way as a 2 ply, it creates a yarn with a massive amount of coiled stretch, making is very suitable for things that need to be stretchy, and not go out of shape (like socks, hats, fingerless gloves or fitted cardigans).  It has been balanced, so if you are thinking that it might coil back on itself like some tightly spun single ply yarns, you can be assured that it will not.

If you gently pull a strand of super twist yarn between your fingers, you can stretch it out a lot further than regular yarn used in garments. Even holding the skein in your hand will give you a feel for the amount of energy stored in the yarn – it will feel much more ‘alive’ and bouncy than a skein of ‘normal’ yarn.  This factor makes it singularly comfortable to knit at tight, sock gauge (and therefore my favoured sock yarn), because the yarn will “give” under your fingers when being knitted, and will not stress your hand joints. When knitted, the resulting fabric wants to pull together and stay tight, and not go out of shape after a time. It creates a dense, strong fabric that is perfect for socks!  It also gives good stitch definition for cables, like this one below.  This is what gets me very excited about super twist yarn.

Sock in Super twist yarn

The density of the twists also makes a normally delicate yarn (100% merino, and only two ply) into something much stronger, which resists wear and tear very effectively.

Below is a typical 3 ply fingering yarn used for garments and things like shawls.  The twist is much more relaxed, and if you pull this strand, you will get no stretch or bounce.  It is perfect for stunning lace shawls and other garments that do not need to be ultra stretchy.  (The below picture is one of Anna Gratton’s beautiful 4 ply 100% wool yarns.)

4 ply for garments

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of a garment-purpose fingering yarn and a super-twisted sock yarn.  Can you see how the super twist is much plumper and springier looking?

Sock yarn and normal fingering

So how is ‘super twist’ different to other sock yarn?   Super twist is 2 plies in a strand, and most normal sock yarns have 4 plies.  The below images shows 4 ply sock yarns next to a super twist.

sock yarns

In most cases, sock yarns have many more twists per inch than a garment-style yarn, which does make sock yarn in general much stronger, more durable and stretchier than other yarns.  The addition of nylon, a regular component of many sock yarns, also gives it added durability. Nylon can also make up for lack of strength in sock yarns that are not tightly spun.

For a detailed explanation of ply and twist, have a look at this excellent article by Clara Parkes.

Watch out for Secrets of the Socks, Part 2:  making socks fit your foot and look good.

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Author: kiwiyarns

Welcome to my blog where I talk about knitting in New Zealand and the beautiful yarns you can find here.

17 thoughts on “Secrets of the socks, Part I

  1. What a fantastic post & great photographic/visual demonstration of the differences.

    Also, you bring up another great point about wool/yarn with regards to the ply of the wool. Ply doesn’t necessarily determine the characteristics nor the weight of that particular wool/yarn.

    thank you 🙂

    • You are quite right. In NZ, we use the ply number to indicate weight of yarn, which is what it used to be in the old days, but it is no longer the case at all. That is why I prefer to use the descriptive terms such as “fingering”, “DK”, “worsted” and “chunky” which are more accurate terms for weight of yarn now.

  2. I just had a ‘Bazinga!’ moment. I finished my first pair of socks, made from a looser yarn, while also having some Knitsch socks going on at the same time. I’ve only been wearing my first pair for a month and a half, and they’ve already lost their shape and are wearing though. I am so disappointed (yarn was Wakiwi prints) because it took me months to finish my first pair. I hope my knitsch pairs last much better. They’re nearly finished. How have your knitsch pairs lasted? I’d love to see a ‘review’ post – how all of your socks are holding up.

    • I am sorry to hear about your disappointing experience with your first pair of socks. I have to say I haven’t yet knit a full pair of socks with that yarn… I tried to start a pair of socks with it once but only got a few rows in and decided against it as it felt too ‘squeaky’ for my tastes. I think you’ve just provided inspiration for Part 3. 🙂 My Knitsch socks have lasted well. The first pair I knitted has needed darning after a couple of years of intensive wear, but they still retain their shape very well. The trick to making your socks last is to make sure you don’t knit them too loosely.

  3. THANK YOU for this very interesting post! I learned from it.
    Have a nice weekend
    An-Maria
    x

  4. I’ve noticed myself gravitating towards super twist yarns recently, but I couldn’t put my finger on why until now. Thank-you for that information! It is the lessened amount of hand stress that I think I like. I don’t have to tug as much when knitting. (Of course it doesn’t matter how the yarn is spun when I find just the right color. Colors always get me.)

    • When we knit as much as you and I, it really does make a difference to have the ‘right’ yarn. I’m totally addicted to super twist. I don’t think I can ever get enough, especially when it comes in super-beautiful colours like Tash dyes!

      • Exactly ! I agree completely in fact at the moment I’m using Tash’s gorgeous colours for just about everything I can think of …except socks lol

  5. This post answers a lot of questions for me . I have just finished my first pair of socks and your right they look and feel better if they are knitted tighter. Back in Nz now and dying to try some Nz wool, won’t be here for much longer though as found out 2 weeks ago that we are moving to HK ….. Not sure what the wool scene is like out there !!

    • Congrats on your first finished pair of socks! Lucky you with the move to HK. You will find the air pollution and heat a lot to deal with. The secret is to buy a dehumidifier! There is a Hong Kong knitting group on Ravelry – you should check it out as there is a lot of information on there as to where to go to get the Yarn!

  6. Great info, thanks for sharing!

  7. Nice description and great link! I’d never heard anyone describe sock yarn as ‘super twist’ before. A lot of the basic sock yarn used by indie dyers seems to be that tightly-twisted 2-ply. Blue Moon Socks that Rock, my favorite, is a nice tight 3-ply. I don’t think I’ve worked with a 4-ply sock yarn yet.

  8. Thanks, I had not taken time to analyze the difference. Very useful information. 🙂

  9. Very educational. The Madtosh I’m using for the shawl has a tight twist like that.

  10. Thanks for the lovely and educational post ! I will surely keep my eyes open when buying yarn on etsy next time, I’ve never really paid just that much attention to it ( though I’m a bit scared to try a pure merino with no nylon sock yarn, because of durability.. ).

  11. Great post … nothing worse than taking the time to knit a pair of socks and have the yarn stretch or wear out quickly!