In my last post I promised to tell you how my socks have fared since I started knitting them three years ago.
I have been thinking about how I can present information about the socks in the most informative and least boring way and without grossing you out with too many pictures of worn socks!
I have decided that the information would be best categorised by yarn makeup. I am not going to be too fussy about identifying brand, as I think that it’s essentially yarn fibre makeup and spin that accounts for their performance. I believe the other two factors to take into account are how hard people are on their socks (just like shoes – some people wear through them faster than others) and how they are cared for.
In very interesting conversations with other knitters about how their socks have worn, I find that how a yarn has performed with me has not necessarily been their experience. It’s interesting for example, that I find Opal sock yarn extremely hard wearing, and yet a very lovely knitter recently told me that her husband wears through Opal very quickly!
I leave the reader to make their own informed and personal conclusions!
Merino/nylon sock yarn
Yarn makeup: 75% nylon/25% merino or 20% nylon/80% merino
How has it worn? Not one of my merino/nylon pairs have holes, despite the first pair being three years old, and worn almost every week for the first two years solid. It doesn’t really seem to matter how the yarn is spun, it still wears well. The New Zealand spun yarn is slightly stretched, and has lost a lot of its spring, and is now looking a little worn on the soles. However, I have noticed that the same yarn more tightly knitted and with less ease, has performed a lot better.
Also, thinking about it, when I first started knitting socks, I was not too precious about washing them gently, and threw them into the regular hot wash along with the general laundry (superwash, right?) You’ll see further down that I quickly learned this was not a good idea… but in the mean time I might have damaged the wool in the two pairs of merino/nylon that I knitted that I refer to above. It might account for their loss of bounce, as I notice this hasn’t occurred in other merino/nylon socks that I subsequently knitted. Superwash or no superwash, I do not ever wash my socks in hot water or with laundry detergent. It’s cold water and a good quality wool wash every time for me!
Some socks of his type of yarn that I have knit:
This is a Vintage Purls sock, and the below are a pair of Opal yarn socks.
100% supertwist merino
Yarn makeup: 100% merino, of course. Supertwisted spin (also known as high twist). You can also get supertwisted yarn with a nylon component. Some yarn is spun 2 ply and some spun 3 ply. My absolutely favourite sock yarn.
How has it worn? To be honest, I have put holes in the soles of the first couple of pairs I knitted (100% merino) and have worn continuously and very regularly for two years. Nothing that a bit of darning hasn’t fixed, and the rest of the sock still looks very fresh and new and feels just as snuggly. I especially like how the yarn has kept its bounce, and the socks fits as nicely as the day I knitted them. They definitely perform better knitted tightly (2.25mm needles are now my preferred “weapon” with this yarn).
Socks that I knitted a year ago are still as fresh as the day I finished them. This is because I have knitted quite a few socks since the first pair, and can now rotate them with less regularity. Less wear = longer life!
Some of my 100% merino high twist socks in Knitsch and Sokkusu yarns:
100% BFL sock
I love BFL sock yarn. It’s the perfect lace sock yarn. The first pair of BFL socks I knitted are still going strong, although I notice I should do some pre-emptive darning on the soles as they are now looking thin. (Better to reinforce before the break than try to stitch up a hole after it happens!)
I know that others have had different experiences with this yarn, and again, perhaps it’s about how we wear our socks that plays a part in the way they last.
This pair, in yarn from Happy-go-knitty, were finished in December 2011, and have been worn almost every week since then. I figure it’s quite good going that I am only now needing to think about repairing them.
This pair are still very lovely one year later:
Yarn makeup: approximately 50/60% alpaca, 20/25% merino, 20/25% nylon
The thing about this yarn is getting used to the feel of alpaca in socks. If you are familiar with alpaca, you know that it’s much denser than wool, and is a lot more ‘drapey’. It does not have the spring and stretch of a merino yarn, for example. I would hesitate to knit socks with heavy cables in this yarn, although small cables could be okay. However, once you knit a pair, and find that they are the perfect thing to wear on a very cold, frosty day, there is no going back…
The first pair I knitted were foolishly thrown in the machine with all the clothes and washed in the regular hot wash cycle… this worked fine for the first few washes, but on the fourth or fifth wash, I pulled out a pair of very small, child-size felted socks… I was very sad. I still mourn that lovely colourway. Since then, I have washed all my socks with wool wash in cold water on the handwash or wool cycle. I’m too lazy to hand wash them, and it works fine.
The second pair I knitted were done in a yarn colour that I wasn’t comfortable wearing with shoes, but were perfect as bed socks and Sunday-morning-slouching-around-the-house-in-pyjamas socks. Now, wearing socks in bed is actually quite hard on the socks because they get rubbed against the sheets all night, so even though the soles do not wear out, they can start to look a little ‘jaded’.
This yarn is surprisingly robust, and now that I don’t do silly things like washing them in hot water in a regular cycle, they have stood up very well to wear, thanks I believe to the merino/nylon content. Alpaca is also known to stretch over time and one would think given how sweaty feet can get, that they could become misshapen. I have not found this to be the case at all, and again, I think it’s due to the addition of merino/nylon to the yarn. None of my alpaca/merino socks have holes, but I will say that most of the pairs I wear in shoes are less than a year old. Still, I don’t get the fibres developing into fluff balls on the inside of my socks like other mostly wool yarns (this is an indication of thinning of the yarn on the sole), and I’m tempted to think that they might actually wear a lot better than I initially thought.
I think I’ve actually developed a bit of a fetish for this yarn… I can’t get enough of it!! Flagstaff Alpaca is the source of this sock yarn, and I am very pleased that some indie dyers like Happy-go-knitty and Doespins use the base in their creations – more variety to choose from!!
Silk/merino/nylon sock yarn
Yarn makeup: various percentages, see below.
I’ve tried a few different yarn bases in merino/silk. I was not very happy with my first experience using 25% silk/65% merino/10% nylon as I thought that the nylon was far too dominant, despite its small percentage and it felt ‘squeaky’ to knit, and there was no lively bounce that I prefer in sock yarn. However, they have worn surprisingly well, and even though I expected the silk, like alpaca, to stretch out of shape over time, these socks have surprised me by not doing so. I suspect the reason is the same as the alpaca – the merino and nylon have added strength and elasticity. They have also developed that nice ‘worn in’ feeling that raw silk can develop after being washed a few times, and I find them not quite as objectionable as when I first knitted them. I’m tempted to have another go with this yarn. You’ll recognise the pattern as being Hermoine’s Everyday Socks.
My second experience of merino/silk was heavenly decadence, as the fibre makeup is completely different (50/50) and without the nylon and using a different sort of silk. They are extremely luxurious feeling. You’ll probably remember these lovely Rumpelstiltskins as I knitted them only recently. I don’t know how they will wear – I keep them for “best” because they are so pretty that I don’t want to ruin them!
And then there is another silk/merino base that has a different nylon component that I got from Travelling Threads. I loved knitting with that yarn, and it is only my own fault that I chose to knit them on needles a size too small which made them a bit tight to knit and quite hard on the hands. I don’t think I ever showed you the finished product:
I haven’t worn them enough to say how they will wear, although I expect the result will be similar to the Hermoine socks above.
I have only tried one brand of possum/merino/nylon so far. They were the John Q Earth Wear sock yarn, Knit World’s house brand (Knit World, for my overseas readers, is one of NZ’s largest yarn store chains). That yarn converted my eldest son into hand-knitted sock lover. “These socks” he said one night, looking at them in a puzzled fashion, “are very nice.” That is quite a compliment! Even better, he has loved his socks so much and so well that they are now a perversion of socks. No holes, but so very, very, worn, threadbare, pilled and generally well… “munted”, as we say in Kiwi land. That’s what you get from being worn every day for six months and scuffed (someone doesn’t like lifting his feet when he walks) and rubbed all over the carpet.
Here they are in pristine, just-knitted condition:
I must knit him another pair, and quietly dispose of the offending articles. Although of course, I am very pleased they have been so happily worn and not just stuffed at the back of the drawer!
I hope Knit World do another run of this yarn again, as I really, really, like it. I’m just relieved I got more than one ball at the time.
If I have drawn anything from my reflections on the socks, the points are these:
- Nylon adds durability.
- Pure supertwist/high twist merino yarns are the most comfortable to knit, but you may expect a hole or two after a couple of years’ intensive wear (that still makes them very durable in my opinion, and frankly the comfort factor far outweighs the durability issue).
- Care of your socks is just as important as fibre makeup. Wash them gently and in a good quality wool wash, and they will stay nice for longer.
- Tight gauge is also important to keep your socks wearing well.
I thought I was done with this topic, but a further ‘need’ presented itself to me as I was drafting this post. I think I should create a page on New Zealand sock yarns. This should be a reasonably helpful resource to those wanting a quick list of sock yarn indie dyers and producers in New Zealand and will present more information than the general list on my side bar. I have got busy on another large project at work which is going to keep me busy for the next couple of weeks so it might take a few weeks for me to get to it.