Sock yarn is my favorite indulgence. It is an affordable one because you need only buy one or two skeins of yarn to make a pair of socks. When I look at my skeins of sock yarns, I think of them as little jewels, small luxuries that glow with colors that make me happy. I decorate with sock yarn, putting skeins in baskets and bowls in my living room.
Just a few years ago, there were only a few sock yarns available for sale: solid colors in sturdy wool or nylon blends that were rugged and practical. Then the self-striping sock yarns came on the scene. Recently, hand-painted sock yarns by indie dyers have started popping up in small online shops. Now, sock yarns are available in a rainbow of colors and a variety of different fibers.
What do you look for in a sock yarn? For starters, most of the time you want to use a yarn that’s easy to care for. Superwash wool is a good choice, so you can machine-wash your socks. A lot of people do hand-wash their superwash wool socks to make them last longer, but I throw mine in the washer on the gentle cycle. I will put them in the dryer, too, if I am in a hurry, but I try to take them out while they are still slightly damp. A yarn with a tight twist will, of course, be more durable than one that is loosely spun.
Sock yarns are available in many different fibers and blends: wool, alpaca, cashmere, silk, bamboo, cotton, and so on. If you live in a warm climate, cotton is a good choice for your hand-knit socks, but look for a cotton yarn with a bit of something stretchy fabric blended into it, so the socks will keep their shape and not sag and bag on you.
The truth is that many non-sock yarns can be pressed into service for socks. With these, you will generally want to knit at a tighter gauge than recommended on the yarn’s ball band. Knitting very firmly makes a stronger, tighter fabric that will resist wear.
A word of caution about hand-painted and hand-dyed sock yarns: the more intricate your sock pattern, the less variegated you want your sock yarn to be. There’s nothing more disheartening than meticulously knitting a complex lace pattern and having it obscured by a too-wildly-variegated yarn. There are many beautiful sock yarns available in solid colors, almost-solid colors, and subtle heathers. While a lot of the patterns will look best in these non-variegated yarns, a few will look great in your wildest hand-paints.
You can have a lot of fun using different yarns in your sock knitting. You can have just as much fun collecting skeins of sock yarn. Remember, sock yarn does not count as stash!