Tips for Choosing Yarns for Sock Knitting

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!

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