Knitted socks. To beginner knitters, it's like magic; to seasoned knitters, it's an obsession and the reason behind our uncontrollable stash problems; to non-knitters.... "WHAT? WHY? ARENT THEY SCRATCHY? TOO HOT? WHO DOES THAT?!!"
I love knitting socks. They are so portable, especially if you're into magic loop method. I love DPNs but I've broken a few too many while carrying them around in my project bags. And, don't even get me started on all the beautiful hand-dyed sock yarns: variegated, self-striping, tonal, splash-dyed...
I just saw this newsletter from Countess Ablaze (@countessablaze) and thought about my own preferences for sock yarns and sock knitting.
1. Sock yarns
As the newsletter points out, not all fingering weight yarns are sock yarns. Also, not all superwash yarns are sock yarns. Unless you live in California like me and you only wear socks in the morning (and before bed) like slippers. I've knitted quite a few socks out of 100% superwash merino, and they're super soft and absolutely delight to wear around the house.
But if you want to actually wear the socks with shoes, I recommend something else. Because one of the characteristics of superwash yarn is that, when wet, it's super stretchy. Superwash is basically a special treatment done to wool so that the cuticles are all flattened, to prevent them from being grabby (this is why things felt). Think "straight perm" done to your hair and the hair looks shiny and doesn't tangle as much.
What happens when you wear socks in your shoes? Your feet get sweaty. The moisture from your feet make the yarn weak. Your feet endure tremendous friction and pressure from your body weight all day long. Eventually the yarn won't be able to take the stress and get worn out faster.
Speaking of moisture, it could also cause felting. Not all yarns are created equal; not all superwash yarns, definitely, are not created equal. I've made socks for my husband out of 100% superwash yarn a long time ago before I realized this rule. I put them in the washer a week later. They now fit ME (I wear women's size 7; my husband men's size 11). It wasn't cheap yarn, at about $20 per skein. In fact, some sock yarns like Patons Kroy from big box stores are still beautiful today after many many wears. The quality of superwash yarn is not directly related to the price of the yarn.
My favorite sock yarns are reasonably priced yarns, with about 70~75% superwash merino or BFL, with 25~30% nylon or polymide, with very good twist. Merino and BFL are very soft fibers, and with nylon, the socks last a LONG time.
My go-to yarns are Cascade Heritage, Sweet Georgia Yarns Tough Love Sock, and Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock, for their availability as well as their fiber blends. When I shop online for indie dyer sock yarns, I also search for similar blends and twist.
I pulled a list on Ravelry for reference here.
I like SIMPLE patterns, some knit-and-purl texture patterns or very simple lace patterns. Cables are not my thing for socks, although I love them for garments. It's because the tight twists of the stitches sometimes affect the stretchiness of the socks.
I also dislike complicated charts for sock designs. I've made them once or twice just because sometimes you do need that challenge in your life... But to me, socks are portable projects. If I have to refer to a chart every time I move on to the next row, that is going to seriously affect my overall knitting time. And on some days, the only time I get to knit is 5~15 minutes in the car after work.
The pattern needs to be in my brain by the time I'm an inch from the cast-on edge. That's also my design rule. I design for advanced beginner knitters, somebody who has been knitting for maybe 6 months to a year, who's done a couple of projects like a baby sweater or a lace shawl.
Here is a list of downloadable patterns on Ravelry for textured sock designs (only Ravelry members are able to view the pattern list).
In the next entry, I will continue talking about sock knitting, like color choices and washing methods.