Handspun yarn - what kind? Sock yarn - what do you like?

I am an invader. My apologies, and I will try not to be a nuisance. First of all, I am neither male nor am I a great knitter. I do knit but am still early days, and I have no experience with socks. However, I am a spinner. I came to your forum because I was doing a search about characteristics of sock yarn, wanting to know what people thought was desirable in fiber content, etc. There were some good comments I saw from men who obviously have real experience in what makes a durable and comfortable sock.

In general, I have interests in making really functional yarn as well as something that looks cool. My partner and I are very interested in supporting our local shepherds who are raising healthy sheep with high quality wool. With respect to socks, although one sees a lot of "sock yarn" that is merino plus nylon (which would be soft), others suggest the use of much more durable wools such as a longwool like Romney, Perendale, or Border Leicester or a down wool like Cheviot. I have also seen articles suggesting the use of mohair for strength. Yes, again apologies if the jargon is of no interest. However, it seems like a huge waste of effort if the sock is not durable and comfortable. Hence, my question.

I would certainly be interested in any general comments regarding handspun, have seen a few posts from those of you who do spin. Specifics from guys who knit a lot of socks would be great. And, since I am really a kind of outsider who appreciated being allowed to post on this forum, I will try not to be overly intrusive. Thanks for the opportunity to ask the question.


superi's picture

Hi, and welcome! Don't feel like you're being intrusive. We welcome people of all sex and genders here. I know one thing I look for out of yarn for socks. Is if it's machine wash and dryable. Too me handwashing socks just seems way too tedious, but that's my personal preferrence. I know there are others that don't mind handwashing them. I also look for good yardage per skein. 400+ yrd/ 100 gram (4oz) skeins, and I would also want a yarn with a tight ply for durability.

I hope that helps. Zach


Welcome fiber friend! I agree with Zach......good yardage (400+ yds per 100 grms) is what I look for. Also the nylon blended with wool gives it strength to hold up better at the heels and toes. Many hand painted skeins of sock yarn are eye-candy, but knit up into unatractive, blotchy disappointments......pay attention to how the colors will work on an average 60 st. sock.

It's nice to hear from someone on the " manufacture" end who wants consumer input. Spinners and knitters should work together as good fiber arts are their mutual goals!

scottly's picture

Guy colors !!!! If I'm making socks for my husband or me they will be dark colors or a nice masculine marled of some kind. You can't believe how difficult it is to find a nice solid brown, navy or gray to work with in a fingering weight superwash. Twists or marled sock yarns are even more difficult to find. As for other specifics, I prefer fingering and lace weight, wool/cotton or wool/silk blends are nice for warmer weather and plys that I will don't seperate. Also, because I knit both socks simulaneously I prefer two 50 g skeins not 100 g skeins that will have to be divided. Besause my husband and I have gobs of socks no single pair gets worn that often so durbility is of less concern then color or comfort.

Thanks for asking! This fiber industry tends to favor women's sensibilities since they buy most of the product so it's nice for someone to ask us about our sensibilities. By the way, intrusive is more interesting then timid. You have my permission to intrude as much as you like.

docs1's picture

Very helpful comments about color, durability, and what kind of skein. Ok, here is some of my conundrum. I have a good source for Superwash and it is soft, but I don't have an identified wool type on it, and so durability is of concern. I can blend it with nylon and then acid fast dye the whole thing, because nylon will dye well with this kind of dye. ? durability may be OK then. Or, maybe I can find some Superwash BFL that will at least be a long staple length and more durable. That would get you the machine wash criterion.
The colors are an easy issue. If one can dye something lavender and pink, it can surely be brown or marled grey and black or whatever. Dyeing is the easy part. Now I work with some beautiful natural Shetland in dark brown all the time, just not Superwash. So here we are talking another possible, dark natural colored fleece, sometimes we can get this in longwools that are very durable and don't need the nylon, but just not Superwash.
Third option, I just bought Cheviot lamb fleece, a very non-felting kind of wool which dyes well and is supposed to be great for socks. I don't think I would abuse it, but maybe it would tolerate minimal kind of machine wash experience ?? don't know.

I am definitely interested, because above comments made note of things I had suspected about what kinds of yarn are "pitched" for women. I have been working on some yarns, not sock as of yet, that are more what I think guys might like for a hat or scarf. Not necessarily all conservative but I think you get my drift. If I spin some prototype sock yarn (or maybe one from Superwash+ nylon versus another more durable but not Superwash wool) would anyone like to give it a test run? That is, I would be glad to give a skein for the benefit of feedback.

Thanks to all three of you who made such thoughtful comments and helped me feel "at home." I would love to develop this as a "product." By this, I mean I am developing a sideline of spinning for a small business, more of a yarn adoption agency, because right now I would never be able to use all the yarn I spin. Most of the women I have talked to could not give me any insight into this, and I have yet to figure out the merino and cashmere connection unless one simply does not mind throwing away beautiful handmade things!

docs1's picture

I am asking the three of you who replied if any or all of you would like to try a sample (ie. enough handspun to knit a pair) in a "guy" color if I come up with something I think meets criteria for good sock yarn. I think you want superwash, so I will plan for that.
Would you be willing to "test drive" a handmade yarn? I am assuming from at least one source we are talking three ply as better.

scottly's picture

I would be honored! If you want I can make them to a size you want and you can test drive the yarn yourself once it's knit up.

docs1's picture

Dear Scott,
I am a bit buried at the day job but will get back to you. The purpose of asking for a knitter to make socks was so I would get something - information- and you would get something (hopefully nice functional yarn). Your offer is very nice. I originally came to this question and "search" because I was looking at commercial "sock yarn" where I questioned the functionality and durability. Hence, my interest, since it seems a shame to use one's skill, make something with real work involved, and have it wear out easily.


docs1's picture

Dear Scott,
You mentioned brown. I have some beautiful dark brown Shetland that I think would be a great sock yarn. It would be easy to blend it with nylon or mohair to achieve a little more durability, but it is a longer staple fiber with good pill resistance anyway, spun fine with three ply it should do the trick. Want to try it? If I blend it, I can achieve a heathered effect or dye the other fiber and keep it solid color. Also, this is one in which it could we could get a nice marled effect in a yarn depending on how it is plied.
Let me know. I realize St Louis is not as cold as Iowa, but 15% mohair should not make a difference in how "hot" the sock feels.

Hey Docs, I would love the opportunity to test knit yarn for you.
I have knit hundreds ( no exaggeration) of pairs of socks, so I have worked with many yarns and fibers. I really appreciate your approach to this whole process to go from spinning to knitting to wearing.
You guys rock!

docs1's picture

Dear Eric,
I did not see on your comment Superwash. I can do that, but I have some Cheviot lamb which should be quite durable and even could have some mohair for strength as well, have had some comment somewhere that Cheviot is "like Superwash." I will not just take that at face value but it clearly does not felt easily.
What color would you like? Also, if you prefer a natural color, I have the most beautiful stainless steel gray Romney, a lustrous strong gorgeous fleece I have a lot of, and it could be blended with nylon or Mohair for additional strength, long fiber length, mid 30's on micron count officially but it is very soft anyway. You can see the picture of the wool in a cabled yarn on our Facebook page Fiber Curio and Sundries, "SuperRam Graham Cable." Anyway, you get to choose from several options.
Thanks so much for volunteering!

Ellen Sakornbut
BTW my day job is a family doc, hence the Doc S designation.

Dear Ellen, The stainless steel gray sounds nice. I personally do not like mohair in sock yarns....too " hairy" and too hot. I personally handwash my socks, but worry about this issue when giving them to others. My email address is: eric.derienze01@ gmail.com
If you give me your email address I can send you pix of some of my socks. ( the Ipad will not upload to any web sites)
Best wishes, hoping to hear from you......Eric

CLABBERS's picture

Welcome Ellen,
I really enjoyed reading your posting regarding the sock yarn. You will find that the guys here value such input...thrive on it in fact in some instances. I haven't braved a pair of socks yet, but I am working diligently to perfect and then extend the making of top-down raglan sweaters. I doubt that I will do it anytime soon, but I have it on my to-do list to knit a sweater with sock yarn and do some intricate designs within the pattern. I am not sure my fingers or eyes are up to that just now. When I do make it, I want it to be soft and to wear very well. No sense in working so finely if the elbows wear out too soon. I am not fond of the leather-patch look...a bit too professorial for me. Being in academics, I like to distance myself from that look. Do you also make worsted weight yarn? I have used the Knit Picks superwash merino wool that also contains nylon and find it very comfortable for making just about any garment.

If you have researched and worked with a worsted yarn that is soft like the superwash merino, what do you suggest I try? Do you sell your yarns online? I don't use Facebook anymore...too time-consuming with my shutter-happy-gossip-slinging friends. Yikes!

Thanks for the posting!

Sara Katsan's picture

jumping in here ...

just seeing this after being away fromthe forum for a while. i am curious if you can spin some tightly spun single ply. The historical reproductions (socks and leggings) that i work on are predominatley made from that ( sometimes 2-ply).

i could send/post pics of what i mean. i would even be interested to commission some .......

i have similar need for weaving reproduction projects - single ply tightly spun , but worsted weight this time.
this would weave be used to weave a twill fabric that would be 'fulled'.

my color schemes might be boring to you though - black, white, off white, reds, and blues for the socks, and only black and white for the weaving

docs1's picture

Dear Sara,
I do spin some singles, have been working on technique actually for "low twist" singles (not what you are talking about) and "lopi style" which is extremely low twist. That is to achieve softness and loftiness. High twist singles are often referred to as "highly energized" by spinners and there is reference to this in an old Spin-off with singles in a mohair wool combination.

I would be interested - do you know what kind of wool was used in the originals? I suppose that depends on where the item is from, but if British Isles, maybe a longer staple wool which would have better durability. I am not averse at all to the idea of doing some on commission, but probably we'd need to think through this some more off line. I do belong to a guild of spinners and weavers where at least one member is clearly working on spinning skills because of her interest in Navaho style weaving.
Interesting... Ellen

Bill's picture

I would love a medium charcoal yarn spun with wisps of other colours...teal, lavender, green, etc. I love the coloured fibres in Alice Starmore's yarn...but she doesn't spin a charcoal. She says it doesn't sell.

ronhuber's picture

I am with Bill. That combination sounds wonderful - especially the teal and lavender.

Tallguy's picture

I had seen your post earlier but only now getting back to the forum to get a response written for you.

You asked about wool, and I agree that the long wools are better suited for socks. While merino is lovely to hold and work with, and feels great on the feet, it just does not wear well as socks. It is too soft. You can blend with nylon for added strength, but I prefer mohair and silk. Both of these are very strong, add some sheen to the yarn and a little goes a long way in giving the yarn added strength. Both dye very well with acid dyes that you use for wool. I feel that nylon sometimes will actually cut through the wool, since it is so strong.

I feel that you would be better to use a 3-ply yarn. It is rounder in shape than a 2-ply and gives nicer texture to anything you knit. It is also stronger in wear than a single or a 2-ply. A single needs to be tightly twisted for wearability, which makes the yarn hard and stiff, but that tight twist also introduces bias in any fabric you knit or weave. A plied yarn gives more strength to the yarn as well, and makes a thicker yarn without adding weight to it that a single would have of similar thickness. Tightly twisted singles can sometimes be used for weaving, but as was mentioned, there is "energy" in that yarn, which may or may not be useful to you.

It is indeed a special experience to have your own handspun yarn with which to knit your own socks. I feel that that yarn has a different quality that is not found in commercial yarn, but I don't know if that is reality or only my own perception.