I know and I’m sorry. But if I have to endure the earworm, then so do you. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, then just consider yourself lucky not to have come of age in the late 80s/early 90s.
Handspun socks. I made a promise, yes?
Couple weeks ago, I posted a handspun sock in progress and in the comments mentioned that my handspun socks (so far) are wearing very well. And to set about proving this is true, I combed the house and found all of my handspun socks. This was harder than I expected, given that it’s summer and I haven’t been wearing any of said socks. I figured they’d all be in one place. (They weren’t.) I figured they’d all be clean. (They weren’t.)
Once located, I gave them all a bath, then laid them out to dry. Once that was finished, I took some pictures.
So, let’s have a closer look, yes? This here is one of my first finished handspun socks, which came off the needles in October 2011:
These were knit from a two-ply Masham handspun (Spunky Eclectic, Emerald City, a club colorway) because when I posted the finished yarn and said I didn’t know what to do with it, David of Southern Cross Fibre posted back that I should make socks. And so I did.
Now, these break one of my personal rules when it comes to knitting handspun socks, which is that I generally do not do that with a 2-ply yarn. However, if you take a look, you can see they’re still wearing quite well. (Oh, and just so you know, I’ve posted larger-sized pics for all of these, so if you want a close-up look at the wear on the heel and toe, just cleeck! on the photo.)
Still, from this point on, all of the socks adhere to several…let’s call them tendencies, instead of rules…I have when it comes to making handspun socks.
Here are the rest of my handspun socks, in the order they were finished, oldest to newest. I’m showing pictures of the heel and toe, because this is where I’d expect to see the most evidence of wear on a sock.
(Falkland 3-ply, FatCatKnits, Hemlock, finished September 2012–these have gotten a lot of wear. They’ve even been walked in a lot of times. If I were expecting to see felting, this would be the pair of socks I’d look for it on, but as you can see, they’re still looking pretty good. They look a bit shapeless, don’t they? That’s because I knit the leg a bit big on these to make them sorta slouchy.)
(Romney, n-ply, Spunky Eclectic, Tuxedo Rose. Finished October 2012. Romney is indestructible. Excellent for sock yarn. Tough as all get-out.)
(BFL, n-ply, Woolgatherings, Feather. Finished November 2012. My first Eye of Partridge heel. Eye of Partridge has since become my favorite heel. Another one where I’d expect to see signs of wear, especially given how much I’ve worn these.)
(Shetland, n-ply, Spunky Eclectic, Reading Rainbow. Finished February 2013. More Eye of Partridge, and another pair that’s been worn. A lot.)
(Cheviot, n-ply, Southern Cross Fibre, Hay Sunrise. Finished March 2013. Tough socks, these. Not quite as tough as Romney, but Cheviot is a nice, hard-wearing wool.)
(Shetland again, 3-ply, Spunky Eclectic, Field of Dreams. Finished May 2013. These were finished close enough to warm weather that they’ve not been worn a whole lot yet.)
OK. So those are the socks. And here are my general rules (which I hereby reserve the right to break at any time) for knitting socks from handspun yarn:
Rule the First: Sportweight Yarn is Ideal
While most people consider fingering-weight yarn to be their go-to for socks, I really very much prefer spinning my sock yarns just a hair thicker. Sportweight makes for a nice, hard-wearing pair of socks. It’s not dense enough to make the socks overbearingly warm, but it is thick enough that they’ll hold up under pressure. Also, since I can generally get about 330 yards of sportweight yarn out of 4 ounces of wool, it’s a great use for single bumps of fiber.
Rule the Second: Hard-Wearing Wools
I’ve generally stayed away from knitting handspun socks from the finewool breeds like Merino, Targhee and Polwarth. That’s not to say I never would do so–in fact, I can promise that at some point I will–but for the most part, I feel like the medium and longwool breeds are the best for making into items like socks, that are going to take a beating.
As I mentioned above, Romney is a tough fiber. The long staple length means your yarn’s not going to start coming apart anytime soon, and if you spin it a bit dense, it’s really going to last. Hang on, more on that in a second.
Merino is lovely and feels wonderfully soft, but the shorter staple length means it’s going to pill. And it’s really going to pill if it’s taking a constant rubbing from a toe and a heel inside a shoe.
So, ideally? I knit my socks from wools like Romney, BFL, Shetland, Corriedale, Falkland and so on.
Rule the Third: The Right Fit
Don’t knit your socks too tight, and don’t knit them too loose–in this way, you’ll get less friction in your shoes. Too tight, and all those wee stitches are taking a strain from stretching around your foot in addition to the rubbing. They’re going to break. Too loose and not only are they just not comfortable, but they’re also doing extra rubbing that’s gonna wear them out quick.
For myself, I almost always am knitting handspun socks at a gauge of 8 stitches to the inch. I’m not quite sure why it always works out that way, but it does. A couple of pairs (the Romney/Tuxedo Rose and the Cheviot/Hay Sunrise) were a bit less dense at 7 stitches to the inch, if I remember rightly. Those yarns were also more on the DK side of things.
I also try my socks on quite a bit to be sure they’re doing what I want them to do. If they’re not stretching comfortably over my heel, I’ve been known to rip and re-do.
Rule the Fourth: Twist It Tighter
So. Most of the time when you’re spinning, you’re aiming for a relatively balanced yarn, right? (That is, when you’ve finished your yarn, washed it and wound it into a skein, it twists back on itself only slightly…a half-turn or so maybe.) When spinning for socks, I overtwist a bit in both directions. Slightly overspun singles. Slightly overplied yarn.
Rule the Fifth: Let Me See….Is There Anything Else?
I generally go top-down when knitting socks. I like the look of a gusseted heel and a kitchener-stitched toe. But right this very moment, I’m actually going toe-up on a pair because that really is the way to make the most of limited yardage. For this, I’m following David’s Toe-Up Sock Cookbook pattern, which is free on Ravelry and really, I can’t say enough good about it. If you haven’t started a pair of handspun socks yet, I highly advise going with his instructions, because he’ll get you through all of the trickiness of figuring out your gauge, how many stitches to cast on, increases, blah, blah blah. Only…you have to be ready to go toe-up.
If you’d rather go top-down, I still love Getting Started Knitting Socks by Ann Budd. Seriously. It’s still my go-to when I can’t remember how many rows my heel flap oughta be. She’s very good at simple explanations with language. And as a person who learns best from words and diagrams (not videos–never ever videos!), I’ve found that when I need to figure out something I haven’t tried before, she’s the best source for me. (Seriously, over the weekend, I used the instructions in Sock Knitting Master Class to FINALLY figure out Judy’s Magic Cast-On without crying or swearing or anything. Magic!)
Tomorrow, I’ll show you my newest pair of finished handspun socks, and maybe even give you a glimpse of the toe-hat that my on-the-needles pair is right now.
Have a Happy Monday, Friends!