Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Good Socks!

Good socks last long enough to be worth the effort to knit.

Good socks are made from good yarn, and good yarn is made from good fiber.

In my view, the best wool sock yarns are worsted spun from medium to fine long wools with their scales intact, and functioning. I think the best wool  for socks is Suffolk, but any of the long wools with diameters of 25 to 35 microns are very good. Perhaps the best socks I ever knit were from Shetland fiber.

I think the texture of a good sock should be very smooth and silken against the skin rather than soft. Smooth lustrous socks have good durability and maintain their appearance for a long time.  Soft socks tend to deteriorate more rapidly.

The Camilid and Capra fibers do not have scales on the fibers, so exceptional care must be taken in spinning them into sock yarns.  The fine wools (Merino and Rambouillet) are fragile and best reserved for ladies that are careful not to walk or dance in them. There are some very robust commercial Merino socks, but they are exceptional well spun - not the kind of yarn one finds at LYS. The yarns are more tightly knit than most modern knitters have the patience or tools to knit.

Nylon is slippery and it stretches.  Spin any significant amount of nylon into a yarn and  unless the other fibers are carefully locked into the fabric by very tight knitting, the other fibers will come out of the yarn under stress, leaving the nylon fibers thread bare. Nylon is also very cheap.  If you want to pay wool prices for cheap synthetic fibers, the yarn mills are perfectly willing to take your money.

In super wash wools, the scales on the wool are either removed or sealed to the fiber shaft. Thus, adjacent wool fibers cannot lock scales to form a more competent yarn structure.

We are told that worsted yarns should be combed so that they can be spun "butt" first into the yarn.  This does make a more lustrous and silken feeling yarn.  However, yarns spun with the fibers oriented in both directions allow the scales to lock together and form a stronger, more competent, yarn that can be knit into a more durable sock.

I think good socks are finely knit.  I knit 5-ply or  10-strand gansey yarn (1,000 ypp) on 2.35 mm needles to make ski, hiking and fishing socks.  I knit 1650 ypp sock yarn on 2 mm needles to produce a casual sock fabric at 10 spi and 14 rpi. (140 stitches per square inch).

By now, you have all read Nancy Bush's books, including gauge and the fiber content of  the suggested yarns.  She focuses on the knitting.  I focus on the wearing.

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