Wednesday, January 30, 2008

On Sock Yarn

All this sock knitting (and teaching of sock knitting) of late has caused me to bring out all my handknitted socks.

And I've noticed something.

Something I've always sorta suspected, but I've been trying to ignore the evidence for some months now. The filthy truth about all these small-producer, hand-dyed, 100% merino sock yarns we drool over.

Oh yes, they're lovely. Great colourways, cool names, nice feel to work with. All very alluring and fun.

But they just don't wear as well as old-school, commercial 75% wool/25% nylon sock yarn.

Oh, I'm not happy about it, trust me.

But look... the evidence is there for us all to see.

These socks are about 2 years old, made of Fleece Artist 100% merino:

These socks are more than 10 years old, made of good old nylon blend sock yarn -- Regia, I believe:

Compare the pilling:

(It's not extreme in either case, but it's definitely there. Click to embiggen the pictures. And given the relative ages of the two socks, the Fleece Artist pair are aging faster.)

Now, even more worrying, look at this... the inside of a heel of socks in Collinette Jitterbug. These socks aren't even a year old.

They're FELTING.

This is what 100% animal fibres gets you. The damn stuff is behaving like good wool -- it's pilling and felting and generally wearing out.

But I don't want my socks to wear out. I spend a lot of time and money on a pair of hand-knit socks. I want to wear them forever.

I've experienced a bit of a rapprochement with old-school sock yarn of late -- I tend to recommend it for my beginner sock classes, because it's less expensive. And I've been using it myself for samples. And you know, I like it.

Oh, I agree, it's not as soft as 100% merino products, no question. But, seriously, how delicate are most people's feet? (Diabetics are an exception, absolutely.) Sure, it feels nicer to wear 100% merino, but are the blended yarns really uncomfortable? (The wool-sensitive are excluded from this discussion.)

But it wears like steel. Look at those stripey black socks above. They're more than 10 years old, worn year-round, in boots in the winter, and look at them. A few pills on the heel, but otherwise perfect.

Yes, yes, I know, there are natural-fibre purists out there that shun any thought of a man-made fibre. I do, too, for the vast majority of applications. Life is too short to knit with acrylic. However, this ain't 100% acrylic, people. The man-made fibre is always in the minority in a sock yarn, rarely more than 25%... think of it as helper thread.

I will admit that the machine-made products aren't always as interesting. Yes, absolutely, you can get great solid colours and tweeds, and stripes. And sure, if the faux fair-isle thing is to your taste...

you can't go wrong.

But they're always a bit too... engineered. A bit too perfect. I dearly love the slightly irregular, perhaps even ramshackle nature of the colouring in hand-dyed yarns. And somehow, the hand-dyed colourways (even the really wacky ones) are still
more tasteful than many of the "commercial" ones

Now, there are exceptions to this rule -- Lorna's Laces' Shepherd Sock is a terrific hand-dyed, fun sock yarn that comes in excellent colourways and has nylon in the blend. I've been very happy with this, no complaints.

And I've noticed that some other smaller producers are starting to put nylon in their mixes, which is terrific. Thank you! I look forward to more of them doing it.

Socks that Rock blends, PLEEEEEASE???? I want to be able to wear these socks forever.

And now, my heart soars at the prospect of Noro Kureyon sock yarn. Fabulous colourways, great striping effects, and it's got nylon in it. My hopes are high.

I'll keep you posted.


Serenknitity said...

I'm with you. I got gifted some sock yarn from Germany recently, and it's lovely and tough, there's no worries it wearing holes in the heels if it's worn around the house. And the colours are good, too. I bought some Koigu in a gorgeous orange for socks and am scared to knit it up because it seems too soft.

AuntieAnn said...

I'm with you -- I want my socks washable and with nylon content. I think I do have a pair in the Fleece Artist Merino -- so far no problem but they're still pretty new.