Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sock Wool

What's the best sock wool?

There are as many answers to this as there are sock knitters! There are so many variables...I think it really depends on what type of socks you like to knit (thick, thin, "office", "playful"), who your sock audience is (teenagers, husbands, wives, friends...), your knitting equipment (needle gauge, DPN, circulars), and knitting style (loose, tight...).

So, as far as socks go, I am a continental knitter. I now knit almost exclusively on a large-diameter cicular and I typically knit 2 socks at a time using the "magic loop" technique. I prefer a tight gauge and a thinner wool to give 8-9 stitches per inch or so. I knit loose, so I have to go down to 2mm needles to get this.

I knit daily-wear socks. For my husband and myself, this means "office wear" that fit in dress shoes (or what passes for dress shoes here on the West Coast!) , so nothing too colourful or thick. For my teenaged sons I can get a little weirder, but certain colour schemes are "verboten" - nothing at the red/yellow end of the spectrum! I tend to stay away from self-striping wools and I prefer to add interest using different stitches. Oh, and I'm on a budget...that means, I prefer to stay under $20 for a pair of socks. Unfortunately, my budget and gauge criteria cut out a lot of the sumptous and beautiful hand-dyed sock wools out there!

So, now that the scene is set, here are my favourite sock wools:

1. Scheepjes Invicta - nice "boring" colours,  wears well. Easy care. Looks great with textured and lacey patterns. I get it via the internet as I can't locate a local shop that carries this. I've had some issues with weak spots/knots in the wool and I typically have to rewind the balls as they are not center-pull.
2. Lang Jawoll - the solids only, natch. I love that little spool in the middle! It's easy care, too. I have a hard time finding this wool in solids though, even on the internet.
3. KnitPicks Risata - when a little less wool content is called for...this stuff is a touch thicker than the two above, and quite springy due to the elastic content.  But you do have to watch a bit as you knit as it splits easily and can catch on stitch markers (especially the ones with beads on them). Easy care and hard-wearing. Oh, and did I mention the great price?
4. KnitPicks Stroll range (used to be called Essential) - I've just started trying these - thanks to the great price - and am not sure yet of its wearing properties. It isn't as tightly plied as the Scheepjes or Lang, so again it splits a little more easily. But it is very soft and "squooshy".
5. Kroy sock wool - this is on the thick end of the scale for me. But it is indestructable and readily available and sometimes on sale at very low prices. I've got several pairs that I've worn for years and they are still looking good, although I admit that the white pairs are no longer quite so "white"...

After a recent holiday to somewhere with lovely yarn shops, I'm now trying the following - much more expensive - sock wools that come in at 400 yd/skein or so:
- Malabrigo (100% wool, no nylon)
- Schaefer (wool/silk/nylon mix)
- Araucania (95% wool/5% nylon)
We'll see how these fare. I'm a bit suspicious of the wearing properties of the Malabrigo, with no nylon in it at all...but the glorious purple colour was irresistible...
And while the Lorna's Laces, Koigu, Fleece Artist, Hand Maiden, Blue Moon, etc were stunning, they simply knit up too bulky for me.
I plan on trying a 4-ply Regia wool (the 3-ply is probably a little too thin even for me!) and also the KnitPicks wool/silk sock blend. Maybe next season?

What about "disaster yarns"?
Well, there was the Estelle Arequipa - a mix of wool, nylon, and alpaca. I cry every time I see these socks. They were so beautiful! After a few wash and wear cycles they felted into ruins. Although the yarn is labelled "machine wash", it ain't - not even on the delicate cycle in my front-loader, and air-dried. In fact, I suspect that even wearing this yarn causes it to felt. As a result, I now stay away from anything with alpaca in it for the foot of any sock. And it has put me off luxury blends involving cashmere, camel, etc. as well (for socks, that is).

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