Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Sockual Heeling

Okay, that's an atrocious pun, even for me, but it's cold and damp here and I need to maintain my sense of humour, no matter how badly I may express it.  (Despite the cold, it's still a lovely day.):

On to the source of the bad punnery: Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to have a pair of my hand spun, hand knit socks included in SpinOff magazine.  I was fairly new to sock knitting at the time, so I was full of great wisdom and words of advice.  I was the only person included in the article who talked about darning socks and only to boast casually that "I had yet to darn a pair of my hand knit socks."

From that day on, the sock knitting goddesses had me in their sights.  Every pair of socks I knit managed to gather holes in a very short space of time.  Worse yet, the holes developed just beyond every reinforced area I worked, usually just past the heel or right at the heel turning.  I darned, I patched, I cursed.  I tried a few different things with my spinning and knitting, but returned to my habitual ways, with the same results-one definition of insanity.

Years later, along came Ravelry and its spinning groups.  In threads and forums, great debates ensue as to what makes the perfect sock yarn.  Some people insist that sock yarn must be 3 plies or more, while others claim that a singles can work just as well.  "Merino and Blue-faced Leicester are great for socks," say some.  "Not so," say others. "You must use Romney or Corriedale, or . . . ."

Last year, finally fed up with mending socks, I decided to run an experiment on my own sock yarns.  I spun yarn for two pair of socks, plied and knit them at the same time, then subjected them to a year of regular wear, which for me, means hard use in shoes and boots year round.  I machine wash my socks, but air dry them.

The yarn for both pairs were spindle spun Z.  I spindle plied the yarn S for the striped pair and plied S with a wheel for the other pair.  I don't count twists per inch, but I put a lot of twist into these yarns. ("Barbed wire" was my comment in my original notes.)  The finished yarns average about 18 wpi (wraps per inch).  The striped pair was knitted toe up on 2 mm needles, with a gauge of about 6 stitches per inch.  The heathered pair was also knitted on 2 mm needles, top down, with a gauge of 6.5 stitches per inch.  The striped pair was spun from commercial wool top (possibly Romney).  The other yarns were 3 plied from a singles of mohair/wool/silk roving, a singles of wool roving and a singles of silk roving.  I finished both yarns by washing them in hot and cold baths, giving them some serious whacking and drying them without blocking.

These are the socks as of May 2011.  (I can't post a photo, for some reason, so please follow the link.)  And these are the socks as of yesterday.  Click and zoom if you want a closer view:

Both pair are wearing very well.  The heathered pair pills slightly, due to the fibre preparation (roving) and the wool content.  (I had thought that the pills were from the mohair, but closer inspection indicates that they come from the wool with some mohair bits, perhaps.)  The striped pair looks like new, which is remarkable, given my track record. I attribute that to the fact that I put much more twist in spindle yarns than I do when I'm working on the wheel.  (I think wheels are so quick that I get caught up in their speed and forget to pay attention to the yarn I'm making.) There are no signs of holes in heels or elsewhere.  Both pairs feel firm, harder than most socks feel, but they're comfortable and not itchy.  They're like cushions for the feet.

My conclusions from this small study are nothing earth-shaking.  The "best" sock yarn depends upon fibre choice, preparation, spinning and plying techniques.  If you want your socks to wear well, choose a tougher fibre, use commercial top or combed fibres, add plenty of twist when spinning and plying (Western spinners tend to under spin and ply their yarns), and knit the socks tightly.

Lessons learned:

1.  When something isn't working, change it.
2.  Experiment.
3.  Pay attention.
4.  Never, ever boast that you've yet to darn a pair of socks!

(If you're interested in more yarn experiments, head over to wanderskopos's blog.  She's a great source of thoughtful and entertaining tests of hand spun yarns and wonderful knitting.)

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