You do not need “sock” yarn for knitting socks, socks can be knit with any kind of yarn. But, what is it that makes a yarn a “sock” yarn? There are some yarns that work better than others, in particular, natural fibers, reinforced with nylon. These yarns last longer than a “non-sock” yarn and make more comfortable socks. There are some exceptions, but sock yarns generally are created with some nylon for strength.
One of the most common questions is “Why Nylon”? Nylon adds strength, yardage and wear-ability to your yarn. Nylon is an extremely strong, lightweight fiber, it combines well with wool and dyes like wool. Most sock yarns will contain some nylon fiber, the percentage usually varies from 10% to 25%.
Sock yarns are usually created with a very tight worsted twist and 4 plys of yarn. This helps to keep them strong and smooth, very important traits in a sock yarn. Socks are usually knit to a tighter gauge than the gauge indicated on the ball band. For example, a 4-ply yarn that normally knits to 28st in 4 inches works best as a sock yarn when knit to 32 to 36 stitches in 4 inches: a 6-ply yarn works better for socks when knit to 26 to 28 stitches in 4 inches and a worsted yarn when knit to 22 to 24 stitches in 4 inches. This tighter than average gauge increases the longevity of your socks. A tighter gauge also gives a smoother and more comfortable surface on the inside of your socks.
Sock yarns usually come in 3 different weights, 4-ply, 6-ply (dk, also sometimes called 8-ply) and worsted. Most of these yarns are readily available, especially the 4-ply weight. Most sock yarns will come 50gr to 150gr balls or skeins and depending on the size of the feet that you are knitting the socks for, most pairs of socks take about 100 to 150grs of yarn.
There are many companies making sock yarn: Regia, Fortissima, Kroy, Lana Grossa, Fabel, and Trekking are some of the more common sock yarn brands. Sock yarn used to be only available in solid colours or ragg styles of yarn (ragg – 2 to 4 strands of colours twisted together). The only way to acquire a pattern in your socks was to knit the pattern in!
That all changed about 10 or 12 years ago when Regia yarns introduced a self-patterning or jacquard sock yarn. This revolutionized and revived the fine art of sock knitting. Before the advent of jacquard yarn, sock knitting was in a bit of a slump, the introduction of a sock yarn that would knit a patterned sock was electrifying and everyone wanted a pair. This first sock yarn lead to many others and all kinds of patterning, and striping. Now there are dedicated sock knitters that will knit any style of pattern or sock. Just look at the mere existence of the “Sock Summit” – it is a testament to the popularity of sock knitting today!
The most common blend of yarn for socks is wool and nylon – wool for comfort, good moisture wicking and cushioning, wool also has good memory to help the socks keep their shape. The addition of nylon for strength completes the modern sock yarn. Modern yarns will work with many variations on that blend. Some add cotton or bamboo, some add silk, alpaca or cashmere, most still have wool in the mix. If there is no wool, there will usually be some kind of elastic to help the socks retain their shape. A sock knit with a 100% cotton or bamboo yarn, will generally feel hard to the foot and will sag quite quickly. There are several modern wool-less blends that make good sock yarn – Crystal Palace yarns have a couple.
Another reason for the popularity of sock knitting is the advent of the hand-dyed sock yarn. These beautiful yarns allowed for incredible socks knit with exotic fibers: silk, mohair, cashmere and alpaca. Some of the hand-dyed yarns do not include nylon in their blends – Koigu and Madelinetosh are two – and some do – Sweet Georgia and Fleece Artist have nylon in most of their sock blends.
Sock yarns also used to come in a 3-ply weight. It is no longer readily available, but can sometimes be found in Second Hand stores. There are modern 3-ply yarns but they are intended for baby garments and are not often reinforced with nylon. Lanett by Sandnes Garn is a 3-ply superwash merino, and is a common choice when wanting a finer sock yarn.
Happy Sock Knitting