I often get asked what is the best yarn to use when making socks, and, to be honest, the answer really depends on a few factors so I thought I would write a post on the reasons I choose some of the sock yarn bases that we carry and the benefits of each.
Mostly, natural fibre sock yarns are wool blended with another fibre for strength. Usually this is nylon or silk and the ratio varies from yarn to yarn. Various breeds of sheep produce wool with different characteristics so we will look briefly into some of these. This is by no means an exhaustive list of breeds or characteristics but just a quick look into some of the more common ones used in sock yarns.
BREED SPECIFIC YARN
Merino wool is soft and comfortable to wear and that used to produce yarn for garments is of a fine micron. A Micton, or Micronmeter, is the measurement of the diameter of wool. The lower the micron count the finer and softer the wool. Merino also has a lot of crimp in the fibre which makes it perfect for fitted garments like socks because it has it's own built in memory system to go back into shape after being stretched when worn, so when you wash your socks they will spring back into shape better than some of the other fibres. In my early years of knitting socks I used an acrylic yarn and discovered saggy, baggy socks :)
Our most popular sock yarn is the NFA Merino Superwash Sock which is 75% Merino 25% Nylon. It is a good all round yarn for both socks and garments as it has the nylon content so socks don't wear out quickly and it is also so soft and squishy making gorgeous garments for close to your skin.
We also have NFA Merino Bamboo Sock which is 80% Merino 20% Bamboo and is perfect if you still want something with strength and durability but would like to avoid nylon and plastics. This yarn is even softer than the Merino Sock and with the benefit of bamboo which absorbs up to 3 - 4 times more water/sweat than even cotton can. Bamboo yarn is also naturally antibacterial, anti-fungal and antistatic and it is also a sustainable fibre, making this a great 'greener' choice. The yarn is light and lofty with a subtle sheen.
Another Merino sock yarn we carry is our blingy yarn the NFA Sparkle Sock. This one is perfect for those sparkly socks, a gorgeous shawl or that little girls sweater who just loves a bit of glitter. It is 75% Merino 20% Nylon and 5% silver Stellina, which is the little sparkle. Stellina is a non-metal fibre (nylon) that is metal toned. Some incorrectly believe that the little silver bits are metal and that they are scratchy, but this yarn is just as soft as any other yarn with nylon included.
Blue Faced Leicester
BFL is another common wool used in sock yarns. It is not quite as soft as Merino but don't get me wrong, it is still soft and has other benefits of its own. It is a harder wearing wool than Merino and also has a very light sheen to it and just a slight drape. BFL fleece doesn't have the same crimp as Merino as the wool is slightly curly rather than crimpy and it is also usually a very long staple length so it needs that little bit of nylon or other fibre to help it spring back into shape nicely.
We have two BFL sock yarns in our yarn base stock. The original is our NFA BFL Superwash Sock which is 75% BFL 25% Nylon and the new one we have just received is NFA BFL High Twist Sock and it is 80% BLF 20% Nylon that, as the name implies, is a high twist plied yarn which adds even more strength to this work horse yarn making it perfect for long wearing socks.
DURABILITY - How long will my knitted socks last?
Socks of a sturdy wool blend that is a high twist yarn and has been knit at a tighter gauge will be the best for the longest wearing socks. My husband has had a pair of hand knitted socks that I knit him in 2008 and they are still going strong, while others have worn through in just months. One pair only lasted a few months at best before holes were worn in the toes until we realised that it was his new boots that were the cause rather than the actual socks or yarns themselves. Unfortunately it took about 3 pairs of socks before we realised the boots were the culprits.
Fibres that add Strength
Silk is a natural fibre made mainly by silk worms when they spin their silken cocoons. The strength of silk is amazing and it is said to be stronger than nylon which makes it a great alternative to blend with wool to create yarns with added strength and durability. It is a good choice if you would like to try to avoid any form of man made fibres and would like a totally natural yet durable yarn.
The sock yarns we carry that include silk as their strengthening fibre are NFA Merino Silk Fingering which is 80% Merino 20% silk. This yarn has gorgeous drape and beautiful shine and is lovely for garments worn close to the skin up around the neck and face like scarves, shawls and cowls. It also makes lovely drapey sweaters and tops or swishy skirts. Luxury socks can also be made from yarn and the silk will add the strength needed for the heels and toes with the Merino crimp helping the socks to maintain their shape.
We also have the NFA BFL Merino Silk and Yak which is a new yarn base and I'm just in love with this one! It dyes with rich saturated colour and grungy undertones as the yarn base is grey to begin with, which is from the Yak fibre. The yarn is soft, light and has a soft drape and light sheen. It is another gorgeous luxury yarn. Again the silk will give strength for a luxury pair of socks but I personally wouldn't use it for socks as I don't think it is suitable for everyday hard wear. It is a very soft comfortable yarn for garments and especially those worn next to the skin and up around the face and sensitive neck area and will pill on areas that rub together a lot.
Nylon is a polymer (plastic), a man-made synthetic fibre that is blended with wool to give strength and durability so the finished items are harder wearing. Of course, like most plastics, nylon takes a long time to breakdown and so is not environmentally friendly. Socks can be made from 100% wool however it is advised to knit a fine Nylon thread into the heel and toes to prevent wearing holes quickly or if you are environmentally conscious the better option would be to choose a yarn reinforced with silk. To use the reinforcing nylon thread with 100% wool you hold the two threads together and knit as usual.