My recent sock remaking project coalesced a number of thoughts for me around durability and sustainability, particularly of socks.
Socks are such a humble item, trod on daily and washed over and over again. They work harder than any other hand knitted articles in my wardrobe. It is hard to find a wholesome commercial sock yarn though. Some of my socks are made of yarns that tell me they are wool but with the processing and added nylon, hardly feel like anything wool-like at all. Other more simply processed sock yarns, beautifully dyed yarns have felted in accidental machine washes, rendering hours of work and resources useless, suitable only for composting or sticking under chair legs or making starry bunting.
There seems to be a problem with the yarns commonly available for sock knitting. They are either made from inappropriate, non durable fibres or are processed in ways that are resource intensive and harmful to the environment. Often they are both!
The current surfeit of superwash merino/nylon sock yarns is the pinnacle of this phenomenon. A very fine, fragile fibre is taken vast distances, treated with masses of chemicals in an environmentally damaging process prohibited by most countries to make it machine washable and a synthetic fibre that will never biodegrade is added to strengthen the original fibre’s innate weakness so it can do a job it doesn’t have the capacity for. It seems a bit mad really.
Finn x Corriedale handknit anklets, Low Tide by Whisky Bay Woollens…hand wash only!
So, together with spinning comrades Mary and Adele, I am setting off on a spinning and knitting adventure, exploring natural, local, more sustainable alternatives to the current superwash and nylon sock yarns and fibres. We are going to explore local sheep breed fleeces like Shropshire and Suffolk and Ryeland, known for their resistance to fulling and felting. We are going to experiment with using mohair and silk to reinforce heels and toes, and to refine our spinning techniques to maximise durability without sacrificing comfort.
We are not the only ones interested in a more sustainable sock. Could durable, natural socks be the new knitting zeitgeist? Melbourne sock designer, Clare Devine from Knit Share Love has just set off on her own journey, exploring millspun alternatives to nylon boosted sock yarns. Similarly Mrs M’s Curiousity Cabinet has been podcasting about her forays into local origin, millspun alternatives to mainstream sock yarns in the UK. Ravelry abounds with boards of fellow sustainable sock voyagers, spinners and knitters all investigating how to make long lasting, sustainable socks.
Darned sock at a classic wear point, the yarn is an unidentified superwash ‘wool’ and nylon blend
Tuff Socks Naturally is an open project, anyone can join in. We will be posting on our blogs and on Instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally. You can share your insights and experiments too, in comments on this blog or on Mary’s blog, Local and Bespoke, or with any of us on Instagram: @rebeccaspindle, @localandbespoke or @adelemoon. Clare is going to use this tag too, so her adventurers and ours can share their discoveries. What local sheep breeds do you have that might have useful characteristics for durable socks? What millspun yarns can you find? What spinning methods can you use?
The sorts of information I am going to be recording for my own interest and of course to share with you are fibre type, source and origin, spinning preparation and methods including number of plies, twists per inch and wraps per inch, sock heel types and sock wear patterns. I am still working out how I might test wear but I think I might try two methods.
- repeated machine washing sample swatches and recording any fulling/felting/shrinkage
- recording hourly wear for experimental socks and comparing wear over a series of months.
We will all probably have different things we are interested in exploring and different ways methods of testing wear. This is not a science experiment, more of a journey of knowledge and skill improvement, so we are not compelled to be too rigourous in our methods!
You can read Mary’s introduction to Tuff Socks Naturally at Local and Bespoke.
So, into the sock wilderland my friends!