knit | spin

Tuff Socks Naturally Project: Introduction

November 1, 2017

My recent sock remaking project coalesced a number of thoughts for me around durability and sustainability, particularly of socks.

Remade socks, legs are spindle spun from Jillybean, BLF braid, bottoms and cuffs are wheel spun from Corriedale x Ryeland x Finn fleece from Lucinvale Fleeces.

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?

Remade socks considering the world

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!

Only registered users can comment.


    Suggest you look out for Texel? My walking socks go on and on with this yarn……………….

    1. I have a BFL/Texel/Silk blend already spun and ready to knit when I can find my 2.75mm needles, Jill. I am glad to hear it works for you, and rueful that I overachieved on my fine spinning (I’d usually knit socks on 3 mms).

      1. Gosh, what a blend Mary! Yes, it is painful when you spin too fine especially for socks, the tiny needles take ages. Keen to here how those socks wear.

    2. Thanks Jill, Texel wasn’t even on my radar but it is certainly in Australia so I will look out for some. Walking socks work really hard so that is a super good recommendation.

  2. Targhee (a USDA- developed breed) and BFL are supposed to make tough socks. We shall see. I have a pair in each, from commercially-spun yarn (I can’t spin fingering weight). I spun Lleyn (a Welsh breed) in heavy sport weight (I think you call this 5ply) and combined it with Wensleydale heels and toes for boot socks to wear in our very few weeks of winter. They have felted slightly after one winter, but no pilling.

    1. Thanks Sophy this is great information. Sadly I dont think we have any of those breeds in Australia so we will rely on your reports. I will be interested in how those Lleyn and Wensleydale socks go over another winter.

  3. I love the calf shaping in those socks, and the colour is just sublime. What fun, in a serious cause. Let the knitting, testing and spinning begin!

    1. Thanks Mary, no wonder the academics call such pastimes ‘serious leisure’! This is a bucketful of geeky serious fun. I am looking forward to making some spreadsheets to track my washing times with knitted samples and tracking wearing hours in socks. Serious geeky fun!

  4. That adventure sounds like FUN. My sister made herself 10 pairs of socks for walking in boots. She is not a spinner and her yarn is Berroco, 50% Super fine Alpaca and 50% Peruvian Wool and it is working for her. I have some very highly patterned socks from the book Latvian Dreams by Joyce Williams. The Socks are called Highland and Snowflake. Would have to take a pic as they are not anywhere on the web……..needless to say, the heels are SHOT and I do not have the guts to take them apart………you will see what I mean when I take a photo. Phooey

    1. Glad you think it is as fun as I do Susan. At the very least I will increase the number of socks I own from few to more! I wonder what Peruvian wool might be?

  5. If a Shropshire Sock accidently goes in the wash, it should not shrink, felt or change shape. I have machine washed my socks in cold water at a Laundromat with my full wash. No damage at all. The warmth of the foot, seems to go very well with the Shropshire, there is no harsh scratching or itching. I am a bit biased as I breed Shropshires, however the last two pair of socks I knitted are now two yeas old, the only wear that occurred was when I decided to wear with my new work boots. That was a mistake. Pulling on and off 5-6 times a day was a bit much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.