sampling through knitting handspun socks

This post has been a long time in the writing – it was kind of abandoned after I finished each pair of socks because I was so burned out on them! Regardless, I hope you enjoy reading about this adventure from last year! These socks coincided with a lot of sock knitting for the book, Unbraided, which Katrina and I are still working hard on. These two pairs were being worked up at the same time to compare some of my results.

Recently, I have been knitting copious numbers of handspun socks. I haven’t been able to chat about or share them on the podcast (or here on the blog) because they are Top Secret! No, just kidding. They are for a special project and I will be able to show them to you soon – I’m excited to do so! In the meantime, it has made me realize how much I enjoy knitting socks.

I haven’t always enjoyed knitting socks. There was a time when I was a self-professed anti-sock knitter. Self-identifying as a Sweater Knitter (yes, in capitals) meant I couldn’t also be a Sock Knitter. Oh, how my small-minded thinking has changed! Socks have become one of my go-to projects for portability and sampling.


If you’ve followed this blog for a while (or watch the podcast), you will know that I love sampling yarn. I spin with different ideas in mind, creating various samples of yarns that fill my head with even more ideas for sampling in the future. Much of the sampling that happens at the wheel needs to be experimented with further, once the yarn is finished. Usually through a knitted swatch, but sometimes a small woven piece works really well too, I can explore how the yarn acts once it is made into fabric. Socks offer an awesome landscape for this sampling for a couple of reasons:

  1. Socks are relatively small and don’t require an incredible amount of knitting. They are bigger than a 10 x 10 swatch but aren’t enormous like a sweater so they are the perfect ‘testing’ ground for fingering and light sport weight yarns.
  2. Socks are a great test for durability and wear. Want to know how well a yarn will stand up to hard wear? Knit a pair of socks! What better way to assess how well a yarn will hold up over the long term than to trudge around in your woolly socks for a month or two!
  3. Hard washing. Socks need to be washed – even our beloved handspun, hand-dyed, handknit socks! Wondering whether that wool you spun will hold up to washing and wearing over the long term? Socks are a great way to assess that situation.

I find I don’t feel as attached to my socks as I wear them. They take a certain amount of knitting to make but the learning from them is so vast that I don’t mind if they don’t stand up to wear and tear. A 100 gram braid is great for a pair of socks so the investment isn’t too great, either. When I was still learning to spin and wasn’t sure I could get a pair of socks out of 100 grams, I would knit ankle socks!

My two current sock projects that I am able to share freely about are two recent spins I finished on two very different spinning wheels. I’ll share in the order that I finished the yarn so I will start with some Superwash (SW) Wool that I speckle dyed and spun as a traditional 3-ply.


This yarn, due to the speckling during the dye process, ended up having areas of colour twist where the speckles drafted out into long stripes and thus, created subtle striping in the knit fabric. I added a lot of singles twist while spinning but am unable to calculate how much because I was spinning on an espinner at the time and plied quite tightly on my Matchless at 22:1.


In examining the yarn now, after stashing it for a few months, I could have added even more ply twist to the yarn. Regardless, it has a nice elasticity that is pleasant to knit with and creates a roundness to the yarn that is cushy. I think these will be very comfortable to wear!


After plying, I had leftovers on my bobbin and chain plied the remainder. I am planning on using this yarn for my heels and it is much more tightly plied. I like the aesthetic of the twist angle more than of the traditional 3-ply.

The second project that I thought I would share is my finished SW BFL pencil roving from Smith and Ewe in Kamloops, BC. I had bought this fibre at Knit City 2016 after falling in love with the colours. The leftover yarn will be used as stripes in a toque for Norah.


Unlike the SW wool, I spun this on my Matchless on a ratio of 15:1. I treadled twice (one full drive wheel revolution) once per draft which added an insane amount of twist to the fibre. I plied at 22:1 and again, added an incredible amount of twist to the yarn. What I really need to do is count the twists per inch of the two yarns for comparison!


This yarn, when compared to the SW Wool, has a more severe twist angle (55 degrees versus 45 degrees). The yarn is crisp in my hands but in the knitted fabric, it is positively crunchy with minimal halo. Due to the nature of BFL, it tends to halo over time as the tips begin to poke out. It is definitely slightly fuzzier than the SW wool and lacks the elasticity as well.



The ‘hand’ of each yarn is quite different, which leads to two different knitted socks. The BFL has a lovely sheen and intense colour from the acid dyes on the wool. The SW wool took the dye beautifully but, of course, due to staple length and the nature of fibre, I lost any speckling effect when I spun.



The similarity between the two yarns and resulting fabric is the ’roundness’ that 3-ply yarns create. There is no denying the lovely feel of a round, plump 3-ply. While both yarns are roughly 18 wraps per inch, the SW BFL is slightly thinner and I ended up added 4 extra stitches around to the foot of the sock to make up this slight difference. After finishing these two pairs of socks, the speckle-dyed socks feel slightly thicker and rounded in the knitted fabric. The striped socks are thinner, slightly coarser against my skin and I wonder about long term wear. I knit these to be ankle socks in hops I could get a second pair out of the left over skein because I love the colours so much (although I’m still thinking about that toque for Norah).


Even if pushed, I wouldn’t be able to choose between these two yarns because only wear will help me decided whether one is superior or fit for the compost. My hypothesis is that both will wear well over time since I’m not particularly hard on my socks. This past winter was a good example of a year in which I barely wore them due to the mild winter we had!

I’ll keep you posted on this little experiment as I go along – I’m curious now to try some other sock experiments that push the envelope even more.

Join the Conversation

  1. Very interesting, I’m only a learner in spinning at the moment so I need to read up about ratios, as I’m not sure about that…also I’ve only done 2 ply not 3 ply…so it’s interesting to read your thoughts. I also need to dig out my protractor to see what my angle is, as I’ve not thought about this!

    1. There’s always more to learn with spinning!!

  2. Interesting experiment! I like the idea of socks as samples, and of ankle socks if you don’t get as much as you’d hoped for. It will sure be interesting to see how they hold up.

    1. I agree! Thanks Rebecca!

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