Socks for Science

For the last year, I’ve regaled you with the stories of the handspun socks I’ve been knitting. On Wednesday, I cast off the last pair. Two pairs were for Stringbean and are already in circulation; these eleven are to become my new sock drawer.

Mostly, I have discussed the colour handling in the sock yarns I spun, and how those colours played out in the knitting. But for now, I’m going to take colour out of focus…

And talk about the yarns.

I have not yet worn any of them. Not once. I’ve been saving them to wear all together, because these socks, my friends, will be subjected to science.

The biggest question with spinning yarn for socks is always – and yes, I say that unabashedly: always – about durability. These yarns take a lot of work, and they are subjected to the hardest wear of any textile on our bodies. How can we make that work last for a nice long time?

So I’m going to forget about colour for a bit (except in the pure enjoyment of seeing that colour on my feet), because from here on out, these socks will be compared based on structure and fiber content. Here are the points of comparison I have identified with these socks in particular:

  1. Comparing fiber on socks of the same structure:

a. All three-plies: From left to right: BFL, Superwash BFL, 2/3 BFL + 1/3 Superwash BFL, 2/3 Radnor + 1/3 Targhee, Radnor.

BFL = a fine English longwool
Radnor = a toothy, down-like English heritage breed
Targhee = a fine, soft merino relative with a longer staple than merino
Hypothesis: Radnor will last the longest.

b. All cable-plies: From left to right: Qiviut blend (40% qiviut, 35% superwash merino, 15% silk, 10% nylon); Radnor. Hypothesis: Radnor will last the longest. (Confounding variable: These Radnor socks were made from the thickest yarn in this study, while the qiviut blend socks were made from the finest.)

2. Comparing structure in yarns of the same fiber:

a. All BFL: From left to right: opposing ply, traditional 3-ply with high twist, traditional 3-ply with medium twist. Singles all substantially the same twist. Hypothesis: the high-twist traditional 3-ply will last the longest. (Confounding variable: socks on the right are superwash; other two pairs are not.)

b. All Radnor: From left to right: chain ply, traditional 3-ply, and cable ply. Hypothesis: cable ply will last the longest, and there will be no apparent difference in wear between chain ply and traditional 3-ply.

And one more oddball one:

3. Differing gauge in high-wear areas: socks on the left used a substantially thicker yarn for heels, balls of feet, and toes. All other socks used the same yarn throughout.

I have a somewhat obsessive plan of making sure to wear each pair of socks exactly the same amount. I wear wool socks twice before washing (sorry if that grosses you out; wool is naturally odor-repellant); I even have hopes of coming up with a system to make sure to switch feet every other wear. They are all very well-fitted socks, unlike the looser socks I used to habitually made in the past, and I will not be wearing them layered over cotton socks like I used to. I usually wear slippers. They were all knit using the same pattern (Elizabeth Carter by Kate Davies), and none have particularly reinforced areas of wear (except for that least one above).

I shall enjoy each wear of these socks, as I am very mindful both of the hard work they represent and the brevity of their lives which I am observing. I’ll report back when I start seeing holes – hopefully not for many months!

One thought on “Socks for Science

  1. This is a really interesting piece of scientic research – i mean it seriously.
    I look forward to your findings.

    PS One more fibre to consider in future might be mohair. I read that it has been paired with wool to add strength to it. I don’t know whether that comibnation was borne from an actual test, or was simply an hypothesis. I’m not sure if silk was paired with wool too, to that means


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