Exploring Handspun Sock Yarn

Since the Rhinebeck Sweater is still in the same state it was on Monday, I’ll chat a bit about the other crafty thing occupying my attention right now: handspun sock yarn.

Exploring Handspun Sock Yarn | Woolen Diversions

My view at Slater Mill.

Over the weekend, I took a sock yarn spinning class at Slater Mill with the Rhode Island Spinners Guild. The focus of the class was to experiment with different amounts of twist and plying structures to discover your personal ideal sock yarn. Amy King (of Spunky Eclectic) gave us lots of fibers to play with in class (green = Polwarth wool, gold = Falkland wool, handpainted autumn tones = Corriedale wool) as well as some samples to experiment with on our own (red = Wensleydale wool, white = generic wool roving, purple = Panda blend (superwash Merino, bamboo, nylon)).

Exploring Handspun Sock Yarn | Woolen Diversions

Spunky Eclectic fiber samples

We discussed three key things to think about when spinning your own sock yarn:

  1. what kinds of fibers make a good sock yarn, considering aspects like elasticity (different high-crimp wools), warmth (silk, camelids, luxury fibers), and strength (silk, nylon, bamboo, longwools),
  2. what types of prep are best for sock yarns (combed prep, worsted spinning), and
  3. most importantly, the amount of twist needed in the the singles and in the ply to make a yarn that is springy and strong while still feeling soft and comfortable.
Exploring Handspun Sock Yarn | Woolen Diversions

Plyback samples.

We did a whole lot of spinning. I am not accustomed to spinning for 6 hours straight, so that was definitely an endurance run for me! We practiced making low twist singles that barely held together and very energized singles, and measured the twist per inch for each. For the first ‘typical’ 2-ply sock yarn, we spun our singles with an amount of twist somewhere between the low and energized samples we made. Then, during the plying step, we plied the singles as if we had spun them with the energized amount of twists per inch. So if our energized sample was 20 tpi, then our plied yarn measured 10 tpi (tpi in singles / # of plies). We also navajo-plied those same singles, and since that yarn had 3 plies, the plying tpi was proportionally lower (20 tpi / 3 plies = approx. 7 tpi).

Exploring Handspun Sock Yarn | Woolen Diversions

Polwarth sock yarn samples, 2-ply and n-ply.

If you’re confused about all of this, don’t feel bad, I think many people in class were lost. It was advertised as an intermediate class but you could be spinning for years and never get so technical about your yarns as to actually the measure the twists per inch. I think some of these concepts could have been explained a little more thoroughly, the only reason I understood the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ behind a lot of the instructions is because I’ve read up on all of this stuff before. That said, it was really beneficial to go through the steps of the exercise with some guidance.

The second half of the class focused on making opposing ply yarns, which are basically yarns where one or more of the singles is spun in the same direction as the plying twist, instead of the opposite direction as usual. Opposing ply yarns have a lot of extra energy that contributes to strength and elasticity, which can be really beneficial in sock yarns. I admit, however, that I am not a fan of these samples. It could perhaps be the fiber (I don’t love Corriedale) but even while swatching, I didn’t enjoy these yarns. They are crazy strong, though, I tried breaking the thread with my hands and nearly cut myself! For opposing ply yarns we plied everything in the S direction and made a 2-ply (gold = low twist S single, multi = high twist Z single) and a couple of 3-plies (2 gold + 1 multi, and 1 gold + 2 multi). I liked the 3-ply with two high twist Z singles and one low twist S single the best, likely because the amount of opposing ply in this yarn is quite low since the S single was low twist to begin with, so it feels the most ‘normal’.

Exploring Handspun Sock Yarn | Woolen Diversions

Opposing ply 2-ply, 3-ply, and ‘normal’ 2-ply.

I’ve swatched the n-ply Polwarth (not pictured, I forgot it!), 2-ply opposing ply yarn, and the 3-ply opposing ply yarn that I liked best (I didn’t bother with the other one) and then began to actually knit a little baby sock out of the 2-ply Polwarth that we first made. I really like the way this yarn came out. Polwarth is such a  springy, fluffy fiber to begin with, and with the extra ply twist the final yarn plumps up in such a satisfying way while still remaining soft. My 2-ply is a thicker sport-weight yarn, but it’s making a nice little sock and I’ve already got the rest of the sample fiber on the bobbin to spin more.

In conclusion, I’m really glad that my spinner’s guild arranged for Amy to teach us. The guidance for experimentation was really valuable and I am looking forward to spinning some more sock yarn! Now I just need to get my singles a bit thinner so I can spin a 3-ply yarn that comes out near fingering weight, as all my 3-ply samples were closer to worsted weight. Have you tried spinning your own sock yarn before? Do you have any favorite tips or tricks?

Orange Rosemary lotion bar

In preparation for Squam this weekend (squeeeeee!) I’ve been busily re-stocking the shop with some sold out lotion bar scents, including: Orange Rosemary, Lavender, Smoky Patchouli and have brought back a seasonal favorite, Pumpkin Spice. Check them out!

As for reading this week, my kindle is still dead (the horror!) but I picked up the largest John Irving book I could find and am slowly working my way through it: Last Night in Twisted River. Linking up with Yarnalong and Stitch Along Wednesday.

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11 thoughts on “Exploring Handspun Sock Yarn

  1. Very interesting. I have such a hard time spinning practice or experimental yarns since I can’t stand to waste an inch of fiber. It’s the same with knitting swatches. You’re so lucky to have a wonderful spinning guild in your area. No such luck for me. Have you made (or do you have) lotion bars in lemon grass? That’s my favorite.

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    • It’s hard to combat the anti-waste impulse, but I think once I realized I could always just buy more / make more, it got easier. I don’t have any lemongrass lotion bars right now, but in a few weeks the custom lotion bar option will go back up in the shop and you cold request one through that listing!

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  2. I’ve been able to spin 2- and 3-ply sock weight yarn, but my love of the 4+ ply sock yarns remains outside of my current skill set. One thing I found that helped when starting my sock-spinning-journey was fiber without much of a floof factor– BFL, for instance, or a silk or nylon blend– because then I had a much better idea of what was going to happen to my skein after I washed it. Also, if you can manage at least a semi-woolen draw that can help keep your grist down… although it sacrifices durability.

    Good luck! Your spinning looks beautiful.

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  3. I have really enjoyed your tips on sock spinning. I wish I could contribute some knowledge, but I’m a novice when it comes to the technical aspect of spinning.

    I do know that I have had an easier time spinning thinner when my ratio is higher on my wheel.

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  4. Pingback: WIPWed 105: Monster of a Week | Woolen Diversions

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