Best Breeds and Blends for Socks

If you knit natural wool socks, what breed or blend of breeds do you find comfortable, economical, easy to spin, etc. I’m looking for not too crunchy, but something with some bounce and durability. I’ll probably carefully handwash them. Thanks for any recommendations.

I really was wondering the same. I know having nylon and merino is a good option, but I took a workshop with Sarah Anderson (her sister lives locally and she set up a workshop here once!) and she said the best way to make sock yarn hold up is to do a 4-ply cable spin. But that’s a challenge to get it fine enough for sock yarn!

But I do think BFL is soft and sturdy, as well, if you could find it blended with nylon. Maybe @MaineTopMill could give us some suggestions?

It’s a bit complicated. A sock needs to both be comfortable & durable. Things that help make a fiber more comfortable are low micron, low scale height (protein fibers like wool are covered in scales with different heights & shapes, cashmere has very jagged scales, etc), smooth scale structure, high degree of uniformity (coarser fibers tend to be more hair like and contribute to what’s known as prickle factor), and that is just in terms of the fiber itself. How the yarn itself is spun also matters, and this is a delicate balance. Spinning the single tight enough to wear well but not so tight that it actually causes more abrasion. Likewise with the number of plies. Durability is created from blending fibers with similar staple lengths, ensuring that the wool used is from healthy sheep with core tests & classing reports, using higher micron wool (thicker = more durable), and again uniformity. Then there’s the question of which process was used to create the yarn. A woolen yarn has fibers that are not aligned, which creates voids. This helps the yarn be warmer but can also make the yarn less durable. I would imagine that this is where a yarn construction like a 4 ply cable spin might help the finished yarn wear better. Then again, most of my experience is with the worsted system. In the worsted system, all of the fibers are parallel and the weakest & most dissimilar fibers have been removed in the process. So it is easier to get a stronger yarn from the worsted system.

Another factor in the modern world is the superwash system. However there are many variations on this system. Some simply alter the fiber just enough to make it a bit easier to wash while others are very harsh and essentially make the wool into rayon. Harshly processed superwashed wool won’t wear as well as the same natural wool, because the natural elasticity of the wool is decreased by the process. The gentler superwash works a bit differently and the wool’s natural properties are preserved a bit better, but it’s still not going to be quite the same as natural wool. This is another instance in which yarn construction is important since it can help to compensate for the elasticity that was lost in the superwash process.

BFL is a really great balance of the factors that create comfort & durability. It is a higher micron wool, but it has a low scale height (ie why BFL is shiny…shine in natural protein fibers tends to indicated low scale height). So the scale height helps to balance out the micron. Like most wool, it is also very uniform.

Polwarth would be another wool that is a good balance of comfort & durability. It is going to be a bit more elastic than BFL and a little softer too.

Gotland is NOT a wool I’d recommend for sock since it is not going to have enough elasticity to perform well. However it is similar in micron to BFL and is a good choice for other garments that need to be both soft & durable.

Merino can be good for socks or not good for socks. Higher micron (20-25um) merino would be a much, much better choice than say 14.5 micron merino. Yes, 14.5 micron merino is one of the softest things ever, but it might be too delicate for socks even spun worsted. Perhaps 14.5 micron merino blended with silk would work for socks, but that’s another blend where yarn construction would be very important. Silk is extremely strong but has no elasticity.

So if you’re looking for 100% single breed wool for socks, Polwarth would be my first recommendation. Or any 22-25 micron wool that has a similar amount of crimp. My next would be one of the BFL/Rambouillet blends we make, either the 80/20 BFL/Rambouillet or the 60/40. The rambouillet adds the elasticity that doesn’t have much of. I have not spun 100% BFL, and it might be possible to spin 100% BFL yarn that works well for socks…though I’m not sure if it will work well in the long term and might eventually loose it shape. I’m more confident that BFL/Rambouillet will wear well over time.

Good to know! I think I have some samples from your store. I will see if I have the BFL/Rambouillet and/or the Polwarth in the kit I ordered! Thanks for your helpful advice!

Oh, my goodness! I checked and found I had the kit with the Oatmeal BFL/Rambouillet and it is spinning like a dream! I am definitely going to order enough to spin up for a pair of socks. I can’t wait to have them knit up into to socks–the fiber is uber-soft. I also have the Polwarth/Rambouillet blend in that kit and I am going to sample it as soon as I finish the BFL/Ram. blend. They both are so luxurious! What are your thoughts about your Polwarth/Rambouillet (80/20) blend for socks? Also, just curious, would you recommend blending your Alpaca with one of those other wools for socks?

@PurlgirlButtons - I would highly recommend trying a sample kit of this fiber!! I got the Beginner Luxury kit and I am not disappointed with any of it!. I was using my e-spinner for the Rambouillet and at first I struggled with it, but once I fiddled with the settings, it worked fine. Don’t ask me what they were because I forgot to write them down! I really was more just playing with it to get the feel of the fiber and I am amazed at the snuggle factor of it! I’m doing the BFL/Ram. blend on my Schacht Matchless and it truly is like the website says–it practically spins itself!

I’m so glad you love the fiber @rkennell! That’s what it’s supposed to do, pretty much spin itself.

When I said polwarth above I had our polwarth/rambouillet in mind, so yes. I just didn’t want to read too much like an advertisement, so I just said polwarth. :smiley:

Alpaca is tricky. I’m guessing that you’re talking about huacaya and not suri. Suri is not good for socks. Huacaya it depends. Merino & rambouillet wool have typical curvature measurements of over 100 deg/mm. Curvature is fiber testing speak for crimp and its what gives wool its elasticity. The vast majority of huacaya alpaca has very curvature. I think its around 20 deg/mm on average if I’m remembering correctly. Hence why most 100% alpaca garments have a tendency to drape out.

Part of why our Chiri Cloud 80’s alpaca is unique is because it’s curvature is 60-80 deg/mm. However it’s in the 17-19 micron range and I would not recommend it for socks.

If I was making socks from alpaca probably the most important consideration is uniformity, since most alpaca is not uniform and won’t wear well. Then trying to find the highest curvature alpaca fiber you can get. If you’re interested in buying a fleece you’re looking for a micron of 20-25 with the SD and CV as low as possible. Both SD & CV are indicators of uniformity. And if possible a curvature of at least 40. I know I have had fleeces in that micron range that are uniform (Chiri Genesis roving). I just can’t remember what the curvatures were.

I don’t have access to any of the supplies & tools I use to test blends, so this is just a very rough estimate. Either try 50-70% of the blend as either straight polwarth or polwarth/rambouillet with the other 50-30% as alpaca. Or 50-70% merino & 50-30% alpaca. Or 50-70% merino/rambouillet and 50-30% alpaca. I would only try 50% alpaca with any of these wools if I know the curvature is at least 40. If the curvature is unknown, make the blend mostly wool. There’s also a part of me that wants to do wool/alpaca/nylon, just because alpaca is not at all consistent in it’s curvature and nylon is extremely consistent. There’s just less guesswork with nylon.