Sock yarn

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog post about blending rya wool and adult mohair to get the characteristics I needed for a sock yarn. Today I will share my adventurous journey of spinning that sock yarn.

When I had achieved the blending result I was after I combed the blend into strong and silky roving. I spun the roving worsted for extra shine and strength. A sock yarn needs to be durable in all directions and I decided to spin a cable yarn.

Cable ply

A cable yarn generally consists of four Z-spun singles. They are then plied into two balanced S-plied 2-plied yarns. After that you S-ply the yarns again with just as much ply as in the first ply. The 2-plies are now very overplied. In the final step you ply the overplied 2-plies Z into a cable yarn that contains all the four singles. The difficulty is to get to that magic cable ply where the fibers align in the direction of the yarn and create one balanced yarn unit.

An even, cable plied, strong and shiny sock…string.

Sock string

The problem was that the beautiful yarn I had created was basically string. There was no softness, no elasticity, no way near what I would wear next to even the roughest skin on the soles of my feet. It had also been quite exhausting to spin. The fibers were fighting me and I needed to keep my fingers quite tensed during the drafting.

A sock string swatch knit on 2 mm needles. The yarn split and resulted in a flat swatch with the texture and flexibility of suede.

Still I knitted a swatch from my sock string. If nothing else, I figured I at least would have the opportunity to learn something. The sock string was dreadful to knit with. It was very dense and a struggle to work around the needles. Also, the needle kept finding its way in between the 2-plies and splitting the yarn, which resulted in a flat (as opposed to rounded) yarn in the swatch. I couldn’t live like this.

So why am I writing about a disatrous sock string and a leathery swatch? Well, I do have a point. I always tell my students that their mistakes are maps of what they have learned. I consider myself just as much a student as my own students and in this string adventure I have learned a lot that I have put to use in my second try. And the leathery swatch is my map.

A second try

Back to square 1. I needed a preparation and spinning technique that would result in a softer yarn without taking the strength away. I still wanted a sock yarn that would last. So I decided to change the preparation technique, the drafting technique and the spinning direction. The spinning technique (a cable plied yarn) and thickness would stay as much as possible the same.

Carding and spinning woolen

This time I teased the blend with combs:

  1. I loaded the combs with the blend with no consideration of which staple end was where.
  2. I teased the wool with the combs like I normally would when combing
  3. I pulled the teased wool right off the combs, perpendicular to the direction of the tines.

The resulting cloud was now teased and the mohair, rya outercoat and rya undercoat well separated. I then carded the teased blend into rolags and spun the singles woolen. All to bring some softness and air into my yarn.

Three stages of fiber preparation of my sock yarn: Blended rya and mohair locks, the teased blend and carded rolags.

Compared to combing for the sock string, carding resulted in far less waste. In the combing process I had to leave a lot of the shortest fibers since they would make the worsted spinning more difficult. In a carded preparation I could keep more of the shortest fibers. They would also add more softness to the resulting yarn.

Carding long fibers

But can you really card fibers this long without disaster? Wouldn’t the long fibers just double around themselves in the rolag and create a tangled mess? Well, they would if they were

alone.

My sock yarn consists of long rya outercoat fibers (left), medium and short rya undercoat fibers (middle) and adult mohair (right). The combination of lengths makes the blend spinnable after carding.

When I card fibers of this length (in this case around 20 cm) I always make sure they are accompanied by shorter fibers. In a combination of short, medium and long fibers the fibers sort of marry each other and create an airy rolag. A dual coat therefore usually works well carding since there are different lengths in the staples. Combining three different lengths of different breeds would also work fine. In my sock yarn I use a dual coat with lengths between 7 and 20 cm and mohair of around 12 cm. The longest fibers will double around the rolag, but I don’t see that as a problem since there are so many other lengths that won’t.

A new direction

Since I had had the experience of splitting yarn I also changed the direction – I

  1. spun the singles S,
  2. 2-plied Z,
  3. plied again Z and
  4. cable plied S.

This yarn was way more comfortable to spin. I could relax my hands and enjoy the spinning, which, to me, is the whole point.

My finished woolen cable plied sock yarn. 18 grams, 36 meters, 2000 m/kg, 16 wpi.

Even though I am fully capable of spinning in both directions when I spin with spindles, I haven’t changed the direction very much on my spinning wheel. Habits are obviously very easy to form. Changing the direction when I spun the singles was a challenge and puzzled me in the beginning, but after a while I got the hang of it. I could be bold and switch the orifice hand and fiber hand too, but I haven’t been that adventurous yet.

I slip

The spinning was far from easy to manage, though. Mohair is extremely slippery. The smallest part of uneven blending could quickly result in a rush through my fingers in lightning speed. I needed to truly feel every millimeter of the wool in my rolag to be able to be constantly prepared for changes in my grip and drafting.

Swatching

The resulting yarn was softer and a lot more pleasing to handle. It didn’t split when I knit my swatch. I am very happy with this lesson. I remember reading about someone who had changed the direction of a cable yarn just because she experienced yarn splitting when she knit. So this was in the back of my head when I spun the sock string. But, obviously, my brain doesn’t realize that until I actually and physically feel it when I spin. Not until I see and feel the result I understand why I had been told not to go that way. And I am thankful for being able to learn and understand through trial and error.

A sock yarn swatch knit on 2.5 mm needles. The yarn stayed together and resulted in a flexible swatch that I definitely can see feet thriving in.

I have plans to dye the yarn in a few different colours. With one kilo of rya/mohair blend I should be able to knit a few pairs of socks.

Happy spinning!


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4 Replies to “Sock yarn”

  1. That’s fascinating Josefin, really well written and explained (as usual!) and just what I’ve been toying with doing so ‘thank you’! I hope we all have the good sense to realise that we’re all students, all our lives;-)
    Happy Christmas to you all! x

  2. When I read you started out Z direction on your first spin I thought No! Wrong direction! I’m glad you figured that out. I’m still working on a crepe yarn for my next pair of socks. If you have the ply Magazine on socks, you’ll find some wonderful articles on the different types of spin for socks.

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