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Sock yarn success!

So, my hunt for 100% natural fibre sock yarn for my Sock Wizard Workshop was successful! As I said in my previous post, I found a number of yarns that looked good and met my criteria of

  • wool and other natural fibres like silk or mohair
  • no plastics (nylon or polyamide)
  • no superwash
  • affordability
  • minimal air miles.

My shortlist for this workshop was

All the yarns on my shortlist were 100 per cent natural wool, had good reviews on Ravelry and were suitable for socks. It was a hard decision but Bio Shetland and Isager Highland Wool from Lankakauppa TitiTyy in Finland won the day. It came down to a close finish with Blacker Yarns British Classic 4ply, but in the end the yarn from Titityy was slightly cheaper and the postage was €15 instead of £23, and it was coming via a courier instead of Royal Mail. So I knew I would get my yarn within days and not weeks. Titityy’s customer service was excellent, friendly emails were exchanged, they shipped my order the next day (Friday) and it arrived safely on Monday. I’m looking forward to buying more yarn from them, especially their Tukuwool Sock which looks luscious.

I’m keen to try other non-plastic options for socks too, so Blacker Yarns’ Mohair Blend is still on my list. I’m thinking of adding a natural sock wool page to this website – would that be a useful resource? Let me know what you think and any suggestions!

 

searching for sock yarn…

Well, to be more precise, searching for non-plastic sock yarn. Which is much more difficult than you might think. Most commercial sock yarn either has nylon added to it or is made from superwash yarn, and now I know what that means I don’t want to use them anymore. Which is a real shame because sock yarns come in great colours and cool self-striping and other patterns.

There has been an unquestioned assertion in the handknitted sock world that socks ‘need’ to have nylon to make them stronger and more resilient, less likely to wear and pill. Similarly, it’s assumed that the yarn must be superwash, so they can be thrown in the washing machine for ‘easy care’. But for the reasons I outlined in my previous post on why I choose to use wool and other natural fibres, I don’t want to knit or wear plastic and I’m happy to handwash. So, what’s wrong with superwash? After all it’s still wool, yes? Well yes, but. And the ‘but’ is what they do to the wool, so it can be put through a washing machine without felting, shrinking, stretching or otherwise being destroyed. The wool is processed by being exposed to chlorine as a gas or bath to remove the scales that give wool the slightly fluffy halo of fibres. Then it’s coated in plastic resin.  Some of the sources I consulted gave this as a two-step process (treated with chlorine then plastic-coated, others stated that superwash processing can be done with the chemical or the added plastic resin. Either way there are a lot of chemicals being used and a lot of toxic waste going into the waterways. While the end product yarn isn’t toxic to use or wear, the superwash process is incredibly bad for the environment and for the people who are doing the processing. In my book that’s worse than synthetic yarn because you have ruined a perfectly good natural yarn. You can read more about superwash yarns here, here and here.

As I’m teaching a Sock Wizard Workshop for The Bird House Panicale next month and we are absolutely committed to eco-friendly textiles, I can’t compromise my principles and give my students yarn I’m not happy to use myself.

In the meantime, I have been scouring the internet looking for the right yarn, using the following criteria:

  • wool and other natural fibres like silk or mohair
  • no plastics (nylon or polyamide)
  • no superwash
  • affordability (there are some gorgeous yarns out there but €30 a skein is a bit much for beginners)
  • minimal air miles (so far I haven’t found Italian sock yarn but I’ll keep looking and asking).

I’ve discovered that mohair or silk make a perfectly acceptable alternative to nylon. Some knitters say that using a strong, long-fibre wool like Blue Faced Leicester is adequate and can be used alone or blend with merino. Merino by itself is soft but doesn’t wear well.

So here’s the short list and I’ll come back and let you know which yarn or yarns I choose!

I would love to know what you think about nylon and superwash in sock yarns, or if you’ve tried the non-plastic alternatives and what you recommend.

I choose to use wool

My students won’t be surprised to read this. They know I always choose to knit with wool. Or linen, hemp, mohair, cashmere, or nettle fibre. What I will not use in my knitting, or my clothes for that matter, is acrylic, polyamide or any other form of synthetic yarn. I made this decision years ago mainly because synthetic fibes and fabrics don’t breathe and become hot and smell bad very quickly, which means they feel uncomfortable and they have to be washed more often. I also found that knitting with acrylic yarn felt horrible and made my hands hurt, probably because there isn’t any ‘give’ in the yarn.

Over the last few years we have become much more aware of the impact of plastics on the environment and how synthetics shed microplastics into the water system, ending up in the oceans, inside fish and reappearing in our food. When you add the fact that synthetic yarns are made from oil, contributing to our fossil fuel problem, there’s a very compelling case to avoid them.

But there is also a positive case for choosing wool.

  • Wool is a natural, biodegradable fibre
  • Wool keeps you warm in cold weather, and cool in hot weather
  • Wool breathes and wicks away moisture
  • Wool is easy to wash and doesn’t need washing as often as synthetic garments.

There are arguments that we shouldn’t be exploiting sheep for their wool. I think this is false reasoning: sheep have been bred by humans for thousands of years for their fleece. They need to be shorn regularly, or the wool becomes heavy, water-logged and a breeding ground for parasites and flies. It is cruel not to shear them. Many farmers care a great deal about their animals and are dedicated to keeping them as healthy as possible, using careful organic methods of sheep-raising.

I choose to support farmers who are trying to preserve rare breeds, producers who are trying to develop alternatives to the ubiquitous plastic. We need to support them and choose to buy their products. This has been brought home to me recently as I have been trying to find a sock yarn without nylon. And believe me this is not easy. It has become accepted that sock yarns need to have a percentage of nylon in them to make the socks more hardwearing. But there are alternatives to nylon, including silk and mohair. And of course there are sheep breeds with tougher wool that can be incorporated into sock yarn to make it more durable. Or if, like me, you don’t mind darning, you can factor that in when you knit socks and just use any 4ply or fingering weight yarn. If you want to know more about nylon-free sock yarn I recommend this excellent article on nylon-free sock yarn by Clare Devine of KnitShareLove. 

Whatever you decide to do, please make an informed choice. Do your research and work out what’s important for you. Just bear in mind that farmers and suppliers need to be encouraged to provide cruelty-free, 100% wool or natural fibre yarns. They need to know there is a demand and a market.

I’ll list some of my favourite places to buy real natural fibre yarns and some suggestions for nylon-free sock yarn. Please send me your favourite natural yarn shops too and I’ll make a downloadable list. And let me know what you think of the whole wool, natural fibre versus acrylic issue.

Places to buy wool and other natural fibre yarns

Loop London

Blacker Yarns

Great British Yarns

Maridiana Alpaca Farm

Nylon-free sock yarn

Blacker Yarns

Madelinetosh Sock

Daughter of a Shepherd