Where do we start? Well, we could start with the needles or we could start with the yarn. Either way, you'll need both of them but there's so much choice with sock yarn that it's easy to get lost in your decision-making and sometimes you need just a little bit longer to make your mind up!
There are many commercial brands and independent dyers who produce beautiful yarns which come in a whole range of prices - and that's before you start on which colour you want to choose. If you're able to get to a yarn store or a yarn festival, you also need to make sure that you spend a sufficient amount of time squishing (that's the law!) and looking at the colours. I can clearly remember a conversation with a lady at Yarndale last year which went along the lines of me waving skeins of yarn at her and saying,"I can't decide which colour to buy!" and her telling me "Buy it all!", which is a lovely idea but not always practical!
So let's take a look at the options and then you've got a better idea of what you're looking for when you go to buy your yarn. We're going to knit a pair of socks in 4ply yarn, although you can also knit socks in 6ply or 8ply yarns which give you a thicker pair of socks, but that's another pattern for another day.
First of all, you need to make sure that you buy sock yarn, often also known as 4ply or fingering. The reason you want dedicated sock yarn rather than just ordinary yarn is that it will contain nylon which will help to make your socks more hard-wearing and keep their shape. If you prefer the idea of nylon-free socks, there are also natural fibre blend yarns which don't require any nylon - it just depends on the type of fibre that is used. Commercial yarns usually come in 100g or 50g balls and hand-dyed yarns tend to come in skeins. You will need one 100g ball or two 50g balls for an average-sized pair of socks.
Skeins come in different shapes and sizes and are generally 100g, although you can also buy mini-skeins so make sure that you pick the right size!
This is the yarn that I'm going to use. It's by a German manufacturer called Opal and is from their colour range called "The Little Prince". Big daughter chose this yarn when we went to Ottawa last summer and it's about time she had a new pair of socks (even though she probably won't wear them until next winter!). It's a 100g ball so I know that I'll get both socks out of the one ball. She has size 6 feet and there will be a fair bit of yarn left over.
Where to buy? Well, there are no shortage of places. If you've got a local yarn shop, it's definitely worth trying there first as you're supporting a local business and you'll get the opportunity to see the colours first-hand, squish the yarn and ask any questions that you need to. I'd say the same for yarn festivals. Your next choice is online. A quick Google search on "sock knitting yarn" turned up 967,000 results so you shouldn't be short of choice! You'll even find sock yarn on Amazon! If you're looking for a commercial brand, then West Yorkshire Spinners, Opal, Regia, Grundl, Sirdar, Cygnet, King Cole and Rico are a good place to start, but don't be limited by those names. Have a good look around and see what suits your eye and your budget.
A similar search for "hand dyed sock yarn UK" brought up 63,000 results so take your time and enjoy the visual feast! I've used Sparkleduck yarn recently and I have skeins of The Knitting Goddess, Eden Cottage Yarns and Misti Alpaca in my stash but there are so many other independent dyers to discover! Ooh, one thing I must tell you about skeins though - never try to knit straight from the skein or you'll end up in a terrible knotty muddle. Always take the time to wind the yarn into a ball first - you can find video help on YouTube if you get stuck.
It might also help you if we take a quick look at the information on the ball band. If you're in a store you can look for yourself, but if you're online the information should be given in the yarn description. You can see the size of the ball ...
and also the colour and the dye lot number. This is really important if you need more than one ball of yarn as you will need to make sure that these numbers match.
Remember I said that you need to look out for yarn with a nylon content? This is where you find that information. This particular ball has 75% wool and 25% nylon, also known as polyamide.
The ball band also gives you information on how to care for your socks once they're knitted and the size of needles you will need.
Let's take a closer look at that. You can see down the left hand side are washing instruction symbols and the "do not tumble dry" symbol at the top of the right hand column. Underneath, in the red oval, are the needle size (in this case, 2.5mm) and the tension that your fabric should knit to using that size of needle. I'm going to talk about tension in another post. The very bottom symbol on the right hand side indicates that you can use this yarn in knitting machines.
And that's pretty much it. As long as you pick the right sort of yarn and the right size ball or skein, there's not much else to it. One thing that I would suggest, though, is that if this is your very first attempt at socks then you might prefer to choose a cheaper yarn rather than a very expensive hand-dyed skein. That way, if you find yourself unpicking your work or even putting it away for a while then you won't be worrying that your yarn will become damaged by frogging (technical term for when you rip-it, rip-it, rip-it out J) or feel that you've wasted money on expensive yarn that's sitting in the cupboard until you're ready to look at it again. There's always another pair of socks to knit and another skein to buy another day, so you don't have to miss out on beautiful yarns; you just save that treat until you feel more confident.
Any questions? Now's a good time to ask, so feel free! The next post will be on needles, and I'll post that in a few days so that if you want to buy your yarn and needles at the same time then you've got the information that you need to do that. Until then, happy yarn browsing!
These Sockalong tutorials are free and will always remain so, but if you have enjoyed using them and would like to make a donation towards future projects, it will be gratefully received! You can find the donation button on the sidebar on the left hand side. Thank you! xx
More Sockalong posts:
Sockalong - needles
Sockalong - tension squares, casting on and stitch calculations
Sockalong - accessories and matching yarn
Sockalong - anatomy of a sock
Sockalong - Week 1 - Cast on, cuff and leg
Sockalong - Week 2 - Heel flap, heel turn and gusset
Sockalong - Week 3 - Foot, toe and grafting the toes
Sockalong basic 4ply sock pattern
Facebook Sockalong group for help, advice and encouragement
Ravelry Sockalong group
Paperback and Kindle book version of the Sockalong tutorials