I have knit a lot of socks. As in, there are 50 pairs of socks on my project page on Ravelry. That’s not even counting socks that were ornaments. A lot of these socks were gifts, but I have kept a couple dozen pairs for myself. I wear pretty much exclusively hand-knit socks, summer and winter. I put my socks through a LOT — they are worn in hot, sweaty sneakers at outdoor dog agility trials, in boots on snow-tubing trips, and nearly every day in my favorite pair of black leather shoes. About the only abuse they don’t get is being worn alone — even indoors, I usually have slippers on my feet. In the beginning, I took sock yarn at it’s word, and I used to machine wash AND dry all my socks with all the rest of the laundry. Eventually I decided that my socks had a hard enough life already, so now my socks get medium hand-knit treatment: I machine wash them in a separate load on the “hand wash” setting (cold water, intermittent agitation), and I hang them on the banister to dry.
I’ve noticed that some brands hold up better than others, and I’ve decided to share my thoughts with you, dear reader. This post will be the first in a series of sock-yarn reviews. I will address the aspects of sock yarn that are meaningful to me: beyond the initial pleasure of creating the socks, how do the socks wear? Propensity to felt, pill, fade, or shrink can ruin a beautiful pair of socks, and I’ve had a few brands become card-board stiff over time. Please allow that this is only my personal, unscientific opinion! All usual disclaimers apply.
The target this week is one of my favorite brands of sock yarn: Blue Moon Fiber Arts Socks That Rock Lightweight and Socks That Rock Mediumweight. For the last few years, I’ve been a member of the BMFA sock club, which ships yarn and two gorgeous full-color patterns every other month. I adore their base yarn — a tightly spun, springy fiber — and their dyer creates vibrant, gorgeous colorways. It is a joy to knit with, whether in plain stockinette, lace, or cables. Here are the seven pairs of socks that I’ve knit over the last few years with STR, along with the date I finished the project:
Cascadia (Feb 2010)
Still soft, mild pilling and felting (toe and heel), mild shrinkage, severe fading.
Secret Garden (April 2010):
Still soft, mild pilling, moderate felting (toe, heel, sole), mild shrinkage, moderate fading.
Firecracker Corners (Jan 2011):
Mostly soft, moderate pilling, moderate felting (toe, heel, sole), no shrinkage, moderate fading.
Jan 2011 RSC Socks (Jan 2011):
Still soft, mild pilling, moderate felting (toe, heel, sole), no shrinkage, severe fading.
Mar 2011 STR (May 2011):
Still soft, mild pilling, mild felting (toe, heel), no shrinkage, mild fading. ALSO — I had to darn a hole in the leg already, and another hole has appeared near the cuff. I think this is a fluke for this particular colorway (possibly even just this skein), as I have never had any trouble with holes/breakage with this yarn before or since.
July 2011 STR Socks (Oct 2011):
Still soft, mild pilling, mild felting (toe, heel), no shrinkage, mild fading.
Shoreward Socks (Jan 2012):
Still soft, no pilling, mild felting (toe, heel), no shrinkage, no fading. (These socks have only been worn a handful of times, and likely will fade and pill at least a little bit.)
Shrinking: 4.5/5 (do not wash/dry with regular laundry)
Fading: 3/5 (some colorways fade more than others — red/pink seem particularly vulnerable)
I will continue to buy STR yarn. I don’t think it holds up well to regular laundry treatment, despite being “superwash.” After I switched to gentler laundering, I no longer had a problem with shrinkage. I expect all my socks to felt a bit at the toes and heel (tennis shoes! summer!), and pilling a bit is also expected. I have been disappointed with how faded some of the socks became — after all, the gorgeous colorways are a big part of the draw for STR yarn. I would be hesitant to buy a lot of red/pink yarn from them (although I still love getting it in the sock club!). I may try a vinegar bath with any future red/pink colorways.