making, mending and loving natural wool socks
As you may have seen over on Instagram, my friend Claire and I recently launched the Sommerblüten socks pattern and corresponding mini kits. This collaboration has been a long time coming and I’ve so enjoyed working with Claire on this one. Claire first approached me about this project last April (as in 2018, if you can believe it) At the time I had no yarn in stock and it took a little while for me to get my act together and send her some. But everything about this project feels to me like a confirmation of the fact that good things take time. After all, no reason to regret that slow fashion is, at times, well, a little slower than you were expecting. Anyways, I’m super excited about these socks and the mini’s that I’ve put together for them and really hope you’ll love them too. One thing I wanted to address today however, is the idea of knitting and mending socks made from a natural (no nylon, non superwash) yarn like our’s.
Now first off I’d just like to say that I have several pairs of socks knit from standard nylon sock yarn which I love. I’m in no way insisting that everyone become a dedicated natural sock knitter and throw away all their Regia (not at all- please don’t do that!). However if you’re curious about branching out a little and reducing the amount of yarn you purchase that contains plastic or synthetic fibres, maybe using a skein of yarn in your stash that’s not got any nylon (or if you’d like to order one of the kits to make your own pair of Sommerblüten socks!) then this post is for you. I’d love to chat a little about how you can make, mend and wear your natural socks with a bit of extra love so they can withstand more wear than they might otherwise do. The truth is socks wear out. Even my socks with nylon content get holes eventually. Knowing this from the start can inform your making and mending process to help you get the most out of every pair of socks you knit.
First off a few tips on knitting socks using natural wool:
Every knitter instinctively knows that not all fibres are made the same. What I mean by this is simply that some fibres will work better for a certain project than others, based on the qualities that make up the actual fibre itself as well as considerations such as how tightly it’s been spun, how it’s been carded or how many plies it has. Knitting socks from a blend of fibres in addition to wool (such as a mohair or Ramie, which is a natural plant based fibre) can help prevent wear and tear, as can choosing a yarn with 2 or 3 plies instead of a single ply. Taking the properties of your fibre into consideration means that it is more than possible to knit and wear socks made from a natural (non superwash, no nylon) yarn.
While knitting, consider incorporating techniques and stitches that will help strengthen the fabric as you go. Perhaps the simplest tweak would be to knit your natural socks at a tighter gauge than you might choose to knit nylon socks at, particularly for the heel and foot portion. But there are a few other things that I’ve done in the past with success. Slipped stitches for example, can be really helpful in adding a little extra support for large portions of stockinette (such as Claire’s done here with this pattern), as can using a highly textured stitch such as a linen stitch or a tightly knit herringbone. You’re also going to want to make sure that you knit your socks to fit well, as slouchy socks with extra fabric will cause more wear and rubbing. Thankfully, Claire’s pattern provides multiple heel options so you should be able to find the perfect heel fit.
Of course there are always tweaks you can make to the construction of the sock itself that can help to prolong the amount of time before you’ll need to do some sock darning- consider an afterthought heel for example, or knitting from the cuff down, which would allow you to simply reknit that section rather than having to mend the sock, should the heel or toe wear out a little too quickly.
If all else fails, there is of course mending. Darning socks is something I’ve done a lot of in the past few months. In the past few years I’ve not added many newly knit socks into rotation and almost all my socks decided to go holey on me this past winter! Below I’ve put together a few photos for a brief tutorial of my favourite darning method, tried and tested by your’s truly. Of course, I can’t promise it will work for every knitter but so far I’ve had much success with both my nylon and natural socks. For the photos in this post, I’ll be darning a pair of my friend’s socks, knit from our Origin 1.0 base and worn well and often these past two winters. They’re knit at a rather tight gauge [22 sts x 37 rows] and have worn out primarily at the ball of the foot, so that’s the section we’ll be mending today.
Sock Mending Supplies:
your sock(s) in need of mending
some spare yarn of a similar weight. It’s completely up to you if you’d like to mend your sock using a color that will blend in or stand out. I’ve done both with success, so it really depends on the look you’re going for.
Darning Needle (this is one of those blunt, larger needles that knitters often use for sewing in ends on projects)
Darning Egg. I personally don’t have a darning egg, but if you’ve got one, by all means use it! If you don’t have one all you really need is something round that will fit inside your sock to hold it apart and ensure that you do not sew it together while darning your hole. Things I’ve used in the past include: tennis balls (or other small toy balls belonging to my son), a small glass jar (pictured here) and once in desperation, an apple. All of these work, but I prefer to use the glass jar because you can rest the flat edge on your table while you work.
To begin mending your sock:
Turn the sock inside out so that the WS is facing you. Place your darning egg inside your sock at the place where it needs mending. Thread your darning needle, leaving a rather long-ish yarn tale to ensure you’ll have enough yarn to weave over your entire hole. Personally I don’t tie a knot at the end of my yarn (though I’ve heard some people do with success). I prefer to just weave the tale through one or two of my stitches to fasten it.
Now you simply weave your darning needle in and out of the stitches around your hole, moving vertically bottom to top. You’ll want to be sure to start this several rows away from the actual hole itself. Pull the yarn through and repeat in the next row, moving still vertically, but in the opposite direction (top to bottom). Continue until you come to the actual hole itself. Here you can just pull the yarn straight across the area where there are no stitches and continue weaving through on the other side. Repeat until you’ve covered the entire hole, being careful not to pull tight. You’ll weave through this area shortly so you’ll want your sock to remain lying flat and not be puckered or gathered too close together. Continue weaving through your stitches vertically for several rows on the other side of the hole. Do not cut your yarn.
Rotate your work so that the thread attached to your darning needle is coming from the bottom right corner of the partially mended section of your sock. Now work vertically weaving in and out of the stitches in rows (as you did previously) until you come to the section where your hole is. Weave through these long threads, being careful to alternate moving above and below the threads on each row. Once you’ve woven through the entire hole just work through the stitches on the other side until you come to the end of the little mended patch you’ve created.
Weave your yarn through the final stitches of your sock and cut tail. Turn your sock right-side out again. And there you have it. This is how I mend all the spots in my socks that have already developed holes. To mend an area where I can see the stitches are weakening out (but they’ve not actually torn through yet) I sometimes just work through step one, weave in the ends and call it good.
A few final thoughts on caring for and wearing your socks: Obviously, the more you use them the faster they’ll wear down. I’m not at all in favour of leaving hand knits in the closet for fear of wearing them out, however with socks I generally tend to make a few exceptions. I usually wear my favourite natural socks at home in lieu of slippers as opposed to inside my shoes when I’m out. I’ll even bring a pair in my bag if I’m going to a friend’s house (or somewhere else where I know I’ll be asked to remove my shoes, a very common practice here in Germany). I wear hand knit socks in my shoes too, but these tend to be knit in stockinette stitch using a sock yarn with some nylon content or even machine knit socks from the same sort of yarn. Of course this isn’t a rule, more of a general practice. But it does help my beloved socks all last a little longer to balance them out like this.
And now for a well-kept secret: I don’t wash my hand knit socks after every wear. I generally wear them 2-3 times (or if I’ve only worn them at home, sometimes more) before hand washing them in luke-warm water with my favourite wool wash (exactly what I do for blocking my swatches) and lying them flat to dry. Washing less often is another way that I help to improve the life expectancy of my natural socks!
A few resources:
And finally (just because I can’t resist) here are a few of my favourite natural sock yarns in case you’d like to try some yourself: Mondim by Retrosaria, Igneae by Ovis et Cetera and Emma’s (of Woolly Mammoth Fibre Co) Natural Sock Base along with, of course the sock kits currently available in our shop.