Many knitting enthusiasts are on one side of the fence or the other: they either love to knit socks, or they do not understand why someone would do such a thing. The common trait among knitters, however, is the yarn associated with knitting socks. Sock yarn (or "sock wool," as the British refer to it) is not just for socks.
First, the term "sock yarn" is not an official yarn classification recognized by an official yarn organization; it refers to a group of fingering-weight yarns (or weight category 1, according to the Craft Yarn Council) with a suggested craft-use of making socks via either knitting or crochet. It can be hand-painted, self-striping, solid, tonal, or variegated in color. Yarn of this weight is commonly found in hanks of 400 meters, or 437 yards, and it knits up to about 27 to 32 stitches over four inches of stockinette stitch on size US 1 to US 3 knitting needles.
One of the greatest attributes of sock yarn is that it is typically superwash wool or a blend of superwash wool and cotton or nylon, making whatever item you knit with it washable. It holds its shape after blocking, making sock yarn an excellent choice for lace projects and shawls. The drape of sock yarn is flowing but firm, so an extra-ambitious knitter can make a beautiful garment from sock yarn. If sock yarn is doubled, it will knit up approximately like a DK- or light-worsted weight yarn, in terms of stitches per inch.
Here are some great patterns for sock yarns, including (of course) socks:
Women's Stockinette Stitch Sock: Sarah E. White's basic sock pattern is the perfect introduction to both socks and sock yarn, giving the knitter a chance to explore all basic elements of sock knitting while using whatever sock yarn he or she chooses.
Lavender Lace Socks: This pattern, offered for free on the Vogue Knitting website, offers more of a challenge than basic socks, but nothing a patient knitter cannot handle.
Multnomah: This popular shawlette pattern by Kate Ray offers a basic triangle shape, feather-and-fanlike border, and it looks beautiful in any colorway because of it's consistent fabric.
Ashton Shawlette: This Dee O'Keefe pattern is one of the most comprehensive patterns available for free (found here on Ravelry.com), because in addition to the pattern, the knitter is given chart tutorials, lace instructions, and tips for each step of the knitting process.
Ladybugs for Lesa Shawl: This Ann Smith design offers unique shaping, interesting lace, and was a winner in the 2009 TKGA design contest.
Baobab: This e-reader cozy by Norah Gaughan has custom instructions to fit your particular electronic device, and is a great way to use up extra sock yarn from previous projects.
Beekeeper's Quilt: This extremely popular pattern from Tiny Owl Knits is a common way to use up old sock yarn, with the result being a blanket unique to each crafter. The pattern comes with a tying tutorial, and the accompanying video shows the original designer in her sales element.
Liddie: This tee shirt design by Kristi Johnson is knitted from the bottom up in the round, so it is an easy knit for travel. Since it is a garment, it uses over a thousand yards of yarn, so it is an ideal project for three or four skeins of the same sock yarn.
Baby Cardigan: This garment by Joanne Turcotte can be found for free and incorporates all elements of garment knitting. Since sock yarn is washable, it is ideal for baby items.
Even if you are not a regular sock knitter, sock yarn can be used for almost any knitting project in the world. Buy the yarn, and ask your local yarn shop employee for more ideas on what to make with one or two skeins.
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