You’ve just finished knitting your first pair of socks. You admire them in your hands, and then you put them on your feet and admire them some more. They’re snug and cozy and fit perfectly. You’re so proud of yourself.
After you’ve worn and washed them twice, though, they don’t look nearly so good. They’re now either too loose or too tight, and they’re starting to develop holes already. You’re really disappointed. What happened? What did you do wrong?
Certainly there are lots of reasons why handknit socks wear out too quickly. Here are the most common:
1. You used yarn that isn’t sturdy enough for socks.
2. You didn’t knit them tightly enough.
3. You didn’t care for them properly.
Maybe you’ve noticed that only one of these reasons involves what you do after the socks are finished. Since prevention is the best course of action, I’ll cover the first two reasons first.
Prevention tip #1 – Use the right yarn
Socks may be small, but they tend to take a long time to knit, mainly because of all the different parts you have to make. If you’re going to spend that much time, you might as well start out with the best material for the job. That material would be a yarn that is:
– firmly and maybe even tightly spun (but not overspun; overspun yarn will not only make the knitted fabric slant, but it might even wear more quickly)
– made of a sturdy fiber (wool is the best choice here, or maybe a firmly-spun acrylic)
There are commercial sock yarns available that reinforced with nylon. These are probably the sturdiest yarns you can find. If you’re spinning your own sock yarn make sure it’s firmly and evenly spun. By “evenly” I mean not only evenly firm, but also of even thickness. If you try to make socks from thick-and-thin yarn you’ll have trouble with the tension. No matter what needle size you use, you’ll have areas that are tight and areas that are loose. While this may or may not affect how the socks fit, it will definitely affect how they wear. The looser areas will wear first.
Prevention tip #2 – Knit tightly
As I mentioned above, socks that are knitted loosely will not last long; the knitted fabric just isn’t up to the pressure put on it every time you put your foot on the ground. If you want your socks to last longer your fabric needs to be as dense as you can make it.
If you’re a tight knitter this will probably not be an issue for you. If you’re a loose knitter, as I am, you may be wondering how on earth you’re going to get those stitches tight enough. What I do is use much smaller needles than would normally be appropriate for the yarn I’m using. For example – I like thick socks, so I usually make them from worsted-weight yarn. But I use size 2 needles for the cuff and leg and size 0s for the heel and foot.
Those sizes might sound way too small for worsted-weight yarn, and for some projects – like an afghan or scarf – they definitely would be. But for my socks they’re a good choice. The smaller needles make up for my big stitches. (I go down two needle sizes for the heel and foot because I have narrow heels, and changing needles is easier and faster than decreasing the number of stitches.)
And a tip on sock care
Throwing your socks in the washer and dryer may be a fast way to get them clean. But it can also be a fast way to wear them out. And if your socks are made from wool, it’s also a fast way to shrink them.
Also, don’t think that you can machine wash wool socks as long as you use cold water and keep them out of the dryer (air drying them instead). This might keep your socks from shrinking – and then again it might not. (I speak from experience here.)
If your socks are made from wool yarn the best way to wash them is by hand with mild (i.e. dish) detergent in cold water. Do this gently; squeezing will usually not hurt them, but wringing will. Once you’re finished rinsing just let them air dry. This method isn’t just good for wool socks; it’s actually the best way to keep any socks in good shape, regardless of their fiber content.
The simple little sock is an amazingly fulfilling knitting project. Don’t let your fulfillment die out after just a few wearings. A little extra time throughout the process and afterward will ensure that those socks will be around for you to enjoy for a long time to come.