It just goes to show a person that what you’d think would be a sort of boring post about winding up sock yarn would turn into something that leads to a bunch of questions. Internet hive mind, you just keep on keeping things interesting! I had several questions last time about yarn winders and sock knitting and so forth, so here you go, knitter friends, with some answers.
First, the yarn winding. I’ve owned my own swift and ball winder for long enough that I can’t remember how many years it’s been. A lot of yarns come in un-wound skeins (because this form tends to be easier to pack & ship, and less stressful on the yarn itself over extended periods of time), but in order to work with it more easily you need to wind it. The lowest tech version of how to wind yarn is to hold the open skein across a chair or pair of chairs and do it by hand, but the swift and ball-winder combo is much faster. (Both of these make good gift suggestions, in case you have a birthday coming up – that’s a little tip from me to you). Most local yarn shops will carry them. My ball-winder came from a Toronto shop and the wooden swift came from Knit Picks.
Next, if you’re new to sock knitting, one of the things you’ll encounter pretty soon out of the gate is the wide variety of “sock yarn” that exists in the yarn landscape now. Most yarn shops will have a section of yarn just for “sock yarn” – yarn that has been spun finely enough that you can knit it at a fine gauge to get socks that can be worn inside regular shoes. You can knit socks from a lot of different yarn weights (Worsted weight socks are popular for quick, warm socks for winter days or to double as slippers. I probably draw the line at bulky yarn, a the upper end, and laceweight yarn at the finer end), but sock yarn, or fingering weight yarn, is intended to be knit up at a gauge of about 8 sts to the inch, or thereabouts.
Sock yarns are often pretty colourful. I like this generally, because even if you’re knitting a pretty plain sock pattern you can still keep the interest alive with some fun variegation or bright colours. You can tend to find neutral or dark colours as well, of course, but I still notice them more in the minority these days. I’m pretty okay with this, and will happily wear socks with just about any colour, but your mileage may vary. Additionally, a lot of sock yarn (though not all) will include an amount of nylon in the fiber content – perhaps 10-20% – to lend stability to the yarn when it is worn on your hard-working, constantly-moving feet. On the other hand, a lot of sock yarn (though not all) also tends to use merino wool in the superwash wool content, which is happily soft and feels ever so comfortable but is unhappily not the sturdiest of wools. So, at the end of the day take that information into consideration and do as pleases you.
As far as sock patterns go, well, if you are new to sock knitting this is a convenient time to be so. Sock knitting exploded about five or six years ago and now there are a wealth of yarns and patterns at your disposal. A browse of sock patterns on Ravelry (I’ve even done a basic search string for you there) will put many popular patterns into your path, as will a browse of Patternfish (for sale patterns) or Knitty (for free ones).
If you’d like my personal favourites, well, I can direct you to my Weekend Socks (free pattern at Canadian Living) if you’d like a worsted weight pattern that you can work up more quickly than one on sock yarn. The two most popular socks in my own sock drawer, though, are my own Nice Ribbed Sock pattern, which is a ribbed sock pattern that uses sock yarn, and is free. It is the one I use most often because it’s just interesting enough to not make me fall asleep (because of the ribbing), but simple enough that I can do it in a dark movie theatre if I have to (because I’ve done it so many times that my fingers know what k3, p1 ribbing feels like). There was also a while there where I knitted more than a week’s worth of Jaywalker socks (Ravelry link), because I really like the way they look and feel and they play well with both solid and variegated colours of yarn. The Jaywalker pattern is free and has actually been around since well before Ravelry (though I know sometimes it feels like nothing in the knitting internet existed before Ravelry), on an online publication which is now no longer available and so is now housed there.
I also really recommend Stephanie’s book Knitting Rules. She does a chapter on the basics of all kinds of knitting things, including socks, and the Top Five lists are a scream. She explains basic sock knitting from the cuff down in a really approachable way and while her book wasn’t my first foray into sock knitting, I would absolutely say it is what made me into a Sock Knitter.
There are a lot of ways to knit socks. My preference is top/cuff-down on 4 double-pointed needles for plain socks, or Magic Loop for complex ones. You can also knit bottom/toe-up, on 2 circulars, on 5 double-pointed needles, some will even start you at the heel and have you work outwards from there. Explore and see what you like best and knit as pleases you, I say. There are lots of good yarns out there waiting to be knitted into socks, and you could be just the knitter to do it. (As with many things in knitting, though – starting is the easy part. Stopping is a whole other question.)
Have a great weekend, knitter friends!