Yarn Detective: Sock Yarn Versus Fingering-Weight Yarn

July 24, 2019

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68 Comments
  • I was just wondering about this! Thanks so much!

  • Great article!

  • Very informative & answered a long asked question of mine, thank you

    • Same here! This was very much appreciated ♥️

    • Great article, as I’ve only ever knitted two things successfully (I’m a habitual crocheter) I wouldn’t have thought about it being that different.
      I’ve purposely chosen sock yarn over fingering when making crochet lace because regular y twist yarns tends to loosen as you crochet, and the tighter twist of the sock yarn helps alleviate some of the problems created when this happens.

  • So the fingering has the nylon and the sock does not? That is s surprise.

    • Not true. Check labels.

  • I started separating my fingering weight stash into both sock and fingering weight about a year ago. I still find myself dipping into the sock yarn bin for a shawl project and the fingering bin for socks on occasion though.

  • Does sock yarn always have 8 ply?

    • Nope, it usually has 3 or more plies. An 8-ply sock yarn is exceptional.

    • And there can even be two ply sock yarns if the spin is nice and tight.

      • Agree – one of my favorite sock yarns is crazy Zauberball, a 2-ply (superwash, with nylon added). That stuff wears like iron.

        • oh, great to know. Thanks. I have some zauberballs that I’d love to make into socks!

        • Did not know that about Zauberball–I’ll need to try some.

  • This post has answered some of my questions about yarns I have considered buying for socks. Now, I can be a smarter yarn consumer, for socks and for shawls. Thank you.

  • Jillian, thank you for continuing our yarn education so we can use our stash to the fullest!

  • Great article but what does “worsted spun” mean?

  • Always wondered about this. Thanks for this really helpful article!!

  • Great article! Thank you for sharing the great examples!

  • I always thought that what made a side yarn was that it had nylon in it. I’m confused!!

    • I am also confused. Everything else I have read has said yarn you knit socks from should have nylon in it.

      • Nylon does extend the sock’s life. However silk has inordinate strength and can be used in place of nylon. I have Shibui merino wool and bombx silk socks I knit, and they are holding up quite well.

        • Mohair in sock yarn can adds some real strength. It would not be kid mohair but an adult fleece. I believe Priscilla Gibson-Roberts who has written extensively on socks and handspun for socks has recommended mohair fibers as a replacement for the nylon.

    • Many sock yarns have nylon, but they don’t have too. Tighter twist, and many plies work to make a yarn durable too. Lots of sock yarns have both.

  • Thank you! This was really helpful!

  • Even when “sock” is part of the yarn’s name, if it has no nylon, I pass. My socks tend to wear through at the ball of my foot, 100% wool means I only have a few months to wear them.

  • Great article! I love to use fingering weight to knit shawls, but I’ve always wondered why some kept their shape better than others. Now I think I understand that better. Thank you! I wish (some days) that I was a sock knitting lover, but then I see another pattern for a shawl, sweater, cowl, etc., and then I’m like…Squirrel!!!

  • Please tell us the needles to combat splitting! It’s an annoying problem I would love to avoid..

    • Less pointy needles, I almost never use needles that are suggested for lace, they tend to be the pointiest.

  • So helpful in demystifying this topic. I love your writing. Still chuckling about the dog analogy!

  • This is great information. I have leftover fingering yarn that I was considering using up in socks, but now knowing I wouldn’t be happy with the outcome, you have saved me from myself. Thank you not only for sharing your observations, but the timing of your article as well. Have a Magical Day!

  • What about 4 ply? I have a bunch in stash and am unsure what to do with it. I am not a sock knitter, but don’t know if I should classify it as “fingering”.

  • I am delighted to learn about all the yarn things! However, with knowledge comes great responsibility, and so now I cannot naively choose my yarn just by color. Gonna bookmark this and study it, because I caught the fact that cocktails were being mixed, but I missed the actual time to show up.

  • An additional consideration:garter stitch shawls. I live in a warm climate in Virginia and it turns out that my most “wearable” shawl for many seasons is a garter stitch shawl (with a few eyelet rows) knit from the same sock yarn you profile here. Now I love knitting with single ply and fingering weight MCN but I find that I keep pulling out that sock yarn shawl because it feels cool and has no halo or stickiness to it. Would not have predicted that! Is it the tight twist that makes it feel cooler?

    • Is it superwash? If it is, I think it’s the coating that gets put on the yarn. Sock yarn with a tight twist makes super springy garter stitch.

      • It is superwash, but so are the single plus that I use, and the mcns for that matter. I have just noticed that the neighborhood finer company sock yarn makes a cooler shawl (granted, no significant lacework).

  • That’s brilliant! Thank you so much for this detailed research report!

  • Yea. Love having ?’s answered when I didn’t know I had a ?. Thank you for great illustrations too.

  • This is extremely helpful and so nicely written. Thank you!

  • Thank you for sharing. You conveyed so, one could easily understand. Eye opening to say the least.

  • I know 8 st/in is “standard” sock gauge. But I find that my socks wear much better if they’re knit at a tighter gauge, at least 9 st/in, regardless of the structure of the yarn. The commercial sock yarns like Regia and Opal hold up OK at the standard gauge. But I would aim for 9 st/in for both of the yarns discussed in this post, if I were using them for socks.

    Also, another use for fingering weight yarn is, of course, light-weight sweaters. Yes, it’s a lot of knitting, but the result is perfect for transitional season wear. And it’s a great way to use yarns that don’t really have enough plying twist for socks, even if they have “foot” or “feet” in the yarn name.

  • Hi Jillian Moreno – I just want to mention that your stockinette swatch of the pink yarn shows that you have fairly different tensions for your knit and purl rows – hence the “stripy” appearance of this swatch. When this occurs is it most commonly the purl rows that have the looser tension, and changing your method of purling, or, tightening up on your knitting on the purl rows, will address this.

    • I row out a lot. I can even see that I row out more at the end of a row than at the beginning. I’ve recently changed my tensioning, and clearly I don’t have it quite right yet. Thanks for the tip!

      • What’s rowing out? ♥️

        • I believe it just means that your purl rows are looser than your knit rows in stockinette.

      • Fist bump, knit sister! I do this too. I use interchangeable with a smaller needle tip on the left side. Took me years to diagnose the problem. PS: This sentence: “The two swatches look like the difference between a dog lounging on the couch, and the same dog the instant you pick up a tennis ball.” I so freaking love you.

      • Jillian—- if you use interchangeables… put the gauge size (larger) needle on your knit side then put a smaller needle on your purl side. BOOM consistent tension without having to change your knitting style.

  • Mystery solved! Thanks for the excellent article.

  • Very interesting article! I never realized there was such a difference. Now I know what to look for when choosing. I always went by “too pretty for socks” or not.

  • Thank you so much for the explanation. I’ve always wanted to know but was too intimidated to ask!

  • Thanks for this info! It coincides with much of my experience. I believe plying plied yarns is called cable plying, correct? My current favorite sock yarn is superwash corriedale + nylon (Poste Yarn from Simply Socks Yarn Co). I find it tougher than merino but just as cushy.

  • I am going to be cognizant of the differences the next time I buy yarn for socks. I have had some sagging socks and I have also had 1 experience with a pair of socks felt after being laundered. Thanks for the clarification!

  • Thanks for the explaining why what I see isn’t always what I get.

  • Excellent article. Very useful information. Thank you!

  • Love this article. I’m always up to learn more about the materials I use, and being a person who works to fit garments and wants a shawl to drape like a shawl, I was happy to be further educated about a craft I enjoy and teach.

  • Great piece! I’ve wondered about this for a long time.

  • This is a very interesting post. Particularly to me, because I’m an Indie Dyer and go through 8 different suppliers for the yarn that I dye. Not one of them sells a “sock yarn.” To those of us who dye it and buy it wholesale, that term does not apply. It is all sold to us as fingering weight. Some sellers may look at the fiber content and tightness of the ply and the number of plies and label it as “sock yarn,” but there’s no true sock yarn that I’ve ever seen in the industry. And even within one category (say fingering weight), different fiber content is going to drastically affect how a yarn will knit up. Comparing different bases is a very good exercise, but your experience between two different bases will be completely different when you take another two bases and compare those, regardless of whether it’s officially labeled as sock yarn or not. For example, Blue Barn Fiber sells a huge number of fingering weight bases and the “best” for socks is called Bright Eyes – a 4-ply Superwash BFL/Nylon blend with a high twist. But it’s still technically fingering weight yarn. It will knit up very differently than the more popular Roo base which is 50/50 SW Merino/Silk. Both of those will knit up differently than a 4-ply SW Merino/Nylon base called Schmoozie. Every single base is different.

  • This is amazing! I kinda had the feeling that there were differences, and for good reason. Your article put clearly what I had a vague idea of. It just clicked into place. Thank you for putting this all together in one place.

  • What a helpful discussion! Thank you for explaining this so carefully and fully. This will help my future knitting.

  • Great information, thanks for this article! I have been slogging through a pair of toe-up socks with Mini-Moochi yarn, feeling very proud of myself for finally achieving 9 stitches per inch. (Single ply yarn, not much twist, mostly merino). I now have to decide whether to plow ahead, knitting densely with a splitty yarn that might felt—-& the knitting is not fun. Or whether ‘tis nobler to froggit and turn this yarn into a shawl. With knowledge comes…..more decisions!

  • Wow. This article made me gasp with awe. You are amazing!! Maybe if I start younger next lifetime I could have all that knowledge. Better buckle down to get a head start. Thank you for the motivation!!

  • For me I have a definite reaction to the visuals of the two samples. When I look at the pink Perennial sample in the lace pattern my eye goes straight to the pattern. I don’t really notice individual stitches. In some respects it reminds me more of a woolen yarn where it all melts together. But looking at the orange Studio sock yarn my eye goes right to the individual stitch. I can’t get past the stitch to see the overall pattern. So visually the pattern view (pink) is more satisfying to look at.

  • Thank You. This has been very enlightening

  • Great exploration and explanation. Gauge is not everything – good to remember!

  • Thanks for this very helpful article. The photos speak volumes.

  • “Sometimes a woman needs a neon pink pair of socks with a silky halo.” Stop reading my mind.

  • Thrilling. I was on the edge of my seat wondering if Jillian would address the fact that some knitters would inevitably use the “wrong” yarn adjusting their knitting to overcome the “wrongness.” She did! The fact that this was so important to me despite the fact that I knit neither socks nor lace is a rather disturbing part of my character. The only way to justify this is to knit a skintight cocktail dress for Barbie using regular fingering weight yarn in all over 1×1 rib as Jillian specified. No lace, no socks and an opportunity to test the efficacy of Norwegian purl.,,Oh, gosh, see what you guys do to me??