Interview with Sue from Blacker Yarns

This article was originally written and published in November 2014 for the Wovember blog.

As part of my “No Nylon Here” series I thought it would be fun to revisit it.
The piece is republished as written in 2014 - with some updated images to reflect the new Blacker website and yarns.

Blacker Mohair Blends.  Copyright Blacker Yarns

Blacker Mohair Blends. Copyright Blacker Yarns

Pure Wool for Socks (no nylon here folks)

Tasked with writing an article on sock yarn I wanted to question all the things I had come to believe about choosing the best sock yarn.

I needed to ask a burning question: Do we really need nylon?

I also wanted to think “outside the box” when it came to selecting yarn for socks. The market is full of high twist Bluefaced Leicester and Merino/nylon blends. Don’t get me wrong, I love these sock yarns and the amazing work hand dyers are doing with each skein, however I was convinced there must be more on offer to sock knitters out there. I wanted to know what I was missing out on.

In search of some advice and ideas I chatted to Sue Blacker, from The Natural Fibre Company and Blacker Yarns based in Cornwall. I

knew she would have a wealth of knowledge about the subject and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Interview with Sue Blacker of Blacker Yarns

CD: There are so many breeds available from Blacker. Where should sock knitters start when assessing yarn for its suitability for socks?

SB: I think the key is to decide what the socks are for:

  • Are they soft and cosy bedsocks, which scarcely touch the floor or only a carpet?

  • Are they serious welly-boot socks that need to be thick, warm and hard wearing?

  • Are they pretty cable and lace designs to show off and do a bit of walking around?

  • Are they walking boot or work shoe socks?

There is usually a trade-off between comfort and durability. So I would not use pure merino to make anything but bed socks and I would happily use Jacob to make welly-boot and walking socks. For more decorative socks, then the softer wools blended with some nylon work well, but you can also keep natural by considering silk or flax and also consider the really durable high stitch definition of Guernsey yarns which are pretty much equivalent to a Sport weight.

Not everyone has noticed, but we actually rank all our yarns with icons: three sheep are softer than two sheep, which are softer than one sheep. There is a second icon that gives an idea of the micron count of the yarns.

Blacker_Yarn Guide.jpeg

The icons appear above the picture of the swatch on each individual yarn and you can also get an idea by selecting on the left-hand side of the page for yarn handle (soft, medium-soft, firm) or fibre type (fine, medium strong)

On balance I would advise against using the 3-sheep icon yarns as they are beautifully soft but less hard wearing. Some people may find the ideal intermediate option is our two-sheep icon yarn or for more durable and rugged wear the one-sheep icon.

CD: There are two main techniques for spinning yarn, woollen and worsted. For a knitter with limited spinning experience (like me) what would you recommend for socks, and why?

SB: This is quite an interesting question: a worsted spun yarn will give you higher definition and a smoother result, so will be good for decorative designs, and generally worsted spun yarns are firmer and harder wearing than woollen spun. However, a woollen spun yarn will gradually felt a little with washing and wearing, so is ideal for boot socks where the thickness will gradually merge.

Thus it is possible that a worsted spun boot sock will need repair before a woollen spun one even though woollen spun yarns are generally less hard wearing. The other benefit of woollen spun is the air carried in the yarn will give it more insulating qualities. Also if you are doing colour work, the woollen yarn is “sticky” so easier to work with and the floats will felt to give you added wear.

So again it’s a question of what your socks are for.

Blacker Classic 4ply. Copyright Blacker Yarns

Blacker Classic 4ply. Copyright Blacker Yarns

CD: Socks aren’t always knitted in 4ply, which are your favourite heavier yarns for sock knitting?

SB: For welly boot socks we have a DK pattern Poolgooth (free) and it’s great.

Note: Pattern link updated to more recent pattern.

As noted above, and because we are spoiled for choice, I would select Guernsey yarns for interesting texture, but would be reasonably happy to make socks in any yarn, depending on the purpose.

The benefit of 4-ply and finer yarns is that they make a more dense fabric, which of course helps with wear. I think a 4-ply yarn worked on small needles gives an excellent result.

Blacker Breeds - Jacob 4ply.  Copyright Blacker Yarns

Blacker Breeds - Jacob 4ply. Copyright Blacker Yarns

CD: Do you think sock yarn needs nylon in it or can other fibres, like mohair, serve to strengthen wool used for sock knitting?

SB: No, a sock yarn does not need nylon. However, nylon has been used because it is cheap and also nylon works well to hold together fine fibres in fine yarns, so the sock knitting machine people like it. For hand knitting, you can substitute mohair or alpaca very easily with wool. Nylon also helps hold smooth fibres like mohair and alpaca together, so again you tend to find that machine knitted socks will always contain nylon. But people managed somehow for a few thousand years until the middle of the last century without nylon.

Strengthening the sock can also be done with heel stitch or with additional darning for hard wear.

Download a handy pdf guide on the
Heel Stitch and the Eye of Partridge stitch here.


Did you enjoy this article?
You might also enjoy reading Musing on Socks and Yarns which can be found here.

If you would like to know more about Black yarns and their founder Sue Blacker check our these interviews on the
Fruity Knitting Podcast and Curious Handmade Podcast

Fancy knitting some socks in one of the gorgeous Blacker Yarns?

Take a look at these fantastic designs created especially for Blacker Yarns. All the images are copyright of the designers.
Links to the patterns can be found below.

Clockwise from top right: Bronte by Clare Mountain, Loyalsocks by Rachel Brockman, Oxalis Socks by Phoebe O’Neill and Morwenstowe by Sonja Bargielowska.

Until next time

Happy knitting,