Zen And The Art of Darning Socks

Sometime toward the end of last week it became apparent that almost half of Mr. Knitting Sarah’s handknit socks were starting to go threadbare. When it rains, it pours, right?! I mentioned to Mr. KS that I’d started another pair, but that he might need to supplement with some ready-to-wear socks. He informed me that he’s totally converted to handknits and doesn’t intend to go back. I was kind of shocked because I thought he might be kind of ecstatic at the chance to integrate some RTW socks into his rotation, but as a knitter I knew I needed to jump into action. That one pair of socks I was working on was not going to cut it! I needed a new plan. I knew it was time to get darning!

I spent the first 2 days of the great sock repair extravaganza of 2019 (which included a whopping 4 pairs of socks) working in Swiss darning. “Swiss darning” is the same thing as duplicate stitch, for those who weren’t aware. I just think “Swiss darning” sounds way more elegant so I like to go with that name (because I can!). In any case, one pair had a pretty small hole near the toe which was relatively easy to fix. The next pair we decided we would just let nature take its course because the socks are 6 years old and entirely stockinette where Mr. KS prefers a 2×2 ribbing on the top of the foot and cuff for a better fit. It’s weird to relegate them to just be worn until their eventual demise, but we agreed that it was time better spent to work on a new pair that fit better than to prolong the life of this pair.  And so I was down to the last two pairs.

The first pair, I darned. And I darned. And I darned.

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I was reinforcing the foot in each sock as well as areas along the decreases on the toes, all of which were showing a lot of wear. I didn’t have any yarn that matched, so I just grabbed a skein of similar yarn that I didn’t think Mr. KS would want a full pair of socks from. Since the mending would all be hidden within a shoe, the bolder colors would be hidden, after all. After what felt like Swiss darning forever, Mr. KS was ecstatic with the outcome.

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I wasn’t really going for pretty with these, just functional. A band-aid for the sock shortage of 2019 and I’m fairly confident they’ll do the trick for a while. I was really concerned that the patches would feel weird or uncomfortable, but Mr. KS assured me they were great and he was very happy.

After darning what felt like a lot of real estate on these, I was curious to try a different technique. Instead of the relative tedium of Swiss darning — as elegant as that name may sound, it is still pretty grueling — what if I would just cut off the worn part of the foot and re-knit the whole thing through the toe? Surely the ability to go into auto-pilot knitting with a basic foot and toe would be faster than trying to neatly Swiss darn 1/3 of the footbed, right? I resolved to try it and compare. I mean, you’ll never know unless you try!

Normally I’d look up loads of tutorials since I’d never tried anything like this. I mean, I’d never cut my knitting for steeking even! But I just kind of visualized what I thought would work and went for it. I’ve probably knit close to 100 pairs of socks at this point, so I am pretty confident in the ins and outs of handknit socks and figured based on the terrible state of this pair, I wasn’t going to make them any worse!

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It was surprisingly easy. I used a set of one size smaller DPNs to pick up the stitches just because it made the process a little easier. The variegated yarn also helped me to stay in the correct round when picking up stitches. Since I could literally pick anywhere to start, I chose a round that both stood out from the one next to it and was one consistent color all the way around just to make picking up that much easier. The ribbing was a bit trickier until I knew what I was looking for, but I figured it out. Before I knew it, I had the sock on the needles, the worn foot & toe cut off, and I was knitting it off the smaller needles and back onto my 3mm (Mr. KS prefers sport/DK weight socks, hence the 3mm needles). Easy peasy!

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For those wondering, this was the old foot & toe.

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You can see it was already darned once and the rest of the knitting was almost threadbare.

I took no scientific measurements because I was just exploring the technique this time around, but I would venture to guess that for this extensive of a mending project it was probably about equal to Swiss darning the whole thing, if not a smidge faster. And the second sock was definitely much faster to get set up and back on the needles. I took a little more time to add some heel reinforcement as well with a little duplicate stitch… er… I mean Swiss darning.

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I was already that far into it with the toes, I might as well take some precautions on those heels as well, right?!

And I’m happy to report that Mr. KS loves his mended socks!

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I just looked them up on Ravelry and these are also 6 years old! Considering Mr. KS spends 10 hours a day, 5 days a week minimum on his feet and has been wearing this pair regularly for the first 4 years of its life and pretty exclusively in rotation with about 5 other handknit pairs the past 2, they have held up remarkably well, I think! Yes, they are still worn, but the fact that re-knitting and reinforcing might buy another year or so out of this yarn is pretty remarkable. And knitting a couple toes and heels is much faster than knitting a whole new pair of men’s size 13 socks!

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And what a great way to use a yarn that’s not exactly Mr. KS’ palette, too!

I’ve been pretty shocked throughout the process at Mr. KS’ enthusiasm for this mending of his handknit socks. Honestly, I always kind of look at him when we’re discussing it, waiting for him to crack a joke about my dedication to such a weird process because there are a lot of things in the knitting and spinning world that he loves that I love, but he himself does not understand. It turns out mending is not on that list. Instead, he explained this morning that he really appreciates the process of not just pitching the socks when they are worn. There’s something special, he said, about giving them a second life. And in that sentiment, there is something that touches my heart.

I’ve come full circle now to see that the mending honors the time commitment of creating the socks in the first place. To give them a little TLC, a gentle refurb, a small time investment in order to let them live a longer life — that’s placing a value on them that I don’t think we consider as much as we probably should when it comes to the ‘things’ in our daily lives. In the throes of the project, it was easy to see it as a tedious task, for me to make comments about how it was a true sign of love to mend because it is so boring. I won’t say mending is my favorite thing in the world to work on, but by the end of this process and by seeing my husband’s enthusiasm for his drawer full of mended socks, I’m looking at it all from a much more zen place. How wonderful that I have the time and skills to be able to take these socks that were essentially a couple weeks away from the trash and breath another life into them. Another season of hiking, another year of toasty toes on the cool floors on spring mornings, another first truly chilly day of fall — another year of handknit socks.

The next time I take on a mending project, I have no doubt that I’ll approach it with more patience, maybe even just a hint of reverence for the time and love this project represents and how mending it is really the way you honor that. I’ll be sure to document it better for all of you, my friends, so you can add the same handy skills to your knitting toolkit. And so that you, too, can discover (if you haven’t already) zen and the art of darning socks.

 

You’re Knitting… From Your Knitting?

Late last week I finished up some socks for Mr Knitting Sarah. I’d started them for the drive and subsequent waterpark adventure with the kiddos and then finished them off a few days later. I tend to use DK weight for his socks, so despite his size 12 foot they fly off the needles.

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They are the usual socks I knit for him — Churchmouse Yarns & Teas Basic Sock pattern, but I use the fingering weight instructions with the DK weight yarn & US 2.5 needles. Every time I try to convince him to let me try a different heel or yarn I am met with extreme resistance, so I bought almost every color of the Regia Musée 6-ply yarn line (this line contains the elusive consistently Mr KS approved colors) and am slowly working my way through it. When I started these, Mr KS looked at them and just said, “Are those for me? They look like my colors.” He certainly knows the score!

For his standard socks, I work about an inch or so of 1×1 ribbing at the cuff, then switch to 2×2 for the remainder of the sock. The pattern has a very basic heel flap & gusset heel. I’ve been working this pattern for nearly a decade so beyond a couple quick references from the screen shots I have of my pattern on my phone, I generally don’t bother to even carry the pattern with me.

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Oh, and I carry the 2×2 down the top of the foot…

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It makes for a more flexible fit and easier on & off for the socks. And that is that, another  pair of standard Mr Knitting Sarah socks, done!

On a side note, last week I actually wound up showing these socks to some of  Mr KS’s co-workers. Whenever we have new people visit our home, the knitting always comes up as a topic of conversation at some point because our living room is filled with yarn and — as one colleague put it — “pre-yarn”. It is kind of funny to try to explain that the vast majority of Mr KS’s socks are custom made. It’s such a standard in our home that sometimes I forget that it’s not the norm. Mr KS had to explain, “Some people have personal tailors. I have a personal knitter.” I think that may be more rare, or at least a little more weird (in an awesome way, of course)!

With these socks sliding into the FO column, I spent a few days just spinning and working on my handspun Brillig.

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I am really loving this project, but I’m also well aware that I’m quickly running out of blue yarn…

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Normally I would just stop when I run out and be done with it, but I want to complete the color repeats of the African Sunset colorway. To do so, of course, I am more than likely going to need more of the Iron Blue (both colors are from Three Waters Farm, by the way). I have more in my stash, but it needs to be spun and I’m currently in my singles yarn mode, so…

 

I started these socks! I got this Gale’s Art sock blank as a Christmas gift and I thought the greens would be fun to knit (did I mention is snowed about 5″ last night here?). This is actually my first ever sock blank — I have a couple in my stash, but I had yet to crack into one.

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I. Am. Loving. It.  

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For those who aren’t aware, a sock blank is basically a skein of white yarn that is machine knitted into a rectangle. Dyers can then easily create stripes, use stencils, hand-paint, or use whatever method is theirs for applying color.

They can be single knit or double knit to make matching or fraternal socks and you just knit from the ends of the fabric, like so…

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Some people will wind the yarn into a ball first, but I’m way too impatient for that. I just cast-on my stitches and – zoom! — off I went! I’m finding it super addictive as I’m so excited to get to the next color or to see how each stencil plays with each stripe of color.

As I was knitting away the other night, Mr KS walked past me and cocked his head, confused. True, this happens a lot, but that’s beside the point. Looking at the blank and then my needles and back again, he said, “Are you knitting… from your knitting?”

“Why, yes. Yes, I am,” I responded and proceeded to explain the concept of a sock blank to him.

“Well, this is new,” he replied and kind of chuckled to himself, clearly amused and perplexed by this development. “Way to keep things weird.”

It just goes to show that after 15 years of knitting I can still find new and weird things to bring into the house. You thought custom knitting socks was novel, now I’m knitting… from my knitting. I can’t wait to try to explain that to some poor, unsuspecting non-knitters soon!

 

Summer is for Shorties

I was totally one of those people who didn’t “get” handknit socks until I started making them. And now I have 3 pairs of commercially made shortie socks and the rest are all handmade. I walk daily and as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten smarter about not wearing flip-flops when I do. These days, I always wear shoes with good support, so in the summer ‘shorties’ have started to become a necessity and I’ve been working on adding more and more handmade versions to my wardrobe. In my humble opinion, there’s really no better time to knit them than in summer. They are small and portable, they knit up quickly, and you can wear them right away when they are finished. Perfect.

With this in mind, last month when I was getting ready to take my kiddos to the new Guardians of the Galaxy movie I cast on a quick pair of Rose City Rollers. I’ve done the pattern before and I know they knit up fast and easy and the fit is great. Because I waited until the last minute to cast-on, the fast and easy part was key. I’m not much of a knitting at the movie theater kind of person and I’m definitely not a casting-on at the movie theater kind of person, so I threw those stitches on the needles just before dashing out the door.

I had been planning to knit up some shorties with my Nomadic Yarns Twisty Sport since attempting to cast-on with it earlier this spring.

This amazing colorway is named “I’ve Always Wanted to be a Tenenbaum” and I adored it at first sight. I mean, clearly it’s super pretty, really lovely yarn, but I wasn’t a fan of how it performed used as a sport weight — it just knit up too light for me to make socks with it anywhere above a 2.25mm needle. Because this yarn arrives in a 328yard skein and I tend to use between 350-380yards for socks for myself, I was somewhat limited on how I could use it for socks. Rose City Rollers to rescue!

As predicted, they were a really fun, quick knit that I took everywhere with me and as per usual they were done lickety split.

Aren’t they cute?!

For those who need their socks to match exactly, you’re probably twitching uncomfortably right now…

Clearly I am not one of you. To each his/her own though, right?! I promise no more photos of my imperfectly matched socks.

Suffice to say, I love them, imperfectly matched set that they are. They are definitely a bit denser than my other shorties and I’m sure that’s because the yarn is heavier, but they’ll still get the job done. Summer is definitely for shorties and I’m definitely working my way toward having a handknit stash of them. Sooner than later, I’ll be able to say my sock stash is 100% handknit — won’t that be a wonderful day?!

Socks With Sarah Rolls Onward

It’s the middle of February and so far in the very casual Socks with Sarah KAL this year I’ve finished 2 pairs of socks and have one more pair about 2/3 done. Today I get to show you that second finished pair — hooray! I guess technically speaking they are the first pair I cast-on, but for whatever reason they were eclipsed by my Rey socks. It happens, you know?

img_5673I got this yarn at the Thanksgiving holiday when the kids and I took my parents up to Door County for lunch at my daughter’s favorite restaurant, Kitty O’Reillys. Right down the street, seriously less than a block away in Spin of Door County, so my mom and I popped in and I picked up this skein. My thoughts when I made my purchase were 1) I’m amazing for buying only one skein of yarn and 2) I can make socks for my daughter with this. It turns out, the former is certainly true, but I instead decided to make socks for myself with it.

They’re spot weight, so, you know, blink…

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Blink again…

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I set it down while we did vacation and then I finished up my Rey socks… and a shawl… and a couple skeins of handspun.

img_5850And then I picked it back up. I’ll say I never really used DPN holders, but my Signature needles have the habit of poking through my project bags and I’m a little terrified of jabbing myself accidentally while in transit so I’m gotten a couple. I have two now and I got both from this shop. I’m weird about these things because I’m less concerned with aesthetic here and really interested in function. These are well made and simple. They ship fast and do the job. Mine are both this simple white and grey chevron, one is lined in blue and one is lined with pink. Simple, perfect.

Anyhoo, blink again…

dale-socks2And I have finished socks. They’re bright and so fun.

dale-socks1I was really pleased with how the Dale Garn Hakkespett yarn knit up. It’s a lot like a sport weight Regia, so that nylon blend that makes great socks.

dale-socksAs per my normal for vanilla socks, I used the Churchmouse Yarns & Teas Basic Sock pattern. I know it almost by heart, but I finally bought an electronic version (as opposed to the paper copy I’ve had for years) so that I could easily access it any time. I sometimes knit these on a US 2.5 needle, but since these will probably be machine washed and dried, I knit them on a US 3. That gives them a little room to shrink in the dryer and should make them absolutely perfect after 1-2 times through the wash.

I’m already well on my way with my third pair of socks this year as I’m about an inch from the heel. For me and handknit socks, once I get around the heel things tend to snowball so it shouldn’t be long now. I wound two other skeins already for socks in my wishful thinking/indecision of vacation planning last month, so starting the next project will be easy when the time comes, too. It would be easy to wind ALL THE SOCK YARN here, but I’m trying to knit what I wind to minimize the mess I make in my stash. It seems to be a solid plan so far. I’m also happy that I’ve managed to keep the sock knitting from falling into the “obsessive” category. I have them going, I work on them from time to time, but other things are happening, too, on my needles and on my wheel. So Socks with Sarah 2017 rolls onward, accomplishing goals in moderation. And that is something, I’m very, very happy about.

Works in Progress

Spring has definitely shifted from being in our queue to being a work in progress here. Earlier this week on Instagram I shared that our cherry bushes are even in bloom…

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They are so pretty — one of my favorites from our yard. Thus with the onset of spring, comes the urge for spring cleaning. I’ve spent a lot of the last couple weeks in the yard tidying up, prepping planters, starting seeds, and waking up the gardens. Spring cleaning has struck the Knitting Sarah blog as well. You may have noticed that I made a few minor changes in this little corner of the internet. For the most part, I like the layout because it is easy to manage and suits what I do just fine. I’m really not a very computer savvy person nor do I have the time or ambition at this point to become one, so the fact that I was able to build this blog in the first place is a small miracle. The fact that I could go back into the guts of it and rearrange some things is equally amazing, at least to me.

The changes are mostly organizational — eliminating redundancy and pulling categories I really don’t use & then just flip-flopping where certain menus appear. You know how it goes — once you start tweaking things, you have to get it just so before you can put the endeavor to bed. The only section I still want to ‘fix’ is to make the tutorials more easy to access and then add to them, but that will just have to come in time. For today, I hope the changes aren’t too inconvenient for you — I tried to make them as painless as possible!

The other progress I have to share is much more exciting, I think, as it has nothing at all to do with cleaning. I settled on a pattern for my delicious SilverSpun Sock yarn! Remember the yarn?

IMG_9065Of course you do! Well, I started knitting using the Vanilla Latte pattern and made it about an inch into the leg before I tore it out. It was just not it, you know?

I went to my second choice, Paper Moon Socks by AnneLena Mattison, a free pattern on Knitty. Because I was a little wary of second sock syndrome I cast-on these magic loop socks to work them two-at-a-time.

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And by this point…

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I knew this would be a home-run. I was really wary of being slowed down by a complex pattern, but these socks are incredibly easy thus far. The cables are all the same, so there is no flipping between left twisting and right twisting cables and I’ve really been able to get in a rhythm with them.

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Even having been away from home most of this week and being a little under the weather, I’ve managed to get within about an inch of the gusset increases. The most exciting aspect, however, is that these are out-of-this-world soft. I am completely smitten and cannot wait to have them on my feet. Don’t forget Feel Good Yarn Company has extended a free shipping offer for orders over $42 to Knitting Sarah readers — just use the code SARAHKNITS at checkout to claim this offer now through June 30th.

Well, I simply must get back to knitting. Gussets await!

All About Socks: Yarn Basics

As promised, I’m going to talk about some sock basics as we get ready for our Socks with Sarah KAL. Today’s topic is probably everyone’s favorite: Yarn.

Right off the bat I want to say that if you want to know everything you can know about what cocktail of fiber & twist you want for the ideal socks, I will direct you immediately to the one & only Clara Parkes and her bible for sock knitters:

20140103-134126.jpgThe Knitter’s Book of Socks

This book is jam-packed with information. In fact, it is so dense that in order for me to absorb the details I have to read just a few pages at a time. From elasticity to moisture control to twist to fiber content to stitch tricks to the 20 lovely patterns — well, let’s just say that this book is pretty much worth its weight in gold to the serious sock knitter.

Being a spinner and all around fiber junkie, my favorite part of this book — aside from the patterns which are fantastic — is definitely how Parkes walks you through each individual aspect of yarn & fiber and what role the most basic elements play in the personality, longevity, and overall wearability of a sock. Wool gives you moisture wicking qualities and warmth — all of my socks are predominantly wool. Often blended with wool in sock yarn, nylon gives a good deal of strength to yarn and can prevent — or at least postpone — holes.  Mohair will act a lot like nylon and give your socks a little halo, too. Alpaca offers extreme warmth — I don’t generally go near alpaca for socks as my handknit socks are almost always in slippers or warm shoes and I fear my feet would totally overheat. Cashmere, well, in a good wool/nylon blend it can be a little pilly, but boy will those socks be warm, cozy, and the softest things you ever put on your feet. It is easy to get overwhelmed quickly though, so let’s start with a good, basic sock yarn.

The vast majority of my socks are made from wool/nylon blends — 75% wool/25% nylon is the most common. Sometimes I see 80%/20%… you know, it varies from base to base and anything in that ballpark is pretty similar. I look for these blends because they are really the workhorse of sock yarns. Sometimes they will tell you what kind of wool ie BFL, merino, etc. BFL is known for its strength and durability, merino is a little softer – they all have their own little personalities, so it is great to experiment. Oftentimes these blends are also machine washable which I appreciate, especially when I make socks for my husband. Do check the tag though before putting them through a spin cycle!

I have worked a lot with Regia sock yarns. It is what my LYS  carries & it is just an all around great quality yarn. Over the years it has proven incredibly strong & handles machine wash & dry well.regiaI picked up this skein online at WEBS. It is a fingering weight wool/nylon blend. One reason I love Regia yarns is they tend to come in generous skeins. 460+yards in fingering, 400+ yards in sport/DK — way more than enough for a pair of socks. I knit a fair number of top-down socks, so I love that yardage cushion. If you are a little wary of second sock syndrome or are a slower knitter worried about finishing or you just want to knit a pair of socks in a flash, try the sport/DK weight. The Churchmouse Yarns & Teas Basic Sock has instructions for this slightly heavier weight and they knit up much faster than fingering weight. Either way, for a first pair of socks you really can’t beat Regia!

Just in case you don’t have access too Regia yarns, I am planning to try out some On-Line 6-ply as well as some Opal in the Petit Prince series during the KAL. They should be pretty comparable — I will be sure to report back to you with my thoughts!

Of course, I don’t always use commercial yarns for sock knitting. I am a complete and total sucker for hand-dyed yarns and my stash is a testament to that. Really, at the end of the day sometimes you just want to work with the most beautiful colors & yarns around. And if that’s what keeps you knitting socks, then by all means go with it!

I have no idea how I found Friday Studios out of Sweden, but I have been oggling her updates for months. I finally jumped when she had a Black Friday sale last November….

fridaystudiosAnd now that I have it in hand I am wondering what took me so long! This is a skein of self-striping yarn in the Science Fiction colorway on the Monday Base. The colors are even more vibrant than I expected –so worth the splurge! The Monday Base is 100gr/425m(465yds) and 75%Superwash Wool/25% Polyamide. Polyamide is another way of saying ‘nylon’ — in case you were wondering. It looks & feels like a pretty good quality sock yarn with vibrant, beautiful colors. I am excited to get this on my needles! (FYI-The shop just had an update today. And you can order custom colors including the one above. Just sayin’…)

For my first sock for this KAL though, I am going to enjoy another special treat. You’ve all heard me rave about Natalie from Cloudlover Yarn & Fiber. I’ve spun with her fiber. I’m knitting a scarf with some aran merino/silk from her, but somehow I have never knit with her sock yarn. That all changes come January 15th!

cloudlover2_edited-1Oooohhh…

socks cloudlover one_edited-1Ahhhhh….

cloudlover3_edited-1Meet Cloudlover’s own Aegean sock yarn.

I. Am. In. Love.

It is obvious, but the colors are unbeatable & — as always — the base is top-notch. I have no doubt it’s going to be a dream. It just so happens that ALL THE SOCK YARN is currently ON SALE in the Cloudlover shop. I’m not even kidding. ALL THE SOCK YARN. To make it even more amazing, enter code HAPPY2014 and you will get 20% off your entire order. Seriously, I’m not even kidding. If ever there was a time to test drive some Cloudlover Yarns & Fibers, now is the time!

Everything I’ve shown you is a wool/nylon blend, so obviously this is a blend I really believe is a good place to start when knitting socks and there are far more fab yarns in this category than I can list for you in this post. At the same time though, I’ve had great luck with 100% merino yarns like Malabrigo Sock which felt a little with wear, but are awfully warm  &  Shibui Sock which has twist to spare (that’s a good thing).  Spud & Chloe’s Fine is a superwash wool/silk blend makes a darn nice, strong sock, too. And I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews for Rowan’s Fine Art which is a merino/mohair/polyamide/silk blend. I encourage you to take some time during the Socks with Sarah KAL to experiment with your yarn choices. With so many wonderful options — the only thing left to do is start knitting & finding new favorites! Don’t forget to share your faves on the Ravelry thread — I think I can speak for us all when I say your KAL friends want to know what you think!collage sock yarn(here are ‘just a few’ of the skeins of sock yarn in my stash…)