Men's handspun socks

>> Thursday, January 14, 2010

So as I mentioned before, I was frantically spinning before the holidays to make Bradley some handspun, handknit socks for Christmas. I had bought a 1/2 pound bag of roving from Romni, thinking that I would have plenty for maybe 2 pairs. Or at least a pair for him and a smaller pair for me. Or something like that.

Anyway what happened is it took forever to spin a 1/2 pound bag, and I ended up with just one pair of socks and a tiny batch of roving and a tiny ball of yarn left over. The big thing I learned is that I bought a bag of roving, and realized later that it was actually roving, not the lovely smooth combed top that is often sold as roving even though it's really top. I'd heard about this distinction but I didn't really know what it meant until I tried spinning with the roving.

The difference seemed to be that the fibres were shorter, with some tufty bits that were fine as it gave the yarn a tweedy look, but also lots and lots of vegetable matter (vm). In case you don't spin, this is basically little bits of dried grass, twigs and bits of burrs that the animals have gotten caught up in their coats. Some people put covers on their sheep to avoid this, but there's still always some in there. Anyway I was picking out vm while spinning, then while winding onto bobbins, then while plying, then while knitting, then after washing the socks. Kind of tiresome.

However, I'm not complaining about what I was sold, because I did get 1/2 pound of merino for only $15. Which is a very good price for that much soft merino. And now I fully appreciate the difference between roving and top.

The other thing I learned is that this roving seemed to require a different kind of spinning. The short fibres didn't hold together in the same way so I was letting twist up into the fibre source which is more of a woolen method of spinning than worsted. (Worsted is a way of spinning so that the fibres align and it creates a smooth yarn. With woolen spinning the fibres criss-cross and this creates a fuzzier, airy yarn that is very warm. Not to be confused with worsted weight yarn, which is a medium thickness of yarn.)

After letting twist up into the fibre, it was like pulling the yarn out, and by doing it at the right rate given how fast the spindle is spinning, you can make an evenly spun yarn. I found it a bit lumpy but I ended up doing a 3-ply so it averaged out a bit and was fine. 3-ply also creates a rounder looking yarn, as opposed to the beaded look of a 2-ply.

So doing a (non-navajo) 3-ply was the next new thing I was trying. I wound the yarn onto bobbins after spinning a full spindle, then used a tip from a commenter (thank you Rachel) to create a lazy kate using a cardboard box and some knitting needles. (Another tip is that you can just ply off spindles if you have enough of them to do that.)

Then I plied the yarn until I was left with some leftover singles (it's hard to wind 3 bobbins of singles and have them come out even). I realized I could wind a leftover single back onto the spindle and spin a bit more. And basically drive myself crazy trying to make it come out even. Which in the end I practically did. Not that I recommend being that obsessive it... suffice to say I was winding back and forth several times.

So after all this spinning (and washing and drying the yarn) I wanted to make the socks using the same nice sock pattern I had used for mine (pictured at the top on the left). This is how I adapted the pattern for men's socks:
  • Larger needle: US size 7 
  • worked 15 rounds of ribbing instead of 10
  • continued leg in stockinette for 45 rounds instead of 36
  • at the toe decrease once there were 8/8/10 stitches stopped doing the all knit rounds
  • grafted the toe at 5/5/10 stitches
You can vary these adaptations to fit any specific man's foot, ie. adjust the length of the sock, the length of the foot and how quickly you decrease at the end. Thank you for such a great simple sock pattern Kit Zerbe!

As with my socks, knit with lambspride worsted yarn, after a wash in the washing machine, they felt a tiny bit which improves them a lot. They end up snugger, denser and warmer.

And believe it or not it was worth all the work, Bradley loves his socks so much. They fit perfectly and are apparently the warmest socks ever.


Bradley,  January 14, 2010  

Like mittens, but for my feet!

paula January 14, 2010  

Are the socks still comfy given they're "roving"? Vegetable matter and burrs sounds kinda prickly! Regardless, this posting sure makes me wish I knit! I envy Bradley's socks!

Claire Louise Milne January 14, 2010  

Ha ha! No, no it's all gone now. It just took a lot of work to get it all out.

Also the fact that it's roving doesn't affect the comfort, just the spinning, so they're really nice and soft.

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