It’s not the wool.
Virtually any wool or non-sheep fibre can be used for making socks. Some people like a blend of wool with nylon/polyester/acrylic or cotton for strength and wear. Others like a sturdier fibre like mohair, or breed-specific wool such as Herdwick:
Herdwick ewe with lamb at foot.
Still more prefer worsted-spun over woollen-spun, or an unbalanced ply over balanced. Then there are the arguments over yarn weight, between the die-hard fingering-weight knitters, the never-anything-but sportweighters, and the worsted warriors.
And superwash wool is a must if you’re planning to machine-wash your socks – or even if they need vigorous handwashing.
But beyond such matters, there’s a deeper issue; a philosophy, as it were, of socks.
- Socks go on your feet. Feet are the hardest-working, most active physical part of your body. Feet are also the roughest, most abrasive part of your body. Look at your feet. Look at your toenails. Are they hard, horny, ragged, split? The condition of your feet and toenails can affect your socks, like putting them on an orbital sander or an angle-grinder. Fix your feet, and you’ll fix most of the problems with your socks.
- Even with perfect baby-soft feet, your socks still undergo a lot of wear and tear from shoes and simply being on your feet. You can’t do much about the latter, but you can make sure your shoes aren’t causing the problem. Assuming the shoes aren’t the problem, you need to accept that socks, however tough and hard-wearing, whether handmade or shop-bought, are going to require darning at some point. This is the truth of being the most hard-working item of clothing you own. You need to become a darning diva. It’s not difficult and can be as soothing to the soul as knitting the socks in the first instance.
- Or you can rise beyond the sock to realise a more perfect solution, a sublimation of the sole if you will. The sock is not the problem – the sole is. So knit your perfect sock – and then, knit your perfect sole, and sew them together. You can even use completely different yarns, a delicate fingering for the cuff and foot arch, and a sturdy pure wool Aran or Bulky for the sole. And when that wears through, simply snip off the sole and replace it.
I’m a worsted warrior, and I like Novita 7 Veljestä wool right now. I will happily use pure wool Aran mill-ends, too, especially for kilt hose – you can get these directly from your nearest spinning mill, or they might have a local shop outlet. They’re on cones, from 500g upwards. I also have a 4kg cone of Herdwick, which I’ll probably be buried with, even though I have made multiple items from it. It just never seems to get any smaller.