Non-wooly sock yarns

(updated 1/21/2007)

Introduction

I know I'm not alone - I cannot wear wool socks. I'm not allergic per se, and I don't have any vegetarian/vegan reasons, but I'm very sensitive to wool, and downright allergic to mohair, angora, and alpaca.

Even more relevant is the fact that my hands and feet are always on fire. I cannot remember a single time when I've had cold fingers or toes. Just the idea of wearing anything other than the thinnest cotton socks on my feet or the thinnest machine-knit wool/synthetic gloves on my hands immediately causes me to have a hot flash. I am explicitly stating this because people have suggested wearing a thin cotton sock beneath a wooly one to avoid sensitivity; obviously, this won't work for me unless I sit in a tub filled with ice cubes.

And so, the perpetual search. I am always looking for non-wooly yarns to knit patterned, thin socks. Here are the criteria for a yarn to end up on this list; #1 is non-negotiable, the others... we take what we can get ;).

The Criteria

  1. Absolutely no wooly fiber content, not even 1% wool or mohair, etc. Many sock yarns blend wool and cotton, and while I think they are a good choice for many (including myself for really, really, really arctic days), they do not constitute non-wooly sock yarns.
    - silk is fine with me, although vegan knitters prefer to exclude it, too.
    - I'm extremely hesitant to include yarns which are 100% synthetic because in my experience they are very heat-trapping. So, I'm limiting this list to yarns which are at least 50% natural fiber.
  2. Thinness - fingering weight or thinner, which is 7 spi or more per 4" in stockinette.
  3. Color and texture - I want to be able to knit fancy, patterned socks, maybe even ones with stranded/Fair Isle motifs! Therefore, it's ideal if the yarn is smooth and comes in solid colors.
  4. Memory - hold its shape exceptionally well. In my experience, cotton or silk must be blended with elastic/lycra (not just any ol' synthetic fiber) in order to satisfy this criterion.

Below is an ever growing and changing list of yarns that approximately satisfy these criteria, and some comments (if I have any). Please e-mail me (grumperina@gmail.com) if you have a favorite which doesn't appear on this list.

The List

  • Greenwood Fiberworks hand painted cotton lycra (through Etsy)

         gauge: 9 spi on US 1
         content: 96% cotton, 4% lycra
         satisfied criteria: non-wooly, thin, holds shape

    I just finished knitting a pair of socks using this yarn, and couldn't be happier with the results! In my opinion, this yarn is one of the best non-wooly sock yarns out there. Read my post for a full review and pictures!

  • Cotton lycra sock yarn from Zen Yarn Garden

         gauge: 9 spi on US 1
         content: cotton/lycra blend
         satisfied criteria: non-wooly, thin, holds shape

    This yarn seems similar to the cotton/lycra offered by Greenwood Fiberworks.

  • Cascade Fixation

         gauge: 5.5 spi on US 5-9
         content: 98.3% cotton, 1.7% elastic
         satisfied criteria: non-wooly, solid colors, holds shape

    I'm a big fan of this yarn because it's easily available and comes in great colors. I usually knit it on US 3 needles and get a gauge that's approximately 7 spi. The minus is that the yarn is rather thick (hot) and textured, so fancy patterns are a no-no.

  • elann's Sock It to Me Collection Esprit

         gauge: 6.25 spi on US 7
         content: 98.3% cotton, 1.7% elastic
         satisfied criteria: non-wooly, solid colors, holds shape

    As far as I can tell, this is the same yarn as Cascade Fixation. Here's a pair of socks I knit out of this yarn.

  • Artful Yarns Candy

         gauge: 4.75 spi on US 8
         content: 64% cotton, 32% acrylic, 3% nylon, 1% elastic
         satisfied criteria: non-wooly, holds shape

    This is one of my favorite yarns for house socks. It's funky and cushy, and holds its shape very well. I knit it on US 3 here and got a gauge of 6 spi.

  • Socks That Fit cotton

         gauge: 9 spi on US 1
         content: 95% cotton, 5% spandex
         satisfied criteria: non-wooly, maybe thin, solid colors, and probably holds shape

    This is a very interesting yarn that begs to be fully explored. It is incredibly stretchy - appears to be rather thick in the skein, but narrows to fingering weight under tension. Apparently, once the knitting is finished, the piece needs to be steamed to activate the spandex. This is done only once, and shape is maintained wash after wash. All of this is very intriguing, and makes me wonder about achieving proper size...

  • Panda Cotton

         gauge: 7-8 spi on US 1-2.5
         content: 55% bamboo, 24% cotton, 21% elastic nylon
         satisfied criteria: non-wooly, solid colors, and maybe holds shape

    Crystal Palace was kind enough to send me a skein of this yarn. It is very soft to the touch, and has a little bit of stretch. However, I don't think it will make socks thin enough for everyday wear, and it's not smooth enough for fancy patterns. Its ability to hold shape also needs to be tested. I've marked this yarn for kids' knits - very soft, and fabulous colors!

  • Bamboozle

         gauge: 4-5 spi on US 8-10
         content: 55% bamboo, 24% cotton, 21% elastic nylon
         satisfied criteria: non-wooly, solid colors, and maybe holds shape

    Heavier-weight cousin to Panda Cotton. Again, very soft and seems great for kids' knits, but not ideal for socks.

  • Classic Elite Star

         gauge: 5.5 spi on US 8
         content: 99% cotton, 1% lycra
         satisfied criteria: non-wooly, solid colors, and maybe holds shape

    I tried to knit a pair of socks using this yarn on US 3 needles, but found the fabric stretched too much, no matter how few stitches I cast on. I felt that the yarn texture was overwhelming, and only simple stockinette would work.

  • Rowan Calmer

         gauge: 5 spi on US 8
         content: 75% cotton, 25% microfiber
         satisfied criteria: non-wooly, smooth, solid colors, and maybe holds shape

    I have not knit extensively with this yarn, but in my brief experience, I found that it was not as resilient as a yarn with true elastic.

  • Jaeger Stretch

         gauge: 7 spi on US 4
         content: 96% cotton, 2% polyamide, 2% elastic
         satisfied criteria: non-wooly, thin, solid colors, and holds shape

    I just got two balls of this yarn in a trade, and I'm intrigued! Although the yarn is textured, it may be able to show some stitch patterns, plus it's quite stretchy. I'm not sure if it's been discontinued, though.

  • Knit One, Crochet Two Wick

         gauge: 5 spi on US 8
         content: 53% soy, 47% polypropylene
         satisfied criteria: non-wooly, smooth, solid colors, and maybe holds shape

    I was prompted to purchase this yarn when a reader wrote, "We've just gotten it in at the shop and it's selling well for socks. Although the ball band calls for 5 sts to the inch on #8 needles, they have a sock pattern written using #5 needles. The yarn is composed of soy and polypropylene, hence the name. The owner of K1C2 had it test knitted by the sock knitters group, with positive reviews." Having seen this yarn in person, it is simply too thick for a real pair of socks. However, Wick might be good for a pair of house socks because it feels quite nice and seems to have a decent amount of stretch. Some knitting will need to be done for a more firm opinion :).

  • Katia Mississipi 3

         gauge: 7 spi on US 3
         content: 60% cotton, 40% acrylic
         satisfied criteria: non-wooly, thin, smooth, solid colors, and maybe holds shape

    I was pleasantly surprised when I received this yarn! I think it has the same amount of stretch of many of the other cotton/acrylic blends (except the ones blended with true elastic), but in addition, it's true fingering weight and comes in solid colors. Definitely more stretchy than GGH Sprint and Fortissima Cotton. I think the stitch pattern would need to be chosen carefully, though, because it doesn't have the elasticity a sock truly needs.

  • Fortissima Cotton

         gauge: 6.5 spi on US 1-2
         content: 75% cotton, 25% nylon
         satisfied criteria: non-wooly, thin, smooth, solid colors

    For a change, this cotton yarn was created with socks in mind! So, of course, it's been discontinued. Although it comes in solid colors suitable for many fancy sock patterns, the colors are pretty awful. Also, I found that the yarn doesn't have a great memory because the synthetic content is not elastic.

  • GGH Sprint

         gauge: 7 spi on US 3
         content: 75% cotton, 25% polyamid
         satisfied criteria: non-wooly, thin, smooth, solid colors

    This yarn came highly recommended for non-wooly socks. Therefore, it's been discontinued :(. However, having seen it in person, I'm not sure how much stretch and memory it actually has. I will need to try it out to say for sure.

  • Lana Grossa Elastico

         gauge: 6 spi on US 4-7
         content: 96% cotton, 4% polyester
         satisfied criteria: non-wooly, maybe smooth, solid colors, and maybe holds shape

    I have not used this yarn, but a reader writes that she was quite pleased when she used this yarn for socks. "Very soft, decent memory, pretty colors. Not "perfect" sock yarn but quite nice."

  • Silk City Bounce

         gauge: 7 spi on US 1-2
         content: 75% cotton, 25% nylon
         satisfied criteria: non-wooly, thin, smooth, solid colors

    Although I haven't knit with this yarn, I'm not certain of its ability to bounce back into shape. Some of the other Silk City yarns may be more promising (like Silk City Soft Stretch), but I'm not about to pay $70 for a cone to simply find out :).

  • Cotton sock yarn from Zen Yarn Garden

         gauge: 7 spi on US 1-2
         content: 75% cotton, 25% nylon
         satisfied criteria: non-wooly, thin, smooth, may come in solid colors

    Seems very similar to elann's Silk City Bounce; vibrant handpainted colors are sure to tempt some knitters.

  • Blue Moon Fiber Arts Sock Candy

         gauge: 7-8 spi on US 2
         content: 96% cotton, 4% elite
         satisfied criteria: non-wooly, and solid-colored in certain colorways

    I just received some of this yarn. It is sportweight, so a little too heavy for regular socks, and I didn't find it stretchy despite the 4% elite content. However, in the right kind of stitch pattern it might make a nice pair of house socks.

  • Pingouin Corrida 3

         gauge: 7 spi on US 2.5
         content: 60% cotton, 40% acrylic
         satisfied criteria: non-wooly, thin, smooth, solid colors

    I have not used this yarn, and it has been discontinued. A reader of this blog tells me that this yarn is the same as Katia Mississipi 3.