6.13.2010

Do you block socks?

This is a question I've been asked on more than one occasion by knitters who are in that peri-first sock knitting phase. Socks are one of my favorite things to knit and certainly are my favorite take-a-long project.  Hand knitted socks are crazy comfortable and feel so much better than machine made especially once you learn the tips and tricks for customizing them to your exact pedal anatomy. I usually have at least one pair going constantly aside from my other works in progress.

So, you've finished your pair of socks. What next? Well, I always like to give my newly finished socks a good hand washing for three reasons. First, I want to get out any extra color left over from the dying process and set the color to prevent fading as much as possible. Secondly, it also gives a professional finish to your item by helping to even out stitches and define stitch patterns as with any knitted item. The pattern will get stretched out and the socks "auto-blocked" the first time they are worn, but if you are presenting them as a gift, you want them to be esthetically pleasing in the package. Lastly, though most sock yarns are composed of some percentage of merino or other uber soft wool and are generally soft right off the hank or skein, washing them will make them even softer and improve the smell.

Here's how I hand wash and block socks and other knitted items knit of animal fiber. Let me take a moment to caution you against machine washing your hand knit socks.  Even though most sock yarns today often come in superwash wool and the instructions given by the manufacturer will often say "machine wash" or "machine wash-delicate cycle," I would recommend you always hand wash your socks to increase their longevity and decrease pre-mature fading of the fibers.  Sometimes you will even see the manufacturer's instructions stating recommendations for "tumble dry low," but I will tell you from experience that this often leads to shrinking over time even though the wool has been subjected to superwash stripping and coating.  If you do choose to machine wash your socks let them air dry--trust me!

Machine Washing Tips

  • Place the socks in a zippered laundry bag, pillow cover or pillowcase closed with a rubber band.
  • Wash the socks with other similarly weighted items. Don't wash a bag of socks with a few pairs of jeans for instance. It will cause either fulling/felting or degradation of the fibers much more rapidly.
  • If you wash them in warm/cool water, rinse them in warm/cool water respectively. Prevent temperature variances in the same washing cycle.
  • Hand wash your socks and set the color before mixing them in the washing machine with other pairs of socks for subsequent laundering. This is especially true for contrasting colors.
  • If after you complete a pair of socks they come out a bit large after the initial hand washing and air drying, I have had success with machine washing them in hot water and tumble drying them on low for supervised 5 minute increments. Ideally this will "full" them down to a better fit and I will hand wash/air dry them for all subsequent launderings.
Hand Washing/Wet Blocking of Socks & Other Hand Knits of Animal Fiber
  • Fill one side of the kitchen sink half way with tepid/luke warm water, 1 Tbsp of salt, 1/8 cup of white vinegar and about 1/2-1 tsp of wool wash. (Double the wool wash, salt and vinegar measurements for a larger knitted item needing a full sink of water.  Animal fibers love acid baths and the sodium chloride is a mordant and will help in setting the color.

  • Place your socks in the basin and let them soak for approximately 10-15 minutes, gently squeezing the fiber and expelling excess air. DO NOT AGITATE OR RING.  You will probably see the bleeding of extra pigment left over from the dying process, especially for dark colors (above photos).
  • While they are soaking, fill the other basin with the same temperature of water and white vinegar only.  The acetic acid aids in rinsing off the detergent, getting rid of any further dye excess and will, again, aid in setting in the color.
  • Gently press out the excess water and place in your first rinse basin.  
  • Empty and rinse the initial wash basin and fill it up with luke warm water only.
  • Gently press out the excess water and place socks in final rinse basin. Here the water should be clear. If not, repeat with one additional rinse in plain luke warm water.
After the final rinse, gently squeeze out the socks, being careful not to wring, and place on a towel. Roll the towel and press out the remaining water. You can step on the rolled towel to assist in extracting water or place socks in a salad spinner to achieve the same goal.
    From here, you can either lay out the socks flat on a fresh dry towel or place the socks on commercially made sock blockers being careful not to stretch out the sock. (Note how the cuff is folded over in the photos to aid in preservation of the ribbing elasticity). The sock blockers will usually aide in speeding up the drying process--even more so if placed under a ceiling fan. You can also make your own sock blockers (pictured below) using two wire coat hangers reshaped into foot forms (be sure to use wire coat hangers that are clean and free from coatings which may come off on your socks).

    • That's it!  The whole process takes about 10-15 minutes whether I have one sock or several pairs. 
    One final note--DO NOT ball up your socks inside of each other like athletic socks as this will lead to misshapen slouchy socks.  Lay them flat on top of each other and roll or fold them before placing in a bureau drawer.  A couple of lavender sachets or a bar of Irish Spring soap placed in the drawer will aid in the prevention of moth buffets on your woolens.  

    Now go and knit you some socks! Go on!

    6 comments:

    1. I hate knitting socks, because you have to do a second one and because it's so hot here I don't find a need to wear them. But.... with all that said, I know tons of people who love to knit socks, and you're another one. Great tutorial btw.

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    2. (accidently deleted my own comment...LOL) Thanks Kenny! I'm starting to knit two at a time more often b/c I can often be bitten by the SSS (second sock syndrome) bug as well! You're right about the heat! I'm in scrubs 75% of the time, but other than that I only wear socks when working out or when I have to get dressed up (rare these days). Have you tried cotton/wool blends? That's what I use for my summer dress socks.

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    3. I am trying to work up the courage to try to knit a pair if socks.
      I don't know why I'm so chicken when it comes to socks.

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    4. Hi Mil, haven't been around much but kept your blog as a must read when I can. I do not know how you have the time to do all that you do. This is a great tutorial on how to care for handknit socks. Is there someplace I can get the pattern for the Whodunnit socks? I have a person I could gift these to. I suppose it would not be hard to intergrate these into toe up socks done on the magic loop method? I am just learning this and in doing so have learned I like knitting socks.

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    5. Love this post and I agree with Kenny. It's a great tutorial. Well written and photographed.

      I, too, once thought that if the yarn said "machine washable" that it meant full-on washing and drying. Four holes in two pairs of HAND KNIT socks have halted this practice in my house. Two of the holes appeared in socks that I had JUST finished. Oh, and I think the real killer is the dryer. I'm pretty certain that the heat setting in our laundry room was wayyyyyy too high and it literally burned through the fabric.

      In any case, I handwash all my handknit socks.

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    6. Great work, Mil. I enjoy knitting socks, usually 2-at-once, and don't tire of them. I like doing them toe-up most of the time, with my own hand-spun yarns. And if I am using such precious yarns, I take care of them: hand soak (easy to do) and never use the dryer. Anything dries very fast around here, so that is not a problem. If you have many pairs, they do last much longer that way!

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