Rocks & Socks: Your Needles Need Nature

I was in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, for a weekend knitting retreat my mom and her best friend host every spring. I always attend—to enjoy the camaraderie of knitters and to help my mom with administrative tasks. But I don’t take classes during the day. I go to the mountains on this April weekend to hike.

Western North Carolina is a hiker’s dream, with the ancient, soft green peaks of the Appalachians, myriad waterfalls, and lots of great trails. I planned a hike for Sunday and gave myself Saturday to wander around the little mountain town and relax. The day only got better when I discovered a small but well-stocked outfitter. I strolled the aisles, touching backpacks, hiking boots, tents, camping gear. I came to a wall of socks.

I’d purchased some new boots a month before and had noticed that, because of their Gore-Tex content, they made my feet sweat pretty badly. And then my socks would be soaked, and the insides of the boots soaked, and my feet would blister. (I promise there’s a point to this story.) Eight miles into a sixteen-mile hike, it’s not fun to have wet, raw feet! I contemplated the wall of socks.

As I stood there, the store clerk approached me and asked if I needed help. I pursed my lips and looked at him, then decided: yes, I will tell him about my sweaty feet. He was not bothered by it and quickly explained something that I should have known—I needed wool. Wool makes such incredibly breathable and moisture-resistant fabric. Combined with some nylon, as most store-bought merino hiking socks are, and processed to be washable, it’s the comfortable, all-weather solution I needed. I bought a pair.

Having a knitting project on a backpacking trip is so much more satisfying than reading a book!

My hike was glorious and my feet dry and comfortable! I’ve amassed quite the drawer of merino hiking socks now, and after discussing the issue with other active knitters, I know it’s a common conclusion: wool is best. That’s the thing about trail knitters. They know their yarn and they know their socks.

In celebration of the balmy climes of spring—when so many of you crawl out of the woodwork to enjoy nature and get active—we’re looking at the intersection of our craft and The Great Outdoors. We like to call this “Outspiration.” We gathered quotes from knitters that find inspiration in nature. These are your fellow crafters, and getting their trail legs back in shape after a long winter often goes right along with tackling that next project.

Read on, and find the outspiration that will nurture your needles.


Andrea Rangel’s biking gear is an ode to her craft. (Photo by Andrea Rangel)

“Aside from knitting, the thing I love best is riding my bicycle, so I’ve designed garments and accessories with cycling in mind, and I always bring a knitting project with me on camping trips and bike tours. My wool sweaters, hats, mitts, and scarves work so much better than synthetics (in anything but pelting rain) to keep me comfortable while riding or knitting by the campfire.”

– Andrea Rangel

Courtney Cedarholm finds solace when she combines craft with nature. (This photo and featured image by Courtney Cedarholm.)

“One of my favorite parts of knitting is its mobility; you can bring your project anywhere and everywhere and see where your time went through the stitches.”

– Courtney Cedarholm

Thumbhole cuffs, slimming ribs, and a pop of intarsia on the front of the sweater make the Appalachian Thermal a fun and functional pullover. Design by Courtney Cedarholm.

“Last summer, I went to the camp I had attended as a kid and, of course, took my knitting. One of the things I love so much about knitting is that it is such a sensory experience. I like to smell, squeeze, and touch my yarn. The pine trees in Yosemite always smell to me like my childhood. So after we went back there last summer, I remember smelling my sweater project a week later, and it smelled like a campfire . . . which to me represents all the warm, lovely, heartwarming feelings from a youth spent in the woods knitted right into my sweater.”

– Andrea Sanchez

The Mount Robson Pullover, named for a peak inthe Canadian Rockies, is a lightweight men’s sweater worked in slip-stitch ribs with considerable stretch.

“I love knitting and I love hiking. Both help me to keep my sanity, so when I do them together I feel incredibly well! When guiding my hiking tours, I usually knit a project while walking. It helps me to keep the regular and slow pace needed when leading a group. I’ve knitted a lopi sweater once, many socks, and last summer I challenged myself to knit a lace shawl. It went really well and I think it improved my knitting skills!”

– Hélène Magnùsson

When you choose the beach for your outspiration, no socks are required. (Photo by Carolyn Noyes)

“This picture shows the progress of the swatch I was working on at the lake last summer. What this photo doesn’t show, though, is my most favorite summer swift for winding yarn, which is my plastic Adirondack sand chair. Its extra-wide back is just right for draping yarn around and hand-winding while I watch the loons and kayaks float by.”

– Carolyn Noyes

Mount Robson keeping company with the Jubilee Kerchief and the Berkshires Band, both practical and pretty options to hold back hair on those nature-filled days.

The Bounty of Nature on Your Needles



  1. Leigh D at 8:08 am April 10, 2017

    I love the yarn being used for the socks in the first picture. I’m a backpacker/hiker as well. Is this a wool/nylon blend? I’d love to know the yarn being used! Thank you. Leigh D.

    • Annie K at 10:39 am April 11, 2017

      That’s Zauberball crazy from Skacel with some clever little inserts of color knitting in….nice idea. I’ve got some of that yarn!!!

  2. jean b at 8:17 am April 10, 2017

    Hi Leigh,
    I thought the same thing about the yarn. It looks like Painted Desert – it’s a lovely yarn with delicious color selections !
    ~ jean

  3. Catherine M at 9:13 am April 10, 2017

    It’s a beautiful yarn indeed. As a long-distance hiking knitter I can tell you that pure wool will wear out very quickly on the trail. At a minimum, carry a reinforcing thread in the heels and toes. I knit lots of socks but seldom wear them on any but the shortest day-hikes. I am not quite so sad when I wear out commercially knit hiking socks!

    Painted Desert would make some beautiful boot-toppers, though, which would look great while keeping sand from drifting down into your boots!

  4. Valorie R at 12:36 pm April 10, 2017

    I would like some information on your mothers knitting retreat so that I possible could attend next Spring.

    Your socks are beautiful.

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