Her Handspun Habit: Why Targhee Makes For Great Handspun, Handknitted Socks

A couple of things I thought I knew about myself: I don’t love spinning Targhee as much as I do so many other sheep breeds and blends, and I’m not the biggest fan of sock knitting. I felt sure of this knowledge until a few days ago when I came across a languishing WIP, a pair of handspun, handknitted socks (in . . . Targhee) so completely sensational that they called into question whether I knew myself at all.

The socks were nearly complete, save for the toe of the second one. As I got to work on completing it, I was reminded of the positive feelings I’d initially had from both the spinning and knitting of this very pair of socks (plus knowledge gained since), and today I stand corrected: spinning Targhee, or even superwash Targhee, as was the case here, especially as a sock yarn, is actually a rewarding and stellar endeavor. I simply didn’t execute it all as well as I could have in this example, but that’s on me, not on Targhee.

Targhee

Working on completing the toe of the second sock. Photos by Debbie Held.

Here are just three reasons why Targhee makes for excellent sock yarn:

1. Has well-bred characteristics

Targhee was developed by the USDA Sheep Experiment Station in Idaho in the 1920s with the intention of creating an “ideal” wool: soft yet durable with a distinguished hand. Crossed with 3/4 fine wool and 1/4 longwool, the resulting breed is Merino-soft, highly crimpy (for elasticity and memory), yet somehow both lofty and plush at the same time. For more about the Sheep Experiment Station, read “Your Tax Dollars at Wool: United States Sheep Experiment Station” by Susan Clotfelter in Spin Off Winter 2018.

Your socks will not only stay up, but the fabric itself is unlike any other handspun/handknitted of which I’m aware. When knit at a dense gauge and combined with the wool’s trademark matte finish, the fabric reminds me of the well-known, iconic German commercial sock yarns so many of us know and love. Your feet will thank you for years to come.

2. Plays nicely with others

Spinning-wise, Targhee is adaptable to any spinner’s form. Incredibly easy to draft, it can be spun worsted or woolen, or anywhere in between, with ease and equally good results.

3. Knows when to let go

If you’ve had trouble spinning singles fine enough for a true sock-weight 3-ply or chain-ply yarn, try again with some Targhee top. Its origin crossbreeds of Rambouillet, Corriedale, and Lincoln help to make this fiber an excellent choice for so many end projects. Though this wool seems dense even in fiber form, it will spin as thin as you want to go.

So what went wrong with my socks?

Simple. They don’t fit! They are too small for me, but hopefully my own error can help you avoid your own. I prefer to knit a 10 percent negative ease into the fit of my size 11 clodhoppers (so basically I knit to a true women’s size 10 sock), yet what I didn’t factor in here was precisely what makes Targhee so special in its completed form: its dense cloth. Elasticity, or memory, is not the same thing as stretch or give.

These socks have no give at all, but that’s okay. My mother, a size 9, will absolutely love them! Equally great, I still have plenty of yarn left for a pair of shortie socks for myself, which I have just cast on.

Targhee

Cast-on shortie socks with leftover yarn.

Everyone’s a winner!

And yes, perhaps I actually do enjoy knitting socks, but only within certain parameters: when knit with handspun yarn and plain “vanilla” knitting (no fancy stitchwork). I also like it when said socks fit me, but that’s normally not an issue.

Regardless, it’s great to be back in the sock-knitting saddle.

Targhee

The top sock has been washed to highlight the finished fabric.

Do you have a favorite fiber for spinning into sock yarn? Let me know in the comments, or you can find me on Instagram at @doodler01.

—Debbie


If you’re new to knitting socks and want to get started, we have some free sock-knitting resources for you. Check out Devin Helmen’s “How to Knit Handspun Socks in Any Language” for another spinner’s approach to handspun socks. And for expert advice on knitting socks that fit, check out Kate Atherley’s book Custom Socks.


For more on spinning to knit, see these products:

 

2 Comments

  1. Kathleen T at 4:15 am December 6, 2017

    I raise Cormo sheep and love it for socks. I bought some nylon roving and spin some of that in with a portion of my fiber for the toe and heel to help them last longer. I know you said you do vanilla knitting when it comes to socks, but if you want them to stand up a simple knit 2 purl 2 above the heel will help with that. Have fun!

    • Debbie H at 7:32 am December 7, 2017

      Kathleen T, what a brilliant idea you have for stashing nylon!

      I usually do a slipped stich heel flap. I’m imagining that this k2 p2 above it adds durability to the portion of the fabric that gets rubbed against the shoe when you slide your foot in and out–very clever!

      You are one lucky woman. Who wouldn’t want to raise sheep, much less Cormo? I’ve never thought about Cormo socks, but now I’m curious…

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