While there is great variety in sock yarns on the market these days, most of them have some basic features is in common. For instance, they are normally a fingering weight blend of superwash wool and nylon.
In that sense, Woolfinch Studio's Wool Ramie is rather unusual. For one thing, it is sport weight, so slightly heavier than typical sock yarns. But what really makes it different is the fibre content: 80% non-superwash wool, and 20% ramie. Since I did not know what 'ramie' was until I looked it up, I am guessing you might not either: It is a type of nettle!
While I had heard of nettle blend yarns before, I never imagined one could knit socks out of them. What on earth would that be like?
Well, having now designed 3 patterns for Woolfinch Studio using this intriguing yarn, I think I am sufficiently familiar with it to tell you!
As soon as I began handling the Wool-Ramie, I noticed how different it was from other sock yarns I have worked with. Hand-winding it into a ball from the skein, it indeed felt more substantial. But also, the feel was different: starchier, for lack of a better word? If I had not known what the blend was and had to guess, I would think there was linen in it.
To be honest, as I began to knit with this yarn, that slightly crispy, linen-esque feel of it worried me. Would these socks be sufficiently stretchy? Would they hold their shape?
My first design was the fairly basic Firefly pattern, with lots of stockinette, traditional heel construction, and ribbing at the cuff. And I gave the sample knit to my husband for 'aggressive testing.'
Now my husband is, at this point, a connoisseur of hand-knitted socks, as it were - having switched to wearing the ones I make for him almost exclusively from store-bought socks. And the first bit of feedback he gave me was this: he found the Wool Ramie socks 'more breathable.' I had not told him about the lack of nylon content or superwash treatment, but it seems he sensed it.
But what about the stretchiness? Funny thing. The socks feel a bit stiffer than typical. But they actually seem to hold their shape better. Examining the socks after he took them off, wear after wear, I could see what he meant. The worn socks had a starched look to them. I had to try this myself!
The behaviour of that first pair of socks in the test wear phase made me think that this yarn might work nicely with lace. And so my second design with the Wool Ramie was Rochelle - a modern take on classic Old Shale lace. The sample knit for Rochelle was swiftly claimed by a customer, so I did not get to test wear these socks! But considering how quickly they flew off my needles and how nice and crisp the Old Shale repeats looked, I decided to try lace for the 3rd pattern as well.
I designed the Sleeping in the Garden socks as a toe-up pattern with short row heels and toes, and lace panels featuring horizontal trellises along the leg and instep. The slightly starchy nature of the Wool Ramie yarn really did make the lace super easy to knit, and as with Rochelle I was delighted with how quickly these socks materialised.
I finished the sample knit about a month ago and have been wearing them pretty regularly since. I am definitely a fan of the Wool Ramie, although I struggle how to describe it in a way that will come across as appealing! It is soft, but not fluffy or 'squishy.' Smooth, but not slippery-sleek. And when I use the words 'crisp' or 'starchy,' I'm afraid it will be interpreted negatively, but I mean it as a positive thing. While ramie hasn't the stretch of nylon, it is that touch of crispness that makes the socks hold their shape so amazingly well. The durability factor, so far, seems to be higher than will 100% wool or wool/nylon bend socks. There is no pilling, no felting at the heel, no thin spots developing... and I do wear my socks shoe-less as I walk on the hardwood floors, even though I say in my own Care instructions not to!
To be sure, the Woolfinch Studio Wool Ramie is a different sock yarn. And I think we need more of that in the industry. Personally, I enjoyed designing and knitting with this yarn, and will certainly use it again. I would furthermore be interested in a fingering-weight version, which may become available soon.
Whether you fancy dipping your toes into knitting with nettles, or are looking for sock yarn that is 100% natural, durable, and not superwash treated, Wool Ramie is worth a try.