I am an experienced sock knitter, but I never know how much yarn to buy. When I ask at the yarn store, they all respond so authoritatively with “you’ll need x number of skeins of that yarn…” Should I look at weight or yards? Please advise. I’ve knit dozens of pairs of socks, but I don’t seem to know this most important piece of the puzzle.
I usually go for about 400 yards of sock yarn for women’s socks. Check out the Jimmy Bean’s website. They have a yarn calculator that’s a good jumping off place.
As part of your research to answer this question, I would point to Friday’s Yarn Detective article by Jillian Moreno is a superb primer on yarn amount in relation to density. A lace sock worked at an overall gauge of 7 stitches to the inch will take less yardage of – say a skein of Opal – than one knit in the very same yarn in plain stockinette to a long-wearing density of 9 or 10 stitches to the inch. Also I think it would be good to page Kate Atherley on this subject.
I always have at least one pair of socks OTN, usually 2 pairs, and I have never needed more than one skein of sock yarn - and I frequently have enough left for a pair of baby socks. I knit a 7-1/2 inch leg and 6-1/2 inch foot (before the decrease), so they’re not small socks, either.
I generally like the idea of having yarn leftover because I’d like to use scraps of sock yarn to make a blanket. I have had my eye on the barn raising quilt, the picture of which is on Ravelry. However, since I am now realizing that I don’t have nearly enough scraps to make that, I might have to consider just buying yarn little by little, square by square, to make the quilt that way.
It seems like most sock yarn comes in either 200-ish (like Valley Yarns Huntington) or 400-ish yard (like Regia) skeins. So two small skeins or one big skein for a pair of adult socks. (I can get a pair or three baby socks from one small skein.) I tend to knit vanilla socks, toe-up, so I either divide my big skein in half, or just start knitting from the first small skein until I run out of yarn.
For fingering weight yarn, I expect to use most of a 400-yd hank. I knit mostly women’s socks, with a mid-calf leg. Sometimes I have enough yarn left over to make a contrasting heel and toe in another pair of socks, but sometimes there’s only enough to keep for future darning. I think it depends quite a bit on what stitch pattern I use in the leg. I wouldn’t buy less than 400 yards.