Knee length woollen socks in Exmoor Horn yarn encapsulate everything there is about Exmoor. Its source material, colour, place names and design. Robust native breed wool lends itself to hard wearing items of clothing, so socks were our first knitted development. In relation to the environment whence the wool came, Exmoor is known for the beauty of its landscape. Hence it is prime walking territory, and also for its country sports. Knee-length long woollen socks are ideal for both pursuits.
Exmoor National Park boasts two long-distance tracks – the Two Moors Way linking Dartmoor and Exmoor, and the shorter Coleridge Way. The coastline, open moorland, valleys, farmland and woodland are criss-crossed by hundreds of well-signposted paths. This includes thousands of public footpaths, bridleways and permitted paths. These are ideal for exploring on foot. Comfortable feet are of paramount importance and a wool sock will serve you well.
Versatility of our knee length woollen socks
We chose knee length woollen socks because they can be worn tucked over the top of wellies, over trousers, or tied at the knee with a garter and breeks. The classic shooting hose design fits the bill perfectly. These have reinforced toe and heel and a wide cuff at the top, and are not elasticated so are non-restrictive. The colours are of the same palette as our hand knitting wool. These colours reflect the shades of the countryside where they will be worn.
Colours of our knee length woollen socks
The majority of traditional countryside wear is in the green, brown, rust range like tweed. Socks and neckties can add splashes of colour to express individuality. Our colour combinations do this, and are called after places on Exmoor most closely related to these hues. For example, the Dulverton sock is yellow (with a red heel and toe) because the amount of gorse with its yellow flowers on Winsford Hill as you go out of Dulverton is quite spectacular. Similarly, the purple Porlock sock reflects the intensity of purple heather on Porlock Common.
Knee length woollen socks – The yarn
Exmoor Horn wool socks start life as yarn spun to a laceweight specification (1/11.5nm). This yarn is 60% Exmoor Horn wool, 25% Exmoor Blueface wool, and 15% nylon. The addition of nylon gives added durability to the socks, especially in the heel and toe areas of maximum wear. In fact the nature of Exmoor Horn wool is such that when subject to rubbing, it felts rather than go into holes as a less robust wool would do. Prior to spinning, and post-scouring, the fleece will have been ‘Hercosett’ treated. This is so the socks can be machine washed at 40 degrees on a wool wash and not shrink. Washing with a non-biological liquid or powder is of paramount importance. Bio products “eat” wool and will make holes in it.
Manufacturing of our knee length woollen socks
Our classic socks are manufactured in Loughborough. This is in a part of the country which was the centre of the old hosiery industry. Today, there are few sock manufacturers left, especially those with expertise in wool. In the past, hosiery was such a huge employer in Leicester that an extra pool of labour was needed. So manufacturing expanded further out from the city to Loughborough to capture the talent in farmers’ wives. As the industry shrank, the outlying areas alone kept their skilled, mainly female, workforce. Even now, the wool industry keeps to the older pattern of factory closures. This means a complete shut-down around the main holiday periods to accommodate their employees.
Knee length woollen socks knitting process
A classic sock starts off as one of many being knitted in a continuous long tube using 96 needles. The stitch variations necessary for turning a heel, changing colour or adding a pattern in the coloured band off the cuff are programmed. Either by mechanical, or more usually nowadays, electronic means.
The cuff is an integral part of the sock and continues being knitted in the same direction as the the leg or shank section. Between each sock is a white thread which can be removed.
Shaping of the knee length woollen socks
After knitting, the socks are washed, steamed into shape on a variety of leg sizes, pressed and paired. The rib on leg of the larger men’s sizes is described as 9 and 2. Although we started off with the same rib on the smaller women’s size too, in later batches we decided that a narrower rib would be more flattering to the female leg. So the rib was changed to 5 and 2. The sock itself made narrower by using 84 instead of 96 needles. In so doing, we lost the pattern with the coloured band of the cuff. The cushion foot socks are knitted on a different kind of machine. This can make loop-knit stitches on the inside of the sole of the sock.
Closing the toe of our knee length woollen socks
Before washing, steaming and pressing, the sock which up until now has been part of a long tube, must be formed into a proper sock by closing the toe. This can either be done by machine stitching in a straight line across the toe end of the sock, cutting off the small surplus, and pressing the seam flat, or by hand linking. In both instances, the work is done by a skilled person, not in an automated production line.
In the first method, the small amount of waste knitted fabric is collected together and used as stuffing for wool mattresses and suchlike. With the second method, there is no waste because each stitch at the toe end is picked up by an operator and hand-finished in a knitted flat seam. Hand linking is a skill that requires immense concentration and accuracy and is a really specialised part of sock making. With the decrease in availability of labour to perform such tasks, more modern sock-making machinery can perform the linking automatically.
Different styles of our knee length woollen socks
Our Filleigh and Challacombe socks are knitted in Scotland and are differently constructed. The cuff on these styles is our own exclusive design and is called the “Poacher’s hat” pattern. The design’s inspiration came from a hat left lying by a poacher during the night. This was retrieved by one of the working dogs at 6am next morning! The cuff is a Fair Isle pattern using three of our Exmoor Horn wool colours. It is knitted separately and then stitched to the leg of the sock. So in effect the direction of knitting in the cuff is at right angles to that of the leg.
In a later development, we have added knitted garter ties to our sock collection. These are narrow knitted strips with tasselled ends which give a far more stylish finish to a knee length woollen sock than an invisible elastic garter.