Socks keep our feet warm, stop our shoes from chafing, make for excellent fashion statements, among so many functions. Humans have worn socks for thousands of years, and they’re a necessity in anyone’s wardrobe. We take for granted that socks are just there when we want to order them online or pick up some pairs at the mall. How are socks made? And where are socks made?
We’ll get into what materials they’re made out of, and take a look at what the manufacturing process of a sock is like. After this article, you’ll know everything there is to know about what goes into making a sock, and you'll be able to answer the question, how are socks made.
The History of Socks
Socks have been worn since the early days of recorded history. They protected our ancestors' feet from the bitter cold and the threat of infection, both of which could have resulted in death. Now that we've got you curious, you're probably wondering, how are socks made, if we are to look into the past? Here's a run down of sock history, which began in ancient times:
Highlights of Socks Through the Ages
1,700 year old Egyptian socks from Late Antiquity period
In Ancient Egypt, socks were made of colorful wool, and often paired with sandals. Around the same time, the Greeks wore socks made out of animal hair, while the Romans made socks out of woven fabrics or leather. The Old English word for sock comes from socc, which roughly translates to a "light slipper." This term derives from the Roman soccus, which was a type of shoe.
If you lived in France or Italy in the 15th century, you may looked down at your feet and wondered, how are socks made? It would depend on the socks you were talking about and your social status. French and Italian aristocrats in the wore stockings made of silk that were designed to be stretchy, in order to display their legs. If you were a commoner wondered, how are socks made? The answer would be that the socks you wore contained wool and were knitted by hand. Socks differentiated the rich from the poor, with high quality socks emerging as a symbol of wealth and prosperity.
Italian aristocrats in silk stockings during the Renaissance
The knitting machines that eventually evolved into those used to make our modern-day socks were developed in the late 1500s. Nylon, which helps socks stay on our feet, was invented in 1938, which improved our experience in wearing socks.
Socks evolved in length over the centuries, from the middle of the thigh to the middle of the calf to knee-length to ankle-length. Today, we can buy socks in many lengths, depending on what you’re looking for.
Materials in Socks
At this point, you're probably wondering, what are socks made of? There are several factors that influence what materials are used when making socks. Sock materials are based on composition and color. Some of the materials used in socks are nylon, acrylic fiber, wool, cotton, polyester, spandex, Lycra, bamboo, silk, cashmere, and mohair.
Socks, like most clothing, usually incorporate multiple different types of material. For example, polyester socks could still incorporate some amount of cashmere for softness, or a percentage of spandex for stretchiness. Each material or combination of materials are used for different purposes, making specific types of socks appropriate for specific occasions. For example, synthetic materials used in athletic socks are quick drying to prevent sweaty feet and are less likely to slip off your feet. Other pairs use warmer materials, including wool, for use in outdoor activities like skiing and hiking.
The materials used in your socks differ depending on the manufacturer of your socks, what those socks are made for, and where your socks are made. Make sure you read the label, so you know what materials are used in your socks.
The materials used in socks are obtained in different ways. Spandex, for example, is a synthetic fibre invented by American chemist Joseph Shrivers in 1958. It’s usually produced using a scientific process known as dry spinning. Polyester, on the other hand, can be synthetic or natural. Synthetic polyester is usually combined with more natural fibres when used in clothing, as well as plastics and other products.
Wool, on the other hand, is obtained from the hair of animals, usually sheep. Sheep farmers cut the sheep’s fleece off, and it’s then spun into yarn. Cotton is made out of a fibre, harvested out of the cotton plant.
Most of the socks in your drawer are mass produced. How are socks made through mass production? Let's take a look.
How Industrial Knitting Machines Work
The materials used to create socks are chosen based on composition and color. Most of your socks are produced in a circular knitting machine, minimizing the amount of seams needed. How are socks made by this machine? Needles in the machine knit the socks by creating a series of loops, forming an open fabric tube.
Knitting machines follow a pattern, usually coded into a bitmap design, to ensure the colors and shape of each individual sock are uniform. For the computer nerds out there, now you know there is such thing as sock coding! But how are socks made into different types? The coding system used by the knitting machine is dependent on specific materials, as well as the length and shape of different sock types.
Creating Pairs of Socks
After the sock tube is created, the end of the sock is closed with a seam. Depending on the manufacturer, socks are sometimes shaped on a metal frame, using heat to help them keep their shape longer. Wait, but how are socks made into pairs? Obviously, you need both a left and a right sock, so one of each kind is paired together in a set using the same sock coding.
From Industrial Sock Factories to Stores
Socks sorted into men and women’s socks, due to differing shoe sizes. There are also often unisex socks available, which are appropriate for anyone to wear. Once manufactured, socks are either shipped to a convenient retail location near you, or, for some online retailers, directly to the consumer.
Note that socks can also be knitted or sewn by hand, which is a much more labor-intensive process.
Types of Socks
Different types of socks are appropriate for particular ccasions. For example, dress socks are not a good fit for the gym. Let’s go through some different varieties of socks, what they’re worn for, and why you might want to test them out:
Dress socks are appropriate for both formal occasions and work settings, and most recently, have become trendy to wear in bright colors and crazy patterns. Casual socks can be worn on any occasion, barring certain types of dress shoes. They come in many different shapes and sizes, from plain white or black to polka-dotted, striped, or even more eclectic colors or patterns. They can even come in novelty themes and your holiday or travel destination.
Compression socks target circulation in the legs, helping circulate blood and fluids more effectively. They can also help improve spider veins and varicose veins, as well as help treat more severe circulatory issues. Compression socks are often used on airplanes or other forms of transportation, or by people who are especially at risk for blood clots or other circulation health problems.
Athletic socks are worn while exercising, at a gym, while engaging in sports, on a hike, etc. They often include a higher percentage of spandex or other stretchy material, to improve range of motion and help them stay on better. Athletic socks feature materials that help sweat evaporate more quickly. Competitive athletes often also wear compression socks, which assist in post exercise recovery.
Sometimes you don’t want your socks to be seen peeking out of your shoes. That’s what no show socks are for, for when you want your socks to be more discreet. No show socks can hide themselves under the tops of your shoes, so your ankles can breath more easily. Many no show socks use no-slip technology, preventing them from sliding down under your feet experiencing blisters.
Where Socks Are Made
Socks, like most clothing, are created across the globe. One of the most prolific cities in the sock-manufacture business is the Datang district of Zhuji, China. The area makes so many socks that it is often referred to as Sock City. At one point, Datang accounted for nearly a third of the world’s sock production.
But Zhuji isn’t the only place socks are made. Soxy socks are manufactured in Seoul, South Korea. Some socks are made in the country their company is based in, while others are created in cities and countries around the world, in order to decrease manufacturing costs.
Today, our socks are made in more innovative and creative ways than ever before. They come in more colors and patterns than you can think of, and are made of many naturally derived and synthetic fabrics. There are many different options for materials and design, based on what you are looking for in your socks.
Now that you know the intimate details of socks, you'll never again consider them simple bits of clothing. So get started on your sock collection, now that you appreciate socks for what they are! If you have friends who like random facts, you can finally answer the question, how are socks made?
Try out some cool socks, crazy socks, or just stick to the basics—the choices are endless.