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Dear Ann,

You know me: I’m always ready to do the hard science to test common claims about knitting.

This month, for two weeks, I conducted a controlled inquiry into one of the most ballyhooed claims in all of Knittingdom: “Socks are the perfect portable project.”

I also tested the widely held sub-hypothesis: “Socks are great warm-weather knitting.”

Where did my dedication to science and facts take me?

I was not messing around.

I started with a seasonal Delta flight direct from JFK to Malaga, Spain.

At the Malaga airport, at 6 the next morning, I rendezvous-ed with the rest of my research team:

This is not the Malaga airport. This is the Alhambra.

Blinking in the bright sun of southern Spain, my companions and I drove two and a half hours east, to the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park in the southeast corner of Andalusia.

The only region in mainland Europe with a true desert climate.

So desert-y that Sergio Leone filmed Westerns there.

So arid that I got no mosquito bites. Zero. The only insects I saw in two weeks were small black flies that I almost felt sorry for.

The Cabo de Gata natural park also boasts unspoiled volcanic beaches. So you’ve got the desert, and you’ve got the Mediterranean Sea.

Perfect conditions for my research.

Here are a few of the places I performed my experiment in knitting socks, while traveling, in hot weather.

By the sea, on the rocks.

When encountering beach goats.

While looking at lava. It’s lava all day long in these parts.

On a mind-blowing day trip to Granada to visit the Alhambra.

While inspecting floors at the Alhambra that look like log cabin blankets. (Extra points for wearing palazzo pants, in a palace.)

While resting and looking out from a balcony.

While enjoying the splendid isolation of the beach we hiked down to on the last day.

While sitting on these two beach blankets every day. Are you picking up on the desert-by-the-sea vibe? I took it in stride at the time, but these photos look unearthly to me now, from the dense greenery of New York.

The Socks, I Mean Data

You’ll recall that I had packed enough yarn to knit at least four pairs of socks.

The results: I knit two second socks for pairs I’d already started at home, and one full pair. Total yield: four socks. Not too shabby.

From left: stockinette socks in Spud & Chloë Fine Sock in Red Hot and Calypso, Alternating Slip-Stitch socks in Neighborhood Fiber Company Studio Sock in Swoon, and Seeded Rib socks in Barnyard Knits Sock/Fingering in Campfire.


Socks ARE the perfect portable project. I never lost a needle. I only rarely lost track of a stitch pattern, a variable that I attribute to my parallel research into something called Vino Tinto de Verano. I turned four heels, and Kitchenered four toes,  from memory.

Socks are also excellent warm weather knitting. Although in the past I’ve loved starting a new sweater project on a trip, so that I would associate the sweater with specific places and memories, I don’t think I’d have been able to stand a lap full of sweater-in-progress in southern Spain, in August. It’s very hot, and by the sea you have the salt and the moisture that make the wool stick to the needles ever so slightly. It’s socks or nothing, for me, in summertime Spain.

A personal note: I’m a sock knitter now. For real. Socks are life.



P.S. How do you get salt out of your hair? Asking for a senior mermaid.


  • How did you get your needles through customs?

    • Around the mid west here, they’d go through phases of yes you can, no you can’t……and not question a size 14 crochet hook; ((:

    • You buy new needles in new countries.

    • I carry my knitting all the time when I travel. Knitting needles aren’t on the banned list, thankfully!!!

      • That depends in which country you are boarding the plane.
        To Mexico, no problem.
        FROM Mexico, absolutely not allowed.
        The woman ahead of me lost her pricey wooden double-points; I lost my less costly KnitPicks nickel-plated circular.

      • To the senior mermaid: Neutrogena shampoo removes salt or chlorine. Your socks look great.

    • This has never been a problem for me.

      • Always knit

        when flying. Never a problem getting needles through customs. Not even ask to show what they are. Wooden ones used. Which may help. Knit away on the plane quite happily.

  • My hair loves the salt! When I lived near the beach, I used to just run down and stick my head in the ocean and run home with a towel on my head. My hair hasn’t looked that good since.

    And welcome to the wonderful world of sock knitting. I’ve created a few monsters who get very testy when they dont have enough socks.

    • Been washing and conditioning and it still has the texture of a Barbie wig. May have to start over!

      • Does your hair still have salt in it? (Taste it). If the salt is gone, it is just dry. Try saturating in olive oil or mayonaise, or mashed avocado, wrap in a towel and leave for an hour or so. Then wash and rinse.

        • Ditto that’s what I do olive oil will take the color out of your hair so be careful with that one. The night before I recolor my hair I put in alot of olive oil and cover my pillow with a towel and wash it out in the morning. My hair feels great!

  • Looks like a wonderful trip and great knitting! Can socks be souvenirs?

    • I often buy sock yarn during a trip so that the socks are also a souvenir of a trip and a yarn shop visit, too. Sometimes I finish the socks on the trip, sometimes not, but I always enjoy them!

  • This is a great synopsis of the research but could you expand on one thing… BEACH GOATS?

    • I know! When I was told that goats visited some of the beaches in the evening, I was picturing 3 or 4 of them. You know, pets. But it was a real flock complete with goatherd!

      Here’s a video I posted in Instagram:

      It was definitely a highlight of the trip and my life.

      • #nowsinginglonelygoatherd
        Oh, Kay, how could you?! Now I have Julie Andrews (or maybe Mary Martin) in my head. . o lLay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo. . .soon a duet will become a trio. . .
        Great shots! I ended my trip to Spain with the Alhambra. For those traveling in the future, we hired a private guide which was very reasonable and added so much to the visit.

      • I can endorse the calming effects of watching goats in a foreign land!

        • Oh, Mary Neal, you just made my day. The Most Fascinating Man in Tamil Nadu …

  • I passed the time knitting socks on the 15 hour flights to Taiwan several times. Once I forgot to knit the turn heel section of a sock (I thought I had known well about knitting socks after knitting a few pairs). Never had problem with security with my needles.

  • No question, socks are the perfect portable project, especially if one uses magic loop and doesn’t have to worry about a dropped needle on a plane.

    Also no question that tinto de verano must be well researched while traveling in Spain during the summer. At home tip, mix red wine with San Pellegrino limonata or Fanta orange.

  • You had me at beach goats. Xox

    • I too always travel with needles that are never a problem wood nor my addi clicks. Slather mayo on hair wrap in foil sit in sun half to one hour knitting in hand…. wash hair and it’s softer than ever!!! Sox are life!

    • Ditto!

  • Thank you for sharing your unbelievable and gorgeous pictures. I especially love that palace floor – there must be a way to make that into a quilt/blanket!

    • The floor reminds me of giant brick-coloured weaving with another background jewel-like fabric peeping through.

      And hotfoot it to your hairdresser for advice about your hair. They’ll know if anything can be done or you need to crop and grow.

  • Socks! That’s what I was doing wrong! I always tried knitting a shawl on the beach. Thank you!
    Re hair: When sailing we used liquid Ivory soap, however, we were young and our hair was resilient. Maybe a hot oil treatment?
    The Alhambra was always on my list, but now socks and beach goats? This may be the next big vacation!

  • Having just returned from a cruise around the British Isles for 2 weeks, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your “research”. Anytime I’m near the beach, literally any beach, I get so distracted by the surf, the sand, the lapping of waves etc, I generally cannot remember my name much less how to turn a heel. I took along a second-sock project too. It’s still not complete but….. I took along circular needles with projects on both sets. Absolutely no problem at TSA. AND when returning through customs/border patrol, my GLOBAL ACCESS CARD, was a freaking god-send! Back to baby knitting, my Wanderlust Book(sock version) and settling in for fall in Connecticut.

  • Excellent research! Thanks for sharing!

    • Does your new sock enthusiasm mean that it’s possible for socks to be included as a March Mayhem category? Oh please, say yes!

      • Good call!

  • In the ‘90’s I decided to RESEARCH sock knitting as well. Well! Hundreds of pairs later I’m still at it. I never go anywhere without a pair in my purse. NEVER!!! My family craves them and my stock stash of yarn will keep me busy forever.

  • I really enjoyed this research. Beautiful pictures, socks, beach, palace floors and goats. An art therapist I know told me there is an area of Scotland with beach sheep. I have wanderlust!!
    On the topic of your hair. Next time, be proactive, especially if your hair is dry or has color in it. Either put some oil, olive or a product to protect your
    hair in before beach time. You might wear a hat or bandana. After beach time, do as others have suggested, oil treatment. Again you can get an oil treatment at a good salon. Or diy, warm some olive or avocado oil, apply to your hair, wrap with towel. I leave on for at least 30 minutes. Shampoo as usual, dont condition 1st time
    I am a hair model @ a Fancy Salon in Boston, Bradley & Deigle on Newbury Street. I am grateful to them and I have my late Mom’s healthy hair. Still at 65 y.o..

  • Nice socks, & great pictures. For those who don’t knit socks (yes, we do exist), fingerless mitts will also fill the bill for portable/vacation knitting.

    • Genius!

    • Brilliant suggestion for a non-sock knitter!! Thank you

    • With no heels to turn. Clever.

    • Great note!! I love knitting these -so much faster and fun than socks!

  • I have knitted socks here, there, and most everywhere. I like to knit two pairs at a time, on DPNs … knit a while on one sock, then knit the other to match. Takes the same amount of time as knitting a pair one-by-each, but I finish each sock of the pair at the same time.

    Only trouble I ever experienced knitting while traveling was when passing through customs in the Venice, Italy airport.

    Apparently my ball of yarn with 10 DPNs stuck randomly into it looked like a bomb when my carry-on bag went through their scanner.

    I was summarily pulled out of line, and my bag was emptied and searched while I was patted down by a no-nonsense guard — the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.

    She did (just) manage not to laugh when she realized that the “bomb” was a small quantity of woolen yarn and some metal knitting needles. She patted me on the hand and apologized for confiscating the needles. She let me keep the yarn and the partially-knitted pair of socks.

    Since the needles themselves were part of a “teach yourself to knit” kit that I had scavenged from outside a dumpster decades ago, the monetary loss was negligible. I do treasure the story.

    • I once had my knitting bag searched because my tangled up mess of circular needles looked like some kind of wires for bomb components. Luckily, none of my needles were confiscated. I now only carry the needles I am actually using instead of my whole set.

  • Today I am packing my airplane project for a trip to Ireland. Hoping to finish a first sock and maybe the second sock on the way home. I am confident there will be some yarn purchased for just in case I run out of busy work!!!!! As for the hair, I am a fan of the mayo treatment once a week.

  • Love the Beach goats!

    At the northern OuterBanks we have Spanish Colonial horses and deer visit the beaches. There are some deer that are white with brown spots. I’d never seen that coloring and, from a distance, thought they might be goats. Later learned they are Piebald deer.

  • I just love you guys…loved this story about sock knitting and I just read a brief story of knitting that Ann wrote for the book by Ann Hood “Knitting Yarns”…it’s the second time I’ve read the book but I just couldn’t get over how Ann Shayne’s story resonated with me…it’s like we were twins separated at birth…and Kay, your writing is so fun I feel like i’ve traveled with you. Thanks for this morning’s smiles.

  • Loved this entire entry; most of all the GOATS!!!

    • I tried knitting A, repeat A sock about 20 years ago and it was a disaster. I’ve learned so many more knitting skills and your wonderful story has inspired me to attempt SOCKS again. Oh I can’t wait to try again, I haven’t a beach or a herd of goats handy but I sure hope the result will be better this time! Lovely writing!

  • Is there a trick to knitting the striped stockinette-stitch sock pictured above? It’s the striping that I wonder about. Thanks.

    • This is their (not patented) hobby horse Helical Stripes technique. Type it into their search bar and take a deep breath.

      • Thanks, Steph. I’m hoping the technique will be less opaque when I actually have the project in my hands.

  • Kay what a delightful article I started my first pair of dicks (toe to ankle) and stuck on how to do heal Your article has inspieed me to figure it out

  • Lovely story. But warning about knitting needles on planes: never had trouble on flights within the U.S. but twice had metal circular needles confiscated-both times in Ireland, going through customs for a flight to the U.S. They said they only allow wood or plastic, no metal.

    • Good to know. Aer Lingus specifically says no knitting needles in their fine print but I haven’t had a problem with my wood needles yet.

  • Great photos, but socks on the beach??? Sounds like a fruity cocktail….;)!

  • I love this post! Thanks for sharing your wonderful trip. You are making me feel like I need a sock knitting class!

    • I too love the story!! I am going to knit my first pair of socks. Would like to take a sick project on my cruise later this fall. I agree knitting a shawl is very bulky for travel. What beginners sock pattern do you recommend.

  • You and Ann love to travel. I love reading about your travels. I have a question, and this is not meant to be snarky, I’m just really curious: Do either of you purchase carbon offsets for your jet travel? I just recently learned this is possible for individuals, just don’t know how it works.

    Another hot weather, portable knitting project is dishcloths in cotton. I find cotton easier to work with when my hands are sweaty.

    • Great question–I haven’t yet but will definitely look into it!

    • Great idea as I’m new to knitting and haven’t yet learned to make socks.

  • Did the wool stick to your fingers in the heat?

  • Try Ultra Swim Shampoo. My older daughter is blonde, loves the beach, and was on swim team. Her hair would turn green and this was the most effective product we found for removing chlorine, salt, and anything else she threw at it (of course, her eyebrows were still green…). We followed the shampooing with a blob of mayo combed through her hair and left it on for a while. By the time we were done, her hair looked like hair, rather than straw again.

  • No idea how to manage the salt problem, but I totally agree with your take on socks!

  • I try to keep the salt in my mermaid hair as long as possible!

  • Beach goats? I want to go there just to see them!

  • Beautiful pictures, great commentary and finished socks – a very productive summer vacation! 🙂

  • Hairstylist here and for your crusty hair your stylist will thank you for skipping these “homemade treatments “ such as oils, Mayo etc. because the molecular structure of these is too big to penetrate the hair and is largely ineffective! What you need is a Malibu Clarifying treatment followed by a deep conditioning treatment it’s as simple as that! Looks like a beautiful vacation and I’m jealous.

    • The only place I have had my knitting needles confiscated was by a security guard in the ER of a major university hospital. I REALLY needed to knit there! Fortunately, I had two projects going and he only identified the large needles! I still was able to knit my socks through the anxiety of waiting with a loved one in the emergency room. #handknitsocksrule

  • Kay, I went to Spain two years ago and I have that *exact* photo of the tile floor at the Alhambra!! So many incredible patterns and textures throughout, but I was seriously considering whether I could recreate the look of the neutral large tiles + colorful small tiles in the form of a quilt or embroidered cloth.

    We didn’t get to that part of the coast on our trip (we headed west to Gibraltar and Portugal) but I can see I need to go back for those gorgeously desolate beaches!

  • Dear Senior Mermaid
    Try Philip Kingsley’s Elasticiser. It’s a pre-wash treatment (developed for Audrey Hepburn if you please!) and my Sindy wig (once the UK’s more innocent version of Barbie) is banished. Available from QVC (other retailers available) here.
    Happy Good Hairday!

  • How do you do it? Now you’ve combined travel and knitting into a knitalog and added science to boot! You both never cease to amaze me!

  • Ilove knitting whilst travelling..knitted a sleeve of a jumper for my Son in moss stitch (aghh) on the way back from china..much to this little chinese gentleman….made the most of a long flight..

  • That Vino place sounds like you might have into the vino yourself with those four dangerous needles????lol

  • The only thing that could have made it better would have been a big sock baby from Mr. Otis! (A circular sock machine. Get your minds out of the gutter! Ha). But those goat are hard to compete with!

  • I’m not a sock knitter ( although I buy lots of sock yarn thinking I will inexplicably turn into one ) but have taken them away as a holiday project. Yes they worked but I found the wool yarn too warm. This time I took a silk yarn for a little camisole. A single circular needle required, no heat from the yarn and the perfect two week project. All I need now is a four week holiday somewhere cold to knit all of these socks……….

  • I have always knitted while trsvelling, car, train, bus, ship or plane. Mostly socks. Only time was a problem returning from Scotland just after 9/11. After needles were allowed again I started travelling with my knitting. In June while in Ireland and Scotland I knit 3 pairs of socks and bought 5 skeins of sock yarn. I try to buy special sock where I go to remind me of the trip. Pat

  • I am cruising the Duoro River in Portugal and have found Knitted Knockers to be the perfect travel project. Very portable and easy pattern to remember.

  • I just came back from a 4 week trip through Newfoundland. I now know why they call it “the Rock”! I managed 3 full pairs of socks and 4 Knitted Knockers. All done while having a wonderful tour in our 22ft RV.

    • I’m glad to see a fellow knitter of Knitted Knockers!

  • I spend a lot of time on international flights for work. Having sock knitting with me at all times keeps me sane when I can’t sleep in the plane or there are flight delays. I now note in Ravelry in which countries a project was knit.

  • Ah, love your socks! TY!!

    I’d love to be able to make socks…….ya, even one sock, even a baby sock, even a miniature sock…..even an ornie! I need to get that off my bucket list……about the salted hair, I’ve heard that rain water is good for the hair…..minerals of sorts…, I’d just wash the salt out of the hair with one’s preferred ‘poo. ((:

  • Socks are the one object I don’t knit much – but I love hats for travel and for beach knitting. Lightweight, go around and around for awhile and start decreasing.
    I’ve never had needles confiscated for flying, within or outside of the US. But if I’m in the middle of a project I want to bring, I put a lifeline in my last finished row, so that if my needles are taken, at least my project won’t unravel.

  • I was wondering if you could tell me which stockinette sock pattern you used?
    Brilliant light blue and red stripe combination!

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