Friday, October 01, 2021

Swatch knit from handspun 6-ply ~1,700 ypp sock yarn


4" by 4" swatch of latest sock yarn. One of the most elastic yarns I have ever spun and one of the most elastic fabrics I have ever knit. It is so elastic, I did not think it would be weatherproof. It is.  It is also very lustrous.  This swatch has been seriously abused, but never, blocked.

The swatch weighs 11 grams indicating an ounce of the yarn knit on 1.5 mm needles will produce 48 square inches of fabric, That makes it real easy, a gram of yarn knits into 10 cm^2 of fabric.  A weatherproof sweater that can weigh 900 grams.!?

900 grams is at the high end of the weight range for my ganseys knit from 5-py/1,000 ypp yarn. Does that mean a sweater knit from 6-ply/1,700 ypp yarn will be as warm as my best ganseys?  I could sit here and drag up good physics arguments either way. This calls for data not in my CRC Handbook.  I have to stop and measure.

I have good socks knit from hand spun 5-ply/1000 ypp yarn. I will knit a sock from the fine sock yarn. Then I will put a gansey sock on one foot, a fine sock on the other, and put both into a tub of ice water. The first sock/foot team to get cold loses.

Why does it matter? The ganseys knit from thicker yarn were much cheaper. However, seamen were often limited to a duffle bag 8" in diameter and 24" long. A gansey that was as warm, but with less volume would have been precious. 

Can such "sock yarn" be spun and plied with a drop spindle/distaff technology?  

New Draperies

 Consider the explosion of exports of English worsted textiles in the 16th and 17th century, the so called "New Draperies". It has been explained in various ways. see for example: (  .

I  say that there was a long tradition of English production of worsted textiles using spindle and distaff technology. Then, various driven spindles were introduced, making woolen the cheaper and thus the more favored fabric until production of worsted textiles expands in the 16th century. 

I blandly assert that DRS technology crossed from France to England in the late15th century, (e.g., surge of emigration by textile workers in the Low Countries toward the end of the 100-year likely with War.)  It would have taken  a while for wheel makers to get good at making DRS wheels and large numbers of English spinners to learn how to use the wheels. There were also delays in English social, political, and economic forces aligning to encourage spinning worsted for export. And it took a while to convert overseas markets for woolen fabrics to the new products. 

In the 17th century, England became a great exporter of worsted textiles.  Then, in 1764, the Spinning Jenny was invented, and Paton and Baldwin were early adopters. 

For a knitter seeking to knit good stuff, their catalogue of vintage yarns are worth exploring and recreating.  The Brits were good knitters, and we can learn from them!

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Tudor Textiles

 Look at paintings of the Tudor Court (Henry VIII ==> Elizabeth R). Now, sit down and spin threads and weave samples of fabrics that match what you see in the paintings. Track your productivity and estimate how long it took to produce the fabrics in those paintings. Look at lists of Tapestries owned by the Tudors, with all of those threads covered by thin layers of gold. Estimate how that gold covered thread was produced - and by who.

You will quickly come to a conclusion that there were textile technologies not taught to modern hobbyists.   The corollary is that there were crofters producing coarse wool fabrics, and there were colonies of  high-end textile workers producing fine fabrics for the rich and powerful. 

This is not the history taught in hobby circles. 

Consider the Wool Act (1571) requiring hats knit from English wool be worn on Sunday. We know that 13 or 14 different professions were involved in the different stages of producing those hats in an industrial process. This is not the mythology told by Queen Victoria's Court, and today passed amoung hobby spinners and  knitters.  

One who does believe Queen Victoria's Court's mythology about English spinning and knitting has posted almost 50,000 times on Ravelry.  She has a bunch of spinning wheels, but I doubt if she could spin the yarn needed for a good fisherman's kit in time to knit the kit in before next season's fishing.  And then there is the question of whether she can knit a good weatherproof fabric.  And there is the question, of whether she could knit socks, mittens, comforter, hat, and gansey without getting carpel tunnel in her wrists.

see also:  

Wednesday, September 29, 2021


 If the fine yarns the Sheringham ganseys were knit from had/have the beauty of the yarns I am spinning, then I can very much understand the fascination with Sheringham ganseys as objects of  art and beauty.  


 As I began producing these finer yarns, I had a problem matching singles twist to ply twist. 

This was resolved with a new drive band between the accelerator and the flyer/bobbin assembly.

All of a sudden, the math worked again.

The Economics of the yarns I am making these days

 I start by spinning worsted singles at 17 tpi and between 11,000 and 14,000 ypp.  In an hour, I can spin about 300 yards, using about 10 grams of fiber. 

For the BeeHive replica (4-ply, 2,500 ypp), I then ply 4 singles together, and produce yarn at about 70 yards per hour. Then a 30 gram/ 1 ounce / ~100 yards ball is 1.5-hours work.

For the 6-ply (1,700 ypp) yarn, I can average about 50 yards of yarn ready to scour, so an ounce ball is a couple hours of work. 

However, it takes me twice as long to knit a square inch of fabric from the 4-ply as from the 6-ply, so spinning is cheaper than knitting.

Is this spinning worth my time?

I justified spinning gansey yarn because of its exceptional functionality.  I do not know what the functionality of these yarns is. 

I have never seen yarns in retail yarn shops that knit into such beautiful fabrics. I have seen such beautiful fabrics in museums and the catwalks of Paris. I have seen almost as nice fabrics in fancy department stores such as Needless Markup. All of a sudden I see how a suit of hand spun clothes can cost as much as a house.

The fibers I am using are sunk costs - fleece that I bought or were given to me long ago, and which I did not use because it was not suited to past projects. Then, I did not understand that if I just spun it  worsted and very fine - it would be exceptional.

For now, I am going to justify this exercise by saying, my spinning is as good as spending the day in the gym - and thereby saves me $50/month YMCA dues.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Spinning and sampling - Jacob


 September 28, 2021 - spinning singles from dyed Jacob fiber,  then plying into 4-ply yarn at about 2,700 ypp. I knit this yarn on 1.3 mm needles at about 12 spi.

For those that do not like "BeeHive" style yarns, I also made some 6-ply at ~ 1,700 ypp (spinning is faster than knitting.)  The history of industrial fine knit underwear, socks, and sports wear however,  tells us that, "Fine knitting makes nice things to wear."

These yarns are based on singles of ~11,000 - 12,000 ypp that I spun worsted at 17 tpi, and the ply-twist is also ~ 17 tpi. 

I was going to spin a lot of this fleece as sock yarn because my wife told me it is not a good color for my complexion.  Once I get in the groove, it spins very fast - close to 250 yards of single per hour - that is about 10 grams of fiber into single/ hour. I have to hustle to spin a quarter pound of fiber per day.  On the other hand, a quarter pound of either of these yarns is days of knitting. I knit this yarn on 1.5 mm needles at about 10 spi.

I had not gotten 10 rows into the swatches before I had fallen in love with the fabrics from both yarns. They are firm without being harsh - they are elastic to an extent that we just do not see any more because mills do not put that much twist in their yarns these days - And it is a very lustrous fleece spun worsted - it almost glows in the dark - but these yarns are still hard to knit while binge watching dark old black and white movies - the knit fabric is almost black.  And, my wife tells me that spun and knit into that 'almost black', it is a good color for me. 

Worsted spinning is very worth while. Sitting on patio this morning, spinning, with the sun coming up behind me - the thread was like a line of fire passing through my fingers, and going "black" as it became competent yarn. The final yarn is lustrous (brown) that knitted firmly looks lustrous black.

I do not know if such high twist singles can be made "weatherproof", or whether fulling the fabric would diminish the fabric through loss of elasticity. California is having a drought - I am not going to worry about "weatherproof".

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Romney, 4-ply, 2,300 ypp

Is it like the old Baldwin's BeeHive? No!, that was spun from a finer fleece.

As I knit this (Romney, 4-ply, 2,300 ypp) on 1.3 mm needles at 12 spi,  it was very elastic.  I thought, "No way it will ever come close to being weatherproof!"  However, fulling brought the gauge to ~12.5 spi and sure enough, it is pretty much weatherproof, but still fairly elastic. I think it is dense enough prevent sunburn here in sunny California.

It's fault is that I am back to a left leaning bias, so I must improve my plying.

Friday, September 24, 2021


 For twenty years was besotted with 5-ply/ 1,000 ypp gansey yarn. That despite the fact that the first weatherproof fabrics that I produced were socks from I knit a lot of very serviceable camping, climbing, and ski gear from MacAusland's yarn.  

Nevertheless, there was always the siren call of Sheringham ganseys.  I should have given  in to the call 10 years ago, and moved to spinning finer yarns, that could be knit into finer ganseys.

Ok, the spinning is not as fast - I spin 11,200 ypp singles at about 300 yards per hour compared to the almost 600 yards per hour of coarser singles. Plying is not as fast, but I do it on the spinning bobbins that I use to spin the singles - that means balls of plied yarn are ~30 grams - just like the balls of BeeHive Yarn that Baldwin mills sold all those years ago.

The fine fabric that I knit from Rambouillet yarn is translucent -  and if I wear it in sunny California, I will get sunburned. I need to spin a similar yarn from that pile of Romney that I dyed navy blue.  I made several tries at that over the last couple of months and was never happy with the result - I just threw a big handful of those swatches away.  

One problem was bias. The lines of knit stitches did not run straight - they spiraled (when knit in the round.)  In some ways, fine singles are harder to ply than coarse singles.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Learning to knit, again


A swatch of worsted handspun 4-ply (about 2,500 ypp, singles at 17 tpi, plied at 17ptpi) knit on 6" by 1.3 mm needles (in photo). 

Fleece is Rambouillet from .

Knitting gauge is about 12 spi by 19 rpi = ~250 stitch per square inch. As knit, not blocked. 

Angle of photo makes needles look "pointy", they have flat tips.

After fulling, the swatch has a small bias, that was easily removed by blocking. Result gauge similar to knit gauge, e.g., ~250 stitches per inch squared.

Fabric is weatherproof.

It is translucent- you can get a good sunburn through it, but it will keep your skin dry and warm in a light rain, as you can work, as water vapor from your skin will evaporate and the vapor move through the fabric.

This makes me think the folk in Norfolk, have forgotten the real practical virtues of a Sheringham gansey. They seem to think of them as "art", "a token of affection" or a fashion statement - not as a very practical and useful object. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

In the beginning

 In the beginning, I hoped others would read my explorations with wool and help me find the path.

It did not happen. I have walked alone, as folk that still think Queen Victoria produced great textiles, shout insults.

Therefore, I recorded my steps and missteps. If I found steps forward, I posted them, without going back and changing previous posts, because I saw wool as a complex system, and if the final result was wrong, I was not sure where or how the final result was wrong.

Consider pointy needles: Early on, a speed knitting champion told me that I needed very pointy needles to knit fast. In her technique, that was true. It was the conventional wisdom since Weldon's Practical Knitter in the Victorian era. All of that presumes that one is not using a knitting sheath.

It took me 15-years work out the techniques with a knitting sheath so that I understood that because of the leverage, knitting sheaths can knit faster with flat tipped needles.  Now, I know that if the "speed knitter" and I each set out to knit a hundred good weatherproof ganseys (as fast as possible), one of two things will happen: 1) Her ganseys will be rejected because they are not knit tight enough. Or 2) she will need wrist surgery after she has knit only 2 or 3 ganseys. 

Moving to flat tipped needles doubled my knitting speed. All of a sudden, I was almost as fast as speed knitting competitors, but I was still knitting fabrics much tighter than anything the speed knitters were knitting - and I was an old man with chronic Lyme Diease. 

When I started, I thought there was some secret of yarn and knitting pattern that resulted in warmth. After a few thousand swatches, it was clear that the critical factors were distance between wool fibers and oil on the wool to help make the wool hydrophobic. Distance between wool fibers was the result of type of fleece, how the wool was spun (woolen or worsted) how tightly it was knit, the thickness of the fabric, and how the fabric was finished (fulled).  Together, these factors outweigh Alden's and Judith's simplistic rule that fine fleece,  spun woolen is warmer.  My rule is that worsted spun, yarns with more plies are warmer and more durable. Oh, a lot more effort, but warmer and more durable. Another of my rule is that finer fleece can result in higher warmth to weight ratios, but are less durable than coarser wools so over years, the difference is not worth a cup of fresh piss. (Stale piss has more value for fulling wool.)

After school, I was rather adventuresome, and had some unpleasantly cold experiences.  As I got some money, I bought some fancy synthetic adventure clothing.  Then, I got to wondering how the seamen out on damp, cold ships stayed warm. I started exploring wool.  

My mother asked me to prune her apple orchard - I knew the weather would be brutal - so I brought the fancy adventure gear, and my hand knit wool.  I froze in the fancy gear, and the wool saved my ass.

Then, my mother wanted all the tree prunings burned - I got caught in the flames. If I had been wearing the synthetic fabrics, I would have been toast - and it was an hour to the nearest hospital, and 3 hours to a hospital with a burn center.  The flames took my facial hair and the hair at the nape of my neck, but my glasses protected my eyes. The fire burned all the pills off of my wool, leaving it smelling singed, but looking pristine.

Wool is not one solution, but a wide range of solutions. I really believe that it took thousands of bright-eyed, nimble fingered folks looking for ways to stay warm, thousands of years to work out all the textile solutions available circa 1750 - prior to the Spinning Jenny, but long after the knitting frame.

Many of the solutions are very practical, but details matter.

  1. A  thick, very tightly knit sweater, with plenty of wearing ease and an "Irish Boat" neck, will keep one warm and even let one nap in a snow bank, but standing up and  warm will vent out the neck, allowing one to go into the pub and have a pint without over heating - it does not need a zipper.
  2. A gansey knit snugly will allow one to go into the top rigging, perform acrobatic work without getting hypothermic and losing coordination. Horizontal stitch patterns protect one from banging against spars, while reefing sails.
  3. A finely knit gansey can be worn under a uniform coat, and lend distinction and authority to a ship's officer, and keep him comfortable below deck when he is not wearing his uniform coat.
  4. A thick gansey with vertical patterns could protect a fisherman hauling hundred pound cod over the rail in a heaving sea.
  5. The Lizard Lattice was excellent for men that spent a lot of time rowing small boats - either in near-shore fishing, rowing to and from boats anchored in the harbor or in off-shore whaling.

Each of these objects has a different function, but may be produced in a multitude of styles and patterns. The yarn used, the shape of the garment, the density of knitting, and the style affected how well someone could perform a particular job function. Wear a fisherman's gansey into a pub to do some horse trading, and you will be sweating long before you can come to a deal. Wearing a shepherd's gansey to reef the royals, and you will not be able to keep up with the other top-men, earning you a torrent of abusive language.

You can buy raw fleece for $20/lb, and a gansey is a couple of pounds, so a whole fleece is enough for several ganseys including sampling and swatching.  (With DRS) in the time it takes to binge watch Gilmore Girls, you can spin the yarn for a couple of ganseys and in the time it takes to binge watch Gray's Anatomy, you can knit a gansey. If you must watch old black and white movies like It happened One Night and the room will likely be darker and you may not see knitting mistakes.

I found that I preferred skiing in a wool gansey (in California, often in shorts.)  I prefer sailing in a wool gansey. If the weather is cold, I wear a gansey gardening in the winter.  I wear a gansey fishing. In the winter, I wear a gansey walking in the hills. I admit to wearing synthetic vests in centrally heated environments. I admit to planning on knitting myself some new ganseys that are not as warm.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Academia fails to pay attention to details.

A prominate English academic tried to replicate some of my fabrics, and did not achieve "weatherproof", and thereby assumes I am a fraud and troll.

First, there is knitting and there is knitting. It took me years of work to find knitting tools and technique that would produce weatherproof fabrics. Then, it took me more years of  research to learn to full and oil the fabrics.  I warned him about this 3- times and I do not think he paid attention. 

My day job was knowing how water moved through various materials. My hobby was working out how seamen stayed warm and dry in cold, wet ships, when they had to go into the rigging regardless of the weather.

In the old days there was a trade devoted to fulling wool, and every knitter knew how it was done. Every weaver knew how it was done. Every weaver's wife knew how it was done even if it was done by a different trade.  (Fulling - Wikipedia)

The first time I fulled a gansey and realized how important fulling was, I simply wore it camping on the Big Sur River. I fried bacon it, and wore it all day and all night, with no undershirt. My body oils oiled the inside, the bacon fat oil the outside and playing in the river and rock climbing did the rest.  It took me weeks to understand what happed to that sweater, that made it weatherproof. There was a period, where I practiced fulling and oiling wool to make it weatherproof. I knit a lot of big swatches, fulled them, and oiled them. I knit a dozen small swatches in the last week, each got kneaded with soap and rolled between my hands in every direction, then rinsed, then smeared with lanolin, and rolled between my hands in every direction.  Then and only then were they tested for "weatherproof?".

Softly spun yarns and loosely knit objects do not full, they turn to lint or shrink into doll clothes. Tightly spun yarns that are tightly knit can get stiff.  Sample and swatch, before you knit a large object and try to full it. Likewise, sample and swatch if you plan to knit a "Sheringham" gansey.

If that academic had understood knitting with a knitting sheath, he would have discovered the use of blunt needles before reading it on my blog. I was working with blunt needles for 6 years before recommending blunt/flat tipped needles.  It took me that long to work out and learn the technique. It is not something you learn in weeks.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Sampling beyond Sheringham

It was a change of perspective to be spinning to 80 wpi (20 warps per 1/4"), rather than 18.7 wpi trying to spin 5,600 ypp (10s).  An obvious progression is 120 wpi (30 wraps per 1/4"). It does not come out to a nice number of hanks per pound, but with the fleece I was using - it came out to singles of just under 15,000 ypp and about 17 tpi.

As 6-ply that is a nice sock yarn of near 2,250 ypp and as 5-ply it is a nice sock yarn of about 2,700 ypp. This was done in a few hours of late afternoon sun after fussing with whorls and combing some Rambouillet.  It was scoured on the reel, dried on the reel in the evening sun but not otherwise blocked.

A couple hundred feed of  yarn from singles with grist of ~15,000 ypp. One end is 5-py, the other end is 6-ply.  White singles are Rambouillet  and the blue is Romney.


40 wraps per quarter inch, gets us to 25,600 ypp, and we are getting close to spinning fine. 46 wraps per quarter inch gets us to "fine spinning". I expect 46 wraps per quarter inch (184 wraps per inch) at 60s made that an important grist for hand spinners. (On #0 flyer, the Rambouillet easily spins at 46 wraps per quarter inch, but I do not have pix at this time.) That is a 6-ply of just under 4,000 ypp. I am not going to knit anything like that for anyone that does not have full time lady's maids.  On the other hand, I really do like this evening's yarn.  Time to spend less time knitting and more time weaving.

The "black eye" on the 1/4" yarn gauge is a magnet that holds the gauge handy on the wheel.


Why I knit and spin

Spinning and knitting is an ongoing  intellectual and physical challenge at many levels. Textile work has mental  and physical challenges that video  games and sports do not, and it has rewards that video games and sports do not.

Certainly, just learning to knit and spin were challenges. And knitting and spinning with modern tools are pleasant pastimes. It is pleasant to sit and knit or spin with a group. 

However, when I get off by myself, I always wonder; "How can I do this better or faster?" "What tools can I make that will allow me to knit or spin better or faster?", "How good or how fast were the old PROFFESIONAL knitters and spinners?",  "What tools did they have that let them produce a more professional product with a higher profit margin?"

I like spinning and knitting. I also like designing and making tools that make the various textile processes faster and easier. Mr. Comber invented industrial wool combing. And, then he reinvented it. Making tools is fun!  And I am an old man with chronic diease, but I can flop down and do a lot of pushups - combing wool by hand is one of the very best exercises I know.

No video game that I know is more thrilling than spinning fast and fine. It is not unlike; "Hand feeding a hungry dragon, that is very fussy and particular about their food.", but if I do (comb the wool) well, I get glorious, lustrous, fine thread, that is strong. It is me against the history of textile art and technology. No other competition is as harsh, and no other competition offers these such rewards. And that is just to get the yarn  to start knitting. 

If I am spinning and knitting - then I should be spinning and knitting better and better. To do that, I need better skills and better tools.  However, Queen Victoria established the president that none of her ladies should spin or knit better than she did.  That is not the kind of idea that I like.

DRS Failure

 In the spring of 1991, I was tasked with a regulatory compliance audit of the US Petroleum reserve in  Bakersfield, California. Mostly it was walking around a huge petroleum pumping facility looking for leaks and taking detailed notes. By May, Bakersfield was warming up weather-wise, and I mentioned the fact to my boss in SF.  He said, "I will take care of that", and handed me a one-way ticket to Saudi Arabia. A week later, I was shaking hands with Red Adair's team at the kick-off BBQ.  There was heat, smoke, oil well fires, and crude oil everywhere.

Since then, I have not complained about the heat in California. This summer has been warm and sunny, and I did my spinning outside. 

Anyway, spinning bobbins and flyer whorls I had turned from wood, have contracted and changed my DRS ratios. Often the contraction is only a fraction of a millimeter, but that is enough to affect inserted twist per inch.  

It was a failure, but not a sudden catastrophic failure. Whorl combinations that should have yielded 12 tpi actually produced 17 tpi. Whorl combinations that should have produced 17 tpi, actually spun at more than 20. What should have been 24 tpi was - zero tpi.  (Higher tpi is produced by the whorls being closer to the same diameter, but when they are the same diameter, then tpi is zero.) (Wind on twist with no takeup  a => break-off no use in holding fine singles together.)  That is when I sat up, took notice, and got out the calipers, and started measuring.  

The wheel is not dead, it does not have heatstroke, it just needs a little water.  

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Weatherproof socks

 Someday, here in Ca it will rain again, and we may need weatherproof socks. (My friends and family  in New England, may have an ongoing interest!)

One can knit knit weatherproof socks in a variety of form factors - mostly when I needed weatherproof socks they were knit from 5-ply gansey yarn,  but some may want weatherproof socks that are thin enough to fit into their town shoes. It can be done- particularly if one is a spinner. It turns out that it is not hard.

A swatch of fabric knit from Heinz 57 (from the Woolery)

spun into singles of just under 7,000 ypp at 12 tpi and plied at 

8 or 10 ptpi resulting in some bias when knit.

Nevertheless, those singles knit on 1.3 mm needles produce a nice sock fabric tight enough to hold a pool of water, and thin enough to fit in my town shoes. 

A thinner fabric based on 10,000 ypp singles in 3-ply:

 Will hold a pool of water briefly, and I consider it "almost weatherproof". 

I spent so long fixated n 5,600 ypp singles - and, I have been missing out - on a world of great things that can be had for a bit of spinning.  You can have it, just think: "spin thin", and spin!

OK! It may take some practice, but practice to spin thin uses less fiber than practice to spin thick, and you will spin a lot of fine yarn along the way.

Wool really is THE miracle fiber. One really can knit all kinds of things from 3-ply, 2,000 ypp yarn.  

Do not bother to tell the folks over at "Spin Tec". They would not believe you.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Spinning fine to replicate traditional yarns

I acquired my copy of  Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys, and Arans by Gladys Thompson  (GT), shortly after I posed the question of : "How did the old seamen stay warm in wooden, square rigged ships?" almost 20 years ago. It is now stained with coffee and red wine. It is more stained than almost any other book in my collection.

Certainly, throughout GT there are a number of problems. I would not think of attacking any of those garments without the wisdom in Knitting in the Old Way, by Gibson-Roberts and  Robson. However, KitOW will not get you to the weatherproof garments in GT unless you use a knitting sheath/knitting stick/knitting shield - which is not addressed in either GT or KitOW

Another problem we have in replicating the objects described in GT is yarn. Many of the objects in GT were knit from yarns produced in mills with traditional equipment. When that equipment wore out the mills closed. Circa 2006, my favorite gansey yarn mill in Yorkshire closed, and I saw the writing on the wall - and started spinning. 

5-ply gansey yarn was my first focus, and I spun miles of it. The singles were 5,600 ypp. I learned to spin it at 9 tpi.  Most of  the objects in GT could knit from yarns plied up from those singles. Such 5-ply yarns also became a favorite for knitting into gear for for hiking, skiing, sailing, camping, and sailing. I plied the same singles into 10-ply yarns and tested them. I did not write about those objects, because they tended to be too warm and heavy.  I compared what I could knit from hand spun gansey yarn to what I could knit from various modern commercial yarns, and how ever nice/functional the objects knit from commercial yarns were, the hand spun was better.

The objects in GT not based yarns derived from 5,600 ypp singles are the Norfolk/ Sheringham patterns starting on page 83. Over the years, I bought various sock yarns and fine(r) needles, hoping to be able to replicate these objects and get some understanding of them. Early last spring, with Covid and everything, I swore to study "sock-like" fabrics until I understood these objects.

GT says, "Dunraven 3-ply". I thought they were 3 plies of 5,600 ypp for a total grist of 1,680 ypp -  a common modern commercial sock yarn - a yarn that I could produce in my sleep.  That was easy, but like many easy answers, it was wrong. Dunraven 3-ply was  3 plies of of  11,200 ypp for a total grist of  3,360 ypp. And then there was BeeHive - that I knew as the modern 2,500 ypp 4-ply yarn. However, in the old days there was also a 3-ply, 3,360 ypp Beehive yarn.  

Ya, that kind of yarn is out there - for a price, but I have bins of "Heinz-57" that I got as a "Spinzillia Special" from the Woolery, sitting under the combing bench. It has a spin count of 52- with some focus I can spin it into 20s (11,200 ypp).

My spinning throne, on the patio, under the umbrella - forecast high - 100F

Starting to spin 20s of Heinz-57

White singles on tension box for ply

Fiber on my distaff and in a bin
(I have a heavy duty distaff, before a car wreck, it was a 
fancy photo tripod. It makes a great distaff!)

Spinning a natural dark fiber into 20s to use as marker and twist indicator
Singles in tension box
Starting to ply

A bobbin of plied yarn

After its bath! 
It is real close to 3,360 ypp! 
Variation in yarn diameter is variation
in twist that disappears as the yarn is snugged up in knitting.

On UK16 needles (actually 1.3 mm) it  knits up at ~12 spi and ~20 rpi. With UK17 needles, this 3-ply handspun yarn knits at ~14 spi and ~24 rpi.

The weather has cooled off, and my focus has improved.  I was just sitting on the patio spinning the Heinz-57 at 14,000 ypp (25s).  No problem, just a more relaxed fiber prep.

It took 6 months of work, and a pile of self directed evolutions, but now I think I have a reasonable handle on sock fabrics. The hard part was jumping from singles of 5,600 ypp to singles of 11,200 ypp. It only took a few seconds but it was the hard part of the year.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

4-ply sock yarn knit on 1.3 mm needles

 more on handspun  4-ply sock yarn, again the plies are ~11,200 ypp but this time they are only 12 tpi and 12 ply twist per inch 

an unfinished, unblocked swatch, knit with1.3 mm needles - this yarn is remarkably softer, and easier/faster to knit

gauge is ~ 10 spi & 16 rpi - might change with blocking

The Historical president of 4-ply/2,500 ypp yarn being knit at 12 spi by 20 rpi

 In making my 4-ply / 2,500 ypp yarn, I was thinking in terms of the classical 11,200 ypp sock yarns that were spin at 17 tpi. They must have been an effort to knit - durable, but an effort to knit.

It turns out that spinning the 11,200 ypp singles at 12 tpi (and plying 4 together at  12 tpi) makes a much softer yarn that is easier and faster to knit. On UK 16 needles (1.25 mm) such yarns easily and quickly knit at 12 spi by 20 rpi. This is likely to be ok for worsted spun long wools, but woolen spun short wools, are likely to be fragile at this, lower twist. I guess that Paton's BeeHive had twist closer to 12 than 17 tpi. The lower twist also makes it much easier and lower cost to spin.

That said, there was a piece of worsted 4-ply/ spun/plied at 17 tpi on the table when I sat down for lunch, and I started playing with it. It really is amazing stuff. You do not find such strong, all wool sock yarns in retail markets that are that strong. No, it is not Kevlar, but it is really strong and, durable. 

Then next mess on the combing bench is, How do really fine, high crimp fleece behave in 10s at 17 tpi? 

Old school sock fabric


It is not dry yet, so it still wants to curl. It is

under the needles used to knit it.

The inspiration is knitting done circa 1900 including Sheringham ganseys and patterns in Weldon's.

Yarn is 4-ply worsted with ~11,200 ypp singles spun at ~ 17 tpi. Ply twist is ~17 tpi.

 Grist of final yarn is ~2,500 ypp.

Swatch knit on 12" by 1.5 mm blunt needles using knitting sheath while sitting next to my wife watching an old black and white Clark Gable movie in a rather dark room - (so yes the knitting is crap.) Knitting gauge came out to ~11 spi by 15 rpi.

Dark streaks are from black fiber from previous singles spun for previous tests to help count twist - my combing bench is a mess right now. It will be cleaned before I start a real spinning project. 

Weight of swatch is 8 grams, area is ~ 83 cm^2, so a gram of yarn knits out to ~10 cm^2 of fabric. 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Testing, 1, 2, 3, 4

 Sure there was the 5-ply, 1,000 ypp gansey yarn. There was also a 4-ply, 2,500 ypp "gansey" yarn. The last commercial relics of the finer yarn was Paton's BeeHive, 

Nevertheless, such yarns like BeeHive were used to knit fine ganseys, at gauges of 12 spi & 20 rpi.

I want to make and knit such yarns. I have been spinning worsted singles of 11,200 ypp, and am now in an evolution to ply such yarns. I wish I had a real teacher, then I could learn this much faster.

I am to the point where I am plying 10-gram samples, finishing the yarn and then knitting the samples into test swatches.

Plying worsted 4-ply, 2,500 ypp gansey yarn

Equipment is the "Racing Flyer" with DRS bobbin/ flyer whorl set at 17 tpi

The singles were spun at 17 tpi and ply twist is also 17 tpi.

Note the strand of black-  it is to facilitate counting twist in the yarn. The production yarn will be light blue comprised of navy blue Romney, with some white Suffolk blended in as I comb.

The test samples are 10-grams/ ~ 55 yards. These samples need to be scoured and dried before they can be knit - my steam blocking does not get me to knitable yarn. 

Production will produce balls of 30 grams/155 yards, which was the traditional weight of weight of balls of BeeHive.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Plying for warmth and pretty stitches

 Alden Amos liked 3-ply yarns because the 3 strands in the yarn fit together and made a strong, cohesive yarn. That is the view of a weaver and knitter that wants decorative stitches that "pop". Alden was a great weaver and knitter.

Alden disparaged 4-ply and 5-ply yarn constructions because the strands do not fit neatly together. Yes, that is the point of gansey yarn. The yarns have minimal ply twist so the individual strands can spread out, and when knit, the strands can fill in the gaps in the stitches, and block air and "weather" flow, making the fabric warmer.

If  I am  making garment to be light and warm, then I will plan a 4 or 5-ply yarn construction. If I want a pretty garment that can be worn in centrally heated spaces - then I will plan a 3-ply yarn construction.

On the other hand, if you want real warmth from a 4 or 5-ply yarn, it needs to be knit tightly - and fulled.  In the old days, Paton's  BeeHive yarns allowed knitting warm, but remarkably lightweight baby clothes and children's jumpers. Now, "BeeHive" yarns are synthetic, no longer full, and are not as warm. For athletics and sports, an object well knit from 4-ply-  2,500 ypp  will likely be as warm as an object knit from 3-ply -1,680 yarn. I think, even today, there are times when the lighter, thinner garment is preferable.  (We enjoy spinning and knitting - it is ok to put in a few extra hours to make something really nice. I also find that it is the learning how that takes the most effort. Once I know how, making additional similar objects is easy.  )

Knitting sheaths/shields allow knitting tight without damaging your wrists. If you  want weatherproof objects, use a knitting sheath/shield/stick. They look dorky, and were abhorred by Victorian society, but they work. And. they allow knitting wicked fast. 

Plying fine singles (finer than 5,600 ypp) requires certain additional attention to detail. The bundle of singles must be able to run freely into the orifice.  I have the singles on bobbins rotating on steel axles, with steel washers and everything is oiled so it all runs freely. If you are doing more than 3-ply you need a plying comb, so all plies twist together, all at once. If 2 twist, then the 3d and 4th plies get twisted around the 2-ply, and your knitting gauge will not be anything like BeeHive, even if you put huge effort into spinning  beautiful 11,200 ypp singles! For my plying comb, I use a line of sock DPN stuck into holes I drilled in a piece of scrap wood. When I am plying, my "plying comb" is held in place with a clamp. The clamp has other duties when I am woodworking. It is not a pretty thing but it was free, it takes up almost no space, and it works very well.  I like these 3 virtues in a tool.

These days, everywhere I might sit for a bit, is littered with little 10 gram balls of yarn, and/or little swatches, finished or in process.  That means there are little DPN everywhere.  This morning, there were 8 DPN beside the chair I use to watch TV - last night I had a sample of yarn and was trying to decide if I liked the fabric knit with 1.3 mm or 1.5 mm better. In the morning's clear light, I decided I did not like the way the yarn was plied. It was well spun, but poorly plied. I can do better.  So, I put the needles away and discarded the yarn.  

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

My Technique

 Yesterday, I wrote a summary of my knitting techniques for fine yarns, and sent it off into the either. This morning it seemed disgustingly vague. I thought I should make and send a video.

The fine needles certainly were not going to show on a video, so I went back to 2.3 mm gansey needles. 

My favorite springy knitting technique uses blunt 18" long 2.3 mm spring steel needles. The knitting sheath is over the right buttock, and the working needle arches under the right armpit with the right forearm/wrist resting on it. The left needle is only about 20 degrees off vertical. This is the first industrial knitting technique that I learned. However, it does not work with 1.5 mm needles and smaller. It is not a path to Sheringham.

While I have needle adapters to allow the knitting sheaths I use for fine needles to accept the 2.3 mm needles, when using the thicker, stiffer needles, the knitting sheath needs to be secured much more firmly.  The truth is that fine needles and "gansey needles" want very different knitting sheaths worn very differently.

Yesterday, in my mind, the spring loaded knitting technique that I use for fine knitting with 12" long 1.5  mm needles, was very similar to the spring loaded knitting technique that I use for 18" long 2.3 mm gansey needles. The concept is similar, but ALL the details are different, and in knitting, details matter. They both use the spring action of spring steel needles. They both work much better with blunt needles. They both use small motions driven by shoulder muscles. Details such as where and how the knitting sheath is placed, the orientation of the needles, and where the needles flex are all different.

Yesterday, in my mind, there were 3 knitting concepts that I could use to produce weatherproof fabrics. I thought these were knitting techniques. No, they were just ideas. 

In fact, I use 3 different knitting techniques using the spring of steel needles. One works with 2.3 mm needles, one with 2 mm needles, and one works with fine needles. The description I sent out was vague, because these 3 techniques were all jumbled together in my head, and I was trying to describe a dozen knitting techniques as 2 knitting techniques, one using spring loaded flexing needles, and one using stiff needles   My muscles know what works, but I did not have the 3 techniques well defined in my head.  These were issues I tend to work out as I swatch and assemble project kits. I have an idea for a fabric, and then I figure out how to knit the fabric.

 For example, there is a classic description of  knitting gloves very fast (using a knitting sheath) with the needles being pushed down and forward.  With pointy needles, this motion does not get you to "fast". With short stiff, blunt needles, one must push down and then pull up and the motion gets you to "fast". With short, blunt, 2 mm needles, you push down, loop the yarn, relax, and the spring of the needle finishes the stitch, very fast.  However, that spring only works for a limited range of needle diameters, which means the technique only works for a limited range of yarns. This is a specialized technique for people that need to knit many small objects quickly - and are willing to put in the effort to find the right knitting sheath, the right needles, and the right yarn. If you learn this technique as knitter in a glove factory, they will teach you which knitting sheath to use, how to use it, which needles to use, and they will supply the yarn.  This is not a path to Sheringham.

Above are two perfectly good, fast to very fast knitting techniques using a knitting sheath. With finer, springy needles and finer yarns, and a slightly different motion you can produce a different fabric  - Is this another technique? For me, it takes a different project kit, and produces a different fabric, and yet conceptually it is springy, blunt needles being pushed down and forward, yarn looped and needles allowed to spring back finishing the stitch.

I knew it was a glove making technique, so I did an evolution to learn it , starting with 2.3 mm by 6" needles.  It took a while, (as measured in buckets of swatches.)  At the end  of the evolution, I had 12" long, 1.5 mm needles in my hand and loved the spring action of the needles, so I thought I should do an evolution to learn about sock fabric.  With 12" long 1.3 mm needles the spring action is gone, but with 6" blunt 1.3 mm needles the motions are so small and so easy, that knitting can be very fast in stitches per minute, (if not so much in gloves per day.) I think the fine, tight fabric acts as a spring. This is not a path to Sheringham.

I am not done with my evolution to learn sock fabric. Last night I ripped out  what I had knit (slowly) on 1.3 mm needles because I decided that with appropriate wet finishing, I could get as good a result with knitting done much faster on 1.5 mm needles.

Yes , there was a reason for professional knitters to have a long apprenticeship.  

My guess is that it took 1,000 knitters, 200 years to find a good path to Sheringham ganseys, and then, they stayed on that path for 700 years. For various reasons, I expect many of those knitters seeking that path were in the Channel Islands, Brittany, and Portugal. 

Monday, August 23, 2021

The nature of woolen and worsted spun yarns

 Judith MacKenzie McCuin (and others) tell us that worsted spun yarns are finished when they leave the wheel, but woolen yarns need additional processing.


The worsted spun singles for 5-ply gansey yarn are much easier to ply when they have been steam blocked before plying. A  gansey knit from worsted spun yarn does not become "weatherproof" until it has been fulled and oiled.  Any knit object (woolen or worsted) needs to be fulled before it will be truly weatherproof. 

Weatherproof sock fabric

I knit a good swatch from 3-ply, 1,680 ypp yarn on 1.3 mm needles at 12spi & 20 rpi, fulled it, napped it, oiled it, put it on the counter, and poured water on it.  

The water stood in a pool on the swatch.  

The fabric passed the test.

  • The Sheringham ganseys are weatherproof. 
  • Knit Tudor hats were likely weatherproof.
  • We can knit all kinds of stuff out of  "sock yarn" to produce light, elastic, and weatherproof objects.  We can knit socks that will really help our feet stay dry.
  • Joyous Rapture! 240 stitches of knitting joy per square inch! We can get more knitting pleasure per gram of wool.
  • I believe the yarn is flock run Cheviot, spun worsted, with a soft twist.

I expect traditional hosiery yarns to perform better. 

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Knitting as adventure

I like adventure.  I was a good rock climber. I was a good skier.   I include solving problems and finding solutions as adventure - finding a working solution is surviving the adventure. Surviving a real adventure begins with knowing what the likely challenges are, and an open minded consideration of possible solutions. A successful adventure involves developing necessary skills. 

I find knitting to be an adventure. It is surprisingly physical. A good knitter's hands are as strong as a good rock climber's hands. And, finishing a large project in a reasonable time requires substantial endurance. 

I believe in "knit to fit"; meaning that the knitting pattern must be adapted to the size and shape of the person that will use the object - this requires a fair amount of skill and math.  The difference between knitting a pattern and knitting to fit is an adventure.  "Knitting to fit" transforms knitting from a pastime, into an adventure.

Knitting to fit also includes knitting an object that fits into the user's lifestyle. This may mean knitting objects well suited to display on the "Red Carpet", or knitting objects suited to sailing around Cape Horn, or being worn while pruning an orchard during an ice storm.  I have used H/H sailing gear, and at $1,500 a pop, it is not a warm, comfortable, or durable as a well knit wool gansey. However, I assure you that knitting a gansey that is better than H/H gear is an adventure.  I have worn the best Patagonia ice climbing gear while pruning an orchard in freezing rain, and I settled on my gardening gansey as being warmer, lighter, and more comfortable for the task. However, knitting that gansey was an adventure - from seeing the yarn in Nova Scotia, to finding the mill on Prince Edward Island, to making the knitting sheath and needles; then learning how to use them - and learning how different gansey knit objects can be from ordinary hand knit or frame knit or commercial machine knit. Remember, Sir Walter Raleigh, sent a pair of "gansey knit" stockings to a Princess of Poland, and Poland was one of the great powers of Europe at the time.  "Gansey knit" is different and better!

Such objects are completely outside of our modern experience. 

I am finding that exploring "sock fabrics" is an extension of the knitting adventure.  More and more, I find that I have to hand spin the yarns that I want. I find that bins of fiber that I have had for years can be coaxed into yarns that I did not dream of a few years ago.  And, rather ordinary yarns can be coaxed into fabrics that I did not dream of just a few years ago.

For an inkling of what can be, we have to go to books like  Archaeological Textile Review no 62 online at  

Why do modern books on how to make textiles not tell us how to make such objects?

Actually, I am grateful that nobody does tell us how to make those lovely textile objects the old timers turned out by the bale.  Learning how to make such objects is an adventure. No! You are not going to get there with "Weldon's Practical Knitter". Weldon was a fraud. If you want to knit the patterns in Gladys Thompson at the gauges indicated, you will have remember that the originals were knitted using knitting sheaths, which are barely mentioned in the text.  Likewise, mentions of knitting sheaths by Mary Thomas, Mary Wright, and June Hemmons Hiatt should have included how to use a knitting sheath and discussion of appropriate knitting needles. But NO! They want using a knitting sheath and its needles be a bold step into the unknown, an extreme adventure.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Stitch markers

 I love the idea of stitch markers.  Over the years, I have bought, made, used, and lost hundreds of stitch markers.

 I just started the most complicated knitting that I have attempted in some time. The assembled knitting project kit, included a tray of stitch markers. (The yarn is navy blue worsted 3-ply, 1,680 ypp, that has been in my stash for 16 years, under the label, "Big, Blue, Lump".  I bought it as that Yorkshire wool mill was going out of business.  It is being knit on 12" long 1.5 mm steel knitting pins.  The knitting gauge is 12 spi  and 20 rpi. It will be wet finished.   Good stash should be treasured until you are ready. This object is the first step of an "evolution" that I planed to teach myself about "sock fabric".)

Half, of using a knitting sheath is getting it to stay in the right place. For this project, I am wearing my leather wood turning apron - buckling the nylon straps in front. The knitting sheath is tucked under the nylon belt, and counter balanced with a clew that holds the cake of the yarn as I knit. I find using counter-balanced knitting sheaths most useful with finer needles.  

The knitting will take a couple of days, but this is a first step toward learning real knitting.

However,  I find myself using strands and loops of yarns in various contrasting colors and grist for stitch markers.  As I said, this is an evolution.  Short strands are inserted into the knit fabric with a crochet hook to mark reference points. Loops of yarn are knotted and slipped onto the needles to remind me where panels start and end.  

As I return to my knitting, I will dump that tray of  metal and plastic stitch makers back into the tool chest in my office. 

As you may have guessed, the pattern is at : 

Have fun.

ps, 8/23/2021 based on swatch results, that knitting has been ripped out, and restarted on 12" long 1.3 mm spring steel needles. It is an evolution, if I learned something - it was not a waste.

Bobbles with flat tipped needles/knitting pins

 I had not knit bobbles since I moved entirely to flat tipped knitting needles.

Some lace stitches are difficult with flat tipped needles, so the question of , "Can bobbles be knit with flat tipped needles?",  had been bothering me. 

This morning, I got out the gansey kit; and, bobbles are not a problem to knit with flat tipped needles. I did not even have to use a crochet hook or cable needle or say magical incantations in crude/rude language.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

A super resource

 Ganseys (

A great Resource!

I note that these fine, tightly knit fabrics, were knit with minimal wearing ease - hence the stitch pattern had to stretch to allow motion related to work or athletics.  This is somewhat different from vertical and horizontal cables used to protect seamen from bruising when they bump against spars (topmen) or rails (fishermen).  

I also note that various moss patterns are very good at increasing the warmth of the fabric, while diminishing its ability keep out wind and water.  Thus, I think some these garments were either not intended to either be worn "on deck"; or were intended to be worn under other garments, e.g., under an officer's uniform coat. This would be consistent with the minimal wearing ease.  

My conclusion is that "Sheringham ganseys" were knit for officers. And the cost and fineness of these ganseys emphasized the authority and importance of the wearer. Standing watch on deck is a cold business. A common seaman had his work to keep him warm. Just standing on the deck, supervising others as they work was a cold, damp business.

Knitting shields, knitting sheaths, and leather knitting belts.

Twenty years of experimenting with knitting sheaths, knitting shields has taught me that they support at least a dozen different knitting techniques. Different techniques allow the production of different fabrics.  

I find that leather knitting belts work best with pointed needles, and thus are much superior for knitting lace. Leather knitting belts/pointed needles are the tool kit of choice for lace and Fair Isle.

In contrast, I find that knitting sheaths/shields work much better with blunt, and even flat ended needles. The connection of the knitting sheath to the needle is better, and there is less wear on the knitting sheath, and the needle is less likely break.

Flat ended, spring steel needles allow faster knitting, because motions can be smaller.  The right needle tip is slid (by flexing the needle) along the left needle, into the stitch to be knit. (The motion is driven by the large muscles of the upper arm. If I suddenly do a lot of knitting, it is my right deltoids and left bicep that get sore.) The motion of the right hand as it holds the working needle positions the finger carrying the yarn over the working needle's tip. Then a dip of the finger loops yarn over the working needle.  I release the pressure on the working needle, and spring action of the needle pops it out of  the old stitch. The relaxation of my arm  pulls the new stitch onto the right needle, keeping it from being dropped as the needle is flexed /slid into the next stitch on the left needle.  The angle between the needles must change by about 20 degrees when purling.  When you work out the required needle angle to allow the working needle to slide into the front of the stitch for purling, purling becomes just as fast.  I find switching back and forth between knitting and purling to be a bit slower, but still faster than anything I could do with  pointed needles. 

You may need to keep a crochet hook and a fine pointed needle handy to fix some problems. I also use them for bobbles. 

A leather knitting pouch and pointed needles will support very fast knitting, but the gauge will not be weatherproof gansey tight. For additional warmth, tried knitting Fair Isle (e.g., knitting a second yarn into the fabric).  This was warmer, but I never got to "weatherproof". When knitting tighter fabric, the fabric got  gets stiff before it gets "weatherproof". However, you can build a very warm comfortable fabric for wear in indoors or under an oil skin.)


Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Open Your Big Blue Book to Page 385!

Yarn gauge.  It works!! It works best with worsted spun firm. Oh, Yes! And you MUST pack to refusal. 

This is not some promotional craft council standard for selling yarn, this is a practical way to estimate grist while the yarn is still on the spinning bobbin. This is the nitty-gritty of converting fiber to useful yarn.

Alden's table just goes up to about 10,000 ypp, but if you count carefully, have a good yarn gauge, and pack to refusal, the technique works right on up to 60s (34,000 ypp). For finer grist, metal gauges work better than wooden.) 

The day we talked about this, Alden said, "pack to refusal", perhaps 20 times in 4 hours. Pack to refusal is important, and it is different from the "yarn wraps" of the organizations, that just want to sell yarn to retail consumers.

You need a yarn gauge - just wrapping yarn around a pencil, knitting needle or ruler, will not allow you to pack to refusal. I make my yarn gauges out of rosewood.  The form factor changes depending on what grist I am spinning.  I made another one this morning - it has a 0.25" gap, and a bit of a handle so I can hold it firmly as I wrap the 27 or 28 wraps of yarn, while packing the yarn with my thumb and forefinger. (I want a grist of ~11,500 ypp on average.)

With care and practice a yarn gauge will give a better estimate of the grist of a fine single than a "yarn balance". The only thing better is an accurate scale /accurate length. However, the yarn gauge is not as affected spinning oil or fiber moisture as an accurate scale weight/length.