I am interested in hand knit traditional ganseys. They were beautiful and extraordinarily functional garments. Here is my research journal and thoughts on related historical issues
Monday, March 21, 2011
How many plies does it take to make a good knitting yarn?
More! Modern knitters have forgotten that more plies are warmer and more durable. If you are going to put that much labor into something, make it good! I came to spinning, because I wanted better yarn.
Modern mill spun is prepared for knitters that knit in accordance with Yarn Craft guidelines (http://www.craftyarncouncil.com/ ). Such knitting is loose. There are gaps between every each stitch and the next. No matter how warm the yarns, heat is going to escape between the strands of yarn, so there is no reason to make the yarns warm. In other words, if you are going to knit loosely, then there is very little warmth advantage from putting in the effort to spin all those plies. And, spinning more plies is does cost more. Knitters have price-points and the yarn industry is very competitive, so the mills cut cost by designing yarns with as few plies as possible. The existing, competitive, yarns then become the standard for most knitters .
However, I want better yarns. In the yarn life-cycle of sheep to to sock, while finer plies do take extra spinning time, it is not a lot considering overall effort.
How fine a ply? I aim for about about 1/3 of the spin count. For example, Cotswold has a spin count of 30+ hanks per pound, so I aim for 10 hanks per pound (5,600 ypp) for my singles. (Five such plies gives you to 5-ply gansey yarn @ 1,000 ypp.) Jacob has a spin count of 48++, so I aim to spin my Jacob singles at 16 hanks per pound/ 9,000 ypp.
Ok, the 2 ply takes 6 hours to spin and the 5 ply at the same overall grist takes 16 hours to spin. However, whether I knit with 2-ply or 5-ply of the same grist, a pair of socks takes 20 hours to knit. The 5-ply lasts much longer. So by investing an extra 10 hours spinning (or about 25% of total yarn preparation time), I can save myself several days of spinning and knitting replacement socks. This goes double for an elaborate fisherman’s knit-frock. This becomes an overwhelming factor for fine lady's gloves with fancy patterns that might require a hundred hours to knit.
I assert that 9,000 ypp singles are good for weaving garment weight fabrics. Thus, for the last thousand years, spinners have been spinning linen, silk, worsted, and woolen singles at grists near 9,000 ypp for the use of weavers. Some of these singles would have been diverted, and plied up into knitting yarns, well because, knitting yarns with fine plies really are warmer and more durable. It makes a nice knitting yarn. In the context of traditional spinning, 9,000 ypp just is not a big deal.
The other day, I ran across an old pattern for Shetland Shawls. There was a center panel of tightly knit fabric (Shetland 2-ply lace weight (22 wpi) knit on UK #16 needles) that was actually much warmer than any of the fabrics produced from the patterns in Knitting Ganseys with Beth Brown-Reinsel. I find it funny that the old lace shawls were warmer than the modern fisherman’s sweaters.
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