Saturday, January 11, 2014

woolen for knitting

I need a new gansey. Some of my old ones are showing the signs of long use..

I have a credit at one of the big yarn and fiber emporiums so the gansey can be anything I want.

What do I want? Long ago, I settled on 5-ply gansey yarn from Romney as my favorite sweater yarn, but I now I spin better and faster.  And, I do less rock climbing and more sailing.  Is there a better yarn? This has triggered a rather obsessive round of spinning samples and knitting swatches.

Certainly, before I started spinning, I knit a lot of mill-spun woolen and Lopi yarns, but much, much less after I discovered worsted spun sock and gansey yarns.  I am not even certain that I have finished a knit object from woolen spun yarns in the last couple of years.  All the objects in the WIP bins are woolen, all the finished objects are worsted.

I went back over all of my sweaters and swatches, and decided that I like knit wear from worsted spun yarns better.  I do wear my sweaters knit from woolen yarns, but I like the sweaters knit worsted spun better.  Thus, the worsted sweaters are more worn, while the woolen sweaters are left more pristine.  Archaeologists should remember this effect.

The mill-spun yarn in the stash is mostly woolen. The mill-spun worsted-spun yarns have mostly been knit, leaving the woolen yarns in their bins. The stash also contains a bunch of fine woolen yarns that I spun. For example, a while back Dana gave me a good price on a few pounds of CVM left over from Lambtown. Now, it is a big bin of fine, soft woolen singles just waiting for a good project.  Should I ply a few of those into the yarn for my gansey to give it extra softness?  No, after much sampling, I like fabrics knit from worsted yarns.  That is why there is still a bin of woolen singles in the stash. Now that I have a loom, they will become weft.

The yarn I settled on for my next gansey is worsted spun, constructed as  5 x 2-ply cable into 1,000 ypp / 10 ply gansey yarn.  The fiber is a generic Falklands fine wool. It will get knit on 2 mm gansey needles with a knitting sheath. The 2 mm needles because they are less stiff, actually produce a looser, softer fabric than the 2.38 mm spring steel needles.  Gauge is ~ 9 spi  The fabric is rather thin, warm, and durable.  It is perfect for a wool "sweat shirt", something that will stand up to cold, wind, and rain.  It will be as light as a fleece shell, but warmer.

This comes back to the old question of: Why 5-ply?

Today my response is: When you consider the universe of possible yarn constructions, 5-ply is an economical compromise.  10s (worsted spun 5,600 ypp singles) were the base of the English weaving industry, and thus were produced by every contract spinner - and widely available everywhere.  5-ply is about the point where those weaving singles when plied together are thick enough to knit into an outdoor garment suitable for the climate in the 15th Century.  On the other hand, 5-ply is cheaper than 6-ply, and people did not want to buy that extra ply that they did not need.  As regards the extra effort, that is in the spinning of the finer singles, and there is a payback because the finer singles are warmer and more durable. The extra effort to ply 5 singles together is paid back because the yarn is warmer and more durable.  The bottom line for 5-ply is that it was the cheapest thing that works.  Today, many spinners think plying up a 5-ply yarn takes some skill.  It does, spinning is a skilled craft.  However, once the spinner has the skill to make 5-ply, it is easy.

Over the last couple of years, I have made a lot of various plain yarn constructions ranging form 2-ply to 12-ply and then cabling 2 and 3-ply yarns into yarns ranging from 4 to 24-ply. Certainly 6-ply (worsted weight) and 12-ply (Aran weight) have virtues for extreme cold, and I have to thank Judith Mackenzie for pushing me into making a long series of 6-ply and 12-ply yarns.  The difference between 12-ply Aran weight yarn and the 3-ply semi-worsted mill spun that is sold as Aran weight is the difference between "LIGHTING!" and a 'lighting bug".  Real 12-ply Aran weight is the right yarn for knitting polar gear (on long stiff needles with a knitting sheath.)  

The easy way to make Aran weight yarn is to use a weaver's bobbin rack as a lazy Kate and route the yarn through a tension box as weavers use for warping. Cabled yarns will be more durable, but not as warm.  Cabled yarns also give better stitch definition.

All  in all, I like the way 5-ply made from singles of 5,600 ypp worsted spun wool knits up. It can be knit loosely to breath in warm weather and it can be knit tightly to be weatherproof.  For me this answers the question of,  "Why 5-ply?".  I think people worked with different yarns for knitting, and liked the fabrics made from 5-ply.  Moreover, their customers liked the fabrics made from 5-ply.

I was going to say that plying 5-ply sport weight is the same effort as plying 2-ply sport weight, but that is not true.  The 5-ply takes twice as much twist, and twist is energy.  What I mean to say is that making 5-ply with a low windage flier is faster than making 2-ply with a high windage flyer.  And, most modern flyers are high windage.  It is much, much faster for me to work with a small flier and windoff frequently than to work with a large flier and windoff less frequently.  Thus, I work with small fliers except when I need knot free hanks of yarn.  Three knots are the difference between plying a hank in 3 hours and taking a full 9 hours to ply the hank on the Jumbo flyer. (And, I can replace those knots with long splices when I rewind the yarn, meaning the net time for plying on the small flier is ~3.25 hours. )  What can I do with 5.75 hours?  Well, I have a pile of fresh yarn, I can knit!  I like to knit fast because that leaves more time for sailing, gardening, and . . . .

Edited to add that I actually liked the 3x2-ply (1,800 ypp ) yarn so much much that I promptly  started a Sheringham Gansey from it at a gauge of 10 spi. The swatch gauge just kept going  : ) I love these yarns. It is a fairly soft fabric that I am knitting on 14" long, 1.7 mm SS tubular needles with the Shetland knitting belt.

Working with rather fine needles on rather fine yarns in a cool house, I have gotten out the leather knitting apron.  Look at the old pix of knitters - they are all wearing aprons - they knew what they were doing.  Fine DPN are pointy, and aprons protect the legs.   1/12/2014.

1 comment:

megan blogs said...

I am still working on my first gansey, and it will take me awhile to get it done. I chose the 5-ply woollen yarn available at Frangipani. Since then, a friend has taken up spinning, so when she's ready to ply from 5-ply, i'll be asking her if she'll do some for me.

I sail in the NE on the Atlantic, so am curious to see how my gansey will hold up for me. I hope to have it done before my next sailing season.