Saturday, February 01, 2014

Happy New Year

It is Chinese New Year, and that is a big deal for my wife.

Last night, we got back from my niece's funeral, complete with 2 hours of blizzard conditions after her funeral there in Frostburg. I am not very spiritual, but that snow squall was likely Mother Nature's comment on the state of things.  (  Even Thursday, it took 22 hours for us to get home from Philadelphia.  On the way, I almost finished a rather finely knit sock.

Last month was supposed to be warping the loom with handspun, and yet the handspun sits in a tub under the loom. First it was finding bobbins, then it was emptying the bobbins that I did find. What did I want to do with all those bits of yarn???? Not skeins of  warp yarn with knots or splices in it --  plied or cabled would be better, but would plied or cabled be good for knitting????

Yes, Yes, Yes!  Warp yarn plies and cables into the gansey and sock yarns that I have been seeking for years.  This is why I learned to spin.  I did not actually need learn to spin -- I only needed to learn to ply and cable commercially available warp yarns.  I wanted better knitting yarns, and here they are.

I encourage everyone to try cabling up weaving yarns to make knitting yarn.  See for example And every weaving shop and studio carries weaving yarns.

However, I can still see Alden looking up and asking, "Why not hand spun?"

Why not hand spun? It was a lesson in what hand spun yarns really can and should be.  Plying commercial warp yarn was a lesson in what plying can be and how fast it can go.  Plying combs are not just because it is hard to hold 5 singles as the spinner plies, they also keep the singles from burning and cutting the spinner's hands as a competent spinner works at a workman like pace.

Weaving uses capital (a loom) to allow one worker to produce more fabric per "man-hour" than any hand knitter can produce. Thus, woven cloth was always a more profitable and a larger industry than hand knitting (even in subsistence households.) Weaving yarns would always have been a larger market for spinning than knitting (even  in a subsistence household where the weaving was for household use.)

This last month of making knitting yarns from weaving yarns convinces me that what we call "gansey yarn" or wasset is the result of making knitting yarns from warp yarns.  Then, "gansey yarn"  has 5 plies because 5,600 ypp singles (10s) were a good grist for weaving warp; and, 5 of those made a very good weight yarn for knitting outer wear in a climate somewhat colder than our own. Four-ply made a nice under garment.   This answers the question of, " Why 5-ply?" to my complete satisfaction.  That is, 10s work for weaving and 5-ply works for knitting garments for people who live and work in a cold environment.

This works if one knits tight.  If one uses the warmth of fabric knit on 2.38 mm needles as a baseline, then knitting with 2.75 mm needles is the same as leaving a 1 inch gap in the fabric every 4 inches.  Air molecules are so small that they do not care if there are 28 small gaps or one big gap -- they go through and carry body heat with them.. In contrast,  knitting on 1.6 mm needles means that the gaps between the wool fibers will be smaller and the fabric will be much warmer than fabric knit with 2.38 mm needles. Finer needles means much more warmth from much less wool.  See Gladys Thompson on Sheringham and Norfolk Guernseys.  Oh, yes they were knit on UK17 needles, and those are 1.5 mm.  They were using 4-ply, yarn but the gaps between the yarns were smaller. They did that because it works.  It makes a wonderfully light, warm fabric.  They did know what they were doing.  If wool is precious and spinning time at a premium, then fine knitting needles are well worth while.

I was so impressed by the fabrics that I was producing with 2.4 mm needles and  gansey yarn that I stalled and did not move on to the more wonderful fabrics that I could have been producing with finer needles. I certainly did swatches, but I never really tested them because they seemed like a lot of work to knit.  Now they seem very much worth the effort.  Yes, I use blunt or ball point 1.5 mm needles with 5-ply 1,000 ypp rather than "lace point"  needles but that is not a big deal.  The fabric in a WIP Guernsey is cabled 6-ply @ 1,400 ypp  knit on long 1.6 mm needles, so it is a bit softer, but it is still a very warm, light, dense fabric.

It has taken me about 3 years to really come to grips  with this fabric.  There were a large number of false starts, but always the lure of the Sheringham Guernseys to lure me forward.

Or, one really can knit Aran weight yarn on 2.5 mm needles to produce a weatherproof fabric. This afternoon, I ran up some 500 ypp /20 ply Aran and knit a swatch on 2.5 mm needles. It is bomb proof.

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