Monday, February 03, 2014

There is nothing worse than being cold

I have been told many, many times that it was not plausible for hand spinners to make 5-ply knitting yarn, and that 5-ply yarn was a product that came after spinning mills were established.

However, fine worsted singles have been hand spun for use by weavers for more than 2,000 years - so such singles were available -in bulk.  And multi-ply yarns are stronger, more durable, and warmer than yarns with fewer plies, which is why they were produced by mills in 1800, and are produced by mills today. This has been well understood by textile workers and sailors since Roman times.  You know that 2-ply is stronger than a single of the same grist. It does not stop there.

The truth is that a competent spinner that can easily produce 5,600 ypp worsted singles at commercial rates (a couple of hanks per day) would use such singles as a basis for warm, durable, clothing for her loved seamen. A competent spinner can hand spin 5-ply /1,000 ypp worsted spun yarn ("gansey yarn")  for a seaman's sweater in under 70 hours and then it takes about 100 hours to knit it tight enough to be weatherproof.

But what if your loved sailor is going somewhere colder?  Aran weight yarn was called 10-ply in the old days.  And, 10-ply /500 ypp is warmer than 5-ply.  Really!  Could it have been hand spun?  Come on, those spinners were spinning 10 or 15 hanks per week of such singles for weavers -- since Roman times!  Thus, hand spun Aran weight,  real 10-ply yarn for a seaman's sweater is about 140 hours work.  On the other hand, the yarn is fatter so the knitting goes faster and the total time to hand spin and knit a 10-ply Aran weight sweater is similar to the total time to spin and knit a 5-ply gansey sweater.  The total time is on the order of 200 hours, or 4 hours per evening for less than 2 months.

 I have enough hanks of hand spun 10s around that, I can just ply up 10-ply anytime I need it. I expect that was the case for any spinner in a time when spinners could earn money by selling yarn to a local weaver or factor.

Yes, it is very possible to hand spin real 10-ply Aran weight yarn.  It is just a matter of having a good Lazy Kate to make the plying process fast and easy. Well plied 10-ply is a matter of good tools, not magic. And, you will want well blocked singles to save tangles and tears in the plying process. Blocking the singles on a niddy noddy with a tea kettle works very well, but you will still want a squirrel cage swift (or a compliant skein holder.)   I suggest a slight soft ply twist.  It will make the yarn splity to knit, but over all will be warmer. and the fabric will be softer.  The finished yarn will have to be blocked prior to knitting.  A niddy noddy with a tea kettle works very well. :-)   The yarn will still be denser than modern 2 or 3-ply mill spun Aran.

Is hand spun 10-ply warmer than mill spun 10-ply?  I do not know.  I haven't found 10-ply mill spun for sale. However, hand spun 10-ply is warmer than any 2 or 3-ply mill spun that I have found.  At this time, 10-ply Aran is the warmest yarn that I have spun.

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