Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The last descent

Recently, one of my wife's college roommates gave me a big bump of Maine top.   It has  a spin count of around 55, and a nice luster.  The first thing I did is spin spin some 10s, and ply them up into 5-ply sport weight.  They used lanolin as combing oil, so there is residual oil on the fiber.  If it sits exposed to air, the lanolin will oxidize and turn to gunk. It (5#!) has to be spun and washed.  No time to dilly-dally around spinning 40s.

It spins fast and easy.  I like to wave the California flag and buy local wool, but this stuff comes all washed and combed at about the price I have been paying for raw fleece.  And, the resulting yarns are lustrous,  but much softer than the MacAusland yarns that I have used  for outdoor wear the past.  As a gansey yarn, this is much more lustrous than the mill spun gansey yarns.  Ok, you will have to dye it, but how hard is that?

Spun worsted, With 5-plies, these softer yarns are more durable than the harsher 2 and 3-ply MacAusland yarns.   And, they are much more durable than the mill spun 5-ply gansey yarns. Compared with the various Romney 5-ply sport yarns that I have spun over the last 5 years, this is much easier than washing and combing a fleece; and, less expensive than buying combed Romney top, but the final yarn/fabric is just as good.  

I swatched the 5-ply starting with 3 mm needles. I would knit an inch, knit a row of garter, switch to the next finer needle, and knit another inch. Then, I wash and block the swatch.  For myself, I like the fabric knit with 1.55 mm needles.  It is amazingly thin, light, weatherproof, warm, and durable.  My wife wants a cooler, more elastic and stretchy fabric, so for her we like the fabric knit on 1.9 mm needles.   It is smooth and comfortable for sustained wear against the skin. Even my wife does not complain that it is "itchy".  And, it can be treated very roughly and it does not shrink. 

I was a bit amused at this, as last fall almost all of my knitting was still being done on 2.4 mm needles. Now as I look through my knitting bag, and the WIP around my knitting chair, the only WIP  on 2.4 mm needles is a pair of sandal socks in eastern cross stitch using 6-strand cabled 800 ypp yarn.   Just now, my main project is a sweater for myself in worsted spun, 6-strand cabled fingering on 1.65 mm needles.

After 15 years of knitting, my default knitting needles are all smaller than 2 mm, and the yarns that I like are not found in knitting shops.  I am starting to identify with those old knitters using "knittn pins".  I like the fabrics. These days, I like yarns cabled up from mill spun warp, and I love my hand spun.  I would knit the sandal socks from hand spun (on smaller needles), but I have stash that needs to be knit. 

Halcyon sells the Maine top fiber at $16/lb, and it needs little additional prep for spinning.  With GUERNSEY 5-PLY WOOL at $26/lb, the question is, "Is hand spun worth the effort?". 

I spin 10s at ~350 yards per hour, so spinning while I watch the TV news (talking heads) produces  500 yards of  finished sport weight 5-ply per week.  That is enough 5-ply yarn for a sweater every month. I figure that spinning is free, so for all practical purposes, that yarn is free. If I had to pay for the fiber, it would cost me $16/lb.

Since I have moved to smaller knitting needles, my knitting time for a sweater has increased. Thus, using a better yarn seems more worth while. Over the last year, hand spun has moved from being reasonable to being ordinary.  Now, knitting mill spun is the exception. 


Stephen Harding said...

Remember, Aaron, spinning is only free to a hobbyist. To a professional, time is money.

Aaron said...

Time is never "free". There is ALWAYS an opportunity cost.

I need to spin fast because I have things to knit. I need to knit fast because I have to go sailing.

Only by sailing fast can I test the quality of my spinning and knitting.