Monday, May 19, 2014


Socks knit from fine, multi-ply or multi-strand yarns do not need ribbing for stretch. These fabrics have enough stretch in the fabric.  However,  knit to fit - you do not have the crutch of ribbing to hide defects in fit.

This has implications for interpretation of old art for the presence of knitting.  Look at the socks and hose in Weldon's, and  it is difficult to determine if the fabric is knit or woven.  It is even harder working from an oil painting or fresco.  You may not be able to knit like that but, people can and do, and people did.   I find that textile historians tend not to be able to knit that well, beginning with Rutt.

Earlier, I mentioned that the current generation of sock needles are 8" long. These days, my finer needles corresponding to UK 16, 17, and 18 are 14" long, and I have stopped using the shorter needles in these sizes.  A work in progress on these needles is difficult to transport, and thus, these days all the fine knitting is done at home.   (Just a year after I got a knitting bag big enough to hold my gansey needles, I have stopped using them).  My favorite chair while knitting with the long needles remains a wooden folding chair - because it gives clearance for the knitting sheath and the needle.

The leather knitting pouch works very well for the more flexible, blunter needles (if any 1.5 mm needle can be called blunt  ; )  that I am using these days,  and I could live with a knitting belt as my sole knitting support.  I do like the knitting belt for knitting in the car or on aircraft.  And, certainly the Shetlanders knit gloves professionally on such long needles.  However, swaving with bent pricks is a game changer for fine gloves, and one cannot swave with a leather knitting belt.  Thus I need to keep my knitting sheaths for swaving. And I do think that the right knitting sheath is faster than a knitting belt. On the other hand, a knitting belt is faster than the wrong knitting sheath. And if one is switching back and forth between different sizes and lengths of needles, it is difficult to always have the right knitting sheath at hand.  And on socks, I like Eastern Cross Stitch on the sole, and swaving does not do that easily, so currently all socks are knit on 8"  straight needles with a knitting sheath.  Right now, the only WIP being knit on a knitting belt is a gansey from 6-strand fingering yarn on 14" long 1.5 mm knitting pins.  It is a nice fabric.

At this point, I think that modern knitting patterns are the result of trying to make a silk purse out of fat, 2-ply yarns.  There was a time when wassit was a standard yarn, used for utility knitting.  It was 5-ply.  The resulting fabric was durable and elastic. It was DK or sport weight, but could be knit on UK 13 or 14 needles to produce a very dense, elastic fabric.   Then, as we started using cheaper 2-ply yarns, they did not have as much elasticity, so we started doing more ribbing.  Ribbing is a trademark of a knitter that does not use multi-ply yarn.

When I started spinning 5-ply, I replicated the commercial product.  It produced stitches that "popped!" More recently, I have been making these yarns with less ply twist. They have to be steam blocked to balance, but they produce a denser fabric without the needle holes. I like it a lot.  Not as much stitch pop, but over all, a more attractive fabric.


Anonymous said...

So are you knitting the leg of your socks with shaping to account for the difference between the size of your calf and ankle if you think ribbing is unnecessary? I believe if you examine pictures of stockings that have survived a few centuries many have the ribbing you claim exists due to the use of 2-ply. How do you explain this?

Aaron said...

2-ply is cheaper, they may have been knitting socks in a competitive markets and seeking a lower price point by using the less expensive yarn.

Or they may have been knitting for export, rather than knitting to fit one person.

Or, they may have used the thickness of the ribbing for extra warmth.

3 good reasons. You can be sure that for socks knit for export to fishermen, all three reasons applied.