Thursday, June 12, 2014

Average Yarn

Mostly, I spin average yarn.

The knit fabrics that I like are warm, durable, and elastic. My path to such fabrics is mostly via hand spun yarns with 5 or 6 plies or strands.  Yarn grist runs from fingering weight to sport weight. I knit these yarns firm enough  that they drape rather than hang,   These days,  I am pretty much spinning the yarns that I wanted when I bought my wheel and started spinning. And, I am spinning them at what I consider a reasonable rate.

Worsted spun, sport weight,  5-ply requires in the neighborhood of 54 twists per inch of finished yarn (9 tpi in 5 singles + 9 ply tpi).  In contrast, woolen spun, worsted weight,  2-ply requires perhaps 15 or 20 tpi of finished yarn.  Thus, my average sweater weight yarn requires more than 3 times the twist of the average sweater weight yarn of many hand spinners.

To make such high twist yarns practical, I have to spin faster. On average, I can spin a hank of 5-ply gansey yarn in an easy day.  That is; on average, I can spin 5 hanks of 10s, and ply them into 500 yards of  knitting yarn in a day.  Anybody that can do two hanks of 5-ply in a day is a "terrible" spinner.

My process is to use the AA #1 flier with an accelerator to spin worsted singles.  I wind off onto plying bobbins about  every 100 yards /15 minutes.  If I am plying at 9 tpi, then I also use the #1 flier for plying and make small (1.5 oz) skeins of yarn. If  I using a lower ply twist, then I use the jumbo flyer so I can make knot free hanks of 500 yards.   Perhaps the nicest complement that I ever got was from a local spinning teacher. She saw the hand spun gansey yarn I was knitting, and said, "That looks just like the mill spun gansey yarn I get from England."  And, there can be nothing more average than mill spun.

(When making yarn from singles finer than 10s, I block the singles prior to plying.)

These days for gansey fabric, I am knitting these (5-ply) yarns on needles in the size range of  1.6 mm.  I find  the smaller needles less effort than using the 2.38 mm steel needles that I used in the past. Gauge runs only about 7 spi by 11 rpi.  This fabric is weatherproof.  Knit more gently on 2 or 2.25 mm needles, the fabric is softer and more elastic,.  However,  the stitch count per inch is similar.  The softer, more elastic fabric,  is not really weatherproof.   Spi does not tell everything about the density of the fabric,  Two fabrics can be made of the same yarn and have similar of stitches per inch , but on one fabric the stitches are tighter and flatter, while in the other fabric the stitches are looser and arrayed orthogonal to the surface of the fabric resulting in a thicker, but looser fabric. The 3-dimensional structure of knit fabric matters - a lot. These two fabrics will have very differing amounts of elasticity, warmth, and weatherproofness.

Again, those traditional knitters of old knew what they were doing when they knit 5-ply on fine pins.  

Hand spun is (or can be) more responsive to small variations in needle diameter, and thus in the context of hand-spun, the tiny differences in needle size in the old UK needle or old US steel needle or the even more intricate Chinese knitting needle sizing systems make sense .

Mill spun 5-ply allowed me to knit more elastic fabrics with better drape than I could knit from yarns with fewer plies. And, hand spun 5-ply allows me to knit more elastic fabrics with better drape than I could knit from any mill spun that I have tried - including some  mill spun 10-ply, 10-strand, and dozens of 6-strand cabled yarns.  The most elastic fabrics that I have knit have been from hand spun, worsted spun, 10-ply with a grist of 500 ypp.

The most available needle size gauges in this range are those by Lacis.  However, they do not provide discrimination for the Chinese needle sizes.  (And, you know how those Chinese DPN all look a like.  : )  Thus, when I am working with a Shetland knitting belt, I use an electronic size gauge made for wood shop use and sold by Harbor Freight for less than $10.  When using a knitting sheath, I use the needle adapters to indicate the size of the needle.


Badger said...

I don't care if you can spin straw into gold, Aaron. After years of reading your ranting commentary, your latest post, with its racist "joke" has gone too far. I will no longer be checking your blog posts, and I hope others do the same.

Anonymous said...

You wrote:

"Perhaps the nicest complement that I ever got was from a local spinning teacher. She saw the hand spun gansey yarn I was knitting, and said, "That looks just like the mill spun gansey yarn I get from England." And, there can be nothing more average than mill spun."

It's the nicest compliment you have ever gotten? I thought the point of all of your raving is that your hand spun is better than mill spun.

Aaron said...

Looks are not everything.

Function counts. To test the functionality of a gansey yarn, you need to knit it into a gansey and wear it sailing in foul weather.

If you are still warm and comfortable when the rest of the crew is - hypothermic, then it is a good yarn.

I spin my gansey yarn from long wool, and it is much more durable than the mill spun from fine wool.

Aaron said...

My rather prim, Chinese was helping me sort and put away a big pile of stainless DPN in sizes that differed by 0.1 mm.

She said, "All these Chinese DPN, look the same."

In theory, the human eye can see a variation of 0.025 mm, so the Chinese DPN should be easy to tell apart. However, there is something about the shine/reflections from the stainless steel that makes them difficult to tell apart.

Nor can I reliable tell them apart by feel.

However, I can see changes in tension, where different sized needles were used. Thus, keeping needles sorted by size has become more of a priority.