Friday, October 17, 2014

the evolution of a yarn

I started spinning because I wanted better gansey yarn.  Worsted spun 5-ply sport weight was my very first goal and my first spinning project.  I cannot tell a lie, handspun gansey yarn is better than mill spun.

However, more recently I have been spinning woolen weft, so I have those singles around and -- they get plied up into various knitting yarns, including 5-ply.

The woolen spun 5-ply is softer, but not as smooth as the gansey yarn.  It is stronger and much more elastic than 2-ply (woolen or semi-worsted) sport weight.  The additional elasticity gives fabrics/objects a wonderful drape.

Is it worth the additional effort?  The objects are nicer.  Are we doing this for fast objects?  Or, for nicer objects? And, I have the singles around.  Lazy Kate is beside the wheel, and can make me a ball of  knitting yarn faster than I can bike into town and back.

(Perhaps this is just a reaction to doing 10-ply cable yarns.  They had virtues, but were less elastic, and took a lot of attention to knit to fit.)


Susan Astill said...

Hello Aaron,
I too spin and knit and am trying to find the answer to the following question and was directed to your site (Good blog by the way - will keep in touch).
Question: Why were Ganseys blue and what dye was used to produce the navy colour? No one seems to know. Aran sweaters are white and do not reflect the colour of the sea as some have suggested and that sounds like a weak argument to me.
I know wode was commonly used in Britain in the commercial preparation of fibre. How accessable would it have been to the cottage industries and why was that particular colour adopted when another, more easy colour to locate unfortunate souls lost at sea would have been more practical.
I live on Salt Spring Island, one of the Gulf Islands off Vancouver BC in Canada. We breed Romney sheep (and can attest to some fine lustre in some of our fleece/yarns). My goal is to dye and spin yarn for my own Gansey. I am told you are the man to talk to about this.
My website and blog (which is not nearly as well maintained as yours) is

Aaron said...

My tests show that in foggy conditions, a blue (tightly knit and oiled) sweater is dryer and warmer than a white or even natural brown sweater. There is almost no noticeable difference for loosely knit sweaters as droplets of water tend to move through the fabric advecting heat.

I advocate a drop of baby oil in the last rinse for oiling wool. Sometimes I add a couple of drops of lavender oil to a bottle of baby oil.

Wode was native to, and well adapted to North Atlantic islands. It was was also widely traded. It was so valuable that by the 12th century, indigo was being traded up from India.

A sweater intended to be worn under an oil-skin receives no advantage from being dyed.

Note that cable patterns served 4 purposes. They could be padding between man and wood (e.g., cables). They could provided extra thickness and insulation for warmth (e.g., Lizard Lattice). They could hold the oil skin away from the sweater for more ventilation (e.g., bobbles). And they could provided extra freedom of motion for repeated motions - (eg moss stitch under the arms).

For a general purpose warm gansey, I like the Lizard Lattice on page 31 of Mary Wright's Cornish Guernseys & Knit Frocks. It is very warm, but allows good freedom of motion for most activities. It runs :
(3 times) p 1 row, k 4 rows
(3 times) k3, p3 to end, k 1 row
(3 times) k row
(3 times) p3, k3 to end, k 1 row
(3 times) k row
(3 times) p 1 row, k 4 rows

It is just a very easy woven squares pattern separated by lines of purl, but it is functional, and shows off the handspun. Some will call it boring knitting. I say it is something your hands can do while the real you is busy doing something else.

Anonymous said...

A blue sweater, by its color alone, is warmer than a natural white or brown sweater knit in an identical fashion? Oh, come on now. That's just ridiculous.

BTW, it's "woad" not "wode," and it was widely available in the British Isles for centuries before indigo was introduced. It can be grown under many conditions and is even considered an invasive species in certain areas since the seeds scatter everywhere and sprout abundantly.

Aaron said...

You can learn physics by reading the Feynman lectures or over at Khan Academy. Both are free online. Both are good places to learn.

Blue does infact absorb more light than lighter colors, and in the fog, is better than brown at absorbing the available light. That light is energy, which is heat, which is noticeable. The theory has been well confirmed by experiment.

By calculation the difference is on the order of 0.5 watt/m^2, which does not seem like much, but is noticeable.

However, a loosely knit sweater will lose a lot more heat that that by advection of heat in water. (Droplets of water holding heat move through the fabric.) Therefore, if you are going to take advantage of heat from the sun on a foggy day, you need a very tightly knit sweater.

The tests are as follows: Lay the sweater on the floor. Pour a pint of water on it. Go do something else for 20 minutes. Pick up the sweater and water very carefully. If the floor is wet, it does not matter what color the sweater is. Or, you can face a brightly lite window, and hold the sweater fabric an inch from your eye. If you can see the outline of the window, then the fabric is not tight enough.

Knitting and spinning are crafts, and every craft requires some STEM (science, technology engineering, and math).

Anonymous said...

Wrong, Aaron. Any dark color will be a better light absorber than a lighter color. A light brown sweater/jumper/gansey will not absorb as much light as a dark blue one, but a medium blue will not absorb as much light as a dark brown, and both of them will not absorb as much light as a black. There are many dark brown and black sheep out there on the hills, and I've seen (and worn) black and brown sweaters that were almost stiflingly hot. As far as your contention about tight knitting, well, duh! A loosely knitted anything is going to absorb water like a sponge because the water can get in the spaces between the yarn. That's why felted sweaters/jackets/coats have been worn for centuries for bad weather - the space between the yarn has been reduced to the point where almost no water can get in. This ain't rocket science, much as you might wish it was.

Aaron said...

Somebody that had done the math in detail would have used a lot of numbers and calculated "blackbody" emissions vs "bluebody" emissions under the conditions of the Flemish Cap in a fog.

Black does absorb more, but it also emits more, so there is actually very little practical advantage in black. However, with the dye technologies available in England/Europe between 1200 and 1700, indigo/wode was a better/cheaper dye for life at sea than any of the black dyes available as they started fishing Iceland for cod. Note for example that both black beans and black walnut are native to the new world. That leaves oak galls and iron salts.

If your black sweater was too hot, you should have gone to a colder place.

True knit fabrics have more flex and elasticity than felt. Where a knit fabric would give and endure, felt would rip and fail. And, true felt keeps shrinking (with sweat and motion) through out its life. Imagine rowing your dory, and having your "sweater" shrink a little each day for months on end. Thus, much of what we call "felt" are actually fulled knit or woven fabric.