Monday, November 03, 2014


Many, many modern knitters attribute the warmth of the old knit woolens to lanolin.  However, lanolin oxidizes, and then when it gets wet it has a nasty sheepy smell.  Lanolin also attracts moths.

Thus, modern mills remove lanolin from their yarns (mostly), and modern knitters use this as an excuse for not knitting warm garments.

The truth is that there are 2 aspects of knitting warm garments.  One is knitting tight, and the other is oiled yarn.  Except that there are many ways to get oiled yarn, baby oil works as well as lanolin but baby oil does not smell sheepy or attract moths.

That is, modern knitters use a lack of lanolin as an excuse to knit loosely.  And, they do not substitute other oils for lanolin. The result is that modern hand knit objects are not very warm.


Anonymous said...

Do you just pull this stuff out your ass? Not every sweater is intended to protect you from the elements. But I guess you wouldn't understand since you out pruning apple trees in freezing rain or away at salmon camp. Aaron get real.

Anonymous said...

Knitters don't attribute warmth to lanolin, but weatherproofing. Warmth comes from the yarn itself, lanolin has nothing to do with it. Another misconstrued, misinformed post, sorry Agres.

Aaron said...

No, warmth comes from the body and is retained by the fabric.

If the fabric allows drops of water through the fabric, then the warmth from the body will be transported back through the fabric as water vapor.

Knitters/spinners do attribute greater warmth to yarns/ fabrics containing lanolin -- particularly fabrics knit in the mythical old days of sailing ships.

"Weatherproof" is one aspect of a warm fabric. However, you are correct that lanolin has nothing to do with weatherproof wool.

Lanolin was used as an (inexpensive) spinning oil in yarns designed and produced to make warm fabrics. Thereby, lanolin was associated with warm and weatherproof fabrics. As people forgot how to make warm fabrics, they remembered the lanolin and a myth was born.

Aaron said...

I understand very well that much modern knitting is intended to be a conspicuous display of consumption of leisure time that the knitter can spend on an object of no functional value - e.g., a purely decorative object. It is a status display, signifying that the knitter has large amounts of leisure time.

I understand that I disrupt these status displays when I produce useful objects in a reasonable time frame.

I understand the venting of anger by those whose status displays I interrupt.

While I understand the anger of the people who think that I am trying to rain on their parades, it is not something that I worry about.

The bottom line is that I am trying to make better textiles. I am willing to share techniques, and help others forward along the road, but I am not going to stop and bow and pay court to folks that are stuck in their ways.

Anonymous said...

Guess you don't understand that some sweaters are intended to keep you warm while indoors. These are not decorative items as you seem to be claiming. I work in an indoor environment which gets chilly. I prefer a lightweight sweater over a heavier, tightly knit one.

Anonymous said...

"I understand very well that much modern knitting is intended to be a conspicuous display of consumption of leisure time that the knitter can spend on an object of no functional value - e.g., a purely decorative object. It is a status display, signifying that the knitter has large amounts of leisure time."

Wow. How long did it take you to word that in such a way to make it sound as condescending as possible? And how dare you even consider writing that someone's knitwear isn't functional and/or is designed to show off how much leisure time they have? What evidence do you have of this?

Most of the projects I've seen on ravelry (and most of the ones I've made myself) are functional items, that's what clothing is.

Anonymous said...

Who on earth puts baby oil on their yarn or knitted garments? It's OIL - it will stain the yarn/garment. Whoever told you that baby oil is a substitute for lanolin was either smoking something or messing with you. That is disgusting.

Jocelyn said...

"...but I am not going to stop and bow and pay court to folks that are stuck in their ways." Are you saying that your way is the only way? Because it really sounds like it.

And wtf is up with "I understand very well that much modern knitting is intended to be a conspicuous display of consumption of leisure time that the knitter can spend on an object of no functional value - e.g., a purely decorative object. It is a status display, signifying that the knitter has large amounts of leisure time." Who the fuck are you to degrade other people's work that way?

Angelina said...

The truth is that there are 2 aspects of knitting warm garments. One is knitting tight, and the other is oiled yarn. I'm interested in knowing where you base this idea, it seems derivative. My knitting is neither tight nor oiled, and I certainly can't imagine purposely adding baby oil to my garments. I've had baby oil come in contact with my garments, it stains like a mofo and close to impossible to remove.

Lanolin was used as an (inexpensive) spinning oil in yarns designed and produced to make warm fabrics. Um, wrong. Lanolin is not what keeps you warm, you seem to be hung up on this idea. Lanolin does waterproof, as another commenter has pointed out but you ignored this and remain hung up on the idea that people think lanolin generates warmth. I'm certain your sciencing wrong. It's true that the body creates heat, but the yarn (pending on the fiber content) is what helps keep you warm, I'm sure that comment was misworded.

Andrew said...

"I understand the venting of anger by those whose status displays I interrupt." Clearly you don't get it. The reason why people vent their frustration with you is because your facts are unfounded. Where do you base any of your information? You say a lot of stuff but you've got zero references, no footnotes, no bibliography, zero photographs of your work, nothing to back up anything you're saying. What you're writing is clearly gibberish.

Murielle said...

Are you really the scientist you claim to be in your profiel? Warmth comes the hairs being hollow, which is why you're warm even when the wool is wet. Lanolin simply helps with waterproofing - you are sciencing wrong again, much like a lot of your blog. Where do you get your information?

Anonymous said...

What on earth are you smoking?! And are you sharing?

Your original post is ridiculous enough, but the second comment is just downright asinine. Knitting is a status display of leisure time? I beg to know where you get that. I work 60-80 a week, and many of my knitting friends do too. Please, explain my leisure time to me. I'll wait right here.

Perhaps people aren't venting about you disrupting their status. Perhaps they are telling you that you are a condescending ass about subjects you know nothing about. Perhaps your leisure time would be better displayed if you shut up and went back to spinning and knitting quietly like the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Well aren't you special, with your all-encompassing knowledge of what is most valuable to "knitters" and the reasons for their "display."

Meh. I give you a C-/D+ until you show your work.

(Written as I sit in my chilly house in quite warm hand-spun and -knit items that are keeping the cold from bothering me. There's warm, and then there's warm. Tightly knit oiled wools might be fine for the high seas, but for sitting at my spinning wheel, a nice pair of legwarmers, and maybe some armwarmers are all that's needed. Different strokes, and so on and on...)

Anonymous said...

You're a condescending dick. This post (as many others of yours) and your replies to this one are so offensive and wrong, it's unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

"I am not going to stop and bow and pay court to folks that are stuck in their ways."

And yet this is exactly what you expect from others.

My knitting is not to show off how much time I have. My knitting is for MY enjoyment. Where I want to take it, what the items are used for, what tools I use, what skills I use, that is all MY business. I won't be shamed by anyone for doing what makes ME happy.

Besides, I've seen your project page and it's really not that impressive.

Aaron said...

A refinement; after rinsing with the baby oil, the object needs to dry, or at least drain and sit in the sun for a couple of hours.


Anonymous said...

I still don't understand the difference between lanolin and baby oil - or how baby oil is of any advantage. Or why on earth you'd put baby oil in contact with your fiber or clothing on purpose. How does it not stain your fabric? This sounds extremely absurd and kinda wrong.

Anonymous said...

"A refinement; after rinsing with the baby oil, the object needs to dry, or at least drain and sit in the sun for a couple of hours."

a) baby oil on clothes = doesn't make sense & stains & gross & I'm definitely sure you're absolutely wrong because this defies logic

b) really? does an object really need to dry after it's washed? Gosh, it's a good thing you told me because I really didn't know. Remind me to breath while I walk, too, to avoid passing out.

Aaron said...

Despite going into the rainy or freezing forest, there was a period of 18 months, when I was never more than 20 feet from a math text - calculus, differential equations, or whatever. That gave me the foundation for other science.

That nobody mentioned Lewis Acids or dye chemistry or the structure of wool fibers says much about how devoted spinners are to STEM. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Math is last because it is the most important.

You cannot be a good spinner unless you understand your media. Your media is fiber and dyes. You need to know how they interact. Chemistry is the shortcut to understanding the interactions between fiber and dyes. Physics is the shortcut to understanding the construction of yarn.

STEM allows doing more, faster.

Anonymous said...

Why the fuck would anyone mention dye chemistry? Your blog post is about lanolin. Do you have ADHD or Asberger's? Because that would explain your disfunctional thinking in your writing. Either that, or you're plain stupid. (If that's the case, I apologize to all who suffer from ADHD or Asberber's, I don't mean to offend... I'm just trying to get the logic of this damn blogger because he doesn't seem to know his ass from his elbow.)

You've got readers who are begging for some kind of proof to your "facts" and resources behind your "logic". Please provide. Stop sidetracking by adding off-topic info as a response in your comments.

Miesha said...

You blog a lot about your mastery in making warm clothing, but I can't help notice that you're in California. Warmth must be subjective. Have you tested your warm garments by spending an entire winter in Michigan or Winnipeg? Because California cold isn't really cold, my dear.

Steven said...

Your science defies logic. References needed, please! Because facts.

Hannah said...

Please do continue to tell me how much I don't care about STEM. Please. And after you do that I invite you to show me your particle physics PhD thesis.


Just because I spin as a hobby does not make me a bad spinner. If I enjoy what I do and create yarns and knitted objects I am happy with I am a good spinner.

Your asinine definitions of "good" and bad are irrelevant. You can do what you want with your craft but you have to stop telling the rest of us we're wrong because we do things differently. Really.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to guess that math is last because it makes a better acronym.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure there are more of us here than you would think who have had "a period of 18 months when I was never more than 20 ft from a math text" It's called college. Actually, it seems to me (as a math major) that knitting and spinning attracts a surprisingly large number of technical and scientific minds. So trying to snow us with irrelevant textbook references doesn't help your cause much.

And anyway, what you don't seem to get is that this isn't a competition. If you like what you're making, that's great! I also like what I'm making, even if our goals are not the same.

Cathy Smither (Caltech PhD, if we must show off our credentials)

Lanafactrix said...

Incidentally, I taught my husband to spin (despite being only a weak and feeble woman), and he disagrees with you about how twist enters the yarn vis-a-vis the whole bobbin/flyer debate. He also has a PhD in theoretical astrophysics (for the tiny lady brains out there, that means "lots of math"). So obviously if physics is the shortcut he must be right and you must be wrong. Ipso facto.

Anonymous said...

You're just messing with people, right? You cannot possibly be serious. Baby oil?!

Anonymous said...

First off, lanolin isn't an oil. Baby oil can't be a replacement for it.

You cannot be a good knitter if you don't know that.

But hey, your last comment here doesn't address ANYTHING asked of you. You had a math text? GOOD FOR YOU. Woo, books! Others have those, too!

Math isn't last in STEM because it's most important, you bombastic windbag. It's there because it fit the acronym.

Stop trying to be magniloquent. You fail constantly and it just emphasizes how you are missing the mark at being knowledgeable.

Why do you even write all this? You can't want to be a teacher - you are so obviously lacking an ability to teach. Are you under the illusion that someday someone will think your words valuable?

Anonymous said...

I'm failing to see how chemistry of dyes adds or detracts in any way from your original post. The interaction of the dye on the fibre does not impact upon how warm it will be.

As for no one mentioning the structure of wool fibres, you clearly don't read the comments.

And your 18 months with maths text books? I had at least eight years of your "STEM" subjects, and you are still talking out of your ass. If you really follow and believe in your "STEM" follow your hypothesis with some proof, and the evidence of your experiments.

Anonymous said...

You cannot be a good scientist unless you understand your subject and you clearly don't have the faintest idea, Aaron. Which is why you made some very serious mistakes in one of your previous jobs.

Aaron said...

Think a little!

A conspicuous display of status is very likely to be much more valuable than a little wool sweater than happens to be warm.

If little sweater can be replaced with $2 of polyester from Target. Then the conspicuous display of status is likely worth a fortune. (Think Haute Couture on the runways.)

On the other hand, if everyone else is cold, then the little warm sweater is worth a fortune, and is likely a conspicuous display of status.

Aaron said...

Warm is about heat transmission through the fabric. Transport of liquid water through the fabric affects heat transport. Dyes and hydrophobic coatings on the fibers affect transport of liquid water through the fabric. And, tighter weaves and tighter knitting prevent liquid water from moving through the fabric. A very small amount of liquid water can carry a huge amount of heat away from the body.


If you have not learned this, then you have not learned anything. This is basic to staying warm in wet weather.

Anonymous said...

Point of blog: 2+2=5.

Your science is so very wrong, as many have repeatedly pointed out.

Aaron said...

The worst mistakes that I made in any of my jobs resulted in a nice profit for Bechtel, and profitable follow on work. The work was done at the direction of one boss, and he was happy with the quality of the work based on feedback from the client

My subsequent boss had concerns about the internal QA/QC, that came out when the client asked for follow on work. Gus hooked me up with Dean Wolf, and I came up to speed on QA/QC as we drafted EAQ-4 that became the basis of the EPA's data quality system for RCRA and CERCLA. Later it was enhanced by Sebastian Tindall for US-DOE-RL.

Certainly, I have been cussed by every data manager in the remediation industry, but the lessons that I learned as result breaching Bechtel QA/QC policy resulted in better and cheaper environmental remediation in the US, and all other countries that have used the EPA's approach to environmental data. I hope all of your mistakes turned out as well.

I later prepared Appendix A reports for a NPL CERCLA site, and have looked around my office at the printouts on cases and cases of paper, all headed to the EPA, Tribes, State, and PRP; and said a few things under my breath about too much paper.

The first thing I did at Hanford was recycle train loads of paper, some of it, redundant Appendix A Reports.

However, in a review of US remediation military remediation sites, that were not subject to all data QA/QC it is clear that large amounts of halogenated hydrocarbons source materials were not detected and therefore were not remediated. These source materials will contaminate sole source drinking water aquifers used by large cities over the next 40 years.

Paper is cheaper than the drinking water for several cities. The Republicans in congress circa 1995 tried to save a little money and the result will be contaminated drinking water for several cities. Not my mistake.

Aaron said...

Being a theoretical physicist does not make one an expert on flyer/bobbin assemblies.

For example, some small amount of twist is inserted by the rotation of the flyer. It is enough to confuse an astrophysicist, but not enough to make a competent yarn.

If your theoretical physicist had been taught to spin by Alden Amos, then he would know that most of the twist is inserted by the rotation of the bobbin and the point of insertion is where the yarn crosses the axis of rotation - e.g., the barrel of the flyer.

I suspect that your physicist has not indepndently measured rotation in the various components of the system and his answer reflects your incorrect description of the system. He needs to correctly measure rotation in all parts of the system.

Anonymous said...

You've got a lot of nerve to be proud of your "remediation" acheivements at Hanford. Workers there are sick and have died because no one warned them of radiation exposure or took the time to write the proper safety procedures. If you were responsible for writing the plan then you screwed up. Or was that just more unfounded bragging on your part?
Your plan was to save money by throwing away paper? Ridiculous! The Hanford clean-up is 15 years behind and is costing billions of dollars with no end in sight. The biggest boondoggle in U.S. history. If you were actually in charge you should crawl under a rock. If you were not in charge you should stop bragging about it. If you were there to sweep up paper you should just shut up.

Aaron said...

When I was at Hanford, other contractors controlled and managed other parts and aspects of the site. What they did is not my issue. What happened after I left is not my issue.

Our team worked a million man-hours without a lost time accident. All of our people are still being monitored, and none have health problems related to their work on that contract.

The US-DOE inspector general reported that my group saved US taxpayers $5 billion in the course of the cleanup.

Let's see, I reduced waste and pollution while saving taxpayers a lot of money.

Have you done better? What is your standard of performance?

What you miss is just how much of a mess Hanford was as of 1988. I worked with some engineers that designed the facilities that made the big messes. This country did stupid things during the Cold War. A lot of things were dumped on the ground at (Hanford, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Rocky Flats, Nevada Test Site, Savannah River, Fernald, and a few other places) that should not have ever been produced.

A bit of thought in advance, and they could have produced much less waste. A bit of thought, and they would have made much less mess.