Monday, February 09, 2015

Back to the beginning

Why??  We were traveling in Nova Scotia, and my wife bought me a nice, hand knit fisherman's sweater.  I wore it fishing in California, and about froze. That raised the question, "How did the old cod fishermen in the North Atlantic stay warm?"  For me curiosity is the most powerful motivation.

I learned to knit.  I knit all the mill spun yarns available to me, and still nothing was nearly warm enough to keep a sailor working the rigging from going into hypothermia, losing judgement and coordination, and falling to his death - and since many men were working in the rigging, many would going into hypothermia, dying, and ultimately the ship being lost. They must have had warmer clothing by the time the English were poaching Icelandic/Hansa cod in the 14th century.

I tried knitting tighter using gansey needles. I only succeed in punching holes in my wife's furniture. What worked was using knitting sheaths.  A knitting sheath allows knitting fabrics tight enough that the knit fabric is weatherproof.

Then, with some yarns I could knit objects that are warm enough to keep one warm under almost any conditions.  Indeed Shackleton's men wore gansey knit sweaters knit from mill spun during their  almost 2 years in Antarctica, and they all survived. Long spring steel needles and  a knitting sheath are the tools required to knit such objects.  Attempting to knit such objects without steel needles and  a knitting sheath is almost certainly going to result in wrist damage.

In the 14th century, every spinner spun yarn for weavers, either as subsistence textiles or as a commercial activity. "10s" (5,600 ypp, spun worsted and 10 hanks of 560 yd/ lb) were a common commercial product for spinners. Thus, any commercial spinner had such singles around. Five plies of  10s makes a nice weight of yarn for many knitting uses, 6-ply is a bit warmer, and 10-ply is warm enough for severe duty.  There you have the common weights ( 1,000 ypp, 840 ypp, 500 ypp) of modern knitting yarns.,

When the old Lion Brand Fisherman's Wool was being discontinued, it was very cheap and I bought a bin of it.  It was a pain in the ass to knit.  However, knit on long steel needles with a knitting sheath, it produced an exceptional warm fabric. It was 1,000 ypp, but it produced fabrics as warm the 500 ypp 3-ply that I was also knitting in those days. So, I had a thin, light, flexible fabric, that was as warm as the much thicker,  heavier fabrics that I was knitting from other yarns.

My spinning is then an exploration of the lessons of  the old, ugly, Lion Brand Fisherman's Wool.  The first lesson is that one needs steel needles and a knitting sheath.   The second lesson is that if your sweater is the only garment available, and you might be outside long enough for the weather to change, then 5-plies is just enough. 6-plies is better if it might get cold, and 10-plies is better if there is a chance of serious cold.  Then, long wool is more durable, and fine wool is warmer.  That is all that one really needs to know -- except that if you are knitting that tight, you need to understand how the neck vents.  If the sweater is properly designed, as one warms up, venting at the neck increases.  What look like simple necks are actually very subtle, temperature sensitive vents, that allow one to go from the ski slope to the bar, without taking layer off, and from the bar to the slopes without putting layers on.

Think about it.  Men in their hammocks, were called on deck to work in the rigging in a storm without a chance to find additional layers of clothing in a dark, storm tossed ship.  Seamen's sweaters were more sophisticated than we give them credit for being.

The final lesson was on Gun Barrel. There was a icy patch, and I fell - sliding to the bottom in my Patagonia parka. It was a "yard sale" - requiring a long hike back up the hill to collect all my gear that had come off along the way. On the next run, the parka was in pack, and I was wearing the Fisherman's Wool sweater.  I hit the icy spot again, and fell again. This time the slide was short because the sweater acted as a brake, and I did not lose any gear. Yes, there was snow packed under my sweater, from my arm pits to my belly button, but it all fell out when I stood up, and I was warm and comfortable again in the 2 minutes that it took me to get to the bottom of the run.  

And that, Oh Best Beloved, is why my new sweater has a 6" welt to keep the snow out.  The downside is that it will not vent properly.   Knit the features that are needed.


purplespirit1 said...

You keep repeating yourself. When you've run out of history to invent, you repeat yourself. Everything in this blog post is stuff you've written about numerous times on ravelry and in this blog.

suzibee said...

Well said.

Aaron said...

Not all readers look back through all material to the beginning of time.

If you know everything that I say, then go somewhere else. Do not waste your time here.