Saturday, February 14, 2015

Into the Deep End -- Once More

Growing up, one of the stories in the house was of my father's Icelandic  roommate at watchmaking school who supported himself by knitting a pair of Lopi ski socks every day.  When my father married my mother, he still had one pair of those Lopi ski socks left.  Then as a new bride, my mother washed and shrank them.  Even with that bit of folk wisdom firmly branded in my psyche, I managed to shrink and felt a fair number of knit woolen objects.

I started knitting about the time that we moved into this house, and bought the washer and dryer.   It was immediately evident that the dryer would shrink and felt all woolen objects instantly and irrevocably. In those days, I knit ordinary mill spun, and I knit at the loose gauge on the yarn band.  I learned not to even try to dry woolens in our dryer.

A few years later, I  moved on to gansey needles and learned to knit more firmly.  Still, I went for years and years without putting woolens through our washer dryer.

Then a couple weeks ago, a pair of the socks that I knit for wearing with water shoes, slipped into the washer-dryer program.  They were washed in the hot cotton cycle and dried in the normal cotton cycle.

They came out perfect. They were gansey knit from mill spun 5-ply sport weight.  Was it just gansey yarns that could survive the washer / dryer?

I started running other objects through the washer/ dryer.  The bottom line is that gansey knit objects came through very well, and my  earlier, more loosely knit objects mostly felted, shrank, or otherwise failed.  It is clear that there were a lot of objects that I never got very clean. Objects that had a yellowish cast to them for years, come out sparkling white.  And some of my out door gear is softer and fluffier than it had ever been.

A swatch back from the washer/dryer,  not blocked and not felted.
Right now, I am wearing a pair of boot socks that fit perfectly before going into the washer/dryer, and fit perfectly after coming out of the washer dryer.  On the other hand, I have certainly added to my collection of tiny socks suited to elves and fairies.

An early, loosely knit sock that fit before and NOT after a trip through the washer/ dryer.

12 comments:

Holin Kennen said...

It isn't just how tight or loose an object is knitted, Aaron. The breed of sheep from which the object is knitted makes a huge difference. Some breeds felt if you just look at them sideways, and other breeds take an awful lot of work to get them to felt. You can knit as loosely as you like with these breeds and throw them into the washer and dryer with minimal felting and shrinkage. The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook and its accompanying pocket-sized field guide are excellent references regarding the fibers of different breeds and include information on whether a given breed is suitable for or resistant to felting.

purplespirit1 said...

Is your next project, after butchering your spinning wheel, to create a dryer that does not felt? ;)

Aaron said...

My object is to knit socks that endure, even when people have other things on their mind, and are a bit careless about their socks. If I am cold and tired, with sore feet and I hang my socks to dry over the wood stove, I do not what to find the next morning that my socks have shrunk to fit an elf and I must make foot cloths to protect my feet in my boots as I tromp through the snow.

Holin Kennen said...

If you wash your socks in cool or cold water, you can dry them over the Woodstock with no shrinkage at all. in fact, this was a common practice before the invention of dryers, especially in winter, as anyone who had ancestors in Wisconsin can tell you. it is the combination of heat, moisture , and agitation which causes felting. Leave one of these out, and the felting will not occur. Surly you knew that, didn't you?

Aaron said...

Holin,
We (undergrad forestry researchers from SUNYA) would get in late at night with wet feet and have to be on our skis and snow shoes early the next morning.

When we arrived, the hut was cold (-20 F) and we were hungry, so we built a good fire in the wood stove. By bed time, the hut was still freezing cold so we would stoke the fire rather then banking it. Still there was an over whelming tendency for folks to put their wet woolen socks on the drying rack over the stove. The desire for dry socks in 6 hours trumped all.

So tell us about your trick for drying soaking wet wool socks in a freezing environment, in the course of a very short night, without subjecting them to excessive heat?

It took me 35 years to work out the answer. The answer is to knit tight enough that liquid water droplets do not travel through the fabric. The the wool next to your skin drys, and is warm, even when the outside of the fabric is wet. I can put on my handknit socks when they are soaking wet, and in 15 minutes they will feel dry and my feet will be comfortable. With tightly knit fabrics, the issue of "wet" just disappears. I can step out of the surf or the Big Sur River, and in a few minutes my feet will be comfortable. Of course, this also works for my sweaters, hats, gloves, and etc. That is, I can put on a wet object (against my skin) and in a few minutes it will feel warm, dry and comfortable. On the other hand, I know that drying such objects in the sun on the patio (inland N. Ca.) will take at least 2 or 3 days.

The corollary is that such tightly knit gear can easily withstand a trip through the dryer. Thus, one can come home with wet gear, dry it, and pack it away, without waiting days for it to dry. That is not such a big deal now, but when my parents lived on the Saranac River, I could step out the back door, and ski for 90 miles without crossing a plowed road. In those days, some of my wool gear was just damp all winter long. Of course, in those days, I did not have any wool as tightly knit as I have now.

And, frankly even in the yachting shops of SF and St. Malo, I do not know of any commercial source. And the only thing in modern hand crafts that comes close is "hooked mittens".

http://www.flamboroughmanor.co.uk/flamboroughmarine/kits.htm will not get you there. First, 2.5 mm needles are too big to make a truly weatherproof fabric from mill spun gansey yarn. Second, even with finer needles, unless you have a knitting sheath to fit the needles, you are not likely to be able to pack the yarn together tight enough to make a weatherproof object. The unmentionable truth is that Gladys Thompson used a knitting sheath as she knit the samples on UK 13 and 14 needles. Truth is, UK 14 needles with a knitting sheath work very well with mill spun gansey yarn. A quick check with the "mic" says that the needles I am using as 2 mm/ UK 14 are actually 1.87 mm.


Holin Kennen said...

But, Aaron, dryers are only a recent invention. Freezing wet clothing has been around since the beginning of time, and people would dry their wet clothing exactly as you described - hanging it over the wood stove. Clothing had to be washed in winter, after all, and there was no other way to dry it in a reasonable time except in front of a fire or near a woodstove. As I said, the combination of heat, moisture, and agitation causes felting. Leave one of these out, and felting will not occur. The socks that you and your forestry fellows hung over the woodstove would not felt due to heat as long as there was no agitation. Hanging up wet socks does not agitate them, so they will not felt due to drying over a woodstove. I do this with my wool socks and mittens all the time with no shrinkage or felting.

On the other hand, wet, warm feet against wool socks in boots will felt them to some degree because the fibers are rubbing against each other (heat + moisture +agitation = felting). This can be due to sweaty feet or wet boots: it doesn't matter either way. You are assuming it is the heat from hanging the socks over the woodstove that caused felting. That is incorrect. It was wearing the socks that was the culprit. Unless you were on such intimate terms with your forestry fellows as to dress and undress them and do their laundry, you wouldn't have noticed that their new wool socks felted a little bit over time due to wearing.

BTW, I am a California native, and I know how long it takes to dry things in a sunny patio in the area where you live. Not long at all. I am puzzled that a person such as you who seems to be interested in how things were done before the advent of modern, industrial technology would not understand that pre-industrial people used (and still use) available resources - wood stoves and fireplaces - to dry wet clothing.

But you carry on. Just remember that if sea levels rise to the catastrophic levels you predict, Maytag repairmen are not likely to be available to service your dryer, and you may find yourself having to resort to drying your clothing the old fashioned way.

Aaron said...

Holin,
You are a fountain of misinformation. Your preconceived notions about living without central heat are not correct.

I have taken my wool socks off, rinsed them in cold water, and hung them (without agitation) over a wood stove and in 5 hours they shrank so much as to be unwearable. And, I am not talking about a little felting, I am talking about going from a foot length of 9.7" to 7". ( I have the remains of one here.) When the owner of the sock sees them, there is screaming and profanity and likely tears. Then, they go around the camp looking to borrow another pair of socks and everybody in camp knows whose socks shrank. In the past, I knit many such loosely knit socks, and yes, they would dry in the sun in a couple of hours with no problem.

If you talk to the Old Ones, you will discover that the drying rack was well away from the wood stove or fireplace. It worked because in a house heated by a wood stove or fireplace the relative humidity is so low, that clothes will dry even in the corners of the room that are below freezing, but not in 6 hours.

The truth of the matter is that if the fabric is very tightly knit, then one can put on the wet or damp object and it will feel warm and dry in minutes. This is utterly unlike the fabrics typical of modern knitting. You do not know this because you have never worked with such fabrics.

In the days when every knitter used a knitting sheath, such socks were common, because they were easy to make. Now that few knitters use a knitting sheath, most knitters do not know that such fabrics are even possible.

Such fabrics are not always necessary, and in fact for people that live in central heated environments are rarely necessary, but they are another arrow in the textile artist's quiver. And, they are very nice for anybody that wants to take a nap in the snow.

The downside is that such fabrics really do take days to dry - even on racks in a sunny patio on warm days.

Rapid temperature change will cause felting- minimal moisture required. Agitation and moisture will allow felting - no heat required.


Holin Kennen said...

Perhaps the problem with shrinkage lies with your socks, not with the woodstove. Because your yarns are over twisted and then blocked, when you washed them, the twist was released back to its original state, which is why the socks appeared to shrink. They didn't felt, however.

You have no idea what kind of fabrics I knit, so please do not insult me or the rest of the readers of this ridiculous blog by asserting that you do. I've never met you. I have, however, seen photos of your inconsistent and limp yarns and have read post after post of your blog and found most of it sadly in error.

Let me try to explain the problem in simple terms for you. If you spin a yarn and ply it so that it is balanced, when you wash the finished object, it will retain its shape and size. It will not felt unless the three elements (moisture +agitation +heat) are present. If, on the other hand, you spin a yarn which is over twisted and must be blocked to shape (which is what you do), then when it becomes wet, the twist will reinsert itself and the yarn will shrink and twist.

This is pretty basic stuff, Aaron, and I don't understand why you keep trying to make a silk purse out of your sow's ear when it would be so much easier to do it right the first time. The only reason your over twisted socks don't appear to shrink is because you've knitted them down to the equivalent of armor plate. There's nowhere for the twist to go, which is why your "holes" appear to fill up - it's the twist reasserting itself when it gets wet. I'm sure they're about as comfortable to wear as a hair shirt, and your gainsays - assuming you finish any of them - will be about as flexible as a straitjacket.

We have numerous "Old Ones" here. They dry their clothing, including wool socks, over the woodstove in their cabins with no trouble after spending the day ice fishing in below zero temperatures. This is because they are wearing socks made from yarns which have been spun properly in the first place, which is what you have failed, time after time, to do, while insisting that your overtwisted yarns are superior when they are the real cause of your shrinking socks.

I spin balanced yarns. I knit socks. They are a moderately firm fabric, but not too tight, but my friend who knits also socks for me knits more loosely. I wash all of these socks in cool water and hang them over my woodstove to dry in winter WITH NO SHRINKAGE. This is because in both cases, whether loosely or firmly knitted, the yarns are balanced and do not return to a state of overtwist when they are exposed to the water.

Your science is deplorable. If you were really the scientific expert you claim to be, you would be looking objectively at all possible causes for your felting and shrinkage problem - and the history of those who have gone before you - rather than trying to prove that your method, which is equivalent to inventing a square wheel, is superior.

Woe to anybody who thinks that you are the expert in all things fiber-related. They are going to spend a lot of time and money realizing just how wrong you are. My real regret is that some of these people might have the potential to be wonderful knitters and weavers, but they will give up because their yarns will not work for knitting or weaving if they follow your advice, and they will be so frustrated that they will probably burn their needles and looms.

Aaron said...


A day out ice fishing? That is nothing. Tell me about people that spend a week or a month continuously in below zero conditions. Knit them a kit that will keep them warm and dry as they sleep in snow caves or igloos, night after night. I have snow camped in Wyoming, Colorado, the Adirondacks, Vermont, and the Sierras for extended periods of time. I have been in a snow cave when we got 5 feet of snow on Memorial Day.

People have always had to travel and work outside in all weather. We should know how it was done and how it can be done. I have fished when it was cold enough that water on the line would freeze before it ever got to the reel. And I have fished when it was warm enough that the wet line would freeze together on the reel.

Wear socks you have knit, and go out ice fishing -- under the stars -- no hut. Fish until you have fish for the whole family, and then tell me if your feet stayed warm.

Put on gear that you have knit and try it. I hear this weekend would be a good time to test cold weather gear in WI. there might even be enough snow to test your snow gear.

chathamh said...

I'm not arguing your other points, but snow shelters and igloos are consistently above zero. Every Boy Scout knows that a snow shelter is substantially warmer than the surroundings, even if they're only heated by your body. With a small oil lamp, a well-constructed shelter can easily get over 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and should provide more than enough warmth to dry your wool.

Aaron said...

Boy scouts that have lived in igloos and snow caves with a thermometer know that the temperature gets up to 32F or 0C, and then the snow /ice starts melting, holding the interior at 0C, always!

If it is -30F with wind chill outside, then even if the igloo is held at 30F it is 60F warmer than the environment. That is much warmer than any tent in the neighborhood.

More over, snow shelters that are allowed to have significant melting, absorb the water into the snow where it freezes, reducing insulation. Igloos/snow caves used more than a few days are cold. If one is working/ hunting in the same area, it is well worth while to build a new igloo/snow cave every 4 or 5 days. Thus, abandoned igloos were not reused.

An igloo that has gone icy can trap enough carbon monoxide from a burning lamp/stove to kill all the occupants. Vent your igloos/snow caves and keep the interior below the melting point.

Cook outside!

Body heat will keep properly spun and knit wool objects worn against the skin comfortable. Mostly I dry wet wool gear by wearing it a couple of hours. It does not work for loosely knit objects, but it works very well for very tightly knit objects. It does not matter if you are in an igloo or a tent. (in a cold tent, you need a frost liner!) If you are working in the rigging of a ship, or standing over a fishing hole on the ice, then you will need to put on an oil skin to break the wind. You need cables in the knitting to provided ventilation between the knit object and the oil skin. Frost will form on the inside of the rain gear and fall out the bottom. As you move, you will see flakes of frost falling out around your wrists, ankles, and waist. Just the moisture from your skin can produce pounds of frost flakes per day. Stay hydrated.

Kathleen West said...

"If you talk to the Old Ones, you will discover that the drying rack was well away from the wood stove or fireplace."

Cthulhu fhtagn!