Tuesday, May 12, 2015


One thing that many of my critics miss about me is that I do keep going back and rethinking the obvious.  If I get it wrong the first time, I may get it correct when I return to the topic.

Now, I am back to the nature of warm fabrics.

Let use divide the kingdom of knitting yarns into 1) singles; 2) 2-ply and 3-ply, and 3) 5-ply and  greater.  Note that 4-ply got lost somewhere.

Both Rutt and Alden Amos dismiss 5-ply and greater yarns as over hyped and not worth the effort. Here, I suggest that 5-ply and greater yarns produce a knit fabric with an inherently different structure, that the knitter can sometimes use to their advantage.

Two-ply and 3-ply yarns tend to bed together as they are knit to form a relatively flat fabric.  Any gaps or needle holes allow air (and water) to pass freely through the fabric, carrying heat with them.  If you want a warmer fabric, the yarns have to be packed very closely together, and likely fulled.

Five-ply and greater yarns tend not to bed as freely, and thus each stitch gets "bent" by the stitch above it. This bending adds some twist to one leg of the stitch and removes some twist from the other leg of the stitch, resulting in that characteristic bumps-between-lines pattern that one sees in fabrics knit from hi-ply yarns. Thick singles can act as a hi-ply yarn to give the same appearance, but "out of bias", I do not talk about singles.

Thus, a very warm fabric knit from low-ply yarns will be tighter and firmer than a fabric of the same warmth knit from a hi-ply yarn that tends not to bed.  And, a hi-ply yarn of higher grist can produce a thicker fabric than low-ply yarn of lower grist.  Thus, knit at the same gauge, 5-ply 1,000 ypp yarn (gansey yarn) will produce a warmer fabric than 2-ply 880 ypp yarn (woolen spun, worsted weight yarn).  And we have the reason why I had to knit the 2 and 3-ply MacAusland so tight to make warm fabrics.  If I had been using higher ply yarns, I would not have had to knit so tight.

And knitting is more effort than spinning.  Thus, a bit of extra spinning effort will save a lot of knitting effort.

Now, this is certainly not the whole story, as low ply twist 5-ply yarns can be knit into flat fabrics with great fill, density, and warmth.  Four-ply can be worked double to do the same thing.

The bottom line is that yarns with more plies in them is the easier path toward warmer fabrics.  Conversely, 2-ply yarns are the easier path toward cool fabrics. (I mean really!  You do not want to be seen in church sweating in your new sweater as the minister gets to the Fire, Brimstone, and Wrath of God part of his sermon.)

You want really warm fabrics? Get some of that Alaskan Fisherman 12-ply. (http://thenetloftak.com/collections/all , and scroll down)  Not going to be crabbing on the Bearing Sea, then try Frangipani 5-ply (http://www.guernseywool.co.uk/ )
Christmas is coming.  Get knitting.  Knit for yourself, have a test fitting about the time snow flies, and wear it all winter.

What about sock yarn?  Do you want a flat fabric to fit in your shoe?  Or does one want a 3-dimensional fabric that can provide a lot of cushioning because it is constructed of many, very fine plies? As I look through my socks, all my favorite socks are many, very fine plies, knit on very fine needles.

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