Sunday, December 06, 2015

Gauge for Socks

I tend to make notes in books.  This drives my wife crazy, so I do not write in her books, but I still write in mine. I notice that my copies of N. Bush on socks are now full of notes.

First, I encourage everyone to read and reread both of  Bush's books on socks  ( Folk Socks and Knitting Vintage Socks).  And, when I say read, I mean at a minimum knit swatches of the fabrics.  Do you love them?  That is always relative. So knit swatches looser and tighter.  Which fabric(s) do you like more?  NOT, which fabric is easier to knit, but which fabric do you like?  Pick the fabric that you like, THEN figure out how to knit it easily and quickly.

In Vintage Socks, Bush invokes this "not too tight, not too loose" standard.  She says knit too tight, the wool will thin and lose elasticity.  I look at fine old commercial  wool socks that my dad bought a long time ago, the the fabric is much tighter than anything that Bush discusses, and after 40 years the fabric is still in good condition.  I like the fabric in those socks, but I have not yet figured out how to hand  knit socks that fine and tight at a reasonable rate.

The gauge that I have settled on for sport socks is ~1,650 ypp sock yarn, knit at 9 or 10 stitches per inch. That is the yarn that results from 3-ply from the standard singles that I spin for weaving warp.  Or, I spin 20s and make a cabled 6-strand. Or, I cable together, 3 x 2-ply commercial warp.  In any case the grists of the finished yarns are very similar.  The gauge/fabric much tighter than anything in in Bush, but not as tight as the fine needle work in Weldon.  I like the fabric. I like it for socks and for other objects.

That is the gauge that I get when I knit that yarn with ~2 mm (US#0, 5/64") needles. It does not matter much if I use curved needles and swave the object or short straight needles, or long gansey needles.  The fabric is more dependent on the kind of yarn that I use,  than the knitting technique.

That is not to say that knitting technique does not matter.  You are not going to be able to knit that fabric with hand-held needles, e.g., circulars or SPN.  You will need "DPN" and a knitting sheath or knitting belt; or, you will either knit too slow to finish a project (with all due respect for folks that use  knitting as a meditation) or you will ruin your wrists.

The fastest way to make such fabric for small socks and gloves is swaving, where the curved, blunt needles rotate in the knitting sheath. The needle is popped into the working stitch with a very small motion of both arms/hands, the yarn is looped over the working needle, and the tension of the fabric along with the return motion of the hands finishes the stitch and transfers it to the working needle.  The motion is very small and because it is limited by the rotation of the needle in the knitting sheath.  The motion can be very accurate, even when made very fast with the upper arm muscles.  Done correctly there is almost no stress on the hands. Sock toes and fingertips are finished with short pointy DPN.

 2 mm swaving needles or "pricks" and knitting sheath
for a tabi from 6-strand 1650 ypp yarn.
Most of that was knit yesterday as we walked
around an outlet mall,
 so the knitting is not real high quality,
 but it will block out OK.

Medium sized objects,  are best knit on 9" to 12" long blunt "DPN". Note that is what the girl on page 18 of  Folk Socks captioned "Girl knitting on West Pier, Whitby" is using.

Full sized ganseys are best knit on 18"  steel "gansey needles" with a knitting sheath. Here the spring action of the flexed needle is used to finish the stitch and transfer it to the working needle. This it the fastest way that I know how to knit. It is how to knit a fine sweater in a reasonable length of time.

However, the gansey needles do not have the stability of swaving, so I find that for very fine yarns swaving is better. If I wanted the 12 spi of Thomas's Norfolk II, Sheringham I would use a 4-ply or 4-strand yarn based on 11,200 ypp worsted singles, and would knit it on 1.75 mm gansey needles. If I wanted a fabric a little tighter, I would use 5-ply at ~ 2,000 ypp.  This is still well within the range of easy knitting with steel gansey needles.  The time required to hand spin such yarn is nothing compared to the time required to hand knit such an object.

One of my favorite shirts is (frame) knit at 22 spi.  It is a nice fabric, and we are talking about nice fabrics rather than easy to knit fabrics.  Mostly, finer is nicer.

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