Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Weatherproof gansey fabric

Many typical modern gansey knitters using US 1 or 2.25 mm needles get a gauge of 32 sp4i by 36 rp4i yielding 1152 stitches per 16 square inches  or 72 stitches per square inch. see for example http://www.guernseywool.co.uk/Get_Knitting.html

Using a knitting sheath and 2.38 mm needles with a commercial gansey yarn such as Frangipani, I get 28 sp4i by 46 rp4i  yielding 1288 stitches per 16 square inches, or about 80 stitches per square inch. Thus, using a 5% larger needle, I get an 11% more stitches per square inch. The bottom line is that using a knitting sheath allows the production of denser (more weatherproof) fabrics, even with larger needles.

80 stitches per square inch is about the gauge that Gorden gets using commercial gansey yarn on 2.25 mm needles, so this is indeed the ball park for modern gansey fabrics.

And using a knitting sheath allows using smaller needles. The needles laying across the panels were used to knit that panel. 

Here is a graduated swatch.  The panel below the line of purls was knit with 2.38 mm needles at ~7 spi and ~11 rpi making it a bit tighter and denser fabric than fabric knit at the conventional 72 stitches/ square inch gansey gauge.

The middle panel was knit on 2 mm needles at ~ 96 stitches per square inch.

The upper panel was knit/swaved on 1.75 mm needles to produce 119 stitches per square inch. That is a fabric that is ~ 60% denser than the gauge recommended by  Frangipani, and almost 50 % denser than the fabrics generally produced by Gorden. Denser fabric means that the holes are smaller and the fabric is warmer and more weatherproof.   Some people just cannot seem to understand that their 80 stitches per square inch is NOT tight enough to make a weatherproof gansey, and they have steadfastly refused to try knitting tighter.

I do not care how they knit, However, they should not attribute the performance of their knitting to a good "gansey knit". "Gansey knit" has described a  style of knitting that produces very fine fabrics since Sir Walter  Raleigh sent a present of knit hose to a princess in Poland.  Folks who do not use long needles and knitting sheaths should not speculate from ignorance about the performance of such knitting.  With a knitting sheath and long steel needles, they too can knit just as tight as generations of knitters knitting for fishermen, sailors, and royalty knit. 

Of the 3 panels, only the top panel is really weatherproof, (or rather would be if I oil it.).

The top panel feels thinner between the fingers.  And on land, where there is less wind, or where one can always put on a "wind breaker" the bottom panel is warmer.  However, if you are working in the wind, and your wind breaker is out of reach, then the top panel is more weatherproof and much warmer.

The bottom line is that if you want to use circular needles to knit a weatherproof gansey from commercial gansey yarn, you will likely have to use 1.5 mm needles. To repeat myself, knitting a weatherproof sweater from modern commercial gansey yarn is a lot of work.

This is a two panel swatch knit from commercial 6-strand cabled yarn.  The bottom panel was knit with US 3 / 3.25 mm needles for a gauge of  45 stitches per square inch.  The upper panel was swaved on 2.38 mm pricks to 60 stitches per square inch, and is weatherproof. It is denser than the top panel in the gansey yarn swatch above.  If I  just say that it was knit at 6.5 spi, then everyone and their cousin will say that they can knit such fabric with US3 needles. They do that by knitting more loosely, so every stitch is so long that it leaves a hole though the fabric where cold can enter and heat can exit.  See for example  http://gansey.blogspot.com/2013/07/a-case-of-brandy.html.  However, they cannot match both stitch AND row gauges. The top half of the swatch is still only about 6.5 spi, but it is almost 60 stitchs per square inch or about 30% denser and warmer.  I can tell you for sure that you want to produce fabric that dense on US3 needles, then you will need to work with Aran weight yarns.  Knitting Aran weight yarn to a weatherproof density is ferocious work.

 I showed in lower panel above that it is possible for me to knit 7 spi from 6-strand yarn on US3 needles, but that fabric is only half as dense as the fabric swaved from the same yarn on US 1 needles.  As a rule of thumb, a fabric that is half as dense is half as warm.


Alexander said...

Hi Aron,

I have to agree with you what you said in the above post. I have done almost the same "homework" as you did, and my results are identical. Knitting Gansey's to order, some of my customer who ordered "regular" Gansey's ( knitted on 2,25mm needles and knitting sheath with DPN's) are coming back to get one made which are knitted on 1,75mm or 2mm needles because of the "weatherproofness" after they have seen my personal one. Like you said it takes forever and it is hard work to knit on such fine pins, and since these are a seaman's working garment, I do only very simple patterns on the upper body to get extra dense fabric, most of them stay plain.

Aaron said...


What kind of yarn do you use?

I started spinning because I was not happy with the commercial yarns I was knitting. I found the commercial gansey yarns produced a pretty fabric, but other yarns (notably MacAusland) were much less effort to knit into weatherproof fabrics. On the other hand, MacAusland was not as durable as I wanted. Looking at the commercial gansey yarns in my stash, they are spun from fine wool, and are not as durable as I would like either.

I am applying my experience with gansey yarns to spin thinner yarns that are also surprisingly warm -- for Jerseys and such knit from something like a sock fabric. And, also for better socks.


Alexander said...


I use mostly Frangipani yarn. I am, for commercial use quite happy with it. On some occasions I get a handspun/handknit Gansey request. For that I use either Texel oder other Cheviot as it is good strong fibre.
I started spinning because I felt, after I mastered the technique I can make better quality yarn which also feels nicer to touch and wear. The yarn is so strong that I can not break it by hand.... And I ( and you) was right. I don't spin 5 ply, because I feel the original Gansey yarns where either 3 or 4 ply and only after commercial yarn was introduced 5 ply was used. I have done test with 5 ply hand spun yarn knitted on 2,25mm pins but I liked the 4 ply better.It only added to the bulk but not the warmth and comfort. I have to agree that bulk is a cushioning factor working on deck. For me I have to strike the balance between time spend spinning/knitting and 4ply works just great. I am sure the Gansey police will disagree but that is ok.. :-).

I am lucky to have a spring maker in my area where I can get all sizes of spring steel wire for my knitting needles. Points ground to my liking and off I go. I tried commercial stainless steel needles but they could not take the load.

If I ever have the time for it I will make some tests spinning much finer yarns, but for now there is no time between a 9 to 5 job, working on the boat and do the knitting/spinning.

I have to say I enjoy reading your blog, it is for one part entertaining and you I feel you do your homework as I do.


Aaron said...

I like Frangipani yarn, and Jan has given me wonderful service, and tips over the years. And, the colors are great.

I think that many spinners were spinning 10s (worsted 5,600 ypp) singles for the weaving industry. Spinning 10s was habit, and so they tended to spin 10s or use surplus 10s or off spec 10s to make knitting yarn. I think everything from 2-ply yarns for Jerseys, to 10-ply yarns for fishermen on the Finnish Sea were plied up as needed from surplus, or off spec 10s. It is what I tend to do.

Glad you have a source of good needles. Grinding points by hand is both tricky and time consuming. I think much of Rutt's analysis on knitting needle points can be explained by changing technologies in the metal working industry.

The way to spin 10s quickly and easily is with a differential rotation speed flyer/bobbin assembly. It will triple your hourly production. I am working on getting a good wheel maker to make and sell such a wheel, but it will be at least a year.

And durable!! Most modern knitter cannot imagine a sport weight yarn that they cannot just break with their hands!! (I often break Frangipani with my hands.)

I think fiber depends on the end use. Some will want finer, some will want courser. The thing about wools like Cotswold is their luster. A sweater from long wool just about "glows".

Work on your boat? I bet you have "bright work". We have no brightwork on the Blue Monday. While others are perfecting their varnish, we are sailing. Some of us, knit while we sail.

: )