Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Size 12 or 13 needles

The first pattern in Gladys Thompson is A Channel Islands' Guernsey.

The pattern was provided to GT by de Cararte and le Patourel of Guernsey. They owned a very old commercial firm that produced hand knit objects for export for sale to sailors at ports from Gibraltar to Reykjavik and St Petersburg.  De Cararte and le Patourel were only one of several firms in the Channel Islands that exported knitwear for seamen and fishermen.  Shiploads of fine knitwear was produced and shipped from the Channel Islands. Thus, we can be sure that there was a lot of knit wear worn by seamen, all knit to a similar level of fineness.

Some say, they do not find it in the museums.

Where did it all go?  Good husbands/ sons/ brothers, discarded it, and took a bath as soon as they got to shore.  Bad  husbands/ sons/ brothers wore them home, so their wife/mother/sister had to cut it off them, and burn it while the seaman took a bath with lye soap. Real seaman's knit wear was not likely to end up in a museum.

In the Guernsey pattern, 334 stitches are used for a chest size of 38 inches.  That means there were ~8.8 spi or 35 stitches per 4" or 10 cm.  The Guernseys were knit very tight. Since it  was a competitive industry, we can assume that the other firms knitting for seamen knit similarly tightly.  Why?  Because it is a warm, weatherproof fabric.  I know, I have knit a lot of it for myself and my friends. I knit it because it is our favorite fabric for foul weather wear.

A doodle in the round on "A Channel Islands' Guernsey" patterns.
The stockinette has a gauge of just over 9 spi and the
pattern variations are at just under 9 spi.
The needles are size 12. 
The yarn is a commercial 5-ply worsted spun
with a grist of ~950 ypp

However, there is a group that claims such fine tight knitting was never common or useful.  That is because they do not know how to knit such fabrics.  They have not knit such fabrics.  And, they have not tested such fabrics in serious foul weather.

However, knitting such objects is easy - if you know how.  First you use long needles called "gansey" needles. If you have gotten this far, you know I have been working with gansey needles for 10 years. With gansey needles you need a fulcrum so you can apply leverage for fast and powerful knitting.  You can use a knitting belt as your fulcrum, but a real knitting sheath is a more controlled fulcrum and  allows much faster knitting.

On page 7,  GT tells us to use Size 12 or 13 needles for knitting the Guernsey. Because of the group that claims 8 spi is as tight as necessary for gansey yarn, we assume the "Size 12 or 13" refers to the  UK sizes in the range of 2.25 - 2.75 mm. Such needles do produce the 7 to 8 spi the the group likes to think is as tight as such yarn can be knit.

However, The Channel Islands are not the UK. The 12 or 13 does not refer to UK needle sizes. Once one drops the assumption that the 12 or 13 is UK sizing, then one does what one always does, and one swatches until one gets to 8.8 spi.  I have knit a lot of  5-ply gansey yarn at 8.8 spi, so I know that it happens on 1.5 mm gansey needles with a knitting sheath.   I have a great number of such needles, because I like the fabric that results from knitting this yarn at this gauge. If I was knitting objects for sale to seamen, 8.8 spi is the gauge I would choose, because seamen would appreciate the warmth of the fabric.  Remember, this is the gauge that I knit for the guys that have saved my life.

If you flip thorough the various standards for wire sizing, it turns out the the needles I use are in fact Size 13 in AWG.  So, yes I get 8.8 spi from gansey yarn using Size 13 needles, just not UK13!


buckfastbee said...

If density of the fabric is important, why not felting of the knitted ojects??

Aaron said...

Knit fabric has more stretch than felted fabric.

Felted fabric tends to keep felting and shrinking. Careful choice of yarn and knitting can minimize felting and loss of stretch.