Wednesday, April 20, 2011

9,000 ypp worsted singles and DRS

Last winter, I decided that (in the old days), there were spinners producing 8,960 ypp singles for weaving into cloth for garments and that these singles likely also got plied up into yarns for knitting.  I wondered what such yarns would be like for knitting.  I thought I would make up some such yarns and find out.  It has been harder than I thought.

And, I did not think that I would take so much criticism for trying to learn to spin better.

I had been spinning for (only) 9 months, and was having no trouble spinning singles from Cotswold ( a coarse wool)  to a  grist of 5,600 yards per pound (10 hanks per pound). I thought, "How much harder could 9,000 ypp be?"  Well, the local spinning teachers were not teaching spinning that fine, so I was on my own.

First, I tried finer fibers rather than the coarse, long wools that I had been spinning.  9,000 ypp was still very hard.  So, I reread The Big Book of Handspinning by Alden Amos because that was the only modern text on spinning that I had, which addressed spinning fine.

He talks about differential rotation speed (DRS) as an aid to finer spinning.  In fact he spends a lot of space on DRS.  He thinks it is important.  So I took it to heart, and I learned the math.  Then, I went into the shop and I applied the math to making flier/bobbin assemblies - over and over.

The "Spinning Police" said, "Forget about all that DRS crap.  Just learn spinning skills"

With finer fibers and my flier/bobbin assemblies providing the correct DRS, I was able to spin 9,000 ypp singles. Soon after, I was able to spin 32 hanks per pound ( 18,000 ypp), and then with well prepared Shetland I was up to 50 or 55 hanks per pound (~30,000 ypp).  Today, I would say that kind of spinning is not really difficult.  Those singles need a lot of twist, so it is a bit tedious, but it is not really difficult. The correct DRS makes the process much easier.

After learning to spin finer with the aid of the right DRS, I am now able to spin rather fine, using Scotch Tension or Irish Tension.  This morning I was using an Irish Tension flier to spin a single from Cotswold wool  to a thickness of about .007".  That comes out to more than 125 wraps per inch, putting it in the range of  16,000 ypp.  Knowing DRS helped me learn some spinning skills.

How many students, studying under the Knitting Police learn those skills in their first year?

That single that I was spinning this morning is thin and strong, but otherwise, it is not "pretty".  It will get plied up into a multi-ply yarn, which will hide its imperfections, so I do not care.  If a pretty yarn was important, I would use a DD flier with the correct DRS.   Today, I can spin singles at 32 hanks per pound using ST at over 150 yards per hour. With a fairly fine wools, I would not even call such spinning difficult. However, the singles that I spin DD are higher quality for much less effort.  And, I doubt if ST will ever let me spin more than 50 hanks per pound with any wool.

No, that is not quite right.  Today, I just do all my spinning on DD with the correct DRS for the yarn being spun -- because it is a lot easier. I am lazy.  I am not even going to try spinning more than 50 hanks per pound using ST.  I would just spin it the easy way.

The moral of this tale is to choose your teachers with great care.  And, sometimes, a book is better than a classroom.

And, let's face it,  professional spinners have a financial interest in making spinning seem difficult and arcane. It increases their value as teachers, and it increases the value of their spun yarns.  Amos is not a spinner, he makes spinning wheels, thus he wants to make spinning accessible. What I really want are good woolens at a reasonable price.  Thus, I want to make both spinning and knitting accessible.  I want higher quality for much less effort in both spinning and knitting.

The old Shetland "Lace weight" yarns were based on singles spun at 16 hanks per pound or ~9,000 ypp.
Modern commercial  "cobweb" lace is a single ply of ~7,000 ypp, thus the modern 2-ply Shetland lace is ~3,500 ypp.  The old 2-ply lace was ~4,000 ypp and the old 3-ply was ~ 2,700 ypp.  The English knitting lace weight yarns were based on singles of 5,600 ypp, so that English 2-ply lace weight was ~2,500 ypp or very similar to the Shetland 3-ply. However, a 3-ply yarn is a warmer and more durable yarn construction.  Shetland lace yarn was better.

The point is that you can spin really nice lace yarn without trying to spin "fine as frog hair".

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Supporting your work

Basically, large objects get supported on the lap, whether you are working with circs, 3+1 x 14" DPN with a Shetland knitting pouch, 4+1 x 18" gansey needles, or 6+1 x 12" Scottish needles.

If you are knitting a gansey or rug for the Queen, then it helps to fold-up the completed work, and hold it together with a few stitches of waste yarn so it is easier to turn, and to keep it from dragging on the floor.

Very large pieces can be hung from a hook on a swivel attached to a belt, at or just below the waist or the bottom of the knitting sheath.  Again the object in progress is held in a compact shape with a few stitches of waste yarn.  This works for things like shawls and lace table cloths.  However, this is awkward, and you may have to adjust the yarn path or or switch to continental knitting, but it does allow working the edge of an object that is several feet in diameter and where the row you are working on contains thousands of stitches.  Normally, a modern knitter would think about doing such a object on circs with long cables (tucking the center bulk of the object into a bag to facilitate handling.)  

However, DPN with a knitting sheath allow finer and faster knitting, that cannot be sustained on circs.  And, the weight of the object hanging from a hook suspended from the bottom of the knitting sheath helps to counter balance the weight of the object on the needles.  If museum collections are any guide, then at one time such counter balance devices were fairly common.  Of course, if you are just knitting socks, a clew hanging from the bottom of your knitting sheath, will keep your yarn out of the mud as you knit on the quay and counter balance the weight on the needles.

I had better stop.  I have written too much about too little.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

History of a knitting sheath

In the last post, there is a photo of some knitting sheaths and the top one is an open twist design - and one of the prettiest knitting sheaths that I ever made. The open twist design was an effort to reduce the weight of the knitting stick.

It gets tucked into apron strings or a waistband. There are needle holes in both ends.

Originally it was used with 6",  #1 needles.  However, it has been rebored and now fits #2 and #3 sock needles.   It gets used with wooden or bamboo needles.

The open twist was not turned, it was just whittled with a knife from a piece of black walnut firewood, some years ago.  In those days, people were telling me that knitting sheaths were not used in the old days because knitting sheaths were too  much trouble to make.  Thus, I did a long series of knitting sheaths to compare how much labor it took to make a good knitting sheath to how much labor could be saved by using a knitting sheath.

While knitting sheaths/sticks do allow knitting dramatically faster so that the time required to make a knitting sheath becomes trivial -- the real advantage of a knitting sheath/stick is that it allows the production of fabrics that cannot be produced with hand held needles.  Modern knitters, not only cannot produce such fabrics, they have forgotten that such fabrics can be produced.  When I tell or write of the fabrics I knit with a knitting sheath, other knitters do not believe such knitting is possible.

Knitting sticks with spiral designs want an "S" twist.  "Z" twist designs tend to slip out, or slide down. This is a Z twist, and it tends to slide down. There is crack on in it where I had a belt threaded through it, trying to keep it from sliding out of my apron strings.   It is not one of my more  functional designs.

Note, that many old Dutch style knitting sticks had a "X" twist.  This works even better than an S twist, but is harder to generate by hand.  There is a special tool for generating these patterns on a lathe.


Above is much more functional knitting stick.  It is not as pretty. It is  not as traditional, but much more functional. It was rapidly produced on a wood lathe from cherry and maple.

However, it really is possible to whittle a very good knitting sheath from firewood in a matter of a few hours.  If you do not have a drill, you can heat a bit of steel wire to burn the needle holes.

Friday, April 08, 2011


A knitting group that I belong to teases me about my having more belts than Imelda Marcos has pairs of shoes.

Yes, I have a lot of belts.  Having the right belt for for your knitting sheath or knitting stick or having the right knitting sheath or stick for your belt is critical.  And, just as there is no knitting sheath, that works perfectly on all belts, there is no belt that works perfectly with all knitting sheaths.

If you are working with very stiff needles, then the knitting sheath should be able to pivot. Examples include Dutch knitting sticks:

 long knitting sticks

and Yorkshire goose wings

IMG_0402used with stiff needles.  Here apron strings or an elastic waist band or a nylon belt work very well.

On the other hand, a Cornish fish IMG_0003

used with long gansey needles wants a good leather belt to hold it in place.  However, shorter "Cornish fish" made so the needle placed less leverage on the belt work very well with lighter, narrower, (and slipperier) nylon belts.  For example, this:
 New Knitting sheath design

worked well with leather belts, but very poorly with the nylon belts.

Your knitting sheath and your belt need to work together as a team.

My favorite belt for use with knitting sheaths that hold the needles firmly: knitting tools

My favorite belt for Dutch style knitting sticks and Yorkshire goosewings used with rigid needles:
Pack strap
I just warp it around my waist and knot it in place.

I buy leather belts from LL Bean (and every outlet mall), wear them with my jeans and knitting sheaths get tucked into them or threaded onto them.  Knitting sheaths that thread on to belts are a pain to put on and take off, but they do not get lost.

knitting sticks in the Dutch Style

Tucked into apron strings, knitting sticks were used with short needles for knitting small objects such as socks and mittens