Tuesday, December 29, 2015


I use the term "craftsmen" and "craftsman" as gender neutral nouns denoting a person that has spent years learning and perfecting their craft, and who practice their craft in an ongoing professional basis.

Professionals have professional tools, both in quantity and quality.  While many modern hand spinners have "flocks" of spinning wheels, how many of them have  the drying reels, skeiners, steamers, and space to produce a commercial order?

If a person is highly trained as a spinner then the most valuable use of their time is as a spinner, and putting time into cooking and child care produces less value.  On the other hand if a person is highly trained as a cook and childcare specialist, then spinning is a lower valued use of their time, and the quality of their spinning is that of general labor, rather than that of a  highly trained professional spinner.

Thus, a married couple seeking to support the family with spinning can optimize their economics by having one partner trained in spinning and pursuing a profession of spinning, and one partner trained in running a household, cooking, and rearing the children.  This has likely been true since India was exporting fine cotton cloth to the Egyptian Old Kingdom, some 5,000 years ago.

In a time without birth control, the occasional woman might forgo sex (to avoid pregnancy) to become a master craftsman.  However, the great textile centers of Europe were among the most densely populated places on Earth over a period of many generations, so we can deduce that the primary work force was not celibate. And, from the quality of their work, we can deduce that they did not take substantial time off for child bearing.

Thus, pure economic analysis without a hint of sexism tells us that the textile craftsman class was dominated by men.  From this we can extrapolate to other crafts, including hunting and farming. The economics of division of labor and specialization has likely been at work long enough to have affected genetic sexual traits. Men and women likely carry genetic traits that suit the sexes to traditional economic roles.

Thus, we have proven that women likely have genetically enabled traits that facilitate running a household, and therefore they belong in the House; and, by extension the Senate, Parliament, Bundestag, State Council, Grand National Assembly, . . . . . 

Men have traits that make them good hunters and warriors.  In the past, we have associated kingship with being a good warrior.  We associated presidential  capacity with George Washington's personal strength and stamina in winning of the Revolutionary War.  However, modern wars  involve weapons of mass destruction and cyber warfare, and these are wars that must be avoided.  Leading a government no longer requires physically leading an army into battle.  On the other hand, things like global warming are very much a threat to our security.  Today, leading a government is more about planning and organizing cooperation - traits that women have.  Traits that women have demonstrated by running households for thousands of years.

Elizabeth R did more for England than most of England's kings. Margaret Thatcher was certainly  among the best of  a long line of English Prime ministers.  Golda Meir did better than most of most of the men that have held the post. Angela Merkel has done well for Germany.

I was born in Cheyenne, and grew up on stories of Governor Ross.  From this, I believe that our selection process for national leaders discriminates against the traits that make good  leaders in the modern age.  We give too much credit to self promotion and aggressive behavior.  That is, we should NOT choose the person who WINS the debates, but the person that can bring the group to a reasonable consensus.  We should not choose the person that solves problems, but rather the person that prevents problems.  That would be someone like the Mom that told you to do your homework.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Professional spinners

14 Incredible Archaeological Discoveries Made In 2015
see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/archaeological-finds-2015_5678360be4b0b958f6574ff4?utm_hp_ref=science

The more we look, the more we find ancient artifacts that demonstrate a professional craftsmanship that cannot be acquired by subsistence workers (e.g., women spinning in the home). This does not mean that women were not spinning in the home, just as a brewery does not mean that women were not making beer in homes. However, the presence of fine gold, breweries, and fine mosaics means that there were classes of full time professional craftsmen. If there professional goldsmiths, brewers and builders, then there were also classes of professional spinners and weavers.

From Anglo-Saxon times, textile centers in Europe imported English wool, and had factories making cloth. That does not mean that home spinners and weavers in England did not make textiles, Rather it means that at the time there were classes of full time professional spinners and weavers that produced high-end textiles.

You know that the above was not worn with  "homespun" clothing.
The clothing was a fine as the gold work,
it just did not survive as well.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Gansey World

Sir Walter Raleigh used the term "gansey knit" in a letter to a Polish Princess to refer to finely knit hose. Gladys Thompson used it to refer to an object knit from ~2,500 ypp yarn, knit at a gauge of 12 spi and 20 rpi, which she also refers to as "Jersey".  Thus, we know the term is old, and the modern knitting of 80 stitches per square inch barely scratches the surface of what traditional knitters could knit.

These two references have been rattling around in my brain since I first started experimenting with "gansey needles" (and knitting sheaths).  However, then, I was never able to knit such fabric at a reasonable pace.  Now, that I have been using blunt gansey needles, such fabrics and objects have become more practical.  

For example, when I first came across Jamiesons  2-ply Shetland Spindrift yarns (2,200 ypp), I was rather disdainful of the fabrics produced according to the gauge on the yarn band.  However, when knit on 1.5 mm needles, the fabric is lovely.  Gauge runs ~ 160 stitches per square inch.  Not "weatherproof" mind you, but a warm, elastic fabric that is perfect for wearing in cool damp conditions. .Spindrift knit on 1.5 mm needles is warmer than worsted weight yarn (e.g.,  "4") knit on 5 mm or  US 8 needles. The Paton's 4-ply Beehive was just a bit denser than the Spindrift with a slightly lower grist, and when knit on similar needles, produces a denser,  warmer, and more durable fabric at 12 spi and 20 rpi,  

These days I have taken to knitting  yarns with  grists of ~1,650 ypp/ 3.3 Nm  (e.g. 3-ply or 6-ply sock yarns) on needles in the 1.75 mm range. This is finer than previous posts, and results in a gauge of 12 spi by 15 rpi.   (As I said, I am falling down the Rabbit Hole and in the last few weeks, I have ground the sharp points off of 6 or 8 sets of fine, pointy "gansey  needles"!)   I use these fabrics for socks, mittens, and where ever a warm, light weight fabric is required. The more plies, the better the drape and elasticity of the fabric.

Then, 4-ply yarns in the 1,260 ypp range are knit on 2.0 mm needles.  A month ago, I was knitting 1650 ypp yarns on 2 mm needles.

5-ply (gansey) yarns in the 1,000 ypp (sport weight) are still knit on 2.38 mm needles.  It is a nice fabric.  If I need a more weatherproof fabric, I reduce the ply twist to give more fill and knit on smaller needles.  If I need a much warmer fabric, I use a lower grist yarn.

All of the above fabrics are firm, warm fabrics with good drape and excellent durability. For all of the above fabrics, I use long steel DPN with a knitting sheath.  as described above, none of the fabrics are particularly weatherproof. Production rates on the finer needles are much better using blunt needles and working in the round.  Purl stitches are easier on pointed needles. Pointed needles are required for picking up stitches.  A fine crochet hook makes repair of mistakes easier. A cable needle is required for cable stitches.

So the question is,"Do I want an object that will be warm and stay looking beautiful for years and years, or do I want an object that will never be very warm, and will quickly fall apart?" 

I work in yards per pound (ypp), because the math is easy. The square of the wpi (packed to refusal) is the grist in ypp, always.  I know that when 10 hanks of 560 yards weigh a pound, I have spun 10s or 5,600 ypp, and it will measure 75 wpi.   Then, if I make 5-ply, it will have a grist of 1,000 ypp and measure 32 wpi. I know that if I spin a single that measures 105 wpi, and I make 6-ply, then the resulting sock yarn will measure 40 wpi.  I know that if I spin 40s that measure 150 wpi, and I ply it into a 6-ply yarn, it will have a grist of 3,360 ypp and measure 58 wpi.

Thus, I must update my gansey yarn chart.
(Note the differences with http://www.craftyarncouncil.com/weight.html , and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yarn_weight.  Also note the failure of http://www.knitting-naturally.com/yarn-comparison-chart.html, http://www.spinderellas.com/Yarn%20Weights%20and%20Measures.pdf , and  http://paternoster.orpheusweb.co.uk/lace/knittingyarns.htm , to use a wraps per inch technique that provides consistent and useful results.)  The knitting community's to failure to "pack to refusal" when measuring wpi results in nonsense.

wpi       grist (ypp)   spin count           notes

 22         484                                        Aran Yarn (traditionally was 10-ply of 10 count singles)
 24                             1
 26         676
 28         840                                        Worsted Yarn (traditionally was 6-ply of 10 count singles)
 30         900
 32         1,000                                     Gansey  Yarn ( 5-ply of 10 count singles) 
 33         1,100                                     DK weight yarns
 34         1,120           2                        
 38         1,443                                    Common grist for commercial sock yarns e.g., Wooly West
 40         1,650           3                      Various 3-ply  and 6-strand yarns knit on 1.75 mm gansey needles.
 42         1,800                                   Single cut woolen singles         
 44         1935                                    Fingering Yarn
 48         2,303                                   Jumper Weight/ Spindrift weight 2-ply  (1.5 mm needles)
 50         2,520                                   4-ply Beehive yarn ( 20 count singles) (1.65 mm needles)
 53         2,800          5 
 58         3,360                                    Traditional 6-ply sock yarn from 40 count singles             
 60         3,600                                    2-cut woolen singles @ 9 tpi                     
 64         4,100                                     Modern lace weight
 70         4,800                                     Woolen single at same tpi as 10s warp
 75         5,600          10s                    Singles for warp/ 9-10 tpi ; woolen singles for weft @ 12 tpi
 82         6,700          13                      Traditional 3-ply Shetland lace plied up from 40 count singles
 85         7,200                                     High-end Shetland lace weight yarn/ 2/14.5 Nm
 105       11,200        20s                    Worsted singles that I use for my sock yarn @ 14 tpi
 120       14,400                                   8- cut woolen singles / 18 tpi
 130       16,800        30s                     Worsted singles @ 17 tpi
 136       18,000                                   10-cut woolen singles / 20 tpi
 142       20,200                                  2-ply from 80s  e.g.,  ~2/40 Nm
 150       22,400       40s                     Singles used for best sock yarn/ 17 -22 tpi /~ 45 Nm /Shirting
 182       33,600       60s                     Traditional commercial  "fines" / 22- 24 tpi
 210       44,800       80s                     Traditional best commercial "fines"  /24 - 27 tpi  / 90 Nm

So, when I measure the wpi of  2/40 Nm yarn I get  ~135 wpi which converts to ~ 18,000 ypp, which is about what I get when I simply convert from metric units.  Wraps per inch works when one packs to refusal. For somebody to say a 2/40 Nm yarn measures 42 wpi is silly.  If any of  the sites referenced above had a competent spinner in residence, they would know this.  

Note that 2/40 Nm can be easily hand spun  from 70 count wool at a commercial rate by a competent hand spinner.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

I am the Boss.

I do not let the fuzz from a a sheep tell me how to spin.  However, a number of spinners say that they sit down to a pile of fiber and let it tell them what to spin.  That is like a painter letting the color in one tube of paint tell him/her what to to paint.  No, the artist uses a palette to make the color that the artist wants.

When I sit down to spin, I have a vision of what I want to spin. Before I sit down, I think what the function of the object will be, and I decide on a yarn structure. I decide on the grist of the singles, whether the singles should be spun woolen or worsted, and what textures of fibers are appropriate.

Over time, and as I developed more skill, I have moved to finer yarns. My first goal when started spinning was 5-ply, sport weight,  gansey yarn. Now, I find myself spinning mostly fingering yarns yarns of 3 to 6 plies with the occasional 6-ply lace weight sock yarn.

Often, I get it wrong. Something about the yarn is wrong. Then, as I sit there knitting or weaving, I consider the how to make a better yarn.  Usually, I decide on a different grist or yarn structure. Yesterday as I was knitting my replica Patton's Beehive 4-ply, I decided that I wanted such a yarn from a slightly coarser fiber.  Thus, the next batch will be spun from the flock run long wool that I get from the Woolery.  I think up the structure of my next yarn as I knit the last yarn.

For any given texture of fiber, there are several breeds or hybrids that can produce fleece that are appropriate.  I do not really care which I use.  In many breeds, the differences within a fleece or the differences between different fleeces in the breed, or the differences between the fleeces of the same animal in different years are greater than the differences between breeds.  I would say, that the great appeal of Merino, is not so much its fineness, but its uniformity.

I am not a big fan of fiber blends.  I think that having a blend of different kinds of fibers in the drafting triangle, interferes with the draft and the ratchet of the yarn.  Even the flock-run medium long wool that I get from the Woolery, has been sorted and graded to provide reasonable uniformity within the fiber.

I am not a fan of adding nylon to yarn - not even to sock yarn.  Just spin the sock yarn from a more suitable wool than Merino.

Many spinners spend a lot of time studying the details of the various breeds spinning little bits of fleece. Except, unless the fleece has been well sorted and graded (rare in the US) little bits of fleece say little about the all of the grades of wool that one can expect from a flock of that breed. However, many modern spinners seem not spend a lot of time learning the techniques needed to produce the various yarn structures or the virtues of the different yarn structures.

Every 2 or 3 years, the local spinning guild devotes its programs to breeds of  sheep and their fleece, with everybody spinning little bits of different kinds of  fleece. However, they seem not to have any interest in being able to sit down and spin fine.  Being able to spin fine would open up new yarn structures, that would allow them to knit and weave new kinds of objects.  Others in the guild would consider spinning the replica Beehive that I spun the other day to be a challange in fine spinning.

Knowing the virtues and vices of the various yarn structures is more important than knowing the nuances of  breed fleece characteristics.  Knowing yarn structures is harder than knowing the details of fleece characteristics.  To know yarn structures, one must be able to spin the yarn strucrures consistently, and then work with that yarn.  One does not learn about a yarn when it is sitting in the stash or even on your desk.  One learns about yarn by making objects, and living with the objects.

Moreover the required yarn characteristics depend on how the fabric will be constructed.  Thus, there must be a vision for the object that flows down to fabric construction, then to yarn structure, and finally to the required fiber.  However, if I know how to spin, then all I really need to know about the fiber is the reburied spin count and staple length.  Does that mean the the spiral crimp that makes Suffolk so wonderful for socks does not matter?  No, it means that the spiral crimp will enhance a well spun sock yarn, but first one needs to know how to spin an excellent sock yarn structure. Suffolk has a spin count of between 48 and 58, so it is very reasonable to spin it fine enough to make wonderful sock yarn.

The bottom line is that if you are a good spinner and a good knitter than an hour's worth of spinning will take 5 hours to knit.  Thus, you might as well spin the very best yarn to make that 5 hours of  knitting worthwhile.

Are you holy?

Some holy orders live in white wool.
Others dye.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Rooting around at the bottom of the Rabbit Hole

At the end of the last episode, I was left wanting 4-ply, worsted spun, 2,500 ypp gansey yarn.

This morning, I rooted around in the stash for some fine long wool, oiled it, and carded a batt.

I put the 20s whorl on the wheel, and spun a bit, then did a wpi test - it came out to 26 wraps in 1/4 inch packed to refusal - which is ~104 wpi =>a grist of  ~11,000.  then I spent a couple of 90 minutes spinning a thousand yards of  11,000 ypp single winding off on to 4 bobbins.

I put the bobbins on the tension box and plied a few feet, and did a wpi test of the 4-ply - it came up 13 wraps in 1/4 inch or close to  50 wraps /inch => grist of  2,500 for the finished yarn. I plied about 200 yards of the yarn.

By lunch time, I was knitting my handspun replacement for Paton's 4-ply Beehive  on 1.25 mm  DPN.  Actually, the primary difference between it and the other worsted 20s that I have spun to make 6-strand 1650 ypp sock yarn is the fineness of  the wool.

For a "gansey", I think I would use the coarser 55 count wool, rather then the finer 60 count wool. The real question is whether the fabric from a 2,500 ypp yarn is worth the extra knitting effort.  I need to test some swatches.

The table at the bottom of the rabbit hole

I have been knitting socks from 1650 ypp sock yarn on 1.75 mm needles, and liked the fabric - a lot.

I have some OLD commercial 3-ply spun from LONG wool (1650 ypp), and:

Knit on 1.5 mm needles it comes out at about 140 or 150 stitches per square inch.  It is a lovely skin soft fabric with good drape.  It is not weatherproof, but it is very warm. It breathes and is feather light.  If I was living in a thatched  stone hut heated only by a peat fire, it is what I would want next to my skin. Heck, I might want it here in California and just switch off the heat.  I like this fabric more than any modern hand knit fabric that I have seen in the last 30 years.

A sweater would be about 500 grams. I do not have that much of the old, long-wool, sock yarn.  I do have some Meridian Jacob that looks and acts just like good Shetland fiber,  I might have to re-purpose it.

I figure it would take about 200 hours to knit a Jersey of this fabric or about 300 hours to knit a Gansey from this yarn.

Note that the Norfolk II gansey on pg 85 of  Gladys Thompson is knit form Paton's 4-ply Beehive at 240 stitches per square inch.  Paton's 4-ply Beehive had a grist of 2,700 ypp. There are traditions of knitting fine yarns on fine needles.

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.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


Some say that in the study of knitting, the study of fishing and its history is a red herring.

Fishermen and sailors supported many thousands of professional knitters for hundreds of years. And, fishermen and sailors consumed the products of many millions of hours of  knitting by wives, mothers, and sisters.  In return for those millions of hours of knitting by family, the sailors and fishermen contributed to the cash flow of the family. If the knitters knit poorly, then fisherman or sailor died and did not bring home his wages. This put a premium on good knitting, and both the professional knitting and the home knitting was labor of large economic value. The economic value of knitting is very germane to the study knitting and its history.

Fishing was for food and oil.  The products of fishing were essential to medieval civilization.

Hand knitting was essential to industrial fishing from the 13th century until the invention of the knitting frame circa 1590.  We know that sailors did wear knit clothing from various sources including Chaucer.  We know where they were fishing from Kurlansky.  Cross referencing with modern paleoclimatology and the nature of wooden square rigged ships, we can estimate the required warmth of the clothing used.

Unless we can offer a suitable  alternative clothing, then we have to accept knit objects as the clothing of sailors.  Furs pelts, and leather are warmer, but need to be fully dried every few days. Thus furs and pelts were not an option for the longer fishing voyages as on shore fish were fished out in the 12th century. Woven fabrics are denser but not as thick and hence not as warm.  Quilted objects are warm, but are bulky and do not allow the freedom of movement for working the rigging of a square rigged ship. Quilted objects are very well suited to junks where the sails can be handled from deck.  What else is left? -- Well knit wool!

The requirements imposed by realities of the sailing and fishing industries tell us the knitting standards met by generations of  both professional and home knitters.  Those standards were very high indeed.

Mostly, modern knitters do not use knitting technologies that allow the production of very warm knit fabrics required by sailors and fishermen on wooden ships without engines .  The knitting technologies currently in use do not affect or diminish the effectiveness of the old knitting sheath system.

Five years ago, I pointed out that modern yarns do not produce fabrics as warm  and durable as yarns widely used in the past, but which are no longer in fashion.  For example, the old Lion Brand Fisherman's Wool could be easily knit into fabrics that are warmer than modern  5-ply "gansey " yarns. Then production of LB Fisherman's Wool Production was moved to China, and the new  LB Fisherman's Wool is not nearly as suited for knitting warm fabrics.  I have knit objects from MacAusland's wool that are warmer than comparable objects knit from "5-ply gansey yarns."  And, my hand spun can be easily knit into fabrics that are warmer than what I believe can be reasonably   knit from either the old LB Fisherman's Wool or the MacAusland's.

Very warm knit fabrics evolved under the economic stimulus of money and need by the sailing and fishing industries.  Without the influence of the sailing and fishing  industries, recreational knitting has lost the technical skills to produce the very warm fabrics produced in the past by hand knitters for the sailing and fishing industries.

I do not care what knitting technology any particular modern knitter uses.   However a knitter that thinks 5-ply gansey yarn knit on circular needles produces the warmest possible fabric has a very shallow knowledge of their craft. And, in particular, a very shallow knowledge of the needs of the clients that shaped medieval knitting.

I suspect that they do  not like my views because I compare various aspects of modern knitting to the best of  traditional knitting which was supported by huge economic flows from the sailing and fishing industries.  They think, I am saying that they should knit like that.  I am not,  I am only saying that such knitting was done and is possible.

Some days, I think that no amateur can can be as competent as a professional. On these days, I do not think that modern amateurs can ever match the knitting of  long dead, talented and trained professionals.  On the other hand, I know amateur wood turners that produce better bowls than professionals, because the amateurs can lavish more time and resources on the their objects, while the professionals must control costs to meet a sales price point. On such days, I feel that the modern recreational knitters, freed from a need to control costs and limit labor can brilliantly exceed the best knitting of the past.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Durability testing

I am sure that many of my readers, and perhaps the great majority of my readers have tested yarns with nylon content for durability, e.g., compared yarns with nylon to yarns without nylon.

A better experimental design is to compare yarns with nylon to yarns without nylon at different gauges.  Do that, and you discover that knitting tighter brings more improvement than adding nylon, and that with the medium long wools, the tightly knit, properly blocked, all wool yarns are the most durable.

Then the questions are how to knit tighter, how to knit ergonomically, and how to avoid stiff fabrics. A knitting sheath will let you knit tighter, without ruining your wrist.  Thinner yarns of more plies will allow softer drape even with the tighter knitting.

Thinner yarns of more plies, knit tightly result in light, durable, warm fabrics with a delicacy that we do not often see today. They seem to be almost magical.

With a good DRS spinning system, even fine yarns of  many plies can be produced much faster than they can be knit.The cost of production is dominated by the labor to knit the object.  A couple of days of spinning will produce the yarn for a couple of weeks of knitting.


As a spinner, I use wraps per inch (wpi) often. If I do a good job of measuring wpi, then the square of wpi is the grist in yards per pound. And the twist factor times times wpi equals required twist in tpi.

It works.  Mostly it is within 10% of the actual grist, and with corrections for fiber and construction, wpi can measure grist to within 2%, which is better than a yarn balance.

To measure wpi so that it indicates grist, you need a wpi gauge, you need to pack to refusal, and you need to practice.  You need to take various kinds of yarns with known grists, and practice doing wpi, until you get the correct grist, time after time.  It is a skill.

So, when a knitter says a yarn is 18 wpi, I figure the grist is 324 ypp (e.g., 18x18) -- that is like rope. Then, she gives the yarn band info of 175 yard per 2 oz. -- or 1,400 yards per pound. That is sock or fingering yarn. When I measure the wpi of that yarn, I get 37 wpi.  That tells me, and other spinners, the grist.

Packing the yarn to refusal gives a definite measure that can be made anywhere by anyone. Packing the yarn loosely so that a 1,400 ypp yarn so that it yields a wpi of 18 is not a repeatable measure of -- anything.  This approach is as much a measure of twist as of grist.  With this approach, high twist yarns will seem to have much lower grist than yarns with the same grist, but less twist - and vice  versa.

If you pack to refusal, then worsted and woolen yarns of the same grist will have the same wpi.  If you use the loose knitter's wpi, then worsted and woolen yarns of the same grist will have very different wpi.  If you pack to refusal then yarns of the same grist but different twist will have the same wpi. If you use the loose knitter's wpi, then yarns that are the same grist, but which have different twist will have different wpi.  This is silly.  What really counts to a knitter is the length and weight of the yarn.  These should be described by the wpi.  Twist of the yarn is less important.

In my world wpi and grist are related thusly:

wpi       grist (ypp)   spin count           notes

 22         484                                        Aran Yarn (traditionally was 10-ply of 10 count singles)
 24                             1
 26         676
 28         840                                        Worsted Yarn (traditionally was 6-ply of 10 count singles)
 30         900
 32         1,000                                     Gansey  Yarn ( 5-ply of 10 count singles)
 33         1,100                                     DK weight yarns
 34         1,120           2                        
 38         1,443                                    Common grist for commercial sock yarns e.g., Wooly West
 40         1,650           3                      My 6-strand sock yarn
 42         1,800                                   Single cut woolen singles         
 44         1935                                    Fingering Yarn
 48         2,303                                   Jumper Weight/ Spindrift weight 2-ply
 53         2,800          5                        
 60         3,600                                    2-cut woolen singles @ 9 tpi
 60         3,733          7                        Traditional 6-ply sock yarn from 40 count singles
 64         4,100                                     Modern lace weight
 75         5,600          10s                    Singles for warp/ 9-10 tpi  & woolen singles for weft @ 12 tpi
 80         6,700          13                      Traditional 3-ply Shetland lace plied up from 40 count singles
 105       11,200        20s                    Worsted singles that I use for my sock yarn @ 14 tpi
 120       14,400                                   8- cut woolen singles / 18 tpi
 130       16,800        30s                     Worsted singles @ 17 tpi
 136       18,000                                   10-cut woolen singles / 20 tpi
 142       20,200                                  2-ply from 80s  
 150       22,400       40s                     Traditional grist for singles used for best sock yarn/ 17 -20 tpi
 182       33,600       60s                     Traditional commercial  "fines" / 22- 24 tpi
 210       44,800       80s                     Traditional best commercial "fines"  /24 - 27 tpi

A defined ratio between wpi and grist make working with yarn easier.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that the textile industry was likely more important to defining various units of measure than the size of the king's foot or finger.
Twist per inch numbers reflect the firmer yarns that I am spinning since starting to spin warp. Before, my 40 count singles were only 17 tpi. These higher tpi were allowed by my move  from 25 mm to  ~50 mm flier/bobbin whorls.

And, it is all hand spinning.  Everything above is plus or minus 10%.  I calculate grist by winding hanks of 560 yards and weighing them on a kitchen scale to the nearest gram.  In the past, I used a jeweler's scale to weigh fine spinning.  Now I just weigh fine hanks 4 at a time and calculate the grist on the basis of  grams per 2,240 yards.

ETA - It is worth noting that plying takes up about 10% of the length of  the starting singles.  Thus, if one starts with 5 hanks of 10s, then one gets just over 500 yards of gansey yarn, and the grist of the 5-ply gansey yarn is is a bit more than the 5 times the grist of the singles.  This small change in grist cannot often be measured by wpi.

Good Socks!

Good socks last long enough to be worth the effort to knit.

Good socks are made from good yarn, and good yarn is made from good fiber.

In my view, the best wool sock yarns are worsted spun from medium to fine long wools with their scales intact, and functioning. I think the best wool  for socks is Suffolk, but any of the long wools with diameters of 25 to 35 microns are very good. Perhaps the best socks I ever knit were from Shetland fiber.

I think the texture of a good sock should be very smooth and silken against the skin rather than soft. Smooth lustrous socks have good durability and maintain their appearance for a long time.  Soft socks tend to deteriorate more rapidly.

The Camilid and Capra fibers do not have scales on the fibers, so exceptional care must be taken in spinning them into sock yarns.  The fine wools (Merino and Rambouillet) are fragile and best reserved for ladies that are careful not to walk or dance in them. There are some very robust commercial Merino socks, but they are exceptional well spun - not the kind of yarn one finds at LYS. The yarns are more tightly knit than most modern knitters have the patience or tools to knit.

Nylon is slippery and it stretches.  Spin any significant amount of nylon into a yarn and  unless the other fibers are carefully locked into the fabric by very tight knitting, the other fibers will come out of the yarn under stress, leaving the nylon fibers thread bare. Nylon is also very cheap.  If you want to pay wool prices for cheap synthetic fibers, the yarn mills are perfectly willing to take your money.

In super wash wools, the scales on the wool are either removed or sealed to the fiber shaft. Thus, adjacent wool fibers cannot lock scales to form a more competent yarn structure.

We are told that worsted yarns should be combed so that they can be spun "butt" first into the yarn.  This does make a more lustrous and silken feeling yarn.  However, yarns spun with the fibers oriented in both directions allow the scales to lock together and form a stronger, more competent, yarn that can be knit into a more durable sock.

I think good socks are finely knit.  I knit 5-ply or  10-strand gansey yarn (1,000 ypp) on 2.35 mm needles to make ski, hiking and fishing socks.  I knit 1650 ypp sock yarn on 2 mm needles to produce a casual sock fabric at 10 spi and 14 rpi. (140 stitches per square inch).

By now, you have all read Nancy Bush's books, including gauge and the fiber content of  the suggested yarns.  She focuses on the knitting.  I focus on the wearing.

Monday, December 07, 2015


Weldon's Practical Knitter was a series of pamphlets in the late Victorian era that taught women to knit like ladies -- not like professional knitters.  It was a guide to "hobby" or recreational knitting.

Weldon's did not discuss the tools or techniques used by professional knitters to produce professional quality objects.  A knitter using the Weldon technique had to invest huge amounts of time to knit the fine objects as presented in the Weldon's patterns.  It was the conspicuous consumption of leisure time.

As Modern knitters felt that they had less leisure time, they went to lower gauges and simpler patterns. Many, many modern knitters say they can knit socks in a few hours (http://www.knittinghelp.com/forum/showthread.php?t=40796 ) ,http://www.mothering.com/forum/66-arts-crafts/536314-how-long-does-take-knit-sock.html , - but these are very soft fabrics that do not endure as socks. The knitters justify their looser gauges as being "softer".    http://glennaknits.com/2013/05/10/the-thing-about-handknit-socks/    Glenna points out that the soft fabrics do not retain their good looks for long.   http://glennaknits.com/2013/05/10/the-thing-about-handknit-socks/  And everybody seems to be looking for ways to make more durable socks.

I observe and record, I do not judge. Being that kind of guy, I would rather put twice as much effort into my socks and have them last 10 times as long.   That way I have hand knit socks to wear with only 20% of the effort compared to the knitters that knit softer fabrics.  Socks that are knit tighter, last longer.

For folks that have limited time, and want the old professional quality hand-knit objects I point out the old tools.  For example,  I point out that using a knitting sheath, the professional knitter of circa 1840 was able to produce 2 pair of socks per week at gauges that are much finer than any of the patterns in Nancy Bush's books (mostly in the 7 spi range, from 1400 ypp sock yarn knit on 2.5 mm needles) .  The truth is that worsted spun, long wools like Suffolk, when spin fine and knit fine are smooth and silken in texture.  Long wool spun worsted retains it good looks for a long, long time.  Long wool is lustrous. Lustrous socks are beautiful. When spin fine and knit fine they feel wonderful against the skin.  And, they are ever-so- durable. (One caveat is that each grade of wool needs to be spun separately, so that each single contains only one grade of wool.)

Now, I did not learn to knit until I was past 50, and it took me another 10 years to work out all the details of  using a knitting sheath.  Much of my study on knitting sheaths was devoted to "weatherproof" fabrics for seamen and cabmen, rather than how to knit socks quickly.  Thus, I cannot call myself a fast sock knitter.

Most knitters and most modern knitting competitions time knitting stitches over a brief period (few minutes) and when knitting rather loosely e.g., DK weight yarn knit on US4 needles. In theory, these folks can knit the 2,500 stitches in a fine sock in an easy couple of hours of  knitting, so 2 pair of socks a week should be very easy.  On the other hand, I do not see many modern knitters that can knit a Nancy Bush Pattern sock in a day, and the Nancy Bush patterns have only half as many stitches in them as the sock fabrics that I like.

The antibiotics have knocked down much of my  Lyme Disease caused palsy, so these days it takes me an easy day's knitting to make a men's boot sock at ~ 6 spi (worsted weight yarn knit on US1 needles) and a couple of days to knit a sock at 10 spi from 6-strand cabled sock yarn at 1650 ypp on 2 mm needles. This are both smooth, firm fabrics that are desirable for many objects.  This is the result of looking back to the professional knitters (1840 and earlier), and using the tools that Weldon's pointedly ignores.

I find it peculiar that Nancy Bush talks about knitting sheaths, gansey needles, and swaving, but does not address the tools' powers to rapidly produce fine knit fabrics in an ergonomic process.



5,000 years ago those Britons had clever technology, and the time / resources to do big projects.

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.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

The climate situation -- understated


Friday, December 04, 2015

Blunt Glover's Needles

Do not work!

I was knitting tabi, and made a set of blunt glover's needles and they are  - well they went back to the shop and got pointed