Sunday, June 15, 2014

Knit 2-ply and Lopi

I like yarns with more plies  Fine2-ply and singles can knit into a nice fabric, when they are knit on fine needles.  And very fine 2-ply knit on very fine needles produce a wonderful fabric.

I certainly knit a great deal worsted weight 2-ply yarns, into fabrics that I thought were nice at the time. I knit a lot of Lopi.  I did these things because there was a class of  knitters with experience in knitting such things that told me it was a good thing to do.  It was. It let me learn from my experience, and learning is a good thing.

Lopi has a lot of fans.  Garments knit from Lopi have a particular aesthetic. Lopi yarn is easily and inexpensively produced. (e.g., less effort is put into combing, and less energy is put into twist). And, objects can be very rapidly knit from Lopi.  However, the resulting fabrics are heavy for their warmth.  That is, a gansey weighing less than 2 pounds will be much warmer than a Lopi sweater weighing more than 5 pounds. And the gansey can be tailored to flatter the figure, while the Lopi simply hides the figure giving the appearance of bulk. That is good, if you want to look big and bulky.  On the other hand, my favorite aunt wore pink Lopi socks almost continuously (day and night)  for the last 12 years of her life - all knit by yours truly. The other thing about Lope is that it is not as durable as some other fabric constructions. For example a Lopi sweater will not last as long as a gansey knit from 5-ply.  And, an Aran sweater knit from 2-ply will last longer than a Lopi sweater of the same weight and warmth.  However, an Aran sweater knit from the same weight of wool spun into real 10-ply, will be much warmer, and last much longer. And the 10-ply (or 10-strand cabled) yarn can provide an elasticity that is simply astonishing.  It can be weatherproof, without being stiff. 

I knit a lot camping, hiking,sailing and ski gear for myself and friends from 2 and 3-ply yarns, mostly MacAusland.  When I started knitting, my ski buddies, all told me that hand knit woolens were just worthless  in the cold (i.e., snow camping) .  I convinced them that hand knit woolens could be warm by giving them hand knit objects knit from 2-ply that were very warm and durable.  I know 2-ply can be knit into good fabrics.  I have no regrets knitting all that 2-ply - the objects were better than what I could get commercially.  However, I do wish that I had discovered the virtues of more plies, sooner. (I still have many pounds of  MacAusland, and I still knit it.) However, the objects that I knit today from yarms with more plies are better.  The objects knit from yarns with more plies  are warmer and more durable.  

My point is that yarns with more plies can be knit into better fabrics. And as spinners, we can make better yarns.  It takes some effort, but we can make lighter weight yarns that are just as warm as heavier weight yarns, and which are much more durable. And, they have better drape. As hand spinners we are not so concerned with the cost of inserting more twist. Our hand spun does not have a price point. We can afford to make better yarns.

Alternatively, rather fine  (2,500 ypp) 2-ply ply yarns can be knit on rather fine needles (1.4 mm) to produce wonderful fabrics.  Everytime I make this fabric, I am just amazed by it.  The yarn is easy to spin. and  it is only 30% more stitches per inch then gansey fabric so it is not that many more stitches, I knit the fabric soft, so it is not as much effort, and minimum stress on the hands.  It can be easily produced with either a knitting belt or a knitting sheath,   I also make a 6-strand cabled yarn at ~1,600 ypp that I knit on 1.7 mm needles to produce a  soft, warm, durable fabric.  It is a little thicker, warmer and more elastic fabric.  

I am not talking about the weatherproof, industrial fabrics that I knit for sailing gear. I am talking about soft fabrics that will remain beautiful for many wearings.

Now, I am sure that there are a lot of (experienced)  knitters that will think that my views on more plies is silly. That is OK, those are the same knitters that did not tell me that the easy way to get a weatherproof knit fabric is to use finer knitting pins.  I put in a lot of effort and wasted a lot of time working this out for myself. They could have said, "Oh, it is easy, just use finer needles".  However, they did not.

At this point in my knitting career, my rule of thumb is that more plies in the yarn and finer needles produce fabrics that I tend to like better.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Knitting Pins

These days, my default knitting needles are ~1.6 mm in diameter.  I have them in 10", 12", 14" and 18" lengths. I have them in stainless steel and spring steel.  I think they are a tool form worth studying.

These days, I am spinning worsted 5-ply @ 1,000 ypp. The yarn and needles go together like bread and butter at tea time.

I always use them with a knitting sheath or Shetland knitting belt.  Without the support of a knitting sheath or knitting belt, they are slow and awkward -- not worth the effort.

The knitting method(s) are not so straightforward for somebody accustomed to stiff sock needles.  The tip of the working needle is slid into the working stitch, and the yarn looped, the tip popped out of  stitch, and the stitch popped off the end of the needle.  Of course, that much is obvious.  What is not obvious is that the needle motions are made by flexing and bowing the working needle.   The knitting sheath and leg of the working stitch are fulcrums, and the needle flex is driven by either pressing the needle with the upper wrist or the ball of the thumb.

Why no video?  The flex is small and does not really show up in a video without super imposed graphics. However, the flex changes the angle of the tip and seems to be important in keeping the looped yarn from coming off the needle tip. It might be that more carefully crafted needle tips would also help., I do  regrind the the commercial needle tips.  As supplied, the commercial needle tips worked, but the reground needle tips are better and result in faster knitting with fewer dropped/split stitches. And in these fabrics, dropped/split stitches are a pain in the neck to fix.

The motions are very small, very gentile, and very easy on the hands.  It allows knitting a very tight fabric with minimum stress on the hands.  Over all, I do not think the process is a fast as gansey (long spring steel needles rigidly fixed in a knitting sheath)  knitting because it requires 2 hand motions rather than the single motion of gansey knitting, but it is very easy on the hands and reasonably fast.

I had to spend some time working with the more flexible tubular stainless steel needles to work out this technique. Once I understood the motions, I could do it with the spring steel needles, and in fact it is faster with the spring steel needles. However, with the spring steel needles there was more of a tendency to treat them as rigid needles.  Certainly, I can knit with rigid needles, but that is not always the fastest way from yarn to finished object.

If, when I made my first knitting pins, somebody had told me, "Oh, there is a faster and easier way to use them", I would have put in the effort to work out these techniques years ago.  However, nobody said, "Use a knitting sheath or knitting belt and a whole range of knitting techniques using needle flex open up."

Oh, and the techniques works for 1.3 mm needles on sock yarn. And, using 1.6 mm needles on sock yarn produces lovely fabrics suited to summer evenings.   If I were knitting a gansey for my wife, I might use 1.9 mm needles with 5-ply to produce a softer, more elastic fabric. (She does not sail in foul weather.)

I like the tubular stainless steel needles because they are light weight. they are less likely to slide out of the knitting and they are less likely to leave a ladder.  The spring steel needles are likely a bit faster and more durable.

Thus, today, I would not bother to use my 2 mm to 2.5 mm  long spring steel needles to produce weatherproof fabric. I still think that the spring action of long steel needles is the very fastest way to knit large objects. I  used those needles to make weatherproof fabrics because I hand not figured out how to make such tight fabrics using thinner, more flexible needles. Now, I know, and now you know it can be done and  have the clues to reverse engineer the process.

My current list of different knitting techniques includes:

1a) short, stiff needles held in the hands used with  pitch / yaw motions with yarn in either right or left hand (include conventional sock needles, cable needles, Weldon, Irish Cottage, lever, and all the common modern knitting techniques)
1b) short, stiff needles used with knitting stick
2) hooked needles used with an accordion motion (Portuguese)
3) long spring steel needles fixed in a knitting sheath and flexed into the stitch (gansey knitting)
4) long stiff needles used with Shetland knitting belt
4b) long,  needles tucked in a skin crease or under the arm
5) curved needles that rotate in the end of the knitting sheath and roll/are popped into the stitch, and the spring of the fabric pops the needle out of the stitch  and then the stitch off the end of the needle. (swaving)
6) fine, flexible needles held in a knitting sheath or knitting belt that are bowed/flexed in and out of the stitch


  • technique 2 is good for knitting while walking
  • technique 3 is almost certainly the fastest for knitting large objects; finer needles can be used with finer yarns to produce  fine, soft fabrics at a reasonable pace
  • techniques 3 and 4 differ by the source of the spring action.
  •  technique 5 has no peer for knitting fine gloves

  • technique 6 differs from 3 in that  3 uses a single fulcrum, while with T6 both the leg of the working stitch and the knitting sheath/belt act as fulcrums so that there is a compound lever/spring action
  • technique 6 allow production of fine, dense fabrics  at a reasonable pace

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Average Yarn

Mostly, I spin average yarn.

The knit fabrics that I like are warm, durable, and elastic. My path to such fabrics is mostly via hand spun yarns with 5 or 6 plies or strands.  Yarn grist runs from fingering weight to sport weight. I knit these yarns firm enough  that they drape rather than hang,   These days,  I am pretty much spinning the yarns that I wanted when I bought my wheel and started spinning. And, I am spinning them at what I consider a reasonable rate.

Worsted spun, sport weight,  5-ply requires in the neighborhood of 54 twists per inch of finished yarn (9 tpi in 5 singles + 9 ply tpi).  In contrast, woolen spun, worsted weight,  2-ply requires perhaps 15 or 20 tpi of finished yarn.  Thus, my average sweater weight yarn requires more than 3 times the twist of the average sweater weight yarn of many hand spinners.

To make such high twist yarns practical, I have to spin faster. On average, I can spin a hank of 5-ply gansey yarn in an easy day.  That is; on average, I can spin 5 hanks of 10s, and ply them into 500 yards of  knitting yarn in a day.  Anybody that can do two hanks of 5-ply in a day is a "terrible" spinner.

My process is to use the AA #1 flier with an accelerator to spin worsted singles.  I wind off onto plying bobbins about  every 100 yards /15 minutes.  If I am plying at 9 tpi, then I also use the #1 flier for plying and make small (1.5 oz) skeins of yarn. If  I using a lower ply twist, then I use the jumbo flyer so I can make knot free hanks of 500 yards.   Perhaps the nicest complement that I ever got was from a local spinning teacher. She saw the hand spun gansey yarn I was knitting, and said, "That looks just like the mill spun gansey yarn I get from England."  And, there can be nothing more average than mill spun.

(When making yarn from singles finer than 10s, I block the singles prior to plying.)

These days for gansey fabric, I am knitting these (5-ply) yarns on needles in the size range of  1.6 mm.  I find  the smaller needles less effort than using the 2.38 mm steel needles that I used in the past. Gauge runs only about 7 spi by 11 rpi.  This fabric is weatherproof.  Knit more gently on 2 or 2.25 mm needles, the fabric is softer and more elastic,.  However,  the stitch count per inch is similar.  The softer, more elastic fabric,  is not really weatherproof.   Spi does not tell everything about the density of the fabric,  Two fabrics can be made of the same yarn and have similar of stitches per inch , but on one fabric the stitches are tighter and flatter, while in the other fabric the stitches are looser and arrayed orthogonal to the surface of the fabric resulting in a thicker, but looser fabric. The 3-dimensional structure of knit fabric matters - a lot. These two fabrics will have very differing amounts of elasticity, warmth, and weatherproofness.

Again, those traditional knitters of old knew what they were doing when they knit 5-ply on fine pins.  

Hand spun is (or can be) more responsive to small variations in needle diameter, and thus in the context of hand-spun, the tiny differences in needle size in the old UK needle or old US steel needle or the even more intricate Chinese knitting needle sizing systems make sense .

Mill spun 5-ply allowed me to knit more elastic fabrics with better drape than I could knit from yarns with fewer plies. And, hand spun 5-ply allows me to knit more elastic fabrics with better drape than I could knit from any mill spun that I have tried - including some  mill spun 10-ply, 10-strand, and dozens of 6-strand cabled yarns.  The most elastic fabrics that I have knit have been from hand spun, worsted spun, 10-ply with a grist of 500 ypp.

The most available needle size gauges in this range are those by Lacis.  However, they do not provide discrimination for the Chinese needle sizes.  (And, you know how those Chinese DPN all look a like.  : )  Thus, when I am working with a Shetland knitting belt, I use an electronic size gauge made for wood shop use and sold by Harbor Freight for less than $10.  When using a knitting sheath, I use the needle adapters to indicate the size of the needle.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

More on Reading History

I went to Spinning at the Winery on Saturday. On the way home, the wheel was badly damaged.  Monday morning was spent fixing it, and yesterday afternoon was spent testing the fixes. It took about 6 hours to spin a hank of 5-ply gansey yarn.  I guess, I tuned the wheel up a bit.  Another sacrifice to the Gods of Speed.

I would say that  everything one needs to know in order to spin that fast is in the Big Book of Hand Spinning by Alden Amos. He spends a lot of time on DRS. Thus,  I knew DRS is very important, so I worked out thousand problems in DRS -- that means I have a very good feel for the solution of any DRS problem I come across. He talks about drive band tension and friction enough that I could see that it was really important.  It was so important that I had to find ways around it. In the discussion of wheel types, 3 of the 11 drawn wheels are are accelerator wheels.  That tells me accelerator wheels are important. And, then he says quite bluntly to use a distaff.

Thus, for me, reading between the lines is as important as reading the lines.  And, the result is I can spin hank of 5-ply gansey yarn in 6 hours total time, start to finish.  Now, a lot of people tell me that I do not understand or know history.  I read history like I read Alden Amos.  What is not written  can be as important as what is written. Reading between the lines is as important as reading the lines. How the people that tell me that I do not understand history, read Alden Amos?  Do they get enough out of Alden Amos to enable them to spin  hank of  worsted 5-ply sport weight  in in 6 hours?   If they do not, perhaps they did not read carefully and missed something?

Alden writes clearly.  If someone misses something in the Big Blue Book, perhaps they also miss things in the obscure and verbose tombs of history?  I assert that I get  more out of AA, and I get more out of history.  I assert that my critics get less out of AA and in the same way learn less from history.

I am going to keep that view, until my critics can come to me and show me that they can get more out of AA than I can. That is their reading test.  I eagerly await their comments telling me that they can use the information in AA to spin a  hank of 5-ply in only 6 hours.  :  )

I would refer everyone to the article in the march Scientific American on "Why Good Thoughts Block Better Ones, by Bilanic and McLeod.  These days a very limited set of approaches dominate the thinking of hand spinners and keep them considering way better ways to spin.

To HC:  I know you understand DRS, and have very good reason to hate it, but it allows me to spin a third faster, with less physical effort. I go back and review the options every so often, and I always come back to DRS.   For me, spinning a third faster, is worth developing and maintaining the extra skill.

With the changes to my wheel, the flyer orifice is much farther away.  As I spin worsted, my hands are almost 2 feet  from the orifice.  Spinning woolen, my drafting hand stays 3 or 4 feet away from the orifice.   My hands are near the orifice only when it needs rethreading. On the other hand, I do need to reach over and change hecks frequently. So, I do need to see the bobbin., and I do need a wheel that can be started and stopped fairly quickly.

Some would say that I should use something like a WooLee Winder.  I am certainly thinking about it.  That stopping to change hecks eats rpm. To get my 3,000 rpm average, I am really running at 3,300 - 3,500 for 50 seconds and then stopping for 6 seconds.  And, I have not perfected the stopping. Starting is easy, give a spoke of the drive drive wheel a good push.  However, I cannot stick my hand into my drive wheel when it is spinning at 90 rpm, well I can, but the results are not always good.  It turns out that spinning wheels need brakes.