26 March 11
Spinning for Socks
I’ve been working on my spinning skills for making sock yarn. Socks need to fit well for comfort and also wear — the trick is to minimize abrasion so the wool scales don’t break and expose what’s left to further abrasion. Holes in heels and toes are common. After all this work, they break your heart.
My class with Janel Laidman at Stitches West in February was excellent. Some tricks to making a durable yarn are a) the strength of the material itself (nylon, silk, and mohair are much stronger fibers than wool); b) wool preparation (combed top is better than carded roving for socks because the fibers align neatly, reducing abrasion again); c) spinning method, making the most of these aligned fibers, i.e. worsted spinning vs. woolen spinning; d) hiding as much of the surfaces of each strand within the plied structure, such as with cable plying or multiple-strand plying; e) even spinning (cutting down on abrasion again, and accomplished easily by slowing down the treadling once you’ve learned how to spin); f) a tight ply; g) a tight knit. (The most important one of all of these, as far as I can tell, is the last; recommendations by the contemporary wool industry about what gauge to knit at are woefully inadequate for wear and would have been laughed at by our ancestors—see Aaron Lewis for exhaustively more on this).
All of the above is great except you can end up with chain mail for your feet if you’re not careful, so spinning sock yarn is an exercise in balancing strength with softness. Instead of spinning hard and plying hard, you can spin soft and ply hard, which results in smooth curved ridges along the yarn rather than straight-as-a-ruler stuff. So Janel had us combining merino (soft) with blue-faced leicester (strong AND soft, a longwool which is sort of ideal for socks all on its own); plying different fibers together (one strand of mohair to two of BFL plus one of merino, for instance. A compromise that can be made at the level of spinning is long-draw (a woolen spinning technique) from a combed top (worsted preparation) to make a semi-worsted strand.
In a grand finale to this class Janel made an ideal blend for socks on the drumcarder: BFL, cashmere, nylon, merino. It made me lust after a drumcarder but they’re expensive and bulky and scary sharp, not necessarily a wise addition to a 600-sf space with two cats.
My experiments have led to a wider-than-hoped for yarn that I’ve cable-plied: two strands of plied yarns plied together the opposite direction, locking the “bumps” in together. I’ve combined separate strands of mohair with BFL and merino in different proportions and will knit the stronger strands along the foot rather than up the leg…. These will make good socks for my new Wellingtons, bought on Friday because we seem to be drifting off into the Delta, here.
I’m calling this colorway San Lorenzo, and may design a sock that reflects the martyrdom of this particular saint, who is reputed to have told the folks cooking him on a gridiron that he was done on that side and could be turned over now, thanks.