I’ve had a cone of 4-ply, spun-in-the-grease, Shetland yarn for about 35 years. I think I machine knitted a tank top from it. I’ve mentioned this yarn before, and it’s unfortunate mouldy state. I came across it again earlier in the week and felt it was time I made a decision as to whether or not it was worth keeping. That’s it on the left in the photo below, and you can see the spots of mould. (The middle cone has since become a vintage style sweater called Natalie, but there’s still quite a lot left.)
I knitted a sample in stocking stitch and was relieved to see that the browny-beige mould spots that were so apparent on the outside of the cone were not nearly as obvious once they had become part of a knitted fabric. In part that must be because a spot extends across several adjacent portions of yarn, and once they are separated the discoloured area on each is much smaller. Also, I think the mould was brushing off the fibres as it passed through my fingers.
In the past I’ve often knitted from aran patterns using two ends of 4-ply and obtained the correct tension. In theory 4-ply doubled should produce a double knitting weight, but in practice the two strands don’t fit together as closely as they would if they were plied by twisting them around each other, which means the resulting yarn is quite lofty and warm and more like an aran weight. I continued my swatch with a doubled-over loop of yarn to see what it would look like in a rib, and I was happy with the result. Examining it, I was reminded of a pattern that’s been on my “to do” list for a while, a big ribbed cardigan called Flaum. I measured the tension of the ribbed portion of the swatch and found it was very close to that recommended for Flaum, which seemed like an omen; this yarn was calling to me to be knitted up after three and a half decades on the shelf, and the name it was calling was Flaum.
The only problem is, do I have enough? Frankly, I’m not sure. The spinner whose name is on the label on the cone ceased trading in 2000, but the count is given as “2/82/9 Nm”. Now, Nm means the metric system, based on 1,000s of metres per kilogramme (or metres per gramme). But normally there would just be two numbers separated by a slash, and the first is usually the number of metres per gramme of each ply while the second is the number of plies. My initial guess for this yarn was that the first two numbers were the other way round and the third could be ignored, in which case it is a 2-ply yarn (which it is) with each strand having a count of 82,000 m/kg, or 41,000 m/kg for the two together. Which means that 100g of the yarn would be 4,100 m long, or about ten times as long as the average 100g ball of 4-py sock yarn. Clearly that can’t be right. So maybe I need to divide by the 9, giving me a length of 4,556 m/kg. That does at least sound feasible.
I remember when I first bought this yarn that I was advised to use a looser tension than normal, because it would fluff up (or “bloom”) and fill out the knitted fabric when the lanolin was washed out of it. I’m assuming that, in its current, greasy condition it’s a relatively skinny 4-ply, albeit one that should be knitted on the usual UK size 10 / 3.25mm needles, which makes a yardage of 456 metres per 100 grammes just about believable. I could wind 50m or so around a yardstick and then weigh it, but I’m not convinced that 50m (about 2% of the total) would be sufficient for accuracy given my old-school kitchen scales, which are of the traditional balance type with weights. But one check I have done is to count the wraps per inch, which is 19-20. 4-ply yarns are generally around 14 wpi, so yes, this is definitely at the skinnier end of the scale, in its “in the grease” state at least.
Assuming I do indeed have the length of yarn I think I do, there should be just enough for Flaum. It’s knitted top down so I could always make the hem and the cuffs a different colour if I had to. I’ve wound the yarn off the cone into two balls – there was a break part way through. The mould was only on the surface layer and I may never get down as far as the yarn that was on the outside of the cone.
Flaum it is then. That should keep me out of trouble for several weeks. I’ve even made a start.