Thread comparison

Phew, apparently global pandemics are bad for my posting routines, but I hope to be back into the swing of things, even if I’m just not /doing/ much, or so it feels like. Except that I am, just not big amazing projects (or necessarily SCA projects), so be on the look out for a post of all the stupid little stuff I’m doing to keep my fingers busy (and arm irritated.. but that’s besides the point).

Part of the stupid little stuff I’m working on is a wee bit of knitted lace.

Brief aside; knitted lace is not SCA period, FYI. It’s my one true textile love. It’s one of the redheaded step children of the lace world, so we get no love from anywhere, but I don’t care. While there are extant examples of yarn overs in knitting (Some. Very few. But some), the elaborate use of them to make a hole filled thing that could be visually called lace is just not there. I want it too, but alas, no love.

Ahem. Right, I was doing a wee bit of knitted lace for another stupid irrelevant project that might not even pan out, and I picked out my edging pattern, and grabbed some string and knit up a bit of it. And hated it. Hated it so much, I ripped it out without a picture. Alright, next string. Better, right in some contexts, but not what I was looking for. I had the presence of mind to keep that one, and get out yet another thread and do it again. (It’s a damn fine thing I like knitting lace, but this would be exactly why my arm currently hates me. /sigh/)

I had the two pieces sitting side by each and decided to share them with you. The one on the left is knit from size 30 crochet cotton. The one on the right is size 8 perlé cotton. They look close, but not quite, so let’s talk about each of these threads in the sort of obsessive detail only someone who spends too much time out of their life talking string can. We’re going to look at these unblocked because I am a heathen who isn’t going to block these while on the needles, know that after a wash and stretch, it will change somewhat, but this lace is pretty firmly knit, it won’t change as much as some super soft ethereal stuff.

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So, let’s look at the two threads, a quick overview and then I’ll get into the nitty of each. They’re both cotton, just to start, and close in colour. One is variegated, and one is solid, but that’s neither here nor there.  They are not quite the same size, but pretty close. I have knit them using the same pattern, on the same knitting needles (and with the same knitter, as that is more of a variable than anyone gives it credit for).  They are both mercerized threads. What does mercerized mean? It does not mean that it is cotton for hire in your army.  It means that in manufacturing, they took the thread (can also be done to fabric) and treated it with an alkali while under tension to make it perfectly smooth and a little bit shiny. It also increases the tensile strength of the yarn, mucks about with the fibre length, and makes it more water repellent. You do not want towels made out of mercerized cotton, but it makes for a lovely set of sheets, for example.

Alright, let’s talk differences.

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The crochet cotton I’m using here is a vintage thread, its label is long gone (picture above from one of the bazillion others in my stash), but experience says to me that it is probably a Coats Mercer crochet (or near enough), which is a tightly spun, quite stiff thread and that tracks with what’s on this ball. My beloved copy of Threads for Lace tells me that it’s a twice plied yarn, which tracks with it being quite stiff. (2 singles are plied first, and then those plied yarns are plied /again/.. my hand spinning soul can’t even imagine fighting that twisted mess, but that’s besides the point.) So its numbers are 2S/3Z (ie 2 singles are S plied.. then 3 of those are Z plied into the final thread) at 22 wraps per cm.

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The one on the right is knit with perlé cotton, this one has its label, so I know for certain that it is (also vintage) DMC perlé size 8. This is a much more straight forward 2S spin (ie 2 singles are S plied) and is just a shade thicker at 17 wraps per cm. This thread is also mercerized, which is how it gets its characteristic sheen, and gets to keep all sorts of that sheen thanks to not having been plied within an inch of its life. Over and above the fact that it is legitimately a bit thicker, it also is just more poofy, it has more cushy to it, it has curves. (All euphemisms for calling it fat, I’m realizing, but I’m not here to yarn shame. Especially not during pandemic snack-fest.)

So let’s look back at the comparison between the threads as they knit up. The left one in the crochet cotton is crisper, the stitches are very well defined, almost thin really. The solid sections aren’t quite so solid, but the holes look fantastic. By contrast, the perlé cotton on the right has softer holes, the solid sections have filled in, the whole thing looks (and feels) squishier. Neither is bad lace, both are perfectly acceptable products, but only one fits what I envisioned in my mind, and so the crochet cotton probably will get ripped out, and I’ve already doubled the length in the perlé cotton. (another reason my arm hates me. /sigh/) So which do you like better?

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