Would Paks Wear These?

Posted: February 1st, 2014 under Background, Life beyond writing.
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In Paksworld, as here,  clothing quality and style is determined not just by personal taste, but by wealth.  Wealthy people can “slum down” in cheap clothes, or rough clothes, if they want to, but they can also afford fine clothes in a variety of fabrics, up and including “bespoke” clothes made especially for them.   Poor people now wear cheap mass-made garments, but in the past, though they were limited in both the amount of clothes and the materials available, they could make clothes sturdy and hard-wearing–and fitting the individual, if “fitted” was considered desirable.  Durable definitely mattered–the kind of farm family Paks came from did not have a closet full of garments for anyone.   Garments that wore out in one place would be cut down for someone else; knitted garments might be unraveled, the sound yarn salvaged to knit something else.  Socks were darned, of course, and so were small holes in other garments.

Here are socks made from three different brands of modern yarn: Cascade 220 Superwash, Plymouth Yarns Galway Nep, and Ella rae Classic.    Would Paks have worn something like this?


The yarns  were produced in Peru, Romania, and Turkey, and the actual source of the wool was not given.    The middle yarn includes 5%  “neps” (different colored flecks) of polyester yarn;  the other two yarns are 100% wool.  No, Paks would not have worn socks like these.   There’s no “Superwash” wool in Paksworld (the treatment doesn’t exist), nor polyester yarn from which the flecks in the Galway Nep yarn are made.   The colors are not a problem, however.  Purple dyes are known, as are blue and red dyes.  Notice how “limp” the superwash yarn socks are; they actually have too much drape.   The other two yarns are of a type that might be found on Paksworld at the high end of the yarn market: both commercial knitters and people in larger towns and cities would be able to buy already-spun and dyed yarn, and thus knit (and wear) finer socks and other garments.

Paks’s family lived well north of the Honnorgat,  in higher, hilly country looking somewhat like the Yorkshire Dales.   Her mother spun and then wove a rougher, less even yarn, and Paks learned to knit socks, mitts, caps, etc. from this kind of yarn.   She is not an eager knitter, but she’s a competent one, both at making socks and darning them, as that scene with the doorkeeper in Chaya proved.  Although the sock design I developed for my feet might have been used in Paksworld (probably was, someplace)  I expect most toes would not have been asymmetrical, since socks wear longer if not always worn on the same foot.


The Herdwick yarn socks finished (unblocked) on the kitchen floor, with the left and right foot shapes showing.   This kind of yarn would definitely be available to hill farmers with sheep.  Handspun, it would be slightly uneven (the machine-spun yarn I bought isn’t perfectly even either.)  This sock design is simple and designed for practicality, with a reinforced heel flap, reinforcement continued under the ball of the heel (a serious wear area) and asymmetric double-decreases to shape the toe.    Paks would have made the ribbed cuff/leg longer, and so would most farmers.   And on the feet, these socks with their hairy yarn make the feet look bigger:


Note the little “knob” (more visible on the right) where the last stitches have been pulled together (purse-stringed) to close the toe.  There’s a more elegant way, Kitchener stitch, to close a toe but I find it annoying and time-consuming, and I would bet dollars to doughnuts that most home knitters–especially the hardworking poor–pulled the stitches together just like I do.   The knob is not hard and has yet to bother my feet in shoes.

This is basically the sock Paks would have grown up with, when she wore socks at all–and the kind of sock used in the Duke’s Company as well, though taller, covering more of the leg for protection.    Also, both the Duke’s Company and other military organizations often had the yarn from which their socks were made custom-dyed.  Many servants would wear socks of this type…undyed wool.   Masons, carpenters, leatherworkers,  farmworkers, etc. would most likely wear this kind of sock.  The color varies with the fleece, of course, and if a household bought yarn spun by others, and could not afford dyed yarn, they could have a choice of this mottled brown-cream-gray, a darker all brown/black, or a lighter cream color.   Garments might be knit of it, or woven into fabric to make it.

People with a social role to uphold–the more prosperous merchants and their families, the rich nobles, and in some cases the upper  servants in wealthy or royal households–would not wear these socks “0n the job”, though as mentioned before, a rich person might choose these socks for their warmth and durability if out hunting or traveling in wet cold weather.   Their socks would be made of finer, smoother, softer  yarn, of a color that suited their employer (if a servant) or their pleasure (if the rich person.)   A well-to-do merchant family, like the one Arcolin married into,  would have soft-wool socks for all, including children like Jamis, and might well purchase some or all ready-knitted.

Kieri and his captains purchased socks knit to order (dyed to match the Company maroon, made to fit them) suitable for wearing under tall boots.)   In the country–up north in winter–Kieri and the other captains wore the heavier, bulkier “country” socks except when riding.   Some of the soldiers, those brought up in a city, bought and kept a pair of “city socks” for visits to the city when they weren’t in uniform.   Fancy socks certainly do exist in Paksworld–usually saved for special occasions–festivals, weddings,  and the like.   Paks may, at this point in her life, have a few softer, colored socks–gifts, or even something she bought–but her everyday socks will be hard-wearing and practical.

She might even have a pair like looked something like this:


If she did, the socks probably came from Lyonya, known for its green dyes.

Modern knitters have a much broader choice of yarns and patterns and colors.  I know some who rave over subtle dull shades that, to me, are…boring.   As this shows, my color palette is “bold.”


This is two years’ sock production, more of it in 2013 than in 2012 (when I was just learning–and also three of the pairs are short socks, the ones in the lower right.    (There’s also the first pair, now out of service for age and poor fit–it was red.)  Paks would have no use for short socks to wear with sandals or sneakers, but some people in Paksworld do make simple (not bright-colored striped) short socks to wear with low shoes in hot weather.  Knee socks (which I haven’t tried yet) are common in the Eight Kingdoms, and less common in Aarenis except among soldiers.  Greaves over socks don’t wear holes in the skin the way they can do worn “bare.”

(And if you think this post, ostensibly about socks in Paksworld, is just an excuse for the author to show off…I won’t argue with you.  <grin>)



  • Comment by Chuck Gatlin — February 1, 2014 @ 2:45 pm


    I’ve been enjoying handmade woolen socks during this exceptionally cold winter (three pair by two knitters), and have been marvelling at the comfort and warmth compared to the usual cotton/artificial fiber socks I usually wear. Poor circulation means my feet are sometimes very cold, but these socks keep my feet toasty.

  • Comment by elizabeth — February 1, 2014 @ 3:32 pm


    Chuck: The main reason I started knitting socks was that I could not find commercial socks that didn’t cut off circulation and make my aging circulation worse…my feet were swelling up after a few hours in ordinary socks. Now they don’t. Let me encourage you to consider learning to knit, and then knitting socks that exactly suit your feet. I started knitting socks shortly before my 67th birthday…so unless you’re older than I think, you’re not too old. And socks, though they have some peculiarities, have the great advantage of being mostly hidden under shoes and long pants until you’ve had some experience. If there’s a purl where a knit should be…if the ribbing isn’t perfect or there’s a slightly wonky heel turn…nobody will see it.

    Although there are hours in a pair of socks, I don’t feel it, because I do most of my knitting in “waste” time–a few minutes here, a few minutes there, and some in short breaks from writing, perhaps 10 minutes. And I knit watching TV, when I watch TV (that’s my new rule–if I’m sitting, I’m knitting.)

    At any rate, if you feel that much improvement in your feet from wearing hand-knit wool…then make your feet happy by making it possible to do so all the time (and my guess is, nobody’s going to knit you *enough* socks but you.) My feet are much, much happier now than they were two years ago before the first pair was finished.

  • Comment by Ellen McLean — February 1, 2014 @ 4:05 pm


    You are a mad knitter with cozy feet. Amazing production. Have you thought about any other projects?

  • Comment by elizabeth — February 1, 2014 @ 4:13 pm


    I want to do some fingerless mitts/wrist warmers, and a working vest for out on the land, but socks are SO useful. And year one socks, all of them worn more than once a week until I had seven pairs, are showing wear now…so I’d like to keep knitting socks for another year at least. THEN get onto the wrist warmers, a vest, and maybe a shawl or several. With replacement socks worked in between or alongside things. The thing about socks–even with my big feet they’re a smaller project to carry around than a sweater or a shawl or a throw.

  • Comment by Joyce — February 1, 2014 @ 5:31 pm


    As a knitter myself, I certainly agree that hand-knit socks are a great improvement on store-bought acrylic socks. I also recommend Wigwam brand socks for those who can’t knit or don’t know a knitter who will have pity on them. The Wigwam brand wool socks are thick, soft, cushy, and VERY warm—a blessing in this cold winter we’re having! Costco carries them here and they’re also available on amazon.
    And no, I’ m not getting a commission!

  • Comment by Abigail Miller — February 1, 2014 @ 6:26 pm


    The author is well entitled to show off. Those are gorgeous and impressive.

    My current project would perhaps have a place in Paksworld. This frigid winter has me knitting a pair of 15% oversize wool socks with a short cuff, knit back and forth on straights until partway through the gusset decreases and then joined into the round. When done, they’ll be felted into slippers. I do hope to get them finished while I still need them this year 😉

  • Comment by elizabeth — February 1, 2014 @ 8:08 pm


    Joyce: Hi, and welcome! I used to wear Wigwam brand wool socks, but they started putting so much lycra into them that they cut into my legs (I do not have skinny legs anymore) and were part of the swelling up problem. If they had stayed comfortable I might never have learned to knit socks. The other problem I had with them (more so when they were making my feet swell) was that seam at the toe. One end of it always dug into my big toe and left a purple mark. Didn’t bother me as much when I still had skinny legs and my feet never swelled up.

    Abigail (and Joyce, and anyone else if you happen to know…): When did “felting” knitted work get started? I know that wool *cloth* was treated with hot water at one point, and that wool fibers were made into felt (that was then cut and used for things) several thousand years ago–some central Asian horse nomads made saddle-cloths or felt and apparently used felt in clothing. But when did people start felting knitted work? And…anyone got references on this? Iphinome? Anyone?

  • Comment by Lise — February 1, 2014 @ 9:15 pm


    About felting, I don’t have anything written, but my grandmother (~1930) says her mittens and coat were felted (after kniting and weaving, respectively) when she was a child, before they had reliable light waterproof fabric.

  • Comment by Joyce — February 1, 2014 @ 9:43 pm


    Although I have knit several items for felting— a hat, a purse, and several pairs of house slippers— I have no idea when this type of felting began. You knit a ridiculously over-sized version of the desired final object, then put the knitting in very hot water and agitate it violently until it shrinks and compresses to the desired size. All this to say that it seems unlikely that it might first be done by accident. It is an excellent way to make very warm, wind proof, and nearly water proof fabric; although it is thick and somewhat stiff.

  • Comment by LarryP — February 1, 2014 @ 9:50 pm


    does Paksworld have laws that limit who can were what and what kind of cloth can be used? In the real world such laws were on the books up until the late 18th century, and were often used to raise funds for the king. Pay a fine and wear your clothes or of to jail with ye.

  • Comment by Karen — February 1, 2014 @ 9:52 pm


    I don’t know this officially (I’ve never been fortunate enough to travel to to Austria or similar lands), but I’ve read that truly traditional Eastern European “boiled wool” jackets were first knit (overlarge, of course, the shrinking of the wool being the desired effect since the entire goal was to provide the thickest cloth possible while still having enough stretch to allow ready movement) and then fulled (the word “felting” is distinguishable from “fulling” in that “felt” doesn’t necessary begin as cloth but can be made from roving and thus makes great hats but doesn’t make durable garments in areas that are stressed by movement).

    I’ve knit, then intentionally fulled sweaters this way, and they’re tremendously comfortable and warm compared to a similarly thick winter jacket, so it makes sense to me that the practice would have begun shortly after people began knitting.

    I have read in “knitting lore” (as with much of what is known of the history of patchwork quilting, some of it may be true and some may just be various authors’ fancies since many people who had a lot of knitting to do didn’t have a lot of time to spend writing) that the reason that “Aran” sweaters have so many cables and that “Fair Aisle” sweaters have multiple colors in each row is that both were ways of providing what was essentially a double layer of cloth while still making an especially attractive garment. “Knowing” that, the idea that people living on the margins would intentionally knit in a single color (much cheaper and faster — especially if made of hand-spun from one’s own sheep), then intentionally shrunk the garment to make it thicker and more weather resistant fits quite well with how I understand human learning: as in, it probably wasn’t long after knitting was invented that someone accidentally shrank something by mistake and the person who wore that garment asked for more!

  • Comment by Abigail Miller — February 1, 2014 @ 10:14 pm


    I’m glad others jumped in, since I know nothing of of the history of what I’m doing. I will say, as a not-very-good knitter, it’s liberating to knit for immediate, deliberate felting. The stitches will all virtually disappear, as I verified on my test swatch. Small errors will simply be obliterated, and I needn’t worry about them.

  • Comment by Iphinome — February 1, 2014 @ 10:49 pm


    @Lady Moon, it is an unforgivable lapse but I do not know. If you count knitting as distinct from nålebinding it couldn’t have been any earlier than the mediæval period but I would suspect much much later.

    _Textiles and Clothing, c.1150-c.1450 Finds from Medieval Excavations in London_ does have a comment on page 73 (2’nd edition) about surviving 16’th century fulled knits but only as a note about fulling not being in the 14’th century find.

  • Comment by GeekLady — February 1, 2014 @ 11:11 pm


    This is very interesting as I’m currently knitting my very first pair of socks. Over and over again – they came out too big the first time (I had knit the size recommended for my shoe size) so I ripped them all out and started over.

    But does anyone in Paksworld ever knit socks from the toe up instead of from the top down? It’s very easy to get an entirely seamless toe that way, and you can try on the sock as you knit it, which is very useful when one has high arches.

  • Comment by elizabeth — February 2, 2014 @ 6:25 am


    GeekLady: Since both toe-up and top-down emerged fairly close together in our world, I’m sure someone in Paksworld knits toe-up. I don’t, because…well…I started top down, guesstimating my first socks and adjusting in the next pair or two. I found in the second pair, when I first made a stab at it, that I really like socks with “anatomical toe shaping” since my toes are very slanted on the outside and the second toe is a tiny bit longer than the first. The toe-up directions, when I found them, all assumed blunter toes and symmetrical toe-shaping. (Also, I start with the larger top, working my way toward the shorter rows as in the toe decreases, and for some reason that cheers me up.)

    It’s possible to try on the sock as you knit top-down, it’s just in the other direction–I have high arches too. Since I came to sock knitting without knowing how to follow charts or written directions, I used three sources: a sock my mother had made me almost 50 years before, Yarn Harlot’s book Knitting Rules, which has what she calls a sock recipe (and I could understand), and most of all my own foot. There are pictures of the process, including me trying on the partly-made sock, in my LJ from February and March of 2012. As for Paksworld, if it comes into a story that someone from a top-down tradition meets someone in a toe-up tradition, I’m sure they’ll each react at first with “You’re doing it wrong! Here, let me show you…” That might be fun, but I’d want to consult with a toe-up sock-knitter to be sure I got the details right on that method.

  • Comment by elizabeth — February 2, 2014 @ 6:31 am


    Iphinome: That’s very useful. Since plain “felt” survived in graves in Central Asia (dry cold ones) for over a thousand years, the lack of 14th c. fulled knits in excavations in London (at least for London) makes it less likely (to me) that they would be “necessary” in Paksworld.

    Karen and Joyce: The thing I haven’t figured out yet from current directions for felting is how you can control the final size with any accuracy. In other words, if you’ve put your knit jacket into the hot water (a necessary component) and it’s now sopping wet, hot, and shrinking…how do you know when to dunk it in cold water, or does the process have to run its course ? You surely aren’t going to try on that sopping mess of hot wet wool to get a fit, are you? And will it stop when it’s taken out of the hot water & agitation, or does it keep going for awhile.

    Lise: I can certainly understand the value of felting for outwear in damp climates before modern waterproofs.

  • Comment by elizabeth — February 2, 2014 @ 6:44 am


    LarryP: Sumptuary laws–and their details–varied from place to place and time to time in history. In northern Europe, they came into prominence after the Black Death, when society became fluid for the first time in generations because so many had died. Paksworld has rules, but not the same kind of laws (at least not right now) because it has not had the same kind of die-off in the lands I’ve written about so far.

    There are rules about clothing, but they’re different. Guilds define who can wear guild-identifying clothing, so that guild members can be recognized (by customers, for instance.) Court clothing in Tsaia is tightly defined by rank, but it’s so odd (old-fashioned) and expensive that no one has tried to fake being a duke. The magelords had rules barring peasants from wearing blue–to them a sacred color–but under Girdish law there is no over-arching law about cloth, colors, decoration, although there are defined clothes for Marshals, Girdish knights, etc, who have an official position within the Fellowship. They leave it to the Guilds to define and enforce their own rules. Gnomes, of course, are very picky about their tribal uniform and anyone who pretends to be Gnarrinfulk or Aldonfulk by wearing such clothes without being one…will regret it. Elves have some limitations on clothing, by rank, but it’s an elf thing and doesn’t affect humans. Pargunese have no limitations at all other than what someone can afford, except that only the king can wear a crown or anything resembling a crown, and the king’s torc…passed down through generations…cannot be worn by anyone but the king. Others, however, can wear torcs, just not that one.

  • Comment by Iphinome — February 2, 2014 @ 7:38 am


    Is your ladyship talking about felting as distinct from fulling? Size for cloth, what we’d call broadcloth was maintained by weaving on a loom of a set size, doing the fulling process with water powered hammers in the Tudor era (17’th century version http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=kmoddl&cc=kmoddl&idno=kmod003&node=kmod003%3A6&view=image&seq=154&size=100 but a 15’th century one is demonstrated in Tudor Monastery Farm) but done by stomping on the wet cloth by people who came over to the new world (reference: _Tidings from the 18th Century_ or so I’m told but I don’t have a copy to confirm) and then pinning it stretched out to the predetermined required width to dry keeping all cloth a uniform size.

    Felting involved the raw fibers I found a demonstration of the central Asian method http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJ0uojUHYdA one should note that when you see it rolled up, there is a base layer under the new felt. Shrinkage… I don’t have reference other than a wet felting tutorial for small at home projects that projects 20%.

    I don’t understand the advantage of fulling an undamaged knit. You knit which uses more yarn instead of weave when you want a stretchy material, the more you full the less you can stretch.

  • Comment by Joyce — February 2, 2014 @ 7:47 am


    I too am a self-taught sock knItter, and prefer the top-down method. I have tried toe-up and also the two-circular needle techniques, but always go back to my tried and true double pointed needles. In Pak’s world the technology to make circular needles would not exist, I think, as they have only been available to us for a century or so, the difficulty being the joining point of needle and cable.
    It is possible to control the size of the felted object by stopping the hot water agitation at frequent intervals, pulling the wet garment out and measuring it. Careful not to burn your fingers! When it is the desired size— you hope!— pull it out and immerse it in cool, not cold, water, which stops the felting process. I have read that since the catalyst to the felting process is a sudden extreme change in temperature, that it is possible to felt by plunging the wool knitting into ice cold water, and then agitating. The most necessary element is yarn of 100% wool, as it is the make-up of the individual wool fibers that enables the felting process.
    As an aside, it is not always true that poor isolated agricultural cultures use rough, coarse wool to make their sturdy working clothes only. There are many different breeds do sheep in the our world, each producing their own particular kind of wool fiber, and sometimes a culture must use the fiber available in their local breed of sheep, even if it’s not the tough, coarse wool they might need. An example is the Shetland sheep of the Scottish Shetland Islands. Due to the extremely harsh climate, these sheep are quite small in size. They produce a wonderful fiber that is extremely warm and soft, but also incredibly fine, not at all appropriate for knitting sturdy socks or sweaters, but perfect for lace knitting! (To illustrate the fineness of this fiber, it is reported that in the 1860s there were hand spinners in the Shetlands able to spin 9,000 yards of yarn from 1 ounce of wool!) Thus was born the cottage industry of lace knitting in the Shetlands. A similar situation in the Caucasus Mountains of Russia produced the beautiful Orenburg lace knitting.
    Sorry this is so long. I tend to get carried away.

  • Comment by Iphinome — February 2, 2014 @ 8:05 am


    @lise waxed cotton–almost an oilcloth–was available by the 1930s it’d make a find trench-coat but wold never beat a nice fulled wool coat for being soft and toasty.

    On that topic I’ve been waxing a cloak of late. Not period appropriate for any era I know but it *looks* right. What was formerly a green 50-50 cotton poly bed-sheet–a good material to experiment with–has changed to a heavier texture and darkened unevenly with the heavier waxed areas becoming darker given it a weather beaten look.

    This was accomplished be dripping a little melted paraffin on spots specifically seams and then rubbing a bar of paraffin over all the material and ironing it in then repeating twice more. It does shed water.

  • Comment by GeekLady — February 2, 2014 @ 8:50 am


    I would love to read the encounter between the toe up and toe down knitters, but it’s probably universal enough that I’ve experienced it. I was just curious since it neatly avoids the lumpy toe closure. I started toe up because I find seams around my toes bothersome and I live in mortal terror of running out of yarn for a project.

    I am fascinated by your asymmetrical toe technique though and need to try it! It should be possible toe up by casting on a smaller number of stitches.

    Joyce, I have also tried knitting socks with various circular techniques, but I always come back to my dainty little rainbow dpns. One of which I broke this week, blast. Thankfully KnitPicks wood dpns come six to a packet.

  • Comment by Karen — February 2, 2014 @ 11:28 am


    What Joyce said (and thank you, Joyce, for adding in the recognition of “wedding ring scarves”)! I’ve always been amazed by the beauty of the Shetland lace, but the fineness of the fiber (and it’s implicit length) has always made me wish I could visit those sheep before they could be shorn of their “lambswool.”

    They probably would have said, “baaah!” to such humdrum wishes.

    The sweaters I have knit and fulled weren’t ones that I labored over a hot stove and a cold pan of ice-water to create, however (nor were they ever-so-fine!). I simply did my swatch, threw it in the washing machine, then did the math after-the-fact but before-the-knitting.*

    Tyrolean jackets aren’t “officially” complicated enough, as far as knitting (or sewing) goes, for me to see them as a challenge since I couldn’t find exemplars when I was looking in the pre-Internet age, lol (which means that I’ve finally recognized that I’m too old to take on something as proof-of-concept that would have required a younger-me to fly by the seat of my pants in an area that is probably not going to yield “true” historical details, whereas I tend to worry about any digs for textiles outside of various “seminal” areas, since most at least seem partially funded by endowments intended to prove their culture’s advancements; which I get, but… just saying….

    IOW, I’m not an official historian so much as I love to understand myself better by understanding aspects of myself outside of “official histories.”

    If you’re interested in learning more about the differences in original historical accounts of textile developments (circa 20 years ago, when it was at the “cutting edge” of a return to having pride in “clothing the family and home,” I can’t recommend Barber’s popular history, “Women’s Work” enough for the way it transformed many of the textile communities that have marked and formed me as a feminist! — and much of resulting modern textile scholarship, to my knowledge) enough.

    And I guess I just said more than I intended, except for two things: The only reason I’m not wearing one of my “thick cardigans” on this wintery day is that I’ve gotten old and fat and don’t get cold as easily as I did when I was a spring chicken. However, just as Joyce said, there are ways to test the rate of shrinking mid-route (even though I deliberately avoided any chemical approaches past regular detergent and let electricity, via my washing machine, provide the otherwise necessary “brute force” required to encourage felting. I was, though, quite careful to “load” the machine equally between the test and the final result so, whereas I was pretty sure that a swatch in an empty washing machine wouldn’t have gotten the same amount of friction — which is an essential part of the “fulling” process, as do garment pieces washed alone in an otherwise empty vat **, I still had to make adjustments, but even the thickest “boiled wool” stretches as long as it started life as a knit!).

    There are many methods for stretching and shaping and “blocking” sweaters and such, BTW, that still work after you’ve “fulled” a knit. None of these will keep it from shrinking further (which is either a flaw or a feature, depending on how strong the felted fibers are and how much they’re willing to “give” in the process and how much they require future “laundry” that might allow them to shrink before the m*ths get ’em).

    IOW, methinks, ma capitaine, (and this is a simple recognition that people who put hours into work expect a result from such) that just as you speak of how peasants reckoned their wages, people will always count value by days of their lives. If you were getting paid for them, would you have knit so many socks (and if I were you, I’d say Yes! — except for the pesky problem that my feet aren’t very sensitive unless they get hot, which is the reason your “summer sox” shorties appeal to me so much).

    I’ll never get paid for saying this, but since wool “wicks” away heat by absorbing more than its own weight in moisture more readily than any alternative “modern” fiber, give me any woolen garment over most alternatives year-round, and I’ll just sit back and enjoy all that such obedient animals have done for humanity!

    * unless you control quite carefully for changes in pH and other boring chemistry stuff that still involves “fuller’s earth” and other stuff I prefer not to have enter my washing machine.

    ** (Yeah, sorry — anyone who isn’t wooly-headed like me probably needs to know that one of the benefits of sheep’s wool versus llama hair versus malamute is the fact that wool tends to kink, which makes anything made from it want to “flex” just a little bit. I hope that readers can call such “shrinkage” my “ode” to sheep’s wool — because that’s truly the reason it sticks to my bits and bones without breaking or stretching, yet bending, and for that alone, I love it!).

  • Comment by John McDonald — February 2, 2014 @ 2:48 pm


    How easy is it spin and work with malamute?
    A story idea that been floating around in my head includes folks wearing clothing made from dog hair. Is it feasible?

  • Comment by elizabeth — February 2, 2014 @ 3:05 pm


    John: I once knew a woman who spun the undercoat of some dog breeds to make yarn–Samoyed and poodle. The problem is getting enough to make a garment with, because even a large breed with a good undercoat doesn’t produce that much, she said. She made scarves from it. Her parents owned a Samoyed kennel, so she had more than the usual number of dogs to work from. I’ve heard of others harvesting the shed underfur of long-haired dogs and spinning it, but again–there’s not as much as you might think. My memory was that the yarn was thinner than worsted-weight, and felt quite soft and drapey.

  • Comment by Joyce — February 2, 2014 @ 3:29 pm


    You would be amazed at what folks can make knitting yarn from! Dog hair,possum fur, llama, alpaca, and the rarest, most expensive, and warmest of all, the musk ox, which is not an ox at all, but rather a bison. I think.
    Man-made or artificial fibers are made from bamboo, soy, milk protein, and corn silk, to name a few. But nothing takes the place of the ubiquitous sheep’s wool—Baa,baa, black sheep, have you any wool?

  • Comment by GinnyW — February 2, 2014 @ 3:46 pm


    I am learning so much from all of you! I would think that various types of felting and fulling of knit fabrics would be accidents waiting to happen. People needed to wash garments worn under a variety of circumstances, and in contact with many different substances. I have certainly turned some adult sweaters into child sweaters in my laundry-learning years.

  • Comment by Karen — February 2, 2014 @ 4:43 pm


    John, what Elizabeth and Joyce said, with the caveat that I’ve made a vow to myself to avoid the spindle at all costs lest I become a different kind of sleeping beauty: one who is so fascinated by yet another fiber art that I never emerge from my dreams of all kinds of “wool.”

    My cat (a large white short-hair) actually produces enough fiber to spin a bit every month, but it’s quite short-staple (meaning that each bit of undercoat is less than 1″ long), so that it would be better felted than spun. I’ve heard that, depending on climate, dogs like malamutes, samoyeds, and huskies sometimes shed their undercoats in the spring in clumps like those seen in true wolves, making the process of gathering the fiber less onerous. I would expect for poodle hair to be sheared rather than shed, but I’ve never known a poodle owner who spun either so I don’t precisely know.

    And Ginny, you’ve just given away the reason I so strongly suspect that fulling knits “just happened!” In a culture where people couldn’t afford to throw away such accidents, can’t you just imagine how happy and warm the children would have been to become the recipients of such thick, toasty sweaters?

    BTW, not to introduce too much of an “ick” factor to the discussion, but thinking of children and wool, less than a century ago, long before plastic diapers existed, women knit wool “soakers” for their babies. These were essentially knit diaper covers (the diapers themselves being made of cotton in my American family’s living memory precisely so that they could be boiled without size changes), but “leaks” of liquid through the diapers were reputedly best absorbed (to avoid the children soiling other clothes, the furniture, and their parents clothes!) by these woolen “soakers,” which I imagine became quite felted rather quickly in the need to keep them reasonably clean….

  • Comment by Karen — February 2, 2014 @ 5:47 pm


    Iphinome, in reference to your implicit question about the benefits of fulling an undamaged knit, IME, such garments retain enough of their stretch that they can become quite densely thick but remain fairly bendable at all of the points where a body needs to bend. Modern analogs to “fulled” wovens I’ve purchased like the heaviest melton I’ve ever sewn don’t, so fulled knits can hug the body more closely than a heavy winter coat, trapping more body heat at the wrists, neck, and hem.

    A side benefit is that, provided that you’re knitting to exact proportions based on experience of the correct shrinkage for a given sort of wool (and some wools shrink more than others, “Superwash” or not), you don’t necessarily use up more fiber for a garment than is consumed in cloth purely because there is no wastage because no cloth is cut (and therefore there are no scraps).

  • Comment by Iphinome — February 2, 2014 @ 6:23 pm


    @Karen are you counting for the extensive piecing of broadcloth garments? They used much smaller seams than we tend to because it doesn’t unravel. Have you seen the 6 piece cloak hood on page 55 of _Costume Close-up_ or the geometrically constructed clothing in _The Medieval Tailor’s assistant_?

  • Comment by elizabeth — February 2, 2014 @ 6:54 pm


    Iphinome: What I’ve seen/read about in knitting magazines & TV shows is felting (that’s what they call it) to produce a dense, sturdy fabric…for a purse, for instance, or slippers, or hat or something where the stretchiness of regular knitting isn’t desired. I have one pair of socks, knit of Superwash yarn, that did fine on its first trip through the washer, but on its second trip “seized up”, shrank a little, and became denser and much less stretchy. Although my regular socks are comfortable in summer (like Karen, I like wool year ’round) these denser socks are not…they feel much hotter. An advantage in the cold, but not as comfortable otherwise. So I guess that’s a feature and not a bug if that’s what you want.

    Thanks for the references.

    Joyce: You’re quite right that not all rural cultures would have the same kinds of animal fiber available to them, and I’ve been learning a lot lately about British breeds of sheep, including the heritage breeds. I have a book on St. Kilda, for instance, that mentions the Soay sheep, who were not sheared, but had the soft wool undercoat plucked or snipped off when they were about to shed. Quiviut, or musk ox undercoat, is simply gathered off bushes and the ground when the musk ox sheds (the way my collie used to do in spring.) Any culture will work with what it has, but a more complex one (and given the “present” in Tsaia and Fintha, it’s not a simple culture at all) will make use of more kinds of materials, trading for them if they can’t provide them locally.) What I should have said is that a remote culture without the ability to trade much will use what it has for what it needs. It may be products that other places consider fine or coarse…but they’ll use it.

    GeekLady: I don’t have seams in the toes…like you, I dislike seams in toes. The decreases aren’t like seams; they’re just like the increases you do when you start at the toe. They can be done on either side of the foot, or distributed around the foot (the “propeller toe” or “flower toe” or “spiral toe”) for symmetrical shaping. And of course there are the short-row toes. The final purse-string of 8 stitches is soft, not hard. I think the asymmetrical toes would be possible, starting with a cast-on, but it’s really only an advantage for a really slanted foot–with a more “level” set of toes, the symmetrical toe shapings wouldn’t put substantially more pressure on the big toe. If you have slanting feet, try it and see what you think. I do no decreases on the big toe side until I reach the end of the big toe and a row or two beyond, while the decreases on the little toe side follow the slant of my foot. So there’s no lateral pressure on my big toes, as there is in conventional symmetrical socks.

    I may have to write that confrontation of sock-makers in Paksworld, just for fun. As far as I know there are three basic ways to knit socks–top down, toe up, and flat, with the sock sewn together from two pieces. My POV is that any way you knit a sock that makes your feet happy is the right way to knit socks–for you. There are so many variations for each method–so many toe types, so many heel types, so many lengths and patterns–and so many individual feet–that nobody can say “Everyone ought to knit a sock this way; it’s the only good way.” My mother made me two pairs of socks decades ago. By the evidence (she died in 1990 and we never discussed it) she knit one pair toe up and the other pair top down. I wore both pairs to holes.

  • Comment by John McDonald — February 2, 2014 @ 8:14 pm


    Karen & Elizabeth

    We rescued a 9 year old long haired Siberian Husky who had spent 2 years living outside full-time in North Idaho, and hadn’t been groomed in that time. We took brush , comb and Furminator to him and got 10 plastic grocery bags of fur from him, most over 2 inches long. He is now mostly an inside dog, who occasionally naps in the snow in the backyard. When he sheds in the spring, it looks like it is snowing in the house.

  • Comment by Karen — February 2, 2014 @ 8:23 pm


    Iphinome, I’m going to have to go quite OT to answer you directly, but yes, I have accounted for both (because I both sew and knit — probably too much of both) so I hope you won’t take this as being confrontational as opposed to experiential.

    Knitting swatches takes time, but it actually saves a tremendous amount of time (relatively speaking, assuming that the garment-maker and the cloth-maker’s time are equally valuable and that the provider of the fiber’s time and resources are factored equally to both — which doesn’t happen in the world we live in today, BTW, which is the reason for the caveat) in allowing a knitter (who, in less wealthy societies than ours wouldn’t necessarily have had the money required for the capital expenditures of a loom and room to keep it in whilst idle or in use) to precisely gauge (and that’s the proper term — as in, most knitting shops today sell “gauge tools” to allow knitters to adjust their needles to match a pattern *exactly* so that it fits *exactly*) the amount of length of fiber needed to complete any project. I’ve read E’s stories about her first pair of socks and how she had to adapt them continuously through trial and error and smiled and nodded because that’s the power of a good knitting pattern: it allows you to “knit to fit” instead of simply weaving flat bolts of cloth that then must be turned from 2D to 3D by a skilled tailor/seamstress (who relies on another pattern to cut out armsyes and necks and facings and other curved parts that make use of “bias” in the fabric to provide stretch to body parts that stretch and move so that the garments move with the bodies).

    Meanwhile, I’ve got several boxes of scraps just waiting to be turned into quilts (does anyone need scraps? lol) from fabrics I’ve sewn that would never make good quilts — and I “cut corners” every which way that I can and would bet that I could teach people who sew narrower seam allowances than I will (I won’t because sometimes you literally need to “let out the seams”) a few tricks.

    Fitting garments that will retain body heat (or release it, for that matter) is a problem that has likely been with human beings since our distant ancestors first discovered how to form a sewing needle, so it’s no wonder that the stories about how soldiers cast lots over who would get to keep the garments of an impoverished itinerant preacher such as Jesus was remain powerful. Cloth is/was/will always mean extensive expended man/woman-hours worth of work, but it also means natural resources that have been used to create it, making it precious.

    Being able to “knit to measure” means that (except for the gauge swatch), there aren’t ANY scraps/wasted efforts, which is part of the power of “felted knits.” I don’t know if E would agree with me, but I’ve always assumed that, in a world that included knitting, many of the “padded garments” that were worn beneath armor in Paksworld were felted knits (and I can’t speak for such a famous corporation, but I rather imagine that the makers of St. John Knits would agree — even though no-one who can afford such luxuries would ever imagine hand washing them or the horrors of having them felt! just as an example).

  • Comment by Karen — February 2, 2014 @ 8:44 pm


    John, PLEASE find someone who will spin that distaff into gold/felt it into something useful instead of letting it bother your household as debris!

    My family had a questionable wolf breed (it’s hard to tell when they show up at your doorstep and you feed them) who did the same thing every spring, so I heart you. A two inch fiber length that’s shed all at once is actually quite useful (the difference between lambswool and sheep’s wool is that one begins with a “soft” edge for every fiber and ends with a single “cut” edge, versus every later clipping beginning and ending with blunt edges that don’t feel as “soft”) and is probably superior in length to most “angorra” (to truly reveal the extents of my O.C.D. about fabric, that’s a reference to hair from bunnies rather than goats, who are named the same) “blends” that are available on regular markets.

    Besides, doesn’t your devoted pet deserve to live forever in sweaters/socks/whatever he can after devoting so many calories into creating such a marvelous coat?!?

  • Comment by Iphinome — February 2, 2014 @ 9:03 pm


    @Karen of course you must be correct and I will defer to you on all points save two.

    Gambesons/Bandas should be quilted linen not fulled knits as seen on the Bayeux Tapestry, not the dead person on the ground with a gambeson sticking out form under his mail. http://rubens.anu.edu.au/htdocs/laserdisk/0214/21448.JPG

    Outwear wool cloth should be washed as little as possible. You wash the linens so aprons or the like to cover the woolens for dirty jobs and a brushing and airing out whenever it would be sufficient to avoid washing. When go to the river and beat it against a rock is the norm one must take more care with the wool

  • Comment by John McDonald — February 2, 2014 @ 9:10 pm


    I’m going to a Con in two weeks, and plan on talking to several of the ladies I know who do their own spinning.

  • Comment by Karen — February 2, 2014 @ 9:16 pm


    Iphinome, I’m not going to argue against your points — because you’re right about both (and about agreeing with me, lol).

    People who paint cartoons for people who weave tapestries (and there were/are such — and that was the term — at least at Aubusson) don’t necessarily know whereof their cartoons began (and such has been the history of cartoons).

    Besides, I know that knitting wasn’t familiar throughout Europe until much later (in fact, debates about when knitting “evolved” into the form we now know are rampant!).

    And I agree about how often (and how) outerwear should be cleansed. I’m just taking license based on my own careful experience of how often *stuff* happens to clothes I care about and extrapolating based on data I got from my mom, my grandmas, and my great-grandma about how they did it in Californ-ia in olden days (when such was beyond “a good airing”).

  • Comment by Karen — February 2, 2014 @ 9:26 pm


    John, from your efforts to God’s ears!

    When we had “Girl” (she wouldn’t respond to other names), I often wished that I could spin, then remembered the mental perambulations that were “more important.”

    I’ve since regretted those digressions.

  • Comment by elizabeth — February 2, 2014 @ 11:54 pm


    To All Whom It Might Concern: The heavy hand of the author is waving for attention for a moment: YarnHarlot has said, in one or another of her books, that if you get a couple of knitters together you’re going to get an argument about yarn preference, gauge, needle preference, or *something*. And I love the sharing of information and experience we’re having here, but I also sense the warm breath that’s beginning to get just a little too warm. Let’s not. Let’s write with care to respect each person’s experience, and each person’s source of knowledge, because that way we can all learn something. And I, in particular, am learning a lot.

    Meanwhile: I think I remember (someone here will know for sure, right?) that although gambesons were usually quilted, somewhere, someone wore a knitted undergarment garment of silk that was supposed to stop arrows. Perhaps I was wrong and it was woven silk. My guess (and it’s pure guess) is that this would be very useful to nomadic horsemen, who weren’t wearing heavy mail and were using bows.

    Heavy knitted padding, felted or not, would be of use if you weren’t wearing chain mail. Having worn some, I can tell you that it’s really, really uncomfortable on bare skin or over thin fabric and knit isn’t the right thing to protect you. Heavy felt might do, but I suspect the mail would fray it much more than it does tightly woven cloth. Just to bring this down to practicality…in practice I fenced with bated rapier wearing a heavy leather doublet over ordinary clothing. In the early period I launched myself into quite a few stop-thrusts. In cold weather, when I had on an old but dense sweater under the doublet, it definitely eased the pain (but not enough to save my life if the swords had been sharp.)

  • Comment by Richard — February 3, 2014 @ 4:45 am


    In ten minutes googling I’ve found Wikipedia articles and forum discussions (e.g. myArmoury) on Mongols wearing silk as inner-most layer of armour (supposedly prescribed by Genghis Khan), but it is all third or fourth hand speculation, and no mention of knitted-vs-woven.

    The idea (right or wrong) seems to be that silk would do nothing to stop or even hinder an arrow from entering your flesh and hurting you (killing you if in the wrong place), but the unbroken silk carried ahead of the arrow would make it easier to remove same from the wound with less secondary damage.

  • Comment by pjm — February 3, 2014 @ 5:15 am


    Going back to knitting materials, it was reported a few days ago that a Chinese woman has knitted a coat and hat from her own hair. It took her years though.

  • Comment by sheepfarmer's granddaughter — February 3, 2014 @ 6:24 am


    3 things, only vaguely connected
    Some years ago I went to an exhibition of bog-bodies (Danish I think). Several items of clothing were preserved, including a knitted garment. It was so well preserved that someone had worked out the pattern, and made a replica.
    I don’t know if they wove their sails, but I think the material the vikings used for their longships was soay sheep hair – it isn’t the same as most sheep-wool, and in moist conditions it relaxes, rather than tightens, so in a storm the sail leaks air, and it’s safer.
    It made the news last year that the Russian army is now supplying socks – up until then they’d been using traditional foot-wrappings. Since these are rectangles of cloth, and you fit them to your feet each time you put them on, one-size really does fit most people.

  • Comment by GeekLady — February 3, 2014 @ 8:42 am


    Having a baby still in diapers at the moment, woolen soakers are still a thing! Untreated wool with its natural lanolin is both water repellant and anti microbial. So you can cover a diaper with a wool cover and keep the wet inside, and they don’t need washing with every use – only when soiled (say from a leaky diaper) or when they start to smell. Otherwise you can just let them air out between uses.

    After multiple washes they can lose their lanolin, but today you can relanolize them.

  • Comment by Joyce — February 3, 2014 @ 8:54 am


    About the nomadic horseman and their protection against arrows: somewhere deep in the murky depths of my memory a photo of a Japanese warrior on horseback is struggling to the fore. Didn’t he have a light armor of woven bamboo on? I have no idea if that’s a real memory, or just a suggestion from the underside of my mind…..woven bamboo fiber would be light and strong, would it be able to turn a blade or arrow point? Hmm, seems doubtful, but such “armor” would be cheap to produce and better than nothing, I guess.
    I’m amazed at the wide-ranging discussions sparked by a photo of some socks and a simple question. Thanks, guys, this has been very interesting.

  • Comment by sheepfarmer's granddaughter — February 3, 2014 @ 9:12 am


    silk shirts don’t stop arrows,but allegedly make it easier to pull the arrow out, with less risk of infection, as fibres are less likely to get left in the wound. any volunteers to verify this?

  • Comment by GeekLady — February 3, 2014 @ 8:46 pm


    Madame Moon, thank you for the toe info! My toes don’t slant excessively, but my husband’s do, and if he is will to accept foot specific socks, I’ll give it a shot and report back!

  • Comment by pjm — February 4, 2014 @ 6:21 am


    Joyce, I googled bamboo armour and got a fair bit of stuff, which seemed to be saying that it was only used for martial arts, and leather and steel were used for warfare. I didn’t look all that hard, so I may have missed some points.

  • Comment by Genko — February 5, 2014 @ 7:25 pm


    The Samurai exhibit at the Portland Art Museum shows a lot of armor made of lacquer — it looks like plastic. I’m not sure whether they coated some sort of cloth with it or used some other process to make a sort of pure lacquer molded substance.

    And the word “cartoon” got me curious, so I looked up the etymology: 1670s, “a drawing on strong paper (used as a model for another work),” from French carton, from Italian cartone “strong, heavy paper, pasteboard,” thus “preliminary sketches made by artists on such paper” (see carton). Extension to comical drawings in newspapers and magazines is 1843.

  • Comment by pjm — February 6, 2014 @ 6:40 am


    Genko, my sources are google and Wikipedia, and I might be off track anyway, but I suspect there could be iron under a lot of that lacquer.
    On your other strand, etymology has some seriously interesting bits, and I like the derivation of cartoon.

  • Comment by Karen — February 6, 2014 @ 10:59 am


    Most “lacquerware” that I know of that was “true lacquerware” — yes, as silly as it sounds, there are such things as “real fakes!” is made from stuff that has been “shellacked” (with the emphasis on “shellac” being quite important since that’s the biological input of a beetle that has resulted in the biological outputs of such).

    IOW, just as this thread (thanks! GeekLady!) has taught me that wool can be “re-lanolinized,” knowing that stuff can be “shellacked” without ever meeting the products of a dung beetle probably matters.

    I “inherited” (the quotes matter tremendously to me and my family purely because I “ruined” it by re-finishing it!) a piece of Victorian furniture that was finished in “black lacquer” that turned out to be “mere” cherry. I promise that I will never equate diaper covers with Victorian furniture again, except for according to this equation: before “modern” “stuff” became the norm, carbon compounds from various animalia etc. were the main sources of all sorts of compounds.

    Have I ever mentioned how much I love wool? Because wood doesn’t (to my knowledge) offer any opportunities to be “re-lacquer”ed!

  • Comment by elizabeth — February 6, 2014 @ 11:24 am


    The Herdwick wool socks are proving to be just what I’d hoped: comfortable, yes, but also warmer than the others. I put them on yesterday morning, with a new cold front pushing cold air through the little gaps in the window beside my desk. Wore them all day, including several hours of standing on the cold kitchen floor (as the temperature kept going down outside) to work on the big vegetable soup…some time sitting down knitting…more time sitting down writing…and finally driving into the city for choir practice, and back home late at night watching the car’s outside thermometer drop from 37F to 27F on the drive (and it went down to ~20F last night, when I wore them in bed.) My feet stayed warm through it all. Warmer than in the other wool socks. I’m back in the study, next to that cold window, and it’s in the low 20sF…my right leg’s “outside’ side is cold–in long johns–but I can feel the exact point where the top of hte sock is, not with pressure but with…warm. I have heaters on my feet. I love it.

    Now I need more Herdwick socks. I think 4 pair would be about right for most winters.

  • Comment by John McDonald — February 6, 2014 @ 7:32 pm


    Sounds like something I could have used this morning while walking the dogs. Temp of 9 degrees F, with a wind chill of -10 below. That’s ok though, I do enjoy the four very different seasons we have in North Idaho. We are approximately 2 feet short on snowfall which can make for a very dry, fire prone summer.

  • Comment by elizabeth — February 6, 2014 @ 10:29 pm


    Hoping you get some snow soon and make up the deficit before summer. According to what I saw on the national weather, you might.

    Socks are not impossible to make on one’s own. Nice thick warm socks for a climate like northern Idado’s seems like a good idea to me, though you may be able to find commercial socks that fit–in which case, no need to knit ’em. OTOH, there is a satisfaction in knowing you have, and therefor can again should you need to.

  • Comment by Wickersham's Conscience — February 7, 2014 @ 2:19 pm


    I am ignorant as an appleof all things knitting, but saw an article recently showing that knitting is catching up with science fiction. In fact, a poster ilustrating the news won an award:


  • Comment by Linda — February 9, 2014 @ 12:52 pm


    I was watching the Olympics last night and believe I noticed a woman at the start of the run for a Norwegian (Finnish?) slope style snowboarder who was knitting. She was standing next to the starter and seemed to be going great guns.

    I also have a figure skating friend who is in her 70s or 80s who was a high level competitor … and her mother knit her skating skirts with a very fine gauge yarn. Apparently that was how the mothers passed their time as their daughters were on the ice.

    interesting the skills which are valued in this world.

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