Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Learning to use a knitting sheath

 I learned several different ways to knit using handheld needles prior to using a knitting sheath.  Everyone said, that circular needle were best, and I got circular needles and practiced. I wore out the cheap aluminum ones that I bought, then I wore out the fine old German ones that I acquired, then I wore out a couple pair of Adddi Turbos US 1.  Then I understood that I needed to use DPN with a knitting sheath, and I still have the 3d pair of Addi Turbo US1 that I bought.  

In wearing out those circular needles (and a few sets of handheld DPN), I learned a lot.  I learned to knit while walking, while riding in a car or airplane at night.  I learned to knit in business meetings. I learned to knit on fishing boats when everybody (including deck crew) but myself, Father Paul, and Captain Brown were sea sick. (Father Paul was a retired salmon fisherman.)

I assumed that experience with hand-held needles helped when learning to use a knitting sheath.   However, all of my significant break thourghs in knitting sheath technique happened after I stopped  all hand-held knitting. 

My current feeling (based on no evidence what so ever) is that starting with hand-held needles is a hindrance. First, serious knitting with hand-held needles puts serious stress on one's wrists - and if you are going to knit, you are going to need your wrists.

Hand-held knitting is slow, so you get in the habit of knitting and knitting and knitting. Naw! Knitting sheath knitting is much faster than hand-held knitting. Knit fast, then go off and do other things. You will get as much knitting done, and it will be much higher quality. Knitting in a car or airplane is much slower, and lower quality than knitting done while seated on your knitting throne, with your tools arrayed about you and good light. Yes, you can feel knitting mistakes in the dark, but it is much easier to judge other quality issues if you have good light and no distractions.

And, sitting on your throne, with good light and no distractions, you can knit the objects that only a craftsman can knit. People, like Mrs. Marple deserve credit for being able to knit, and knit anywhere. Craftsmen deserve credit for being able to knit objects that Mrs. Marple only dream of knitting.


Clarifications

 It turns out that it is perfectly possible to hand knit (with no knitting sheath) with flat tipped "knitting pins".

It takes learning the knack, and being careful about the orientation of stitches, but that said, there is no problem either in knitting or purling. On the other hand, hand held needles do not allow knitting as fast or as long as when used with a knitting sheath.

When I said blunt needles were not suited for hand-held knitting, I was working with very fine, very tightly knit fabrics, and it was the tightness of the fabric that caused the problems, not using blunt needles, per se.

For the last day or so, I have been using flat tipped, 2.3 mm needles to knit 4-ply, worsted weight yarn at 6 spi and 6-ply gansey yarn (1,000 ypp) at 7 spi. Neither are weather proof fabrics, but they are nice firm fabrics. These fabrics could be fulled and oiled to be water repellent. However, once they did get wet they would be a pain to dry, and would not be comfortable to wear within 15 minutes of putting on, like a true weatherproof fabric where a thin layer of wool next to the body dries almost instantly, and protects the skin from the still wet and cold bulk of the fabric.  Gansey knit, weatherproof wool fabrics are special, they require effort to knit, but they are special.

Moreover, since the knitting motions using blunt needles can be much smaller than is possible with pointed needles, the knitting can be faster, with less stress on the hands considering the knitting speed and type of fabric. Early on, I was told by champion speed knitters that more pointed needles could knit faster. Those champions specialized in a narrow segment of the craft, and had a very narrow view. The key to fast knitting is small motions, and no extra motions. Yes, I use my right index finger as a shuttle to loop yarn, but the motion is only a few millimeters. The flat tip of my working needle only protrudes a few millimeters from the working stitch, so all my knitting motions are very small, and can be made quickly.  If I am using sock needles, most people will not notice I am knitting. (These days I mostly knit socks on 12" needles.) If we are talking, I look at them, and not my knitting.  If I am out and about, I watch for people and particularly kids moving about.  I can watch a movie, and not look at my knitting. Some of my knitting sheaths have all the dimensions required to knit various kinds of socks that fit me notched into them. I have "storyboards" with notches for the dimensions needed to knit socks other other people.  

The key to getting a lot of knitting done is ergonomic knitting. Let the big muscles, and tendons of the arms and shoulders do the work. Use the leverage of the knitting needles to put less stress on the knitter's body. And, I like to use the spring of steel needles to do part of the work of knitting. 18", 2.3 mm blunt spring-steel, "needles" with a good knitting sheath on a heavy leather belt worn over a stout apron or bib overalls is the most productive hand knitting gear that I know.  (Actually, these days, socks are knit on 3+1, 12" long needles.) The leather belt and apron stabilize the knitting sheath, and make it a more powerful tool.  This has been a major epiphany over the last few months. 

And, knitting is athletic activity. You cannot sit around for months, then expect to go out, run a marathon and not be sore. You need to train for knitting just as you would train running. Yes you will be training different muscles and tendons, but the idea of a gradual build up in duration and intensity of the exercise holds.


Saturday, January 22, 2022

The Craftsman

"Craftsman" is a traditional term referring to  people of all genders that make fine objects and materials.

The craftsman sets out to make the "best" (aesthetics, durability, functionality) object or material  possible given available "resources" (skills, materials, tools) possible in the available "schedule" and available "budget".  

Everything a craftsman makes is some sort of compromise between quality (or scope), resources, budget, and schedule.

A "philosopher" makes something to discover some insight into into how the universe works. A wandering philosopher is not focused on a narrow topic.

I assert that an understanding of how fine objects can be produced from wool, tells us much about the life of our ancestors. Further, I assert that much of this knowledge was lost in Victorian times, and thereby offers a great opportunity for a wandering philosopher. 

I think knowledge once known, and now forgotten, is just as interesting  and valuable to rediscover as new knowlege is to discover.  I have built atomic particle accelerators and atomic particle detectors - and it was a lot of effort. Today, I can learn stuff that is just as interesting playing with a bit of wool.

There are all kinds of things that people tell me about working with wool that are just plain wrong.

Back in the fall of 1971 on the first day of Chemical Engineering 110, the professor said "Read Chapter 6 in the Text carefully; there will be a test on Tuesday".  On Tuesday, the question on the test was  "Discuss the theorem on page 56 of the text in excruciating detail",  and there were 7 sheets of paper to give us space to write our answer. My answer was, " The proof of the theorem violates the assumption of continuity in the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus."  I got full credit for my answer; 464 of 500 students flunked that test, and thereby flunked out of ChemE. 110.  

The important lesson that Dr. Long taught us that day is: "Do not accept what people say until you are satisfied that it is correct."  (He had asked each of us if we knew our calculus, and  required an affirmative to let us into the class. Dr. Long did not waste his time on students that lied about knowing calculus. ) 

So, how did wool workers lose the differential rotation speed flyer/bobbin assembly for worsted spinning?  How did wool workers lose knitting sheaths?  And of course, you need a knitting sheath to make blunt needles practical - even if they allow knitting (uncrossed stiches) much faster.  

There was a time when I was fascinated by "black holes in space".  Now, I am just as fascinated by high grist woolen yarns knit "cross stitch". How was it done at commercial speed? From here it seems impossible, yet I know it was done. The required skills (and tools?) have been lost. When, high grist woolen yarns were knit with twisted stitches, it was also common for high grist woolen yarns to be woven. That is another skill that has been lost. How was it done?




Friday, January 21, 2022

Planning

 As usual, I have a sweater in progress. It will be about 100,000 stiches.  It is a worsted weight yarn, knit on 2.3 mm needles knit at 7.5 spi /10 rpi, so it is a nice firm fabric, but not weatherproof.   As I knit up the torso, the knitting log shows I am knitting the torso at just under an inch per hour - something in the neighborhood of 3,000 stitches per hour. That sounds like ~50 stitches per minute. 

However, I make coffee, and drink coffee, and decant the used coffee, so truth of the matter is that I am only knitting about 48 minutes in each hour, so when I am actually knitting, I am knitting more like 60 or 70 stitches per minute. 

Allowing for the coffee and sticky buns, these days, I plan on 3,000 stitches per hour of knitting.

I figure the sweater will actually take ~35 hours. At 8 hours of knitting per day, that is bit over 4 days of knitting and some finishing. I expect it to be finished the middle of next week.

14 years ago, I tried Lever Knitting/Irish Cottage - and there was no way in the world that I could knit this object in 5 consecutive days using Lever Knitting.  In those days, there was a knitting group, and one of  the frequent attendees was a lever knitter. One day she  sat next to me, my knitting sheath, and my pointy sock needles, I knit 7 stitches to her 5.  I had been knitting there for hours when she came in, and I continued knitting long after she left. As she left, many in the group commented on how fast she knit. Her knitting was a bold display of her new engagement ring. 

My knitting was done quietly in my lap, and nobody noticed how fast I was knitting, because my motions were so small. Because my motions were so small, they could be very fast. Now that I have learned to use blunt needles, my knitting motions can be much smaller - and much faster.  The smaller motions are less effort, and I can knit for longer periods of time. .My record is 9 consecutive 10 hour days. (At the time it was my record for fastest knitting of a Gladys Thomas gansey.)  Also, knitting sheaths support a variety of equally effective knitting styles that are driven by different muscles - as one set of muscles gets tired, they can be rested by using a different style of  knitting.  

I will not say you can knit while asleep, but you can knit in the gloom of a movie theater or with your eyes closed.  




Thursday, January 20, 2022

Knitting fast revisited

 When I came back to knitting, circa 1999,  I was told a lot of things - circular needles are faster, Continental knitting style is faster, pointy needles are faster, gansey needles are faster, and finally, the old professional knitters used knitting sheaths, so knitting sheaths are faster. 

I tried very pointy gansey needles in knitting sheaths, and for 12 years that seemed the best combination I could find. It allowed me to knit a good, weatherproof gansey in 9 to 12 days (without damaging my wrists).  That seemed faster than anyway, anyone else was knitting weatherproof ganseys.

About 2015, I started experimenting with blunt needles used with knitting sheaths. It works very well. There are a lot of "knacks" that have to be learned. Purling and knitting require very different needle positions. However, needle motions can be very small and use the spring motion of  spring steel needles fixed in a knitting sheath. The physics tells me that it can be much faster than "Irish Lever".  

The bottom line is that now, with 5 years of practice with blunt needles used with a knitting sheath, I can knit a good (but plain) weatherproof gansey in 4 days. The key elements are good tools for the job, and a high level of skill in knitting that kind of an object.  Now, I believe those accounts of professional hand knitters circa 1840, knitting a good gansey in 3 days.   Those professional knitters did not use generalized knitting tools. They used knitting tools refined by generations of professional knitters to the production of specific objects.  This  has been confused by a period when it was fashionable for men to carve token knitting sheaths for their wife or sweetheart. Neither giver or receiver were expert knitters, so the knitting sheaths had more sentimental value than practical utility.  As sentimental objects, those less refined knitting sheaths have contaminated and confused our knowlege of good, functional knitting sheaths.

I make good knitting sheaths, I use them, they wear out, and I discard them. An experienced user of knitting sheaths, knows knitting sheaths wear out, so instead of putting a lot of effort embellishing one, one puts the same labor into a series of  knitting sheaths, so the loved one always has a highly functional knitting sheath. It is much better to have a working (but plain) knitting sheath, than to have an embellished but worn out knitting sheath with no practical use.

For a long time, it took me 3-days to spin the yarn for a gansey and 10-days to knit that yarn.  I thought knitting must always take a lot more manhours than spinning.  Now, I have to reevaluate my model of  the economics of production of seaman's slops.  Spinning and knitting seem to have about equal inputs to a knit object. And, seamen's ganseys were likely less costly than I had thought, and much less costly than thought by the the knitters who assumed it took months to knit a good gansey because it took them months to finish a gansey.  I expect many a bright eyed, nimble fingered "herring girl" could knit a very good seaman's gansey in 40-hours, because they had done so for their father, brothers, and cousins.

Since I have been using knitting sheaths, I have said that half the skill is figuring out to how fasten the sheath in place.  One issue is that for knitting different kinds of objects, different kinds of needles are used, which need to be supported at different heights.  Modern fashions involving belt loops/belts tend to interfere with the proper, secure, and comfortable placement of  some knitting sheaths.   I no longer wear pants with belt loops when I am knitting.

Also, serious knitting will cause rapid wear in knit sweat pants. Yes, an apron reaching from chest to knees is to serious knitting what gloves are to serious skiing. (Every hobby has its need for gear!) Holes in all my sweat pants have pushed me to wear a leather apron when knitting.

And having discarded a bunch of rather fancy knitting sheaths in the last few months, I am back to very a simple, plain, but very functional knitting sheath held in place with an old, soft, work belt.  I have newer and prettier belts, but old and soft works for the current knitting sheath of choice.  It is paired with 5 spring steel, flat ended knitting needles. 

If you want learn to knit fast, I suggest practice with fine sock yarn and 1.5 mm needles. That develops the small, precise motions that are necessary for fast knitting. And, a little bit of yarn lets you make a lot of stiches,  which is a lot of practice, and practice makes perfect. Over the last few months, I was practicing Sheringham style fabrics knit finely from high grist yarns. I found a byproduct was that I knit a lot faster.


Friday, January 14, 2022

Just knitting

A while back, I read an account of a Master Knitter who required his apprentices to "knit" for 5 years before he allowed them to purl anything.

Of course from a modern viewpoint that seems extreme.  

On the other hand, 500 years ago, a journeyman knitter would have passed through seaports where he would have seen seamen wearing Jersey knitting ("Ouvre", aka crossed stitch, right over left), knitting from Eastern Europe (crossed stich, left over right) and plaited fabrics where both kinds of crossed stitches are used, and the uncrossed knitting which is more popular today. 

As a craftsman, he would have thought about each of these knitting techniques on hand spun threads and yarns ranging from fine silk, and fine worsteds to the course woolens needed by stockmen working in the winter's cold and seamen braving the North Atlantic and Finnish Seas.

Knitting crossed stitches flat and in the round, require different techniques. (You are knitting a sock, and must change techniques when you get to the heel flap, and toe up knitting is harder to maintain consistent stitch pattern - you really do have to think 3 rows in advance.)

Knitting crossed stitches and uncrossed stitches in yarns of  different twist and grist with the speed required by a commercial enterprise, requires different tools. I would expect a knitting apprentices to make the needed tools for themselves.

Even if the Master was a good teacher that chose smart, nimble fingered, bright eyed apprentices; today, I think that the apprentices would have had to work very hard to master JUST KNITTING in 5 years.

Advantages of crossed stich knitting include greater elasticity - when stressed, crossed stich knit fabric will not stretch as far for the given stress, but it returns to it's original size and shape  better than knit fabric without crossed stitches.  And the fabric is ~ a quarter to a third thicker than fabric knit without crossed stiches from yarns of the same twist and grist at the same gauge. And, finer yarns often have more twist, and thus are more durable.  Crossed stiches allow knitting a warmer fabric from a particular yarn. And, the fabric surface is smoother, allowing the fabric to shed water better than fabric knit with uncrossed stitches from the yarns of the same grist and twist at the same gauge.

On the other hand, fabrics knit with crossed stitch techniques, take more effort, take longer, and are much more difficult to plan than just "uncrossed knit to fit".

I have not proven it yet, but I expect that a 1.5 pound "Jersey" knit from 1,700 ypp 3-ply yarn was as warm as a Yorkshire gansey knit from 5-ply weighing 2.2 pounds.  And, I am coming to expect that "cross stitch fabrics" are more durable than "fisherman's rib" for fabrics in points of abrasion such as sock heels, fingers of gloves, and such. And, think of the advantage of such warm, light, fabrics for a seaman with the clothing he needed for months at sea in a bag 8" in diameter and 24" long.  

Yes, today I think that much of  what we see in Gladys Thompson came after  mechanical spinning technologies (starting circa 1450) that were faster than drop spindles and the various driven spindles, and the "Enclosures" (starting circa 1604) that resulted in cheaper wool yarn. 

In short, I do not yet understand how sailors/fishermen on square rigged ships sailing from Norfolk (or St Helier, Jersey circa 1400 stayed warm.  The (wool technologies ???) that kept them warm are a puzzlement.

This is the most challenging and interesting problem I have come across in years. My knitting corner in the kitchen is a mess - I do not know how my wife stands it. My knitting costume is now overalls under a leather apron and 2" wide heavy leather belt supporting the knitting sheath. The overalls and leather apron form a stable base allowing the belt/knitting to be moved up and down and then be a stable base for my knitting pins.

There are at least half a dozen "swatches" (hats, socks, gloves) in process.  Needles range from 1.3 mm spring steel to 3.25 mm wood. Some of those needles are really long, and some are very short. The yarns range from 2,500 ypp worsted spun, 2-ply handspun to good old (https://www.macauslandswoollenmills.com/) 3-ply woolen.  

The different swatches use different muscles, as one set of muscles gets tired, I switch swatches.

Crossed stitch knit fabrics let woolen yarns show off a whole new bag of tricks. 


 

Saturday, January 01, 2022

More crossed stitches

 I have been working on crossed stitches for a while now - there were little swatches, some approaches did not work, some sort of worked. So, I stared doing bigger swatches to see if the approaches might work with a lot more practice.

This last week the swatches were hats. And, I woke up this morning feeling like I had been doing contests with Bruce Lee on who could do the most pushups on fingertips. I knew the feeling - my tools were wrong.

I had been using 7" pointed 2.25 mm steel needles.  I went back to the tool chest, and dug out the Shetland Making Pins I bought a long time ago and had not used for years and years. Fourteen inches of stiff, polished, pointed, steel; 3/32" in diameter.  They went into a knitting sheath that hangs below my belt.

An Edison moment; the right tools for knitting a hat from 2-ply woolen yarn with crossed stitches. 

The take away- - Old School Tools work for Old School Knitting.  I think this is the reason that crossed stitches have been less popular since Victorian knitters tried to do away with traditional knitting tools.


Thursday, December 30, 2021

Cassandra said, "Beware of knitting in the dark!"

 I am trying to learn to knit cross stitch.

I had done a few rows - I thought I would test myself by knitting cross stitch while watching the evening news.  I was using 1.5 mm blunt steel needles and worsted spun 6-ply - 1,680 ypp purple yarn.

I looked at what I had knit in this morning's light, and there was one row of cross stitch and the rest was rows and rows of plain knitting -  not bad for plain knitting, but not what I planned to knit.

The sun is out, and I can see what I am knitting. Same needles, same yarn, and in the morning's light I am knitting a nice plaited fabric, alternate rows of right over left and left over right.  

One can use blunt needles bent to a specific angle that rotate in the knitting sheath, or with 1.5 mm and smaller needles, one can flex the needle with the right wrist so the tip pops into the back of the stitch to be worked.  Either approach is neat and wicked fast.   This is not "Weldon Knitting".


Wednesday, December 29, 2021

As usual, when I try something new, I get part of it wrong!

 It is perfectly possible to knit cross stitch / twisted stich / plaited fabric with blunt needles (and a knitting sheath.  It can be done as flat knitting or in the round. Just try every possible position and angle between the needles, and the last combination you try will work very well. With 1.5 mm blunt needles and dark 1,700 ypp thread, it can even be done in the dark, The blunt needles pop-in where they should and make it easy to feel what is going on.


As Cassandra said, "Beware of Greeks Bearing gifts, and knitting cross stitch in the dark".  Well, if  she did say that, she would have gotten the last half of it correct; and of course, she was under the influence of Apollo - god of Sunlight. 😊


In the last few weeks, I have ruined a lot of  yarn learning to knit cross stitch. Actually yarn is cheap compared to the satisfaction of working this little math problem out for yourself.  And, much of that yarn had been set aside as practice that I never intended to use on a real project.

Set up a swatch, and track (in your knitting journal!) how you  enter the stitches in each row, and which direction you wrap the needle, and how this row affects the next row.  

Done thoughtfully and purposefully, it can be done faster than the time you would spend in a class on the topic. 

The hard part is getting good at knitting cross stich because that involves breaking habits and building new muscle memory. This is where most of your "waste" yarn will go.

And having broken habits, all of your knitting will slow down for a while.  This does not bother me - I am changing knitting  patterns to take advantage of the virtues of cross stitch, and I ultimately expect to produce better objects faster.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Statement of errors (again)

 Since taking Gladys Thompson as my primary teacher some 15 years ago, I have focused on uncrossed stiches. Neglecting crossed stitches in knitting gear for outdoor gear has been  a serious error that I made that leads to other serious errors.

For example, I can knit crossed stitches flat with blunt needles, but I have not figured out how to knit  alternate rows of left over right and right over left in the round with blunt needles. 

There is some evidence that the Knitters of Dent, used crossed stitches in their products. If you have information on this topic, please let me know.

Thus, for now,  I am knitting outdoor gear with very pointy needles.


Saturday, December 25, 2021

How I got ply-twist on Sheringham & Jersey yarns so wrong

 I use  differential rotation speed (DRS) control of twist insertion as I spin. It is a well known technology - both Henry Clemes and Alden Amos made such systems - and had to take them all back because modern hand spinners could not figure out to use them.  Let just say that as powerful as it is, DRS technology makes demands on the user.

I  started my exploration of knitting fine yarns by prepping about 25 grams of wool and spinning a single at the desired twist (12 to 17 tpi) depending on the desired grist.  Then I would divide that single up on to 3 or 4 bobbins, and ply it into 125 to 150 yards of the desired yarn. I would block the yarn and knit swatches. 

When I found a yarn that I liked, I would spin hanks (560 yd) of singles, with each hank weighing 20 to 25 grams. When I plied these together the finished hank of yarn would weigh between 80 and 100 grams - that was half a spin bobbin  - it did not really look like much. However, it was enough to change the effective diameter of the spin bobbin and reduce the inserted twist in the outer layers of the yarn.  

I would wind it off, and the end that had been at the core of the spinning bobbin would be great, I would knit a swatch, think the hank was fine, and spin a couple more hanks - each of which would turn into a twisted mess after I had knitted about half of it.

The old spinners had a very good solution to this issue - they made and sold finished yarn in balls of  about an ounce - 30 grams.  That is about what a DRS technology can control with a standard sized spinning bobbin of with a length of 4" or a little less.  It is the product that would be produced by a professional hand spinner using traditional DRS technology. 

This tells us that professional hand spinners were using DRS technology to produce fine yarns for  Sheringham and Jersey ganseys.  I have seen 30 gram balls of yarn for sale in Brittany and Scotland. These 30 gram yarn packages are ghosts of a time when there were professional hand spinners making yarn on spinning wheels like mine (and as described in Alden Amos's Big Blue Book) and selling such yarns to hand knitters.

These were yarns called: Saxony Wool, Andalusian Wool, German Fingering, Berlin Wool, Peacock Fingering, Aurora Wool, Scotch Fingering . . . . .  Yes, in Victorian times they were produced in mills, but the packaging was based on the packaging from an earlier time when such yarns were hand spun. 

And, I have bowed to the practicality of the tradition, and I spin a hank (or so) of fine single, divide it on to plying bobbins, and ply 1 ounce balls of finished yarn.  My little yarn balls contain  between 100 and 150 meters of yarn.  

Yes, knitting from  a shoebox of little balls of yarn seems like a bother,  but if I was buying old stock of such fine yarns, they would come in 1 ounce balls.   I might as well make the yarn I want in 1 ounce balls, rather than just taking what is a available.

And, truth be told, if you are knitting on fine needles, every so often you need to get up and move about to restore circulation.  Getting up to get another ball of yarn is a good excuse to have another cup of tea.







Friday, December 24, 2021

Walking through a cave

I find knitting crossed stitches to be like walking through cave -- it is an adventure. One never knows what one will find.

Left over right Eastern crossed knit stiches can be knit with blunt needles in a knitting sheath as fast as uncrossed stiches, and that is -- wicked fast.   Making it work, just requires holding the needles at slightly different angle.

I like the fabric's thickness and elasticity.  The elasticity means I can blast along doing the same stitch where, with uncrossed knitting I would have to do some combination of knit and purl, which would be slower - and I would actually have to pay close attention to what my hands were doing. 


Notes from Sheringham

 

Knitting “Sheringham” fabrics has been a goal since I first picked up Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys, and Arans by Gladys Thompson some 15 years ago. From Cod by Mark Kurlansky, we know that by 1415 Sheringham was rich from Cod fishing. (See for example, the St. Nicolas Chapel bench ends carved circa 1415, and now in the V&A Museum, London.)  In 1415, Norfolk was the homeport of fleets of “square rigged” ships and the crews that maned those fleets. Sheringham had a long, long tradition of knowing how to keep seamen working in the rigging during foul weather and remain warm enough to function. (These days weather reports allow ships to go around storms, and regulations forbid work in the rigging during storm conditions. Last time I saw professional sailors working in the rigging of a historic tall ship, their uniforms were all synthetic fiber.)

Square rigged ships required men working in the rigging, continuously in all weather. Staying warm in wet and windy conditions while above deck required light, stretchy, weatherproof clothing.  We have lost the skills of making such garments.

The Sheringham “ganseys” in Thompson were notably knit from thinner yarns than other British fishing/navy ganseys.  The Sheringham knitting yarns mentioned by Thompson ranged from about 1,600 ypp to about 2,500 ypp. There are stocks and stashes of such yarns still around, but they are rare, and as rare objects command a premium price. Last summer, I was learning to knit such objects, so I was not going to pay a premium price for yarn for practice knitting.

Finely spun yarns inherently require a lot more twist, and thus are stronger, more durable, and warmer for their weight. Finely spun yarns can be knit tighter, allowing the resulting fabrics to be more durable and warmer. The Sheringham ganseys are the ghost of such traditions.

Sheringham ganseys as we know them, were knit from machine spun yarns, and such yarns are well balanced meaning that ply-twist balances the twist in the singles. The geometry of hand spinning, combined with human nature means that fine, high-twist, hand spun yarns will frequently not be well balanced. When unbalanced yarns are knit, the columns of stitches tend to slant to the right or left. And due to changes in spinning technology, yarns spun prior to 1500, tended to be even more unbalanced.

Modern knitters have not had to deal with such unbalanced yarns for a couple hundred years. Yes, we still have hand spinners, but they do not (commonly) spin knitting yarns based on high twist singles of 10,000 or 15,000 yards per pound (or finer). Old timers did spin and knit such yarns, and they knit them into nice, neat vertical columns of stitches that do not slant.  It was not just a matter of fulling and blocking the fabric; they knew how to knit biased yarns into nice, vertical columns of stitches that do not slant.

Modern knitters, (using milled yarns) mostly use uncrossed stitches, With uncrossed stitches, if you knit a 2,500 ypp hand spun, 4-ply yarn, the columns of stitches will tend to slant to the left if the singles were spun “S” and the ply twist was “Z”.  Hand spun yarns with Z singles twist and S ply twist will tend to slant right. These yarn faults can be discovered in the gauge swatch and fixed by adjusting the ply twist.  Slants can also be controlled by using “crossed stitches”.

Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book does discuss fabric construction on page 50 et seq, in my Dover edition, but she does not address the use of crossed stiches to control ply bias or the use of knitting sheaths needed to produce useful quantities of such fine stitches.  If you are knitting 20 spi, there are better geometries for holding knitting needles than Mary Thomas shows, and you will need a knitting sheath. So far, my only success with such knitting required finely pointed needles, but I am just a beginner. As I worked up the learning curve, the words muttered under my breath likely offended every god known to man.

Knitting crossed (or twisted) stitches produces a thicker, warmer fabric than uncrossed stitches produce from the same yarn. Crossed stitches also produce more elastic fabric, better suited to belts, garters, bandages, etc. A gansey knit for seaman using crossed stitches did not need the stitch patterns added to modern ganseys knit from mill yarns with uncrossed stitches to provided stretch and freedom of movement.

I moved my spinning wheel to the patio and started spinning like a demon.  Singles of different wools worsted spun at grist of 8,000 ypp to 12,000 ypp.  As you can guess, single’s twist was per Alden Amos Big Book of Handspinning chart on pg 383 for firm and hard spun. Then the singles were plied into 2, 3, and 4-ply yarns. I did not always get the ply twist correct.

When knit, most of my fine yarns showed significant ply-twist bias.  Flat knitting became parallelograms that firmly resisted being blocked square. Columns of stitches knit in the round would spiral up the tube. I had spun and plied kilometers of 5-ply, 1,000 ypp gansey yarn without ply bias, and I was stumped. My 3-ply 1,680 ypp yarns knitted perfectly.  Spun “medium” firm there was less problem with ply-twist bias, but the yarns seemed too weak to be the base of a working man’s garment. There was much less problem in small samples.  The worst problems were in the 4-ply, 2,500 ypp yarns, produced in hanks of 560 yards. Ultimately the problem was traced to fact that the singles changed the effective diameter of the spinning bobbin less than the 4-ply changed the effective diameter of the spinning bobbin, so the 4-ply yarn got less twist while plying, and the yarn was twist biased. (It is hard for a hand spinner to maintain a 12 tpi ply-twist over a length of 560 yards.)

What was clear early on, was these yarns with grist of 1,600 ypp to 2,500 ypp could be knit into fabrics that were both water repellant and weatherproof. In fact, I could knit these yarns into fabrics with a greater weight per area than the weatherproof fabrics that I knit from 5-ply, 1,000 ypp gansey yarn. Ya!! Get out your itty-bitty needles and you can knit a warmer fabric from finer yarn. However, if you make the yarn yourself, and you knit it as we were all trained to knit – the knit fabric will show ply-bias.

On the other hand, the stitches are so small that they can be made very quickly.

In such periods of confusion, I tend to reread Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book. There, she says that [uncrossed stitches] are currently [1938] more popular. However, through the Middle Ages [crossed stitch knitting] was the more popular. The great fishing fleets of Sheringham developed in the High Middle Ages and extended to Late Middle ages. The original gansey production skills likely developed at a time when crossed (or twisted) knitting stitches were more popular. Today, the terms have been corrupted to mean other things. We have lost the skill.

I think that circa 1415, Norfolk hand spinners, spun fine, high-twist woolen yarns, that were finely knit with crossed stitches. The crossed stitches substantially reduced the effect of ply-bias and allowed knitting square panels of fabric. Thus, the St. Nicolas Chapel bench ends were bought with money resulting from men wearing garments knit using crossed stitches from woolen spun yarns being warm enough to catch fish.

I think that circa 1450, Differential Rotation Speed spinning wheel technology (DRS) arrived in Britain, which allowed faster and easier production of worsted spun yarns. This new technology reduced the cost and increased the availability of the more lustrous worsted fabrics that we see in Tudor period paintings. DRS also allowed better control of twist in both the singles, and the ply-twist of yarns, allowing the faster and easier uncrossed knitting.  It became cheaper to produce 5-ply, 1,000 ypp yarn than 4-ply 1,600 ypp yarn. (The finer singles need more twist, so the twist ply must be greater to balance, and twist was the most expensive part of making yarn.)  Time needed to produce a seaman’s “gansey” from raw wool dropped from weeks to days.

I think DRS technology allowed the faster production of worsted yarns and fabrics that drove the fashion revolution known as “The New Drapery” at the beginning of the Tudor period.  Historians looking at social drivers of will see The New Drapery as a result of the Tudors as a newly dominate social group. I think DRS spinning technology affected Tudor era fashion; just as synthetic fibers and double-knit technology has affected our fashion industry over the last 50 years.

Fabric knit uncrossed is thinner than fabric knit crossed. Thus, I think the patterns in fisherman’s ganseys needed to protect the men from bruising and banging against spars, rigging and rails such as the patterns in Thompson began to be introduced circa 1450 as a result of the thinner fabrics produced by the faster uncrossed knitting. Nevertheless, I think the patterns produced by a knitter knitting crossed stitches can be just a distinctive, identifiable, and protective as stitch patterns produced by knitting uncrossed.

This project highlighted the difference between a knit fabric being water repellent and being “weatherproof”. With good fulling and oiling, a knit wool fabric can be water repellent enough to support a pool of water for hours, and still not be weatherproof enough to keep one warm in foul weather.  You can make a fabric that will support a pool of water, and you put the object on, and it is cold, it makes you cold and you stay miserable cold for hours. On the other hand, when one puts on a knit garment that is knit tightly enough that it is weatherproof, it feels cold for the first few minutes, then the wool that touches your skim dries, and protects your skin from the still wet, cold bulk of the fabric. A weatherproof fabric feels warm within minutes, even if the outer layers of the fabric are still wet.  A weatherproof knit fabric is tight enough to stop air flow through the fabric. That requires a much tighter fabric than one that will just stop liquid water.  (For the first time in a long while, Mother Nature has been sending me rain for testing wool objects. I have been knitting hats and walking in the rain.)

On the other hand, one can knit a fabric that is almost weatherproof and full/oil it so that it becomes water repellent. This summer’s studies have driven home the fact that just because a fabric will support a pool of water, does not mean that the fabric is weatherproof. Producing a fabric that is just water repellant and not fully weatherproof is MUCH less knitting effort, and it produces a more comfortable (in fine weather) and lighter object. I am sorry, after 21 years of knitting and 15 yeas of spinning, I am still learning the fine points of fulling knit wool.  Not many classes on wool fulling wool at “Stitches”.

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Until I see something to the contrary, I am going to think that “Ouvre” refers to a use of crossed stitches in traditional Jersey knitting. I think Sheringham and Jersey reflect ghosts of old knitting traditions (e.g., fine yarns and crossed stitches) that have been lost elsewhere.  

I think Guernsey delt with the problem of ply-twist bias by spinning thicker, lower twist yarns, and this tradition was adopted by knitters in what is now Britain. While Jersey corrected ply-twist bias by knitting with crossed stitches. This allowed them to use finer yarns. With mechanical spinning, the use of fine yarns was retained, while the laborious crossed stitch knitting was replaced with the modern, faster, easier, uncrossed knitting.

Nevertheless, I live in hope of finding a faster and easier technique to produce crossed stitch knitting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, October 01, 2021

Swatch knit from handspun 6-ply ~1,700 ypp sock yarn

 


4" by 4" swatch of latest sock yarn. One of the most elastic yarns I have ever spun and one of the most elastic fabrics I have ever knit. It is so elastic, I did not think it would be weatherproof. It is.  It is also very lustrous.  This swatch has been seriously abused, but never, blocked.

The swatch weighs 11 grams indicating an ounce of the yarn knit on 1.5 mm needles will produce 48 square inches of fabric, That makes it real easy, a gram of yarn knits into 10 cm^2 of fabric.  A weatherproof sweater that can weigh 900 grams.!?

900 grams is at the high end of the weight range for my ganseys knit from 5-py/1,000 ypp yarn. Does that mean a sweater knit from 6-ply/1,700 ypp yarn will be as warm as my best ganseys?  I could sit here and drag up good physics arguments either way. This calls for data not in my CRC Handbook.  I have to stop and measure.

I have good socks knit from hand spun 5-ply/1000 ypp yarn. I will knit a sock from the fine sock yarn. Then I will put a gansey sock on one foot, a fine sock on the other, and put both into a tub of ice water. The first sock/foot team to get cold loses.

Why does it matter? The ganseys knit from thicker yarn were much cheaper. However, seamen were often limited to a duffle bag 8" in diameter and 24" long. A gansey that was as warm, but with less volume would have been precious. 

Can such "sock yarn" be spun and plied with a drop spindle/distaff technology?  


New Draperies

 Consider the explosion of exports of English worsted textiles in the 16th and 17th century, the so called "New Draperies". It has been explained in various ways. see for example:   https://doi.org/10.2307/2594119 (https://www.jstor.org/stable/2594119)  .

I  say that there was a long tradition of English production of worsted textiles using spindle and distaff technology. Then, various driven spindles were introduced, making woolen the cheaper and thus the more favored fabric until production of worsted textiles expands in the 16th century. 

I blandly assert that DRS technology crossed from France to England in the late15th century, (e.g., surge of emigration by textile workers in the Low Countries toward the end of the 100-year likely with War.)  It would have taken  a while for wheel makers to get good at making DRS wheels and large numbers of English spinners to learn how to use the wheels. There were also delays in English social, political, and economic forces aligning to encourage spinning worsted for export. And it took a while to convert overseas markets for woolen fabrics to the new products. 

In the 17th century, England became a great exporter of worsted textiles.  Then, in 1764, the Spinning Jenny was invented, and Paton and Baldwin were early adopters. 

For a knitter seeking to knit good stuff, their catalogue of vintage yarns are worth exploring and recreating.  The Brits were good knitters, and we can learn from them!




Thursday, September 30, 2021

Tudor Textiles

 Look at paintings of the Tudor Court (Henry VIII ==> Elizabeth R). Now, sit down and spin threads and weave samples of fabrics that match what you see in the paintings. Track your productivity and estimate how long it took to produce the fabrics in those paintings. Look at lists of Tapestries owned by the Tudors, with all of those threads covered by thin layers of gold. Estimate how that gold covered thread was produced - and by who.

You will quickly come to a conclusion that there were textile technologies not taught to modern hobbyists.   The corollary is that there were crofters producing coarse wool fabrics, and there were colonies of  high-end textile workers producing fine fabrics for the rich and powerful. 

This is not the history taught in hobby circles. 

Consider the Wool Act (1571) requiring hats knit from English wool be worn on Sunday. We know that 13 or 14 different professions were involved in the different stages of producing those hats in an industrial process. This is not the mythology told by Queen Victoria's Court, and today passed amoung hobby spinners and  knitters.  

One who does believe Queen Victoria's Court's mythology about English spinning and knitting has posted almost 50,000 times on Ravelry.  She has a bunch of spinning wheels, but I doubt if she could spin the yarn needed for a good fisherman's kit in time to knit the kit in before next season's fishing.  And then there is the question of whether she can knit a good weatherproof fabric.  And there is the question, of whether she could knit socks, mittens, comforter, hat, and gansey without getting carpel tunnel in her wrists.

see also: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/wilts/vol4/pp148-182#h3-0002  


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Sheringham

 If the fine yarns the Sheringham ganseys were knit from had/have the beauty of the yarns I am spinning, then I can very much understand the fascination with Sheringham ganseys as objects of  art and beauty.  

Bias

 As I began producing these finer yarns, I had a problem matching singles twist to ply twist. 

This was resolved with a new drive band between the accelerator and the flyer/bobbin assembly.

All of a sudden, the math worked again.

The Economics of the yarns I am making these days

 I start by spinning worsted singles at 17 tpi and between 11,000 and 14,000 ypp.  In an hour, I can spin about 300 yards, using about 10 grams of fiber. 

For the BeeHive replica (4-ply, 2,500 ypp), I then ply 4 singles together, and produce yarn at about 70 yards per hour. Then a 30 gram/ 1 ounce / ~100 yards ball is 1.5-hours work.

For the 6-ply (1,700 ypp) yarn, I can average about 50 yards of yarn ready to scour, so an ounce ball is a couple hours of work. 

However, it takes me twice as long to knit a square inch of fabric from the 4-ply as from the 6-ply, so spinning is cheaper than knitting.

Is this spinning worth my time?

I justified spinning gansey yarn because of its exceptional functionality.  I do not know what the functionality of these yarns is. 

I have never seen yarns in retail yarn shops that knit into such beautiful fabrics. I have seen such beautiful fabrics in museums and the catwalks of Paris. I have seen almost as nice fabrics in fancy department stores such as Needless Markup. All of a sudden I see how a suit of hand spun clothes can cost as much as a house.

The fibers I am using are sunk costs - fleece that I bought or were given to me long ago, and which I did not use because it was not suited to past projects. Then, I did not understand that if I just spun it  worsted and very fine - it would be exceptional.

For now, I am going to justify this exercise by saying, my spinning is as good as spending the day in the gym - and thereby saves me $50/month YMCA dues.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Spinning and sampling - Jacob

 

 September 28, 2021 - spinning singles from dyed Jacob fiber,  then plying into 4-ply yarn at about 2,700 ypp. I knit this yarn on 1.3 mm needles at about 12 spi.



For those that do not like "BeeHive" style yarns, I also made some 6-ply at ~ 1,700 ypp (spinning is faster than knitting.)  The history of industrial fine knit underwear, socks, and sports wear however,  tells us that, "Fine knitting makes nice things to wear."


These yarns are based on singles of ~11,000 - 12,000 ypp that I spun worsted at 17 tpi, and the ply-twist is also ~ 17 tpi. 

I was going to spin a lot of this fleece as sock yarn because my wife told me it is not a good color for my complexion.  Once I get in the groove, it spins very fast - close to 250 yards of single per hour - that is about 10 grams of fiber into single/ hour. I have to hustle to spin a quarter pound of fiber per day.  On the other hand, a quarter pound of either of these yarns is days of knitting. I knit this yarn on 1.5 mm needles at about 10 spi.

I had not gotten 10 rows into the swatches before I had fallen in love with the fabrics from both yarns. They are firm without being harsh - they are elastic to an extent that we just do not see any more because mills do not put that much twist in their yarns these days - And it is a very lustrous fleece spun worsted - it almost glows in the dark - but these yarns are still hard to knit while binge watching dark old black and white movies - the knit fabric is almost black.  And, my wife tells me that spun and knit into that 'almost black', it is a good color for me. 

Worsted spinning is very worth while. Sitting on patio this morning, spinning, with the sun coming up behind me - the thread was like a line of fire passing through my fingers, and going "black" as it became competent yarn. The final yarn is lustrous (brown) that knitted firmly looks lustrous black.

I do not know if such high twist singles can be made "weatherproof", or whether fulling the fabric would diminish the fabric through loss of elasticity. California is having a drought - I am not going to worry about "weatherproof".

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Romney, 4-ply, 2,300 ypp

Is it like the old Baldwin's BeeHive? No!, that was spun from a finer fleece.

As I knit this (Romney, 4-ply, 2,300 ypp) on 1.3 mm needles at 12 spi,  it was very elastic.  I thought, "No way it will ever come close to being weatherproof!"  However, fulling brought the gauge to ~12.5 spi and sure enough, it is pretty much weatherproof, but still fairly elastic. I think it is dense enough prevent sunburn here in sunny California.

It's fault is that I am back to a left leaning bias, so I must improve my plying.


Friday, September 24, 2021

Besotted

 For twenty years was besotted with 5-ply/ 1,000 ypp gansey yarn. That despite the fact that the first weatherproof fabrics that I produced were socks from https://www.macauslandswoollenmills.com/. I knit a lot of very serviceable camping, climbing, and ski gear from MacAusland's yarn.  

Nevertheless, there was always the siren call of Sheringham ganseys.  I should have given  in to the call 10 years ago, and moved to spinning finer yarns, that could be knit into finer ganseys.

Ok, the spinning is not as fast - I spin 11,200 ypp singles at about 300 yards per hour compared to the almost 600 yards per hour of coarser singles. Plying is not as fast, but I do it on the spinning bobbins that I use to spin the singles - that means balls of plied yarn are ~30 grams - just like the balls of BeeHive Yarn that Baldwin mills sold all those years ago.

The fine fabric that I knit from Rambouillet yarn is translucent -  and if I wear it in sunny California, I will get sunburned. I need to spin a similar yarn from that pile of Romney that I dyed navy blue.  I made several tries at that over the last couple of months and was never happy with the result - I just threw a big handful of those swatches away.  

One problem was bias. The lines of knit stitches did not run straight - they spiraled (when knit in the round.)  In some ways, fine singles are harder to ply than coarse singles.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Learning to knit, again


 

A swatch of worsted handspun 4-ply (about 2,500 ypp, singles at 17 tpi, plied at 17ptpi) knit on 6" by 1.3 mm needles (in photo). 

Fleece is Rambouillet from https://www.annagotwool.com/ .

Knitting gauge is about 12 spi by 19 rpi = ~250 stitch per square inch. As knit, not blocked. 

Angle of photo makes needles look "pointy", they have flat tips.


After fulling, the swatch has a small bias, that was easily removed by blocking. Result gauge similar to knit gauge, e.g., ~250 stitches per inch squared.

Fabric is weatherproof.


It is translucent- you can get a good sunburn through it, but it will keep your skin dry and warm in a light rain, as you can work, as water vapor from your skin will evaporate and the vapor move through the fabric.

This makes me think the folk in Norfolk, have forgotten the real practical virtues of a Sheringham gansey. They seem to think of them as "art", "a token of affection" or a fashion statement - not as a very practical and useful object. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

In the beginning

 In the beginning, I hoped others would read my explorations with wool and help me find the path.

It did not happen. I have walked alone, as folk that still think Queen Victoria produced great textiles, shout insults.

Therefore, I recorded my steps and missteps. If I found steps forward, I posted them, without going back and changing previous posts, because I saw wool as a complex system, and if the final result was wrong, I was not sure where or how the final result was wrong.

Consider pointy needles: Early on, a speed knitting champion told me that I needed very pointy needles to knit fast. In her technique, that was true. It was the conventional wisdom since Weldon's Practical Knitter in the Victorian era. All of that presumes that one is not using a knitting sheath.

It took me 15-years work out the techniques with a knitting sheath so that I understood that because of the leverage, knitting sheaths can knit faster with flat tipped needles.  Now, I know that if the "speed knitter" and I each set out to knit a hundred good weatherproof ganseys (as fast as possible), one of two things will happen: 1) Her ganseys will be rejected because they are not knit tight enough. Or 2) she will need wrist surgery after she has knit only 2 or 3 ganseys. 

Moving to flat tipped needles doubled my knitting speed. All of a sudden, I was almost as fast as speed knitting competitors, but I was still knitting fabrics much tighter than anything the speed knitters were knitting - and I was an old man with chronic Lyme Diease. 

When I started, I thought there was some secret of yarn and knitting pattern that resulted in warmth. After a few thousand swatches, it was clear that the critical factors were distance between wool fibers and oil on the wool to help make the wool hydrophobic. Distance between wool fibers was the result of type of fleece, how the wool was spun (woolen or worsted) how tightly it was knit, the thickness of the fabric, and how the fabric was finished (fulled).  Together, these factors outweigh Alden's and Judith's simplistic rule that fine fleece,  spun woolen is warmer.  My rule is that worsted spun, yarns with more plies are warmer and more durable. Oh, a lot more effort, but warmer and more durable. Another of my rule is that finer fleece can result in higher warmth to weight ratios, but are less durable than coarser wools so over years, the difference is not worth a cup of fresh piss. (Stale piss has more value for fulling wool.)

After school, I was rather adventuresome, and had some unpleasantly cold experiences.  As I got some money, I bought some fancy synthetic adventure clothing.  Then, I got to wondering how the seamen out on damp, cold ships stayed warm. I started exploring wool.  

My mother asked me to prune her apple orchard - I knew the weather would be brutal - so I brought the fancy adventure gear, and my hand knit wool.  I froze in the fancy gear, and the wool saved my ass.

Then, my mother wanted all the tree prunings burned - I got caught in the flames. If I had been wearing the synthetic fabrics, I would have been toast - and it was an hour to the nearest hospital, and 3 hours to a hospital with a burn center.  The flames took my facial hair and the hair at the nape of my neck, but my glasses protected my eyes. The fire burned all the pills off of my wool, leaving it smelling singed, but looking pristine.

Wool is not one solution, but a wide range of solutions. I really believe that it took thousands of bright-eyed, nimble fingered folks looking for ways to stay warm, thousands of years to work out all the textile solutions available circa 1750 - prior to the Spinning Jenny, but long after the knitting frame.

Many of the solutions are very practical, but details matter.

  1. A  thick, very tightly knit sweater, with plenty of wearing ease and an "Irish Boat" neck, will keep one warm and even let one nap in a snow bank, but standing up and  warm will vent out the neck, allowing one to go into the pub and have a pint without over heating - it does not need a zipper.
  2. A gansey knit snugly will allow one to go into the top rigging, perform acrobatic work without getting hypothermic and losing coordination. Horizontal stitch patterns protect one from banging against spars, while reefing sails.
  3. A finely knit gansey can be worn under a uniform coat, and lend distinction and authority to a ship's officer, and keep him comfortable below deck when he is not wearing his uniform coat.
  4. A thick gansey with vertical patterns could protect a fisherman hauling hundred pound cod over the rail in a heaving sea.
  5. The Lizard Lattice was excellent for men that spent a lot of time rowing small boats - either in near-shore fishing, rowing to and from boats anchored in the harbor or in off-shore whaling.

Each of these objects has a different function, but may be produced in a multitude of styles and patterns. The yarn used, the shape of the garment, the density of knitting, and the style affected how well someone could perform a particular job function. Wear a fisherman's gansey into a pub to do some horse trading, and you will be sweating long before you can come to a deal. Wearing a shepherd's gansey to reef the royals, and you will not be able to keep up with the other top-men, earning you a torrent of abusive language.

You can buy raw fleece for $20/lb, and a gansey is a couple of pounds, so a whole fleece is enough for several ganseys including sampling and swatching.  (With DRS) in the time it takes to binge watch Gilmore Girls, you can spin the yarn for a couple of ganseys and in the time it takes to binge watch Gray's Anatomy, you can knit a gansey. If you must watch old black and white movies like It happened One Night and the room will likely be darker and you may not see knitting mistakes.

I found that I preferred skiing in a wool gansey (in California, often in shorts.)  I prefer sailing in a wool gansey. If the weather is cold, I wear a gansey gardening in the winter.  I wear a gansey fishing. In the winter, I wear a gansey walking in the hills. I admit to wearing synthetic vests in centrally heated environments. I admit to planning on knitting myself some new ganseys that are not as warm.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Academia fails to pay attention to details.

A prominate English academic tried to replicate some of my fabrics, and did not achieve "weatherproof", and thereby assumes I am a fraud and troll.

First, there is knitting and there is knitting. It took me years of work to find knitting tools and technique that would produce weatherproof fabrics. Then, it took me more years of  research to learn to full and oil the fabrics.  I warned him about this 3- times and I do not think he paid attention. 

My day job was knowing how water moved through various materials. My hobby was working out how seamen stayed warm and dry in cold, wet ships, when they had to go into the rigging regardless of the weather.

In the old days there was a trade devoted to fulling wool, and every knitter knew how it was done. Every weaver knew how it was done. Every weaver's wife knew how it was done even if it was done by a different trade.  (Fulling - Wikipedia)

The first time I fulled a gansey and realized how important fulling was, I simply wore it camping on the Big Sur River. I fried bacon it, and wore it all day and all night, with no undershirt. My body oils oiled the inside, the bacon fat oil the outside and playing in the river and rock climbing did the rest.  It took me weeks to understand what happed to that sweater, that made it weatherproof. There was a period, where I practiced fulling and oiling wool to make it weatherproof. I knit a lot of big swatches, fulled them, and oiled them. I knit a dozen small swatches in the last week, each got kneaded with soap and rolled between my hands in every direction, then rinsed, then smeared with lanolin, and rolled between my hands in every direction.  Then and only then were they tested for "weatherproof?".

Softly spun yarns and loosely knit objects do not full, they turn to lint or shrink into doll clothes. Tightly spun yarns that are tightly knit can get stiff.  Sample and swatch, before you knit a large object and try to full it. Likewise, sample and swatch if you plan to knit a "Sheringham" gansey.

If that academic had understood knitting with a knitting sheath, he would have discovered the use of blunt needles before reading it on my blog. I was working with blunt needles for 6 years before recommending blunt/flat tipped needles.  It took me that long to work out and learn the technique. It is not something you learn in weeks.



Sunday, September 12, 2021

Sampling beyond Sheringham

It was a change of perspective to be spinning to 80 wpi (20 warps per 1/4"), rather than 18.7 wpi trying to spin 5,600 ypp (10s).  An obvious progression is 120 wpi (30 wraps per 1/4"). It does not come out to a nice number of hanks per pound, but with the fleece I was using - it came out to singles of just under 15,000 ypp and about 17 tpi.

As 6-ply that is a nice sock yarn of near 2,250 ypp and as 5-ply it is a nice sock yarn of about 2,700 ypp. This was done in a few hours of late afternoon sun after fussing with whorls and combing some Rambouillet.  It was scoured on the reel, dried on the reel in the evening sun but not otherwise blocked.


A couple hundred feed of  yarn from singles with grist of ~15,000 ypp. One end is 5-py, the other end is 6-ply.  White singles are Rambouillet  and the blue is Romney.

________________

40 wraps per quarter inch, gets us to 25,600 ypp, and we are getting close to spinning fine. 46 wraps per quarter inch gets us to "fine spinning". I expect 46 wraps per quarter inch (184 wraps per inch) at 60s made that an important grist for hand spinners. (On #0 flyer, the Rambouillet easily spins at 46 wraps per quarter inch, but I do not have pix at this time.) That is a 6-ply of just under 4,000 ypp. I am not going to knit anything like that for anyone that does not have full time lady's maids.  On the other hand, I really do like this evening's yarn.  Time to spend less time knitting and more time weaving.

The "black eye" on the 1/4" yarn gauge is a magnet that holds the gauge handy on the wheel.

 

Why I knit and spin

Spinning and knitting is an ongoing  intellectual and physical challenge at many levels. Textile work has mental  and physical challenges that video  games and sports do not, and it has rewards that video games and sports do not.

Certainly, just learning to knit and spin were challenges. And knitting and spinning with modern tools are pleasant pastimes. It is pleasant to sit and knit or spin with a group. 

However, when I get off by myself, I always wonder; "How can I do this better or faster?" "What tools can I make that will allow me to knit or spin better or faster?", "How good or how fast were the old PROFFESIONAL knitters and spinners?",  "What tools did they have that let them produce a more professional product with a higher profit margin?"

I like spinning and knitting. I also like designing and making tools that make the various textile processes faster and easier. Mr. Comber invented industrial wool combing. And, then he reinvented it. Making tools is fun!  And I am an old man with chronic diease, but I can flop down and do a lot of pushups - combing wool by hand is one of the very best exercises I know.

No video game that I know is more thrilling than spinning fast and fine. It is not unlike; "Hand feeding a hungry dragon, that is very fussy and particular about their food.", but if I do (comb the wool) well, I get glorious, lustrous, fine thread, that is strong. It is me against the history of textile art and technology. No other competition is as harsh, and no other competition offers these such rewards. And that is just to get the yarn  to start knitting. 

If I am spinning and knitting - then I should be spinning and knitting better and better. To do that, I need better skills and better tools.  However, Queen Victoria established the president that none of her ladies should spin or knit better than she did.  That is not the kind of idea that I like.

DRS Failure

 In the spring of 1991, I was tasked with a regulatory compliance audit of the US Petroleum reserve in  Bakersfield, California. Mostly it was walking around a huge petroleum pumping facility looking for leaks and taking detailed notes. By May, Bakersfield was warming up weather-wise, and I mentioned the fact to my boss in SF.  He said, "I will take care of that", and handed me a one-way ticket to Saudi Arabia. A week later, I was shaking hands with Red Adair's team at the kick-off BBQ.  There was heat, smoke, oil well fires, and crude oil everywhere.

Since then, I have not complained about the heat in California. This summer has been warm and sunny, and I did my spinning outside. 

Anyway, spinning bobbins and flyer whorls I had turned from wood, have contracted and changed my DRS ratios. Often the contraction is only a fraction of a millimeter, but that is enough to affect inserted twist per inch.  

It was a failure, but not a sudden catastrophic failure. Whorl combinations that should have yielded 12 tpi actually produced 17 tpi. Whorl combinations that should have produced 17 tpi, actually spun at more than 20. What should have been 24 tpi was - zero tpi.  (Higher tpi is produced by the whorls being closer to the same diameter, but when they are the same diameter, then tpi is zero.) (Wind on twist with no takeup  a => break-off no use in holding fine singles together.)  That is when I sat up, took notice, and got out the calipers, and started measuring.  

The wheel is not dead, it does not have heatstroke, it just needs a little water.