Monday, July 06, 2015


A swatch/prototype in progress.  The stitch is eastern crossed stitch.  The yarn is Paton's Classic Wool.  The gauge is 8 stitches per inch or 32 stitches per 4".  The object is the torso for a knit in the round Jersey.

This object is out of my bin of ECS WIP.  Today, I knit the same stitch at the same gauge - I just knit it at a practical rate. The fabric is lovely.  Now, I know how to finish it off in a reasonable time.  The scale is marked in inches. 


After some additional swatching, and reflection, I expect that eastern cross stitch was the stitch used in the classic "Jersey" shirts produced in the Channel Islands for seamen and fishermen.  Perhaps ECS was also used in the heavier Guernsey shirts, but it makes a glorious fabric for general outdoor wear.

Eighty years ago we could buy knit wool sport shirts! Today, they have been replaced by knit cotton and polyester.  And while I love my knit cotton rugby shirts, when cotton (and linen) are wet, the are not nearly as warm as a knit wool.  And, knit synthetics are not safe around open flames.  No, knit wool is the right fabric for working and playing away from central heat.  And, ECS is the best stitch that I know for finely knit shirt fabrics.

And eastern cross stitch produces a warmer and more weatherproof (keeps out wind and wet) fabric than modern Weldon's stockinette.  (Knit with hand held, pointy needles)  At the very least, there are many little stitches in a finely knit shirt, and Weldon's methods are a lot of effort for a few stitches.

I do not expect anyone to accept anything that I say.  I expect everyone to THINK and test everything.  Swatch, and test heat flow though the fabrics. Swatch, and stitch the swatches into garments and test how they perform.  I expect my students to be adventurous and creative.  I expect my students to never accept the current technology as the end point.  If you are EVER satisfied with the current technology (spinning, knitting, weaving) then you do not belong here.

Our current hand made textiles are not as fine or produced as quickly as the hand made textiles of times past. That proves that we do not need power equipment to work faster.  That proves that we do not need computers to work better.  We can do better than we are doing by improving our skills and refining our tools.  It is not easy, but my students are not lazy.  If you think it is too much work, you do not belong here.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Eastern Cross stitch

My attention was originally drawn to Eastern Cross Stitch when I read in Mary Thomas's  Knitting Book, that in previous times, it had been a very popular stitch. This raised the question, "What was  Eastern Cross Stitch's particular virtue to make it popular?"

Yes it produces a nice firm fabric, but so does stockinette when knit with fine needles and a knitting sheath.

However, with flat tipped needles (and a knitting sheath), Eastern Cross Stitch turns out to be the fastest stitch to knit. (Or at least the fastest I have found so far.)   The hand movements are few and tiny. They can be done quickly and with minimal effort.   In hand knitting, fast is cheap.  Fabrics knit with Eastern Cross Stitch had the lowest cost to knit.  And, it produces a warmer fabric using larger needles (fewer stitches per inch^2).

I played with ECS on pointy needles a while back, and knitting it was more effort than knitting stockinette so I have bins full of ECS WIP.    Now, I know how to finish them quickly and easily. Knitting ECS with pointy hand held needles is also more effort than stockinette.  I actually expect that at one time ECS knit in the round would have been considered "stockinette".  Consider for example the stitch structure of the Coptic socks.

Eastern Cross Stitch has rather abruptly become my default stitch for firm fabrics. (Pending  full testing of the prototypes.)   It was just a matter of finding the right tools to make the stitch faster and easier.

This of course raises the question as to whether the Channel Island knitters used the ECS as a competitive advantage in knitting seaman's clothing.  In any case, it is easy to see why the stitch was popular.  And, it lends credence to the old stories of very fast knitting. (e.g., even faster than :

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Am I an "Elite" knitter?

When I knit the stuff that everyone else was knitting, I never considered myself an elite knitter.

Now, I knit stuff that some (or even many of my readers) do not believe can be knit.
I use tools that almost no other knitters use.  These allow me to hand knit fast.

I have knit a dozen pair of good ski boot socks so far this year. The socks from commercial 5-ply sport weight gansey yarn were knit at 8.5 spi, and socks from 6-strand 2x3 cabled 850 ypp  worsted were knit at 7 spi.   We like these yarns for cold weather boot socks. A pair of these socks is some where between 20,000 and 30,000 stitches - about the same as an adult sweater knit at 4 spi.  However, because the fabric is much tighter, the effort to knit is much greater.  On the other hand, 3 or 4 pairs of those snow socks is about the same number of stitches and the same effort as a good gansey from commercial 5-ply.   This spring, I also did some knitting of my own 5-ply, 1,000 ypp yarns, on 2 mm needles@ 10 spi,  but that is a different post.

Socks that are felted down to size tend to keep shrinking under the heat and friction of back country skiing.  Worsted yarns, knit tightly to fit, do not shrink.  These socks can be washed, and put on wet, and in a very few minutes they will feel dry and warm. (Or, they can be machine washed and tossed in a cool dryer. Start with swatches!!)   This does not occur with more loosely knit socks, which must be fully (and very gently) dried prior to being comfortable to wear.  For years, I hiked with a pair of socks dangling and drying on the back of my pack. (Sometimes commercial, and sometimes my hand knit.)   Now that I have learned to knit tighter,  I can wash my socks and put them on wet. That means I only need to take one pair of socks.

It is not necessary for you to believe for the technology to work.  In fact, if you do not believe it, then I am the ultimate Elite Knitter.  The more that you do not believe, the more astonishing my knitting. The more astonishing my knitting, the more I must be  the ultimate Elite Knitter.  To demote me, you must show that everyone can knit a couple pairs of good, tight snow socks per month.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Pure Wisdom

He, that I call "Pure Wisdom" is a member of my most extended family.  He was one of the brightest stars at one of the world's most technical companies, and now is one of its most senior managers. He is no longer concerned with technical issues because he says, "Old must be BOLD!"

We are, after all, are writing our Epitaph. We are writing our grave stone.  Writing in stone takes great force.  Yes, we need to be very bold.

There are many manuals for writing resumes, but there are few guides to writing good Epitaphs.

One was laid out by Ina Corina Brown in the course she taught as a Peabody Scholar.  Sometimes it was offered as a set of things to do on a regular basis, and sometimes it was offered as a personal performance test.  Here is one of the test versions.

1.     Do I seek to to achieve personal growth and development by means of some plan whereby I can enlarge my horizons as well as fill gaps in my knowledge an experience?
2.     Do I subscribe to or regularly access:
2.1.  Some reliable news media? 
2.2.  Some quality magazines dealing with current thought?
2.3.  Some magazines devoted at least in part to book reviews and literary criticism?
2.4.   First rate professional journals?
3.     Do I read at least 2 dozen serious books in the field of biography, history, current affairs, and literature (including classics read and reread)?
4.     Do I make some serious effort in increase my understanding and appreciation of art, literature, and music through the use of pictures, lectures, concerts, records, plays, books and the selective use of radio, TV, and Utube ?
5.     Do I follow some consistent plan for building a library, including dictionaries, atlases, encyclopedias, religious texts, and reference books such as Bartlett's Quotations, Fowler's English Usage, and more modern texts on the topic?
6.     Do I have some consistent plan for professional reading, and for professional growth and development?
7.     Do I have an interest in, and an awareness of, the world of nature so that I can identify and enjoy birds, flowers, trees, stars, and landscapes?
8.     Do I have some enriching and relaxing hobby or interest such as weaving, wood or leather working, cabinet making, book binding or gardening?
9.     Do I belong to and actively participate in at least 3 of the following:
9.1.  A religious body?
9.2.  A civic group?
9.3.  A political group?
9.4.  A literary, art or music group?
9.5.  A scientific group?
9.6.  A social action group?
9.7.  A professional society?
10.  Do I have some consistent and orderly plan for budgeting and handling my income so that:
10.1.  I am able to meet my obligations promptly?
10.2.   Get the greatest possible benefit form my income?
10.3.     Make reasonable provision for the future?
11.   Do I have some consistent can orderly plan for budgeting my time so that I can:
11.1.   Meet my personal and professional obligations?
11.2.    Render service to my fellowmen?
11.3.     Have time for enriching leisure?
12.  Do I take care of my health through habits of eating and sleeping, judicious use of exercise and rest, and regular physical examinations including eyes and teeth?
13.  Am I particular in habits of personal cleanliness and grooming, and in selection, care and repair of clothing?
14.  Do I fulfill my obligation as a citizen by:
14.1.   Voting regularly and as intelligently as possible?
14.2.    Civic participation (serving on boards and committees, aiding in Red Cross and other drives and etc.?
14.3.  Some regular volunteer service to an organization engaged in community betterment?
15.  Am I careful in my oral and written speech habits including enunciation, pronunciation, vocabulary and sentence structure, and do I attempt to correct known deficiencies?
16.  Do I practice the kind of good manners that come of a thoughtful awareness and  consideration of others?
17.  Have I honestly attempted to achieve those qualities of character that I most genuinely admire such as integrity, fortitude, compassion, tolerance?
18.  Do I make a persistent effort to rub off the rough edges of my personality and to become a friendly,  likable person who brings out the best in others?
19.  Am I continuously enlarging the horizons of my knowledge, interest and concern so as to become in the best sense of the word, a citizen of the world?
20.  Am I honestly trying to develop what Overstreet calls “The Mature Mind”, so that I may grow up before I grow old?
See for example

I transcribed the above from a hard copy, and I know there are some typos in it, but in accordance with "make it work, then make it pretty"  I offer it up in its current state.

The other thing that I would add is that there is a lot of sloppy thinking out there.  Sometimes details matter. And, when details matter, generalities fail. When someone tells you that woolen spun is warmer than worsted because woolen is looser and holds more air, ask yourself if they have the details correct. 

Spinning, knitting, and waving are all technologies where details matter - a lot.  And, yet I find that many modern hobby spinners, knitters, and weavers tend to gloss technical details.  They pretend to want to spin or knit or weave fast, but avoid the tools that would allow them to work faster.

Thus, the  4 additional questions that I would add to ICB's exam are:

21. Am I honest with myself about my goals?
22. Do I test statements asserted by others as facts?
23. Do I keep my math sharp?
24. Do expand and deepen my knowledge of physical science? 

Testing statements is not looking them up at some citation. It is either calculations from first principles, or going into the lab or studio, making the test equipment or preparing the test material and testing it. If you want to know whether I am telling the truth about what kind of fabrics are warmer, knit up some fabric swatches and test their insulation values.  If you want to know if I am correct about knitting sheaths, make one and try it.  Try it with pointy needles, then try it with blunt needles.  I did.   

By reading the classics, we learn, "Trust, but verify!"

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Speculation from Ignorance

Recently, I have been seeing a lot of Speculation from Ignorance about my knitting. It is derogatory. What drives them to slander and libel me?

Do they really think that when somebody spends 15 years working out how to make knit objects that are just the way he likes them, that he is going to come up with crap?  No, in 15 years one can learn how to make the best possible objects.

Are the sexist? Who cares? This is likely a deeper emotion. They are lazy, and they want fast gratification.

They do not want folks talking about fine needles producing fine knitting.

If they want to produce knitting as good as mine, they need to use needles as fine as mine. They do not want to put in the effort required by fine needles. They want to be elite knitters, but they do not want to put in the effort required for fine knitting. Thus, they want to shut me up as fast as possible.

I was in the LYS today, and a lady was talking (with awe) about the fine hand knitting produced on 3 mm needles during the 1920s. As she was speaking, I was knitting 2,000 ypp, 3x2 cabled yarn on 1.75 mm (flat ended) needles at 14 spi. It is a nice fabric.  In is a finer fabric than can be produced on most of the needles that most modern knitters use.  I am not saying anything against those fabrics knit quickly on fat needles, I am saying that the fabrics that I produce on finer needles have particular virtues. Once you get into the rhythm of the process, it goes pretty fast.  After 15 years, I can say that I am approaching fine knitting.

Look at the old Izod polo shirts.  They were finely knit wool.  I can remember when there were finely knit wool rugby shirts.  The term "shirt" traditionally included finely knit wool.

Knit wear supporting a pool of water

Here is a 5 year old pix of some knit wear including a sweater supporting a pool of water.

It was 12 oz cup about 2/3 full, so that is about 8 oz of water pooled on that sweater.

And yes, the cement was dry when I picked the sweaters up.

Try it with your sweaters!.  Then, make a knitting sheath; get, or make some gansey needles, and  knit a good tight swatch.  Wash it, oil it with lanolin, block it/ dry it.  Then, try pouring water on your swatch.  The water will pool on it.  Another test is to face a bright window, and hold the fabric about an inch from your eye.  If you cannot distinguish the edge of the window, then (if oiled) water will pool on the fabric and the fabric will keep you warm.

Left to right the yarns were Winghams gansey, MacAusland, and the old LB Fisherman's Wool.  The socks and balaclava were knit from MacAusland.  All of those fabrics will hold a pool of water.  The  6-strand sock yarn that I use these days produces a fabric that feels softer, but is even more weatherproof.

A competent knitter can make a functional knitting sheath in half an hour. (Functional, not pretty!)  A competent knitter can make a set of needles from music wire from the local hardware store.  Use a firmly spun yarn, and in a long afternoon, you can prove to yourself that knitting with a knitting sheath will produce fabrics that cannot be reasonably knit with hand held needles.  Yes, such fabrics can be knit with only hand held needles, but it is very slow and hard on the wrists. Been there, done that, which is why I went looking for a better way. With a knitting sheath, knitting such fabrics is fast and easy.

Anybody with an interest will try the technique.  It works.  Anybody that does not try, is not really interested. I do not have time for people that are not interested.

For the folks that are interested, I have time to give pointers and tips on how to make better knitting sheaths, better needles, and develop better technique.

Boot socks knit n 2015, each supporting a nice pool of water.  In some places water has run off sideways, but each sock is holding a pool of water- e.g., the water is not draining down through the fabric.  Nevertheless, these socks all allow water vapor to pass though them, allowing the feet to dry.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Flat tipped needles 2

These days, I make knitting needles by cutting steel music wire to length, grinding the ends flat or slightly domed, and polishing the burrs off the edge. Pix of the needles I have been using (in the Redwoods).

Needles in the range of  2 - 2.4 mm. The cross section of the ends is round.

The 2 knitting sheaths that went with me to the Redwoods.

 A worn and machine washed (in hot water) "swatch".  (This yarn is NOT labeled as washable!!) The yarn is a  3x2 cabled yarn that I am using for all my hiking socks this year.  RIW got 12" high socks of this design/yarn and used them for a dozen days of skiing last winter.  He tells me that they work as well as the Shetland yarns I had been using for his ski socks.

A swatch as it comes off the needles - these anklets I wear on the Nordic track.  I like the pointed toe to cushion my toes.

The belt I wore over my swimming trunks to hold my knitting sheath.  (It came with some cheap shorts from Costco.)  It does not work very well for pointed needles with a knitting sheath - (they need more support, e.g., a leather belt), but it works well enough with flat ended needles.  Flat tipped needles really do simplify the whole knitting sheath concept.   

I do not suggest that flat tipped needles work very well for hand hand knitting.  Ball tipped needles work OK hand knitting soft woolen fabrics, but pointy really is better for hand held knitting.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

short sleeved Shetland

A nice beam reach home,  made more interesting by fracturing the main sheet fitting.  It was cool and breezy.

The gansey was short sleeved to allow reaching into the water to set lines on trolling weights, but it works for all kinds of play on the water. It is not pretty, but it does what it does very well.

I knit things that I think will be useful and comfortable.  And,I test them.  I make sure that the techniques I use produce objects that are useful and comfortable