Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Wassit? Wassit? No clew on the Internet!

Some have been surprised not to find how to use a clew on the Internet.

They would not find much on wassit either. Wassit was the inexpensive, tightly spun, indigo dyed, knitting yarn that was ubiquitous on the shores of the English Channel 500 years ago. It was used for knitting everything from underwear and socks to ganseys for the fishermen. Why doesn’t something that important show up on the Internet?

A clew is simply a hook, hung from the belt, on which a ball of yarn is impaled. Many designs work. I simply bent a spiral of wire so that it clipped on to a leather work belt and held a wire claw (from the same root) upwards to hold my yarn.

Very likely some of the hooks on the lower end of knitting sheaths, that museum curators tell me were to hold the knitting, were actually clews to hold yarn. (Since the museums did not have needles for those sheaths, it is unlikely that the curators had actually tried knitting with such an arrangement.) However, as you knit round and round, hooks attached to the knitting get all tangled up. However, used as clews, the hooks hanging from the bottom of the knitting sheath work just fine. And, even when I am working on the second sleeve, I have not had a problem with the gansey touching the floor. So, I see no need or advantage from a hook to hold the knitting.

Clews work with either center-pull or outside in balls. Every so often you will have to reset the ball, and for center pull balls, rewind them, but it is knitting, not rocket science. They are useful if you are camping or knitting while walking or if your hut has a mud floor.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Get a clew!

Over on Ravelry, there is a discussion on centerpull vs. using yarn from the outside-in. The outside-in school talks about yarn barf and ball collapse resulting in tangle, while the center pull school talks up the virtues of the ball not rolling around.

I think it is a matter of yarn twist. Commercial balls of yarn have the correct twist when pulled from the center, regardless of yarn barf or final collapse and tangle issues. If you are winding your own balls, you should preserve the twist in the yarn. When you wind the ball, you should have a plan for whether you are going to use the ball from the inside or the outside. I always wind center pull.

Then, I suggest getting a clew to hold your yarn. I made mine out of a bit of steel wire. It holds either center pull or outside in balls of yarn at your waist, clean, handy, and out of (most) pets way. I think it is better than a pickel jar or even a ziplok bag with its corner cut off.

I can stand, or walk about while kntting. I can move away from my knitting bag without leaving a trail of yarn behind me. Sure I sometimes wind small balls and keep them in a cargo pocket, but the lets me pull a full sized ball right out of the stash and knit on the run.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Needle Case for Steel Needles - Advanced Technology

The flexible plastic risers used for irragation systems make good needle cases for steel needles as they are ligher and can be screwed together to accomodate any length of needls. Again the screw caps are protected with wads of waste yarn.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Come-on! Knit like a Man!

Some gansey yarn came in the other day, and I realized that I wanted to knit ganseys in public (KIP). I have long knitted socks and other small stuff in public, but gansey needles were akward to carry, so I did not take them out in public.

Now, I have knitting bag that lets me easily carry gansey projects:

It is a Craftman 20" tool bag - from the hardware store.

Then, I had to revist needle cases. I made a bunch of cloth needle rolls and needle bags for the last trip back East, but after living with them on the road for 3 weeks, I hated them.

The new program is a mix of bamboo cases (which are light) and sections of plastic pipe with screw caps (which are stong) and wads of waste yarn in the ends to protect the needles.

The gansey needle case very functional. It is two pieces of bamboo, smoothed and slotted, held to gether with a cord. Thus, it can protect the needles (and protect other things from the needles) even with knitting on the needles. The 12" steel needles are in a bamboo case made from a large piece of bamboo and a small piece of bamboo that is slotted to fit into the larger bamboo tube. I strengthen the ends of the bamboo with a bit of epoxy and stuff wads of waste yarn in for extra protection for needle points. Also note that less than fully dry bamboo WILL rust steel needles. DRY IT, Dry It, dry it.

Plastic pipe with screw-on caps protects more delicate needles. Again, the ends are stuffed with waste yarn.

As you can see, I have started a new gansey. My old Cornish Fish is just not up to the stress of a new gansey (even with its new dentures). Thus, this morning, I made another Cornish Fish. It took less than 45 minutes from start to finish. I took a piece of fire wood and split it into a blank. Then, I used a hand saw to cut it to lenth. I used an electric drill to drill a 3/32 hole in one end. I used my hand saw to cut the slot in the other end. Then I used my pocket knife to smooth it and carve the funnel at the needle hole that makes it easy to stick the needle in. I sanded it by hand and smeared some bee's wax finish on it. It is not beautiful. It is not a love token that I have lavished hundreds of hours on. A wood worker with power tools could have made it in 5 minutes. I might have finished it faster if the plums overhead had not been blooming so sweetly. It is a very practical knitting tool that will last for no more than 500 hours of knitting with gansey needles. It does feel good in the hand, and it feels good in the belt. It does not have any sharp edges.

It is about 6" long. Early-on, I had read that such small knitting sheaths must be for children. That was clearly written by somebody that had never made and used their own knitting sheaths. This size works very, very well. I think I will name it, "Albrecht," after the dwarf that forged the Ring from the Rhine gold.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A sock kit

Here is a photo of a pretty good sock kit that sat in the bottom of my sock project shoe boxes last fall. It is light, and does not take up as much space as gansy needles.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Using gansey needles for socks, mittens and sleeves

Here is an advanced technique for knitting sleeves, socks, mittens, and mobius cowels fast and tight. Is this how it really was done? Maybe not, but not many needles have survived and we do not know. This works, it is reasonable, fast, and -- well it takes some pratice, but it is worth it if you are knitting outdoor wear. This file is some 55 megabytes.

By the way, use steel sock needles. Wood needles do not like this technique.
Here is a close up of the finger motion. Note it is very similar to that of the standard gansey technique, but it requires a bit of finess so you do not pull the sock needle out of the socket.

When I get back out to California, I will reshoot all these segments (and few more), put them on a DVD and make the DVDs available.
A Natural Born Knitter with keen eyes has noted that the tips of the commercial steel needles were different. They are. I broke their polish by rubbing them with crocus cloth to make them a bit less slippery.
Some Knitting sheath will work with just about any double pointed knitting. Typically I use longer knitting sheaths with sock needles. Sheaths for gansey needles need to be stronger and made from harder materials than knitting sheaths for wooden, bone, or bamboo. The knitting sheath must fit the intended needles and suit the intended technique.

Edited in Jan 2013 to add, this was a work around.  Today, I swave such items using bent needles. Swaving is faster and easier.  Today, I am sure most gloves,  mittens and socks in the old days were swaved.  This is one case where I wondered down the wrong path.  It worked better than the hand knitting that I was taught, but there are better ways to produce such fabric and objects.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Wrong Way to "De-pill" a Sweater

The orchard was pruned. Mom wanted ALL the clippings burned NOW. So, I did. However, twigs, even green twigs burn very hot. At the end of the day, I noticed that the flames had burned the pills and fuzz off of the sleeves of my gardening gansey. The wool protected my arms, and I never even noticed.

However, if I had been wearing a synthetic, my arms would have been toast.

I like wool.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Video of Gansey Needles with Knitting Sheath

Gansey needles are a very powerful if somewhat specialized knitting tool. However, gansey needles are the tool to knit a gansey without ruining your wrists.

Again, this is just a first try at a video clip. I will do this again and again until I get it right.

Again, my hands are all beat up from pruning all morning. Sorry no pretty models.

Here is a shorter clip showing finger and needle movements.

Video clip of A Better Way to Knit

Here at long last is my first VIDEO of knitting using a traditional knitting sheath with thin steel needles. It is a first cut, this is after all, a research journal. This is 85 megabyte, even at such low resolution.

A better view of the finger action is in the following clip:

Note that this was filmed during prunning season and the my hands are beat up from being out in the orchard.

This basic technique can be used for anything from socks, mittens, hats, and baby clothes to ganseys, rugs, and circus tents. It can be used for knitting in the round or back and forth. You can use more needles to knit larger items. This technique is appropriate for fine lace. and, I like a knitting sheath better than a knitting pouch/belt for Fair Isle.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Mamie Diggs Socks

Mamie Diggs is a historian in Williamsport, PA (where I have
been for the last few days.) I was sitting outside her classroom finishing a pair of new boot socks for myself. (My wife acquired the first pair of socks that I knit for myself in this pattern.) The first 3 socks of this pattern that I knit required only one skein each, however, the fourth one required a bit more, so I finished it with a bit of dark gray yarn of the same type that I had in my bag. So, this pair is mismatched from the start! I had just finished weaving in the loose ends when Mamie came out and started admiring the socks.

Mamie had learned knitting as a girl, but had been too much of a “tomboy,” to do much kitting. However, she did tell me about some of the knitting traditions she saw as a girl. Her Grandmother’s favored knitting needles were made of deer antler. They were quite long and were used with a knitting sheath. (Thus, apparently there was a tradition in Williamsport of using knitting sheaths as late as ~1900. ) She also told me of using a “circular needle” made of a single piece of cherry wood for knitting Afghans and bedspreads. With these wood circular needles, as the knitting progressed, the knitter would have two young girls hold and support the needle to prevent it from breaking under the weight of the knitting. I am working with the local historical society to find examples of these knitting tools.

Anyway to make a long story short, Mamie admired the socks to much that I just gave them to her. Thus, the second pair of these boot socks that I have made, that have become “house socks.” Mamie does not walk much anymore, so these socks should last her forever. Did you ever see someone smile so much just because you gave them a pair of socks?
I have ordered more yarn, and someday I will have a pair of socks in this pattern for myself.

Edited to note the Dr. Diggs died this last March, and is much missed.