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.


Lindsay said...

Very interesting. I have never heard of a clew, but my husband would probably like one.
Ha ha ha... my husband needs to get a clew.

Janice in GA said...

Hmm, I haven't heard that definition. I know a clew is a ball of thread or yarn or cord.

Goody Lyon said...

My understanding is that a clew (also spelled clue) is the ball of yarn -- the hook is called a clew hook. Remember the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur? Theseus escaped from the labyrinth because he had been given a clew. I have a nice clew hook that a blacksmith friend made, which I use at our living history events.

Aaron said...

I got the word from my mother, who was always very careful in her language.

If you are living in a dirt floor environment, you will keep your working yarn on your clew to keep it clean. If you are knitting in every spare moment, then you will always have your clew (on its clew hook) with you. That is, in common usage, a clew is/was a collective noun that included the clew hook, just when I speak of taking my knitting with me, that includes needles and clew, including clew hook.

The other interesting reference is to Theseus which predates all references to knitting. Did Theseus use his clew for weaving? Or, ???

Stitchlily said...

Do you know when this dates dack to? I'm interested in the history of textiles and tools, and just wondering what would be the oldest one.

Aaron said...

The old reference to Theseus having a clew suggests that either clews are older than knitting, or knitting is much older than any of the academics want to admit. My guess is that knitting is older.

Anonymous said...

just dropping by to say hi