Holding a long DPN under your arm as you knit (“pit knitting”) is a way to control long DPN and to obtain additional mechanical advantage for knitting tighter. Knitting tighter is a good way to produce warmer fabrics for wear out of doors or in structures without central heat.
As with anything in knitting, there are a number of variants to pit knitting that work, and there are tradeoffs between the various styles. The needle can be held higher in the armpit or just above the elbow. The needle can pass under the right thumb or above the thumb in a pencil like grip. Then, there are still all the variations of holding the yarn. Thus, pit knitting encompasses a whole collection of knitting styles. These are documented in various videos on the Internet, and as I look around groups of knitters in California, I usually see a pit knitter or two.
The fact that pit knitters make it to the world speed knitting championships reminds us that pit knitting can be wicked fast, and a quick look at the ergonomics of pit knitting shows that it puts less stress on the hands and wrists than most knitting styles.
Many of the virtues of pit knitting are the same as the virtues of using a knitting sheath. Is there still an advantage to using a knitting sheath? I believe that there are several.
First, pit knitting requires long needles. Short needles are handy for socks, gloves and other small items. The owner of our LYS is a pit knitter for large items, but she knits small items on sock needles or small circular needles. Knitting sheaths work very well for even miniature needles.
Second, pit knitting works better with larger needles, and is more difficult with finer needles. Knitting sheaths can work with any size or length of needle.
Third, pit knitting works better with single point needles. The double pointed needles used to knit seamless garments are less convenient for pit knitting. I like the seamless comfort and durability of sweaters knit in the round without seams. (I just had a sweater come apart along the its seams.)
Fourth, pit knitting does not stabilize a steel needle sufficiently to take advantage of its spring action. It is this spring action that makes long thin steel needles such wonderful tools.
Fifth, once a knitting sheath is put on and adjusted, the needle position is very stable. In pit knitting, the needle tends to move, which can interrupt knitting. Moreover, in tight knitting as the stitches are slid along the working, sometimes the needle can be pushed against the chair back. This changes the work zone and may not be good for the chair.
Sixth, in every pit knitting style that I have seen, or been able to devise, the right wrist does have more stress on it than with good knitting sheath technique. Ultimately, the ergonomics are not as good for pit knitting as for knitting with a knitting sheath with the needle under the thumb, and using the good old English lever throw. Knitting continental style with a knitting sheath can also be very ergonomic, but continental purling often seems to put a torque on the left wrist
Holding the working needle in the thigh crease improves ergonomics over pit knitting, but I do not like to hold fine DPN in my thigh crease and holding a needle in the thigh crease does not allow the use of short sock needles. Nor, can I hold a steel DPN in my thigh crease tight enough to take advantage of the spring of the steel. Moreover, I do not get the kind of consistent needle placement that I get with a knitting sheath, but this may be just a matter of practice.
Over all, I think it would be a waste of effort for me to practice pit knitting or crease knitting. Knitting belts are better, and knitting sheaths are better still
This raises a serious question, "Why do the professional knitters in the Shetlands use knitting belts, rather than knitting sheaths?" Stay tuned for the next post.