Thursday, May 14, 2009


It is how the "Terrible Knitters of Dent" knit so fast.

Miriam Tegels as a speed kitter? Ha! she does not even have a "clew." See ( ) Swaving takes all that, and pushes it to the extreme; including minimal motions and keeping the shoulders loose by flexing them. Then it goes beyond that, by synchronizing the hand motions so both hands are making similar symmetric motions. This seems to make coordination of everything easier, i.e., none of this; right hand do this, and left hand do that stuff. Both hands just make tiny circular motions together.

Swaving is not continental knitting. Both swaving and continental use the left hand to tension the yarn. However, with swaving, both needles move at the same time.

It was not just a fiction. I know how it is done. I am not real fast - yet! In fact, I have not even worked out how to purl yet. But, damn it works! Wow! I have not timed it yet. Maybe it is not as fast as it seems. I doubt if I will be able to knit 200 spm – that is for nimble fingered young ones that started knitting as kids. Still the nature of the motion makes it seem very, very fast. We will see.

Very low stress on both hands. All the effort in both hands is from the shoulders and upper arms. On the other hand, knitting fast is a high effort activity, No wonder the Victorian ladies let this style of knitting die out.

This makes it clear that there were at least 4 styles of knitting based on knitting sheaths and knitting pouches:

  • There was/is the English which produced very tight fabrics
  • Continental was/is fast, but tended to produce looser fabrics
  • Swaving
  • The two handed, two -yarn techniques for Fair Isle, weaving, and twining
  • There are specialized techniques for carrying two yarns in on one hand

On a lighter note as I pick up the sock I was – swaving – last night, I note the needles in it are cheap, old aluminum (Susan Bates or Boyle or ?) that somebody bought in a “hobby shop” and I got in a bunch of used needles on eBay years ago.


Terrye said...

I googled Swaving just because it sounded interesting and Google was sure I meant weaving or saving, so no luck there. Care to fill us in? Where can we read about this?
Thanks, Aaron!

MomLes said...

What is swaving? Tell us more about how you do it.

Marjorie said...

Are there pictures of what swaving is? I knit combined (taught by my Russian grandmother). I hold the yarn in my left hand, and I do move both needles. I think it is faster than Continental, but I considered that it is simply because I'm used to it. But the hand movement is less taxing because I "scoop my purls from below" rather than wrapping the yarn around the needle. This keeps the knit stitch mount to differ, but again, there is less hand movement than with a Continental or English knit stitch. There are You Tube videos that show combined knitting, but they're not all consistent with one another.

Aaron said...

Swaving used curved needles that rotated in the knitting sheath. the needles had ball shaped tips that were "popped" into and out of the stitch. the tight fabric acted as a spring to aid the motion of the needle. I understand the physics of the process, but have not worked out the ergonomics.

Anonymous said...

Miriam Tegels could still knit faster than you....when you were both sitting in a chair with knitting needles in your hands
the sheath provides your speed - while she has natural speed!
she has a clue - while you have not - to knitting with with needles and just the instruments that you got when you were born - muscles, brain, body.

Aaron said...

Dear Anonymous,

No, MT knits with needles. Needles are tools, and not just muscles, brain, and body.

Yes, MT knits faster, but her fabrics would not keep me warm when I ski or sail.

I use different tools, and I knit different fabric. I knit slower, but I get the fabric that I want.

If MT used her style of knitting, and tried to knit garments as warm as the garments that I knit, she would ruin her wrist. So, that is the deal, I knit slowly, but I am warm and my wrists are in good condition. If MT wanted to knit warmer fabrics, I could teach her to use a knitting sheath in 15 minutes.

Aaron said...

see: The rural life of England, Volume 1 By William Howitt 1838 edition pg 307 et. seq. Other editions claim to contain the same material (i.e., the 1854 ed.) however the accounts of Dentdale are very different, and just now I cannot lay my hands on the account by Howitt that I found that had a full paragraph about their method of knitting.

Roy Laws said...

Is there any chance you could post a video demonstrating swaving? I am a sheath knitter, but I do English lever or regular continental. I would love to see whether swaving might help with carpal tunnel problems and arthritis. I have been knitting for 60 plus years and these two conditions have about put me out of commission. I don't really quite visualize it from your description.

Aaron said...

There have been requests for swaving videos. I understand the physics of swaving, but I get the ergonomics wrong. After an evening of swaving, I am sore the next morning. I am not going to make a video do better. Actually, I hope someone else will figure it out and make a video : )

smoqui said...

Aaron, I understand your reluctance to do a video on swaving, but would it be possible to do a written description of what your interpretation of swaving is? You are so good at going into the "knitty gritty" of things, it may be the catalyst needed to get someone to figure out the process. The old descriptions from the 1800's simply do not give enough of a description to enable me to make a stab at it. I have made some attempts, but everything I do just turns out to be a somewhat poor attempt at doing continental using the sheath, which actually is slower than just doing it with two free hand needles, because the sheath forces the left wrist into some painful contortions to get the stitches completed. I have gotten up to some fairly decent speed doing what I call eggbeater knitting, where the left hand pushes the old loop down simultaneously with the right hand feeding in the yarn for the new stitch, then the right hand moving down to tension the yarn as the left hand lifts the new stitch off the needle. With both hands "moving at the same time" just in opposite directions. I do, however use either a regular English lever yarn feed with right hand, or simply grasp the yarn with thumb and index finger (which actually turns out to be quite fast as long as you don't let go of the yarn. Since you don't need to do much bracing of the needle because of the sheath, you can more or less just let the needle sit their and manipulate the stitches very rapidly using either method.)

Anonymous said...

What a disingenuous post. It doesn't seem like you properly know or can show an example of swaving, yet you choose to denigrate the skills of another knitting. Knitting is not generally a competition you know. Not in everyday life. Speed is of very little interest to the person that enjoys their knitting.