Thursday, September 08, 2011

Re: anonymice

Scientists ask questions, and then seek the answers.  Time and budget are always a constraint.  One cannot ask all possible questions, and one cannot seek all possible answers.  Some questions require data that provides a high level confidence, while lower quality data is acceptable for other questions. Technology is even more focused.  Good technology must meet the criteria of: faster, better, & cheaper.

In 1999, I asked the question, "How did the fishermen on the banks stay warm"  The bulk of the answer is that they (or their knitter) used DPN and knitting sheaths to knit substantially weatherproof woolen fabrics.  These fabrics were used in single and multiple layers with woven wool and other woven fabrics.  However, the real magic was in hand knit fabrics with stitch patterns that increased the warmth of the fabric.  The question is as much technology as science.  I understood this by early 2007, see  Work since then is just refining the technology,   as in:

An inexpensive, but very functional knitting sheath
 designed to be tucked into an elastic pant waist

And it is not like we are starting from scratch.  We have a lot of information about ships, climate, fishing, physiology, textile performance, textile industry economics and so forth.  It is more like we have a "blue print" of an industrial machine and the blue print has some holes in it.  We need to go back and reverse engineer the missing parts so everything works together.

I have documented that such fabrics are weatherproof (i.e., will support a pool of water on them for an extended period of time.)  I have worn these garments skiing, sailing, climbing, mountaineering, and working in freezing rain.  Such garments are exceptionally warm even when compared with the best from modern sporting goods companies such as Columbia, Patagonia, Marmot, and LL Bean.  If the skeptic does not believe, then the proper thing to do is say, " I want to test those garments."  Yes, we can make arrangements for that.  We can even set up a little workshop where we knit while sailing. (An advanced skill, as most people get sea sick.  A good part of the skill is to watch the horizon, rather than your knitting.)

I knit such fabrics with DPN and knitting sheaths.  There is no question that the process is technically and ergonomically feasible. This is well documented in the literature.  There is no need to post data on a topic that is well documented. (I had to get up an experience curve to understand the technology, and I collected data as I climbed that curve.  Having data does not make that data new or useful.)

The process is slower than knitting looser fabrics, and thus the fabrics are more expensive.  However, even today, warmer garments tend to be more expensive, and thus tight knitting economically feasible.

I have documented on this blog, fabrics can be easily produced with a knitting sheath and DPN. For example I knit a good gansey in 10 days, and I am a fat old man with palsy.  If the skeptic does not believe that I knit that fast, then we can arrange to sit down together for a knitting session.  The skeptic can touch and feel the produced fabric at the same time.  I will even let the skeptic stare at a pool of water sitting on a swatch of fabric.   The skeptic can put on a gansey, lie on the floor, and I will pour water on the gansey, and she can note that she stays dry.  We can do the knitting workshop in a campground near some very cold river and the skeptic can spend the day in the cold river while wearing the gansey (15 minutes with gansey on/ 15 minutes with gansey off).  (If we pick a good cold river or a bathtub full of ice cubes, that activity will last about 17 minutes.)

Such weatherproof fabrics are difficult to produce in large quantity with SPN or circular needles because these do not provide the required leverage for packing the yarns together. Certainly a gansey or two can be done on circs, but if you have 8 brothers and need to produce 9 ganseys (dad) per year, your wrists will get sore. Again the ergonomics were established in the 1930s, so there is really no need for me to dwell on that.

What is left is technical issues of what kind of needles are best and what shapes of knitting sheaths work for different kinds of knitting. There is less of this in the literature. I mean, we have lots of shapes of knitting sheaths, but we do not know if they were different shapes with the same use or different shapes with different uses.   The truth is different shapes for different uses.   There were at least 11 different knitting techniques that used a knitting sheath.  This is a part of what I talk about in class, and if you want to know more - take the class. I have shared photographs of the knitting sheaths and needles that worked, and have written of ones that did not work.  I have provided enough data that anybody with even a passing interest can try the process without a large investment in time or effort.  Anybody with any interest can knit their own swatches and in 4 hours, be pouring water on their own swatches and timing how long it takes for the water to drain through.  The way to test another knitting technique is to try it!  You do not go looking for peer review articles on Russian Knitting, you sit down and try it, to see if it works for you!

I certainly have notebooks of data that I have not shared.  Every good researcher does. (The only exception that I can think of in an EPA directed Human Health Risk Assessment.) However, I am not going to transcribe the data just because somebody wants to look at it.  If they have a specific question, they can ask the question.  If they just want to fish, I have given enough information that they can knit their own outfit(s) and go fish.  I have a great pile of Shetland to spin.

People come to me saying that they are a researcher, and thus that I should give them my data, but they are not bringing me any data. They are what Al Dring calls, "Sponges".  A researcher can find all of the above references.  If they do not have the library skills to find the references, then they are lying about being a researcher. On the other hand, there are many people out there with good information, and they share it.  I am so grateful to those people.  If the helpful people need help finding a particular source, I will help.

I am perfectly willing to answer honest questions.  However, I do not tolerate dishonest questions.  And, when someone asks a question, I am as likely to show them how to find the answer themselves, as I am to just tell them the answer.  


suzibee said...

I enjoy reading your articles, but I don't recall if you looked at 'spinning/knitting in the grease'. If so, please ignore.
I have not yet started my gansy. I think it will be this winter's special project as I have a set of needles from you and a knitting sheath to get some use from. This is a daunting thought.

Projektmanagerin: said...

Dear Aaron,
coming late to this discussion I was surprised by the tone of the last few posts. Curiously, I looked into the comments to find what had agitated you so much. Alas, all I could find was one commenter who asked if you were planning to publish your data in a book.
Just like that commenter, I myself would happily buy that book should you ever choose to publish it. I find your research fascinating, I value both the scientific approach and the focus on the /function/ vs the /aesthetics/ of knitwear, and I am deeply grateful for the work you put into re-discovering a craft and its tools that used to be widely known only a few generations ago, but are almost forgotten today. That work is invaluable, and I would simply love to read even more about it, because sometimes I cannot quite follow your explanation to the very end.

Many, if not most, researchers publish their work, so that others can profit from their findings and stand on their giant shoulders to go on from their. And most, if not all publishing/published researchers give their data and exact sources together with their conclusions - not so much because they could be doubted, but to help their readers (and colleagues) retrace their thoughts in order to better understand. Nothing unusual about it, as I am sure you agree.

And of course, if I am interested in any given subject, say: Michelangelo, I could go to the archives and have a look at all the sources and artwork etc myself, instead of reading the book by the specialist. We could all be reinventing the wheel every single day of our lives. But fortunately I do not have to, and can thus concentrate on something different, or new, or continuative.

Of course, this is "only" a blog, and not a scientific journal. Moreover, it is YOUR blog. How, when, where and what you choose to publish is entirely your decision, and in the few months that I have been following you online I have found you both helpful and quick to respond to any questions. Still, despite all the information scattered about in your blog, I don't for example believe I would be able to make a knitting sheath myself - I lack the tools, the ability to use the lacking tools, and the imagination. In fact, having never seen a knitting sheath in person, and especially having never seen a knitting sheath in use, I am not quite sure I understand what I would be aiming for... what Plato might have called the "idea" of a knitting sheath... I could, like you, go by try and error. I could simply buy a knitting sheath off of you. There are more, other possibilities. If there was a more detailed, instructive book I would probably buy it, too.

What I was going to say, in short, is: I have no idea what has been said about your knitting research in the real world - but I am pretty sure that "anonymice", just like me, simply was impressed by your work. Asking you to publish your work, in my opinion, was a compliment, not a sign of distrust.

Anyway. Did I understand you correctly that you wear your ganseys next to your skin, no undershirt/t-shirt?

Aaron said...

I was some place else and people were rude.

I had thought about publishing all the data, and thus kept it.

However, the bottom line is that hand knitting can be much warmer than modern standard hand knitting.

However, there is such a lack of standards in hand knitting that there is no way that my numbers (per se) are useful to other knitters. The insulation value of a yarn is dependent on the breed, fiber preparation, and spinning. The warmth of a fabric is dependent on the yarn, stitch pattern, and size of needles, and knitting tension. Thus, my R factor for Cottage Craft yarn does not give a clue a to what the R factor for Frangipani gansey yarn is - even when knit in the same stitch pattern, on the same needles, by the same knitter. In short, the data is not useful. I could put up data about air flow, so what? I would have to put it in the context of Goretex, down, double knit polypro, neoprene foam, and all the other modern cold weather gear. Nobody asks for the air flow data from the fabrics as they consider buying a garment from North Face. No, what (NorthFace, Patagonia, Marmot, H&H) show is a picture of the garment in use skiing, sailing, and whatever.

What is useful is knowing that the concept works. A photograph of a hand knit fabric with a pool of water on it says more than a thousand pages of data. One photo of a guy skiing or sailing in a gansey and shorts says this is a warm garment.

As I was testing ganseys, I wore them next to my skin. With the right ease, as one gets warm the garment vents and one does not over heat, it is like magic, and you are not going to believe it, until you have experienced it.

Many of the yarns that I worked with are scratchy - it is not that the iron men in wooden ships did not rust, it is that their scratchy ganseys polished the rust off as it formed. Nothing (not even an itchy sweater) is worse than being cold.

One reason that I am working on hand spun yarns for gansey it that I am hoping that the fabrics will be smoother and less itchy.

I do need to write and likely self publish a book that pulls everything together in a organized body of work. And, I need better videos.

Projektmanagerin: said...

Dear Aron,
thank you - all that you write makes sense! I appreciate you taking the time to answer questions and share your findings with us!

Not being able to do some decent woodwork (to make my own knitting sheath) I have been wondering if FIMO baked modelling clay might do the trick for me... I'll inform you of the results!

All the best! Projektmanagerin

Aaron said...

A bundle of feathers bound together with yarn works. As does a bundle of straw.

I feel bad, because I have been making knitting sheaths all summer. There are 20 of them finished in the shop and another 50 in the office. None of them are "perfect", but most are in the very good to excellent range. I need to start letting people buy good knitting sheaths again -- even if the knitting sheaths are not perfect.

Anonymous said...

I respect your knowledge and the amount of work you have done to rediscover the techniques you describe, but your ongoing refusal to publish your work smacks of sour grapes. You remind me of some of hte pompous academics I have met who similarly refuse to share their research data.