Monday, November 07, 2011

Better or Authentic??!

I look to history to find ways to make better textiles.

In the days when hand knitting was a profession, there were a great many talented professional hand knitters with the elan that separates the talented professional from the merely competent amateur.  I looked to this group and learned about knitting sheaths as an approach to producing better textiles.  Modern amateur knitters and historians suggested that such knitting was not "authentic."  Since then, some of these folk have gone on to write extensively about the history of knitting sheaths.  Good for them!  However, their writing would have more authenticity if they would become more proficient in the use of the various knitting sheath technologies.

Prior to the spinning jenny, there were a great many talented professional hand spinners with the elan that separates the talented professional from the merely competent amateur. Competition drove some of them to produce better products.  In contrast, today we have very few talented professional hand spinners.  If modern hand spinners were producing yarns that really satisfied me, I would not have been plowing history looking for better yarns, now would I?   Some of the amateur spinners that made denigrating comments about the historical use of knitting sheaths, are now saying that my hand spinning of better yarns is not historically accurate.

I really do not care.  The yarns are fabulous!  The virtues of yarns worsted spun from spun long wool with fine plies have been long and widely documented. Cotswold wool came into prominence  in Roman times and from the nature of the wool we can guess that they were spinning the same kind of yarns that I am now spinning.  The truth is that the talented professional hand spinners had customers that wanted better yarns and who were willing to pay for them.  I expect talented professional spinners produced a range of better yarns for different uses.  I say that the right yarn for the job is the right yarn for the job, and a talented spinner with elan will find, and make, the right yarn for that job.

And while I am on the topic, Shetland spun into fine worsted plies is the right yarn for other jobs.  Warmer than the Cotswold, I am spinning this week, but still very durable.  Start with lace yarn and keep plying.  The  fiber is thinner so you can spin thicker plies and still have drape.

My feeling is that over the last 40 years, few hand spinners had the skill to spin such yarns or the elan to see the possibilities inherent in such yarns. When those experienced spinners see a new spinner producing yarns they did  not think could be produced by hand, they respond by saying it is not authentically historic - just as they did when I brought up knitting sheaths.  If modern knitting had been adequate for my wants, I would not have been plowing history looking for a better way to knit.  Likewise, modern hand spinning was not adequate for my wants so I went to history to find a better way.


Iniuk said...

Right on! the goal is to spin exactly what you, the spinner, (or your lucky friends if it's not for you) actually WANT.
And when I'm through the current project, I'm having a go at the distaff and the multi-ply yarns!

Li Sashay said...

Awesome blog, just stumbled across you looking for a leather knitting sheath. I will keep searching, but will also enjoy your blog. Wish more of this actually happened in my knitting circle.