Friday, December 28, 2012

Finer needles

Currently the finest needles in my needle chest:

That is 1/4 " graph paper.  They are pointy.  In the summer, leather aprons are good.

I just use the 1 mm (000) needle adapters with them.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Briar Patch of Cowbands

A big part of learning to use knitting sheath is learning to properly secure it to your body.  Different knitting sheath designs work best with different kinds of cowbands .I have made different designe of knitting sheaths and tested them with different kinds of cowbands.

A few representative knitting sheath designs.
(the ruler in the center is 6" long)

 Thus, when you are making a knitting sheath, you need to think about what you are going to wear as you knit, and how you are going to secure the knitting sheath.

My first success with knitting sheaths came after I saw the Hornblower series on PBS. I saw the sailors (costumed as British navy circa 1800) wearing heavy leather belts, very low on their hips.  I realized that a knitting sheath could be tucked in to such a belt (over the right buttock) for gansey knitting.  This worked so well that I used heavy leather belts for all my knitting sheaths for a long, long time.  For knitting very firm fabrics with long needles, nothing surpasses a heavy leather belt.

Knitting sheaths that work well with heavy leather belts.

However, not everybody wants to knit with long gansey needles, some want to knit with shorter needles.  The heavy leather belts are not the best solution for using a Yorkshire goose wing knitting sheath with sock needles, or for using larger needles for producing softer fabrics.

Shorter needles and the production of softer fabrics allow the use of other kinds of cowbands.  One that works remarkably well is the elastic waistband of sweat pants (or gym shorts in the summer.)  Some kinds of knitting sheaths do well tucked into an elastic waist band.

I like wearing an apron when I knit. In the winter, it is a bit warmer.  In the summer, a good apron helps protect my lap from the sharp tips of very fine needles.  And, a white apron can reflect a lot of light onto dark yarn, and a dark apron can reduce glare when knitting outside.  Apron strings are one the very best ways to secure a knitting sheath.  A lot of my knitting sheaths are now made to work with apron strings.


Some knitting sheaths designed to work with apron strings.

As I knit, there is some downward pressure on the working needle as I knit, but I put a lot of effort into learning to knit so that I do NOT  pull the needle out of the needle adapter or the knitting sheath out of my cowband.  However, most knitters do tend to pull up on the needle. The slot in the knitting sheath for the cowband must have edges to resist both up and down forces.

The knitting sheath on the right above does not, and thus while it works well for me with apron strings, it would not work well for most knitters.  Most knitters would want to use that knitting sheath only with a heavy leather belt .

I had some success with thin synthetic belts as in:

These require narrow slots for the fabric and the knitting sheaths must be held on the belt in some way, or most knitters will pull them up and off of the belt.  This was a light weight knitting sheath for camping and the clew to hold the yarn went through the hole and held the knitting sheath on the belt.

 Here is another approach that works for thin woven belts:

This is another photograph of one of the knitting sheaths on the blue apron above.  That groove allows it to work well with a thin nylon belt. This photo also shows the narrow leather belt from my knitting pouch.  The truth of the the matter is that narrow leather belt on the knitting pouch has become one of my favorite cowbands for knitting sheaths when knitting softer fabrics.
Knitting sheaths with strap from knitting pouch.

I also like (card) woven  or knit sashes to hold a knitting sheath: 
This is a garter stitch,  knit sash that I wrap around my waist and tie, which works very with knitting sheaths when knitting softer fabrics.

If you only wear dresses and disdain belts, sashes, and aprons, then I suggest a knitting heart that is stitched to the dress.  The stuff above is knitting gear that I know works very well, because it has been used and used.  However, a nice dress belt, fresh from Needless Markup Department Stores will work just as well, and be more attractive.  Likewise, I tend to use the prototype knitting sheaths that are functional, but not pretty. 

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Swaving with straight needles

Many modern DPN fail when bent for swaving.  Can one swave with straight needles?

Well, no! Swaving requires the needles to rotate for the tip to produce an arc of motion.  When a straight needle rotates, its tip stays in one place and there is no tip motion to make the stitch.

With a flexible needle, the knitter can flex the needle and use the resulting bend to rotate the needle. This made me think that I was swaving with straight needles, when in fact I was swaving with curved needles.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

First video of swaving

The rain has paused, and there is enough light for video.  Unfortunately the I have a limited number of good swaving needles at this time the the good needles have this 6-ply navy yarn on them that just sucks light out of the frame.

Here are some very short clips.  These are done very slowly for the camera, and the motions do not really work that well when done slowly.

Swaving "needles' are called pricks. The pricks, sheath and setup are here: 

I find that short pricks work better.  Long pricks tend to get torqued  off axis and become difficult to rotate. Thus, I like swaving pricks that are no more than 8" long. The curvature is so slight that the needle will fit into 1/2" pipe.  Thus, when the prick is rotated in the sheath, the tip describes a circle of less than 1" in diameter. The arc of movement is limited by the legs of the previous stitch.  Thus, fine motion control of the  working prick is not required.  Then the left prick simply follows the right needle, and since they are both in the same stitch, the left prick follows the same circular motion as the working needle.

The are three motions in the formation of a knit stitch.  Push into the stitch. Loop yarn. Pull back.  At the end of the pull back the stitch pops off the left needle, but remains on the working needle.

For a purl stitch (not shown) the yarn is brought forward, the working prick is pulled into the stitch, the yarn looped, and the pricks pushed away so the yarn pops off. 

While there are 3 motions, the yarn looping is a continuation of the first motion, so the direction of motion of the hands only changes once in the course of a stitch, and is very fast.  The tension of the stitches is also very uniform (and tight!)

For comparison here is my knitting with the same yarn and needles:

Note that there are 4 motions, each of which require fine motion control.  Yes, swaving is faster.  And, while knitting can be done with a loosely secured needle, swaving requires that the working needle rotate easily on a fixed axis.

Swaving has become my knitting style of choice because it is fast and it gets more knitting done for the same effort.  On the other hand, it must be done fast.  It does not work for slow knitting for relaxation.  It is a high effort activity, that results in getting a great deal of knitting done rapidly.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why don't I post more of my knitting?

Because I have too many things on my plate!

Knitting sheath  for with set needle adapters for straight DPN  in 7 sizes.

(this is California, where some are bent.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Knitting Sheaths for Swaving

The straight needle techniques that I have worked out for knitting with a knitting sheaths work better when the needle is held more or less securely and does not wiggle or slip out. Wiggle increases wear, thereby enlarging the hole and slipping out is a problem for beginning knitters, and it can result in the knitting needle popping out at an inconvenient time.  The first knitting sheaths that I made were often made of softer woods and wear was a real problem.  Knowing that many old knitting sheaths were made of ceramic, metal, or had brass liners, I tried lining the needle hole with brass, but this allow the needle to slip out easily and was never very satisfactory.  Thus, I put a lot of effort into designing needle holes that simply did not allow needle wiggle, and thus were simply more durable.  These holes hold the needle with friction and do not allow the needle to accidentally slip out.

However for swaving, the needle needs to rotate easily in the needle hole. My holes that grip the needle are not suitable.  However, needle holes lined with metal or ceramic are very suitable.

I think we can go back to P. C. Brears, The Knitting Sheath, and understand that the knitting sheaths made of ceramic and metal, or with metal liners such that the needle could rotate freely in the needle hole, were likely for swaving, although they could also be used for knitting.

These days, I use needle adapters lined with brass for swaving.

Monday, November 26, 2012

more Swaving

The key to ergonomic swaving is the correct needles.  When I first made up swaving needles, I was working from a sample of  a glove needle, and I tried to scale it up to 6" and 8" needles.  It does not work.  The longer needles were not ergonomic  :  (  As I found out!

The sample glove needle had a 90 degree bend in the middle, so as it rotates in the knitting sheath, the tip describes a circle with a radius of 2".  Turns out that is about right for my hands/style.  If I take a 6" sock needle and put a 90 degree bend in the middle, then the tip describes a circle with a radius of 3". That does not work as well for me.

Now, I bend the 6" and 8" needles much more gently so that as they rotate in the knitting sheath their tips describe a circle with a radius of ~ 2" or less -- yes-- the gentile curve that we see in old needles.  About the gentile curve that we see in well used wooden or bamboo needles.

However, swaving needles have a ball tip, with essentially no taper. My swaving needles started as sock needles, but now the tips have been ground round, because that works much better. Note that it is much easier to grind the tips before bending.  : (  My needles are hard to bend. Addis are much easier, but they are plated, so you do not want to go grinding Addi tips.  Some steel DPN are made from tubing, which is likely to crumple when bent.

The needle is "popped" into the stitch, yarn looped, then both hands push down and out in a short, brief, powerful motion. In my style,as the hands are pushed down, the palm or ball of the thumb pushes the upper end of the knitting sheath down about 3/8" of an inch, the knitting sheath pivots, and the working needle levers the yarn through the stitch using the leg of the last stitch as a fulcrum, while at the same time pushing the working stitch open to allow the loop of yarn to come through. This happens suddenly!  The needle with its loop of  yarn pops through, and the small (3/8") motion of the left hand slides the stitch off the needle.

The system allows very large forces to be applied to the knitting. And the system works better when the firmness of the fabric can add to the "spring" that pops the stitch.  At this time, I actually do not know if the system will produce the soft fabrics produced by CYC ( recommendations. I have been knitting medium (4) yarn on 2.38 mm needles at 7 spi (28 s/4").  I like the fabric. I do have some finer needles, and someday, I will move on to finer yarns.

Swaving is very good for crossed stitches, and it is very good for garter stitch.

/Edited on 7/27/2013  Here I was knitting crossed garter stitch.  Eastern Crossed stitch at a firm gauge is not possible with blunt pricks./

 Likely, one of the reasons for the popularity of crossed stitch fabrics in the old days was that crossed stitched garter results in fabric that has a minimum number of stitches per area, and thus was fast (cheap) to knit.

The process works with firm and very firm fabrics.  The produced fabric is more like high quality machine knit sock fabric than like most modern "hand-knit" fabric. (This may just be me as I like this fabric.)

Stitches tend to lay along the curve of the needles right down to the tip.  Dropping stitches is a much larger problem, but ladders and even tension is less of a problem.

On can knit/purl with swaving needles, but swaving does not happen with straight needles.  One can use the same knitting sheath, but the needles are not really interchangeable for production work.   For me at least, ordinary knitting/purling with a knitting sheath and curved needles is much slower than ordinary knitting/purling with a knitting sheath.  On the other hand knitting/purling with a knitting sheath is much faster than knitting/purling without a knitting sheath.

I have not figured out how to purl with a swaving motion. I have to just purl.

/Edited on 7/27/2013 - I have gotten very good at purling using the swaving motion.  It just took a lot of practice./

Thursday, November 22, 2012


My wife was napping, the sauces were simmering, and I was putting fingers on some new ski gloves.

One of the needles was a second (not good enough to sell) and I had tossed it in my knitting bag, and then grabbed it as I sat down to knit. It had ball points.  I was thinking, "A ball tipped glove needle is an oxymoron!"  It poked my palm, so on the next round, I bent it.

And on the next round, everything conspired, and I was swaving.  Yes, today I give thanks that at long, long, last I understand ergonomic swaving.  It turns out the path to swaving is through mittens, red wine, and turkey gravy. And, yes, long ago I was correct about Yorkshire Goosewings being designed to pivot on the point of the hip, I was just wrong about the motion used to drive them.

They are pushed down with the ball of the thumb, and the spring of the fabric causes them to spring back.  It is like magic.  It can be done with other styles of sheaths.  In this case I was using a Durham design.

I had to go dig out all of those swaving needles that I made so long ago.  Now, I know how to use them.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Tools for knitting gloves

I understand that new new edition of The Hand Knitters of the Dales will be out shortly, and I thought I should revisit glove making tools.

Certainly, in 1848, knitters in the Dales were still knitting a full range of items, and would have used a full range of knitting tools including long gansey needles and knitting sheaths optimized for such long needles. However, commercial hand knitting of fine women's gloves persisted into the 1930s.  Ladies gloves were the last commercially produced hand knit objects in Yorkshire.  Later Shetland and Bohus professional knitters used leather knitting pouches.

This post is about the tools that I have found to be most useful for knitting gloves.

I differ from most authors writing bout knitting sheaths (including Peter C. D. Brears) because I make knitting sheaths of various materials, styles, and sizes, then I knit with all the tools that I make.  The tool making informs the knitting, and the knitting informs the tool making.

Early on, I found bout 11 different knitting techniques that used a knitting sheath. or knitting stick. Some used the spring action of the needle, some used the spring action from the rebound of the knit fabric, and some used the elasticity of the cow band or the spring action of the compression of the knitter's abdominal tissue.  These spring action motions were faster than knitting that required two separate motions of the hand controlling the working needle. ("Cow band" the technical term for the belt that holds a knitting sheath.)

For a very long time, I thought that long knitting sheaths supporting short needles required two separate motions of the hand controlling the working needle.  I knit a large number of very nice socks and mittens this way, and everyone was amazed at how fast I could knit.   However, I thought the the two separate motions were intrinsically slower than gansey knitting with long steel needles .I tried using pieces of gansey needles with brass tubing to act as springs shorter needles.  I tried a lot of stuff.  A lot of it did not work.

 I have found that large knitting sheaths can use the elasticity of the cow band and the knitter's abdomen to deliver a spring action that be used to drive small (sock & glove) needles. It is really not that uncomfortable.  It would not be that bad to knit 50 pair of mittens in year using this technique.  What is required is a fairly large, broad knitting sheath and an elastic cow band.  After much evolution, the tool kit that I like for gloves is:

I use a cow band of hand knit garter stitch about 2" wide.  It goes around my waist twice, and is knotted.

I use a big knitting sheath of pine with chip carving that tends to help stabilize it in place. (It is tucked into the cow band.)  That thing is 14" long.  It is ugly, but it works.  It is not something most people would drag around and use to knit in public.

I use 6" long US 1 DPN for the cuffs and wrists. (set of 5)

I use 4" long glover's needles in sizes 1, 0, 00, and 000.  (I work with sets of 4.)

And, I like a fine steel crochet hook.  Not shown is the tapestry needle that is always in the knitting bag.

The system is wicked fast, and produces fine uniform product.

The patterns that I like for making gloves that fit are in Mary Thomas's Knitting Book.   Good patterns for mittens are in Latvian Mittens by Lizbeth Upitis .   However, I change the gauge around, and knit much tighter fabrics.  I do this, because tighter fabrics are warmer and more durable. And, I do it because I can.  A knitter with a knitting sheath can easily knit fabrics that are much tighter than any fabric knit by a hand knitter without a knitting sheath. Thomas's and Upitis mittens are better than those in Weldon's.  Robin  Hansen's Favorite Mittens has some useful material in it, and has more about fit than Upitis and less than Thomas.

A knitter with a knitting sheath can easily use the small fine glovers' needles. Trying to use such needles without a knitting sheath is a slow and uncomfortable process.  This is why we do not see many glovers' needles anymore.  And cables? they just cannot keep up at all.

Commercially knit gloves may have had cuffs and wrists that were produced using swavling.  Swavling is a knitting technique where the rebound of the fabric provides the spring action for fast knitting.  Swavling is done with blunt, curved needles called "pricks" and it also required a knitting sheath.  In swavling the prick rotates in the knitting sheath.  Swavling can be very fast, and produce a very fine, uniform fabric, however it is high effort!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Steel needles in the Low Lands

I went off to Flanders without crocus cloth.

Here in California, it tends to be dry enough that my knitting polishes my needles as fast as they can oxidize, and with a reasonable amount of knitting, my steel needles stay shiny and smooth.  That turned out not to be the case in the Low Lands. Even knitting with a coarse, oiled wool, over the course of a week the steel turned gray.

 It was not really so bad, I was traveling and knitting with them where-ever,  and being less slippery, they were less likely to fall out and go where-ever needles go on the train. Over all, in a month, I lost one needle.

Nevertheless, those remaining needles are going to get a good rubbing with crocus cloth for wondering abroad without protection.

The only knitter that I met in Europe that uses a knitting sheath was a Docent at the Anne Franks House Museum in Amsterdam.

I looked and did not see any knitting sheaths.  As part of Monument Day and there was a large street market in Delft, with a large number of antiques dealers.  Two said they had knitting sheaths at home, but never brought them to street markets because such things never sell.

The only other person that I saw knitting in public was the lady that ran the sewing and knitting department at Bon Marche in Paris.

A train did not come, so I taught an 8-year old girl waiting next to me on the platform how to knit and gave her needles and yarn to knit a scarf.  Actually, it was my wife that did the teaching.  She does not knit, but she is a much better knitting teacher than I am.  Anyway, there is one more knitter in Amsterdam.

The lesson from the trip was the very high quality of spinning in Flanders circa 1500, and the fact that they were working with wool/silk blends at that time.

Fractured History

"All the history texts" say that Flanders got rich selling cloth.

They may have made their money selling cloth, but the quality of their spinning was a major component of their success in textiles. They were very good spinners.

This can be seen by comparing Flemish tapestries to tapestries from other regions during the same periods. The Flemish spinning is finer and more uniform. The uniformity is what matters.  Consistent thread thickness allowed the Flemish tapestries to have really straight lines.

Look at the best Belgian lace. The thread is finer than what was being used by other lace makers.  And again, the uniformity is astounding.

With machine spun thread, we are accustomed to very uniform spinning.  However, those old spinners of Flanders produced hand spun thread and yarn of great uniformity.

And they were great dyers. The perfect color across huge tapestries shows that they really knew how to produce consistent colors in a huge variety of shades.

The folks in Flanders may have been the best weavers in the world, but they were likely also the best spinners and dyers.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Why Cables?

Like a Socratic question or a question used to teach Shaolin monks, this question has many layers.

First, why gansey knit? (i.e., knit with a knitting sheath and long steel needles)  The gansey knitting technology allows knitting tighter than can be achieved without the leverage provided by the knitting sheath.  The tighter, gansey knit fabric is more weatherproof than can be achieved with hand held needles.  The fabric  is remarkably thin for its warmth, which is a real advantage in the cramped quarters onboard a working fishing ship, and it is remarkably warm which in an a real advantage in the cold and windy conditions under which commercial fishing is often conducted.  That is reasonable, but why cables?

Cables provide some additional ventilation between the sweater and the oil skin (water proof layer) to reduce wetness under oil skins as a result of moisture from the sailor's skin condensing on the cold inside of the oil skin.  This is a good reason.  It may abe reason enough.  Cables provide some additional comfort when sleeping in a canvas hammock.  This is a good reason.  Cables provide an artistic outlet for the knitter.  This is a good reason.  Cable patterns help identify the sweater (and I assert, at one time the cable pattern indicated the wearer's job and fleet.)  That is a good reason.  However, none of these are really compelling  reasons.

To really understand cable patterns, you have to go back to the reason for for ganseys; warmth with light weight. The early (13th centrury) fishermen on the North Atlantic lashed barrels to the rails of their small (70 foot) ships.  Then, the fishermen stood in the barrels with straw to help keep them warm , and jigged for cod.    (later they jigged for mackerel, and trawled for herring).  In those days, a single cod could weigh more than 100 pounds.  Bringing up a cod was like hauling a iron manhole cover up through 300 feet of water, and they would do it every 10 minutes. Except this is the North Atlantic, so there are large waves and everything is rocking.  What did they do?  They braced themselves against the edge of the barrel.

Put on a sweater and climb into a barrel, grab hold of a manhole cover and have 2 of your brothers rock the barrel violently as you repeatedly lift the manhole cover for a week. At the end of a week you have a big hole in your sweater where it rubbed against the edge of the barrel.

(Later generations of fishermen worked from dories and braced themselves against the gunnels of the dory.)

After they caught the fish, they cut fish.  With the ship still rocking, you take a fish in one hand and a sharp knife in the other and you brace your self against the cutting table - except by now your gansey has a hole in it, and there is only a thin apron between your belly and the cold slime and wet from the cutting table.   You get back to St Peter Port  and you  go to your knitter, and tell them that you want a sweater that will last more than a week.  So they  knit you one - with cables on the belly where it rubs against the barrel, and the design was so good, that in some way copied by 50 generations of knitters. Thus, fisherman's sweaters have cables or fisherman's welt on their fronts.

The third job of the fisherman was to get where the fish were, and  stay where the fish were.  That meant sailing up wind  in all weather.  The weather blew the ship off the fish, so the fisherman must constantly sail up wind. Sailing up wind is an uncomfortable business.  Moreover, the harder the wind blows, the more uncomfortable it is, but also, for a commercial fisherman who must catch his catch as fast as possible, the more important it is to work to windward, to stay over the fishing grounds.

During a storm on the Grand Banks, the expected wave period is only 20 seconds.  On a ship, anything that is not lashed down is going to get thrown about.  Lead sinkers jump 2 feet in the air, twice a minute.  Sailors get thrown about. The ships were oak and the sailors, mortal flesh. Today under those conditions, we would be wearing layers of  polyester fleece (and life jackets/ float coats/immersion suits) and that would provide some protection.  However, gansey fabric was thinner and provided less padding.  Hence, cables all over the sweater provided some padding in an otherwise thin garment.  Again, likely a concept developed by knitters on the Channel Islands, and copied by others knitting for sailors for 50 generations.

We can look at the differences between the sweaters worn by sailors and fishermen and those worn by life boat men to take another bearing on the concept.  The ganseys worn by life boat men do not seem to have had cables.  Life boat men did wear oil skins, so we can drop the ventilation concept. What they did not do is brace themselves against the railing or gunnels to haul fish to the surface.  The lifeboat's prize was already at the surface.  They rowed out, picked it up, and rowed back.  Nor did the lifeboat men take the beating of sailing to weather for days or weeks on end.  It is not that rowing a lifeboat is easy, just there is less to bang against.  So while lifeboatmen's gamseys without cables do not prove my theory of cables as padding, they  does not disprove my theory either.

Having worn ganseys with and without cables, while sailing in serious weather, I find the concept of cables as padding the most compelling reason for cables.   Anybody that disagrees should have tried sailing in ganseys with and without cable patterns on them in serious weather.  To have any credibility, on this topic you need to have been out fishing when the waves were bigger than the boat.  You need to understand that the key to getting work done while wearing a Type 1 PFD is motivation.  To have any credibility, on this topic you need to have been knitting while lead sinkers were thumping on their racks.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Snow is coming!

Every cell phone needs a gansey!

Also fits my little camera.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Skeiner

I should have done this sooner.  Way sooner.

The royal profile of 
Casimir the Great

The back side of 
Casimir the Great.

 It is a skeining wheel bolted to the back of the the squirrel cage swift.  It took a most of  a day to make and the next morning to test and fix, but now it works.  This wheel is for 1 meter skeins Now that I know how to do it, I can make other wheels for larger skeins rather quickly.

The really neat thing is skeining off of the little Shaker Rockets.  Set them on the floor and the Skeiner on a table.  I use the spring loaded tensioning device from my large cake winder to put a little tension into the yarn. That is the ticket!

Knitters have their lists of essential tools.  Spinners have their lists of essential tools.  Vertical swifts never seem to make either list.  However, vertical swifts and skeiners form an interface between spinning and knitting.  So, while vertical swifts and skeiners are not essential to either spinners or knitters, they are highly desirable for folks that do both.

At this point, I have something like 24 hours of effort and $20 of materials and supplies into Casimir the Great.  Amos could have made me a better one, but if I ordered it last week I would not have had it in hand this morning for winding skeins, and it would have cost me more. Mostly, this fits what I want to do, at least this month.  And, I will never be afraid to take it apart and make it better.  This is one time where courage comes cheap.

Any tool that can be made, can be made better.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Shaker Rockets

There is the age old problem of winding off.

The Shakers had a neat kind of bobbin.  See for example "silk reel" at .  Amos makes nice ones.

However, the hobby shop sells little circles of plywood and our fencing contractor gave me some scrap, so --

This comes pretty close to "fun with plywood and Elmer's glue.  Use a waterproof glue and you can wash the yarn on the reel.  And, steam block it.  Then, when it is dry you set the reel on its end and it is easy to wind off as end delivery. 

Um, paste wax the edges of the reel before use:  

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Glory of Skeins

As a knitter, I put up with skeins as one puts up with cold rain on a camping trip.  They were something that had to be endured while one stayed cheerful and pleasant to one's companions.  I bought an economical swift:

and a large ball winder.  When I bought skeins of yarn, I went ahead and wound it into cakes to be ready for knitting.  I did try knitting off of my swift, but it was not practical.  It has been a very good work horse, and I do not regret buying it.  I might very well recommend the system to a casual knitter.  It has worked very well.

This carried over to my spinning.  I tended to avoid skeins. I kept singles on bobbins.  I would spin, ply, block with steam, and wind my yarn into a cake for knitting without ever scouring it - because skeins were a pain.  I looked for a way to scour an block yarn while it was on a bobbin because I did not like skeins.  I did not get/make a reel for making skeins because I thought skeins were a pain.

However, the squirrel cage swift as it evolves is different.
This one has evolved to the point where it really works, and it just needs a little sanding and finish.  Let me just say that fancy and expensive does not make a good squirrel cage swift, and there are good reasons that Alden Amos gets $600 for his swifts.  He has refined his designs until they are exceptionally functional.

Any good squirrel cage makes handling skeins easy.  I can put a skein on the swift and knit directly from the skein. It is sort of like a yarn butler standing there behind my knitting chair feeding me yarn. All of a sudden, I understand skeins!

The next squirrel cage swift that I make (yes, I need another) will be a real yarn butler for my knitting. It will have a articulated arm to hold patterns as my pattern holder does:

And it will have a little thingy to hold extra knitting tools and it will have a nice light on it that points right at my knitting.  It might even have a place to set my tea cup.

However, first I need to make a skeining reel because if one has the right swift, skeins are very handy.  I think it is too bad the great virtues of squirrel cage swifts and skeins are not taught as part of modern knitting.  These days people have to get into spinning and weaving before they learn how very useful a squirrel cage swift can be.

Skeins of very fine, energetic singles are still a pain. : (

Thursday, July 05, 2012

80s from 80s

This summer's project is to spin a pound of combed fiber into 80 hanks of 560 yards each. In total, it means spinning about 26 miles of rather fine singles.

I use a competition flier from Alden Amos with a bobbin designed to insert ~24 tpi, thus there is no need for yarn lock to accumulate twist, and there is no slippage.  If I am not feeding drafted fiber into the maw of my beast, I break off.  On the other hand, since there is no slippage, it is fast. The uniform high twist also gives the yarn a nice "tooth".

However, as the effective diameter of the bobbin increases, the rate of takeup increases and the tpi goes down.  Thus, I have to wind off frequently. And wind off eats a spinner's time.

My approach is to wind off onto a niddy-noddy made of pvc.
I am doing this because the singles are fine, and a bit fragile for normal yarn reels. And I do not mind putting these niddys into the wash tubs.  these singles are so energetic that they must be blocked before they will make a usable skein.

With the yarn on the niddy-noddy, it can be washed and rinsed to remove the spinning oil, blocked with steam, and dried in the sun.

Once it is dry, the yarn can be taken off made up into a tiny skein.

Since it has been well blocked, that little skein can be stored away.  In the future, It can be mounted onto a squirrel cage swift and quickly wound onto it's plying bobbins.

This is how I avoid turning the task of washing spinning oil out of spun singles into a full time job. 

Edited on 8/2 to add that I prefer the Shaker Rockets (silk reels) for washing the singles.  They are much faster and easier to work with despite the fact that if wind off is not done properly, loops of single can slide off the end of reel resulting in a tangled mess. This niddy-noddy wash technology is much safer, if slower.

This project was originally planned as practice to learn to spin finer.  The fibers above are actually more than 24 micron, thus there was some effort to spin them into 45,000 ypp thread.  With the appropriate wash technologies, finer fiber, better fiber prep, and the right bobbin, it turns out to be easy. 

The Bobbin for the 80s from 80 count project inserts 24 tpi.

It turns out to just be a matter of  going out in the morning and carefully combing 24 grams of  fine wool, loading it onto 4 distaffs, and spending 10 hours spinning 4 hanks.  It is more work, and less technical challenge than I expected.  I only took this project on to practice for another project, a project with a real deadline.  I need to get the other project done, I will do this 80 from 80 in November.

The flyer/bobbin setup for the next project inserts 36 tpi, and the sample on the bobbin does have 36 tpi and is not particularly over twisted. (Lets see, um that would yield a yarn over 360 wpi or a grist more than 130,000 ypp (200 m/g) with a deadline?   :  )  

A Fast Squirrel Cage Swift

Fine (lace) yarns in a skein want a squirrel cage swift because there is less rotational momentum, and the yarns are less likely to be stressed to the breaking point.

Yesterday, I knocked up this swift using Ashford Lace bobbins instead of making squirrel cages and it seems to work.  Since the bobbins are easily removable, they do not have to be dedicated to the swift - they can do double duty. 

The bobbin axles are grade 2, 1/4" hex bolts.  The axle for the movable bobbin goes through 2  wooden "T" s that together to  form a slider that holds the axle.  A second hole drilled though the slider contains a threaded insert in the front T, and  a bolt epoxied into a bit of dowel for a handle allows tightening the Ts together to hold the slider in position.

This swift takes skeins up 2 ft in diameter.  It was made from scrape wood and took a couple of hours.  Cost for bolts and inserts was less than $5.  This one is handy and compact, but I am going to need a bigger one real soon now.

The next day:

It is not a bad swift, but it is not a real squirrel cage swift. Real squirrel cages give more leverage and allow the yarn to be pulled around easier.  As in:

A hank (560 yard) of squirrelly 2-ply lace weight.  The skein was poorly prepared and is a mess.    The squirrel cages fit on the same 1/4 inch bolts as the Ashford bobbins.  As fa as aesthetics go, they are on the practical side.

A few minutes later there is a 2 oz cake of lace yarn.

It took all morning to make my first  3 squirrel cages.  They cost me about  $8 in wood, dowels & supplies. As I said, I need a bigger squirrel cage swift, real soon now.

Edited to add that a week later, I can see a multitude of  ways that I could make that swift better.  And, over time I will make it better.  And I need a second swift and it will be simpler to make.  However, I do not regret  making this swift in its crude way because I have had the use of it, and it is that use that allows me to refine the concept.  Buy spinning tools from folks that spin, not guys that make tools for people that spin.  One does not understand a tool unless one uses it at a very high level of proficiency.  Only by understanding a can one design a better tool.  This is why Alden Amos's tools are better than the tools made by wood workers who are not expert spinners. 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

New Knitting Sheath Adapter System

I have been looking for a better system for connecting the needle adapters to the knitting sheaths.  I now have the solution.  To be frank, I stole it from Alden Amos.

I now use a "hanging bolt" and a "threaded insert". It is strong, secure, light weight, and compact.

Here are pix of a generation of prototypes that I made for myself. (This is about the 5th generation of knitting sheaths with this technology that I made.)  This set of adapters is sized US 0 to US 6 with the size indicated by the number of black rings on the adapter. Sizes 3&4 are combined in a single adapter. I still like very hard woods for US 1 and smaller, but am using cherry for adapters for needles larger than US 1.  Cherry is hard enough for the bodies of the knitting sheaths.  With these adapters, it should last forever.

Henceforth, all of my knitting sheaths will be made with this technology.  It is better.  It is a pain in the neck to make, but once one is up the experience curve, it is better.  I an not thrilled bout the aesthetics of the technology, but I love its practical functionality and utility.

No! I have not given up knitting for spinning. I spin so that I can knit better.  And, when I can, I improve my knitting sheaths.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Winding off of a precise DRS bobbin assembly

For high grist singles, I use a precise DRS bobbin to flier ratio without slippage.  This means that the twist inserted in to the yarn changes as the effective diameter of the bobbin changes as yarn winds onto the bobbin. Thus, consistent twist requires frequent windoffs.

In the past, I simply knotted the the new single to the end of the single already on my windoff bobbin. Then, when I plied, I would take the knots out, and overlap to form a continuous yarn.   However, I never liked having singles with a knot in them every couple of hundred yards.

However, by putting a hook  in the end of the dowel that holds my windoff bobbin, I can now make "spun" joins as I wind my singles off, even if it takes a hundred turns to make a secure joint in the yarn.

I taper both ends of the singles to be joined, overlap the ends, and insert enough twist to hold the joint together.  Inserting that twist with the drill is fast and easy.  Sure, I could have done it manually, but that was very slow for fine, high twist yarns.  And, it did not really matter for 5 or 6 ply gansey yarns.  For a lace yarn, it matters.

Thus, this bobbin now holds some 400 yards of  27,000 ypp single spin on a precise DRS bobbin assembly without a knot in it.

The fiber is Rambouillet.  It has more luster than the other fine wools.  I like that luster a lot.  This stuff gleams and sparkles.  The stuff on the bobbin above does not sparkle because it has spinning "goo" on it.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The new spinning workstation

A few months ago, Stephenie Gaustad told me that if I really wanted to spin fast, I should go to an e-spinner or motor spinner.  I had a bunch of reasons why I did not want to start motor spinning.

However, last month I helped my sister move her gold smith shop.  At the end of the day there was a 1/4 hp, 18,000 rpm industrial motor left, over and my sister suggested that I take it home with me ( Across country.)

It sat in the corner of the shop for a few days, then a rebuild kit arrived from Grizzly, and in a couple of hours,  it was a good as new.

Then, it wanted a purpose in life.  It wanted to spin.  There were a dozen prototypes, including one with a Ashford Jumbo ST flier that actually did several hundred yards of ~9,000 ypp single before being disassembled.

However,  one cannot keep nice little motor like that in a drawer.  It wants to spin.

The new spinning workstation.  

Much, much faster for high twist singles.  This is a prototype but as a workstation, it works so well that I am not in a hurry to build the Mark II version.

Speed is controlled by a "router speed controller" with a foot pedal (like a sewing machine) for a soft start. (This approach works on "universal wound" motors with brushes.) The flier is a #1 double drive by Alden Amos.  I turned the bobbins to have correct DRS and core diameters to insert the correct twist for the singles that I spin.  The MOA is standard Ashford.

I would not have bothered if I was spinning low twist (less than 5,600 ypp) yarns, and I think that yarns thinner than  ~ 30,000 ypp are too fragile for this machine, but for garment weight singles, it is wonderful.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Understand the Spindle! Part IV

I seem to have made a mistake in my calculations.

A rim weighted whorl does tend to slow the copp/ spindle system after the copp has gotten large enough to act as a good whorl.  This was my basis of analysis for suggesting that whorls be removable so that they do not slow the spindle as the copp is finished.

Center weighted whorls on the other hand, can be fixed because they do not tend to slow the spindle as much.

A drop spindle for travel

Rim weighted whorls do have their uses.  This compact spindle was make for producing 6,000 ypp singles while out and about.

 The shaft is rosewood, the hook is steel, and the whorl is a steel machine nut threaded on a piece of rose wood.  The shaft weight is 3 g, and the whorl weight is 15 g for a total weight of 18 grams

 An evening's spinning, just over a hundred yards -  not much because I had managed to get some epoxy under the skin of a finger and it hurt.

In contrast, here is my current production spindle for 9,000 ypp singles:

 The whorl weight is 15 g, and the shaft weight is 5 g for a total weight of 20 g.

 Yes, the production spindle is faster. The rim weighting of the compact spindle slows it down.  Despite being heavier, the center weighted spindle spins faster, and transfers twist to the yarn faster.

These spindles do not push the limits.  They could be used upside down as bottom whorl spindles.  9,000 ypp singles are plenty strong enough to withstand a half-hitch.  Problems with the strength of half-hitches do not show up until higher grists.

Where were such tools when I was learning to spin?  Nobody was talking about them and nobody was selling them.