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!


=Tamar said...

I'd like to see a video of the swaving technique.

Aaron said...

Until today, I did not have a saving technique that was reasonable ergonomic, and therefore a style that I felt was potentially historically accurate. Today, I do.

I need to redo all my videos. I am much better today than I was back in 2008.

Roy Laws said...

Aaron, I am somewhat confused by the previous posts regarding swaving. Everything I saw that referenced swaving seemed to be saying that it used a left-hand yarn carry. If, in fact, your present knitting method described as swaving is historically accurate, it obviously is a slight variation of regular English Lever knitting. And, again making the assumption that you are correct in this, then I have been swaving for going on sixty years now. My only variation from what you do is that my insertion of the right needle into the new stitch is coordinated with the movement of my right hand pivoting on the needle so that the wrapping is just a slight leftward leaning of the hand. Thus, the moving forward to wrap and the insertion are taking place nearly simultaneously. I find that if I focus my mind on the left hand action of placing the new stitch on the tip of the right needle, I can increase my speed considerably. That is, making no adjustment at all to the actual movements, but just changing my focus so that fewer mistakes are made in placing the stitch, I can do so more accurately, and thus faster overall.

I hae spent several hours trying variations on continental knitting trying to determine what swaving actually was like. Now, it would appear, that I have been swaving since I was taught to knit, and it is my "go-to" style of knitting, even though I have learned and one might even say "mastered" many other techniques. What I was attempting to describe as egg beater knitting, was essentially what you are demonstrating in your short videos. I have been trying to get a way to video my own knitting, and would love to get something posted so that you could compare your technique with mine, and decide if in fact we have managed to decode the swaving process. Interesting to think that I may have been swaving all along, and was just mislead by the comments about it using the left-handed carry.

Aaron said...


I cannot prove a particular method is correct.

I am not sure you can see the right needle rotate on the axis of the knitting sheath so the tip of the needle describes an arc as I push down on the needle adapter and the knitting sheath pivots. Thus, the leg of the stitch is the fulcrum as the working needle levers the loop of yarn through the stitch as the prick rotates. It is the rotation of the prick that moves the yarn.

This can only be done with curved or bent needles that rotate in the knitting sheath.

The rotation of the needle and the use of the leg of the stitch as a fulcrum mean that this is a very process than English Lever.

English lever can certainly be done with straight needles (or bent needles). Swaving required bent or curved needles. Swaving is not a variation of English lever. If you can do it with straight needles, it is not swaving.

I have not figured out how to purl with this process holding the yarn in my right hand. At this time, when I hold the yarn in my right hand, I have to purl using the English lever motion. However, with the yarn in my left hand, I can purl by using the stitch leg as a fulcrum and rotating the prick on the knitting sheath axis - what I call swaving. With the yarn in my left hand, I can swave reverse stockinette easily. Perhaps that is the correct way to swave.