Sunday, February 17, 2013

Diversity of knitting sheaths

A knitting sheath is as simple or complex as a hammer. Their essence is the same, they are tools that provide leverage.  My tool dealer (Grizzly industrial)  offers 157 different kinds of hammers, and that does not include antique hammers such as a cobbler or wheel wright might have.  Thus, it is reasonable to think that there might be a large number of different kinds of knitting sheaths - each used for a different kind of knitting. And there are.

If we look at the various knitting sheaths drawn by Peter Brears in The Knitting Sheath, published in Folk
Life vol 20 1981-82.  We see the following kinds of knitting sheaths:

     Fig 2

Fig 3

Fig 4

   Fig 5

Fig 6

   Fig 7

     Fig 8

I am struck by several factors.  One is that he does not distinguish between knitting sheaths used for swaving and those for use with long needles. he does not indicate the size of the needle that fits the sheath.  And, he does not distinguish between, professional tools, 'love tokens' intended to be functional, and love tokens intended to be purely decorative or sentimental.With only one exception, Brear does not indicate wear marks (or lack of wear marks).

In Fig. 3 Nos. 1 and 8 are clearly utilitarian tools. Nos. 2, 3, 7, 10, and 11 are functional tools with decorative carving that enhances their functionality.  While Nos, 4, 5, and 9 have carving that diminish their functionality, and  Nos, 6, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16 were likely never intended for any use what so ever. No.6 is heavy. The woods that are soft enough to carve ball-in-cage are to soft to make good knitting sheaths.  The  ball-in-cage structures in nos. 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16 are not likely to be to survive the stress of knitting with long needles.  The  ball-in-cage in No. 4 is not required to transmit the full stress of the needles, but only survive handling.  It could survive handling in the context of careful knitting for the family, but is not likely to survive sustained professional / commercial use.  Thus, some knitting sheaths were made for use, and others were purely for sentimental and decorative purposes.  And some were made to show off whittling ability.

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