Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Single purpose v multi purpose

The other day I had occasion to check a reference in Peter Brears, The Knitting Sheath.

I was reminded of how most of the knitting sheaths depicted are designed to do one task very well, rather than being more multi-purpose tools.  Was this because they had several knitting sheaths each dedicated to a specific task, or did they just have one knitting sheath optimized for one task they used for all knitting.

From Brears' drawings, it is not possible to discern if for example the Dent goose wings had interchangeable needle adapters. At one time, I thought maybe yes, but after a year of trying to make that work, I no longer think it is plausible.   Thus, I think each each knitting sheath fitted one size of needle, and likely was used with mostly with one length of needle, eg short swaving needles or long gansey needles.

In short, I think many (most?) were owned by contract knitters that knit one kind of object commercially for 7 or 8 hours a day, most days a week, or were replicas of such knitting sheaths carved into love tokens and kept for sentimental reasons.  While the sheaths could be used household knitting, they were optimized for one kind of commercial knitting.

Were there fewer sizes of knittng needles ?  Brears does not give the needle size of any of the knitting sheaths.  However, I can use any needle size from US3/0 to US1 in my knitting sheaths bored for US1 needles, and I expect that commercial knitters could do the same thing.  So just because they had only one knitting sheath, does not mean that they used only one size of needles.  My guess based on the history of wire standards is that commercial/contract knitting was standardized to a particular wire gauge, likely in the range of just under 0.01 inches, e.g., 0.095"= BWG 13 = 2.4 mm.  This is also of a size that would produce the gauge seen in a number of  knit items from the time.

Then if you spin at 10 hanks per pound, and make 5-ply, knit with those needles, you have a nice fabric, and all the math is easy for the spinners and knitters.

It seems that my move toward multi-purpose knitting sheaths is a move away from tradition.

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