Friday, March 15, 2013

Getting to swaving

Some seem to feel that what I do is either an arrogant lie or an accident.

No it a matter of taking some clue out of history and working on it until I come up with something useful.

Perhaps the Holy Grail was "swaving".  (After," How did the old fishermen on the banks stay warm?)  My grandmother told stories of very fine, hand knit, camel, ladies gloves.  And. we had limited information on the Terrible Knitters of the Dales swaving fine gloves.  The hints were tantalizing, but,  "What was the truth?" What was the technique?

Clearly the needle rotated in the knitting sheath.  This makes swaving dramatically different from any other modern hand knitting technique. Lever knitting was based on needle pitch / yaw motions. In contrast, swaving was based on  needle rotation.

So I bent some DPNs and tried it. The fabric was wonderful, but the process was so high effort that a 2" by 2" swatch knit in an evening would leave my hands stiff and sore for days.  For several years, I could not find a needle configuration that reduced the effort. I could produce wonderful fabric, but the effort was impossible.  I came to believe that swaving was inherently, a high effort activity, and that the high effort required was why it disappeared.  I was wrong.

Then, I saw a glover's needle in a museum collection that was obviously used for swaving and I made a set of replicas.  They worked - for glove fingers. All of a sudden, swaving (glove fingers) was an easy and low effort way to knit. Scaling that needle/sheath geometry to longer needles suitable for socks and glove cuffs and palms was matter of many generations of needles over a period of 3 years. So, when I say that I can "swave" it is not the result of  one trial or a few trials, it is the result of many trials, and taking many little baggies of swatches to many guild show and tells.

 Everyone is so accustomed to knitting being a pitch/yaw motion, that their eyes are fooled, and nobody sees the rotation of the needle in  swaving.  No wonder Rutt did not see it. It is an optical illusion, and I must apologize to Rutt.

 Here is a pictorial history of the tools I have tried and abandoned, to the tools that I currently use:

Note that the needles that work well have their bend about 2" from the end of the needle.

The needles that I currently use are about as blunt as possible. This goes against current thinking that one needs sharp needles to knit fast. Needles that work very well have just enough bend to fit snugly in 3/4" pipe, regardless of the length of the needle.  Needles that work best are less then 8" long.  My glove needles are 4" long with the bend in the middle.  Thus, the glover's needles have a sharper bend.

Today, swaving is my preferred way to knit. It produces a very nice fabric (with ridges when knitting back and forth). It is very fast.  It is very easy on the hands  It is very low effort.  The needles are compact and blunt (read as "safe in a knitting bag").  The bent needles (pricks) tend not to leave ladders, even in sock fingers.  And, it is very easy to  knit firm (weatherproof)  fabrics from even very fine yarns. Thus, the technique is ideal for gloves and socks. Today, I have, and use swaving needles down to 1.2 mm.

In contrast, gansey knitting with long straight needles and a knitting sheath is a fast and easy way to knit large objects such as sweaters.  Gansey knitting is for objects involving cabling, bobbles, and lace. Gansey needles  are long, and sharp enough to slide right through most knitting bags and poke holes in anything that might be precious or valuable.  On the other hand, when you must knit a very warm sweater, very fast, gansey needles with a knitting sheath are tool of choice.  And one can knit back and forth without ridges.  :  )

A sock and glove kit that is going to a friend next week. 
(I am moving from storing needles in irrigation pipe to storing needles in acrylic tubing.)  


Anonymous said...

Aaron, here's the blunt truth. People don't dismiss you solely because they disagree with what you're saying. People dismiss you because you act like a dick. If you were able to interact with people in a non-dickish manner, we'd all have lots of great conversations and debates and arguments. And you'd have influence in the community. Which you don't now. So keep shooting yourself in the foot if it amuses you, but I believe that what you're really after is influence.

Do with this information what you will.

=Tamar said...

It may be a trick of the light in the photograph, but your blunt needles seem to have a slight taper at the tip, like the old Boye brand steel needles. I have some among my collection and I prefer them to other tip shapes (I'm not yet a sheath knitter). Many of my antique steel needles are blunt, some having a tiny sharp point where (I assume) they were cut from the wire stock. I had assumed that my tight knitting was the reason they didn't go through the stitches easily, but your knitting is almost certainly tighter than mine. What's the secret?

Stacey Barber said...

I really enjoyed your post. I have recently found your blog, and I am intrigued by your tools and methods. I have always been dissatisfied with my knitting and spinning production speeds, and your blog has shown me methods to improve that. Thanks. With your discussion of Amos's DRS, Please keep sharing your findings.

Anonymous said...

Tose socks are rowing out like whoa dude. Might I suggest a change in needle size?

Aaron said...

Sharp eyed as always! ; )

The ends were ground flat on the tool grinder - which left a nasty burr. I took the burr off with the belt sharpener using a 400 grit belt.

I have not decided if the flat end with that little taper is better than a slightly domed end.

It is hand knitting and the 2 or 3 thousandth's of an inch of taper that is easily visible, likely does not make much difference.

Are your antique needles straight or bent or curved? Are there wear marks showing use in a knitting sheath/pouch?

Aaron said...

My guess is that the needles with the tiny sharp point were home made - by knitters with thrifty instincts.

The blunt swaving needles are "popped" into the stitch. The knitting sheath helps control and push the needle in to the stitch.

Can it be done without a knitting sheath? Yes, but the phrase, "tedious and unpleasant" , comes to mind. The unpleasant part is your wrists telling you that they are not going to last very long.

Anonymous said...

So we have the usual collection of self-aggrandising claims. The fact remains that you have no idea what swaving really was, Aaron, nobody does. And whatever you call it your technique is pretty poor if it results in that dreadful uneven tension between knit and purl rows.

Anonymous said...

If you are swaving, why aren't you making what was described as the cahracteristic body and arm movemenents?

LindsayZ said...

I found your swaving posts on a google search, so I don't know to whom you are referring at the start of the post. But it sounds like people have criticized your information on swaving?

After reading your swaving posts, I think you have a pretty awesome technique for knitting plain stockinet the in the round extremely quickly. But I'm not sure how you know that your technique is the same as that used in 19th century Yorkshire. Maybe that's the issue other people have?

You wrote that "it is a matter of taking some clue out of history and working on it until [you] come up with something useful." I 100% agree that that's what you've done and I think you've come up with some great tools, methods and techniques! But I guess what I don't see is how you know you have absolutely discovered the historical method in question. And I don't see how you *could* know that, with the little contemporaneous information we have.

Know what I mean? If there is an extinct and little-known (technique x) and we only have tiny fragments of information about x (say a, b, and c fragments), it's entirely possible to devise a completely *different* technique based upon a, b, and c. So your work at discovering technique x produces technique y. X and y have a, b, and c in common but d, e, ... are different.

That's why I would be hesitant to declare that you have figured out how swaving was done. There simply is no way to confirm this (at this time). It makes more sense to call your technique something else and add that it is the result of your research into swaving.

Does that make sense?