Friday, August 30, 2013

Eastern Cross Stitch on hand held needles

The other day, I said that ECS could not be knit with handheld needles.  I can hear the tittering anonomouse saying, he is crazy," I can do it easily".

Last evening, as my wife watched Grey's Anatomy, I knit a swatch with hand held needles:

For scale, it is #3 crochet thread on US1 needles.
Those brass needles knit very smoothly, and have long tapered points that are well suited for ECS

Well, there is knitting, and there is KNITTING.  In my world, knitting ECS on hand held needles is slow, ugly, and high effort. It can be done, but it is not worth the effort. I only do it to show that I am not crazy.

Note that even on hand held needles, I knit firm sock fabrics. In a desert environment where sandals are worn, a very tight fabric helps protect the foot from sand. 


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Metal spindles

We are very much a product of our culture and the expectations programmed into us by that culture.

We recognized neolithic spindle whorls that fit on a wooden shaft.  These were made of wood, bone, stone and ceramic. We found/find a lot of them, and they continue up into the bronze and iron ages. See for example  Subsistence communities still using such spindles to spin coarse yarns. Moreover, bronze and lead whorls on a wooden shaft work very well.  However, in the bronze and iron ages, population exploded and cloth production increased dramatically, and professional spinners associated with industrial scale cloth production needed faster ways to spin.

If I were an Iron Age spinner, and I needed to spin a lot of garment weight (5,000 to 10,000 ypp) yarn quickly for weaving, what would I use?  I would use a piece of iron or bronze wire with a wooden whorl that acts as a yarn spool or pirn.

Certainly many folks use steel wire for the shafts of bead spindles such as .  However, the idea of using a metal blade with a wooden bobbin or pirn as a whorl seems to be rare these days. 

The concept works for both drop spindles and supported spindles. We can look at medieval art, and see nothing what-so-ever that looks anything like this.   See for example.  On the other hand, in that art, we also do not see anything that looks like the industrial production of shiploads of cloth for export either. And, we do know that such production was going on.  Art is not the last word on industrial production technology.

It is not pretty, but it is an awesome spindle for spinning. The metal "blade" (shaft) is small enough that the spindle can be spun up to very high speed, which is somewhat limited by the diameter/inertia of the wooden whorl. It is much faster than a spindle with a wooden blade and a whorl. It is faster than a spindle with a steel shaft and  "spindle beads" as the relatively high inertia of the spindle beads tends to slow the spindle.   Drafting is just like drafting for any other spindle, just faster.  Most modern recreational spinners will find it difficult, and thereby assume that I know nothing about spinning with a spindle.  They will object to having to spin the spindle frequently and assume that I know nothing about spinning.  No, it is a matter that I tend to spin garment weight yarns, and I want much higher rates of twist insertion than most modern recreational spinners can accommodate.  I know that the spindle is slowing because it is putting a lot of twist into the yarn and a lot of twist in the yarn is what I want.   Most modern recreational spinners using a drop spindle are not trying to spin as fast as possible. They spin for relaxation.  I spin because I want yarns that are not commercially available.  Thus, I want to spin as fast as possible.

The design has many advantages. It is cheap and durable. This spindle design can withstand being dropped on a stone floor many times. It is easy to fabricate.  And. the wire can be used to toast marsh mellows or cheese over an open fire.  :  )  The wooden whorl/bobbin allows very fast wind-on, and instead of winding off, the  bobbin/whorl/pirn can be slipped off, and handed to the person doing the plying or even to the weaver as a wound shuttle pirn. This can speed the entire textile production process. 

However, such tools are not likely to be found in the archaeological record because when they break the pieces will either get reforged or reused as wire. To anybody that actually makes stuff, such little pieces of metal are very handy.  And, archaeologists are not looking for such a spindle, it is not part of their culture. They are looking for spindle whorls of stone, ceramic, lead, bronze . . . . 

Did any previous culture every use such spindles?  Who knows?, but it is an intermediate step between a neolithic spindle with a metal whorl and a flyer/bobbin assembly.  This suggests that at some point, somebody did work with the concept. (Or, perhaps that intermediate point did not occur until bobbins were put on the spindles of great wheels.)  And, without the wooden bobbin, you have the "twisty stick" that was traditionally  used by wool merchants to grade wool.  Since the grading (and hence price) of wool was based on how fine a thread a competent spinner could spin from the wool, this suggests a relationship between the grading tool and the spinning tool. It may be that at the end of the dark ages, the grading tool was just a metal spindle without its bobbin.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Inventory of knitting methods

Most modern knitters would say that one's method or style of knitting is purely a matter of personal preference.  I add that a knitter's knitting style affects the fabric that they produce.

First, I would divide knitting styles by the tools used:

  1. single point needles (SPN) (including single point cable needles)
  2. double point needles (DPN) (including hand held sock needles)
  3. gansey needles (DPN)  (hand held or pit knitting)
  4. double point cable needles (CN)
  5. nalbinding needle 
  6. sock needles with knitting stick
  7. gansey needles with knitting sheath
  8. Shetland long needles with knitting pouch
  9. swaving pricks with knitting sheath
  10. Portuguese knitting hooks 
  11. other hooking and frame knitting tools
On Ravelry, they take the first 4 of those tool kits and claim to find a couple of hundred different knitting techniques. I am not so sharp eyed, and would say that these are all variations on a few knitting methods, that include, but are not limited to: English, American, continental, Portuguese, Irish Cottage, and Weldon.

For me, the English style produces better gauge, the continental is faster, and Irish Cottage /Weldon are remarkable for showing off a young woman's pretty hands. (With hand held needles, I revert to continental, which I learned because I was told it would allow me to knit faster.) 

Kits 1, 2, 4, and 5 are tools that are easy to carry to a tea, to market, to court, and while traveling.  The downside to these tools is that they do not facilitate knitting very fast, or very tight. Nalbinding can produce Eastern Cross Stitch, but slowly. Portuguese knitting hooks (10) are also portable, and allow production of ECS faster than nalbinding, but slower than knitting with a knitting stick.

Any knit fabric can be done by Nalbinding. It is the most versatile, and the slowest method of producing a knit fabric. It is widely used for repair and restoration, so it is well known to museum curators. Nalbinding can also produce fabrics that cannot be knit. On the other hand, knitting can produce fabrics that are not economically practical to nalbind. 

Over the last 15 years, I have visited archaeology sites and historical museums around the world. By and large, I found archaeologists woefully ignorant of knitting sheath technology. Curators at knitting museums in the UK, knew about knitting sheaths, but had not made replicas and learned to use them.  They could not produce fabric samples that could be handled and tested. And, they did not have working knitting sheaths with appropriate needles to test and identify wear marks that could be used to separate broken DPN from broken  "awls"  at  archaeology sites.  The nature of broken DPN was the first lesson that I learned as I started using knitting sheaths.  This constrained my thinking until Pressfield pushed me to look at metal trade routes in the late Bronze Age.

While any knit fabric can be made by nalbinding, the process is too expensive for some purposes. For example, socks worn with sandals in a sandy environment have a short life span. Socks made by knitting would have half the cost, and be more practical. On the other hand, for a sentimental keepsake, no price is too high, and nalbinding is the perfect production technology. Here, a rare (keepsake) item is more likely to be preserved, while the more common item is likely to be discarded and not preserved.  In such analysis, one must consider not only the cost of the particular object, but also the time invested in the development process to work out construction details. Objects with sophisticated detail are likely to be the result of generations of design. Generations of design suggest a lower cost method of production such as knitting rather than nalbinding.  That is, a room full of knitters, each knitting 3 pair of socks per week is more likely to get all the details correct, than a wife nalbinding one pair of socks per year.  (It is one thing to work from a written pattern, and something very different to just work from memory.)

Tool kits 6 to 9 can be used to produce any fabric produced by tool kits 1 to 4, but they can also be used to produce fabrics that cannot be reasonably produced by kits 1 to 4.

Short DPN with a knitting stick (tool kit 6) is the right tool kit for knitting socks with patterned stitches including Eastern Crossed Stitch, clocks, and Argyle. Knitting sheaths/sticks change the physics of the process, and allow faster and tighter knitting.  

With a knitting sheath, I use an English style of knitting that give me a tighter and more consistent gauge. Knitting English style with a knitting stick, I knit much faster than I can knit continental with hand held needles, so I do not feel that I need the extra speed resulting from knitting continental. And, with a knitting sheath, I do not find continental to be that much faster.

Modern knitters (using hand held needles) dismiss the virtues of Eastern (or Western) Cross Stitch because it is not worth the extra effort. However, it is so much extra effort because they have forgotten how to use knitting sheaths or Portuguese knitting hooks to knit such fabrics rapidly and easily. The right tools and skills make these fabrics feasible. Choice between ECS and WCS for a project depends on direction of ply twist in the yarn. 

Gansey needles with a knitting sheath (tool kit 7) allow faster, tighter, and more ergonomic knitting than any of the above methods. the flex of the long needles give more power than can be achieved with short DPN. While the finger motions of English or continental knitting with Gansey needles with a knitting sheath are somewhat similar to those of knitting with hand held or pit knitting, the physics are different, allowing faster and tighter knitting with much less stress on the hands and wrists. This is very suited to worsted yarns and knitting patterned stitches. Gansey knitting with a sheath has no equal for knitting weatherproof sailor's sweaters from worsted yarns. Thus, the resultant fabric is very different from the techniques above. Jerseys are also knit on gansey needles/ knitting sheath. 

Gansey knit fabric can be replicated with nalbinding, but it is very hard work, and not an economically feasible technology for equipping a shipload of fisherman. 

Shetland knitting (8) is very similar to knitting with gansey needles, but done in a different position.  In shetland knitting some of the effort to drive the working needle comes from the knitting pouch, and part come from the knitter's upper arm. While gansey knitting is driven by the weight of the right arm and the spring of the spring steel needle. Thus, the Shetland needles can be stiffer or less springy than gansey needles. Shetland knitting is also very suited to fast, sustained knitting. I think Shetland knitting has the advantage for knitting woolen spun yarns and Fair Isle knitting.  A Shetland knit fabric can be as warm as any gansey knit fabric, but you may have to use hand spun yarn to get such warmth. Shetland knitting is also suited to knitting large lace objects, however, I do not find it suited to small objects such as lace points for collars and lace cuffs.

I like ~8" DPN and a knitting sheath for fine lace points and lace cuffs. A knitting sheath or knitting heart stabilizes the needle, and makes fine lace much easier and faster. Fine lace is more fun when it can be knit faster. In theory, it can be done, but good luck nalbinding fine lace.

Swaving (9) or knitting by rotating a curved needle, can rapidly produce very fine, tight fabrics. It does not do well with pattern stitches including ECS.  It is not suited for knitting out and about.  It does not work well for Fair Isle.  However, for knitting strips of garter stitch or small objects (socks and especially gloves) in the round, swaving has no equal. Swaving pricks apply compound leverage so the applied force can be small, but produce a large effective force resulting in a very tight fabric.  Needle and hand motion is tiny, and guided by the knitting sheath, and can thereby be very fast. Needle motion feels very different, but looks to an observer to be rather similar to sock needles with a knitting sheath. 

This is an optical illusion as the physics of the motion are very different. The main difference is that needle motion is controlled by the knitting sheath and the tension of the fabric. Since fabric tension controls tension of each stitch, the over all tension can be very uniform. It does feel a bit weird as it is performed.  For gloves, it is a game changer. For fine gloves and fine socks, swaving is far and away the best hand craft method for producing such objects. Swaving pricks work best when less than 8" long, so swaving does work better for small objects. Sheringham Guernseys knit from 3-ply at 12 to 14 spi, are better knit with long knitting pins (1.5 mm) and a knitting sheath. However, if I wanted to knit a shirt of an even finer fabric, with good density, I would swave it, using 2 sets of swaving pricks.  I have not tried swaving yarns finer than lace weight. 

Portuguese knitting hooks (10) provide a reasonably productive way to produce ECS while out and about. I like ECS for socks because it provides great cushion, ventilation, and durability. Even linen stitch and fisherman's rib does not provide the durability of ECS.  Add-in the cushion and ventilation, and the ECS is a great fabric for sock heels and soles -- if you know how to make with with reasonable effort.

ECS on PKH does not require a knitting pin to hold the yarn. 

Thus, hats, I knit with uncrossed stitches, but knit tightly with DPN/knitting sheath. My standard tool kit for large garments is gansey needles with a knitting sheath.  Arans are knit flat with a pair of gansey needles and a knitting sheath.  All Fair Isle goods are knit with a knitting pouch (mostly with long Shetland style needles, but sometimes with sock needles). Worsted gloves are swaved.  The legs/ cuffs of hose and boot socks are either swaved or gansey knit.  The feet of hose and boot socks are knit on steel sock needles with a knitting stick so the sole can be ECS.  Summer socks for sandals are knit on sock needles with a knitting stick. Dress socks are swaved.  Large lace objects are knit Shetland style, while lace points and cuffs are knit on fine (1.2 mm) DPN with a knitting sheath.

I knit scarves, shawls, comforters and other loose fabrics on DPN with knitting sheaths because it is fast.  

Rugs, trivets, and such are knit on gansey needles because I like the fabrics and speed with which they can be produced. 

So that is how I knit from head to toe. I have put a lot of effort into discovering how these fabrics can be produced. If these fabrics could be produced by hand held needles, I would know. Fabric produced by hand held needles looks about the same, but it does not perform as well, and stress on the hands and wrists limits production. For another thing hand held knitting is slow. I have not actually knit an entire object with hand held needles since 2006, and that was only because I was on an airplane, the knitting sheath had been left in the rental car, and the knitting pouch was in checked luggage. If that happened to me today, I would just read. It is better for me to do something else than to waste my time trying to knit without the right tools.

Using a knitting sheath is so much faster and easier, that if I did not have a knitting sheath, I would stop and make myself a knitting sheath.  On any knitting project, with a fabric that can be produced on CN or SPN, a knitting sheath reduces the number of hours required to knit the object by more than the number of hours required to make the knitting sheath. This is true for any non-trivial object.  On other hand, I do put more effort into making better knitting sheaths for larger projects.

When I start a knitting project, I decide what kind of fabric I want.  Then, I choose the tools that allow me to best produce that fabric.  I have actually worn out a couple of sets of US1 Addi Turbo CN. That was a learning experience. I know what CN will do, and what they will not do.  One may succeed in knitting a swatch on CN, but trying to knit these fabrics with hand held needles either results in injury, or the fabric being so loose / uneven that it does not meet specifications. I know that sock needles and a knitting sheath allow me to produce fabrics that I simply cannot knit on CN or SPN. I know that gansey needles with a knitting sheath facilitate the production of other fabrics that cannot be knit on hand held needles.(I consider the different gansey patterns to be different fabrics suitable for jobs.) I know that swaving facilitates the production still different fabrics that also cannot be knit with hand held needles. Somewhere out there is fine lace.  I should likely  have listed a tool kit for fine lace, but nobody NEEDS lace finer than what can be produced with the 1.5 mm gansey needles mentioned above.

I consider the redevelopment and description of knitting tool kits 6 through 9 to be a significant body of work.  It needs to be organized and indexed. Whatever faults the text has, the concepts are the craft of hand knitting, where better is better. The craft of hand knitting is different from the pastime of hand knitting. The pastime of hand knitting is run rather along the rules of Queen Victoria's court. (In Queen Victoria's court, one had to be careful not to knit like a professional.)  


Feynman said that he did not trust the experts and always did the calculations himself.  That works for me.

Traditional experts learn more and more about an ever narrowing topic until eventually they know everything about nothing. Then, there are generalists that try to learn something about an ever broader span, and they end up knowing nothing about everything.

I am neither of these.  My qualifications for being a senior scientist were that I tended to get the numbers correct. The would give me a problem and I would get a better answer.

I came to knitting in 1999 asking a particular question, "How did the cod fishermen on the North Atlantic Banks stay warm?"

A bunch of expert knitters pretended to answer that question by telling me things  that are impossible according to physics and biology. They said those fishermen were just tough, and that the hand knit fabrics knit with hand held needles were warm enough.  Do those experts actually believe that nonsense?  Do other knitters also accept that nonsense?  (Hypothermia is a physiological condition that results in loss of coordination, loss of judgement, and death.  There is no way to just "tough out" hypothermia.)  

I looked at history, and found ways to knit tighter and faster. This made the knitting experts even more furious.  Modern knitting experts try to ignore the traditional knitting methods used by the master knitters of old.  Modern writers (Rutt) on knitting history wrote without bothering to learn the knitting methods used by professional knitters in the past. Even Mary Wright never learned to use a knitting sheath prior to publishing a book on the topic.  Their unstated, and untested assumption is that the fabrics produced by such methods are substantially similar to the fabrics produced by hand held needles such cable needles.  If they would think about the physics of the process and do the math,  they would know this is nonsense.  It they would learn these techniques and test the produced fabrics.  They would know this is nonsense.

The logical conclusion of the argument that all knit fabrics are equal, is that all woven fabrics are also equal, and that any fabric produced on a floor loom:

 can be produced on a rigid heddle knitter's loom:

No! A floor loom will produce fabrics that a little knitter's loom simply cannot produce. For one thing, a real beater on a floor loom allows the production of denser fabrics.  Likewise, a knitting sheath allows much more force to be applied, allowing the formation of denser fabrics.  Many knitters brag about knitting tight. A  knitting sheath allows knitting much tighter than is possible with hand held needles. The difference in fabric density between a fabric knit with hand held needles and that knit using a knitting sheath is as great as the difference in density between a fabric knit on a table top rigid heddle loom and  fabric woven on a floor loom with a beater. And, for the same reason.  The weaver using a beater on a floor room has more leverage than the weaver using a little knitter's loom.  This allows the floor loom to produce denser cloth.  Likewise, the knitter using a knitting sheath has more leverage.  If knitting tightly is a virtue, then a knitting sheath or knitting pouch is the route to great virtue.  Knitting sheaths allow the production of fabrics that simply cannot be knit with hand-held needles, including cable needles.

The bottom line is that tools matter.  Yes, skill matters. Moreover, the better and more sophisticated the tools, the more skill matters.  Knitting sheaths give more range and scope to the better knitter.

The only way to understand the full range of fabrics that can be produced by the various knitting methods is to make such fabrics and work with them.  Handling museum specimens does not convey how the fabrics perform in everyday use.  Knitting sheaths were used for a very long time because knitting sheaths allowed the production of fabrics that solved problems. To understand the fabrics, one must put the fabrics in the context of those problems. The only way to understand the essence of a "gansey knit" seaman's sweater is to put it on, and wear it while sailing in stormy conditions. The sailors wearing ganseys did not have weather services, their ships endured all weather conditions, and the sailors worked in all weather, including weather conditions that modern ships are able to avoid. the purpose of gansey knit sweaters was to protect sailors from the worst possible weather. The sailors of old, often went aloft under conditions that are avoided by modern sailors. (Grumble you may: but go ye must!) The only way to understand the essence of fine swaved ladies gloves is to put them on, and wear them in an unheated environment. The only way to understand a sock is to wear it under the conditions it was designed to be used.  Museum specimens cannot be subjected to such destructive tests.

By and large, knitting experts are no better than the experts that Feynman did not trust.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


Good socks allow one to walk farther, faster, and to be less foot sore afterward.

For an army, this means that the army with the better socks gets there firstest, with the mostest.

Not being foot sore as an army goes into battle is a very big deal.

For a marching army, better socks are an enabling technology.  The army with the better socks has an advantage. That was as true 2,000 years ago as it was in General Kitchener's time.

Hesiod talks of lining shoes with "felt".  However, looking at the translator's footnotes, all I can be sure of is that the lining was something made from wool, and that it may not have meant the same thing, all the time.

I never said that Alexander the Great or Hesiod or Darios per se, were spinners or knitters.  I said  that the military men of the time would have arranged the best foot wear possible for their armies on the march.

Read "The Art of War".  Barefoot armies lose and die. Socks and boots are enabling technologies for an army on the march.  Both the Greek and Persian armies marched. Then, the Roman army marched.

Then there is that Coptic sock. Who here thinks it was a proof of concept prototype to replace the felt in Hesiod's leather foot wear?  No, that sock shows sophisticated details that were likely worked out over generations.    That sock shows long evolution.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


I claim to knit "weatherproof" garments.  If you claim to knit as tight as I do, your fabrics should do anything that my knitting does - without limit.

A pool of water on a sweater is a nice visual aid, but it is not test for weatherproof. Fog droplets in still air move at almost zero speed - rather like a pool of water beading on the sweater.  Real rain drops fall at ~ 20 mph in still air.  A weatherproof sweater can withstand a lot of water hitting it at 20 mph.  Test for it.  I do. My test uses a high pressure nozzle throwing 12 liters/min at the sample.

To a sailor, "weather' means wind.  I test to be sure my gasneys will keep me warm in a cold gale (35 mph). Test for it.  I do.

Wind will accelerate the rain drops or ocean spray to more than 20 mph. Test for it.  I do.

In the 18th century, cod fishermen in the North Atlantic worked from open boats and hand knit sweaters that would keep them warm and dry in a 48F  gale. ("Frostbite" time for bare skin = 30 minutes.)   When the weather got bad, they put on another gansey, and oil skins.  However, their Jerseys and Guernseys were warm to a degree that you cannot imagine. That is what I test for - Can I knit as warm as they did? And, I always seek better. What is your standard?

I wear my ganseys in the rain and in the wind.   And when conditions get bad, I wear them  2 at a time, under a commercial fisherman's foul weather gear, with proper accessories. I admit it, that combination is warmer than what the old timers had.  They were very tough. In the real world, it does get colder than freezing, the wind does blow harder than a gale, and I have fished in places where 20 feet of rain per year is normal.  I figure that my sweaters are just sort of minimum competence for a working fisherman's shirt.  If you want to say that you knit as tight as I do, then prove that your sweaters have  minimum competence for a working fisherman's shirt.

If you want me to prove things, then turn-about is fair play. We test for  minimum competence.

Friday, August 16, 2013

More on Eastern Cross Stitch (Coptic Socks)

There are at least 2 ways to rapidly and effectively produce ECS. Use of short DPN with a long knitting sheath has already been mentioned.

The other is knitting with hooked needles as done by the shepherds in Southern Europe. See for example, Mary Thomass.  This is also a very powerful technique for producing ECS. It is not as fast as DPN, but it is easier when one is walking, or may be interrupted.  If I was sitting knitting, I would use the DPN.  If I was likely to be interrupted, I would use the hooks. The hooks are more suited to multi-tasking.

The two methods favor different kinds of errors and hence different kinds of anomalous stitches.  In either case, the anomalous stitches are not similar to the errors found in uncrossed kitting as produced by modern knitting techniques.  To the modern knitter,  such  anomalous stitches  are counter intuitive.

The modern knitter assumes that such the anomalous stitches must be the result of nalbinding.   One can nalbind the object without bothering to determine if the original object could in fact be “knit”. And proving that the original can be knit does not prove that it was not produced by nalbinding.  All knitting such a sock proves is that there is a faster way to produce that lovely sock fabric.

I am amused at how many modern knitter reject (without trying) the eastern cross stitch as having "No Advantage".  Amazing that a technology would survive for 1,500 years with no advantage.  I expect that modern knitters reject ECS because it is very functional and requires effort.  

It is worth noting that replicas of the Coptic Socks produced by nalbinding do not contain some of the anomalous stitches seen in the original objects.  To me this suggests that the originals were being produced rapidly, likely as  commercial objects.   And, in the original, some of the anomalous stitches are exactly where I tend to drop stitches when knitting that pattern with short, sharp DPN.  Again consistent with someone sitting &  knitting (a professional knitter) rather than a multi-tasking mother.   Some of the anomalous stitches in the original look exactly like my repair of the dropped stitches. 

I like the pattern for socks. It makes a nice heel and a very neat gusset.  I very much wonder why Nancy Bush did not include it in her book on Folk Socks.  She does mention the Coptic Socks.  I like to wear socks with sandals, and the Coptic sock makers seem to have worked out all the details.  That kind of working out of details only comes from long, long experience.  Not just one life time, but generations of incremental improvements.

Such a long experience with socks is at odds with NB's timeline of knitting.  However, long experience makes sense if "pilos" could also refer to knitting. I do not trust translators to understand all of the possible meanings of a word. In particular, Hesiod comes a time following extraordinary upheavals and trans-humance in Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, Sinai Peninsula and North Africa.  In such times, words acquire and lose meanings. 

Knit socks would have been an enabling technology for Alexander the Great or even Datis.  Come on.  They were good spinners.  They had enough leisure to create art and do science.  They had pointy sticks.  And Hesiod is about the time the Greeks started getting steel needles from Anatolia. 

Many a time, I have looked through inventories of archaeological site artifacts, and what strikes me is that there are a lot objects categorized as  "awls" that look like broken DPN.  I ask, "Did you do a wear mark analysis ?", "Do you have a knitter in the group that has used a knitting sheath?".  The Answer is always, "No.".

Thursday, August 15, 2013


I long ago decided that Jersey and Guernsey (in the old days) had both produced fine, dense fabrics suitable for garments worn by sailors and fishermen, but that there there was some subtle, but inherent difference between the fabrics produced on the different Channel Islands (in the period 1100 -> 1485). The different fabrics were likely produced with similar tools (e.g., long metal needles and knitting sheath).

Let's assume that the Guernsey fabric was uncrossed stitches in elaborate patterns knit from 5-ply; a very nice fabric. What is a nice knit fabric for garments worn by sailors and fishermen that is different? It needs to be very warm, durable, and must be fast to knit.  I suggest crossed stitch garter.

I know, I know, it is not knit in the round, and we all know that seaman's "ganseys" were knit in the round because sweaters knit in the round were more durable.  However, one can knit the garment in 3 pieces, then take one of those shepherd's hooked knitting needles and "knit" the pieces together, to make a garment that is as strong as one knit in the round.

It is a fast and easy knit on 2+1 long needles.  Crossed garter stitch up to the neck hole, bind off the neck hole, knit the shoulders, cast on at the other side of the neck hole, and knit down the other side.  Knit the sleeves.  Knit (with hooked needles) the sides together.  Knit (with hooked needles) the sleeves on. Gussets at the arm pit are easy to add.

I have made many of attempts at twisted stitch sweaters, and this is the first one that really seems to make sense.  I am knitting a prototype from 2-ply worsted weight on 2.38 mm steel needles.  It has horizontal stripes of different yarns from different mills.  

This morning I laid the WIP of crossed garter stitch on the kitchen counter, and poured a cup of water on it.  Then, I made breakfast for my wife.  Then, I poured the water off the sweater.  The counter was still dry.   CGS does not provide the padding of crossed cables, but it does provide substantial cushioning for those days when the lee rail is awash and it can be tight enough to be weatherproof.  CGS provides more warmth and cushion than the vertical ribbing of  "Jack Ryan"  submarine sweaters that were popular, and CGS is much faster to knit.  In fact, I would not be surprised if a "terrible knitter" could not knit a weatherproof "gansey" of crossed garter stitch on long needles from worsted weight yarn in a couple of days.   CGS may not flatter the figure like vertical ribbing, but I like it a lot. 

I have been (rudely) asked if I understand at what gauge most knitters knit.  I know that most knitters do not knit "weatherproof" fabrics. (That will support a pool of water.)  And, I do often knit weatherproof fabrics that will support a pool of water.  Yes, my knit fabrics tend to be a little tighter than most.   
Will Taylor and his wife have seen more different hand knit fabrics than anyone else that I know, and they tell me that my knit fabrics are unique.  Alden Amos and Stephenie Gaustad have judged more textile competitions than anyone else that I know, and they tell me that in their experience, I  am the only person knitting such fabrics.  Beth Brown-Reinsel touched and felt my gansey and watched me knit, then she told me that she had never seen any fabric like what I knit.   Judith Mackenzie that she had never seen such a gansey actually being worn, and had never seen such fabric actually being hand knit.  I did my home work.  Do I need to go on?

For me, knitting such fabrics is not a big deal.  It is clear that such fabrics could be hand knit on an industrial scale. 

I do not say that such fabrics are for everyone. I say that such fabrics were practical for working sailors and fishermen, and that such fabrics were practical to hand knit on an industrial scale.  I say that sailors on junks had different needs.  I say that sailors on later "steam ships" have very different needs.

It is worth a few cases of brandy to find peers that knit like I do.  Let's see how many people can earn their brandy by knitting a good weatherproof seaman's sweater. The point of this post is that crossed garter stitch can also be knit into a weatherproof fabric.  This give everyone options.

Eastern cross stitch

I am coming to like ECS. Some years ago, I tested samples and decided it was inherently too porous to make a good fabric for fishing and sailing garments. However, it makes a great fabric for socks.  It has some real virtues.

It can be produced with short DPN and a long knitting stick, or using the hooked needles of the shepherds.  Both approaches will  produce an excellent fabric.

Hooked needles work well when standing or walking. The DPN/sheath work when sitting. The DPN are ultimately somewhat faster and more ergonomic.  But, if one is going to be walking and standing, then a bit of knitting is better than no knitting.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Judging textile objects.

The best textile judge that I know always asks, 'What is the PURPOSE of this object?"  The purpose of an object may be to display the skill of the spinner/weaver/knitter. Or, the purpose of the textile object may be purely functional. Or, it may be to display the wealth of the wearer as in the case of haute couture. Or, in my case it is often to test how practical or functional a particular garment construction can be.

I just got back from Salmon Camp. The weather was "fishable".  However, our hosts had told us to bring warm clothing as the weather would be very cold.  And indeed, many in camp were complaining about the conditions. There was 5 or 6 ' of chop on top of a 10' swell,  and the temperature was about 50F.

Our hosts have  a happy, little, bouncy boat, that makes a fair amount of spray in those sea conditions, so oil skins are a must, but by the conditions faced by dory fishermen in the North Atlantic, the conditions were fine.

I wore my thinnest, and almost thread bare gansey, with wool pants under my rain gear.  From the wording on the invatation, I had expected to need  two ganseys, but one was very comfortable. I left my heavier ganseys in the truck.

When I judge that gansey by the needs of a (California) salmon fisherman, it is a great garment. The only way I can judge that garment is to put it on and wear it salmon fishing, trip after trip. Its virtues as a garment for salmon fishing do not show in a picture.  Even touching and feeling it does not warn of its perfect warmth. (And, it is more tightly knit than any sweater that I have ever seen that was not knit with the aid of a knitting sheath.)  Some might look at pictures of it and find faults in the knitting.  For example, the sleeves are loose so that they can be rolled up for when I have to reach into the water to grab a downrigger weight.  And the sleeves are a bit short so they are not fouled when I cut fish. (I wore it baiting crab traps the other day, and afterward it hardly stank at all.)   The stitch pattern is Filey, but the construction is not Filey.  It is not traditional.  The knitting police see it, "see red", and blow their whistles.  : )

Thus, what I consider real virtues of this sweater, would be considered "Faults" by some knitter who never crewed THE boat that went out first, and proved that the conditions were indeed fishable, and that there were fish to be caught, (as the rest of the camp sat by the fire watching the white caps on the water.)  The garments that I make can not be judged by looking at photos on the internet, because they are not like any garments modern knitters have experienced.  They cannot even be judged by touch and feel in a warm room, or even touch and feel sitting by a camp fire.   The only way to judge my ganseys is to put one on and wear during a long day of being drenched by cold salt spray.  The way to judge my socks is to put a pair on, and go use them.  My fishing boot socks are from handspun 5-ply Romney. They suffered a great deal of wear on this last trip.  So, I really am desperate to find a better way to make fishing boot socks.  I am knitting prototypes from MacAusland wool. 

The new salmon gansey will be knit from 10-ply.

I know about fisherman's rib/ linen stitch.  I have made many pairs of boot socks with that stitch. (And worn them to mended rags.)  However, the extra strand of yarn is not anchored to the primary knit stitch, and is free to move and wear.  In Eastern Cross stitch, the crossing of the stitch means that the loop of yarn making the stitch is double weight and as thick as in  fisherman's rib/ linen stitch, however it is anchored by being twisted and cannot move, shift, or wear.  In short, each Eastern Crossed Stitch acts a tiny bit of cabled yarn at half grist, which provides a thick, durable, pad.  For sock heels and soles, it provides a thick, well ventilated cushion.  If you want a warm fabric, go with the  fisherman's rib.  If you want cushion, go with the Eastern Cross Stitch.  Two different fabrics for two different purposes.  Any knitter that dismisses one or the other, has not thought about function in their garments.  

Now, a particular knitter may be knitting purely for status, or the status of the person who will wear the garment, but that should not keep the knitter from thinking.  As I stared at the bobbing rod tip as we bounced up and down on the billowing main, I decided that I am very glad that I have "no credibility on the street". Any spinner/knitter that would try to judge my garments from a internet photo is not somebody that I would ever trust to judge my work in any way.  Such self-appointed judges do not ask, 'What is the purpose of this object/"  They are not as thoughtful as the judges that I do trust.