Tuesday, August 27, 2013


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.

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