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.


Kate said...

"…..There is an evident risk for the researching craftsman to fall victim to positivistic reasoning--'if I can do it this way-- it was made the way' or 'This is the natural way to do this'. The craftsman's rational explanation for his methods are often a chimera, a fairytale of explanation-- even if the results are satisfactory."

Martin Ciszuk, The Academic Craftsman- A discussion on knowledge of craft on textile research, Ancient Textiles, edited by Carole Gillis and Marie-Louise B. Nosch.

Marlowe said...

You sing the virtues of 5-ply yet are using 2-ply for your prototype. Are you going to next tell us that your knitting with 2-ply will do all the thing you claim only 5-ply can do? In other words, are you going to make the same claims?

Aaron said...

The claim is for the knitting technique, not the yarn.

The advantage of the 2-ply for a prototype is that it is worsted weight, and thus fewer stitches. It knits fast.

It is also a lot more weight of wool than sport weight 5-ply. Therefore I expect the prototype to be warmer then a sweater knit from thinner yarn.

If I spun worsted weight 5-ply, I would expect it to be warmer than worsted weight 2-ply.

Sometimes prototypes are about speed of knitting. Sometimes they are about warmth to weight ratios.
There are lots of reasons to do prototypes.

And, I have 15# of that 2-ply on hand. Sometimes one just has to knit from stash.