Monday, March 09, 2015

Toward a Taxonomy 2

A very long time ago I wanted to knit faster. A group of very good, very fast knitters strongly suggested that I learn to knit "continental".  So, I did.  It was a little faster.  I know that by tweaking hand movements, I could improve my speed while knitting continental. However, ultimately the speed at which one can knit is limited by the physics of the process.  And the physics of knitting continental are the same as the physics of  say Irish Cottage Knitting meaning that ultimately the speed of knitting "continental" and  Irish Cottage Knitting are very similar.

From my point of view, Irish Cottage Knitting and Continental  (sorry about the ad) have the same basic physics and are variations on one technique of knitting. (There, I said it 3 times.  You think I need an editor, but I think it bears repeating over and over.)    Thus, in a room full of knitters with cable needles, knitting speed is dependent on the talent of the individual knitter. I will call this the Cable technique, because it does not require the use of  a knitting pouch  or knitting sheath and can be used with cable needles.  The tightness of the knitting is dependent on the strength of the knitter's hands and wrists.  Use of long needles with this method does not improve speed or tightness of knitting, but see Pit Knitting below. Note however that Miriam Tegels and  Miriam Tegels  (MT) sometimes uses somewhat longer needles and braces the working needle against her forearm. Thus, we have one knitter, with two techniques with different physics.  She does not differentiate between them, because with both, she follows the same precepts of small movements, etc.  Let us call the technique where the needle is braced, "Bracing". 

In Bracing, a longer needle does give her significantly more leverage, but the effort is in the fingers so the ergonomics of the technique are not great, and bracing against the forearm does not provide stability for working with small stitches.  It seems to be a technique advocated by folks who sell long needles as part of "gansey kits".  I find a knitting pouch or knitting sheath will produce better knitting with less effort and stress than bracing.

In Portuguese technique, yarn tension and the yarn is looped/wrapped with the thumb, but the physics and leverage of actual stitch formation are the same as with Cabling techniques.

Then, we have the Shetland leather knitting pouch and long (14") needles as demonstrated by my hero, Hazel Tindall . This technique has different physics from above, which allows faster, and more sustained knitting.  It is particularly good for Fair Isle knitting and was used by the Bohus knitters and is used by professional knitters today.  Unless you have tried it, you will not believe how much easier this technique makes Fair Isle and other stranding techniques.    I would add that it is very good for knitting on airplanes.  A knitting pouch also can help control the rather stiff needles sold in gansey kits.

Let us call the  technique using stiff, short double pointed needles used with a long knitting sheath, the Dutch Knitting Stick method. It is excellent for knitting small objects, very tightly and very rapidly. . This is how a Lithuanian bride could  produce 50 pair of good mittens to give away at her wedding. I like it for knitting boot socks from thick yarns.   The Scotch used this technique with many (9) needles to produce very tightly knit sweaters, knit in the round.  Using one needle per stitch panel, this is a very good way to knit complex patterns. It works very well in confined quarters.  I used this technique to knit a good gansey in a rather crowded doctor's waiting room.  Again, this is a group of techniques with similar physics that produce similar results.

True Gansey Knitting uses fine flexible needles as long as 18" long. A knitting sheath is firmly fixed over the right buttock, the working needle inserted into the knitting sheath and the needle is flexed forward under the right arm pit with the weight of the right hand resting on the needle.  The palm of the right hand  flexes the needle into the stitch as the forefinger carries the yarn loop forward, the needle is released, and the spring of the needle finishes the stitch.  Steel springs are faster than muscle, and this is the fastest and easiest way I know to knit large objects.  Also the uniform action of the spring produces a very uniform and excellent quality of knitting. The knitting can be very tight - much tighter than the Cable technique.  Gansey knitting works best with spring steel needles between 1.5 and 3 mm in diameter.

Swaving uses curved needles (pricks) that rotate in the socket of their knitting sheath, and the knitting sheath holds the needle aligned with the working stitch, allowing the use of the large muscles to make very fine stitches.  There is one effort per stitch, which pops the needle into the working stitch, yarn is looped, and the tension/spring of the fabric pops the needle out of the stitch to finish it.  This is the right way to knit fine gloves and socks from very fine yarns.  The rotating, curved pricks are a compound lever, that generate large leverages with a short lever.  This allow for the production of very tight fabrics.  It is perhaps the ideal way to knit Eastern Cross Stitch.   Also, miles and miles of fine "garter ribbon" were produced by swaving.  Longer needles tend to bind, so large objects (hose for pipers) require many, many needles - better to just use gansey needles.  Also, the needles are blunt, so decreases are difficult - I often knit the ankle and foot of a sock with pricks, and use short steel sock needles of the same diameter for the decreases at the heel and toe.  The fact that I am willing to keep two sets of needles handy (even when traveling)  while knitting socks and gloves is an indication of  the  power of  swaving.

A Knitting heart uses a pin attached to the clothing as a knitting sheath to support, 8" long lace needles.  This works best with rather fine needles, for small lace objects.  The technique is like gansey knitting in extreme miniature, but the angles are a little different and the weaker spring constant of the finer needles result in a softer fabric.

Aran Knitting used long, stiff needles with a short knitting sheath to generate huge leverage which could produce very dense fabrics from very heavy yarns, when knitting flat.  Aran knitting is on a seamless continuum of techniques with Dutch Knitting Sticks and Gansey knitting.

Pit knitting  uses a pad under the arm pit and likely appeared as a way to effectively use long DPN during the Victorian era as skills to make knitting sheaths become rare. Crease Knitting uses SPN braced against the body to increase leverage.  Again this likely appeared during the Victorian era as single pointed needles became more common and  knitting sheaths became less common.

In Tunisian knitting,  hooked knitting of the Portuguese, and hooking mittens, no leverage is likely developed, but ergonomics can be excellent allowing sustained and extended production.   However, because they require more muscle twitches per stitch and do have have the stabilization of a knitting sheath they cannot produces as many stitches per minute, or produce the very fine work of some knitting techniques.

Nalbinding is not strictly speaking, "knitting", as knitting is defined to use 2 mandrels.


Tamar Lindsay said...

I would appreciate more specifics on what you are referring to as Tunisian knitting. While there is a knitting pattern stitch called that (in Weldon's, if I recall correctly), the term usually refers to a form of crochet that is also called Afghan stitch.

Wendy Deeds said...

According to the Oxford English Disctionary, the definition of mandrel is:

1. A shaft or spindle in a lathe to which work is fixed while being turned.

2. A cylindrical rod around which metal or other material is forged or shaped.

I'm really unclear as to how this applies to knitting, or knitting needles (which you seem to mean). Can you explain? It is not a word I have ever heard associated with knitting.

Also, I am very confused by the term "cable needle" in this context. The only cable needle I am familiar with is the small needle (sometimes U shaped) that one can use to produce cabled stitches on the work. I have never heard of anyone knitting a whole sweater on them. Could you possibly mean "circular needles"? In case you aren't familiar with them, they are regular knitting needle tips joined together with a flexible cable. They can either be "fixed" or permanently attached to the needles, or interchangeable, which allows the knitter to change the size of the tips as needed.

Since you are attempting to classify knitting in your post, I think it will help your process if you use the correct terms. Otherwise, your taxonomy of knitting will be useful only to yourself.

anonymous said...

I'm confused by two of your statements. You refer to a "mandrel". The definitions that I am familiar with are:

1. a shaft or bar the end of which is inserted into a workpiece to hold it during machining.
2.a spindle on which a circular saw or grinding wheel rotates.
3.the driving spindle in the headstock of a lathe.

How does a mandrel relate to knitting?

And, you write about "cable needles" and the "cable technique". Are you referring to circular needles? You couldn't possibly mean the small needles that are used in knitting cables and which are universally referred to as "cable" needles.

Are you creating your own terminology?

Aaron said...

Read on, a mandrill is a rod, core or axis on which metal or other material is held for working.

Aaron said...

Working loops held on rods with hooks in the end of the rods, - that is crochet with long hooks used to store the loops shows up around the Mediterranean including the South of France and in Portugal. It is fast and ergonomic, so it is a very powerful technique. It is knitting or crochet? not by my leverage definition. Mary Thomas seems to consider it knitting, so I have to say it is knitting. For somebody that is standing and walking, but wants to keep their hands busy, it might well be better than either the cable technique or any of the knitting sheath techniques.

Dr Gan Sei said...

No, a mandrill is an old world primate closely related to the baboon. You appear to be suffering from taonomy creep.

Aaron said...

My sister is a world class goldsmith with all of the latest electronic gold smithing gear - and still she has 2 steel mandrels on the planishing bench behind her design station where she sizes rings. see

Note that in fiber optics (a new technology) the fiber is wrapped around a mandrel and mandrels are used in motor winding. These are modern uses, conceptually similar to using a rod to hold loops of yarn.

Looking at the history of mandrill and mandrel we see that they have been used interchangeably.

We might consider that mandrill refers to a rod that can rotate - well in swaving - the knitting needles rotate on their long axis, and in cable knitting they pitch and yaw, which is rotation on other axis.

Aaron said...

My first pair of circular needles had a metal cable between them. Despite, generations Addi Turbos, in my heart of hearts, I always thought of circular needles as "cable needles". In this post, I mis-spoke. For cable needles read "circular needles".

I have not actually knit with circular needles in about 5 years. And in the 2 prior years, I had substantially switched knitting sheaths and only used circs for comparison swatches. I have to admit that in those years I developed great resentment against circular needles.
All the experts told us how wonderful circular needles were, and in fact what they do is make it impossible to use a knitting sheath and thereby absolutely limit the speed and tightness at which fabric can be hand knit.

The knitting police, like Dr. Gan Sei, tell us that the only good fabric is one that is knit slowly and loosely with circular needles.

Ruth B said...

No, Aaron, Dr. Gan Sei says that the only good fabric is one that is knit tight enough to resemble plate armor and is done with a knitting sheath and pricks.

Chris Laning said...

Structurally as a fabric, what today is called Tunisian crochet is actually alternate rows of knitting and crochet. First is a row where a loop is pulled up through each stitch of the preceding row (I.e. Knitted), then follows a row of crochet where the row of loops is worked off and interlocked horizontally (I.e. Crochet).

Another way to look at it (though no different structurally) is that it's a row of pulling up loops (knitting) immediately followed by a row of what today we refer to as binding off, as one does today at the end of a piece of knitting.

I don't think we know very much, however, about how long before the modern era this has been THE way of ending a piece of knitting, or what other methods of ending off knitting may have been used. I think the research may not yet have been done on this question.

I don't think anyone actually knows where or how "Tunisian crochet" was first invented, but it seems to me that crochet is the most likely ancestor. The name "Tunisian" may not have any real connection to the origins; it could simply come from the Victorian tendency to name things after exotic locales.