Sunday, March 08, 2015

Towards a taxonomy of knitting

A knitting needle is a lever for moving loops of yarn.


Levers used in knitting are Class 1, Class 3 and various springs.  If we look at the elements of the various knitting techniques we see:

Yarn tension

  1. Right hand
  2. Left hand
  3. Both hands
  4. Pin on chest or around neck


  1. Cable needles
  2.  Cable needles/ 2 sets
  3. Single point needles
  4. "Sock needles" (Short double pointed needles, which may more or less flexible but the flex is used for ergonomic comfort rather than for individual stitch formation. Sock needles may be bent or curved but the curve is for ergonomic comfort rather than individual stitch formation.
  5. Stiff, short double pointed straight needles, with knitting sheath to match
  6. Flexible double pointed straight needles, with knitting sheath to match and flexed into each stitch.
  7. Long double pointed straight needles with knitting pouch (may be stiff or flexible)
  8. Short curved stiff DPN used with knitting sheath to match, and rotated into each stitch.
  9. Hooked needles 

Fulcrum / mechanical advantage

  1. Thumb of hand holding working needle. / ~1:3
  2. Ball or base of thumb of hand holding working needle./ ~1:3
  3. Second finger hand holding working needle./ ~1:3
  4. Index finger hand holding working needle./ ~1:3
  5. Knitting sheath./ 1;20 => 1:50
  6. Center  or outside edge of  right palm./ 1;20 => 1:50
  7. None, spring action of needle.
  8. None, spring action of fabric.
  9. Shoulder joint / e.g., no mechanical advantage.

Effort (source of force to move loop)

  1. Rotation of right wrist
  2. Fingers in right hand (any or all)
  3. Forearm
  4. Bicep
  5. Deltoid
  6. Pectorals
  7. Tricep
  8. Rhomboideus
Now, a Ravelry forum might offer 200 different knitting styles that I would say all use left hand yarn tension, the right thumb as a fulcrum with wrist rotation as effort yielding a mechanical advantage of 1:3.   200 styles of knitting that offer the same mechanical advantage.  One or another may offer ergonomic advantages or minor advantages in speed, but they all have the same mechanical advantage and the same amount of hand movement, so they are going to produce very similar results. 

However, if one looks around there are knitting techniques that involve flexing a needle held in a knitting sheath with the palm of the hand, into the working stitch, looping the yarn, and allowing the spring action of the flexed needle to finish the stitch.  This is such a different concept of knitting, that in contrast the 200 versions of continental knitting are all one technique.  And using one set of cable needles or 2 sets cable needles or DPN or SPN or changing the mount of the stitches or purling backwards does not change the essential analysis of how the lever is used to move the loops of yarn.

There are knitting techniques that involve rotating needles held in knitting sheaths into the stitch, looping the yarn over the needle and then allowing the spring of the fabric to pop the needle out of the fabric and finish the stitch. This generates a very powerful compound leverage, and the effort for the entire stitch is one quick push of the needle, with the knitting sheath controlling direction. this is an old and very fast way to knit, but it is not something that is likely to be included in a Ravelry thread on ways to knit.  It works very well.  The fact that I do it everyday makes it science, and since it is the technique used by the Terrible Knitters of Dent makes it is also history.  It is the right way to knit fine gloves and socks from very fine yarns.  Would you like a demo?

And, then there are the long DPN used with a knitting pouch.  What can I say, but that it was a breath of fresh air.  

If you want to tell me there are a large number of different ways to knit  that I do not understand or cannot perform, then you need to tell me about knitting techniques that use physics and tools not listed above.  When I learned to knit, I was almost instantly dissatisfied, and I rapidly went through all the minor variations.  That is, I spent ~6 years trying all the variations of the standard modern knitting methods.  At than point, it became very clear that I was looking for something radically better.

There followed months of experimentation with gansey needles and years of  learning how to control them with knitting sheaths.  This blossomed into an entire spectrum of very powerful knitting techniques that were very different from hand held needles and quite different from each  other.

Then, came swaving, where curved needles are held in a knitting sheath and rotated into the stitch, and the stretch of the fabric acts as a spring to finish the stitch.  This is different from all other knitting.

So, yes I know  the common knitting styles and understand the variants of the common knitting styles.  


purplespirit1 said...

" When I learned to knit, I was almost instantly dissatisfied, and I rapidly went through all the minor variations."

One wonders why bother knitting if you were instantly dissatisfied. What other hobbies do you dissatisfy yourself with, wrongscience with, and invent history for?

Aaron said...


I knew that in the past warmer fabrics had been produced. And, those were the fabrics that I wanted to produce. I could not produce such fabrics with the tools and methods that I hand been taught.

From Mary Thomas, Elisibeth Zimmerman, and Mary Wright, I knew that another set of knitting tools had been used to knit the sweaters used by fishermen in the North Atlantic.

The tools were no longer available, so I had to learn how to make them. Then I had to learn how to use them.

Now I knit fabrics that I like. I knit fabrics that my sailing and climbing buddies like. I can knit fabrics that are unlike anything you have every touched. And I can knit a good gansey in 10 days without straining my wrists.

anonymous said...

Could you please post a photo of the gansey that you knit in 10 days? How elaborate was it? I'm sure others would also like to see it. I had no idea that it was possible to knit one so quickly (and have a life too).