Monday, July 20, 2015

A needle for every yarn

I started with pointed needles because EVERYONE said that is how one knits.  I started with hand hand-held needles because that was how everyone knit.

Then, there was this hint that old knitters used long needles, and I tried that, and it did not work

Except there was this hint in Mary Thomas that in the old days, when everyone did knit, they used knitting sheaths. and it turned out that yes, a knitting sheath did tame the long needles.

Much experimentation resulted in the discovery that long (pointy) steel  needles with diameter of ~2.25 mm really did produce lovely fabrics from soft worsted weight and firm sport weight yarns.  And the spring constant of that size of music wire allowed a spring action that allowed fast knitting.

I experimented with finer needles, right down to 0.5 mm, but never got that nice combination of  wonderful fabric and fast knitting. Thus, I spent several years knitting mostly with pointy US 1 size needles and sport weight to worsted weight yarns ( 1,000 ypp to 850 ypp).  It was not so bad, the combination produced a class of fabrics very well  suited to many of the outdoor activities that I like.

A couple of years ago, I had some splitty sport weight yarn and tried knitting it with blunt size UK 13 needles.  It worked very well. Then, I made blunt ~2 mm needles for knitting softer spun sport weight. The result was better than I expected.  First, it was clear that the knitting motion was smaller, so even the reduced spring constant of the thinner needle could produce more stitches per minute.  So while the stitches were smaller, the actual area of fabric knit per unit time was similar.  I had found a way to knit fabrics that I liked on finer needles at a reasonable rate.

More recently, have been making and experimenting with blunt needles in the sizes of  1.3 mm and 1.5 mm.  These produce nice warm, firm fabrics from 3-ply and 6-strand "sock yarns" in the 1700 ypp range.  And, the knitting motion is so small that it can be performed very fast, resulting in reasonable production rates.  Counter intuitively, I can knit much faster with flat tipped needles than with pointy needles. Adopting flat ended needles seems to be the last technical requirement to knitting Jerseys and Sheringham ganseys.  I had produced samples of the fabric before, but it was always as a tour de force, and it was never as a convenient and practical fabric. The effort of making such fabrics on pointy needles was too high to make such fabrics practical.

Flat tipped, flexible steel needles allows me to knit large objects from the same fine, dense fabric that I had previously only been able to reasonably produce in smaller objects such as gloves and socks by swaving.

Belaying "pin" for sail boats. 
Shear  "pin"
Taper "pin"

Yes, "knitting pins" included blunt rods and wires.  These days I have knitting pins with blunt or flat ends in sizes from 1.3 mm to 2.38 mm and in lengths from 10 to 18 inches.  They are an old school tool for making old school fabrics.  I make them all of spring steel from the local hardware store.  I find that a knitting sheath works better than a Shetland knitting pouch for blunt tipped knitting pins.

Blunt points work well on cable crosses and  bobbles. If it works for nice bobbles, it will work for nupps etc. It is a different technique, but the equipment works.

No comments: