Monday, November 16, 2015

How long do knitting sheaths last?

A while back, I made my "coffin" series of knitting sheaths:

They were fast and easy to make, and I made them in various sizes from various woods. They are very compact, and I like them for both gansey needles and sock needles. I often used them for knitting when I was out and about.

The one on the right above, is from a relatively soft wood (cherry) and is sized for US1 needles. I was sitting out somewhere knitting the other day, and decided that it had worn out, and the needle no longer sat snugly in its hole. (Not necessary for studio knitting, but handy for KIP.)

Certainly, I have other  knitting sheaths that I made for the purpose of KIP:
But somehow, this series does not provide quite as much support to take advantage of needle flex and spring as the coffin series.

Thus, the other day, despite having dozens of knitting sheaths in the house, I found myself making a new knitting sheath.

It works with all my belts, and takes adapters to fit all my needles, it provides enough support for knitting with US1 steel needles of any length, and it does not fall out even when I have run to catch the train.

Counting up, I think the cherry knitting sheath lasted for about 7 or 8 hundred hours of knitting. That is, if a busy knitter made their knitting sheath from a soft wood like cherry, or other other fruit, or nut woods, it would last perhaps 6 months, while a knitting sheath made from yew or maple or tropical hard wood would last a year or more.

From this we know that most of hand carved, wooden knitting sheaths in collections were keepsakes rather than the work-a-day knitting sheath of a busy knitter.

Metal or ceramic knitting sheaths seem to last forever. The knitting sheaths where I lined the needle adapter with brass tubing also seem to last very well.


Alist Partners said...

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Holin Kennen said...

Like many things, we tuck our nicest objects away and use them infrequently. In my family, we have the "family china and silver" which only comes out on special occasions. The elaborately carved knitting sheaths were treasured items. It doesn't mean that the knitter who owned the sheath wasn't a "busy knitter." It does suggest that these sheaths were used infrequently in order to avoid damaging them. I don't bring in the firewood in my best dress: I wear jeans or a work skirt. I do bring in firewood, though, every day.

Aaron said...

It is more complicated than that.

Consider the rug hookers of Nova Scotia. A young hooker carves a handle that fits her hand, and grinds a nail to be the hook. Once she has a handle that fits her hand, she keeps using it. The steel hooks wear out, and she replaces them, but she keeps the handle, because it fits her hand, and with long usage, her hand fits the handle.

A home knitter is likely to knit all kinds of things, and needs a general purpose knitting kit. However, a professional knitter is likely to specialize and knit large numbers of the same kind of objects. The pro will need a more specialized kit. The kit of someone knitting lady's gloves for 40 hours a week will be different from the kit of someone knitting sailor's frocks for 40 hours per week.

So, the question is, were the work-a-day specialized tools of the professional knitters likely to be kept? Do the elaborately carved keepsake knitting sheaths represent professional tools?

I meekly suggest that it does not make sense to spend 100 hours carving a knitting sheath for a professional knitter when it will wear out in less than 1,000 hours. And, if it is carved to be on the mantle, does it represent the best design of professional tools? Is a new husband fishing in the North Atlantic going to know the nuances of his wife's knitting sheaths? Or, is he just going to make her a genera purpose knitting sheath like the ones he carved for his sisters, only fancier?

And, then there is the problem that professional tools tend not to survive. Do you still have the tools that you used on your first job? I do not. Even rug hookers discard their hooks at some point when they retire. By then, their daughters have already made their own hooks, and it will not fit the small hands of their grand children. A grandmother was minding one shop (and baby sitting), told me that she had already thrown her hook away. She was retired!

Holin Kennen said...

" meekly suggest that it does not make sense to spend 100 hours carving a knitting sheath for a professional knitter when it will wear out in less than 1,000 hours. And, if it is carved to be on the mantle, does it represent the best design of professional tools?"

Yes, I believe that many, though perhaps not all, of the extant older knitting sheaths - at least the fancy ones - were less a workaday tool than a gift from a loved one (a swain or husband, perhaps?) which were cherished for their sentimental value rather than their function. It's like saving the baby's christening gown: it only gets worn once, usually, but is kept for the sentimental value it retains.

I don't think you can extrapolate that the owners of these knitting sheaths were not professional knitters, but I do think it's reasonable to assume that these sheaths were used infrequently. Some, of course, would have been owned by more "recreational" knitters, and some may have been more of a keepsake item owned by a professional knitter who used her "working" sheath but kept the fancy one as a remembrance of a friend or loved one. These days, there are drop spindles which are quite elaborate and very, very expensive. They are lovely, and while functional, they are not likely to be used for "everyday" spinning but are kept as collectibles. While I appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into making these lovely objects, I would rather use a less delicate tool. If a friend gave me an elaborate Golding spindle, I would cherish it, but I wouldn't use it unless i was standing on a plush carpet for fear of damaging it if I dropped it. I suspect this is the case with these highly carved knitting sheaths as well.

Aaron said...

I would not use a Golding spindle because it is SLOW, and I want to spin fast.

I made different spindles to spin different grists. Every grist, its spindle, and every spindle, its grist. (Woolen needs more twist for the grist and is spun on the same spindle as one grade finer worsted.) However, DRS makes that all academic, I do not bother with a spindle any more. My wheel makes spinning on a spindle a waste of time.

I spin at home on the wheel, and if I am out and about, I knit.

Now, have you gone through, and replicated extant knitting sheaths, and tested them against other plausible designs?

Have you examined old knitting sheaths for wear marks? Have you examined the knitting sheaths that you made for wear marks resulting from different techniques?

Have you looked back through this blog to see how many knitting sheaths I have made and tested?

The the best knitting sheath material is very hard - in England, it would be yew if wood, or ceramic or metal. However, most of the highly decorated knitting sheaths are of softer woods, such as the fruit woods, nut woods and sometimes mahogany. All nice woods, but not what would make an enduring knitting sheath.

These days, I make the needle adapters that contact the needles out of tropical hard woods that are even harder than yew, and are easily replaceable.

Knitting belt techniques do not use the spring of the steel needles and are inherently slower, but put less stress on the knitting belt than is applied with knitting sheath techniques.

One of my readers was telling me that she "knew" about knitting sheaths because she had seen a demo at an English Museum. In fact, the demo was given using needles and knitting sheaths that I had made for them.

Seeing a demo is different from knitting a few ganseys.

Aaron said...

I was abrupt in the last post, and I am sorry.

My problem is: What designs of knitting sheaths did professional knitters use? And, I do not have a good answer.

For various reasons I think that they were using leather knitting belts, very early - perhaps 2d century. Knitting socks using a knitting belt and metal needles is much faster than nalbinding. And, knitting produces a few stitch anomalies that appear in the Coptic Socks, but not in nalbinding replicas.

OK, but what did the best professional knitting sheaths look like? My feeling is that there were at least 4 typical designs, each used with a particular style of needle. What did the needles look like? When did they move from bronze to iron to steel?