Monday, December 07, 2015


Weldon's Practical Knitter was a series of pamphlets in the late Victorian era that taught women to knit like ladies -- not like professional knitters.  It was a guide to "hobby" or recreational knitting.

Weldon's did not discuss the tools or techniques used by professional knitters to produce professional quality objects.  A knitter using the Weldon technique had to invest huge amounts of time to knit the fine objects as presented in the Weldon's patterns.  It was the conspicuous consumption of leisure time.

As Modern knitters felt that they had less leisure time, they went to lower gauges and simpler patterns. Many, many modern knitters say they can knit socks in a few hours ( ) , , - but these are very soft fabrics that do not endure as socks. The knitters justify their looser gauges as being "softer".    Glenna points out that the soft fabrics do not retain their good looks for long.  And everybody seems to be looking for ways to make more durable socks.

I observe and record, I do not judge. Being that kind of guy, I would rather put twice as much effort into my socks and have them last 10 times as long.   That way I have hand knit socks to wear with only 20% of the effort compared to the knitters that knit softer fabrics.  Socks that are knit tighter, last longer.

For folks that have limited time, and want the old professional quality hand-knit objects I point out the old tools.  For example,  I point out that using a knitting sheath, the professional knitter of circa 1840 was able to produce 2 pair of socks per week at gauges that are much finer than any of the patterns in Nancy Bush's books (mostly in the 7 spi range, from 1400 ypp sock yarn knit on 2.5 mm needles) .  The truth is that worsted spun, long wools like Suffolk, when spin fine and knit fine are smooth and silken in texture.  Long wool spun worsted retains it good looks for a long, long time.  Long wool is lustrous. Lustrous socks are beautiful. When spin fine and knit fine they feel wonderful against the skin.  And, they are ever-so- durable. (One caveat is that each grade of wool needs to be spun separately, so that each single contains only one grade of wool.)

Now, I did not learn to knit until I was past 50, and it took me another 10 years to work out all the details of  using a knitting sheath.  Much of my study on knitting sheaths was devoted to "weatherproof" fabrics for seamen and cabmen, rather than how to knit socks quickly.  Thus, I cannot call myself a fast sock knitter.

Most knitters and most modern knitting competitions time knitting stitches over a brief period (few minutes) and when knitting rather loosely e.g., DK weight yarn knit on US4 needles. In theory, these folks can knit the 2,500 stitches in a fine sock in an easy couple of hours of  knitting, so 2 pair of socks a week should be very easy.  On the other hand, I do not see many modern knitters that can knit a Nancy Bush Pattern sock in a day, and the Nancy Bush patterns have only half as many stitches in them as the sock fabrics that I like.

The antibiotics have knocked down much of my  Lyme Disease caused palsy, so these days it takes me an easy day's knitting to make a men's boot sock at ~ 6 spi (worsted weight yarn knit on US1 needles) and a couple of days to knit a sock at 10 spi from 6-strand cabled sock yarn at 1650 ypp on 2 mm needles. This are both smooth, firm fabrics that are desirable for many objects.  This is the result of looking back to the professional knitters (1840 and earlier), and using the tools that Weldon's pointedly ignores.

I find it peculiar that Nancy Bush talks about knitting sheaths, gansey needles, and swaving, but does not address the tools' powers to rapidly produce fine knit fabrics in an ergonomic process.

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