Friday, February 26, 2016

The Transition(s)

It took me 3 or 4 years to transition from hand held needles (e.g., circular needles) to knitting sheaths and knitting belts.

I would knit something with circs, and see if I could knit it with a knitting sheath.  Here the greatest challange for the knitting sheaths (with DPN) was Moebius knitting.  Ultimately it was clear that any Moebius knitting could be done with a knitting sheath, and some Moebius objects that are not practical to knit with circular needles and can be knit expeditiously with a knitting sheath.

Then, I would knit objects with knitting sheath technology and see if I could knit them with hand held needles. First, it was clear that knitting with a knitting sheath was easier on my hands and wrists, allowing knitting to be done faster, easier and with less stress on the hands and wrists. Then,  I was able to knit fabrics that were much tighter and more weatherproof than anything I could knit with circular needles. Third, Fair Isle and stranded techniques were much faster and easier. The difference in productivity and level of effort was huge.  Over all, it took about 4 years to convince myself that anything that could be knit on circular needles could be knit faster and easier with a knitting sheath. That is it took me 4 years of serious effort to set aside the teaching of the experts that I had so carefully learned. However, I was still knitting things that I could, in theory, knit with circular needles.  I was simply using a knitting sheath because it is faster and easier.

I knew I was on the correct track when I took a large swatch knit from Patons Classic Wool into the knitting instructor at a very high-end yarn shop, and she looked at it for half a minute, with her mouth open, turning it over and over and feeling it, but saying nothing for a long time.  I thought she was going to berate me for bringing cheap wool into her high-end shop, At long last, she asked, "How did you every knit anything so wonderful?  Can you show me how you knit?  "

About halfway through my transition from circular needles to  knitting sheaths, I started looking for better yarns, and spinning, Yes, better yarns lead to better knitting, but most importantly, a better knowledge of yarn leads to better knitting.  Today one of my favorite sock yarns is a 1,650 ypp, 6-strand cable that I make up from commercial 5,600 ypp, 2-ply warp yarns.  I would never have found that yarn if I had not learned to spin.  I would not be able to ply it up quickly, as a high quality knitting yarn if I had not learned good spinning skills. 

Spinning also taught me about the glories of fine yarns. 

Since moving firmly to knitting sheaths, I have started knitting things that I cannot imagine knitting on circular needles. Knitting sheaths allow me to finely knit large objects in a reasonable rate.  When I first came across Jamieson's Spindrift, I was as still using circular needles, but I did not like the fabric as produced at 7.5 spi on US3 needles.  With a knitting sheath, today I knit Spindrift on 1.5 mm needles, and I like the fabric. Now, I knit Spindrift at ~13 spi and ~16 rpi for about 200 stitches per square inch. On a 4" by 4" swatch, that is 3,200 stitches.  Most importantly, Spindrift taught me  what I could do with 2-ply, 2,000 ypp, woolen spun yarns.  Knit on fine needles, such yarns produce wonderful fabrics.

I may lack imagination, but I cannot dream of knitting a sweater with 200 stitches per square inch on circular needles. However, it is very feasible with a knitting sheath.   I also knit my 1,650 ypp, 6-strand cable yarns on 1.5 mm needles at ~ 10 spi by 17 rpi, and it makes a nice fabric that I love for a multitude of uses. It is a great sock yarn,and works when ever I need a wool jersey.  I knit commercial 5-ply gansey yarn on US00 / 1.6 mm needles to produce a fine dense fabric - that is weatherproof.  You may not like it (or need it),  but, I find that it far out performs the products by Marmot (, which I use as standard.

Today, knitting sheaths allow me to knit such objects on a practical basis.  I love the fabrics.  If you can knit such fabrics with circular needles on a practical basis, then more power to you.  I do not find it practical, and I love fine fabrics,so I keep using knitting sheaths.  On the other hand, I do not stop looking for better ways to knit  -- as in my transition to blunter needles over the last couple of years. Even last night I was grinding blunter points on 6" steel sock needles that I made 10 years ago for use with Dutch style knitting sticks.  Yes, pointy needles can be faster than blunt needles when hand held, but with a knitting stick, blunter needles are much more productive.  And, many of my old knitting sticks have been upgraded to take 1.5 mm needles.  And, when knitting sock fabrics at 170 stitches per square inch - I need the speed.

My finding of knitting sheaths as a more productive way to knit finer fabrics is not a "belief'", it is the summary of hundreds of tests relating to knitting productivity during my transition period, and subsequent feasibility testing as I have moved to finer yarns over the last few years. Moreover, it is consistent with the use of knitting sheaths by many generations of professional knitters.  And, it is consistent with the physics and ergonomics of knitting.   Any reasonable assertion that circular needles are as good for knitting should be supported by substantial tests of knitting productivity by both methods,  address the use of knitting sheaths by professional knitters, and the physics/ergonomics of knitting.

I do not see such testing and analysis. The people that I have taught to use knitting sheaths knit faster - without exception. And, some of these were awe inspiring, fast knitters from childhood when they met me. Some of them were teaching me to knit faster, a few hours after they got their knitting sheaths. When somebody says that a knitting sheath does not allow  her to knit faster, I know she has not bothered to learn the technique.


Ruth B said...

I love my knitting belt, but I recognize that it's not for everyone. Continental knitters don't seem to be able to use one, and there are lots of continental style knitters in the Midwest (German/Scandinavian/Norwegian people here who knit continental style). Not everyone is a "thrower," and here in the Midwest, English knitters are outnumbered about 2 to 1 by continental "picker" style knitters.

I, too, have sometimes chosen to knit patterns which may have been written for circular needles on dpns instead - sometimes with, sometimes without, my knitting belt. The thing is, Aaron, there are people who genuinely like circular needles and who make lovely fabrics using them. Dpns don't work for everyone, in the same way that different drills, hammers, saws, etc., work better for different people. I love showing people how to use a knitting belt and dpns, but I recognize that not everyone can use one, is willing to change a knitting style that works for them (continental) to one that they find awkward (English), or wants to give up a tool that works well for them (circular needles). There are continental knitters who can knit circles around me using circular needles. They have no need for knitting belts. They are not inferior knitters because they choose to use different tools than I prefer. I like spinning on a great wheel; you don't. I get great results on my great wheel while you prefer something else. That's fine. The moral of this story is: to each his/her own. It's fine for you to share what works for you. It's not okay to belittle others who do not share your point of view. This has been communicated to you many, many times by many, many people. I wonder why you don't heed this simple advice.

Aaron said...

I did not say circular needles are "bad".

I said that there are fabrics that cannot be practically knit on hand held needles, such as circulars. Hand a ball commercial gansey yarn to one of those knitters that can knit circles around you and ask them to knit it up at 120 stitches per square inch. Oh yes, it can be done, but it will quickly ruin their wrists. It is easier and faster with your knitting belt. But, only a knitting sheath makes knitting such fabric fast and practical to knit on a sustained basis.

I did not say that everyone needs to knit such fabrics. Rather I said that people that limit themselves to circular needles need know that there are some kinds of fabrics that they will not be able to knit as a practical matter. That is, not every kind of knit fabric can be knit on circular needles.

I know this is hard. It was very traumatic for me to learn a knitting sheath would knit things that my beloved Addi Turbos could not knit. I had thought I was a good knitter, and then a world of fabrics that I had never been able to knit, opened up before me. And, they were fabrics that I liked better than anything I had knit before.

In fact, I experimented with gansey needles and knitting sheaths because I did want to knit those fabrics that I could not knit on circulars. I knew they were out there, and that I could not knit them. However, the fact that such a powerful set of tools had been hidden from me was very traumatic. The fact that knitting instructors did not know about knitting sheaths was traumatic.

I had started a thrower (with DPN and circs), and an online knitting circle convinced me that I could knit much faster as a picker. So, I learned to pick. Now, with a belt or knitting sheath, I use one of several variations on throwing, but put a pair of circular needles in my hands and I am back to picking. And. sometimes when I am knitting Fair Isle, with a knitting belt I will carry a strand in my left hand. However, I do get more uniform tension on the strands in my right hand.

Yes, I can still knit very good objects on circular needles. However, to knit the finer fabrics, I must use a belt or knitting sheath. And, the finer fabrics want the speed of a knitting sheath. Now, I always have a knitting sheath with me.

Tools work for the folks that take the time and effort to learn to use them. I do not belittle great wheels, I state the fact that DRS controlled flyer/bobbin assembly is faster. I have the need for speed. You may not. I do not care, but I do intend to use the fastest hand spinning wheel available. If you can show me that a great wheel is faster, I will take the time, and make the effort to perfect my skills on the great wheel. Currently, it takes me about an hour to spin 560 yards of 5,600 ypp singles. Will a great wheel let me spin faster? My hanks tend to vary by ~5%. Will a great wheel let me spin more uniform hanks? If a great wheel will not let me spin faster, or produce more consistent yarn, the I will stick with my DRS controlled flyer/bobbin assembly, and I will tell people that it is the best hand spinning wheel that I could find.

purplespirit1 said...

I find it amusing that you use such examples as 120sts per square inch - I don't know a single knitter who aspires to knit such a tension for any garment, or aspires to have a garment knit either so tightly or with such fine yarn.

I may have missed it, but I haven't seen anywhere where you've shared how fast you knit in the sense that you've timed yourself in how many stitches per minute you can produce. I only mention this because - as I've written you before - I happen to know the GUINESS book world record holder for fastest knitter, who's an LYS owner near me. fwiw, she happens to work sans sheath.

Aaron said...

These days, I do not know of anyone that does not have very finely machine knit fabrics in their closet. They buy them because finely knit fabrics are wonderful. And, the finer the plies in the yarns, the finer the fabric.

People do not aspire to hand knit such fabrics because they do not see hand knitting such fabrics as practical. And, knitting fine fabrics with circular needles is not particularly practical.

If people see that such fine fabrics can be hand knit in a reasonable and practical manner, then they are more likely to aspire to knit such fabrics.

Aaron said...

The last time, I knit a weatherproof gansey in a Filey pattern with more than 700 cable crosses, it took me about 11 consecutive days. It is knit from commercial 5-ply gansey yarn at about 8 spi by 13 rpi => ~ 100 stitches per inch. When Purplespirit1's friend got her GUINESS book world record was she knitting that gauge? Can she knit that gauge? So, Purplespirit1 wants to compare the speed at which I knit "impossible gauges" with the speed of somebody knitting easy gauges. My question, "How fast does the GUINNESS book world record holder knit gansey yarn at gauge of 1,600 stitches per 16 square inches or 100 cm^2?"

purplespirit1 said...

Way to answer a question with a question, dear Aaron. Classic avoidability.

I can't vouch for her (the Guinness record holder for fastest knitting) tightest knitting - but I can for mine... I've made toys where I used RHSS and 3mm-ish sized needles, getting 252sts per inch, roughly. The fabric is uber tight, and to the point where it's still pliable but no stuffing can get through. It's not something that I make a point to do regularly because it's hard on the hands, no matter your knitting fashion.

Now - 120sts per inch sounds like a big high fancy number, but I've done the math on my own regular-tension knitting - if I were to use a skein of Patons Classic Wool (which you yourself use in recent blog posts) and I get 22sts per horizontal 4", that works out to pretty close to your per-square-inch tension - maybe even drop down a needle size to get 24 sts per horizontal 4", I'd imagine with the number of rows would easily work out to 120sts or more per inch. According to THAT math, that's much looser than what you've been claiming to knit. Granted, that may be tighter than what the ballband of the yarn may recommend, but you're not really creating the wet-proof fabric you pretend to create.

And that's me sans fancy pants sciency degree and lady brain fingerin' out all that math. I think I've debunked you once again.