Thursday, June 23, 2016

Knitting techniques

I went through the full circle of  popular knitting techniques before I moved onto knitting sheaths.

The last was continental.  There was an online knitting group, and I asked how could I knit faster.  They told me, learn to knit continental style with yarn in your left hand.  I tried it, found it to be a bit faster, and did continental knitting with circular needles for about 4  or 5 years.  During that period, I attempted to knit the patterns in Gladys Thompson, and did not have much success, particularly with the Norfolk patterns at 12 spi and 20 rpi.

I reread EZ's note for American knitters, and tried long needles.  Long needles by themselves were no help.

However, long needles with a knitting belt were much better!  This was the first clue that the experienced knitters were not telling all. Even short DPN with a leather knitting belt were much better.   EZ was writing from second hand accounts and not from experience. Shame on her.

That led me to begin exploring knitting sheaths. Knitting sheaths turned out to not all be the same.  Different knitting sheath designs support widely different  knitting techniques.  Some depend on the stiffness of the knitting needle, some depend on the spring of the knitting needle, and some depend on the curvature of the knitting needle.  These techniques are more differentiated than say continental and Portuguese.  And, knitting sheaths allow knitting fabrics that cannot be knit  by either continental or Portuguese knitting techniques.

For the first few years of  using knitting sheaths, I would test and compare production times and quality of objects and swatches produced by continental or the various knitting sheath techniques I was developing. Without fail, the knitting sheath was faster, and produced better quality.  It also allowed me to knit fabrics that I simply could not knit with hand held needles (either continental or Portuguese.  

By the time this blog started, I had 55 gallon drum liners full of  swatches knit to compare knitting techniques and the comparative density of the produced fabrics.  I knew that I liked the fabrics that I could produce with a knitting sheath better than the fabrics that I could produce with hand held needles. I experimented with "crease knitting", "pit knitting", tucking needles in pockets or waist bands or belts, and found that a knitting sheath designed and made for a particular knitting technique/ type of needle (stiff, spring, bent) was well worth the effort.

Fabric density was routinely tested by using a calibrated mechanical blower to blow air through a standardized 2" by  2" swatch and measuring the pressure differential created by the air passing through the swatch.  These measurements were cross checked by wearing objects knit of  tested fabrics skiing, sailing, snow camping, fishing, and particularly walking in the rain. I would put on one sweater, and put 2 or 3 more sweaters in my backpack, and go walking in the rain.  Then, every 15 minutes, I would change sweaters and  record results and conditions in my little moleskin notebook.  With 15# of sand in the backpack, I could multitask sweater testing and fitness training.  Or, I could take my knitting and sit in the rain and wind on top of Acalanes Ridge, changing my sweater every 15 minutes and noting which sweaters kept me warm and which did not.  I drove my ski buddies crazy by insisting that we ski runs over and over, with me changing my sweater for each run.  I drove my wife crazy, inner tubing on the ice cold Big Sur River, and changing my sweater after every decent. (First day. After that, I wore only the Filey. Other sweaters that I had with me were painfully cold.)

It was clear that I liked sports wear knit from 840 to 1,000 ypp yarns  knit on long 2.4 mmm spring steel needles using a good knitting sheath. The yarns are firmly spun, multi-ply yarns, and are often of coarse/ rug wool.  (In part because the rug wool is durable, and it stops slides when I fall on on icy steeps.)  The right needle was fixed into knitting sheath fixed over the knitters right butoock, and flexed forward under the knitter right armpit, so the knitting can rest their right forearm on the needle.  The left needle is in near vertical orientation  The right needle was flexed/ pressed,  downward into the stitch using the right hand palm driven by upper arm muscles as the right arm rests on the needle.  While the right hand was pushed forward, looping yarn over the working needle.   Then, the right side  muscles relaxed as the left hand moves the left needle diagonally up and to the left.  The spring of the working needle finishes the stitch, which is pulled off the left needle by the tension of the fabric. Note that this process will result in wear on the right shirt sleeve cuff.  All of my rugby and sweat shirts show such wear.

In the period from ~2008 to 2014, I moved from knitting socks on 6" stiff needles and goose wing knitting sheaths that pivot on the  point of my hip, or Dutch style knitting sticks with the working needle pushed into the stitch with the palm and pushed out of the stitch with the thumb or ball of the right hand to using 9" spring steel needles that had much the same action as the longer needles I was using for sports wear. 

In this period I also worked on the technique of swaving.  (Curved needles rotate in the knitting sheath.) The working needle is rotated into the working stitch by a short, symmetric push by both hands, the yarn is looped over the working needle, and the needle rotated out of the stitch as the hands return to start position, with the tension of the fabric pulling the stitch off the left needle. While the full mass of both arms move, the motion is very small and can be very fast.  The working needle is completely stabilized by the knitting sheath, and the left needle is stabilized by being in the same stitch as the working needle.  

Circa 2014, I began to get comfortable with finer singles and yarns plied up from finer singles.  This precipitated a slide toward much finer yarns and much finer needles.  

Swaving is ideal for fine and very fine yarns.  It is wicked fast. I accept that the old stories of knitters knitting at 200 stitches per minute was for swaving.  Moving swaving to finer yarn was just a matter of making finer needles.

The needle motions for finer yarns could be smaller, so I no longer needed the 18" "gansey" needles.  Today, I ;use 18" needles for 840-1000 ypp yarns, and  14" and 12" needles for finer yarns.  With the finer yarns, I blunt the tips so the needle motion can be even smaller.  Finer yarns need a lot more stitches per square inch, so knitting motions need to be as small as possible so they can be as fast as possible to achieve some real production in a reasonable time.  The finer needles are no longer strong enough to support my right arm.  

On the other hand the spring constant of the finer needles is less, so less effort is required to flex the needles, and the finer yarns require less effort to move.  Thus, the working needle motion is diagonally downward and to the left, driven by upper arm muscles with working needle contact by my right palm. To release the working needle, the left needle is lifted up and to the left, with fabric tension advancing the stitches.

Anyway, I had given up handheld needles/continental knitting circa 2006, and I was not sure I remembered how to do it, but no, when I tried it last night,  there it was, in all of its simple elegance. On the other hand, it is slow and a lot of work for a little bit of knitting.   With what I know today, yes I could figure out ways for me to knit continental faster than I do today. However, the physics handheld needles will never be as fast as a knitting sheath.  Not even close.  

So she says, "You (Aaron) are fooling your self."  I think we should get together and have a little face to face knit-a-long.

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