Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Introduction to gansey needles.

I had heard that for real gansey knitting one needed real gansey needles.  (Pointy steel needles 18” long.) I made myself gansey needles, and found them no help. I could not control the needles, and the result was holes in my wife’s leather couch. Gansey needles without a knitting sheath are no help at all.  (Slightly shorter pointy needles used with knitting belt, are a powerful tool kit.)

My first experience with a knitting sheath was when I took my coping saw and made a crude wood replica of a “Yorkshire goose wing” knitting sheath that I saw on the Internet. For needles, I used cheap aluminum DPN.  

I had been knitting Continental style, so I had to learn to throw.  Still I was very soon, very impressed with how much knitting power the knitting sheath gave me.  It sat on my hip, and pivoted giving me more leverage on the needle allowing me to knit faster and tighter.
I made dozens of different kinds of knitting sheaths and experimented with them. Each wanted it's own kind of needles and excelled at a particular kind of knitting.

The magic came when I made a knitting sheath that fastened on to my belt over my right buttock. Then I could stick the working needle in the sheath and arch the needle forward,  under my  right arm, resting my right forearm and wrist on it.  The weight of my arm pushes the needle down into the stich, my hand moves forward a fraction of an inch, I loop yarn over the needle tip, and my hand moves back and up allowing the needle to spring up out of the stitch, and pulling the new stitch onto the working needle. Note that  this motion is the result of flex and spring action in the needle, and thus, both the physics of the motion and the skill of the stitch formation is different from that used with the goose wing sheath and sock needles.  Knitting sheaths support a variety of distinctly different techniques.

I like the spring action of 18” long, AGW 10 (2.4 mm, 3/32” dia.) needles made from music wire (spring steel) for knitting yarns in the range of 1,000 ypp. When I saw patterns for other yarns or other needles, I often adapted the pattern for the needles I liked. This is an ongoing process, as I have come to love finer needles and yarns, I moved to adapting patterns to the gauge that I like. The finer needles are not as stiff, and likely  require a different technique. Over all, knitting sheaths support about a dozen distinct knitting techniques. Nevertheless, if one must knit a good seaman’s sweater as fast as possible, the right tool kit for the job is a good knitting sheath and a set of spring steel gansey  needles.

I used pointy gansey needles for years, and they were the fastest way I knew to knit  very warm objects for cold weather wear. These days, I use flat ended gansey needles.  Many of them are only 17” long, because they lost length when I ground the tapered points flat. Still they are faster than the pointy gansey needles. They are the fastest way I know how to knit warm gear for cold weather activities. I also have very  stiff US#3 needles for 

Knitting with the flat ended and pointy gansey needles are different motions and different skills. The pointy needle is inserted into the working stitch, and the motion is much larger than the motion for flat ended needles. The flat end of the working needle rests against the left needle, and is “popped” into the working stitch, where it is trapped by the leg of the stitch.  Thus, the motions of working needle are very vigorous and do not have to be as precise or as large as the movements for pointy needles.  Vigorous, but very small motions, which do not have to be very precise, can be very fast.

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