Sunday, December 06, 2009

Heat of sorption in wool

Years ago, I got out my “Handbook of Chemical Property Estimation Methods” and calculated the heat of sorption for wool. Then, I looked at B. V. Holcombe’s mathematical models for moisture and heat in merino fibers and decided that heat of sorption was a largely theoretical issue. That is: a very real effect of very little practical importance.
First, heat of sorption for wool only occurs when the wool is fairly dry. When I was first thinking about this, I was thinking about sailors and fishermen. Their wool never got “fairly dry.” They lived in a damp environment, and their wool always contained a very high percentage of the amount of water that it could absorb.
In a damp environment like Ireland/England, unless there is a determined effort to dry the wool, the wool as it comes off of the sheep will have always contain a very high percentage of the amount of water that it could absorb and cannot absorb more water and thereby it will not release heat.
Certainly, storing the wool in a low humidity, centrally heated environment for weeks will dry the wool so that when remoistened, it will release the heat of sorption, but if you take the garment out and wear it every couple of weeks, the wool will retain enough moisture from wearing to wearing that the evolved heat of sorption on any particular wearing is minimal.
What will dry the wool so you (in Yorkshire) can get enough heat of sorption that you can really feel it, is to put your wool in the clothes dryer and run it for a few cycles on high heat. Take the (now ball of felt) out of the dryer, and for the next few minutes you will be able to feel the heat of sorption as the wool fibers pick up moisture from the atmosphere. Or, you can take your wool with you for a summer in the desert of Saudi Arabia or the Australian Outback. Then, pack the wool in sealed plastic bags, and when you open the plastic bags, for a few minutes, you will be able to feel the heat of sorption in all its glory.
Here in sunny (dry) California, we had bit of rain a couple of weeks ago and cool, dry weather since then that has suddenly turned cold. Thus, this morning my office is unheated (45F), cold, and dry (30%). I brought a synthetic fleece garment with me out to my office. In a short while, my cheeks were cold. I have a good gansey, here in the office that has been packed in a cloth bag all through our long, hot summer and which has not been worn since last spring.
I put the synthetic fleece against one cheek and a sleeve from the gansey against the other. The cheek with the synthetic fleece fabric against it was warmer than the cheek with the wool against it. If there had been perceptible heat of sorption from the wool as moisture from my cheek combined with the wool, I would have felt it. However, the wool still had moisture in it from that damp spell a couple of weeks ago and it could not absorb enough additional moisture to produce warmth that exceeded the ability of the synthetic fleece to reflect warmth to my cheek as a result of better insulation. That gansey was not out in rain. It was not worn. It was merely exposed to a couple of days of 70 F and 70% RH a few days ago. That kind of moisture is common in California or Yorkshire. However, the wool absorbed enough moisture that it impeded the detection of a practical heat of sorption effect in wool a few days later.
Synthetic pile has been so successful because of its ability to feel warm against the skin - even in comparison to well knit wool. If wool’s heat of sorption was of practical significance, synthetic pile would not be as successful as it is. Right now, I am wearing a Patagonia synthetic pile jacket because it feels so warm, despite having some good ganseys on the table behind my desk. If I could get a burst of warmth by putting one or two of them on, I would.
On the other hand, wool fleeces in the part of our house that we keep much warmer (and therefore lower RH) for my elderly and frail aunt, do dry enough in a couple of weeks that if one sits on them, the heat of sorption is very perceptible. Sit on the same fleece every few days and it retains enough moisture for several days that the effect is not felt.
It is a real effect, but one must start with very dry wool to detect the effect. It is not an on-going effect. One cannot expect bursts of warmth from your gansey as a series of rain showers blow over in the course of an afternoon.

Someitme in the near future, I will return to the topic.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Yorkshire Goose Wings

The first time I made and tried knitting with a Yorkshire "goose wing" knitting sheath, I was just amazed at the perfection of the concept. They tuck into apron strings and sit on the point of the right hip and hold a knitting needle in just the right spot for good knitting. Over the last few years, I have made a bunch of them.

When I did not want to wear an apron to knit with them, I would just tie sash around my waist and tuck the goose wing into the sash.

However, goose wings do not work so well with the wide leather belts I tend to wear with jeans around the house. The Cornish "knitting fish" have always worked better wide belts. And, the goose wings tend poke the leather easy chair that my wife made me buy to be my "knitting chair" in the living room. (During the day, when she is not home, I like to knit seated in a folding chair in the kitchen.) Think about how many of the old drawings show knitters seated on stools or benches rather than seated in chairs.

The other day, everywhere I went seemed to have nice work aprons on sale. I took it as a sign that should do something with goose wings. Then Abbot, my favorite Smith, asked about goose wings and I knew it was time to revisit goose wings. He also likes to wear wide leather belts.

They poke, so grind off the "pokey" tips. Done!

Now grind groves so the apron strings stay in place and anchor the sheath firmly in place. DONE!

[With goose wings in apron strings the resistance of the knitter's abdominal tissue provides some spring action allowing fast, low effort knitting even with ridgid (brass & aluminium), or weak (wood) needles. This is particularly useful for lace which is too loose a fabric to use the fabric as a spring to assist the knitting. The goose wing really is a brilliant tool design. ]

Cut the "blade" thin enough to slip under a leather belt. Grind an offset tab at the end of the blade to catch on the lower edge of a leather belt to anchor the goose wing under a leather belt. Done!

They work exceptionally well with steel needles from ~6" to 12" long, but last night I was using them with 18" gansey needles and they worked very well indeed! A heavy leather belt was worn very low around my hips and the sheath was tucked in over my right buttock. Close to perfect performance (in my folding chair -I do not use the gansey needles in the leather chairs. The arm rests impair needle movement.)

Sometimes, I live in a bent world.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

A Path Foreward - Lace!

I started this reseach because I wanted to know how seamen of old stayed warm. Now, I know, they knit tighly to produce a warm fabric. They saved their wrists by using a knitting sheath.

The process works. I proved it with prototype samples. And, my knitting sheath prototypes do look like engineering prototypes. They feel like something that would be at home in a machine shop. They have the solid feel of utilitarian tools used for making the most utilitarian of garments - a fisherman's gansey.

However, we know that knitting sheaths were also used in the production of lace. One of Rutt's informants on knitting sheaths was using her knitting sheath to make lace. The great "wedding ring" shawls knit in the Shetland Islands were knit on the same tools used to knit ganseys. Why?

Well, because a knitting sheath is the easy way to knit lace. It really is.

I have been swatching lace. I am not real thrilled with "modern lace" as taught in most contemporary texts on knitting. I do not like the fabric. I mean, really, do you like these fabrics?

That little swatch in the photo does not look like much, but it is 650 stitches. It is also a nice fabric. No, it is a very nice fabric. It something a REAL lady would want to wear. A knitting sheath lets one knit fast enough that one can actually finish a lacey something in a reasonable length of time. A knitting sheath also helps maintain even tension.

Anyway, I have drunk the "Kool-Aid", and I am going to the "Dark Side". I am going to do some lace -- just as soon as I finish a couple of pair of house socks and a gansey.

Likewise, it is time to move past my "engineering prototype" style of knitting sheaths and make some that not only work, but that have some aesthetic appeal to folks other than locomotive machinists. I really am working on this. No more knitting like a pirate.

The lace needles in the photo are from various sources and about 1.4 to 1.5 mm by 20 or 25 cm long. I am going to say it right now,"Commerical lace needle makers focus more on making needles pretty than on making them functional. Lace kntters aided and abetted this by buying needles that were more pretty than functional.

Knitting hearts were used by ladies in Jane Austin's time to support fine needles for knitting lace. These hearts were jewlery in every sense of the term. However, such hearts required fairly stiff gowns to support the hearts, so I do not think I will go in that direction. However, if someone wants such jewlery, let me know and I will work with my sister ( to help you design a knitting heart that fully functional.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Recantation about sheaths holding needles tighly

Several times I have said that the knitting sheath should hold the needle firmly.

Yet, just now I caught myself using a US00 needles in a knitting sheath bored for US1 needles. In fact, I have a whole tray of needles smaller than US1, and all my current knitting sheaths are bored for US1 or US0 needles. Yes, I knit with needles that fit very loosely in the knitting sheath a good deal of the time.

Well, I put a lot of effort in to learning to do that. And, I find that students have a lot of trouble if the needle does not fit firmly into the knit sheath.

I still think that learning to use a knitting sheath is much easier if the needle is held snuggly. It is not necessary, but it is easier. And, it is more important for gansey needles where there is a spring load on the connection between the needle and the sheath.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

UK knit circa 1800?

How did folks in the UK knit circa 1800?

1) Certainly, hand-held DPN (or needles held, supported, or controlled in the arm pit) with the yarn in either the right or the left hand. These needles develop a very slight curve and distinctive wear marks at the extreme tip that allows them to be distinguished from broken awls. The disadvantages are that knitting firmly can put a stress on the wrists, knitting is slower than with a knitting sheath, and long needles are difficult to control.

2) Short (6- 12 inches), straight (more or less), DPN held in a knitting sheath under the right elbow or over the point of the right hip, with the yarn in either the right or the left hand. These knitting sheaths were 6 to 10 inches long in a variety of designs. These designs for such sheaths included bundles of feathers bound together with a bit of waste yarn or a cone of leather filled with horse hair for tucking into the waist band. of the sheath designs work very well tucked into apron strings. Many Other designs allow for separate tapes or belts. In general, the needle flexes along its length, and does not rotate in the needle hole of the knitting sheath. Many of the needles pick up a significant curve or arc with use. These needles have distinctive wear marks in an annuls ~1 cm form the shoulder of the needle tip. If you see this band of linear striations, you know the needle was used with a knitting sheath, and that it was a knitting needle and not something else. Such knitting sheaths can be used with 3+1 needles for small objects or many needles if a large carpet or blanket is required. The side of the right hand pushes the needle into the stitch and the base of the thumb pushes the working needle back through the stitch. It is a low stress knitting technique suitable for people with tender hands and wrists. It can be a very pleasant way to knit at a reasonable pace. It can also be done quite aggressively to knit very rapidly. This technique allows knitting fabrics much tighter than any other method on this page. These are most of the old knitting sheaths that people liked, and kept, and that one still finds in the collections.

3) Knitting sheath as above in 2) but used with 2 needles for lace items knit flat.

4) Gansey needles (14 -18 inch long steel DPN) used with a knitting sheath firmly attached to a strong belt over the right buttock, with the working needle arched forward under the right arm. The belt is worn much lower on the body than in the short needle technique above. The weight of the right arm rests on the needle. The needle is forced downward into the stitch, the right hand loops yarn over the tip, and the spring action of the needle lifts the loop of yarn back through the old stitch to form the new stitch. This is a powerful, industrial knitting technology. It can be done very fast, and then it is very hard work. On the other hand it is the easy way to knit a real gansey.

5) Curved, blunt needles called “pricks” used with very large knitting sheaths (40 -50 cm) tucked into a belt worn low on the hips. The yarn is controlled with the left hand. The prick rotates in the needle hole of the knitting sheath. The prick is “popped” into the working stitch with a down and out simultaneous impulse of both hands that caused the prick to pick up the yarn as it stretches the forward leg of the working stitch. The stretch of the yarn and fabric provide a spring action that push the prick and yarn back through the working stitch, which then pops off as the next stroke starts. The process is very fast and very demanding. This was a method for commercial knitting. As soon as the need passed, these big sheaths were tossed in the fire, and people reverted to straight needles with smaller knitting sheaths. The nature of the spring process means that everyone using the same sized needles and the same yarn will tend to knit at the same speed. Thus, everyone in the room can sing to the pace of their knitting, knit to the pace of the song, and at the end of the evening, everyone will have knit the same number of stitches.

6) Knitting belt/pouch with DPN. Very similar to 2) above, excellent with the blunter needles used for the softer spun yarns used in Fair Isle knitting. The needles are not as firmly held and have less of a tendency to develop an arc and develop polish rather than marks on the shaft of the needle. Perhaps not quite as fast as knitting sheath but very good for travel.

7) Knitting hearts – very small, decorated knitting sheaths, designed to pin to a lady’s dress to support very fine knitting needles used for knitting lace.

I am a bit pedantic, but I would say that circa 1800, there were at least 11 different and distinct knitting styles in Great Britain, the use of which employed at least 7 different tool kits.

A note, at one time, I thought that gansey needles were very difficult to manage without a knitting sheath. Now, I know some knitting styles that allow use of long needles without the use a knitting sheath. One of these methods is the knitting style of Miriam Tegels. (A second is s Spanish style of "Pit Knitting.") However, I still think that if Miriam Tegels and I sat down together to knit ganseys, for the first day or two she might blow me away, but that by the time we had knit a dozen ganseys, she would be a convert to knitting sheaths. I know that I just sold a set of knitting sheaths to a knitter that had learned excellent pit knitting skills as a girl in Spain. I showed her how to use the knittng sheaths, let her play with them for a while, and at the end of the session, they went in her knitting bag.

Monday, June 15, 2009

New Lion Brand Fisherman's Wool

I knit my first gansey from "Lion Brand Fisherman's Wool" some 3 years ago. It is an extrodinary garment knit from an extrodinary yarn.

However, Lion Brand has changed its sourcing of Fisherman's Wool. It is now a different fiber, a different spin, and a different ply. It is not the same. I bought a bit of the stuff, and will knit and test.

It really does feel nice while being knit, and looks nice right after being knit, that is it is easy to knit consistently and uniformly. There does not seem to be any veggy material in it, however there were a fair number of breaks in the yarn.

It felt wonderful while I knit it. As knit, the fabric felt wonderful. However, it lost stitch difinition while being blocked. The fabric lost elastisity and resiliance while being blocked. I would not use it for any garment that might get wet. I would certainly not use it for a gansey, and I would certainly not use it for anything a fisherman might wear.

Monday, June 08, 2009

How Knitting Sheaths Work

I get this question- frequently. So, I am going to post an answer, HERE, where everybody can find it.

First, a knitting sheath is a tool like a knitting needle. Just as there are different kinds of knitting needles, there are different kinds of knitting sheaths. And, just as there are different techniques of knitting there are several different techniques of using a knitting sheath. The most common knitting sheaths can be used while tensioning the yarn in either the right or the left hand, or with a strand of yarn in each hand, or with two strands of yarn in either hand.
A knitting needle is a lever for moving yarn. In most modern knitting techniques, the mechanical advantage is about 1: 3, with the fingers/ thumb of the hand providing both the force and acting as the fulcrum of the lever. This places stress on the hands and wrists. When the needle is inserted into a knitting sheath, the knitting sheath becomes the fulcrum and the force is applied with a 1:50 mechanical advantage. In addition, the knitting sheath allow the forced to be generated by the large muscles of the shoulders and transmitted through the very strong tendons of the upper arm.

With a knitting sheath or stick tucked into a belt or apron strings under the right elbow, and a fairly short working needle set it, The needle is pushed sideways into the working stitch with the palm, the yarn for the new stitch in any one of half a dozen ways, and the base of the thumb pushes the working needle out of the stitch, finishing the new stitch and transferring it to the working needle.

Gansey needles act as springs. One end is firmly anchored in a knitting sheath, and the needle flexed under the right arm. The weight of the arm pushes the needle tip into the stitch, and as the arm is lifted a bit, the needle springs upward, finishing the stitch and pulling it onto the working needle.

In swaving, (terrible knitting) a short curved needle pivots in the knitting sheath, and the yarn tension is controlled by the left hand. The blunt needle is “popped” into the stitch with a symmetric downward and outward push with both arms. The forward leg of the old stitch and supporting fabric act as a spring. The needle catches the yarn with another “pop”, the force of the arms holding the stitch open is relaxed and the spring of the yarn in the old stitch pops the needle out of the old stitch (still carrying the yarn) to form the new stitch on the right needle. (I have not mastered swaving yet and there may be changes to this in the future.)
Knitting sheaths are tools that provide leverage, just as hammers are tools that provide leverage. You can drive a nail by holding a lump of iron in your hand, but using a hammer is easier. You can knit with hand held knitting needles.

That is my story, and I am sticking it until I get better data.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

I made the same stupid mistake as Rutt

I did.

Look at the knitting sheaths in all the collections and most of them are 2o to 25 cm in length. Then, at the end of the Beamish collection is a big one -- with curved needles -- see the fine Beamish image at It is 42 cm long. A big one!

I looked at it, and I did not pay attention because so many knitting sheaths were smaller and they worked very well with even 12 inch straight needles.

However, knitting with curved needles is a different technology and requires different tools.

I tried making a bigger knitting sheath. See above. The big one. It is the one that works with those little curved needles. Try an evening of swaving with one of those 20 to 25 cm long knitting sheaths, and the next morning you will wake up with sore fingers.

Really, the little ones do work just fine for straight needles.

Monday, June 01, 2009

In a rut

I read all of Rutt. Then, I looked at a bunch of his original sources, and read him again. Then, I went to the shop and made needles and experimented. Then, I went back and re-read passages.

Note for example that I compare what he says on page 20 with what he cites from Howitt on page 120. On page 122, Rutt discards Howitt's eyewitness description without a stated reason. Rutt's eyewitness (Sedgwick, pg 122) has abandoned the curved needles by the time Rutt meets her. Why? I propose that she stopped swaving because swaving is a high effort activity. It is hard work. It was a way for a commercial knitter to knit as much as possible per hour, and Sedgwick was no longer getting paid by the piece, so she did not put in the effort into knit extra fast. The swaving needles were thus surplus, and got lost – maybe a metal drive during WWll.
Rutt assumes that the needles were bent of long usage, but does not state a basis for that assumption. However, a look at old museum needles shows two classes of bent needles. Needles randomly bent from long usage show clear differences, and needles with a deliberate bend in them. The Dentdale knitters put a deliberate and specific bend in their needles. My first swaving needles looked like the bent from age needles. Once I understood swaving, I went back and re-bent my needles. Re-bending the needles was a real effort, but then, my needles looked the deliberately bent group of needles in the museums. Those needles did not get bent by usage. Rutt should have figured this out.

Rutt does not consider the possibility that there might be a very fast, commercially oriented hand knitting technique that required a knitting sheath and needles with very specific curves. He does not think about the physics or the ergonomics of swaving. Old Mrs. Sedgwick no longer had a need to knit very fast, she no longer had the strength, she no longer had the skills, and she no longer had the old curved needles. She no longer had the big knitting sheath. She was not a good witness for the technique. Yes, she did show him one or two of the 3 or 4 knitting techniques that they used, she just did not show him all all of them.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rutt – A History of Hand Knitting

For the last few years, every discussion of the history of knitting has eventually resulted in somebody quoting Rutt, and that often being accepted as the final authority, because Rutt has so many sources, he must be right! That should not be the case. A History of Hand Knitting is manifestly incomplete, and often wrong. The common theme of his errors was to ignore the traditions of professional, commercial, and serious knitters. He ignored their tools and their techniques and this inevitably lead to erroneous conclusions about their knit products.

His first error is in his definition of knitting, where he limits it to yarn. In fact, many early knitters included gold filaments, and the incorporation of such metal wires does not prevent that work from being "knitting." Moreover modern knitting machines may use strands of synthetic material which is yarn only in the broadest sense, yet the fabric is still clearly knitting. Thus, the definition of knitting must one of process and topology, and not one of material.

Rutt wonders around his description of knitting needles without ever understanding that different knitting needles were used for different knitting techniques. (While he references commercial knitting techniques, he does not actually discuss them. Thus, glosses are deliberate, rather than purely ignorant.) Most importantly he fails to point out role of knitting sheaths in various knitting techniques. He fails to note that there were long steel needles used with knitting sheaths yeilding a spring action for knitting ganseys – this is one kind of needle with its own technical constraints. Shorter DPN could be used with other kinds of knitting sheaths (and different knitting technique) for knitting other kinds of objects. Despite later extensive quotes from Howitt, on the use of curved needles in the Yorkshire Dales later in the book, Rutt does not bring this information into his section on needles. And yet, it was the physics of a curved knitting needle (with a knitting sheath) that made the very fast knitting of the Yorkshire Dales possible. This is a completely different knitting technique from what is used with gansey needles, and a history of knitting needs to recognize that. Thus, Rutt does not describe the needles that were used by generations and generations of professional, commercial, and serious hand knitters. The cottage workers in England made exporting boat loads of hand knit hose to France possible. They are a big part of the history of hand knitting. These are the tools that made fine fisherman’s ganseys possible. Those ganseys made cod fish possible. The cod fish made the Church's "fast days" possible. Taxes on the knit goods supported the British Crown. These tools that Rutt ignores were critical to history as we know it.

Then Rutt talks about holding the needles and he ignores knitting sheaths and pouches. These had been at the core of techniques for professional, commercial, and serious hand knitters for centuries. What he does get right is admitting that the knitting styles that came in at the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign, slowed knitting down. However, those knitting techniques are the only ones he describes in detail and says little about the methods of hard working (and fast) cottage knitters. Rutt says, “Ideally only one needle should move”. This may be true for slow, elegant, stylish knitting in the post-Victorian drawing room, but it contradicts Howitt’s eyewitness description of how the fastest knitters ever known (the Terrible Knitters of Dentdale) did knit. They are an important part of the history of hand knitting and they need to be discussed by someone that understands what they did, and how they did it.

Rutt did not understand the tools used by generations of hand knitters. This is a deep and fundamental fault with Rutt’s knowledge of knitting.

Having glossed the tools and techniques of serious knitters, in favor of drawing room fashion, Rutt dismisses the work of Braham Norwick while acknowledging that the metal work discussed is topologically knit. Rutt says it is not knit because it is not yarn -that is silly! I have knit metal wire and the process is knitting; that is one must now how to knit before one can knit metal wire, and if you can knit metal wire, you can knit yarn because the process is the same. Anybody that has knit both knows this. Any knitter that has knit wire knows that after knitting wire, you go find some yarn to knit because it feels so good after knitting the wire.

And so on! That is my feelings on the first 25 of or Rutt’s 213 pages, and it does not get much better. He attributes dates without justification, and he missed important work. He makes mountains out of molehills and molehills out of mountains, and it is hard to tell what he is going to do with any particular reference.

I will gladly admit that Rutt cites a great many sources, but his analysis of those sources is faulty and out of context. If Rutt is cited, always go back and look at the original source. Rutt is not the last word in knitting. Rutt did not write a history of hand knitting, he wrote a justification of modern drawing room knitting.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Curved Needles and Sock Yarn

OK! Curved needles do work for sock yarn, I just had to drop down to 1.5 mm pricks, and it gives me about 10spi. The yarn band says 7.5 spi for Amrican size 2 needles. I like the firmer, 10 spi fabric better. In fact, the firmer fabric is much more like the fabric in those nice Smart Wool socks that my wife just bought. (Those Smart Wool sock are knit at ~32 spi so I am not even getting close to their gauge.)

This swatch was started on 2.38 mm pricks, and I just could not make those big needles work with the fingerling yarn. You can see the big stitches at the bottom. Besides, I do not like the fabric.

The wood thing is the knitting stick I am using.

Curved knitting needles in the style of the Yorkshire Dales

I am simply amazed at how little has been written about curved needles (pricks) as knitting tools.

My first swatch with the first curved needles. There is some junk stitches, but the last 300 were very nice. And, since then, better pricks, have resulted in better knitting.

Mary Thomas, at least wrote briefly about knitting sheaths, and had pictures and drawings of knitting sheaths in her classic book on knitting. Certainly Mary Wright talks about knitting sheaths at length, and I even found a paragraph in one modern text explaining how to use a knitting sheath. However, there is even less on curved needles.

Curved needles can be used hand held to facilitate continental knitting. However, they come into their own when used with a long knitting sheath. The needle then pivots in the knitting sheath. The front leg of the stitch is used as at fulcrum to lever the yarn through the stitch. The effort comes from the large muscles of upper arm. Control and stability come from the knitting sheath and the inter–actions between the yarn, the fabric, and the needle. Therefore, the Yorkshire commercial knitting techniques do not work for all yarns and fabrics, but when they do work, they are very fast. This is a very different motion from any of the motions for using straight needles with knitting sheaths, and it certainly was not contemplated in the one modern text that describes how to use a knitting sheath.

The leverage available with a knitting sheath and curved needles is not as great as with a knitting sheath and straight needles, thus curved needles are not suitable for knitting very tight fabrics. Nor, are curved needles suitable for loose fabrics or lace. What we would call standard hand knitting ( is too loose to use the fabric to stabilize the needle. However, I do not like those fabrics anyway. (And, I note, that the knit wool fabrics offered at good or fine clothing stores are also firmer than what results form following the recommendations of the Craft Yarn Council.) That is, professional or commercial quality knitting is firmer than the recommendations of the CYC.
However, if you want to knit a nice firm, consistent fabric very rapidly; pricks are your tool of choice. If you want to knit a fine Jersey in a day, get curved needles. If you want really consistent knitting, get curved needles.
So, she asks with a sneer, "Is it fun knitting that fast? How can you enjoy knitting that fast?" It is like riding in a car. In a new BMW, it is comfortable going 80 mph. An old Ford Model T is not comfortable at 50 mph. NO! with most needles, it would not be any fun knitting that fast, but with curved needles, when you get everything dialed in, it is just knitting at the natual speed that feels right.
I have some Special Blauband sock wool, and I have not yet figured out how to knit it with curved needles. It is on 2.4 mm pricks and I was lucky to get a thousand stitches done in 4 hours. I mean I was struggling to do 5 spm, so I do not have this all figured out yet.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Knitting before Newton

Lack of evidence for existence may or MAY NOT be evidence of non-existence. Lack of evidence may simply be good evidence for moths, mold, damp, hearths without chimneys, and frogging for reuse. Lack of evidence may be a problem with experimental design or the mechanics of the sampling methodology. I find that knitters tend not to spend a lot of time pondering design of experiment and sampling methodologies.

A careful reading of Rutt suggests that he never knit with a knitting sheath, which I find a singular lack in someone writing about an industry where the knitting sheath was a primary tool. He handled ganseys in a museum context and did not go out and determine their functional qualities. His statement to the effect that too much has been made about how weatherproof fisherman’s ganseys tells me that he did not understand the rigors of sailing in a wooden ship or the warmth of a real gansey. As one's body cools, one loses judgement and coordination. For a sailor working in the rigging, loss of either judgement or coodination is sudden death as he falls. In contrast, a cold farmer may stumble on his way home, and still make it back to his warm hearth. If one does not understand these two points, one cannot make sense of that knitting masterpiece called a “fisherman’s gansey.” Rutt did not understand the physics of knitting, the physics of how a knit fabric insulates, or human physiology.

Fisherman’s ganseys and seaman’s gansey are functionally similar and produced with the same materials and tools. For all practical purposes they are the same. While the British navy did not set a uniform, they constrained what a seaman could wear by what was available for him to buy aboard ship. A sailor pressed off of a merchant ship might be wearing a gansey, but but a landsman would not. Now, go back through the British Admiralty contracts, and see what they put in the "slop chests" from which every British seaman had to buy the clothes that he wore. A good place to start is Admiral Nelson and work backwards. This is piles and piles of documentation in the best British tradition. Every British Naval vessel had what we would recognize as seamen's ganseys aboard to sell to the seamen.

The French built Louisbourg on a cold point in Nova Scotia to protect their cod fishery and to a lesser extent their fur trade from the British. King Georg was projecting his navy across the Atlantic and we have records of what was in the slop chests on those ships, and thus what British sailors were wearing. We can make a reasonable assumption that the French sailor’s supporting Louisbourg were similarly dressed. And yet, when I visited Louisbourg nobody on their huge staff knew about knitting sheaths. Nobody knew what a gansey needle was. They had not even looked for DPN – they had looked for Victorian style SPN. There were living history staff for a remote, cold, outpost set in 1740, knitting lace with SPN?! No wonder they did not find evidence for knitting in a very cold place where there were sheep bones and wooden shoes in the midden. They did not seem to know what to look for in the way of knitting tools. While we were there, one of the enactors got hypothermia, and they had to send her off to get warm. It was June! It was nice and warm (6C & 25 knot wind) right there on that parapit. Of course, I was wearing a gansey, hat, and wool socks, all knit from local wool. (My wife in her Patagonia gear was very cold. No other tourists stayed on top of the wall for more than -- seconds.) While I expect that the ladies of Louisbourg did knit lace in 1740, I am also sure that somebody in that fortress was knitting warm woolens.

When I visited the archeology dig at York, they told me that they had not looked for knitting tools because everything they were looking at was before knitting was introduced into Europe. I suggested, maybe not, and showed them what wear marks would indicate knitting needles rather than awls. Recent publication reports the finding of 14th century metal double pointed knitting needles at York.

Estonia, Ireland, and Scotland were all very much in the Norse world of trade from the 8th through the 13th centuries. Consider the fragment of elaborate “Fair Isle knitting” that was found in 1949 in a 13th century Votic grave. It was in the literature, and yet ignored by Rutt. This tells me that the York knitting needles are not anomalous, and there was elaborate knitting being done in Europe in the 13th century. We can be sure that in the 13th century knitting was established from Estonia to Ireland.

In the early 13 th century the Portuguese were selling cod form the Newfound Land Banks. They must have had ganseys. Ganseys made commercial, long range fishing economic. Knit ganseys kept sailors from getting so cold that they fell to their death. If too many of the sailors on board get chilled the ship is lost and the venture is not econmic. In this same time frame the English from Norfolk were fishing cod from square rigged ships as shown by the bench ends from King's Lynn. They fished so well that in 200 years the grounds were fished out and the tradition of cod fishing in ships from Norfolk was forgotten. All that remained was a knitting tradition, supporting fishermen in small boats.

The 11th century saw Cistercian Order with abbeys in Portugal, France, England, Ireland, and Scotland moving rams to improve their flocks of sheep. They had wool, ships, and they had a mission to teach. I think we can be sure that they taught knitting and even gansey making.

Knitting is knitting, whether it is done from cotton or wool or silk or silk with gold threads. That is, knit fabrics containing metal threads has always been considered knitting. We have Irish and Scotch metal work, with good provenance clearly dating to the 8th and 8-9th centuries containing knit metal wire. We have all seen these examples in our art history books, we just did not think about what we were seeing. Ladies and Gentlemen, knitting in Great Britain is an ancient art.

One thing that is unique about knitting, and that makes it different from naalbinding and woven material is knit fabrics' ability to be easily unraveled, and the yarn reused, or re-spun and reused. If I am a thrifty housewife with a drop spindle, every bit of yarn is precious. If I have an old bit of thread-bare knitting, I am likely to unravel it, and use the old threadbare yarn as one ply in a new yarn. Or, I might just reknit the piece. In a land of hand spinning, I would never expect to see any scrap of old knitting. If the owner did not want the yarn out of it, somebody else would. We should be very surprised to see old knit fabrics. If the moths or mold did eat the fabric, then the nearest spinner or knitter would have used the fabric.

What is an old knitting sheath? Firewood! Firewood next to the fire is always better than firewood out in the yard. Old knitting sheaths went on the fire. Old wooden knitting needles were saved for kindling. Any blacksmith would buy steel or iron or brass or bronze knitting needles for cash money. We should not expect to find many old knitting implements.

So, why don’t we find ganseys in the document record? Why are they not listed in wills? Well they were a work garment, and work garments wear out. No, they were THE work garment. A seaman was likely to be wearing his best gansey, and one way or another, he was likely to be buried in it. If he is planning on being buried in it, it is not going to show up in his will. In fact, a man on land did not need a seaman’s gansey at all, and a gansey was a very expensive thing to own if one did not need such an elaborate garment. If he sells it of gives it away, it is not going to show up in his will or inventory. If he is wearing it, it is not going to show up in an inventory of the house. I would not expect to see much documentary evidence relating to “fishermen’s” or “seaman’s” ganseys. Which brings us back to – What was in the slop chests of the British Navy? There, where we expect it, we have references to knit frocks.

A ship is a complex system. Change any part of it, and other systems much be changed. The great changes in western ships counting backward were, use of liquid petroleum fuel, use of coal, use of square rigged sails. . . . . . . . Diesel and steam meant that sailors could operate the ship without going above the deck, and without the kind of gymnastics that sailors traditionally performed. Engines also provided heat for the crew. Thus, after the advent of steam power, sailors could have a warm dry place to sleep, this changed their clothing requirements. And, the costume of sailors changed.

We know that square rigged ships sailed by sailors in ganseys worked very well for a very long time. The question arises, “Which came first, square rigged ships in Europe, or knitting in Europe?” Square rigged ships appeared around 1000 AD or two centuries AFTER we know the Irish were knitting even very difficult things like wire. Thus, the system of square rigged ships and knit sailors’ ganseys could have evolved together.

To move the above from an isolated chronology to a documented web of history, consider the Channel Islands. Early on, they were agrarian, developing their own fine breeds of milk cows, sheep, and very complicated land inheritance traditions. In the period of the 8-10th centuries, they became the primary provider of salt fish to Catholic Europe (and England) for fast days. They were such good fishermen that they fished out their local waters and in the 11th century were selling “exceptionally cunning” garments knit from their local wool to other sailors and fishermen. By the 12th century, their knitting production exceeded local wool production and they were importing wool from England. The customs taxes on that wool were the primary source of cash income for the cash strapped treasury of the English Crown. This continued until the Tudor wool act which stopped the export of raw wool. (Thus, a few years later, Cabot's men were wearing Englsih knit frocks rather than Guernsey knit.) Suddenly cut off from the wool for their knitting that was their principle source of income, the Channel Islands turned to piracy to support themselves. Elisabeth R sent Sir Walter Rayleigh to stop the piracy. Rayleigh helped the islanders reestablish their knitting industry.

It is worth noting that despite great advances in scholarship the field of knitting history, Rutt has not updated his book.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


It is how the "Terrible Knitters of Dent" knit so fast.

Miriam Tegels as a speed kitter? Ha! she does not even have a "clew." See ( ) Swaving takes all that, and pushes it to the extreme; including minimal motions and keeping the shoulders loose by flexing them. Then it goes beyond that, by synchronizing the hand motions so both hands are making similar symmetric motions. This seems to make coordination of everything easier, i.e., none of this; right hand do this, and left hand do that stuff. Both hands just make tiny circular motions together.

Swaving is not continental knitting. Both swaving and continental use the left hand to tension the yarn. However, with swaving, both needles move at the same time.

It was not just a fiction. I know how it is done. I am not real fast - yet! In fact, I have not even worked out how to purl yet. But, damn it works! Wow! I have not timed it yet. Maybe it is not as fast as it seems. I doubt if I will be able to knit 200 spm – that is for nimble fingered young ones that started knitting as kids. Still the nature of the motion makes it seem very, very fast. We will see.

Very low stress on both hands. All the effort in both hands is from the shoulders and upper arms. On the other hand, knitting fast is a high effort activity, No wonder the Victorian ladies let this style of knitting die out.

This makes it clear that there were at least 4 styles of knitting based on knitting sheaths and knitting pouches:

  • There was/is the English which produced very tight fabrics
  • Continental was/is fast, but tended to produce looser fabrics
  • Swaving
  • The two handed, two -yarn techniques for Fair Isle, weaving, and twining
  • There are specialized techniques for carrying two yarns in on one hand

On a lighter note as I pick up the sock I was – swaving – last night, I note the needles in it are cheap, old aluminum (Susan Bates or Boyle or ?) that somebody bought in a “hobby shop” and I got in a bunch of used needles on eBay years ago.

Why were the old knitting sheaths so big?

The books said old knitting sheaths were BIG, so my first knitting sheaths were big. Then, over time I discovered that for just plain knitting I really liked smaller knitting sheaths with a different leverage between the belt holding them in place and the needle. There was a clear difference; the smaller worked much better, so why did the old time contact knitters consistently have bigger knitting sheaths? I would not say that it kept me up every night, but this has been a persistent question for me over the last couple of years.

Certainly, part of it is what I normally wear while knitting. I wear a different kind of belt and I tend to wear it higher on my hips than those old timers. My normal apron for knitting fastens in the back with a clip, so normally no apron strings to tuck a goose wing or knitting sheath into.

Then, there is how the knitting sheaths were made. Green wood would have been split with an ax and shaped with a draw knife, then finished with a small knife. The last step would have been to make the needle hole either by burning it with a red hot needle or drilling it. There was the chance that the wood could check or crack. In a large knitting sheath, this made no difference; in a small knitting sheath it would have ruined the work. In a large knitting sheath, everything could have been done by eye, while for my smaller knitting sheaths I have to measure very carefully. In short, the large knitting sheaths were much easier to make.

Then there was the question of life style. Many of the knitters had gardens, orchards, fields, and animals to look after. Knitting was done in the evening after the farm work was done. A big knitting sheath is more durable as it endures farm life, and is easier to see if it is dropped in the grass or in the bedding in the barn.

Finally, replicas of some 16th century rural goose wing designs that I recently found show exceptional versatility in function. These are much more versatile than the late Victorian goose wing designs that I had first used as templates. The older designs are not nearly as pretty, but they work better. Those old knitters knew what they were doing. The Victorians favored form over function.

How Old is knitting in Great Britian?

Recent scholarship on has shown very a very high level of knitting skill in Estonia in the 13th century ( a study of a 13th-century votic knit fragment by Anneke Lyffland) but what about Great Britain?

See The Origins of Knitted Fabrics by Braham Norwick for a cogent argument that the Irish knew about knitting in the 8th century. He goes on to layout similar evidence for the knowledge of knitting in Scotland in the 8th to 9th century.

Worth finding and reading.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Knit like a Professional

For a very long time, knitting was a honored profession, with its guilds, tools, and skills. Guild members traded knowledge and the trained their employees and apprentices, but there were no programs to teach knitting to the public. England had old, broad, and deep traditions of contract and commercial knitting rather than guilds per se. Guild members did not write books about knitting for sale to the public. Nevertheless, in Jane Austin’s time, ladies knit and there was no stigma to knitting very well or to using the tools of a professional knitter. In Jane Austin’s day, many ladies did knit like a professional.

Knitting as profession unraveled around 1820 as the government of Cornwall established schools of industry to teach the poor to knit. Suddenly there was a flood of lower quality knitting in Great Britain that depressed the price of all knit woolens and no professional knitters could make a decent living. To be a professional knitter in Great Britain was to be poor.

Victorian society ladies liked to knit, but they did not want to be mistaken for the poor. Thus, they avoided everything that would make them look like a professional knitter. Everything associated with professional knitting was taboo in high society. First and foremost they avoided knitting sheaths. Knitting sheaths were the tool and mark of the professional knitter. Then, ladies knit loosely to remind everyone that their family was rich enough to have central heat, and plenty of coal. They knit slowly. Their knitting was conspicuous consumption. They demonstrated that they could afford to spend all day knitting and accomplish little. And, they wrote books to instruct young ladies that they also must knit loosely, slowly, and avoid knitting sheaths.

We do not have the instruction materials from the early knitting guilds or the instruction, or notes from groups meeting after farm work to sing and knit for pence, or materials from the schools of industry where they taught the poor how to knit fast and tight with a knitting sheath. What we have are the knitting books written by Victorian ladies that make knitting sheaths taboo.

Let us get over that Victorian taboo on professional knitting skills and tools.

Good knitters should use the best tools available. Sometimes, and for some purposes, the very best tool for knitting is a knitting sheath. Knitting sheaths are part of a tool kit that allows one to knit better. For hundreds of years, the best knitters used knitting sheaths. They had good reasons. It is time for the best knitters to once again use the best tools.

I see five virtues for modern knitters in knitting sheaths:

  • First and foremost, knitting sheaths can help protect the hands and wrists of aging knitters from repetitive stress.
  • Second, knitting sheaths can help knitters knit faster and longer at one session so they have fewer WIP that do not get finished. This helps avoid the second sock syndrome. (Some knitters tell me that they knit for pleasure, and do not want to knit faster. They do not have to knit faster, but if we can show them how to have that same pleasant rhythm at twice the speed, they may enjoy having more FO for the same knitting time.
  • Third, knitting sheaths help manage fine needles allowing more intricate patterns and fine lace much easier. In this category, I would include Fair Isle. You would just not believe how much easier a knitting sheath makes Fair Isle and the other two-yarn techniques. A knitting sheath also makes the fancy gansey and Bavarian stitches easier.
  • Fourth, it allows the production of firmer fabrics. When I was just starting to learn about knitting sheaths, I walked in to a LYS owed by a famous knitting designer. I had a large swatch that I had knit from Patons Classic (Merino), and I had a question about knitting technique. The knitting instructor in the shop, took the swatch and looked at me in astonishment, her eyes went big, and her mouth dropped open, and she was silent for half a minute. I thought she was going to berate me for brining such cheap yarn into her very high end shop. Instead, she asked, “ How did you ever knit anything so wonderful?” I used a knitting sheath. I took a sweater in to a guild meeting a while back, and a master knitter that has been to thousands of “Show and tell”, came up afterword and stood over it, fingering it and looking at it for perhaps 5 minutes. Her husband is a master weaver. His reaction was, “That might make me take up knitting.” It was not some wonderful fiber, it was just Frangipani 5-ply, the least expensive of the modern gansey yarns.
    I mostly knit coarse wools fit for sailors. With finer (softer) fibers, a knitting sheath will help one knit something fit for a queen. Look at the knit fabrics in a very expensive department store – they are finer and firmer than standard for modern hand knit. Nobody knits that finely (except for socks) and tightly these days because it takes too long and is too hard on the wrists. Why do people like knitting socks? – One reason is because they like the fabrics produced on fine needles. However, they do not knit sweaters out of those fine fabrics because it would take too long and be too hard on the wrists. A knitting sheath changes that.
  • Finally, knitting sheaths provide a connection to the heritage of knitting. That is as true today as it was in the days when Mary Thomas was writing.
    People are going to say that I have a shop on Etsy, and discount what I say. However, I like fabrics that are firmer that what has been taught to hand knitters for the last hundred years, and almost everyone else that I talk to also likes firmer fabrics. This is acknowledged by a great many hand knitters that brag about how tight they knit. Take a nice firm fabric to a knitting guild show and tell and see what happens.

Honestly now, do you really like your hand knit fabrics better than the knit fabrics in the clothes in fine department stores? If the department store fabrics are one bit better, get a knitting sheath, and knit like a professional.

The time for knitting like a Victorian lady is over.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

More Tools

People want knitting sheaths and gansey needles.
Nobody else wanted to make them, so I am.

I bought some bigger tools.
And, I put up a store on Etsy: "Agres's Shop".
Anyway, good knitting sheaths and steel knitting needles are available.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

History of Knitting Revisited - Again

What do we know about early knitting in Western Europe? Given the nature of wool and knitting tools it is not surprising that we do not have archeological samples of the first knitting done in Western Europe. Let us then work backwards and see if knitting enabled some activity that we do know about, and which only knitting could have enabled.

We know from the “Pope’s Stocking” that the Arabs had highly developed knitting in the 9th Century. Who would have known about this and needed the technology?

Let us think about how people stay warm. Even today, the warmest material for clothing that we know of is reindeer pelts. We remember that all through the era of Viking raids on Great Britain, Norse traders were bringing reindeer pelts down to Great Britain. At that time, they had thatched roofs and plenty of wood for fires in the forests. Furs, stone huts with thatched roofs, and a bright wood fire is enough to keep a community warm all winter long. There were fish just off shore, so the fishermen could row out in the morning, back in the evening, and dry his furs by the fire that night. Knitting would be a nice luxury, but not a necessity.

By the mid-13th Century, fish had gotten scarcer and the Portuguese were making a profit by fishing for cod off the North Atlantic Banks and selling the cod across Europe. This involved weeks or months at sea without a chance to dry the sailor’s furs, and sailors working in the upper rigging of tall ships. Sailors using furs might have made the trip once or twice using furs as clothing, but they, and the captains, and the ship owners would have been desperate for another technology to keep the sailors warm.

One option would have been naalbinding. However, naalbinding is so labor intensive that a full set of garments for an entire crew would have been so expensive that it would have been impossible to make a profit on the fish.

A good fisherman's gansey can be knit by an amateur (i.e., a fisherman’s wife) in about 120 hours or 2 hours per day for two months. In contrast a talented professional could knit as many as 48 per year. Thus, a knit gansey required only a quarter or a fifth as much labor to produce as one made by naalbinding. Given the short, hard, life of a fisherman’s gansey, naalbinding was not economically practical.

The tools for producing a fisherman’s gansey include long, double pointed needles and a knitting sheath. The long needles provide the leverage to pack the yarn close together so that is weatherproof. The best material for such needles is steel. Thus, a set of such needles would have cost as much as a steel butcher knife, but less than a steel ax head. It would have been a significant outlay for a household but no worse than a modern household buying a computer, and with care such steel needles would have lasted for generations. However, less expensive needle sets could have been made from antler or whale bone. With some care, good seaman’s ganseys can even be knit on wooden needles.

This was fishing as a commercial venture. If there is no profit, there is no reason to go! And, they made a profit! By 1410, the industry had expanded until cod from the banks was being landed at Liverpool. When John Cabot got there 90 years later and “discovered” the banks, he estimated that there were a thousand ships there, all fishing for cod. That is thirty thousand men in wooden ships on those foggy, windswept, stormy seas. That is a lot of men to keep warm!

Let us pause, and consider, “Who else in Western Europe was cold at the beginning of the 13th Century?” Cistercian monks. The dress code of their order forbade anything but wool – no furs. Their structures were grand, but cold. (Despite the fact that some did have water powered central heat.) The monks spent hours and hours per day in those grand, but cold churches. I put forth the proposition that the Cistercians introduced knitting to Western Europe before the 13th Century.

Why? They had the need for warm woolen clothing. They had the resources. They had contact and communication with countries where knitting was known. They were the leading sheep breeder of the time, moving rams from country to country to systematically improve the quality of wool from the various abbeys’ flocks. And, their order’s mission included the accumulation and transfer of technology. Knitting is a technology, that requires a bit of learning. Let us remember that in the 14th Century, taxes on the wool trade were the single largest source of income for the British Crown and the Cistercians were critical to that trade.

Could knitting have really been known in Europe this early? By the 14th Century, France had a standing navy patrolling the Channel. I do not see any way to have a standing navy (with tall ships) without knitting. By the 15th Century, the establishment of “parks” that excluded commoners reduced availability of furs and wood for heating along with conversion of forest to pasture resulted in more of the population turning to knit wool for warmth, and at that point we see it documented in the popular literature.

Consider the Irish. When Ireland was forested with an economy based on cattle, no knitting was required. As there forests diminished they turned from wood to peat for fuel. A peat fire just does not warm a cottage like a wood or coal fire. And, less forest means fewer furs. Thus, over time knitting became more important to the comfort of the general population, which does not mean it was not known earlier; just that the earlier, more specialized knitting for sea men was as widely practiced.

How did the Portuguese fishermen/sailors on the Banks stay warm? How did the early French Navy stay warm? Their wives knit them ganseys, and it took a couple of hundred years for knitting to move into the popular culture.

That is my story and I am sticking to it. (Until I have a better one!)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Physics and Theory of Ganseys

Clothing is warm because it stops the flow of heat away from your body.

Heat flows away from your body in 4 ways; radiation, conduction, advection by air, and the heat carried in water vapor. Even a loose shawl will reduce radiation on clear night. To stop conduction you need avoid contact with cold objects. To stop heat loss by advection in air you need to stop the movement of air past your skin. Standard hand knit items ( are so loosely knit that air goes through them like race cars go around a race track, and every time any cool air goes past your skin, it picks up another bit of heat and carries it off. When a sweater is given substantial ease, then any movement of the fabric with respect to the skin will actually cause the sweater fabric to pump air under the garment increasing ventilation and heat loss. Even a very heavy sweater, if it is loosely knit or it hangs loosely will not be very warm. It will just be heavy, not warm.

Woven materials excel at being tight enough to stop advection by air. However, most woven materials are so thin that heat can be conducted through them. That is, heat is advected or radiated or conducted to one side of the fabric, the heat is conducted through the woven fabric, and then the heat is advected or radiated or conducted off the outside of the fabric. Knit fabrics are thicker and reduce conduction. Knit fabrics are thicker and need to be considered as a three-dimensional volume, with a “skin-side”, an outside, and distance between the two sides. Knit fabrics with Fair Isle or weaving or double knitting or the other double yarn techniques are even thicker and thus even warmer. In the temperature range of liquid water, knit wool fabrics can be thick enough to do an excellent job of blocking heat conduction.

Thus, if you want a warm fabric, it needs to be tight enough to stop air flow and thick enough to reduce conduction. A fabric knit with 2.25 mm needles and worsted weight yarn or 3.25 mm needles and Aran weight yarn will do this - if you full the fabric after knitting.

I do not just "block", I full and block!

On left "as knit", on right after fulling and blocking. Note the "holes" in the as knit fabric. Compared to air molecules, they are HUGE. Air can rush through those holes. After fulling, the channels through the fabric are smaller.

(On the one hand, it is a lot of work to knit that tightly. On the other hand, you will have an extraordinary garment. These are the kind of socks that mothers, wives, and sisters knit for their sons, husbands, and brothers as they prepared to march off to war. These are socks that ooze love when you put them on. No store bought sock is ever as good as a sock that is "knit to fit".)

Cotton, linen, hemp, and nettles will allow water vapor to migrate from the body to the outside of the fabric and then wick the condensed moisture back to the body, where it will again evaporate and move outwards. This process can carry very large amounts of heat away from the body, very, very rapidly. Wool tends to wick less moisture back toward the body. However, water droplets will move through standard hand knit fabrics resulting in the entire fabric tending to be damp if the outside of the fabric has water droplets on it. On the other hand, wool that very tightly knit results in any condensed water droplets remaining on the outer surface of the garment and prevented from passing into the body of the fabric by surface tension. Thus, a damp or wet tightly knit wool garment tends to dry rapidly from the inside out when it is worn, and feels dry and comfortable on the inside, even while the outside is still quite damp or even covered with water droplets. On the hand, a more loosely knit wool sweater does not feel dry until the entire fabric is dry because the fabric is so loose that any droplets of water on the outer surface (including those produced by the condensation of moisture from the body) can move through the body of the fabric, (re)wetting the inside surface of the fabric.

Thus, I can take two sweaters knit from worsted weight wool; one knit at 5 spi and the other knit at 7 spi. The 7 spi sweater will stop the wind, and keep me warm, while the one knit at 5 spi will allow much more air to flow through it and thus not keep me as warm. When it rains or drizzles, the drops will stay on the outside surface of the 7 spi fabric and not penetrate to the inside surface of the fabric, while with a fabric knit at 5 spi the water droplets will move through the body of the fabric. Thus, in wet weather, the 7 spi fabric will feel warm and dry while the looser fabric feels wet.

Ok, you say, “I want a warm gansey, but how will I avoid sweating to death when I stop in to the pub on the way home from _______”. Easy, you knit it snug, but not skin tight. As you warm up in the pub, (or on deck out of the wind) air convection driven by body heat will develop up under the gansey exiting at the neck. It will feel strange at first, but it works. I can wear a gansey skiing, and be the first in the beer line, because everyone else has to stop and take off their layers. After lunch, I can be the first in the lift line because everyone else is putting their layers back on. (The great virtue of the gansey was that a sailor could wear it in the relative warmth of the hold, and yet it would keep him warm when he rushed on deck to shorten sail.) This ventilation can be enhanced by cables and retarded by stitch patterns such as Lizard Lattice. This ventilation is why the traditionally fisherman’s ganseys had the large neck opening. If you want a turtle neck, either use a looser fabric for the turtle neck or expect the pub to be a bit warm. If you knit a skin tight gansey with a turtle neck, you had better plan on wearing it only in cold conditions.

A quick and easy gansey in MacAusland 2-ply fine natural wool knit on 2.35 mm needles with a turtle neck of knit of looser, softer fabric. The garment is very warm and dry under almost any conditions and allows great freedom of motion. By the by, Edie shown here, is a first rate rock climber.

To get the tight knit without ruining my wrists, the above Brown Gansey was knit using a knitting sheath and gansey needles. See previous posts.