Thursday, January 31, 2013

The best fiber in the world

is clean (except for spinning oil) and freshly combed or carded.  Really!

Last night, a member of a local spinning guild was destashing fiber, and she brought in a big pile of very nice fiber.  I did not have my trusty twisty stick, with me, but without asking the price, I bought a couple big bags full.  One bag is white long wool, maybe 40 count, and I plan to spin it at maybe 10 count. It is just beautiful stuff, I know it will spin Fast and Easy.  Fiber Porn.

I get home and toss it on the distaff, put the 5,600 ypp bobbin on the wheel, and that fiber does not want to spin.  Yes, I can coax thread out of it, but it breaks off every couple of yards.  This is not what I wanted.  This is like work.   This is spinning purgatory.  I wanted something that was like a video game, where the fiber slides into to the hungry orifice, and the only question is, "How fast can one feed the monster?"

So, this afternoon,  I spray a handful of the fiber with spinning oil, and I comb enough to fill a distaff. It takes 5 minutes. Boom!  It spins like a dream - 6 yards a minute without any problem, because it is the best fiber in the world.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sheringham fabric

In Gladys Thompson, page 83 et seq.  there are a couple of ganseys done at tensions of 12 or 14 spi using 3 or 4-ply yarns. I had approached this using yarns spun for weaving and fine needles, but the fabric was never interesting enough to put the effort into.

However, with swaving, it is pretty reasonable to produce 14 spi from Froehlich Wolle Special Blauband.    (50 grams = 225 yards; 2043 ypp.)  The pricks are 1.5 mm.

I find this fabric  -- interesting.
In this case, the WIP is a the thumb for a glove.

I bought this yarn when I still looked at yarn labels.  The yarn band recommends 30 stitches / 4 inches on US2  (2.5 -3 mm) needles. I found that fabric much too loose. I did not like that  fabric.  That is why I never did anything with this bin of yarn, and thereby still have it.

Turf wars

I see some English knitters telling me that "Ganseys" are their turf, and that I should not try to say anything new or different than what the current generation of English Gansey knitters are doing and saying.  This has the effect of limiting useful discussion. This is very like another issue I track.

After a long and rancorous review, Wind was published to some nasty comments in the climate science community.   I see this as turf wars between folks in ivory towers that do not need turf.  It would be silly, except that there are interesting things in the paper.  Are they useful things?  Maybe, but the turf wars are limiting useful discussion. I basically see the guys in climate science telling the authors of  Where do winds come from? that the authors are outsiders, and should stay off the turf of climate science.

The inside joke here is that the climate scientists are some of the smartest guys in the world. Similarly, those English knitters are some of the best knitters in the world, and they are behaving like pointy headed academics in ivory towers.  Knitters are supposed to be smarter than that.  : )

I would take these English knitters more seriously if most of the orders for gansey tools that I am working on right now were not for folks in Yorkshire.

I really do not care what other people knit!  I do not try to tell others what to knit.

I do say what fabrics I like to knit.

I do say why I like those fabrics.

I do say how I knit those fabrics.

And I do tell people how they can knit similar fabrics and objects. I try to make it reasonable and logical.  Easy is another matter.  A good Guernsey is a hundred hours of hard work.  However, sometimes it is worth it. I do tell people that it is not always worth it.  I do tell people that "sometimes, less is more".  I think a knit object should fit the need. The need may be for status, or it may be for warmth.

My wife says, "It is a barbarity, clarity is a rarity!"  And turf wars are the enemy of clarity.They end up as a hen party with everyone picking at each other's language, rather than addressing issues of substance. Turf wars over ganeys keep people from enjoying the full spectrum of knitting.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Gansey knitting

A competent knitter can knit ANY style sweater, on gansey needles. Garments for sailors and fishermen can be knit quickly, and so tight as to be weatherproof. (Gansey needles can also be used to produce the finest lace. One millimeter gansey needles are much easier to work with than 1 mm circs. I have used 0.5 mm gansey needles, but I do not have any 0.5 mm circs to compare them too.)
The essential characteristic of a sailor’s or fisherman’s sweater is the warmth it has from being tightly knit. More loosely knit sweaters are not as warm. I find that a difference in stitch gauge of only 7% can result in a sweater having catastrophically less warmth. Sailors and fishermen wearing sweaters that are not as warm tend to get hypothermic and perish. If several of the sailors on a ship get hypothermic and perish, then the ship will be lost and all on board will perish. Thus, loosely knit sweaters were inherent not suitable for wear at sea on sailing vessels. (No problem for modern vessels with engines and heaters.)
Up to Victorian times, gansey needles and a knitting sheath were how all seaman’s sweaters, mittens, hoods, watch caps, socks, & comforters were produced. Gansey needles with a knitting sheath were used from the Arab world to Greece to Spain to Brittany, Normandy, Channel Islands, England, Scotland, Ireland, Flanders, and through out the Hansa. The style and decorative stitches did not matter as much as the inherent warmth resulting form the leverage of the gansey needles packing the yarns together. Tightly packed yarn prevented air from moving through the fabric and carrying the heat away from the body. Air will flow freely and carry heat through any gap in the fabric larger than ~40 microns. (twice the thickness of a single fiber of merino)
Such goods can also be knit on circular needles. However, knitting such a fabric on circular needles will, take much longer and will stress the wrists resulting in Carpel Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). Perhaps not on the first tight fisherman’s sweater that one knits, but such knitting will take a toll on one’s wrists. The replica sweater that Mary Wright (Cornish Guernseys & Knit-frocks) first knit circa 1976 resulted in wrist surgery. In 2005, there was gansey sweater knit along on circular needles. Five of the 6 finishers required wrist surgery within a year. Therefore, with circular needles the tendency is to knit more loosely. Knitting 10% looser, takes much of the stress off the wrists, but produces a much less warm fabric.
In contrast, in 2008, I finished a Filey Guernsey with 750 cable crosses in 9 days, with no wrist problems. When I teach, I pour a bottle of water on a “gansey”, talk for a while, pickup the sweater and pour the water into a sink or bucket. The table or floor where I poured the water on the sweater is still dry. Those sweaters are weatherproof. I have half a dozen sweaters that I can use for this demo - and most have been worn a great deal. They are very comfortable for sailing. The styles and yarns used vary significantly, but they are all weatherproof.
If you want to hand knit sweaters for a boat load, or ship full of seamen, you will have use gansey needles or you will either knit too loosely and all will be lost, or you will ruin your wrists before all the sweaters are knit, and those seamen without a warm sweater will die.
“Gansey” is not the style of the garment or the decorative stitches. “Gansy” is a technique of fabric production, that can be used for all types of fabrics that can be hand knit. Gansey knitting has different physics than knitting with hand-held needles. Some kinds of objects such as gloves that can be gansey knit are better swaved. And, under some conditions, some kinds of objects can be more conveniently knit with hand held needles. However, the last time I thought I had a good example of such an object, some careful swatching showed that gansey knitting was better.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

It is one of those Love/Hate relationships

I am coming to really like swaving.

  • It allows the production of very fine, very consistent, very tight fabrics. 
  • Minimal stress on the hands.
  • The knitting tools are very compact. 
  • The knitting implements are not sharp.  One can work very fine yarns into very fine fabrics with tools that are not very pointy. 
  • Swaving is very fast. 

Swaving has some real downsides.

  • "Lace stitches" are difficult.  
  • Decreases are so difficult that for cuff down socks I switch back to sock needles for the toes.
  • Repair of mistakes is difficult, NO!, I mean really difficult. Picking up stitches after frogging is difficult.  On the fabrics where I really need them, I have not been able to make life lines work.
  • Soft fabrics with loose gauge are difficult.  
  • It requires a good knitting sheath with a needle adapter that allows easy rotation of the needle/prick.  the needle adapter may have to be oiled or greased - that means gunk on the knit object.

I am sure that I will find other issues, as I have not tried a large object like a sweater yet.

On balance, the speed of production, ease on the hands, and beauty of the fabrics wins.  Yes, it is the right way to knit socks and gloves.

Swaving and knitting pouches

My progress on learning to swave has been good. Overall,  I am not yet as fast as with ordinary knitting, but stress on my hands is less, allow more knitting to be done in a knitting session. Individual stitches are faster, but the process is not smooth and continuous.   Decreases and repair of mistakes are much slower and suck up any time gained by making stitches faster.

The quality/consistency and tightness of the fabric is the is as good or better than I can achieve with long gansey needles.  Since socks are hard to do on long needles, this is the very best sock fabric that I have ever produced.

Can swaving be done with Shetland style leather knitting pouches?  The pouch can be used to hold the prick as it is rotated to produce single stitches. However, the pouch has too much friction to allow the spring of the fabric to drive a continuous process as with a knitting sheath.  And, the angles are wrong.  It is not ergonomic.

Knitting pouches are the tool of choice for knitting fine, soft fabrics including fine lace and soft Fair Isle.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Starting first swaved object

3-Ply fingering swaved socks started:
Those are 2 mm pricks, and they produce a firmer, denser fabric than 2 mm sock or gansey needles with the same yarn. It is a very nice boot sock, glove or mitten fabric. The fabric is very consistent and uniform (for somebody just learning a new knitting style.)

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

"disingenuous" - rebutted.

Some people knit because they like the process. I knit because I want particular objects. I want those knit objects as soon as possible. Thus, I look for techniques that allow me to knit particular fabrics.  And, I look for techniques that allow me to knit those fabrics as fast as possible.   Come on, am I the only knitter that wants to get stuff finished?  I do enjoy knitting, but I have a lot of stuff that I want to knit, and a limited amount of time to knit.

Swaving seems like an approach that allows me to produce fabrics that I like, at a very rapid rate. For that it is worth a lot of effort. On the other hand, swaving turns out to have a very long and very steep learning curve.  I admit that I am still at the bottom of that learning curve.  We could climb the curve faster if other people would make swaving tools, and tell us what tools work and what tools do not.  It would be nice if other people would work out the technique.

However, people seem prone to just carping that my swaving technique is not as good as it could be. I know that.  Why am I the only one posting on this topic?  Why do they not post better tools and techniques?

We have no extant tools known to be used for swaving rather then knitting, so I was making tools from the example of one glover's needle (because it was different) and some rather general descriptions. There were problems with the proportions of the first needles that I made. The result was they produced beautiful fabric, but the process was very high effort, and not ergonomic. Still, I think that working out the motions of swaving was very ingenuous.

Last summer, I worked out some the problems with the proportions of the pricks, and the process become much easier and more ergonomic. I started exploring what the process could do.  The video (a few posts back) is 6-ply yarn being knit on US1pricks to produce a very tight fabric that is even tighter than anything I could produce with gansey needles. In its own extreme knitting way, it is kinda neat. My wife took a video of some of that work, and it got posted.

As I do, what I call "swaving", the prick rotates in the knitting sheath. That is different. On the other hand, if you are not looking for it, it is very hard to see in video. (My wife also says it is hard to see in real life, and she has very sharp eyes.)  I can see it because I know the physics of the process and know what is going on.  I do see the needle rotating in the knitting sheath. I see the pressure applied with the side of my hand to the shaft of the prick that causes the prick to  rotate.  Since most knitter's needles do not rotate when slight pressure is applied to the shaft of the needle, most knitters do not recognize that a rotational force is being applied to the working prick. The needle is not wiggling back and forth, it is not flexing, the knitting sheath is not moving, rather the prick is rotating in the knitting sheath. As it rotates, the tip of the needle describes an arc.  An arc that takes the tip of the prick into, and out of, the stitch -- driven with one linear motion of the side of my hand.  Like it or not, that is different from other all other knitting techniques.  It is is proper swaving.

Now, I know the yarn can be carried with either the right or left hand. I consider both swaving because in both cases the prick rotates in the knitting sheath. Knitting when carrying the yarn in the left hand may be a bit faster.  And I have figured out how to purl - much easier when carrying the yarn in the right hand.

The surprise is knitting fine yarn with very fine (1.5 mm)  pricks into firm fabric.  I like this fabric for socks and gloves.  Today, swaving is the easiest way I know to get this done.  For now, it seems to me that socks, mitttens, and gloves from fine yarns are the tasks where swaving truly excels.  (Now, it is worth spinning finer yarns.)

Failure for knitters to recognize the rotation of the prick, makes me wonder if Rutt actually saw swaving and failed to recognize why it was different than knitting.  Really, unless one is looking for the rotation of the prick, it just looks like "knitting".