Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Everyone passes through Southern California during the Holiday Season. Give yourself a layover at LAX, pull a fast one on TSA, and run up to the Getty.

Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV

December 15, 2015–May 1, 2016 | The Getty Center

Fair and balanced

I have been babbling happy sounds over Shetland knitting belts. And, yes, if you are knitting delicate fabrics with light weight and/or wooden needles, then Shetland knitting belts have great virtues.

On the other hand, by simply making a longer needle adapter, knitting sheaths will work very well for pointy needles, and allow additional knitting techniques. The longer needle adapters will also work very well with blunt needles.

My rule of thumb is that if the fabric is firm enough to  support my steel needles, I use the steel needles and a knitting sheath, If the fabric requires lighter needles, then I use my Shetland knitting belt.

The steel needles for fine socks are so light, and the fabric so firm, that it really does not matter if one uses a knitting sheath or a knitting belt.

Knitting sheaths with short needle adapters for blunt needles, long needle adapters for pointy needles, and the knitting belt with the lighter, but more fragile tubular needles that sometimes collapse under the greater stress that can very easily be applied with a knitting sheath.

Fair and balanced says that different fabrics are made with different tool kits.

As for circular needles, I used them for years and years. Any fabric that anyone can knit with any combination of circular needles can be knit faster, and with less stress using "DPN" and either a knitting belt or a knitting sheath.  The class of objects that are more difficult to  knit with a knitting sheath or knitting belt are mobius objects that may require as many as 9 straight needles.  On the other hand, knitting belts/knitting sheath allow knitting a wide variety of fabrics that cannot be practically knit with circular needles.  The poster child for that truth is the lovely, soft fabric known as Eastern Crossed Stitch Knitting.

If you disagree, then post a link to a pair of socks in ECS that you have knit in a time period of less than a month using some combination of circular needles. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Shetland Knitting Belts

My first major knitting project was his and hers Icelandic socks as gifts for my parents on their 50th wedding anniversary. Thus, as a knitter, I have always been something of a sock guy.

I make a point of knitting different features into my hiking socks and my ski socks and my gardening socks. I played with different sock constructions, and the one thing that I always liked but could not reasonably produce was socks in Eastern Crossed Stitch. I could do little samples and swatches to test, but I could knot produce the fabric at a practical speed.

Knit Eastern Crossed Stitch was a highly regarded fabric for socks from our earliest knit sock fragments until hand knit socks went out of production -- call it some 1,500 years.  Anything that people like for 15 centuries, must be good. I wanted it, but I could not figure out to make it at a reasonable pace.  It had be possible, or it would not have been so widely available.  It can be knit with hand held needles, but that is slow, and nice sock fabric is hard on the wrists. It is faster and easier on the hands with DPN and a knitting sheath, but that was never quite right. Swaving the fabric is not quire right either.  The right tool kit seems to be a knitting belt and  DPN.

A sock for my gardening sandals knit from MacAusland 2-ply and
knit in Eastern Cross Stitch. The fabric is discolored
because of the polishing compound used as the
needle design evolves. It will wash out,
and they will get worn in the mud anyway.

You cannot tell form the picture, but it really is a soft, thick fabric with great cushion.  It is NOT as weatherproof as uncrossed knitting, but it is thicker, and has more cushion, and it feels softer. I think the fact that it is not as weatherproof as plain knitting is one of the reasons that I never put the energy into working out a production technique.

I am a bit chagrined to realize that for the first time, I am actually making (pointy) needles for my Shetland knitting belt - previously, I just used what ever needles were available. Now, I am starting to understand the wonderful nuances of  the  Shetland tool kit. Like all good tool kits, it is not as simple as it looks.

There are hints that before knitters on the Shetland Islands made lace for England, they (illicitly) knit socks for the Dutch. Not Dutch farmers, but fine socks for Dutch traders to sell to the rich and powerful of Europe.  It may not be true, but it would help explain their traditions of professional knitting craftsmanship when the market for lace in England opened up.  I think, the Shetland knitters were already familiar with high-end knitting for the rich and powerful, when they moved into the lace market.  Moving from fine socks to fine lace could be done without changing the tool kit.   I read about the Shetland- Dutch sock trade years ago, but had never thought through the implications - e.g., that a knitting belt and making pins are the right tools for very fine socks.  That is, socks that is the socks were knit in Eastern Crossed Stitch. I suggest right here and now that knitting the best socks and the best lace take the same level of knitting skill. (I am not talking about socks for farmers and gardeners!)

To misquote a Diva that we all know:  Respect the Shetland Knitting belt.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Getting under the skin of a medieval mystery
See in particular the last paragraph.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Eastern Cross Stitch Revisited

I like ECS.  The fabric is thicker, with much more cushion and ventilation than plain knitting.  It has a much softer feel than plain knitting knit at the same gauge.  This makes it ideal for socks.  On the other hand, it can never be as weatherproof as plain knitting so it is not as suited for outer wear, where wind is a factor.

ECS wants to be knit with small motions.  Large motions tend to tighten up the fabric and make the next row difficult to knit.  Thus, ECS is easier to knit with a working needle that is stabilized, and more difficult to knit with say circular needles, where both needles are hand held.

I first tried ECS on circular needles and it too much effort to be practical.  Yes, it could be done,  but it was an effort.  Then, I went to  DPN with a knitting sheath.  That was much better. As I discovered that blunt needles work better with knitting sheaths than DPN,  I used knitting sheaths with blunt needles to knit ECS faster. To be frank, knitting ECS with blunt needles is fast, but tricky.

Now, I know that leather (Shetland style) knitting belts are the  support of choice for DPN, and DPN with a knitting belt is the tool kit of choice for knitting Eastern Cross Stitch.  And it is a stitch that allows knitting very tight fabrics, very durable without the extra leverage that a knitting sheath provides.  And, when knit very tight, ECS is much less stiff then plain knitting knit similarly. Plain knitting is the path to a tight firm fabric. ECS is the path to a tight, soft fabric.

ECS is a very nice fabric for socks and undergarments.  I think it is likely the basis of the traditional "Jersey".  It has taken years for me to come to a technology that made knitting such fabrics a reasonable effort.

Why did I not get here earlier? Conventional wisdom did not tell me that a knitting belt could produce such fabrics.  Today, I see knitting belts with pointy needles as the tool of choice for lace and crossed stitch fabrics.

The  other side of this is that a knitting sheath with blunt needles remains easiest and fastest way that I know do plain knitting, garter stitch or Fair Isle.   

Monday, November 16, 2015

How long do knitting sheaths last?

A while back, I made my "coffin" series of knitting sheaths:

They were fast and easy to make, and I made them in various sizes from various woods. They are very compact, and I like them for both gansey needles and sock needles. I often used them for knitting when I was out and about.

The one on the right above, is from a relatively soft wood (cherry) and is sized for US1 needles. I was sitting out somewhere knitting the other day, and decided that it had worn out, and the needle no longer sat snugly in its hole. (Not necessary for studio knitting, but handy for KIP.)

Certainly, I have other  knitting sheaths that I made for the purpose of KIP:
But somehow, this series does not provide quite as much support to take advantage of needle flex and spring as the coffin series.

Thus, the other day, despite having dozens of knitting sheaths in the house, I found myself making a new knitting sheath.

It works with all my belts, and takes adapters to fit all my needles, it provides enough support for knitting with US1 steel needles of any length, and it does not fall out even when I have run to catch the train.

Counting up, I think the cherry knitting sheath lasted for about 7 or 8 hundred hours of knitting. That is, if a busy knitter made their knitting sheath from a soft wood like cherry, or other other fruit, or nut woods, it would last perhaps 6 months, while a knitting sheath made from yew or maple or tropical hard wood would last a year or more.

From this we know that most of hand carved, wooden knitting sheaths in collections were keepsakes rather than the work-a-day knitting sheath of a busy knitter.

Metal or ceramic knitting sheaths seem to last forever. The knitting sheaths where I lined the needle adapter with brass tubing also seem to last very well.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Big Fat and Not

I have described myself in this blog as "a fat old man with palsy".

With drugs for the Lyme Disease, the palsy has much reduced, and my hands are much more steady.

And, since being on drugs for the Lyme Disease, I have lost a little over 50 pounds.  Twenty of  that was likely inflammation and just fell off easily, but more than 30 pounds of that was the result of a serious effort to lose weight.  It was a priority, that I planned, and  I executed.  Today, 50 pounds lighter, I feel 20 years younger.  I like it.

However, while the Lyme Disease is stable, it is not gone, and I have another 30 pounds to lose. Losing that extra weight will make it much easier to get rid of the Lyme Disease in a shorter period of time. From here, I am very sure it is worth the effort.

The best system/diet that I know of for losing a lot of weight rapidly is that devised by Dr. Joel Fuhrman.  ( ) 

Other systems work, but Fuhrman's program gets more results with much less effort.  And, the weight loss is more likely to be permanent.  

I see a lot of fat spinners. They will die "young", and the un-deserving will acquire their stash! And, if you are fat,  you will be less fit, and less fit spinners spin more slowly, meaning that more of your stash will land in the hands of  the un-deserving.  If you intend to spin all of your stash, then get fit! If you have stash beyond normal life expectancy, then you need to be exceptionally fit so you can live longer than normal.  

Most fat folk will say that Dr. Fuhrman's program required too many sacrifices.  It is not really that bad. My wife really likes her meat and fat, and for years and years, she had bee trying all kinds of diets to lose weight.  With minimal effort, hunger, and discomfort, she has lost 20 pounds since July on the Fuhrman program, and now has a closet full of clothes that must be altered to fit.  That is this afternoon's program - go in for fittings to get things taken in.  On the other hand, the Aran sweater that she bought in Scotland 30 years ago fits better than it has since we got back from that trek across Nepal in 1991.  In those days, she was very fit.  

Folks like Dr. Weil will deny the health advantages that Fuhrman claims for very low BMIs. Fuhrman provides all the citations, and I encourage you to read them with care, and with a copy of a good text on statistics, sampling, and study design at your side.  Many of the studies accepted by Dr. Weil are biased by the loss of weight common in fatal diseases near end of life. People who (get and) stay fit live much longer. Fat people do not live as long as fit people.

Some folks will say that Fuhrman is too much effort to prepare.  I say that as you become accustomed to the program, and plan for it, it is no more effort to prepare than the Standard American Diet (SAD).    When traveling, you can get food compliant with the Fuhrman program at places like Tender Greens and The Cheese  Cake Factory. The "free continental breakfast" offered at many motels takes some picking and choosing.

While I had uncontrolled Lyme Disease, my lipid panel numbers were  as high as one would expect for someone a hundred pounds over weight.  Within 90 days of starting the Fuhrman program, my lipid numbers were at the low end of normal without any medication.  Likewise, my blood pressure has come back down to normal without medication.  Given all the side-effects of prescription medicine, this is a real advantage.

The real advantage is that I like the freedom that being thinner gives.  It lets me move more easily.  That alone is worth the effort.

There are a few errors and in inaccuracies in Fuhrman's books, but the program as described, is scientifically correct and it works for losing significant amounts of body weight.  It has fewer side effects than the surgery often used for  obesity. Unlike the surgery, it is easily reversible.  If you decided that you want to be fat again, you can always go back to SAD.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Running socks

The most important aspect of any knitting project is choosing the fabric.  I have chosen the fabric for my running socks:

 The yarn is worsted spun, 6-strand, fairly tightly cabled as 3x2-ply. Gauge is ~10 spi.

I knit the sock foot, bringing the ankle up about 4 cm of 2x2 ribbing above the top of the shoe.  Then I knit 12" high leggings that overlap the the ribbing on the sock foot.  I knit to fit, and the fabric has enough body to stay up while running and protect my lower legs, but it can also be rolled down for extra coolness.

This yarn is ~ 1,700 ypp, knit on 1.85 mm needles. I thought about finer yarns and finer needles,   but they are just running socks!!, and not worth the extra effort of finer yarns knit on finer needles, and the thickness is about right for my current running shoes.  Over all, I like the fabric a lot, and it is fast and easy to knit.

Tools used (short needles because we
were traveling)

ETA, those were the needles packed for travel, but on return, I seem to have moved on to 1.5 mm needles, which tightens up the fabric a bit.
(Oh, yes, there is a nice 17th century painting in the Huntington Library showing a girl knitting socks with blunt needles.)

I think it looks pretty good for hand made yarn.  However, as always, I look forward to folks posting images of better hand made yarns that they have made into nicer fabrics.