Saturday, May 23, 2015

Overconfidence effect



It is very real.

It is also a double edged sword.

If one tests what one is doing every step of the way, one avoids over confidence.  Most "experts" do not test in a step wise fashion. And in fact, I would say that the mark of a true expert is that they have, in fact,  tested everything. It has been said before- "Trust but verify!" and "Always do the calculations from first principles, yourself!"

Most spinners, take treadle cadence times ratio to estimate spinning speed.  At low speed that works, but who cares about low speed?  I use a digital tachometer. I use it enough that I know all of its foibles, and it does have a few.

I make deductions from history.  If they improve my knitting and spinning, then I consider them likely correct. They work, and that is good enough for me.  It is not like somebody might die or be injured if my deductions from history are wrong.  I do not know many other folk that actually test their deductions from history.   They spout dogmas from books, but they do not test them. They just want everybody to accept them without testing.

In particular, the naalbinding of Coptic socks was not a test.  Any knit object can be produced by naalbinding. The test would have been to make socks via naalbinding and via knitting (with a knitting sheath) and test to see which was more like the original.  

Rhine Gold

When I was young, I loved Wagner, but was always unhappy that he mixed up German mythology.

Looking at the recent PBS special on the architecture of Ludwig II, I realized that Wagner was writing in German, but not about "Germans".

In the beginning, the gold of the Rhine, guarded by the Rhine Maidens was the flax/linen grown on the flood plain below the Rhine. Dwarfs, gods, giants, and men could steal, build cities, become monsters, and die, but in end, the greatest wealth in Europe would come from the flax/linen grown on the flood plain below the Rhine. Skill developed in spinning that linen, brought more wealth when applied to wool.  The Rhine Gold made Flanders the richest and most industrialized people of Europe, regardless of who ruled them. 

Centuries later Harrlem was still a rich city based on its skill for bleaching linen.

acrylic failure

A sock knit from worsted weight acrylic yarn that is knit too tight to be useful.
Knit from wool (which has more stretch), it would be a good sock.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Success and Failure

The contemporaneous accounts of  fisherman's garments tend to describe them as "rough' or "coarse". Warm, durable, and inexpensive, but not "pretty".

Thus, if I spin yarns for traditional fisherman's sweaters, and they are warm, durable, and inexpensively, and I can get them spun on the required schedule, then I have succeed.

Those who want me to make "pretty" yarns, want me to take a giant step in the wrong direction.

If they spin yarns that are not warm, durable, and inexpensively, then they are not spinning yarns for fishermen.  Fisherman do not need pretty yarn.  Fishermen need warm, durable, and inexpensive.

Professionals must meet the needs of their clients.  Client's needs include function, durability, price, schedule, and only sometimes appearance.

I do not not respect those who cherish superficial appearance over functionality.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The screamers

I said flat ended needles work, and work faster, and are easier to make.

A bunch of folk screamed!

Did any of them get out their knitting sheaths and knit a few objects with gansey yarn and flat ended needles before they screamed?  Are the screamers folks that have made and used many knitting sheaths?  Are the screamers folks that have made many of their own needles?  Are the screamers folks that can knit a very serviceable seaman's kit (hat, socks, sweater, mittens) in 6 weeks?

Anybody that has made steel needles by hand, knows that the description of making a needle in Rural England is problematic. It takes a while to grind a nice taper point on a whet stone. Grind stones are faster, but he was using a stone in the walk.  On the other side, that description works very well if he was grinding a flat end on a needle.

And, flat ended wooden needles work so much better with a knitting sheath that flat ended needles might very well revise my views toward wooden needles   I have not tried it yet, but I suspect that flat ended needles would resolve some of my objections toward bone knitting needles.

In any case, flat ended needles are faster and easier to make with hand tools than tapered tip needles. What is required is a knitting sheath and a different technique. And that different knitting technique requires less flex of the needles making it more practical for bronze and brass needles.   

Visualize:  you have the flat end of the needle against the shaft of the needle, and slide the edge of the end of the needle into the working stitch. It works and it is fast.

Thus, if you know about knitting sheaths; and, if you need to knit fast;  you use flat ended needles. They knew about knitting sheaths and  they had a need to knit fast. The only people that would object are folks that do not understand knitting sheath techniques.

The other thing it means is that any dowel or rod in the archaeological record may have been a knitting needle (depending on wear marks) and not only those with neat tapered tips.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The truth

The truth is that once I have posed a pix to show that I am spinning a particular weight, I do not need to prove it over and over by posting pix of every hank of that weight that I spin.

A current bin of my miscellaneous spinning;

Some of it is poor spinning, but there are miles of 5,600 ypp and 11,200 ypp singles in that bin.  The bin is a little empty just now because I recently used a couple miles of singles from it to make 5-ply yarn for a couple of sweaters.  5-ply is in another bin.

If someone wants to be critical, they should also post pixs of how many miles of fine singles they have spun recently.

Nothing I do will be believed by most modern spinners, but nothing I do, or say, is likely to raise the eyebrows of a good hand spinner.  

Most modern spinners arparochial. And, Ravelry has become as parochial as any village church. There is the gospel handed down from on high, comments about her ladyship's roses, and local gossip that would make Jane Austin blush.  None of this teaches me to spin better.

when I made that 5-ply, moved some of the singles down to the garage.

Good thing I looked because there was some more 5-ply down there also.

No I do not take pix of everything I spin.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


One thing that many of my critics miss about me is that I do keep going back and rethinking the obvious.  If I get it wrong the first time, I may get it correct when I return to the topic.

Now, I am back to the nature of warm fabrics.

Let use divide the kingdom of knitting yarns into 1) singles; 2) 2-ply and 3-ply, and 3) 5-ply and  greater.  Note that 4-ply got lost somewhere.

Both Rutt and Alden Amos dismiss 5-ply and greater yarns as over hyped and not worth the effort. Here, I suggest that 5-ply and greater yarns produce a knit fabric with an inherently different structure, that the knitter can sometimes use to their advantage.

Two-ply and 3-ply yarns tend to bed together as they are knit to form a relatively flat fabric.  Any gaps or needle holes allow air (and water) to pass freely through the fabric, carrying heat with them.  If you want a warmer fabric, the yarns have to be packed very closely together, and likely fulled.

Five-ply and greater yarns tend not to bed as freely, and thus each stitch gets "bent" by the stitch above it. This bending adds some twist to one leg of the stitch and removes some twist from the other leg of the stitch, resulting in that characteristic bumps-between-lines pattern that one sees in fabrics knit from hi-ply yarns. Thick singles can act as a hi-ply yarn to give the same appearance, but "out of bias", I do not talk about singles.

Thus, a very warm fabric knit from low-ply yarns will be tighter and firmer than a fabric of the same warmth knit from a hi-ply yarn that tends not to bed.  And, a hi-ply yarn of higher grist can produce a thicker fabric than low-ply yarn of lower grist.  Thus, knit at the same gauge, 5-ply 1,000 ypp yarn (gansey yarn) will produce a warmer fabric than 2-ply 880 ypp yarn (woolen spun, worsted weight yarn).  And we have the reason why I had to knit the 2 and 3-ply MacAusland so tight to make warm fabrics.  If I had been using higher ply yarns, I would not have had to knit so tight.

And knitting is more effort than spinning.  Thus, a bit of extra spinning effort will save a lot of knitting effort.

Now, this is certainly not the whole story, as low ply twist 5-ply yarns can be knit into flat fabrics with great fill, density, and warmth.  Four-ply can be worked double to do the same thing.

The bottom line is that yarns with more plies in them is the easier path toward warmer fabrics.  Conversely, 2-ply yarns are the easier path toward cool fabrics. (I mean really!  You do not want to be seen in church sweating in your new sweater as the minister gets to the Fire, Brimstone, and Wrath of God part of his sermon.)

You want really warm fabrics? Get some of that Alaskan Fisherman 12-ply. ( , and scroll down)  Not going to be crabbing on the Bearing Sea, then try Frangipani 5-ply ( )
Christmas is coming.  Get knitting.  Knit for yourself, have a test fitting about the time snow flies, and wear it all winter.

What about sock yarn?  Do you want a flat fabric to fit in your shoe?  Or does one want a 3-dimensional fabric that can provide a lot of cushioning because it is constructed of many, very fine plies? As I look through my socks, all my favorite socks are many, very fine plies, knit on very fine needles.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Back to needles with flat ends

A few pairs of socks later, I have worked out how to do decreases with a (knitting sheath) and needles with flat ends.

Flat ends are not for hand held knitting. but they can make knitting with a knitting sheath much faster and produce a higher quality fabric.

The difference is particularly noticeable using needles in the 9" to 12" range. While the shorter (than long gansey needles) were always very convenient (to carry), the actual knitting (with a knitting sheath) was a bit awkward, and  I resorted to texturing the taper of the needle tips to keep the yarn from falling off.  Flat  needle ends greatly changes my perspective on the Scotch and Dutch use of short needles with knitting sheaths.  Flat needle tips turn these  methods in to much more powerful techniques. I should have known they would have a better technology.

With flat needle ends  the tendency for the wrap of yarn to fall off the needle tip disappears and the arc of the needle squarely pulls the wrap though the working stitch.  I do not know why I did not see this before.  ( I must have thought that modern long needles called "gansey needles" must be like the old gansey needles.)

Careful review of old photos professional knitters convinces me that they did in fact use very blunt or flat ended needles with their knitting sheaths.

On the other hand, the technique of knitting with a knitting sheath and flat ended needles is more different from knitting with  pointed hand held needles than knitting with a knitting sheath and pointed needles  is different from knitting with knitting with pointed hand held needles.  I am not at all sure that if I had put flat ended needles into my first knitting sheath, I would ever have been able to make knitting sheaths work at all.  If I had started with blunt ended needles, I would likely have given up before I understood the glory of  knitting sheaths,

And certainly, the objects that I knit with knitting sheaths and pointed needles were knit much better and much faster than I would ever have been able to knit them with only hand held needles.  I do not regret the use of pointed needles to learn the concepts of knitting sheaths.  Pointed needles were my training wheels.

I knit about 20 hours per week, (most of a very good boot sock yesterday) and it has been weeks since I knit  with  pointed needles.  Knitting sheaths are better then hand held needles, and flat ended needles work better with knitting sheaths. I still keep a pair of fine pointed needles handy for picking up stitches ( or crossing cables) and a crochet hook handy for fixing mistakes. Otherwise, I am done with pointed knitting needles.  I might pick them up again for lace (there are still lace WIP), but for knitting gansey style fabric (sweaters, boot socks, hats, and  etc), I am done with pointed needles.  

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Flat stitches

A recent swatch:
5x2 strand cabled sport weight

Note that half the stitch column forms a vertical line of bumps like rope, and the other half of the stitch twists to form a narrow vertical line of twisted fiber.  That is a warm fabric. Most of my knitting has that pattern in the areas of plain knit, particularly, items knit in the round.

Much of the knitting in Gladys Thompson, Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys & Arans has that pattern.  For example, it is used to great advantage in the Filey Pattern IV, and the Whitby Pattern V.  It even shows up in the very finely knit Norfolk I.  Thus, we have this pattern in Thompson's knitting and fine older pieces.

It requires a firm yarn and tight knitting with needles that are small by today's standards.

You may not like it, but it makes for a warm and durable fabric.  The commercially knit socks that I am wearing right now show it.

Most of my knitting is actually right on the boundary of  laying flat and having the  narrow vertical lines of twisted fiber:

A commercial 3x2 6-strand 850 ypp wool yarn, as a well worn boot sock.

Winghams 5-ply gansey yarn as a well worn gansey. 

Winghams was one of the oldest producers of the traditional style gansey yarns, but a while back they stopped making that yarn.  

In that range, the fabric is very warm, but still has some drape and hand.

Other modern fabrics knit to this gauge:

oops, I seem to be reapeating myself.