Saturday, July 28, 2012

Why Cables?

Like a Socratic question or a question used to teach Shaolin monks, this question has many layers.

First, why gansey knit? (i.e., knit with a knitting sheath and long steel needles)  The gansey knitting technology allows knitting tighter than can be achieved without the leverage provided by the knitting sheath.  The tighter, gansey knit fabric is more weatherproof than can be achieved with hand held needles.  The fabric  is remarkably thin for its warmth, which is a real advantage in the cramped quarters onboard a working fishing ship, and it is remarkably warm which in an a real advantage in the cold and windy conditions under which commercial fishing is often conducted.  That is reasonable, but why cables?

Cables provide some additional ventilation between the sweater and the oil skin (water proof layer) to reduce wetness under oil skins as a result of moisture from the sailor's skin condensing on the cold inside of the oil skin.  This is a good reason.  It may abe reason enough.  Cables provide some additional comfort when sleeping in a canvas hammock.  This is a good reason.  Cables provide an artistic outlet for the knitter.  This is a good reason.  Cable patterns help identify the sweater (and I assert, at one time the cable pattern indicated the wearer's job and fleet.)  That is a good reason.  However, none of these are really compelling  reasons.

To really understand cable patterns, you have to go back to the reason for for ganseys; warmth with light weight. The early (13th centrury) fishermen on the North Atlantic lashed barrels to the rails of their small (70 foot) ships.  Then, the fishermen stood in the barrels with straw to help keep them warm , and jigged for cod.    (later they jigged for mackerel, and trawled for herring).  In those days, a single cod could weigh more than 100 pounds.  Bringing up a cod was like hauling a iron manhole cover up through 300 feet of water, and they would do it every 10 minutes. Except this is the North Atlantic, so there are large waves and everything is rocking.  What did they do?  They braced themselves against the edge of the barrel.

Put on a sweater and climb into a barrel, grab hold of a manhole cover and have 2 of your brothers rock the barrel violently as you repeatedly lift the manhole cover for a week. At the end of a week you have a big hole in your sweater where it rubbed against the edge of the barrel.

(Later generations of fishermen worked from dories and braced themselves against the gunnels of the dory.)

After they caught the fish, they cut fish.  With the ship still rocking, you take a fish in one hand and a sharp knife in the other and you brace your self against the cutting table - except by now your gansey has a hole in it, and there is only a thin apron between your belly and the cold slime and wet from the cutting table.   You get back to St Peter Port  and you  go to your knitter, and tell them that you want a sweater that will last more than a week.  So they  knit you one - with cables on the belly where it rubs against the barrel, and the design was so good, that in some way copied by 50 generations of knitters. Thus, fisherman's sweaters have cables or fisherman's welt on their fronts.

The third job of the fisherman was to get where the fish were, and  stay where the fish were.  That meant sailing up wind  in all weather.  The weather blew the ship off the fish, so the fisherman must constantly sail up wind. Sailing up wind is an uncomfortable business.  Moreover, the harder the wind blows, the more uncomfortable it is, but also, for a commercial fisherman who must catch his catch as fast as possible, the more important it is to work to windward, to stay over the fishing grounds.

During a storm on the Grand Banks, the expected wave period is only 20 seconds.  On a ship, anything that is not lashed down is going to get thrown about.  Lead sinkers jump 2 feet in the air, twice a minute.  Sailors get thrown about. The ships were oak and the sailors, mortal flesh. Today under those conditions, we would be wearing layers of  polyester fleece (and life jackets/ float coats/immersion suits) and that would provide some protection.  However, gansey fabric was thinner and provided less padding.  Hence, cables all over the sweater provided some padding in an otherwise thin garment.  Again, likely a concept developed by knitters on the Channel Islands, and copied by others knitting for sailors for 50 generations.

We can look at the differences between the sweaters worn by sailors and fishermen and those worn by life boat men to take another bearing on the concept.  The ganseys worn by life boat men do not seem to have had cables.  Life boat men did wear oil skins, so we can drop the ventilation concept. What they did not do is brace themselves against the railing or gunnels to haul fish to the surface.  The lifeboat's prize was already at the surface.  They rowed out, picked it up, and rowed back.  Nor did the lifeboat men take the beating of sailing to weather for days or weeks on end.  It is not that rowing a lifeboat is easy, just there is less to bang against.  So while lifeboatmen's gamseys without cables do not prove my theory of cables as padding, they  does not disprove my theory either.

Having worn ganseys with and without cables, while sailing in serious weather, I find the concept of cables as padding the most compelling reason for cables.   Anybody that disagrees should have tried sailing in ganseys with and without cable patterns on them in serious weather.  To have any credibility, on this topic you need to have been out fishing when the waves were bigger than the boat.  You need to understand that the key to getting work done while wearing a Type 1 PFD is motivation.  To have any credibility, on this topic you need to have been knitting while lead sinkers were thumping on their racks.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Snow is coming!

Every cell phone needs a gansey!

Also fits my little camera.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Skeiner

I should have done this sooner.  Way sooner.

The royal profile of 
Casimir the Great

The back side of 
Casimir the Great.

 It is a skeining wheel bolted to the back of the the squirrel cage swift.  It took a most of  a day to make and the next morning to test and fix, but now it works.  This wheel is for 1 meter skeins Now that I know how to do it, I can make other wheels for larger skeins rather quickly.

The really neat thing is skeining off of the little Shaker Rockets.  Set them on the floor and the Skeiner on a table.  I use the spring loaded tensioning device from my large cake winder to put a little tension into the yarn. That is the ticket!

Knitters have their lists of essential tools.  Spinners have their lists of essential tools.  Vertical swifts never seem to make either list.  However, vertical swifts and skeiners form an interface between spinning and knitting.  So, while vertical swifts and skeiners are not essential to either spinners or knitters, they are highly desirable for folks that do both.

At this point, I have something like 24 hours of effort and $20 of materials and supplies into Casimir the Great.  Amos could have made me a better one, but if I ordered it last week I would not have had it in hand this morning for winding skeins, and it would have cost me more. Mostly, this fits what I want to do, at least this month.  And, I will never be afraid to take it apart and make it better.  This is one time where courage comes cheap.

Any tool that can be made, can be made better.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Shaker Rockets

There is the age old problem of winding off.

The Shakers had a neat kind of bobbin.  See for example "silk reel" at .  Amos makes nice ones.

However, the hobby shop sells little circles of plywood and our fencing contractor gave me some scrap, so --

This comes pretty close to "fun with plywood and Elmer's glue.  Use a waterproof glue and you can wash the yarn on the reel.  And, steam block it.  Then, when it is dry you set the reel on its end and it is easy to wind off as end delivery. 

Um, paste wax the edges of the reel before use:  

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Glory of Skeins

As a knitter, I put up with skeins as one puts up with cold rain on a camping trip.  They were something that had to be endured while one stayed cheerful and pleasant to one's companions.  I bought an economical swift:

and a large ball winder.  When I bought skeins of yarn, I went ahead and wound it into cakes to be ready for knitting.  I did try knitting off of my swift, but it was not practical.  It has been a very good work horse, and I do not regret buying it.  I might very well recommend the system to a casual knitter.  It has worked very well.

This carried over to my spinning.  I tended to avoid skeins. I kept singles on bobbins.  I would spin, ply, block with steam, and wind my yarn into a cake for knitting without ever scouring it - because skeins were a pain.  I looked for a way to scour an block yarn while it was on a bobbin because I did not like skeins.  I did not get/make a reel for making skeins because I thought skeins were a pain.

However, the squirrel cage swift as it evolves is different.
This one has evolved to the point where it really works, and it just needs a little sanding and finish.  Let me just say that fancy and expensive does not make a good squirrel cage swift, and there are good reasons that Alden Amos gets $600 for his swifts.  He has refined his designs until they are exceptionally functional.

Any good squirrel cage makes handling skeins easy.  I can put a skein on the swift and knit directly from the skein. It is sort of like a yarn butler standing there behind my knitting chair feeding me yarn. All of a sudden, I understand skeins!

The next squirrel cage swift that I make (yes, I need another) will be a real yarn butler for my knitting. It will have a articulated arm to hold patterns as my pattern holder does:

And it will have a little thingy to hold extra knitting tools and it will have a nice light on it that points right at my knitting.  It might even have a place to set my tea cup.

However, first I need to make a skeining reel because if one has the right swift, skeins are very handy.  I think it is too bad the great virtues of squirrel cage swifts and skeins are not taught as part of modern knitting.  These days people have to get into spinning and weaving before they learn how very useful a squirrel cage swift can be.

Skeins of very fine, energetic singles are still a pain. : (

Thursday, July 05, 2012

80s from 80s

This summer's project is to spin a pound of combed fiber into 80 hanks of 560 yards each. In total, it means spinning about 26 miles of rather fine singles.

I use a competition flier from Alden Amos with a bobbin designed to insert ~24 tpi, thus there is no need for yarn lock to accumulate twist, and there is no slippage.  If I am not feeding drafted fiber into the maw of my beast, I break off.  On the other hand, since there is no slippage, it is fast. The uniform high twist also gives the yarn a nice "tooth".

However, as the effective diameter of the bobbin increases, the rate of takeup increases and the tpi goes down.  Thus, I have to wind off frequently. And wind off eats a spinner's time.

My approach is to wind off onto a niddy-noddy made of pvc.
I am doing this because the singles are fine, and a bit fragile for normal yarn reels. And I do not mind putting these niddys into the wash tubs.  these singles are so energetic that they must be blocked before they will make a usable skein.

With the yarn on the niddy-noddy, it can be washed and rinsed to remove the spinning oil, blocked with steam, and dried in the sun.

Once it is dry, the yarn can be taken off made up into a tiny skein.

Since it has been well blocked, that little skein can be stored away.  In the future, It can be mounted onto a squirrel cage swift and quickly wound onto it's plying bobbins.

This is how I avoid turning the task of washing spinning oil out of spun singles into a full time job. 

Edited on 8/2 to add that I prefer the Shaker Rockets (silk reels) for washing the singles.  They are much faster and easier to work with despite the fact that if wind off is not done properly, loops of single can slide off the end of reel resulting in a tangled mess. This niddy-noddy wash technology is much safer, if slower.

This project was originally planned as practice to learn to spin finer.  The fibers above are actually more than 24 micron, thus there was some effort to spin them into 45,000 ypp thread.  With the appropriate wash technologies, finer fiber, better fiber prep, and the right bobbin, it turns out to be easy. 

The Bobbin for the 80s from 80 count project inserts 24 tpi.

It turns out to just be a matter of  going out in the morning and carefully combing 24 grams of  fine wool, loading it onto 4 distaffs, and spending 10 hours spinning 4 hanks.  It is more work, and less technical challenge than I expected.  I only took this project on to practice for another project, a project with a real deadline.  I need to get the other project done, I will do this 80 from 80 in November.

The flyer/bobbin setup for the next project inserts 36 tpi, and the sample on the bobbin does have 36 tpi and is not particularly over twisted. (Lets see, um that would yield a yarn over 360 wpi or a grist more than 130,000 ypp (200 m/g) with a deadline?   :  )  

A Fast Squirrel Cage Swift

Fine (lace) yarns in a skein want a squirrel cage swift because there is less rotational momentum, and the yarns are less likely to be stressed to the breaking point.

Yesterday, I knocked up this swift using Ashford Lace bobbins instead of making squirrel cages and it seems to work.  Since the bobbins are easily removable, they do not have to be dedicated to the swift - they can do double duty. 

The bobbin axles are grade 2, 1/4" hex bolts.  The axle for the movable bobbin goes through 2  wooden "T" s that together to  form a slider that holds the axle.  A second hole drilled though the slider contains a threaded insert in the front T, and  a bolt epoxied into a bit of dowel for a handle allows tightening the Ts together to hold the slider in position.

This swift takes skeins up 2 ft in diameter.  It was made from scrape wood and took a couple of hours.  Cost for bolts and inserts was less than $5.  This one is handy and compact, but I am going to need a bigger one real soon now.

The next day:

It is not a bad swift, but it is not a real squirrel cage swift. Real squirrel cages give more leverage and allow the yarn to be pulled around easier.  As in:

A hank (560 yard) of squirrelly 2-ply lace weight.  The skein was poorly prepared and is a mess.    The squirrel cages fit on the same 1/4 inch bolts as the Ashford bobbins.  As fa as aesthetics go, they are on the practical side.

A few minutes later there is a 2 oz cake of lace yarn.

It took all morning to make my first  3 squirrel cages.  They cost me about  $8 in wood, dowels & supplies. As I said, I need a bigger squirrel cage swift, real soon now.

Edited to add that a week later, I can see a multitude of  ways that I could make that swift better.  And, over time I will make it better.  And I need a second swift and it will be simpler to make.  However, I do not regret  making this swift in its crude way because I have had the use of it, and it is that use that allows me to refine the concept.  Buy spinning tools from folks that spin, not guys that make tools for people that spin.  One does not understand a tool unless one uses it at a very high level of proficiency.  Only by understanding a can one design a better tool.  This is why Alden Amos's tools are better than the tools made by wood workers who are not expert spinners.