Monday, March 28, 2016


I mentioned the other day that it was hard to use my 18" "gansey" needles in the overstuffed chairs in front of the  TV.  Thus, when watching TV I used shorter needles.  I fixed that.  I made yet another knitting sheath that works well in those overstuffed chairs.

My knitting sheaths in current use. On the right a Durham, which is excellent for sock needles or swaving, in the center is a sheath that works well for 10" to 12" needles, and on the left the new sheath that facilitates the use of longer needles in an over stuffed chair.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Wool as a Miracle Fiber

It is a process of elimination:


And Patagonia is about the best!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations

Now published as: Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 °C global warming could be dangerous
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 16, 3761-3812, 2016

Leading Climate Scientists: ‘We Have A Global Emergency,’ Must Slash CO2 ASAP

In looking over the published version, I  noticed the use of an older climate model that reduces computational loads by using a simplified method of calculating CH4/CO2 equivalents.

In the atmosphere, CH4 is 84 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas on a current basis, but CH4 oxidizes to CO2 with a CH4 half-life of ~12 years.  Thus, over a 100 year period,  CH4 is only 25 times as powerful a greenhouse gas as CO2.  The model simply converts all the CH4 into the 100 year CO2 equivalent by multiplying by a factor of 25.

Looking at atmospheric monitoring data last for 25 years, I note that the concentration of CH4 increases, rather than declining as the model assumes.  Calculating annual forcing using the monitoring data, results in forcing ranging from 3 w/m^2 to 3.6 w/m^2. Using the 100-year modeled conversion factor gives forcing of 1.8 w/m^2 to 2.5 w/m^2 over the period 1990 - 2015. Note the annual data number is 44% higher.

Looking at Fig. S16, it seems that the model takes until ~2060 to arrive at forcing of 3.6 w/m^2.  Thus, I expect to see weather in the next 30 years, that Hansen et al. does not model as occurring for another 50 years.

Temperature rise of 2C is likely to arrive much sooner than any of the standard climate models project, and coming faster as a result of more intense forcing will produce more intense temperature gradients, which will drive more intense storms than Hansen et al offer.  

Greenhouse gas driven climate change is different from climate change driven by orbital mechanics (e.g., past ice ages and past interglacial periods). In greenhouse gas driven climate change, the lower atmosphere gets warmer while the upper atmosphere gets colder.  Thus, in greenhouse gas driven climate change, there is always a nearby source of very cold air to drive very intense, cold storms.

Wicked storms are coming, and we will need better knitting to stay warm.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Pile of lies

My last post was a pile of lies.

People often come after me, when I tell the truth, so I thought I would tell a pile of lies and see if anyone noticed.

They seem not to have noticed.

 First: "Ouvre", she said coyly. 
 (Gladys Thompson on page 5 of Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys, and Arans, third edition, copyright 1979 by Dover Publications.) is true.  Note well, that she does not mention "Spain or Portugal".  What authors do not say is often as important as what they do say.  Experts often know what their audience wants to hear, and make a point of not saying what their their audience does not want to hear, but they got to be "experts" by by being careful not to lie.  They dance around the truth, and the astute reader must learn to recognize the dances.

Gladys Thompson, seems to define "jersey" as having a warmer and usually denser fabric than a guernsey, but the rest of the post contained nonsense.  Nobody seems to have noticed much, but I am sure that now MANY will come out of the woodwork saying "Oh, I saw the error of Aaron's ways, but Aaron makes so many mistakes that I did not bother to enumerate these!"

With hand-held needles, one way to get a denser fabric is Eastern Stitch Mount which is perhaps best handled with Portuguese knitting.  (Most of the time it is really Portuguese purling.)  If you must make traditional Eastern Crossed Stitch fabric (ECS) with hand held needles, then Portuguese knitting is the way to go. At this time, you should review the discussions in Knitting in the Old Way and Mary Thomas's Knitting Book.  However, better is and

If you need a lot of ECS fabric in a hurry, then stop; and - well the best use of Eastern Crossed Stitch fabric is socks, and the best way to make small tubular objects such as socks or gloves is swaving - using a knitting sheath with bent needles called "pricks".  In the past, I had trouble with pricks longer than 6" jamming and not turning easily in their knitting sheath. Now, pricks as long as 8" are working well for me. With a knitting sheath and pricks, Portuguese knitting will just slow you down.  With the high leverage of a knitting sheath, there are smaller motions that will do the job much faster   The virtues of practice.

If you do not need Eastern Crossed Stitch fabric, but only a denser fabric, then any stitch mount can be used with a KNITTING SHEATH and finer needles. Stitch mount ceases to be an issue.

Particularly with knitting in the round, I can switch from eastern stitch mount to western or vice-versa, and a hour later, I cannot tell which stitches were knit with which stitch mount. I can only tell by looking at the transition row. If it is a finished object, then I must look at the cast-on row to determine stitch mount. And, if it is finely knit, I need my linen tester.  I do not think that GT always got a chance to examine the cast-on row with her linen tester and thus often made her guernsey/jersey classification by the geometry of the patterns and the density of the fabric.

The fact that finely knit stitches become change shape as the fabric is knit more finely is the reason that I moved from "stitches per inch" to "stitches per square inch".  In finely knit fabrics, the stitches per inch does not convey the density of the fabric.  That is,  there are different fabrics that can be knit from the same yarn that will have the same number of stitches per inch, but have very different densities, warmth, durability, and hand/drape. Defining both spi and rpi does define the fabric, and stitches per square inch does define both spi and rpi.

Inspection of of the patterns in Patterns  tells us that Gladys Thompson considered fabrics with moderate density to be  "guernsey".  If we then take "gansey" to mean knit from fine yarns, (e.g., more than 2,000 ypp), then a sweater knit from ~1,650 ypp for Dunraven 3-ply could be a guernsey.  Guernseys knit from finer yarns  (e.g.,  ~2,500 ypp for Paton's 4-ply Behive used on pg 85),  would  also be considered ganseys. Thus, it  would be possible to have a "gansey guernsey". Note that modern Jamieson's Shetland Spindrift also has a grist of ~2,500 ypp, but being only 2 plies, produces a stiffer fabric than the old Beehive 4-ply when knit at 12 spi by 20 rpi. See  Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys and Arans, 3d ed. pages 83, 84 and 85.  

Note also that Weldon's also provides patterns for both seamen's guernseys and jerseys, allowing additional refining of the definitions.   Weldon's does not use the term "ganseys" 

This concept of finer plies producing finer fabric is why I bother to make my own 6-ply yarn at 1,650 ypp instead of just using commercial 3-ply sock yarn.  And, with all due respect to Alden Amos, more plies means a better hand/drape when knit fine. They used 5-ply for seaman's sweaters because it was warmer AND because it gave a better hand, AND because it was more durable. Real 10-ply Aran yarn makes a nice fabric when knit tight, 2 or 3-ply  Aran yarn makes less pleasant fabric when knit tight.  One can knit a very warm jumper from Jamieson's 2-ply Shetland Spindrift , but  4-ply Behive is about the same grist and will produce a warmer fabric with better hand when knit to the same gauge.  However, good luck finding commercial 2,500 ypp, 4-ply knitting yarns these days.  Good luck finding hand spinners that can produce 2,500 ypp 4-ply yarns these days.  You will likely have to order such a yarn from a mini-mill.  That is the difference between a skilled professional spinner, and a hobby hand spinner.  I am somewhere in between.  I am a hand spinner with a DRS wheel that makes spinning 2,500 ypp, 4-ply yarns easy.  I wish we had such spinning wheels for more hand spinners. with such a wheel, one can learn to spin such yarns in a few days.

I do think, the Channel Islands got knitting from the Islamic world very early, and started buying wool from England by the time of Henry Beauclerc, and knit/ sold sweaters to English seamen fishing the Icelandic waters in the 14th century, Portuguese fishermen taking cod in the North Atlantic in the 15th century, and the seamen that explored for Henry the Navigator.  I think it would be VERY odd if the origins of guernseys and jerseys were not knit eastern stitch mount. However, that was 70 generations ago.  Since then, knitters on the shores of the North Sea, the Baltic, the Finnish Sea, the Irish Sea, the English Channel, the Mediterranean, the China Sea, the Atlantic, and the Pacific have all been linked by sea commerce.  In the way of commerce, they have sought to produce better products faster and cheaper. Improvements include knitting pouches, and at least 3 rather specialized forms of knitting sheaths. 

With a proper knitting sheath, very fine fabrics can be knit at a practical pace using any stitch mount.

Hobby knitters like to pretend that they are knitting as fine and as fast as the knitters of old, and they have told each other this since the days of Queen Victoria.  Hobby knitting is an echo chamber. Experts dance around the truth and do not say differently.  They take traditional finely knit patterns and revise them to be less finely knit. (e.g., Nancy Bush and  Alice Starmore take patterns for utilitarian objects and convert them to make very pretty, but fragile objects.) Thereby, hobby level knitters can pretend they are knitting "ganseys".  I certainly took part in this echo chamber, and knit what everyone else was calling "ganseys". They are very good sweaters, but I no longer consider those sweaters to be "ganseys".   P. A Gibson-Roberts,  D. Robson, and E. Zimmerman have  likewise been careful not to tell some truths.  One such truth is that long DPN ("gansey needles") are not useful without a knitting belt or knitting sheath to help control the long needles.  These experts set-up generations of knitters to fail by telling them that guernseys and jerseys were mostly knit on long needles, and failing to mention that using a knitting sheath was more important than the length of needles.  For example, the commercial pattern, A Channel Islands' Guernsey / Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys, and Arans specifies 11 DPN. I usually knit this pattern on 6 +1 DPN  that are 12" long because that knitting sheath works well in the stuffed chair in front of the TV.  However, when I am in a hurry I use 18" gansey needles because they are faster. (Piece work knitters always wanted more speed.) However, with the 18" needles,  I need to sit in the wooden chair by the kitchen window where that knitting sheath works. (It rubs on my overstuffed chair.)  Nevertheless,  I can make good progress on  "A Channel Islands' Guernsey", in a doctor's office, or in the car or on an airplane using 8" DPN and (another) knitting sheath, or even just a leather knitting belt. The 8" needles provides less leverage, so there is more stress on my hands, but not enough extra stress to be a problem in less than a few weeks. (I noticed again this morning that the 12" needles used Friday evening, produce a more uniform fabric than the 8" needles used for KIP yesterday.  This was not a surprise.  The 8" needles with sheath produce a better fabric than I can knit with hand-held needles, but the 12" needles produce an excellent fabric.)

The main thing that a knitting belt or knitting sheath provides is stability that facilitates  the use of very fine needles. And, a steel needle with a knitting sheath allows knitting faster, so that the greater number of stitches that a fine fabric requires can be accomplished in a reasonable time. Knitting sheaths allow knitting a higher quality fabric. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Guernseys vs. Jerseys

"Ouvre", she said coyly.
 (Gladys Thompson on page 5 of Patterns for Guernseys, and Arans, third edition, copyright 1979 by Dover Publications.)

Guernseys were knit with either Western Stitch Mounting or Combined Stitch Mounting.

Jerseys were knit using Eastern Stitch Mount.

The Eastern Stitch Mount produces a tighter fabric; and, a stitch that is more more square.  How the stitch is mounted affects the shape of the knit stitch.

Western and Eastern Stitch Mount do produce different fabrics, that can be distinguished by folks that have worked with both knitting methods.  The folks in Yorkshire often confuse these fabrics, and are not careful with what they call these fabrics. Jerseys have won "guernsey" knitting competitions, so even knitting judges in Yorkshire are willing to call a "jersey", a "guernsey". Their failure to be precise and accurate in their textile nomenclature is not my problem.

Rather my goal is to knit better fabrics, and understanding how stitch mount affects the  fabric is important. For me,  guernseys and jerseys are different fabrics, with different virtues, made with different knitting techniques.

However, knitting the gauge of guernseys and jerseys does require a knitting sheath or knitting belt of some kind to provide the leverage to pack the yarn tightly.  Thus, here we have two different knitting methods that produce different fabrics, but which use similar knitting sheaths.

I have been thinking about for "Ouvre" for sometime now.  Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, is the solution.  In this case. it also involved realizing that there is a serious error in Mary Thomas's discussion of stitch mount in her Knitting Book.  It is still a very good book.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The best fabrics I have ever knit

Worsted spun 5-ply knit on 2 mm needles.

Gauge is 35 stitches per 4" and 50 rows per 4" for ~109 stitches per square inch. It is a nice jersey fabric.

The fabric is about the same weight, hand, and drape as your favorite knit sweat shirt from Nordstrom, but it is wool, so it is warmer in the wet than cotton, and less flammable than polyester. It is long wool, so it is very durable.  However, the wool is fine enough to be skin soft.  And unlike many of the synthetic fibers, it does not stink.

This is the fabric that I set out to knit 16 years ago, hand knit, but warm enough to keep a fisherman warm on the North Atlantic.  It is,in fact, the fabric seen in some of the patterns in Gladys Thompson.  This is the yarn and gauge that makes Pattern 1, A Channel Island's Guernsey fit the size given.   Moreover, with long needles and a knitting sheath the pattern and the knitting is easy. 

It is not easy on circular needles.

To get here, I had to learn about long needles and knitting sheaths that provide the leverage and speed to make such knitting practical.  You are not going to knit like this with circular needles.  I know, I tried for years and years.  I moved to long needles and knitting sheaths only after it was clear that circular needles are not practical for such knitting.  I am not saying such knitting cannot be done on circular needles, I am saying circular needles are not practical for such knitting.  Think about it, do you know anybody that produces such objects on a regular basis using circular needles?

It is too warm?  Not if one is determined to do interesting things in interesting places, regardless of the weather.

It is too much bother to knit?  One must be somewhere,  while you are there, you can be knitting.

Related fabrics include:
 This is based on woolen spun, 2-ply yarn of about the same grist and also knit on 2 mm needles to produce a lovely Guernsey fabric.  Again, about 110 spi^2.   Knit on finer needles, the surface becomes much  smoother and the fabric more water repellent.

These are my answers to the question: "How did the old seamen manage to stay warm?" They used long needles and knitting sheaths to knit the kind fabrics noted above. Given the warmth and durability of the fabric, it was worth the effort, because with long needles and knitting sheaths, it is not really that much effort.

These both happen to be commercial yarns. Am I sorry that I put the effort into learning to spin?  Not at all.  I had to learn about yarn to become a better knitter.  

Monday, March 07, 2016

Old Gauge

I have long used the needle size chart at the Fiber Gypsy ( as my standard for knitting needle sizes and conversions. It worked for new needles that I bought in the US, Canada, Great Britain, Europe, and Hong Kong.

However, the 'UK' sizing never quite gave me gauge for patterns from Gladys Thompson's, Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys and Arans or for patterns from the old Weldon's Practical Knitter.  I found this very strange as a long time ago, I put a lot of effort into learning to "knit to gauge".

There are a lot of images of old knitting gauges on the internet, however few show the actual dimensions, or provide the diameters of needles as gauged.  See for example .

At this time for knitting patterns written prior to WWI, I am using American Wire Gauge (AWG) to size my steel needles.  I find this a better starting point for swatching than either the Old US or UK needle sizing systems.  For knitting patterns written after WW1, I find the UK needle sizing as given by Fiber Gypsy's chart to be better.

Conversion is as follows:

AWG  =>    metric / mm

8       ~ 3.26
10     ~ 2.50
12     ~ 2.05
14     ~ 1.63
16     ~ 1.29
18     ~ 1.02

There are detailed conversion tables all over the internet.

Good AWG gauges are available at hardware stores, Cheaper ones at hobby shops and over the internet.  The one on the desk in front of me cost $2  The good gauge in the top drawer of the needle stash was $25.

Sure enough, when I swatch Gladys Thompson's, A Channel Island's Guernsey (recommended needle size 12 or 13) with commercial worsted 5-ply, and needles that are AWG 12, I get the chest sizes in the pattern.  I do not get gauge with UK12 (2.75 mm) needles. More surprising is that the Norfolk II Sheringham pattern suggests a 15 or 16 needle size.  For me, this pattern swatches out perfectly with a yarn of the grist of the Paton's 4-ply Beehive ( ~ 2,500 ypp) when using AWG size 15. I do not get gauge when using the UK needle sizing given by the Fiber Gypsy (e.g., 15 is stated as 1.75 mm, 16 is not given an equivalent, and UK 17 is given as 1.5 mm.  I got gauge on 1.5 mm needles which would be Old US 15 or AGW 15.

Likewise, swatching some patterns form Weldon's Practical Knitter, convinces me that AWG gauge numbers work better for their steel needle numbers given than do the UK needle sizes.  This clue into Weldon's makes it much more friendly, and make it possible to effortlessly get gauge with the suggested needles.

Bottom line, knitting needle standards have changed over the last 150 years in ways that are poorly documented.  Our only recourse is to swatch like crazy.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

The Evil of Drink

I was at a Christmas party a few years ago, and lost my knitting sheath.  I got it back a few days ago, it reminded me of the "evil of drink".

 An old goose wing retrofitted to take
2 mm lace needles.

It is a goose wing knitting sheath. Goose wings are a brilliant design that work very well for all kinds of knitting.  The evil is that if you get up and start dancing, they may fall out of your belt or apron strings and get lost.

In particular, they work very well with shorter needles, and hence are very suited for knitting in tight quarters.

Goose wings work better with apron strings or narrow belts than with wider belts. In fact, almost any kind of a soft belt or sash will hold a goose wing in place if you do not get up and dance. I often use the narrow leather belt on my knitting belt to hold a goose wing knitting sheath:

So, with both a knitting belt and a knitting sheath at the ready, which do I knit with?  Well if I was going to use the leather knitting belt for knitting, I would not bother with the knitting sheath, now would I?  However, the narrow leather belt does a very good job of  holding the goose wing in place.  And, on the other hand, the knitting belt is much kinder to wooden needles.

Admittedly, the short needles used with goose wings require more needle changes than long needles, but goose wings are ever so much more convenient for knitting in an overstuffed chair. And, if you are lounging there, with the telly on, speed is not paramount.  And, if you must knit a fine sock from beginning to end while sitting in the coach section of an airplane, a goose wing is the tool.

I made a bunch of goose wings in the days when most of my knitting was done on US1 needles. Now, I often use finer needles, and I am retrofitting my old goose wings with needle adapters to accept the finer needles.

An old goose wing retrofitted to take 
US000 sock needles.

And with the needle adapters they also accept larger needles.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Love and Hate of the Classics

Over the years, I have had a love and hate relationship with Paton's Classic Wool (PCW).

A large swatch of Paton's Classic Wool knit on 2.4 mm needles was the  was the first clue that I was on the right track.  However, ultimately I generally decided that  the fabric that I was producing was not worth the effort, resulting in a large number of WIP sitting around.  Finer needles seemed like more effort for not that much better fabric.

Exploration of blunt needles over the last few months has allowed exploration of knitting PCW on finer needles.

Knit on 2 mm needles, I get 9 spi and 12.5 rpi for 112.5 stitches per square inch, and on 1.6 mm needles I get 9.5 spi and 12.5 rpi for 118.75 stitches per square inch.

While the numbers are similar, the fabrics are different. In fact, the numbers would seem not that far off of the 7 spi by 10 rpi (70 stitches per square inch),  that I get with 2.38 mm needles, and yet the 3 fabrics are very different.

Knit on the 1.6 mm  needles, the fabric has a smoother surface that allows water to just run off in ways that just does not happen with the fabrics knit on larger needles. It is also surprisingly abrasion resistant.

Knit on the 2 mm, the fabric is thicker and has more surface texture, but is still very weatherproof.  The extra thickness/ softness gives better drape, and the surface can be brushed into a very nice nap.  Over all, the fabric knit on 2 mm needles is softer and wickedly warm.  It is a nice Guernsey fabric, that is much, much warmer than what most folk knit as "gansey" fabric.

These fabrics are firm, so they need to be knit to fit, rather than knit from a generic pattern.  However, these fabrics have more stretch and elastisity than woven fabrics.  They can form a warm second skin that allows free and easy movement.  And, they have tremendous warmth for the weight.

In many ways, these are fabrics that I have been trying to knit since 1998, but I did not have the tools and skills to knit.  Oh, there were hints, such as the fact that "mak'n pins", were often only 1.5 mm in the old days.  When I first read that, I should have jumped forward to 1.5 mm needles.  And, when I read about how long it took a professional knitter to make a set of needles.  That should have told me that they are not tapered to the tip, but rather blunt.

And, you are not going to get to PCW knit at 70 stitches per square inch with circular needles. I have knit small swatches of such fabrics on circs, but that convinced me that sweaters from such fabrics were not plausible. I tried over and over. Swatches of these fabrics can be knit with a knitting belt, but those swatches told me that that it imposed significant wear on my knitting belt. so I moved on to wooden knitting sheaths.  Maple, rosewood, and even cherry, endure the stress very well. I got here using 12" blunt needles with my latest generation of knitting sheaths.

My point is not that PCW is the best yarn, only that it is a very good yarn, and a great value. And it sets new standards for hand spun - it tells us that rather generic woolen yarns can be knit into great objects. It opens the door for finer fabrics knit from finer woolen yarns.  And, it suggests that generic worsted spun yarns can produce great fabrics. And, if that is the case, why is there such a variance in price?

The evolution of my knitting sheaths, 
with newer sheaths to the left.
The needles on the left are old.

The horizontal knitting sheaths were made in the last 3 months, and the vertical sheaths are older.   The gansey needles are 10 years old. (And, for large objects, longer needles are faster!)  Sizes of needles in photo range from US1 to US0000, and all can be accommodated with various needle adapters in the photo.  Special needle adapters are made for swaving.  Number and color of bands on the adapters indicate size, and placement of the band(s) indicates gansey or swaving. These needle adapters work better with the swaving needles than the knitting sheaths that the swaving needles were originally made to fit.  (However, currently the swaving needle adapters work better with my Durham style knitting sheaths. The Durham sheaths put the swaving needles into a better ergonomic zone.)

Note that the needle adapters allow use of one sheath with many different sets of needles.  The knitting sheaths work much better when they are made to fit one style of work belt, and are then used with  the belt they were made to fit.  Between the old and new knitting sheaths are (on the block of maple)  examples of  the threaded inserts currently used to attach the needle adapters to the knitting sheaths.

In the context of thousands of hours of planned knitting, taking a couple of hours to make a knitting sheath that might increase productive by a couple of percent is perfectly rational, regardless of the discount rate.   When those same knitting sheaths move better fabrics from the realm of plausible dreams into practical reality, it is silly, not to be making better and better knitting sheaths.

I keep the old knitting sheaths around to later, check, verify, and validate the data related to each transition.  As Feynman said, "It is important not to  fool yourself."