Friday, December 22, 2006

Knitting efficiently

Today, I’m going to rant on about *EFFICIENCY IN KNITTING.*

My heart leapt when I saw a book called “Speed Knitting.” But it wasn’t about efficiency, it was about big needles and big yarn.

Efficiency is really about ergonomics. How you hold the yarn and needles is less important than how much you MOVE the needle for each stitch. Of course, you may have to move your needles more because you are holding your yarn and needles badly, but the motion is really the first thing to analyze—all else follows.

The very fastest knitters move the needles hardly at all—production knitters in the old times often immobilized their (very long) needles by tucking the end of one or both needles into a knitting belt or sheath. Their fingers carried no weight, but were free to manipulate the very tippy ends of the needles with (evidently) incredible rapidity.

Today’s successors to production knitters are the awsome bloggers who produce scads of garments: a new lace shawl or six pairs of socks with every couple of posts. The rest of us do well to limp along producing as much in a month as these wonders produce in a week. Of course, actual production knitting is by no means dead, either...with all the baggage THAT carries. Check out this link to a truly scary sounding article--can anyone read Polish?

I have never had a chance to watch a true world beater. But the two fastest knitters I’ve ever seen personally (a Japanese lady who knits continental, and a British lady who knits English style) both share several traits: They move their hands very little. There are no grand sweeping motions, their elbows stay down, their wrists flex only slightly. The continental knitter's fingers do not move at all; the English-style knitter's fingers move only in a repetitive, efficient shuttling action. They do not sit hunched, they do not grip the needles with all ten fingers, holding on for dear life. The yarn flows onto their needles.

Because their motions are spare and efficient, their stitches always present at the same place on their needles. This means they’re not hunting for the next stitch—their hands know exactly where it is. Consequently, both of these ladies knit great swathes of fabric while hardly watching what they are doing.

How can us mere mortals duplicate this? Most of us probably won't. But we can walk a short way down that path. Get a drink of water. Sit in your favorite chair. Take a deep breath. Watch your hands, wrists, arms. Can you immobilize a needle by tucking it under your arm? By resting it on a chair arm or table? By tucking it into the cuff of your sweater? Can you stop your elbow from swinging out at every stitch? Can your wrist rotate less and still get the yarn onto the needle?

One reward will be faster knitting. An even better reward will be fewer repetitve strain injuries—the less you move, the less you strain.



Anonymous said...

Efficiency is something I am actively pursuing in the coming year - there is so much I want to design and make and inefficient knitting is a real barrier to that. The process is very zen - and I am learning many things about myself. I have been working at knitting without looking at my hands - and despite the fact that there is never a dropped stitch when I check (nor would it be difficult to fix if there were), the anxiety that there might be builds to astonishing levels. I set myself little goals - 5 stitches without checking, 10, 15 etc.

Ora said...

I agree - I got very discouraged when I see big needles and fancy yarn being passed off as excellent knitting. My kids complain when I search the world for plain-colored sock yarn. But I'm glad there's another purist around!

Anonymous said...

I've always considered myself a slow knitter - but never pondered the fact that I am an inefficient knitter. Thanks to you, I can look at my knitting technique with new eyes and see where I can improve!! :)

susie lee said...

efficiency is key...i am glad that you have decided to do a post on that. thank you!

Ing. said...

I am a fast knitter (surely not the fastest around) and I also knit non-lacey things without looking (if the yarn is thick enough I can knit lace repeats also without looking).
My tricks. I'm a continental knitter (better said German knitter, for italians, portughese and spanish work with yarn in right hand) Unlike many knitting videos for learners I advise to keep the left hand index finger as close to the left hand needle as possible. I think mine is mostly 1-2 mm apart from needle. That leaves no room for lingering with finger movements, plus it is much more untiring for hands. Secondly I block the yarn in the left hand instead of curling it around the "pinkie" by holding it in my left hand palm, blocking it with two bottomside fingers. It makes my knitting very soft (the loops are not sloppy though, it's good for it saves up time and materials, it's unconvenient for I have to calculate a lot following instructions) and I find it easier to control. In lace-knitting I curl the yarn around pinkie, for the palm-method doesn't give enough block. On the purl side rows I avoid a very common mistake in German knitting style of too loose purl stitches by making after each purl stitch a quick tug (it's nearly invisible if I knit fast) with left hand index finger. The positive aspect of keeping the left hand index finger close to needle is also that on purl sides I don't move the finger much more than on right side. Which comes from the fact that the yarn is at about half the finger always, which means I don't have to bring all my finger in front of work, but it is quite enough to move it aside the left hand needle. (I know it's confusing even for me to explain)
What else... ah yes... how can I follow knititng without looking. My left hand thumb has a very important role: making sure I knit the very first stitch on the needle. I like long nails, okay maybe not long, but I like to have medium lenghth nails. So I support the needle with the thumb padding starting from the little lines on the inner side until the tip keeping the thumb horizontal. which means in my case working with DK weight yarn I constantly have about 4-5 loops under the thumb. of these stitches I "feed up" two at a time - one I'm already working and other one next up, my thumb making really small movements of making sure I have only 2 loops out loose. The pulling of the right needle anyways makes sure these loops come out under the thumb on time.
Bets way of learning to knit without looking is based on two things patience and sense of rythm. That is of course my opinion from my personal experience.I started oout woth a motivation: if a blind woamn can knit amazing colored patterns then I should at elats be able to knit while watching TV. So I started knitting gradually 3-4-5-6-7-8 stitches at a time without looking. And it took me about 2 weeks to get tyhe hang of it. Currently trying to learn to knit "blind" with 2 colors.
whoaah long story. Hope it's understandable, english is not my mother tongue.

--TECHknitter said...

Thank you Ingrid--I think you have given an excellent example of how an expert knitting approaches the issue of efficiency--you have examined and analyzed every detail, thinking how you can make it more efficient. The next person will not necessarily use the same tricks as you, but they will have asked themselves the same questions--how far is my finger from the needle? How am I feeding the stitches? How am I tensioning the yarn? Thank you for your very illuminating comment.


EverEvolving said...

I consider myself a fast knitter, too. Being a Russian-trained continental knitter, I could have said most of what Ingrid described. On top of that, my purl stitches are done the "old way", by lowering the yarn under the right needle; that eliminates the special effort of hooking the yarn, it gets hooked by the right needle just by doing the reverse movement back through the stitch.This, most likely, sounds confusing; no matter.
I do knit without looking. In fact, one of the reasons I spend so much time knitting is because I can read, search the Web, watch a movie at the same time. It's pretty easy when you put your mind to it. Initially, start with stockinette, and when you can comfortably do that blindly, you can graduate to patterns. All it takes is to memorize the repeat for the particular row. What helps me greatly here is using a simple melodic phrase that would have as many notes as there are stitches in the repeat. I caught myself doing it unconsciously; for example, when knitting 2x2 rib, I hear in my head repetition of two higher notes, then two low one, etc. Having realized what was happening, I started doing it deliberately: "put knitting onto music", inventing primitive "melodies" for knitting repeats. You can use a simple rhyme instead. Try it! Works for me.

TECHknitter said...

Hi Ever--I just had a chance to review your comment, and the "melody" thing is something I do too--a lace repeat comes out as a quite complicated melody with the knits, purls, knit2tog's, p2togs and yarn overs each getting a different note, as well as a special phrase of notes for when several of these make a particular mini-repeat within a larger repeat. Pretty soon, the tune takes over for the pattern. I like to think each item has it's own unique song. Thanks so much for writing.