"...every doorway in the old town held a knitter, in a black or coloured sunbonnet, with her needles flicking in and out so quickly that it was impossible to follow their movement. One 'pin' would be tucked into a 'shear' under her arm. These knitting sheaths were made of print, small cases a few inches long, and filled tightly with quills - they held one needle, leaving a hand free for quicker movement with the wool."
Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys & Arans, Gladys Thomson
Wow! And I thought I was hot doing my Must Have Cardi cables without a cable needle. I just went the library today. As I have exhausted every book on the local shelf, I am now into the inter-library loan process, which opens me up to all the libraries in my region of Southwestern Connecticut. Two gems I carted home today were the above, and Staremore's The Children's Collection (more on that one at another time).
I had a realization while reading the Thomson book over a burger and fries with my 5 year old! No wonder they came up with all these incredible stitch patterns! All they had to work with were 5 18" steel dp needles in the equivalent of a US 0, 1, or 2, and "5 ply" which is our sport-weight, in navy or black! Imagine if you wipe the slate clean - no novelty yarns, no circulars, no silk, no cotton, no handpainted whatever! I would look at those stitches on the needle in a completely different way - what can I make them do? How can I make a family statement with this design? And, oh, I better go stir the gruel for dinner!
As you can see on my wish list, I have wanted to make a Channel Island Gansey for my husband forever! After reading this book, note the charming intro by Elizabeth Zimmerman, I am left with the dilemma of trying to translate the old into the new, or just take the easy route - a pre-existing pattern such as those by Yankee Knitter Designs, in a worsted weight.
Well, better go strap on my sheath and get knitting...