Cross Stitch Tips: Before You Start

Cross stitch is growing in popularity. I’m seeing more and more people in my store, looking for supplies to get started. I’m seeing more kits available through my suppliers, and although it never fully went away, there is definitely renewed interest in this beautiful form of fibre art. If it’s new to you, it can be hard to know where to start. Hopefully I can help you with that.

Purchasing a kit

You can purchase kits that provide you with everything you need from Aida cloth through all the many colours of floss and a needle. Some kits will have the floss separated out and labeled with the colour numbers, some will come with a bundle of floss tied together and you’ll have to sort it all out and figure out which is which. That can be a challenge if there are many shades of any particular colour. So if you are getting a kit with a lot of different colours, be aware that you may need to spend some time separating out and sorting the colours before you get started. Some kits include a hoop, some don’t. If you are a beginner, look for a smaller kit that comes with everything you need to complete the project.

Purchasing a pattern

When you purchase a cross stitch pattern, be aware that the pattern is all you get. You will need to purchase all the floss and fabric separately. That doesn’t have to be an issue. Allow yourself lots of time when you go to purchase your floss. It won’t be a quick process. You’ll want to use tapestry needles sized for the fabric gauge.

Purchasing Floss

Be aware that DMC makes a gazillion colours of floss and it’s pretty rare for any craft store to have all the colours on hand. When purchasing the floss, you will want a list of colour numbers and if they give you the names, that is very helpful to have on hand. Ask the store owner to guide you through how they organize their floss. You may want to purchase bobbins to wind the floss on as a way to keep it organized. Be sure to label the bobbins! Ask whether the store is willing to bring in the colours you need that they don’t have on hand.

Purchasing Fabric

There are a number of fabrics you can use for cross stitch projects. The most commonly used is called Aida. You can also use Hardanger. Both of these have clear little holes at the corners of where your stitches will sit. This makes it easy to see where to pull your needle through as you stitch. There are also even-weave fabrics like Lugana cloth or Belfast Linen. These are woven so that the warp and weft are perfectly even. On even-weave fabrics, you count the threads to determine where to place your stitches. If you are just beginning, look for Aida cloth.

The next thing you need to know about Aida is that it comes in different gauges. The gauge is measured as a stitch count. The stitch count is in reference to inches. So, if you are getting 14 count Aida, you will have 14 stitches to every inch. Typically we see 11, 14, 18 and 28 ct. The higher the number, the finer the stitching. It comes in different colours as well. For a beginner, I would urge you to choose a light colour such as white or ivory. I would discourage working with black or navy blue until you have some confidence with this discipline.

You will need to know how many stitches there are across the width and the height of your pattern before you purchase the fabric. Some stores carry Aida cloth on a roll and some carry “quarters”. Quarters measure 19″ x 27″, and you can turn them either way to suit your pattern. Obviously the number of stitches you can fit on a quarter will vary depending on the stitch count. The higher the number in the stitch count, the smaller the completed design will be. Be sure to allow enough fabric around the outside of the stitched pattern so that you can mount the finished work. How much you leave will depend on how you want to mount it.

Hoops

Hoops are available in wood or plastic. Some are “locking” hoops and others are not. Which type you choose to use will be a question of personal preference. Wood hoops are generally cheaper to purchase. Choose a hoop size based on the size of your project. If your project is small, use a small hoop. I personally don’t like to use a hoop that is more than 9 inches in diameter, even on large projects.

Stretchers

Hoops are not the only way to hold the fabric while you stitch. Stretchers can be purchased in a few ways. You can purchase ones that lock into each other. You buy two sets of two pieces, based on the measurements of the width and height of the fabric. Typically you would use your office stapler and staple the fabric onto this and work on it this way. Not everyone likes this, especially on a larger size. These can also be used as a mounting structure to go inside a frame when the project is done. Adjustable stretchers usually have flat sides and round spanners that go across the width of the project. Often they have fabric on the round spanners so you can baste your Aida cloth onto it on either end. You then roll it to the place you want to work and tighten the spanners onto the sides with wingnuts. You can buy stretchers in sets with varying lengths of sides to accommodate most any size of project. Stretchers work well with floor frames. Floor frames just allow you to have both hands free to work.

Next time, I’ll go into how to actually prepare your fabric and pattern, and what to watch out for.

Happy Crafting!

The Switch was Flipped

We were in the thick of a heatwave with chokingly thick wildfire smoke, and Mother Nature flipped a switch. The most welcomed rains have cooled things down and cleared the air. It’s been about a week of easier breathing; I’m so grateful. I left the window open and woke up in the middle of the night freezing cold. I got up and pulled out the feather duvet to throw over our summertime collection of sheets and crawled back into bed. When DH got up, the weather report predicted a high of 15 degrees Celsius for the day. Brrrrr! (Of course, wait 5 minutes and that can change.) After all that hot weather, it truly feels like fall today.

And fall means it’s time for warm and cozy things like sweaters and wooly socks and knitting and crochet! Hurray! (Judy does a happy dance!)

When I first started selling yarn almost seven years ago, I had no idea what would sell or how much to buy. I also had no idea how often new colourways of sock yarn are released each year. In my naivete, I not only reordered sock yarns but I reordered full bags of sock yarns. (This is one of the few types of yarns they allow you to purchase half bags of. There’s a reason for that.) As the new yarns come and go, these overstocked yarns patiently wait for their turn to become socks.

Especially with self patterning sock yarn, it’s challenging to imagine how the yarn will knit up.

Some labels offer a small photo of the knitted colourway, which is wonderful. But many don’t. Often people struggle with the decision to purchase a yarn because unless there are samples knit up, it can be nearly impossible to visualize what the socks will look like once they’re done. Of course, for some people, that’s half the fun. Knitting up samples is time consuming, especially hand knitting socks to keep up with all the constantly changing sock yarns. I love hand knitting socks, but not for samples that will hang in the store.

Last winter I purchased an Erlbacher Gearhart circular sock knitting machine. Yes, it’s a knitting machine and yes it definitely speeds up the process of knitting socks. You still have to manually make the socks with the machine, but it means that selling hand made socks is within the realm of reason. It still takes time and you’ll never get rich doing it. But for me, it means that knitting sock samples doesn’t consume all my evenings and that some of those sock yarns that I ordered way too much of (and that get overlooked by folks shopping for yarn) can become socks for those who don’t knit… or don’t knit socks… or want to give socks as gifts without the time commitment to knit them.

I pulled one line of sock yarn that has long since been discontinued and started making it into socks earlier in the summer. They look fantastic. It’s exciting to know that I’ll be able to offer ready to wear socks for sale. The first of these are officially on display. My fingers are crossed that people will want to buy them. With the summer heat and all the wildfire smoke we had in the air, I had lost my enthusiasm for working on these socks. But today, I’m feeling all fired up to get back at them. I have a number of yarns in mind to knit up. My fabulous graphics gal designed labels that I can easily print up on cardstock for when they’re ready and I’m chomping at the bit.

So far, as of today, I have been knitting up a line of cotton blend yarns.

I brought them in as an alternative for folks who don’t like (or can’t wear) wool. I want to finish up the rest of this particular “family” of yarns before I move on to the wool blends that I want to knit up.

The second half of August and most of September are usually fairly quiet for me. The flower garden is well established and the seasonal rains are doing the watering for us. The sewing department is usually quiet until the frost hits. I hope to take advantage of this shoulder season to put together a nice inventory of ready to wear hand made socks to sell in the store. Hopefully they will be well received. I don’t see myself doing custom socks at this time, since this is something I’m doing in between all my other work and I’m not charging enough to justify the extra work involved in customizing them. Perhaps once I have sizes well established I might consider it, but I’m definitely not there yet. We’ll see; never say never.

In the meantime, I’ll keep plugging away. With new sock yarns already on their way, and more to arrive in October, I need to make some room on the shelves. We certainly have a lot of variety of sock yarns on hand to choose from and that isn’t likely to change (since sock knitting is my happy place).

I’ve had some people ask whether I will start up Social Saturdays Stitching Circle again. I am taking a wait-and-see approach to this. What with the Delta variant moving through our province I want to be sure that we are not putting anyone at risk. For now, I just don’t feel comfortable starting it back up. When the time comes, I’ll definitely put the word out though.

Happy Crafting!

Unwinding

Wowzers. After lockdowns and multiple covid waves, then a heatwave and a Delta variant, forest fires (just in time to impact our summer tourist trade) and now a thick blanket of smoke that just wants to hang out and be friends with us: I’m tired. I know I’m not alone. I think most of us here in BC are tired. In all fairness, probably everyone in the world is just tired of it all right now… I understand that there are areas elsewhere with flooding! With so much stuff dragging us down it’s so important that we find ways to take care of ourselves. We need to unwind. As a knitter, knitting is one of the ways that I am able to unwind. Lately in more ways than one.

I knit the samples that hang in my store. Over the years I have made all sorts of things.

Sometimes I just make things up as I knit them. Sometimes I make up items from German patterns. Of course the downside of that has been the fact that when a customer comes in and likes it, I can’t offer them the pattern to make it. So I thought I should probably use patterns that I have on hand for sale so that when someone sees a sample and loves it, I can actually provide them with what they need to make it for themselves.

I like to try out patterns using yarns that are different than what the pattern was tested with. More often than not, people substitute the original yarn with what is either in their stash, easily available or the yarn they fell in love with. Of course this can lead to some challenges. Gauge is really the biggest challenge in this process. Although yarn manufacturers do their best to offer a gauge on their yarn labels, there are so many variables that you can’t even really be sure of that. Every knitter has their own particular tension, and often that can change with the weight and texture of the yarn and needles. Last week I started a cardigan. I thought I would use some discontinued yarn that I still have a lot of stock of. It’s so pretty and I thought that perhaps if I did up a cool modern styled garment that people might be inspired. I would love to sell that yarn so I can bring in something new to take its place.

I checked the label and the gauge of the yarn I chose looked like it should match the pattern just fine. Both were marked as “Chunky”. My gut feeling was that I should use a finer needle. Instead of a 6.5mm, I used a 6mm. Now the pattern doesn’t show photos of the back of it, so I wasn’t sure how full it was meant to be. Although there were a lot of stitches to cast on, I figured it was probably just meant to be a full swing style back. There were a lot of decreases leading up to the armpits on the back so I just went with it. I decreased for the armpits and began the raglan decreases. After about 8 rows I realized that this was going to be Sasquatch-worthy in size. (And this is why good little knitters swatch. LOL) When I measured the actual knitting I realized that the texture of the yarn makes the fabric relax and expand. A small swatch wouldn’t have really even shown me the extent to which it relaxes.

Unwinding was my next step.

At first, I felt disappointed that the size was so off. The reality is that while I was knitting it, I was giving myself permission to simply enjoy that process. I wasn’t thinking about how long it would take to complete the sweater; I was just enjoying the texture of the yarn and the gentle rhythm of the knitting. There was no reason to feel bad about frogging it and starting over. When I began unraveling it, I focused on the feeling of the stitches releasing and unwinding, one by one, from the project. It was mesmerizing. With each unwinding stitch I found myself unwinding too. I placed the end of the yarn into my ball winder and wound it as I went. I unraveled a few rows and then wound it onto the ball. The winding had its own rhythm too. It felt good to just focus on that feeling. By the time I was finished, I had three freshly wound balls ready for a fresh start. More than that, I felt relaxed and calm. The project was unwound and so was I.

I took some time and played around with smaller needles. I was a little surprised at how worn out I felt once I finished my new cast on and got the first row completed. I’m not sure where my head was on the second row though. I was supposed to be doing garter stitch. You can’t get much more simple than that. And yet, on row three I was quite astonished to realize that half of stitches were actually stockinette. I took my time, carefully reworking the stitches as I came to them. By the time I finished the mere six rows of garter stitch I was ready for a nap.

With the garter stitch hem completed, the next section is stockinette and I find myself looking forward to when I can curl up with this project again. I’m determined to simply allow myself to be mesmerized by the texture of the yarn and the rhythm of the knitting. Sometimes a project just needs to be about unwinding.

Happy Knitting

Waste Yarn Wisdom

If you are a hand knitter, you have probably rarely or never needed waste yarn. When you knit by hand, your stitches are securely held on your knitting needles (barring unfortunate pet incidents). When you are ready to bind off, or graft your final row or round of stitches, you simply do that with your knitting needles or a crochet hook. It’s all right there and convenient. But when you machine knit, your stitches are on individual needles (latch hooks) on your knitting machine. Simply dropping that project off the machine would leave you with a whole lot of live stitches that are likely to unravel before the piece hits the ground. Here is some helpful information about waste yarn.

Raw Edges

Let’s say you are machine knitting a raglan sweater. You knit two sleeves, the front and the back of the sweater. Yes, you could certainly bind each off directly from the knitting machine. When you have assembled the pieces and you’re ready to knit the neck band, you could pick up stitches from the bound off edges. But it is so much nicer to just knit that neck band from live stitches. In this case, once the piece is completed, you would switch out your project yarn with waste yarn. Knit a whole bunch of rows. You want plenty of them so that if it unravels, there is no risk of your actual stitches dropping.

Hung Hems

When you know you’ll be using a hung hem on your garment, you can begin with what is called a cast on rag. This is a piece of knitting that you hang from every other needle. You then use waste yarn to create a removeable base. (Don’t worry, once you have knit a few rows, the “every other” missing stitches fill in automatically). Once you have a good base of waste yarn, you knit the rows you need for your hung hem. (If you are doing a picot edge, do half the rows, do your picot row and then do the other half.) You then pick up the first row purl bumps and hang them onto the corresponding needles. Knit one row and you have competed your hung hem. This gives a really nice finish.

As a Separator

If you are knitting socks on a circular sock knitting machine the waste yarn can have a few purposes. First of all, it is typical to use a cast on bonnet to start your first sock. You hang the bonnet using every other needle and then knit several rounds with waste yarn. Knit a sock. Once you complete the sock, you’ll knit a bunch of rounds of waste yarn. This allows you to safely remove the sock from the knitting machine. But… wait just a tick. Let’s face it, most of us need two socks. Don’t spend a bunch of time removing that sock and starting the process all over. Use that waste yarn that protects that previous toe as the foundation for your next sock, and so on. I have done as many as 18 socks all in one stretch before removing them from the machine.

Waste Yarn Tips

I typically try to use up leftover yarns I have kicking around. And that’s okay, you can definitely do that. Knowing what will work best can definitely minimize headaches though.

Weight

Using a waste yarn that is a different weight than your project yarn can make it really tricky to identify where your stitches are. It can result in missed stitches when you pick up for a hung hem and it can make it difficult to see all your stitches when you are grafting toes on socks. By using a yarn that is the same weight, it will be a zillion times easier to identify what you are looking at and knowing that you are grabbing the right stitch when you need to.

Colour

Yes, colour matters! I have all sorts of leftover sock yarn. Much of it is self patterning. I love me some self patterning sock yarn! Using this as waste yarn can be tricky; but you can, in a pinch. Avoid using colours that contain those similar to your project yarn. Also having multiple colours can be confusing; when it comes time to graft, it can really slow you down. I find it much easier when I use a solid colour. Ideally, use something that has a different colour value than your project yarn. If you don’t really understand colour values, take a black and white photo of the two yarns side by side. If they look the same in black and white, then they are the same colour value. They may seem like significantly different colours, but in poor lighting conditions, similar colour values will be tougher to distinguish from one another. As someone who typically grafts toes in the evening, I am speaking from experience.

Texture

I am not talking about nubbly textured yarns like boucle. Definitely avoid those. What I’m referring to here is the difference in texture that you get when one yarn is wool and the other is cotton, or acrylic. The truth is that these differences in texture can be your friend. Having distinct texture differences can make it so much easier to identify which yarn is which.

Reuse

Yes, you can reuse waste yarn. You will lose some length each time. You always end up trimming some of it away. So the first time you use it, be generous. And when you take it off, wind it up neatly. Keep it tidy. A Ziploc style bag can be good for storage. Keep these away from your cat! When you start a project with a previously used piece of waste yarn, be aware of where the end is. If you get carried away with the rhythm of the knitting machine, it’s easy to end up knitting it right off. Next thing you know, it’s on the floor!

And there you have it!

Happy Knitting!

Taking it up a Notch

I have this terrible habit. When learning something new, I fully intend to start off with simple projects. But I just can’t resist diving into the deep end. Since my last blog post I learned a lot by setting the bar high. Yup. Knit radar, my new ribber, punch cards and long floats on Fair Isle. Yup. That’s me keeping it simple. Here’s what I learned!

I am so grateful for all the people who post stuff on the internet so that I can find reference when I need it. I was able to download and print the full manual for my knitting machine ribber. That gave me clear guidelines for casting on and knitting a simple rib to start off the sweater I intended to knit. (Yeah, that reflects how it went.) Gotta say, the ribbing went fabulously. That was pretty exciting. There are so many steps involved just to cast on a rib that I doubt I’ll ever memorize the process so it’s good I printed out the manual.

I have a tendency to be ambitious. Sometimes that results in a completed project and sometimes it results in insights toward future projects. My most recent explorations definitely resulted in the latter! I figured I would make a child sized cardigan using three colours and a pattern that I thought resembled ice cream cones when you looked at it upside down. (Welcome to the way my mind works…)

Sweater Back

First Attempt

I got the knit radar all set up. Got my ribbing all done and felt like a rock star. Next I the punch card with my inverted ice cream cones. Thing is, you can’t see the progress in your knitting very easily because you are looking at the wrong side of the fabric as you knit. I painstakingly caught the long floats on the needles as I went… though inconsistently. It took about 50 rows before I realized I had my punch card in upside down. Also, the floats looked great on the back, but on the good side, you could see their placement was inconsistent. Sigh… ripped it out, wound it all back onto the cones and started again.

Second Attempt

I reset my pattern in the knit radar. Got my ribbing all done and felt relieved that at least I was getting that right. Set up the punch card; took it back out; put it back in; wondered whether I got it right; took it back out; put it back in (by now I was on the verge of hyper-ventilation) started knitting. Got all the way to the armpit shaping and took a well earned break. Continued on to the neck shaping and completed the right side shoulder. Then I realized that I had not paid any attention to what row the punch card was on when I started the shoulder shaping. I had no idea where to set it to carry on with the other shoulder in the proper pattern sequence… I also had no idea whether I should be starting on the right or left side with the carriage. Hmmmmm. I figured that it was such a small piece I didn’t care and just let it do whatever it wanted for the left shoulder. Bound off and set that aside. One striped sweater back completed! YAY!

Sweater Front

Before the First Attempt

It occurred to me that those stripes could make life pretty challenging on the sweater fronts, what with neck and armhole shaping. So I went ahead and made the back again, but with just two colours.

First Attempt

Set it all up, got the ribbing done, set up the punch card, knit a bunch of rows and realized I forgot to switch it from stockinette to the “knit-in” setting. Tried to take it back to the ribbing and failed miserably. It really is just quicker to start over.

Second Attempt

Got well underway and then realized that there was something really wrong with my knit in pattern. I started on the right side of zero and every time I drew the carriage to the left, I only went a few inches past my zero. That was the edge of my work. BUT, that didn’t take the carriage far enough to the left to actually read the punch card. So, I ripped it out again.

Third Attempt

Man, the ribbing was just not working for me. It took me a full-on forty minutes to realize that one of the locking levers that holds the ribber in the right position on the table had flipped down. I won’t make that mistake again.

Fourth Attempt:

Man, I was cooking with gas on this. I got all the way to the armpit and then realized that I was supposed to shape the neckline first. I tried to take it back but got seriously confused about what row the punch card should be on in order to get the correct pattern. You see, the line that is indicated on the front of the machine is not the row that is being read. So you can’t just look at the pattern on the garment and say oh that corresponds to row such and such. And my brain was going inside-out trying to discern how to know which row to go back to. I gave up. I walked away, grabbed me some Reese’s ice cream and when I was done licking out my bowl I decided to machine knit a pair of socks instead. Those came out perfectly. That was just the boost I needed after crashing on my learning curve.

And now, this little sweater project is sitting in time out. Since it was really intended to be used as an opportunity to explore the features on the knitting machine, I’m not sure whether I will actually complete it; time will tell. I have no regrets.

Here’s to swinging for the fences and letting the missteps be our teachers.

Happy exploring!

First Round with Knit Radar

“What is Knit Radar”, you ask?

Kind of sounds like a device that the police use to catch you knitting in your car, right? Or maybe how fast you’re knitting in your car? It’s a feature on my Singer 360K studio knitting machine that makes it easier to shape and size pattern pieces as you knit. Although I haven’t had as much time (energy, really) as I hoped to play with my knitting machines since my last blogpost, I have attempted my first garment using knit-radar.

I thought I would make myself a sleeveless top to start out with. The Singer machines with the knit-radar feature come with basic garment patterns on long narrow sheets of paper. You feed one through the knit-radar to keep track of where you are on that pattern piece as you knit. When I looked through the patterns, I thought I’d actually use the dress pattern and just shorten it to a good length; it had the shape I was looking for. Although I didn’t really have expectations of making anything actually wearable on my first try, I thought I’d choose my pattern and yarn in hopes that if the planets were to align, that I’d actually want to wear the resulting garment.

Step One: The gauge swatch

I started out by making a gauge swatch with the yarn. I followed the instructions in the manual. Essentially, you knit a bunch of rows, strategically placing contrasting rows and stitches.

The machine comes with a bundle of gauge rulers; each is marked with numbers in the corner to identify it. Among those is one ruler that looks a little different. One side has an R, the other side has an S. Using the R side, you align the edge where the R is with the bottom of the lonely contrasting stitch and measure to the top of the contrasting stripe below it. At the point where the ruler meets the top of that stitch, you identify the number on the ruler. That is your row count for your gauge. Flip that ruler over to the S side. You measure between the two contrasting stitches to determining your stitch count.

Step Two: Set up the knit-radar

There is a dial on the machine, in front of the knit radar with numbers on it. This is how you set the number of rows in your gauge. (Mine was seized so I had to disassemble it all, get it unseized and put it back together again.) Set this to the correct number. In my case, it was 40 rows.

Now dig through all those rulers and find the one that has the same number as the number of stitches you determined with that S side of the ruler. There are a lot of rulers to dig through! Making sure that you have the correct stitch number in the upper left hand corner of that ruler, place it in the front of the knit radar behind the metal clips.

Using the sizing grid on the pattern, choose your size. The pattern pieces are drawn sort of nesting on each other by size. So figure out which one is the one you need. (It doesn’t hurt to put a sticky note on the knitting machine to remind you!) You feed the pattern sheet into the knit radar and use the vertical and horizontal lines to make sure you have it aligned perfectly. Then engage the lever so it “grabs” the paper and allows you to advance the pattern piece using the appropriate dial. Line it up with the bottom of the pattern piece you’ll be following. Now make sure that the zero on your gauge ruler lines up perfectly with the left hand side of the pattern piece you are following.

Cast it on, Baby!

You figure out how many stitches to cast on by looking at the intersection point of the pattern with the stitch count ruler. For the back or the sleeve, it will have half of the pattern, so the zero line is at the center of the machine. You cast on equally on either side of center, the number of stitches indicated on the knit radar. There are a lot of ways to cast on but that’s for another day.

Once you have those stitches cast on, start knitting. You increase or decrease the number of stitches according to how the outline of the pattern piece moves relative to the stitch count ruler. It will likely take a few projects to get good at this process. There were times I probably should have shaped both sides of the piece on the same row; you live and learn.

Shaping it up!

I was grateful that I watched a lot of videos before I attempted this process. It’s recommended (and I wholeheartedly agree!) to do what is called “fully fashioned” increases and decreases. What this means is that you move either two or three stitches in our out from the knitting to either create a new stitch or reduce the number of stitches. Without getting into gory details, this basically means that the increases happen within the fabric rather than on the edge of the garment. This gives a really nice clean edge and makes it much nicer to join the pieces to each other to finish the garment.

I made the back first. When I finished it I figured it would have been easier to do a nicer finish on it if I had used short rows. So I used short rows on the front. I then did a bunch of rows of waste yarn… although I should have done a lot more of them! Once you assemble it all and finish off the live stitches, you pull off the waste yarn.

I got it all stitched up; I didn’t hide my ends yet since it turned out quite big. Now I have the information I need to plan my next project a little better. Success!

Happy Making!

Building a Foundation

A while ago I wrote about a flat bed knitting machine I was gifted; a floor loom that was entrusted to me and my recent purchase of a circular sock knitting machine. Since then I acquired a used Singer studio style knitting machine. All I can say is, “Wow!” It’s pretty amazing what you can do with one of these.

My new (old) Singer 360C Studio style knitting machine has a punch card reader as well as a pattern “reader”. The previous owner was clearly very skilled in its use! It came with a ton of punch cards and basic patterns for garments and all the bells and whistles. It’s a little mind blowing how much you can do with these machines, even without a ribber attachment.

I’m a long way from more than scratching the surface with it. Frankly, it’s a little overwhelming to consider all the possibilities. I played around with it just a little to get a sense of how it works, so far. I tried out a few of the punch cards, only doing colour-work so far. The punch cards include some repeating patterns and some motifs. Depending on the settings you use, you can do colour-work, lace, tuck stitches or slip-stitch patterns and weaving effects. I’m grateful that it came with all the original manuals. Between those and You-Tube videos I feel like I’m getting a good overview and that I’ll soon be able to make all kinds of fun things.

Punch cards

Way back, when computers were a brand new thing, everything started with 1’s and 0’s. Punch cards are basically 1’s and 0’s.

There’s a hole or there isn’t a hole. The carriage goes past the card reader and memorizes the pattern of holes and “not-holes” and depending on which is where, needles are directed one way or another. The settings determine what happens with those needles. So I guess you could say that this makes it a computerized machine… in a primitive sense.

If you have multiple colours of yarn, the gate number one yarn needles align with yarn number one and the yarn two needles align with yarn number two. The downside of this is that you can end up with some pretty long floats. (I haven’t looked into how people typically deal with this issue yet. Of course, you can machine knit the pieces so fast that you could just knit a plain set of pattern pieces to line the garment with.)

If you’re knitting lace, the holes or the “not-holes” correspond to knit stitches and the equivalent of yarn-overs. Trust me, this is a gross oversimplification. I haven’t tried to do any lace just yet. I’ve watched some videos and am excited to dive in, I just haven’t had a chance yet. There are all sorts of mysterious rows that seem like they aren’t making progress, but the orientation of the stitches on either side of the lace openings are manipulated somehow in this process. Like I said, “gross oversimplification”.

There are settings for “slip stitch” patterns.

The selected needles aren’t knitted, and it’s done so that it deliberately leaves floats. The positioning and size of the floats create the multitude of possible textured patterns.

Tuck stitches are a little different than slip stitches in that the tuck stitches are held in the needle hook until the pattern tells the machine to actually knit and incorporate whatever is on that hook. So you may have several passes of yarn in the hook which all get knitted at once when the machine tells it to. This also creates interesting textured patterns.

Weaving stitches give the illusion of woven fabric. The main yarn is fed through the carriage but the “weaving” yarn is held by guides on either side of the carriage respectively depending on which direction you are knitting that row. Brushes are engaged to make sure that the “weaving” yarn is held in the correct position and the pattern on the punch card determines how that “weave” appears. There is some room for additional creativity here in what yarns you choose but it will be limited by how fine the needles are on the particular machine you’re using. My machine is for finer yarns, so I’d be inclined to not go thicker than a worsted weight for the “weaving” yarn.

Patterns

I’m very excited to actually begin practicing with this feature.

There are 1/2 scale paper patterns included for basic garments. Once you have worked out your gauge for the yarn and punch card/technique you plan to use, you do a little calculating and set up the machine. The comprehensive set of gauge rulers allows you to pick the one that matches the gauge you need. There is a slot for the ruler to pop into immediately in front of the pattern piece. You cast on your appropriate number of stitches and as you knit, the pattern advances according to the gauge settings. As the pattern advances, the outline of the pattern moves in relation to the gauge ruler, indicating the number of increases or decreases you need. It just gives you a visual of where you are in the progress of that pattern piece. Once you are familiar enough with the system, you can create your own patterns.

I love fibre arts!

I love how tactile they are. I love the colours, the textures the endless creative possibilities. I love the engineering aspect of them. I love that they result in something I can touch and hold and put to practical use. I also love how the various skills often cross over from one discipline to another. No matter which discipline is our favourite, each technique we learn adds to our skills foundation and allows us to do more the next time. Each new discipline we try is enhanced by what we have gleaned in all our previous explorations. How cool is that? I’m looking forward to exploring what I can create with this new-to-me knitting machine. I’ll keep you posted!

Happy Fibre Arts Explorations!

Happy Easter

It’s wonderful to see the crocuses, daffodils and tulips begin to emerge through the soil as the snow melts away. Although this winter was mild as our winters go, I’m very happy to have blue skies and sunshine and the promise of warm weather again. I find that the first quarter of the year always flies right by for me. Here it is, the beginning of April already. Easter is this weekend; how did that come so fast? We find ourselves in that “in-between” time when it just seems too nice to stay indoors, but isn’t really warm enough to get busy in the garden. What to do? Well there’s always more knitting, or crochet, or embroidery, or felting, or quilting… (shhhhh…. I don’t want to hear you say spring cleaning!)

I thought I would write a quick blogpost just to say hello and happy Easter. I was looking through Ravelry.com and found a few really sweet Easter patterns. I thought I’d share them and hopefully they’ll make you smile the way they made me smile.

Easter bunny!

Sweet little chick!

And Easter eggs!

Once the Easter weekend is over, it’ll be time to book in for our vaccinations. That feels like a light at the end of the tunnel to me. And in the meantime, I hope you have a lovely weekend as we hang in there through what I truly hope will be our last provincial lock-down. The store will be closed from Good Friday until the following Wednesday and then we’ll be back to regular hours.

Happy Crafting and Happy Easter!

For the Love of Socks

For anyone who follows my blog, you will know that I love sock knitting.

Anyone who knows my store will know that I have a weakness for sock yarn. Skeins and balls of sock yarn must easily outnumber all the other yarns in the shop. One of the things that has been a little frustrating for me is that there aren’t enough hours in my evenings to knit samples of the sock yarns so people can get a visual on how they knit up. For a long time, I was drooling over Erlbacher Gearhart circular sock knitting machines. This winter, my DH finally got fed up listening to me go on about it. “Just order one already!” He said. So I did!

My brand new CSM arrived early in January. The folks at Erlbacher were lovely; their service was excellent. These machines are custom built to order. I purchased two cylinders and two ribbers, 60’s and 72’s respectively (that’s the number of stitches). They sent me links to lots of YouTube videos and cautioned me to expect it to take about three weeks to begin to feel like I was getting the hang of it. They were right! It’s been quite the learning curve.

An overview

The way this works is that you attach stitches from a “cast on bonnet” onto the needles of the machine. You cast on with a waste yarn. (I learned the hard way why it is really important to use a solid colour yarn that is a dramatic contrast to your working yarn.) you knit a bunch of rounds to create a separation from the bonnet, and then bring in your working yarn. You knit however many rounds you want for your hung hem (I use 10) if you want a picot edge you do that and then another multiple of your original half of the hung hem (10 for me). Then you pick up the original first round stitches and pop them onto the needles that correspond to that column of stitches. Once those are picked up, you keep knitting around for the leg. Next comes a short row heel, then the foot, then you make the toe exactly the same way you did the short row heel. Once the toe is done, you switch to the contrast waste yarn again and knit about 8 or 10 rounds. You can then start the next sock or you can remove it from the machine. Close up the toes using Kitchener, remove the waste yarn and “Ta-DAH”! You have yourself a sock.

I found the videos and advice from Steve Ashton (the Wizard of BC) incredibly helpful. I messaged him and he immediately responded with a video call to me. He asked me to show him how I had set up the machine and then offered me guidance on what to change to make it work better. What a kind, generous and lovely man! He’s got a wealth of knowledge of these machines and it shows. When I contacted him I was trying to use the ribber for the first time and was getting very frustrated. He explained what I needed to take into consideration and how to set it all up. He also suggested that I take some more time to get really comfortable with just knitting stockinette socks until I felt more confident before tackling the ribber. So that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve got to the point where it only takes me about half an hour to complete one sock now. Doing the heels and toes is almost automatic. I’ve had a pile of socks that were ready to have the toes closed up so I curled up at the TV and finished them all off in one evening. These will be displayed in the store; they are samples of yarns I have in stock. Time to cut up some cardboard to make me some sock blockers to display them on.

I truly love this machine.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still knit socks by hand too. But I can see that it will be worth the investment in the long haul. Being able to knit up samples of the new sock yarns as they come in alone will make it worth it. Eventually, once I am more confident, I will likely make socks to sell. But that’s down the road a ways… perhaps if things are quieter in the summer, I may play with that possibility then. It will take some doing to determine what sizes I want to make up and what I need to do to be sure that those sizes will be consistent.

There are a lot of videos on CSM’s when you start looking. Many of them suggest doing toe-up to avoid the Kitchener stitch closure of the toes. What I found was that it means you have to make the stitches bigger for the toes so that you can pick up the stitches and stretch them across the cylinder once the toe is complete. Otherwise they just don’t reach and you have to start over. I really hate a sloppy, loose fitting toe. Also, if you do that, you have to take a lot of energy to bind off the cuff. I find it far quicker to close the toe with Kitchener stitch than to bind off the cuff. Using a hung hem, you don’t have to do anything fussy with the top of the sock. Steve advised me that he even uses a 2 round hung hem on ribbed socks. It’s really quick and easy to do. It does take a bit of practice to be able to see which loops are the right ones to pick up to do that hung hem, but practice makes that easier. Using a highly contrasting waste yarn in a solid colour makes it easy to see the stitches for this.

Perhaps in another month or so I’ll revisit the ribber and face that learning curve. As samples go, it’s nice for them to be stockinette so you can see the patterns in the fabric easier. For now, I’m happy making up my stockinette samples. I like the feeling of satisfaction that comes with a successful pair of socks.

Happy Crafting!

Looming Joy!

Man, what with Covid-19 cases rising… it’s easy for life to feel really heavy right now. It puts such a strain on everyone’s mental health and emotional well-being. It’s so important during stressful times, that we take charge and make sure we have ways to de-stress. Whether that looks like long walks, yoga, meditation, fibre arts or some other activity, it’s up to us each to reach for what will keep us feeling balanced.

My kids’ paternal grandmother was a weaver. Rag rugs were her thing. She had two looms that were usually loaded with projects at all times. She passed away, years ago (within months of my own mother’s passing). Recently, I was entrusted with one of her looms. Her husband built it for her in the 1990’s. It had been in storage and although the structure of it was in good condition, the heddles and the cording that supported the harnesses, treadles and shafts didn’t fare as well.

I was so excited to be able to bring this loom back to life. I had observed my mother-in-law using the looms, but had never used them myself. Weeks before I received it, I began researching. Once we had it all structurally set up, I ordered heddles for it and restrung the rotted out cording.

My sweetheart built me a warping board, which I found leaning up against the loom on a Sunday morning. I felt like a five year old child waking up to shiny things on Christmas morning. By the end of the day I was well into my first project (despite having to work part of the day).

It was wonderful. I felt so much joy measuring the warp, sleying the reed, threading the heddles and anchoring that yarn to the apron rods. Every step felt so satisfying. I filled my bobbins for my shiny new shuttle and began weaving. The joy welled up in me so much that at one point I had to just sit back and weep. Perhaps that sounds melodramatic, but it didn’t feel that way. It just felt wonderful. Since the pandemic began back in early spring, there has been so much emotional and mental stress building up everywhere. I feel like this was an opening of the gates that allowed me to release a big wave of emotion that was stuffed down and out of the way so I could keep on keeping on. I didn’t realize how much I needed that.

Over the next three days, I sat down and wove whenever I had a chance. Ten minutes here, thirty minutes there. By the time I opened the store that Wednesday morning, I had finished the entire warp. I made 3 dish cloths, 3 table runners and 2 scrubby cloths (I used Rico Creative Bubble for those, it’s the yarn you use to make scrubbies for your dishes). When I got a chance throughout the day, I finished up the ends of those items on the sewing machine, serger and ultimately with some twill binding. It was so satisfying. I learned a lot in doing that first warp’s worth of weaving. The most important thing I learned was that I love to weave. It also really impressed upon me how important it is that I make the time to do things that bring me joy, that pull me away from the stress inducing aspects of life.

Since then I’ve completed another warp’s worth of weaving projects and I’m now on my third one. This batch will be placemats. It’s proving to be very satisfying. I have a couple of knitting projects on the go, but they are both pretty complex and require a degree of focus that I just haven’t been able to sustain for the past month. I’m picking away at them and I’ll get them done, little by little. The loom is (for now) taking over the place that I usually fill with a “no-brainer” knitting project. It’s nice to have options.

For me, fibre arts offer a healthy way to release the mental and emotional stress that (daily life, let alone) the pandemic has us all under. Dr. Bonnie Henry’s mantra of “Be Calm, Be Kind, Be Safe” is not just about how we are with others, but about how we are to ourselves too. If crochet, or knitting, or embroidery, or felting, or weaving help you to cope with all… well… that stuff… you are in good company. And it’s a bonus is that you end up with something tangible out of the deal when the crafting is done. A hat, a pair of socks, a dishcloth, a sweater, a Christmas ornament… all happy results of a fibre arts hobby. But the best side effect of all is the joy.

And with that in mind, I wish you JOY!

Happy crafting!