Socktober: Week 2

During my second week of Socktober I focused on changing colours on toes and heels in the most efficient, yet structurally sound way. There are so many subtle things to think about. Funny how things that are normally completely automatic fall out of your head when you change things up.

The first major thing I changed was to replace my original yarn guide. I am now using one with slots rather than holes. That came with its own learning curve. If you aren’t careful during transitions, the yarn can pop out and suddenly your work just dropped off half a dozen needles! All in all it’s a lot easier once you get used to it.

The first contrasting heels and toes, I joined the new yarn immediately at the colour change.

That meant I had tails for both, on either side of the heel. That might seem like a no-brainer, but I was concerned about the stability of those joins that take a lot of stress. I didn’t want to create a failure point, or a hot spot against the ankle either. I tried to imagine a way that I could incorporate enough stitches with both colours of yarn to allow me to simply cut off the yarn I’m done with and feel confident that everything will be solid.

I ended up adding the heel colour to the base colour carrying the two together from the 9:00 position to the 6:00 position, lifting my rear needles to prepare for the heel and then continued with both yarns to the 3:00 position. I allowed about 4 inches of the new colour and cut the base colour once I got to the 3:00 position. I start my heel at 3:00. I lift the first target needle and then crank back. When I got back to 9:00, I added the tail to the working yarn and knit them together. I built my heel and on my last pass of the heel from the 9:00 position, I reintroduced the base colour and knitted it along to the end of the heel. I cut the heel yarn. I made sure the base colour was threaded through the yarn assembly (not in the heel spring). I incorporated the base colour tail into as many stitches as possible on the next round.

I started the toe in the same way, incorporating the second colour from the 9:00 position, pausing at 6:00 to lift the rear needles and continuing on to the 3:00 position. Obviously once the toe was finished I worked several rounds of waste yarn to prep for the next sock.

When working on a heel or toe on a sock machine, you alternate cranking forward and back as you build the short rows. The back half of your needles are in the non-working position as you focus just on the working needles at the front. As you deal with all the little things like lifting or wrapping needles, cranking, adjusting the fork weights and keeping the yarn moving smoothly through the assembly, it’s easy to go into a sort of auto-pilot. The more you do it, the more automatic it becomes. Unfortunately, as soon as you add one new thing, auto-pilot is no longer your friend.

At one point, I discovered I had a broken needle.

I picked up the resulting dropped stitches and replaced the needle. Without taking a moment to check, I started cranking and quickly realized that I had cranked in the wrong direction. My working thread was wrapped around the back needles. UGH! I tinked it back and recovered. In the next round I realized that I had broken another needle in trying to get that all sorted. I fixed those dropped stitches, switched out the second broken needle and carried on.

When I wound the dark green yarn onto a cone, it wound very tight. I probably should have rewound it looser a second time, but I was too lazy. No excuses; I did notice ahead of time. Between that yarn having a bit of tooth and grabbing onto itself and getting caught underneath the “ball” on the cone, I ended up with that heel knitting much tighter than I actually wanted it to. This led to one of the broken needles I mentioned. Because the orange yarn I used for a subsequent pair was the same yarn as the green, I took the time to wind it twice. It moved through the assembly much more smoothly.

I ended up giving up on the ravel cord thing for this week. I tried to use ravel cord directly on my cast on bonnet as the separation to the first sock. Unfortunately, I ended up with two or three stitches from my cast on bonnet being knitted into the first sock. I sacrificed the bonnet in the process. I made a new bright orange one though. I’ll go into the details another day.

When I Kitchener the toes closed, I typically will put a stitch marker through the two final stitches at the end of the row. By the time you get there, what with the waste yarn underneath, it can be really tough to see. It’s really easy to miss one stitch. It’s a pain to have to recover that after you have woven your ends in. It was a good reminder why skipping this step is just a bad idea.

Because I was using several different yarns this week I was also reminded of the importance of actually thinking about the colour, weight and texture of the waste yarn. Doing the Kitcheners was challenging!

I feel really good about what I learned and accomplished this week. I have made a lot of socks on my machine since I got it last January. I built up a solid routine that minimizes my mistakes. This week offered a very clear view of how easily a routine can be upset by new parameters. It take focus to try new things.

I wish you happy explorations!

Socktober: Week One

Welcome to my Socktober!

There are so many ways that you can personalize your Socktober. I don’t know many people who can either knit fast enough or find the time to knit an entire pair of socks by hand each day of the month for 31 days in a row. If that’s you, I bow to your superpowers! I thought I would embrace Socktober this year and use it to motivate me to learn new techniques on my sock knitting machine.

I was thinking about how I could make my Socktober manageable.

After all, I still have a business to run and we’re leaping headlong into the busy season for both sewing and yarn sales. Using a sock knitting machine means that it is definitely within the realm of possibility to knit a pair of socks each day. But I want to be realistic so that I don’t end up burning myself out on something that I want to be fun and skill-building. I hope to average one pair per day, but I reserve the right to consider it seven per week rather than one per day. I’ll include photos of all the socks I have done each week and talk about the new skills I worked on mastering. The blogs themselves may end up being a bit shorter than usual. (I typically try to write 1K words.) I’ll just see how it goes.

So leading up to the first week of October, I was watching some CSM videos. One of the knitters uses a ravel cord. I knew about ravel cords but had never used one. When you use a sock knitting machine, you use waste yarn to start out the project. It also acts as a divider between items. This is especially great on a sock machine because it means you don’t have to do a full set up for every sock. You just keep starting new ones after making a dividing strip of waste yarn. So a ravel cord is typically something that has a stiffer texture. You only knit it into one row or round of stitches and you don’t overlap any of them. In other words you don’t knit any of the needles more than once with it. So the idea is that you knit your waste yarn, the ravel cord and then start your actual project yarn. When you are finished, you simply find the middle point of the ravel cord, draw one of the loops of it out of its stitch and gently pull it out of the knitting. Presto, the project is separated from the waste yarn! WOW!

That was the first new thing I tried.

I only tried it on the very beginning of the socks because I was a little scared to do it on the toes. I used a fairly stiff crochet cotton. I think it was South Maid #10. It feels almost like it’s starched. I put it through the yarn guide assemble and pulled enough off the ball so it wouldn’t bind once I started cranking the machine. I very carefully started it on the needle just past my six o’clock needle mark. I knitted that around to the needle in the six o’clock position and then trimmed it off with about 4 inches to spare. I plan to reuse these ravel cords.

It actually went really well!

It worked exactly as it should. It also had the added benefit that it was super easy to see where the loops of the first round sat. The texture of it is very different than the sock yarn which also helped with that. So when I put the first round stitches over the needles for the hung hem, it was easier to see them.

Well, I had been planning to try making a pair of socks with contrasting heel and toe for some time. I already had the yarn wound onto cones and ready to go. Since it was sitting there, ready to go, I figured I would go ahead and try that on my October 1st socks as well. (Mostly because I was too lazy to wind another cone with different yarn.)

I must say that I really hate weaving in ends. So I very clumsily fought with those ends to try and get them knitted into the heels and toes as I went along. It went okay, but the key word here was definitely “clumsy” (although lumpy might also apply… LOL). I want to try that again, maybe a few times, to see if I can’t come up with a method that will be easier and give a really smooth result without having to hand weave the ends in.

I suppose having only one pair to show for my blog this week is a little underwhelming, but it will have to do. Now to decide what I want to try for the next ones.

If you decide to do some sort of Socktober, I’d love to hear what that looks like for you.

Happy Sock Knitting!

Cross Stitch: Preparation is Key

So you have your pattern, your fabric and all the beautiful colours of floss.

Your hoop and needles are ready to go. You lay everything out on the table and take in the cross stitch graph… and you think, “what have I got myself into? Where do I even start?” Not to worry, I’ll help you get started.

Organize the floss

Your pattern will have a legend with a description of each of the colours in your project, a symbol that represents that colour on the graph and a DMC colour number.

If you bought a kit, those might be organized on pieces of cardstock, with the colour numbers next to them on the card. If so, you will definitely want to draw the matching symbols next to the corresponding floss. Take your time and double check that you are putting the symbols in the correct place.

Trust me, this will make your life way easier!

Skeins of Floss

Starting with full skeins? One option is to wind it onto bobbins. Take the colour number from the skein and tape it onto one wide end of the bobbin so you can see the number clearly, before you get started. I recommend you also put a temporary label with the symbol for that colour on the other end of the bobbin. (You will remove this once your project is complete.) Keep all those bobbins in a container like a tin or a floss organizer box to keep them clean and safe when not in use. Bobbins are available in cardboard and in plastic. You can buy sets with a ring to keep them all together.

Take your time to be sure that you have put the correct symbol with each colour.

You could make an extra label to tape around each skein with its respective symbol. You can simply pull a length of floss out of the skein, separate the strands as you need, and attach the extra strands around the skein until you need them. I have found that this method can get very messy, and as you use up the floss, the labels can fall off. So although it works, you have to be really careful to manage everything as you go along.

You can also cut your skeins of floss into shorter lengths, say 18″ long or so, lay them together and put them onto a home made floss organizer. You can make one or more using thin cardboard from a cereal box and a hole punch. Just make enough holes for all the colours. Label them carefully as you go with the number and the symbol and keep them in a tin or other organizer when not in use. Prepare one skein at a time to avoid confusion.

Prepare your pattern

Whether a small or large pattern, mark the center of the graph. Now pull out your pencil crayons or markers and choose a few bright colours that are distinct from one another. For a large pattern use at least three different colours. Using a ruler, draw over the heavy lines that mark each section of ten stitches. Alternate the coloured pencils in the same order across the graph and the from top to bottom and left to right.

Prepare your fabric

Find the center of the fabric. Mark it with one horizontal pin and one vertical pin. If you want to be really fussy about it, you can count the stitches on each side to make sure you are at the center. Using this as a guide, locate the closest heavy lines on the pattern, relative to the center and mark them with either a pin or a needle. Thread a needle with sewing thread in the colour that matches that line on the pattern. You will put a running stitch along all those ten-stitch lines on the fabric to correspond to the way you drew it on the pattern. Double check it! You want to be able to easily identify that coloured grid to orient where you are on the fabric relative to the pattern. If you are doing a small project this will go quickly. If you are doing a large complex project, trust me, you will thank me for urging you to take the time to do this. It may seem like a lot of preparation when you just want to get started already, but it’s worth it.

Once you have prepared all that, decide which area you want to stitch first. Find the square on the fabric and mark it with a pin or needle. Arrange the fabric in your hoop so that you can easily access that area, making sure you are orienting the fabric in the same direction as the pattern (top is at the top).

Check the instructions to determine how many strands of floss you need to use. Depending on the stitch count, you will need one, two or three strands. Choose the colour you want to start stitching with based on the symbols in the area you chose. You will want to have a manageable piece of around 18″. One by one, gently pull out the number of strands you need and lay them side by side. Align the ends and thread them into your needle. For your initial start, leave a long enough tail so you can weave it in behind the work.

It’s important that all the crosses lay in the same direction.

If they don’t, the light will catch it and it will show. Follow the graph and stitch the crosses accordingly. When you get to the end of your colour or thread, weave in the end of the floss immediately and trim the tail as you go. Lightly colour in the completed squares on the pattern as you complete them. Using a pencil allows you to erase mistakes, or erase and reuse the same pattern again later.

Take your time, double check your work and pick out mistakes; this requires precision.

Happy Stitching!

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!