Knitting Machine: Baby Steps!

I grew up watching my mom knit on her collection of eight knitting machines. I often thought I would have liked to play with them and explore their possibilities. I never got that opportunity. A while back, a customer popped in the store, set an old knitting machine on my counter and said, “If you want this, it’s all yours. We’re downsizing.” I happily accepted and until about two weeks ago, it sat waiting for me to be ready to play.

When I resolved that it was time, I opened the case and carefully removed it. There were envelopes in the bottom of the case. The newsletters in them were dated 1958 from “Knit King”. I grabbed a coffee and curled up on the recliner and began to read. Each newsletter contained short info-bites about clubs that were popping up all over Canada for the knitting machine enthusiasts who wanted to share their excitement with others. I could feel the passion!

Each newsletter contained a pattern. Very few had photographs or sketches. The instructions were precise as to what yarn to use, and economically written. I was fascinated. In the rare edition that had photos the styles were definitely of another era. One in particular was a matching vest for father and son, reminiscent of Bing Crosby’s wardrobe. The ladies’ tops were decidedly vintage. It was a fun glance into another time.

I came across one with “kids’ mittens” hand written across the front. I was baffled as to how you would even do that on a flat bed knitting machine.

I was game; but first, I had to get the basics down.

This particular machine can only work yarn up to DK weight. I pulled out the manual and carefully worked out how to cast on. I unsuccessfully experimented with some DK yarn and then switched to sock weight. That was better. After a number of false starts, I made a piece of fabric out of leftover sock yarn and decided that I could turn it into a little purse for one of the grand kids. I took it off the machine and bound the edge off. That was fun! And it went fast. So I thought I’d try out that mitten pattern next.

It required three colours. They suggested 3-ply yarn which is a little thinner than sock yarn but I figured it would give me an idea and I could adjust the pattern later if the size was off.

It was quite interesting. Moving needles in and out of holding positions as directed in the pattern, I had no idea what to expect.

I watched stitches collect on the holding needles. When the holding needles went back into action, the yarn was pulled through all that accumulated yarn and the pattern began to form. I felt a little bit like a kid opening gifts on Christmas morning. I ended up with some dropped stitches. Because I didn’t yet comprehend how the machine was actually making the pattern, I had no idea how to fix them yet. I hoped I could eventually anticipate what issues might happen so I could prevent or fix dropped stitches as I went along.

As the mitten started to take shape, I began to see how making everything flat requires a different mindset. What a paradigm shift for someone whose preference is to knit everything in one piece and avoid any seaming at all!

When I felt confident I chose some leftover yarns and cast on. That first “for real” mitten had a lot of starts and stops. I would notice a dropped stitch and realize that I had gone too far in the colour work to wrap my brain around how to fix it. I frogged it back and started over. In the process, I began to notice the nuances of what led to the issues. As I became better able to anticipate what might go wrong, I checked each row and sometimes manually worked the hooks to make sure all the stitches were right.

Then the pattern said, “turn as for heel”. Ummmm… thankfully there was another envelope with a set of tutorials. One of them was for sock knitting. I read that and quickly turned the top of the mitten. I was delighted to watch the little thumb appear as I faithfully followed the instructions. It would need to be seamed later, but with its own little “heel turn” at the top, it was a quick and slick way to get the job done.

This machine only does knit stitches.

The ribbing was made by leaving out every third hook and the cross threads spanning between the adjacent knit stitches gave the impression of ribbing. When it was all done, I really hated the way the ribbing looked. Especially once seamed. So, I frogged it off, picked up the stitches and knitted the cuff by hand.

Took some doing, but when the first mitten was done, man, I felt like I had learned a lot. The second mitten worked up more easily. I was able to prevent and repair the issues as they came up. I didn’t bother with the rib, just did that by hand afterward.

I stitched up the first one with yarn like a good girl. But remember, this is the president of the “I hate stitching my knitting together” club talking. I don’t like doing it, and so I never really put a lot of energy into getting good at it. I was unhappy with my results. After stitching one side of the second mitten in this way, I decided to sew the thumb and the other side on the sewing machine. Hey, if Arne and Carlos can sew their Norwegian sweaters together on sewing machines, I’m in good company here!

I’m very happy with the result and I’m feeling inspired to continue to play! Whatever your creative passion, I wish you joy in pursuing it!

Happy Crafting!

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