Knitting Machine Shenanigans (or: Being a Newbie Can Kinda Suck)

In my last blog I talked about some of my first (fumbling) experiences with my antique knitting machine. Since then, I made a baby sweater on it. Today, I want to talk about what I learned in making that baby sweater.

Even more, I want to talk about how hard it can be to be an adult Newbie.

If you’ve followed my blog long enough, you’ll have a pretty good idea that I was raised in a household that valued productivity and efficiency above all else. I live with the pros and cons of that childhood environment for good or bad or both. Typically, I like to see results, yesterday!

Starting any new hobby (or skill, really), you do actually have to give yourself permission to be a beginner. Well, that is, if you don’t want to feel like an abject failure before you even know what you’re doing. It requires an appropriate mindset. I have to deliberately remind myself that I don’t know WTF I’m doing yet… and that it’s okay.

I run a small business so, I have plenty to do. And any sort of hobby I spend time on tends to be a bit sporadic since I don’t always have the mental energy to focus on something new in the evenings. I’m pretty stoked to become proficient using my knitting machine, but yeah. There’s only so much energy to go around. I’m determined to be gentler with myself. There are days when my inner newbie wants to forge ahead but my “it’s been a long day” self says, “uh, yeah, not right now”. I take a lot of long deep breaths to exorcise that productivity gnome that natters on, in the back of my mind. Mostly it’s shaming me for not feeling up to doing this new thing in that moment. (I imagine I’m not the only person that experiences this.)

That’s been the biggest battle in all of this, to be honest.

The way I’m trying to approach this (and maybe set up a new habit in regard to learning new things), is to be really deliberate about my mindset. I take a few deep breaths just to settle myself in. I close my eyes and I focus on the feeling of “child-like wonder”. I sit with that feeling and I name it for what it is. When I am filled up with that sense of wonder and any remnants of hurry, impatience or mind chatter have been set to the side, I begin. Over the course of the project, I’ll notice those things creeping back in. When they do, I close my eyes and bring my focus back to that sense of wonder and curiosity. It’s really helping to make the learning process a zillion times more fun and relaxing.

As for the baby sweater. I took a basic cardigan pattern in the smallest size and adapted it as I went along. This was an exercise in how to think about existing hand-knitting patterns and transferring them to be used on the machine.

Here’s what I learned

DK yarn needs more room than sock yarn. You only cast on every other needle. The tension has to be set softer. On this machine that means a higher number on the dial. When it knits, the cross threads spanning the knit stitches make it look weird. After you finish knitting, you pull it and stretch it and all those cross threads become incorporated into the stitches and disappear. The knitting looks normal.

The needles on a knitting machine are actually latch hooks. If you’ve never seen a knitting machine up close, it really is pretty cool. Once set up, the existing stitches sit just behind the latch of the open hook. You lay the yarn across the open hooks and draw the cam across the hooks. The cam’s job is to move those hooks so that the latch closes over the new yarn, pulls it through the existing stitch and places it back in the ready position with the stitch behind the open latch. If you feel resistance in the cam, you need to check the needles. Make sure that all those stitches are behind the latches and that none have dropped. The end stitches on the right and left are more likely to have issues than any of the others. If you’re doing a pattern, then anywhere the pattern transitions should be checked on each row.

You can knit multiple pieces at the same time. I did the fronts and the sleeves together respectively. What I learned here is that the tension dial on the cam isn’t the only thing that determines the actual tension of the stitches. When you draw the cam across the needles, you are holding the working yarn in the other hand. It takes a bit of practice to get a feel for how firmly to hold the yarn. Even though you are knitting two pieces (using two yarn sources, obviously), the tension can end up different on each if you vary how you hold the yarn. Consistency is key.

I am still unhappy with my machine bind off. I took to simply removing the pieces and binding them off by hand to control how tight or loose that bind off is.

Last but not least, I think it’s time for me to concede that it’s better to finish knitted garments with yarn by hand. I would likely still seam mittens on the sewing machine. But this little sweater, as cute as it is, is pretty much unwearable because the seams are too rigid. It’s time for me to put some energy into becoming proficient at hand seaming my garments with yarn. Stay tuned for that!

I haven’t done the neck and button band on this little sweater yet. It’s just going to be a display piece for on the wall. Still, I’m happy with what this little sweater taught me about my knitting machine and more so, about myself.

Happy Crafting!

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