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!

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!

Fair Isle: Goodbye Long Floats

I absolutely adore stranded colourwork. Fair Isle and Scandanavian knitting patterns are beautiful and satisfying to create. Managing floats (the yarn that is carried in the back of the work while you are working the other colour) can be a challenge. Handled poorly, they can result in puckered work, long finger or toe traps, or contrasting yarn showing out of place on the front. Let’s dive into this topic today.

I have posted in the past about Fair Isle techniques.

In that blog, I linked to videos that show different ways that people do this as well as how people trap floats.

It’s quite common to do colour work by using Continental (picking) to manage one colour and English (throwing) to manage the other colour. (Typically patterns only use two colours per round.) You can get pretty quick using this method and it does make it easier to keep the working yarns from tangling around each other. It’s easy to keep track of which colour yarn is dominant, since you carry each colour with left or right hand respectively and consistently. To me, trapping floats in this context feels awkward, especially with the right hand yarn.

Typically it is suggested to trap floats every 3 to 5 stitches. And if you are using fine yarn that’s great. Five stitches isn’t that long of a stretch for lace or sock weight yarn. But the thicker the yarn, the longer those three to five stitch floats become. In a sleeve knit from chunky or bulky yarn, you now have finger traps to drive you crazy every time you wear the sweater.

Puckering occurs when your floats are too tight.

As you catch the floats, it’s really important to make sure that they don’t squeeze the stitches together in your project. You want to observe as you go, always striving for consistency. I have heard of people working their project inside-out as one way of helping to manage the tension on their floats. By having the floats on the outside of the arc of the work, it naturally keeps them from getting too tight. I’ve tried doing that on socks and I found that I would always revert back to right-side-out. Hats off to you if you can do it.

Little by little I have been working on managing both colours in my left hand using continental method.

I would wrap the yarns around my pinky to tension them. I would have to stop frequently to refresh my tensioning because the second yarn would ride up the first yarn. So I would start out all on one hand and revert to using two. (In the video I have linked below, they also tension both over the pinky.) It bothered me enough that I started experimenting to find a way that was easier for me. What I found was that I could tension one yarn on my ring finger and one on my pinky. This almost eliminated the riding up and twisting of the two yarns as I worked. Getting my hand set up was a little confusing to start with but the more I did it the easier it became.

As I knit, I then focused on weaving the floats as I went along (as shown in the video I’ve linked to). I struggled to manipulate the strands of yarn with a finger on my right hand as they do. I found that I really had to use the middle finger of my left hand for this. After fighting with it for a while, I discovered that for me, the key was to focus on the fact that I was knitting the working yarn alternately one stitch with the other yarn in front of it and one stitch with it behind. Obviously the the float sits behind the stitch. When I shifted to thinking about it that way, it was easier to keep from becoming confused. I would chant, “yarn in front, yarn behind” as I knit long stretches of the same colour trapping the other yarn in this way, as I went along.

The project I’m making is definitely not perfect.

But I specifically left it like this because I want to be able to show what to watch for. When using two highly contrasting yarns, no matter what you do, there will be a shadow of the darker one behind the lighter one. You’ll see hints of it between the stitches. That’s absolutely normal. What I don’t like is when you end up with a solid vertical line of the float yarn sitting between two stitches. This seems (from my experimentation) to be a result of the tension being too soft in the float yarn. It takes a bit to get the tension of the floats consistent.

Find the Ravelry pattern here

I found that in order to minimize any trapped contrasting yarn showing through to the front of the work my tension needed to be tighter than I expected. The big downside of this is that you are left with little to no stretch in the finished project. As long as you plan for this, it doesn’t need to be a big deal. Practicing on small projects is a good way to figure out what works for you. All that said, if the contrast between my colours isn’t as extreme as in this project, I would err on the side of softer tension to allow a bit more stretch.

I like how tidy this way of catching floats is. Clearly, it’s up to you to decide, project by project, how frequently you trap the floats. I suspect that weaving them in this way is going to result in a stiffer fabric by nature. If you are only trapping on every second or third stitch it would allow you to leave the floats just a bit looser. I did find that I got a more consistent result on my high contrast project by following the method in the linked video.

Every project is a learning opportunity.

Happy Knitting!

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!

Greetings from Germany

After flight delays, missed connections, rerouting, failed messages and roughly 24 hours in transit, we may have arrived 6 hours later than expected; but we made it to Germany safe and sound.

It was a relief to arrive at my cousin’s house in Schlitz. We celebrated our arrival with some delicious wine from the area. Located about half an hour from Fulda, this gorgeous little town is the home of the biannual Schlitzenlander Trachtenfest. (Link to the website). With a rich textiles history what better place to start our German itinerary. The festival begins tonight (Friday July 12) and concludes on Monday. Obviously, I can’t tell you all about this year’s festival yet since it hasn’t started. But I can tell you about some of the things I found charming and interesting here.

On Saturday I will be checking out the local factory outlet for Driessen Leinen. They specialize in the weaving of fine linen fabrics, bed and kitchen linens and more. It will be difficult to stick to my budget! I absolutely love linen. Driessen also offers a cotton/linen blend. I’m excited to see what they have.

On Wednesday we went to see the Vorderburg Museum. It hosts a collection of items relating to weaving, shoe-making and local history. We went with the intention of hearing the glockenspiel and then touring the museum. We were told that the glockenspiel would play at 3pm. After taking the lift up to the top of the nearby tower and taking in the panoramic view, we visited the neighbouring church and then made our way to the Vorderburg Museum. We waited patiently for almost 20 minutes for the chimes to play a song. Alas, after chiming the hour… nothing. We waited a couple more minutes before heading into the museum. We paid our admission and after a little while we realized we could just barely make out the sound of the glockenspiel. If we had been patient just six or seven minutes more we could have heard it in the courtyard. Oh well. We were told it would play again at 5pm.

The museum is small but packed with interesting items. I was particularly interested in the artifacts directly related to textiles. The looms, spinning wheels, examples of hand crafted folk costumes and linens dating way back gave a sense of how incredibly long people have had a mastery of textiles. There were samplers of traditional redwork embroidery, typical of the region. The samplers were a way for women to perfect their technique before advancing to the embroidery of garments, bed and kitchen linens or decorative projects.

In the shoe making history display, I was delighted to discover a treadle version of the industrial sewing machine I have in my store for doing leather repair. If not for the patina that the passage of time has given it, and lack of a motor, it could have been my very machine! When something works well, why change it?

The folk costume display highlighted the wide variety of skills needed to complete these textile works of art. I was so engrossed by the array of techniques (tatting, cross stitch, smocking, knitting, embroidery, sewing, leatherwork and beading) that I left without taking any photos!

After viewing the last of the museum displays we decided to check out more of the local sights. The market place was bustling with carpenters setting up stages and booths in preparation for the festival. We walked through the park and checked out the music academy. We zigzagged between the medieval half timbered houses and headed back through the cloister garden. Suddenly we realized we could just make out the sounds of the glockenspiel in the distance! Yes, we missed it again! We were so carried away with all the beautiful buildings and surroundings that we had lost track of time.

Thursday morning we got up early to head to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Despite our train out of Fulda being cancelled, and clouds giving way to a steady, desperately needed rain (there had been a heat wave leading up to our arrival), nothing could stop us from having a magical time in the walled medieval city. Exhausted, we were happy for the comfort of the B & B at the end of the day.

Today we will be taking in the sights of Nuremberg… including at least one yarn shop and the museum and home of artist Albrecht Durer. Early Saturday morning we head back to Schlitz to visit Driessen Leinen and take in the Trachtenfest.

Happy summer!