Socktober: Week 5… FrankenSocks!

Wowzers! The store was incredibly busy this week. Between the sewing techs being here to service machines, Halloween coming up and the cooler weather inspiring more knitting projects, we definitely saw more folks this week. I assure you that I am celebrating that fact and not complaining. I’m so glad that I took the time to organize my leftover yarns right away. This is my Frankensocks week. My immediate inspiration was obviously Frankenstein’s Monster since I would be cobbling socks together using leftovers. However, as I was imagining my kids choosing which ones they want for Christmas, it occurred to me that it could also reference Frankincense and gift giving. So there we go! Two for one! I like it.

As the sewing work floods in, I have been very happy to keep the socks fairly simple this week. However, my Yarn Chicken exploits have simply continued from last week. There won’t be much of anything left in my bin when I’m all done. That’s excellent. That takes away any twinges of guilt I might have felt in expanding my stash again.

Despite keeping the socks simple, I had some mishaps.

I’ve been knitting each pair of socks and leaving them on the machine until the week’s worth are done, to close all the toes in the evening afterward. Because I had all those other socks attached to the machine, I was loath to start any socks over when things went sideways.

One of the stripey pairs of socks gave me some trouble. I finished the first sock just fine. In the second sock, when I switched from the first stripey yarn to the second one, I discovered that not only was there a knot, but they didn’t bother to make sure that the colour transitions were right when they tied the new section on. Ugh. The knot was messy and caused a bunch of stitches to drop. The combination of that and the wrong stripes just wasn’t what I wanted. I started to tink, but we’re talking about 8 rounds. Instead I dropped the whole sock off and unraveled the last batch of yarn. I took it back to the previous transition and rehung the stitches. Since I had marked the number of rounds when I switched yarns, I knew what to reset my counter to, thankfully. Good heavens! It took me about an hour to get it back on the correct needles and all the stitches knitted up to where they needed to be. Then I removed the offensive section of yarn from the ball so I could make my stripes match the first sock and finished the 20 or so rounds of the foot and the toe and knitted off the waste yarn. Unfortunately there was a twisted stitch or two that I didn’t notice until later. By that point, I simply didn’t care any more. I just left it.

That was painful! But I managed to get it all done. Hurray!

At the beginning of each pair of socks, I weighed each of the balls of yarn, of each of the colours, to determine which were the smaller ones respectively. I made the first sock using the smaller balls so I wouldn’t be as worried about running out on the second sock. I still ended up running out on the second half of the toe on one pair. Let’s face it. Those digital kitchen scales are great, but weighing yarn as you are removing yarn from the ball is a subtle operation. The weight changes by fractions of a gram as you go. With the balls weighing in at 12 or 13g, it may be unrealistic to think you can truly trust the scale to be accurate enough. So it’s close, but even thinking I was starting with the smaller ball, I had some surprises.

There was one issue that occurred a couple times that I thought I would mention. I was knitting along and found that suddenly the yarn felt really tight. It took a bit to realize that the yarn had hooked itself around one of the guides in the threading assembly. So words to the wise: if you feel resistance, be sure to stop right away and check the threading assembly to be sure that nothing has gone awry.

I ended up breaking the latch off one of the needles. It took about three rounds before I actually clued in as to what was happening. It was creating a lot of resistance because the yarn was accumulating loops (like a slip stitch to the back) behind the needle. I suspect that the latch broke because of how tight the yarn became when it was caught in the threading assembly. When I discovered the missing latch, I was able to simply replace the needle. I used the needle to latch up those three or four stitches and carried on.

I found a couple balls of yarn that were almost a full measure.

After two weeks of yarn chicken, it was so nice to just make the socks and not worry about how far I’d get before I would have to incorporate yet another colour of yarn.

It’s been really fun to see how the socks turned out these past two weeks. As much as there is a part of me that really likes the patterns in the yarn to match up on both socks, I really had to let go of that during this process. Because it was down to inches of extra yarn in some cases, I didn’t have the luxury of aligning everything to make them all matchy-matchy. But it turned out okay. It’s really obvious that I used the same yarns on each of the socks in each pair. Just because the patterns don’t match up exactly doesn’t mean that they don’t still look like they belong together. That was actually a lot of fun. It took away any pressure to make them perfect. That’s a good thing.

Happy Socktober!

Socktober: Week 4

Things have been picking up in the sewing department of the store and I had to think about how to approach this week of sock knitting in a way that didn’t pull the rug out from under me. After looking through my bin of leftover sock yarn it occurred to me that this would be a great time to use up a bunch of those leftovers. There wasn’t enough of anything to make full sized socks, but ankle socks… yeah. I figured I could do that. So needless to say, I spent my week playing yarn chicken.

Yarn Chicken! I assume most everyone knows what this is. If you don’t, then let me clarify.

It references the game of chicken that is played in cars. Understand that I do not in any way recommend playing this game with a car. The idea is that two drivers drive their cars toward each other as if to have a head on collision. The first one to turn away loses. If you are into 80’s movies, think Footloose, where they played it with tractors. So that’s the reference. Clearly, when you have some yarn and you think it’s enough for your project but you aren’t sure… you begin a round of Yarn Chicken. (Epecially when the yarn is discontinued and you can’t get any more.) You get within sight of the end and you watch each meter of yarn disappear into your project and you pray that you’ll get to the last stitch before you run out. That was my week!

I still had one chart from the previous week that I wanted to work up. I started the week by finishing that. The big take away from that project was that it’s exceedingly helpful to make sure that in the very first round that you have purl stitches, to immediately reform those stitches, especially when you have a round or two after the hung hem before the pattern begins. It’s so tricky to figure out which stitch to start your purls in. This is especially true if you wait until you’ve done over 15 rounds. Putting a stitch marker into it is all good and fine, but the stitch marker tends to get in the way. So I would definitely encourage that. Also, I found that reforming the purl stitches in a simple column is best done every eight to ten rounds. If you leave it longer, you run the risk of dropping stitches in the process. This way, it’s pretty efficient. Keep the cable to 2×2 at the most and if you want them side by side, definitely put a column or two of purls in between. This will prevent needle breakage.

Back to the leftovers.

I weighed out all my leftover balls of sock yarn. Well, not all of them, but many of them. I had one that I thought should be enough and I figured I would start with that. It weighed about 40g. I got to the toe on the second sock and ran out. I figured, “hey, it’s just socks!” and I found some other yarn that matched and finished the toe with that. It’ll still fulfill its function.

A number of the other balls had only in the neighbourhood of 30g. I gauged that by starting the cuff in a contrasting colour, if I also contrasted the heels and toes, I might just squeak by with some of the smaller balls. Even doing that, it was really close! There were literally only meters of yarn left after finishing a couple of the pairs. Then I stumbled on a ball that had been hiding from me. It was 46g so I thought I would take a chance. I managed to complete both socks. There was literally nothing left; I had exactly enough. I actually was so excited I got up and did a little happy dance!

It was interesting that the ankle socks with contrasting yarns took me longer to knit than a full sized pair in a single colour. I suppose it makes sense. You do have to take time to switch out each time you change the colour. The plain coloured ones went fairly quickly, which was nice. I really didn’t have a lot of spare time this week.

I’m very curious to play around with lace techniques.

When you knit lace by hand, you switch up whether you “knit two together” or do a “slip, slip, knit” before and after your “yarn-overs”. This affects the directions of the lines that are created in the fabric as you knit. I’m curious to play around with how to do this to get the same affects using the knitting machine. I suspect that when you double up stitches on one needle to create your yarn-over, that you might have to lift the stitch off the target needle before you place the other stitch that empties the adjacent needle. Hmmmm… I wish I would have the time to explore this fully in the coming week. With all the sewing jobs that have come in, I am going to have to be careful that I don’t burn myself out on this. So, maybe next Socktober.

I still have a lot of leftover yarn. What with Halloween coming up, I was thinking that maybe what I could do is make what I lovingly call “Frankensocks”. What I would be inclined to do, is weigh out my leftovers, divide each ball in two equal smaller balls and then use up any yarns that look relatively good together. They might turn out to be monstrous, but it could be really fun. I also would love to be able to use up more of my leftover sock yarn. There’s a lot of it. Yeah, I think that’s what I’ll do. If I take the time to sort out the yarn all at once it should be manageable. Lace techniques are going to have to wait… sadly.

Happy Socking!

Socktober: Week 3

Cables on the circular sock knitting machine… ACK!

My mission this week was to explore cables and twists. Sound fiddly? Holy Moley, no kidding! There was just no realistic way to get seven pairs of cabled socks done. But I did manage four.

I thought I would start simply. A single 2×2 cable up the center back of each sock. I just wanted to dip my toes in the pond. After all, no need to turn my brain inside out, right? I did all the cables in the same direction and it went well enough that it gave me some courage to try something else.

Next I tried some symmetrical rows of traveling stitches. I started with two side by side at center front and moved them outward. Because I wasn’t really sure what to look for, I honestly didn’t even know how to take notes for this. I finished up the first sock, did my best to peek at it to see if there were glaring mistakes and moved on to the second. There were a few twists that I had done in the wrong direction, but since this was all about learning, I left them. I thought I was doing the second sock the same as the first but I wasn’t. There was less space between the rows on the second sock.

What I found with the traveling stitches (twists) was that using two hook-tools was easiest. The stitch that travels has to be placed first. So if the traveling stitch goes to the right, you place that stitch from the left to the right first and then cross the one from the right over it to the left. It’s a little confusing since you look at some of the stitches from the inside and some from the outside. It’s in the round… yeah, it kinda made my head hurt. With one hook, I took the stitch off the target needle first, then with the second hook, I moved the other stitch directly onto the target needle before crossing that first one onto its respective needle.

What I learned from that second pair of socks is that you really want to work from a chart. Even if you think it’s simple, by the time you place the stitches, it’s inevitable that you’ll get lost. I use a program called Envisioknit to draft charts. It’s a fantastic program and it’s so much easier and cleaner than mapping things out on graph paper. I thought I’d play around with some ideas and then try them out just to see what happened. I’d done a lot of cabling by hand, but never on the machine. If you need to make purl stitches to create definition, you have to reform those stitches manually. I did that on the first pair after I had the cables done to the top of the heel. I then placed a stitch marker into the first stitch I was purling from. That way, I couldn’t accidentally unravel it all the way. I then unraveled one column at a time and immediately (using my latch tool, though you could use a cylinder needle) reknit them as purl stitches. They then (of course) look like knit stitches on the inside of the sock.

I made up some charts and figured I’d dive in.

I had some Wollmeise Twin yarn leftover from a pair of socks I had made by hand and I figured if I just made the leg short I should be able to get two socks out of that ball. I was so excited that I had the cuff done before I thought about gauge. That was dumb. Especially knowing that this yarn tends to be thicker than other sock yarns. I got to the toe and realized that this sock would fit a Sasquatch. I walked away in disgust; I knew better; I was just being lazy. (Gauge testing is actually important.) In that chart, I had a whole bunch of twists all around the leg and down the center of the foot. I was honestly just curious how well it would show up without any purl stitches. It gave a subtle lacy effect.

When you have vertical columns of purl stitches to add in to your pattern, it’s really easy to drop those stitches down and reform them once the leg is done. A caution though, if you are doing traveling stitches that weave in and out of purl sections, you must do them as you go. That in itself is tricky. Your chart is your friend! You seriously don’t want to have to unravel and relatch this stuff! OMG! NO!

It is extremely tedious to do intricate cable patterns on the machine; it requires unimaginable focus; it’s still quicker than knitting it by hand. It’s a very different experience than hand knitting cables. It takes some practice to get accustomed to what you need to look for as you go. Because you are looking at the knit side of the stitches at the front of the machine and the purl stitches at the back of the machine, you do need to take the time to double check that you have moved those stitches correctly. Once you have prepped all those cables, they have to be knitted still. The temptation is to count that prepping round as done. All you did was place the stitches where they need to be to receive the yarn for that cable round to knit. Having a chart with row numbers on it is essential. You can’t see the finished fabric until you knit a zillion rounds of waste yarn or remove it from the CSM. There is no checking it. Keep an eye on the row counter to be sure you are on track. This has a significant learning curve, but it’s very satisfying to see the results. I found it mentally exhausting. I trust that with practice (and without any deadlines looming) it will get easier.

Happy Knitting!

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!

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!

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!

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!