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!

Happy Easter

It’s wonderful to see the crocuses, daffodils and tulips begin to emerge through the soil as the snow melts away. Although this winter was mild as our winters go, I’m very happy to have blue skies and sunshine and the promise of warm weather again. I find that the first quarter of the year always flies right by for me. Here it is, the beginning of April already. Easter is this weekend; how did that come so fast? We find ourselves in that “in-between” time when it just seems too nice to stay indoors, but isn’t really warm enough to get busy in the garden. What to do? Well there’s always more knitting, or crochet, or embroidery, or felting, or quilting… (shhhhh…. I don’t want to hear you say spring cleaning!)

I thought I would write a quick blogpost just to say hello and happy Easter. I was looking through Ravelry.com and found a few really sweet Easter patterns. I thought I’d share them and hopefully they’ll make you smile the way they made me smile.

Easter bunny!

Sweet little chick!

And Easter eggs!

Once the Easter weekend is over, it’ll be time to book in for our vaccinations. That feels like a light at the end of the tunnel to me. And in the meantime, I hope you have a lovely weekend as we hang in there through what I truly hope will be our last provincial lock-down. The store will be closed from Good Friday until the following Wednesday and then we’ll be back to regular hours.

Happy Crafting and Happy Easter!

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!

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 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!

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!

Fixing Knitting Mistakes

I don’t know anyone who can knit a project without making a single mistake. Sometimes, it’s simply not worth fixing them. Sometimes they stand out like a neon sign — mercilessly. And sometimes they just make the whole project wrong. Today I want to focus on these situations and offer suggestions to deal with them.

Types of Mistakes

The misplaced purl: If you got a stitch wrong and quickly realize it, it doesn’t have to be a big deal. But consider fixing it as soon as you realize it’s there. The more rows or rounds you knit past the mistake, the more work it takes to fix it. Mark it if you plan to fix it in the next row.

Off to the races: I am often guilty of not reading far enough ahead in my pattern. I’ll happily carry on knitting a predictable section and then realize that I’m not sure what comes next. I discover that I completely missed a vital transition. Definitely a time to frog back to that transition and rework it from there.

Dropped stitches: As soon as you see a dropped stitch, lock it with a stitch marker or safety pin so it can’t unravel any further. If it happened many rows/rounds back, you’ll have to decide how you want to deal with it.

Oops, missed one: In projects like socks with an increase or decrease at the beginning and end of a row or needle, it’s easy to do the one at the beginning and forget the one at the end. Often, you can fudge this by doing that increase/decrease in the next row/round, or by simply dropping down to the row below, making the stitch and carrying on; provided you notice right away. Sometimes, it just isn’t worth the bother and it’s easier to just sneak an extra stitch in, or out, in a spot where it won’t show.

Whatever the mistake, you’ll need to make an assessment about whether it’s worth fixing or not.

Stepping Back

If the mistake doesn’t change your stitch count, the configuration of a pattern repeat or mess up the size or fit of what you are knitting, if it isn’t glaringly obvious, you don’t necessarily need to do anything about it.

First things first. Take a step back. Set your knitting down and walk away. Leave it for a while; come back when you are feeling calmer. Without zoning in on the mistake, lay out your project with the mistake facing. Step back a pace, and glance at it with a general gaze. No seeking it out allowed! If the mistake screams at you under this circumstance then fix it. If not (and it won’t mess up your pattern) carry on.

Note to raging perfectionists: just rip it apart and fix it already. LOL If it bugs you, you won’t be happy with the end result. We want our projects to be a source of joy and satisfaction. So, do what you need to do to that end.

Repair Methods

Tinking is what we call the process of backing off your stitches one at a time to get to the mistake. Do this when your mistake is in the current row/round and within a reasonable distance. The technique is simple. Insert the tip of the left needle into the stitch below the stitch you want to remove, release the stitch off the right needle and pull the yarn out of the stitch you are eliminating. Continue in this fashion until you make your way to the mistake. Undo the mistake, fix it and carry on. Just be careful not to twist any stitches in the process.

Laddering down refers do undoing just the stitches above where the affected stitches are.

Frogging refers to the act of removing your needles from your knitting project and ripping back to where the mistake is. (“Rip it, rip it,” like a frog croaking.) There are times when this is truly the best approach.

There are a couple important things to keep in mind before frogging.

Careful not to lose important marker information: If you have placed markers to indicate important aspects of the project, it’s important to place new locking stitch markers in the row/round that you’ll be going to. I would encourage you to put a marker through the two stitches on either side of where the marker would sit on the needle. Determining placement can be a little tricky depending on the complexity of what you are building. Do the best you can and then check against the pattern after you finish frogging.

I encourage you to use a very fine knitting needle to pick up the stitches in the row/round you want to rip to. It’s tedious but better than ripping too far, or dropping stitches as you rip it back. (It’s easy to get the odd stitch from the row above or below when picking them up.) Once the destination row is safely picked up, pull out the original needle and begin ripping out the unwanted stitches. As you approach the needle, slow down so you can prevent any stitches dropping. Put a stitch marker or holder into any stitches that are suspect to keep them from dropping as you go. Once the stitches are all securely back on your needle, replace them on the original needle, adjusting stitch orientation as necessary and positioning any stitch markers as needed.

A note about lace

Lace comes in varying degrees of complexity. For novices who are testing the waters and have not yet experience the trauma of lace gone wrong I encourage you to lay a “life-line” in your work. Thread yarn on a needle and pull it through the actual stitches of an entire row/round (ideally a “no-brainer” row) so that if you need to frog, you don’t have to start the entire project over. In a complex lace pattern it can be overwhelming to discern how to repair a mistake. Place a life line as often as you want to, to reduce the amount you need to frog should you have a dropped stitch or a mistake you can’t recover from. If you don’t absolutely have to fix a mistake in lace, don’t.

Picking back up

If you choose to simply frog back (or accidentally pulled your needle out of your work) without securing your destination stitches on a needle first, handle the work very gently. Know where the working yarn is and make sure that you are not pulling on it in any way. I recommend using a very thin knitting needle to pick up your stitches, especially if you knit tight. Take your time and be ever so careful that you catch all the stitches. If you find that some of the stitches have dropped below the row, just pick them up where they sit. Don’t try and repair them until you have all the stitches on the needle.

Carefully transfer the stitches back onto the original needle(s), being careful to check the orientation of each stitch and repairing any dropped stitches as you go. Once you are done, you’ll need to get your stitch markers back to where they belong, between the marked stitches. Once you have completed that, you can begin reworking your project again.

I hope you have found this helpful. Kudos to the You Tubers who created the videos I’ve linked to here.

Happy Knitting!

Steeking: Bottoms Up!

A few blog posts ago I told you about my first encounter with steeking. That was a top down cardigan based on the recipes in Tin Can Knits’ Strange Brew book. In Strange Brew, they offer instructions for both top down and bottom up sweater knitting. Today I will tell you about the bottom up cardigan I made.

Gotta say, it feels a little weird writing this with everything that’s going on. I’m really trying to find ways to do things that feel “normal” in this very far from normal circumstance. I decided that this might be a good place to do that.

It was really fun to make the two little cardigans. When I started on the second sweater, things were just starting to get weird with the whole Covid-19 thing. As such, I didn’t take photos as I was knitting it. So unfortunately, I only have one lonely WIP photo to share. Sorry about that.

Bottoms up:

You start off knitting the sleeves up to the armpit. I knitted the sleeves on the short little circular needles that I usually use to knit socks. That worked really well although it was a little bit tight for the cast on and the first four or so rounds of ribbing. I just took my time and persevered and it was fine. The increases for the sleeve are done a little differently compared to the top down sweater. I assume that’s because if you choose to change the length of the sleeve overall, it would get too complicated to work around those changes. Simple is good. Because I was knitting for toddlers, I didn’t want to do any colourwork in the lower portion of the sleeves. It’s too easy for them to catch their little fingers in the floats when they put it on. That’s no fun for them. So I kept it really simple. Once the sleeves are knitted up to the armpit, you set them aside.

Next you start at the hem of the body of the sweater. I found that for some reason, the body ended up longer on the second sweater. Maybe the measurement is more accurate when you are knitting bottom up. Maybe I just measured wrong. There is definitely no doubt about where to start and stop your measurement when doing it from the bottom up. On the top down sweater, it can be tricky to determine where to measure from. I was sure that I measured the same amount for each. It’s possible that my tension was a little softer in the second one. That could account for it. I didn’t count rounds to determine how long to make the body; I used a tape measure.

Once the body is long enough, you join the sleeves to the body. You do a little shaping so that the back of the neck opening sits higher than the front. Next you begin the colour work and the decreases for the yoke. I took advantage of the orientation of the knit stitches to make a pattern with hearts in it on this one.

The yoke was straightforward until I got to the bind off.

I tried binding it off using three different methods. Because I make a lot of socks, it’s my default setting to do a stretchy bind-off. Don’t do that here. I ended up doing the least stretchy bind-off I know in order for the neckline to lay nicely.

I applied what I learned from the first project to doing the steek and it went very smoothly. The zipper went in easily and I’m very happy with the result.

The only thing I would do differently is to make the sleeves longer than suggested. The sweaters fit well. (The body lengths ended up being perfect for each grandchild respectively. YAY!) The sleeves could have been a little longer to allow for a some growth.

I had so much fun making these cardigans.

I’m glad that I started with small sizes. I still want to make one for myself out of sock weight yarn, eventually. I really want to be thoughtful about the colour choices and the pattern. I don’t want to rush into it. Especially if I’m going to use sock weight yarn for it! That’s a lot of knitting time to invest.

Moving forward, I have a couple of WIPs that I want to complete before I decide what large project I want to start next. I have a few ideas in mind. I have a couple more sweater technique books that I recently brought in to sell in the store and I might try one of those projects to see how I like those books. It’s always good for me to have a solid understanding of this type of book so I know whether they are worth the money and so I can offer support to customers who invest in them. They can be quite an investment. I ordered one that retails for around $100. I only brought in one to see whether it’s worth it. It’s a completely new all-in-one construction method that looks really exciting. The more carefully I read it, the more I think it will be worth every penny. I look forward to trying out one of the patterns to see how it goes. I’ll keep you posted.

On a side note: Ricasso — our shop cat — says “helloooooowwwwww”. With the physical distancing rules in place, it’s kinda lonely for him. (I’m sure y’all can relate!) The other night, we had to actually get him from the store (he has a cat door between the store and home so he can come and go as he pleases) and bring him home after 10pm because he was patiently waiting for customers to come and cuddle him.

Ricasso will be fine. LOL We’ll all get through this together, at a distance.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy and stay creative!

Happy Knitting!