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This hat. This hat has been giving me so much trouble. I ordered the yarn online and was hoping for blue-green-blue, but what I got was green-blue-green.

A ball of yarn with the green-blue-green gradient visible on the top edge.

Four rows into the knitting, I made the rookie mistake of picking the project up inside-out and knitting in the wrong direction. So I started over, knit the ribbing, and... not only was the hat coming out too small, but starting with bright green was just wrong. I re-wound the ball, broke the yarn at the right starting point, and impulsively decided that this would be an excellent project for the knitting machine. A little bit of ribbing and then miles of stockinette? Perfect machine project, right?

At least six times, there were issues that resulted in having to begin again.

The yarn snapped. The ribber needles weren't knitting off properly. My cast-on unraveled. The tension was wrong. The ribber comb got hung up on the bracketry and things went sideways. It's a learning experience, right?

But finally, finally! I got it! I made the ribbing, and then folded the fabric in half to transition over to knitting in the round. It worked, it worked! I did it! SUCCESS!

Next, I wanted to switch to circular needles to knit the crown decreases, which is one of the things that machines don't do well. I knit several rounds of waste yarn, but was still worried that it would unravel down before I could get all the stitches onto my needles. "Wouldn't it be great," I thought, "if I had a transfer tool that screwed onto an interchangeable needle cable?" Lacking that, I looped a length of ravel cord onto my double eye transfer needle, and transferred the stitches one by one. Leaving the ravel cord behind the gate pegs held the piece steady until I was done, and then I was able to lift the whole thing up at once with no fears of unraveling.

(Originally I tried tying the ravel cord to the transfer needle, but I couldn't get the knot small enough to easily slip through the stitches, so looping it on was the next best thing. It did twist up a bit as I worked, but it was less awkward to manage when the camera wasn't right there.)

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So... when we left off, I'd just picked up a standard gauge punchcard knitting machine and garter carriage. And that got me thinking that it'd be nice to upgrade my entirely manual bulky KH230 to a KH260 punchcard machine. It didn't even take a month before one came up on FB marketplace, and when I told Michael about it, he said I should buy it. So I did! I snagged the knitter, a matching ribber, a tilt stand, an intarsia carriage, a pile of punchcards, and a bunch of small accessories for a really good price.

And then, when I said that maybe I should knit a simpler heavier sweater before attempting a fine-gauge colourwork sweater, he said that I absolutely should! So we went to the artsy-crafts store where I picked up a sweater-quantity of Patons Classic Wool in cream, grayish-tan, and brown. (And a skein of Red Heart for testing purposes, not pictured here.)

Three balls of worsted weight wool in cream, light grayish tan, and brown colours.

I stuck new spongebars in and tested out the knitter, ribber, and punchcard patterning with the sacrificial Red Heart, and everything seemed to be working as it should. So I made a gauge swatch with the Patons at a few different stitch sizes, washed it, and left it to dry. I think T3 gives a good feel to the fabric - not too stiff, not too drapey.

A gauge swatch of grayish-tan yarn with stripes of white to delineate sections of different stitch sizes.

Next up... finding a pattern that I can make! I'm leaning towards a colourblock crew-neck pullover for my very first attempt, though of course I'm thinking of ways that I can fancy it up just a little bit. For example, maybe instead of a plain seam up the sides, I can connect them with a cable panel? Or maybe instead of simple colourblocks, I could do a few stripes? That shouldn't add too much complication, right?

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The punchcard knitting machine (Brother KH-890) I picked up last weekend came with a KG89IIe garter carriage included, making it really a heck of a good deal. This weekend I plugged it in and tested it out!

A garter carriage in action, with a ribbing punchcard loaded into the machine.

A garter carriage is an awkwardly nifty device that chugs along the needle bed, making both knits and purl stitches according to the punchcard (or in the case of electronic machines, according to the programmed pattern). It's not fast, making one stitch every 0.6 seconds at its speediest, but it's automatic!

The thing about plain knitting, which is all this machine can do without attachments or some kind of stitch manipulation, is that it curls. Having some alternating arrangement of knit and purl stitches allows the fabric to lie flat and adds interesting texture as well! I'm so excited about the possibilities, even if I don't know what I want to make first.

I had to test the garter carriage on the punchcard machine because I don't have the magnets that will let it work with the electronic machine (KH-940); I've ordered those and should have them by next week.

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It's finished!

A scarf in navy blue and white, folded over to show that one side is the reverse colors of the other side.

I seamed it by hanging it sideways on the knitting machine with the wrong sides together (right-side out), and pulling loops through both sides, then binding off those loops.

It's so squishy, just the right length for me, and I think it'll be very warm - though I'll have to wait 'til winter to find out, of course. I need to weigh the leftover yarn to figure out exactly how much I used, but it was roughly 2.3 skeins of each colour.

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After my first attempt at the Pirate Socks came out too small, I recharted the skull & crossbones section to 72 stitches, made a plan to increase and decrease around the colourwork, and began again.

In the few hours between the end of work and our first in-person knit night since last March, I hurried to get the colourwork section done so that I could just knit the plain stockinette leg of the sock while chatting and sipping scotch.

There's just one problem...

The cuff of a sock with a skull and crossbones motif.

I knit them upside-down.

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Coincidences

Roughly twenty years ago I started hanging out on a particular IRC channel, where I met a bunch of people who are still chatting together today - though they've moved from IRC to Discord, because modernization, changing times, etc etc. It's an eclectic group of folks with a wide variety of hobbies, from historic re-enactment to geology to the revivification of ancient computers. That last one is where this gets interesting. My friend shared this story:

I've been diving headlong into old Macintosh stuff lately, and part of that is software archiving/recreating floppies/etc. I found myself needing more storage, and bought a very nice mediabox for stuffing a ton of floppies into.

Yay! But it arrived... full of old floppies. Some of them were labeled "Amiga", some were odd numerical things like "930 format" "940 format" etc... and I think half of these are for a Brother KnitKing 930/940 class machine.

These are some of the disks he has:

Several blue 3.5" floppy disks, labeled with knitting patterns.

So I was doing a search on KnitKing 940's and--

Reader, he found this very blog.

In the span of 3 hours I've gone

"Yay! I got this thing working, I can read Amiga diskettes!"
"Yay! I can load the images into an Amiga emulator and they work!"
"... what the f*** is this"
"ok why does it say 930/940?"
"... the f*** is a knitking..."
"holy s*** these things cost $1500"
"Wait.... Knitting pirate.... knitting ninja and knitting pirate I know these tw- HOLY CRAP I KNOW THIS PERSON"

What a small world it is, sometimes :)

One Thing Leads to Another

In the inevitable discussion of knitting machines that followed, and the differences between electronic and punchcard machines, I found a punchcard machine for sale. Locally. For a very, very low price. The listing included a garter carriage.

With Michael's encouragement and promises to help me with any necessary repairs, I brought home a sun-yellowed KH890 that included nearly every accessory - down to the original bottle of oil, the ravel cord, and the wee chunk of wax in its case.

Unsurprisingly, the sponge bar was completely flattened, so the first step was to replace it. And the second was to soak, clean, scrub, and oil every single needle, because they had just a bit of build-up and corrosion...

A row of extended knitting machine needles, showing corrosion along their shafts.

While the needles were drying, I checked the carriage to make sure that all the little flippers were flipping properly, none of the springs were missing, and everything was clean, lint-free, and oiled. After re-inserting all the needles, I carefully ran the carriage across the bed. That felt fine, so for the next step I inserted a punchcard, advanced it, ran the carriage across, and... none of the needles were selected.

End needle selection worked, because that function is controlled by the carriage, but there should have been a bunch of other needles selected too. Well then. We brought the machine down to the workbench and disassembled it. Here's the inner workings of the card reader - the white rotary cam shifts the little metal pins that were selected by the card; the pins shift the black rods; the rods shift the long nubby plates; the nubs hold the needles as the carriage passes over them so that they emerge from the carriage in either 'normal' or 'selected' positions.

The white rotary cam of the card reader, with the needle selector pins below it, and the needle selector rods sticking out underneath. The rods connect to eight long plates, each of which has small nubs sticking up at regular intervals.

We cleaned it all out, wiped it all down, liberally dosed it with lubricant, and tried to figure out what could possibly have gone wrong. Armed with the service manual and a playlist of "Ask Jack" videos, combined with the help of folks on Ravelry's Machine Knitting group and the Machine Knitting Chit-Chat group on Facebook, we eventually figured out that the timing belt needed to be adjusted... and voila!

The main bed of a KH890 knitting machine, with the carriage to the right, showing a series of selected needles.

Next up: testing all the functions, and then the garter carriage.

Taking something apart and putting it back together again is a fantastic way of figuring out how it actually works. The mystery of needle selection is no longer a mystery!

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Inspired by Sockmatician's Sanquhar Scarf, but unwilling to do that much double-knitting with sock yarn, I decided to design something similar to knit on the machine. I began by using Excel as graph paper to fill in squares, which is probably not how its developers ever imagined a spreadsheet application would be used, but it works!

Then Michael helped by writing a magic spell - er, I mean, a program - that would convert the Excel spreadsheet to a bitmap, with one pixel per cell. I loaded that bitmap into the knitting machine software, transferred the pattern to the machine, and 700 or so rows later, voila! a scarf! (At least, in theory. I may have messed it up a few times and had to start over.)

The Sanquhar scarf in progress, with the wrong side showing.

I'm including my initials into the "cuff," as was traditional for mittens. I'll put them on the other end of the scarf too!

The Sanquhar scarf in progress, showing the front side.

With machine knitting, it's often easier to begin again than to try to correct errors:

Behind the knitting machine, two re-raveled balls of yarn sit and wait for another attempt.

I finished the first side of the scarf and 5/7ths of the second side, which has the colours reversed in order to mimic the double knitting look, and... ran out of yarn. So I've ordered more, and as soon as it arrives, I can finish the last 200 or so rows and then seam the two sides together. The floats will then be safely sandwiched between layers so they can't snag on anything, and the finished scarf should be thick and squishy and warm! And because it's knit from sock yarn, it will also be machine-washable.

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Some time ago, I was given multiple bags of alpaca "seconds" - fleece that couldn't be sold for a number of reasons, possibly that it's not soft enough, that it wasn't sheared well, or that the quality is really varied. The stuff I have is... all of the above! But it was free, and I'm having fun going through it to pick out the good stuff.

This bag of fibre came from an alpaca named Valdir, who is apparently part white and part tan:

I'm picking through the bag to find the best of the locks, flicking them open with my hand carder...

Neat rows of alpaca locks lie on a table next to a hand card that has some wisps of fibre stuck in its teeth.

...and putting them all in a box.

Rows of alpaca locks that have been flicked open at both ends and laid neatly into a cardboard box.

All the short cuts are going directly into the garbage, and the soft fibres that aren't in perfect lock formation will go through the drum carder to make floofy batts.

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Next up: 200g of white Southdown (from World of Wool) that is destined to be sock yarn!

Pirate's hand holds a very fine strand of single-ply white yarn next to a two-ply strand over a penny for scale.

The Corriedale singles are resting before I ply them, but this fibre has been calling to me for a while. I've heard that Southdown makes excellent yarn for socks - bouncy and resistant to felting - so here's to experimentation! I haven't decided if I want to make this a two-ply or three, yet. (Opinions? Advice? Input? It's a matter of yardage vs durability, I think?)

I've also heard that the wool from Suffolk sheep is good for socks, so I have 200g of that in a natural grey as well, and will probably spin it next...

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A friend sent me a braid of Corriedale from Into the Whirled, in one of their Firefly-themed colourways. This one is called "The Verse" and it's all sorts of colours - blues and purples, greens and yellows, oranges and tans.

Unspun fibre in vibrant yellows and tans, greens and blues and purples, is piled on top of a partially full bobbin of singles.

My original thought was to try a fractal spin with it, as that's a technique I've been curious about for a while, but then I opened up the braid and thought... you know what, I would really prefer not to mix up purples and blues with yellows and oranges. So instead, I'm spinning a medium-thick singles with the plan to chain-ply and keep the colour progression in stripes.

Considering how tight some of my other handspun is, I'm trying to keep this one a little less twisty. Hopefully that will result in a softer, more drapey yarn when I'm done.

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