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It's here, it's here! The Spinolution Pollywog that I won in their Tour de Fleece giveaway is HERE! Read on for lots of pictures and my first thoughts about spinning on it:

The corner of a cardboard box with a "Made in U.S.A." American flag sticker attached

Since they gave this tiny wheel to me for free, I thought it only fair to do an unboxing post and a review. Let's dig in! The red bag on top of everything held the warranty card, a ratio guide, and the drive band. Underneath it, the packing list and several bubble-wrapped bundles. One held the flyer with a bobbin installed, and a small bit of yarn that I'm assuming was from a test-spin before they mailed the package. Two more bobbins were wrapped together, and then the main part of the wheel was tucked into the bottom of the box. Everything fit perfectly into the packaging and nothing seems to have been damaged in shipping.

Looking into a cardboard box. There are several bubble-wrapped items and a red plastic bag, on which "Pollywog" is written in black marker

Here are all the parts set out on my coffee table. The two-step assembly process was so simple that they didn't even need to include instructions: the flyer goes on top and screws in, and the drive band goes around the 12" wheel and the whorls on the back of the flyer. The tiny treadles flip up and away from the center cam, so unlike my other wheels, putting the drive band on is incredibly easy.

An unassembled Pollywog spinning wheel on a wooden coffee table. The main part of the wheel sits to the left. There are two bobbins next to it, and a third bobbin on the flyer behind them.

I named this little guy "Chance," though I might have referred to him in conversation as "Mr. Tiny" - look at him sitting in front of the 30" Schacht-Reeves! He's so smol!

The new Pollywog spinning wheel looks very small in front of the 30" Schacht-Reeves spinning wheel. They are displayed on the living room rug in front of a pinball machine and one of the stereo speakers.

How about a bobbin comparison? From left to right: a Woolee Winder bobbin from the Schacht-Reeves, the new Spinolution bobbin, and a Woolee Winder bobbin from the Kromski Sonata. That Sonata bobbin holds a lot of yarn! The S-R bobbin is a little shorter than the Spinolution bobbin, but its diameter is wider and it doesn't have that extra chunk of wood taking up space, so I think (without doing any math) that they've probably got about the same overall volume.

Three bobbins, compared in length. The Schacht-Reeves bobbin on the left is the shortest; the Spinolution bobbin in the center is a little bit longer; the Kromski bobbin on the right is significantly longer.

Three bobbins, seen head on. The Schacht-Reeves bobbin on the left is the widest; the Spinolution bobbin in the center is the smallest. The Kromski bobbin on the right is between them in diameter.

Spinolution says that their bobbins hold four ounces of yarn - but the only way I'm going to know for sure is to spin and find out. The next fibre on my spinning list is 200g of grey Suffolk that I got from World of Wool. It's quite soft and with a longer staple than I'm used to spinning - nearly 7" (17.78 cm)!

This picture also shows the integrated bobbin holder. Just behind the flyer, there's a slot which holds three metal dowels. It's magnetized, so they won't fall out. You can (just about) see two of them poking up in this picture, and I've got the third in the centre position with a bobbin sitting on it.

The Pollywog wheel with a little bit of gray yarn spun onto the bobbin and a lot of gray fibre hanging down from the orifice hook.

So now, of course, the real question - how does it feel to spin on a Pollywog?

It's smoooooth. Treadling with just my toes is more than a little strange, but I'm getting the feel for it. It's easy enough to get the wheel going in the right direction with just a light nudge of the flyer; treadling is incredibly light. The treadling mechanism, and the way the whole thing rolls around, is just so cool to watch. (Spinolution does sell a 3D-printed "flipper" accessory that slides on over the treadle to give more of a platform... for $35.)

Pirate's toes on the tiny treadles of the Pollywog spinning wheel.

After about fifteen minutes of spinning, the wheel started to make a clicking noise. Michael and I watched the video about balancing the drive wheel and then gave it our best attempt. We loosened the cam and the two screws, but the wheel didn't get nearly as loose or moveable as in the video. So we aligned it as well as we could and tightened it up again. It still doesn't seem to be balanced, but it's not clicking anymore, so we'll call that a win. Perhaps the wood will shift a little as it gets accustomed to the humidity in our house, and we'll be able to adjust it better.

The only issue I have so far with this wheel being so tiny is that the orifice is really, really low. I don't spin right up next to the orifice in general, but for comparison, the S-R orifice is 25.5" off the ground and I've got the Sonata raised to about 32". The Pollywog's open hook is just 19.25" off the ground. (They do sell a 3" riser... for $55.)

I do like that there's no need to fish the yarn through rings and an orifice tube, but the large hook they've used sends quite a lot of vibration back up the singles to my hands. It's not the worst thing ever, but there's probably a smoother solution to having an open orifice.

Spinolution's user guide says, "Yarn is thumping as you spin: Be sure your yarn is coming from the center of the orifice hook toward your body in a fairly straight horizontal line. A slight angle is possible, but don’t put the yarn at a 45 degree angle up, down, or sideways from the center of the orifice hook." The thing is, with the orifice so low, there's no way for me not to hold the yarn at an angle from the hook? (They do sell a hook tube orifice bar, which they say is "highly recommended for an ultra smooth fine spinning experience"... for $29. The accessories are where they get you, apparently.)

If you want a larger capacity bobbin for art yarns, plying, or just spinning more without swapping it out, they offer a 12-ounce flyer plus one bobbin for $429, which is almost the same cost as the entire original wheel with the 4-ounce flyer and three bobbins at $440. This seems kind of strange, no?

Anyway, back to the good stuff - tension is managed with a spring-loaded block that screws into the side of the wheel, behind the flyer. Its brake is a felt pad that presses on the flyer's shaft. The user guide indicates that this is a reversible piece of wood, but mine seems to be the updated 3D-printed block. Neat! It's quite sensitive and easy to adjust.

In addition to being super smooth, the Pollywog is very quiet. There's no rattling, squeaking, or shaking. The bobbin has a star cutout which fits onto a nut at the back of the flyer and it's magnetized. It snaps together in a very satisfying way when changing the bobbins, but the magnetism isn't so strong as to make the bobbins difficult to remove. The front orifice piece is held on with magnets as well, and it's shaped so that there's only one right way to put it on.

Double picture showing the back of the bobbin with the star-shaped cutout, and the back of the flyer with the magnet and hex nut.

The Pollywog's ratios are 1:2.5, 1:4.5, 1:10, and 1:14 - which is a great starting range, wider than the Sonata's and just as fast at the top end, and I've never felt the need to get the fast flyer for the Sonata! (For $209 (ouch) you can get an accelerator wheel for the Pollywog that acts as a riser in addition to giving you more speeds.)

I admit that I'm a little spoiled by having Woolee Winders on my other wheels, but the peg system on the Pollywog's flyer is easy enough to use - I just have to remember to stop and change the peg every so often! (I should note that they do sell their own version of an automatic winder. Unlike the Woolee Winder, it doesn't require all new bobbins, which is a plus.)

Anyway, that's probably enough for a first impression. Chance and I are getting along pretty well so far, and I'm looking forward to many happy hours of spinning :)

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The surprise part has to come first, because I am just so excited about it - I put my name into Spinolution's annual drawing for a Pollywog wheel and... I won! I got this email yesterday:

Screenshot of an email from Spinolution Wheels telling me that I've won the 2021 Tour de Fleece Pollywog giveaway

And I've spent quite a bit of time since it showed up in my inbox alternating between dazedly commenting, "I won? A spinning wheel? Whoa!" and reading reviews of Spinolution wheels. I don't have an ETA on its delivery yet, but I will be sure to do a review of my own once it arrives! How cool is that!?

Yesterday should have been Virtual Knit Night, but no one could make it - so instead of working on a plain sock, I worked on seaming the Learning Sweater. I stitched up one sleeve and then got some very wise advice that I should quickly baste the rest of it together and try it on for fit. You guys! I've knit a sweater! (Also, just to note, it's very difficult to take pictures of oneself in a bathroom mirror while making awkward poses to illustrate the shape of a sweater around one's body.) Just a few more seams and a neckband to go... and weaving in all the ends, of course.

Pirate models the colourblock sweater, which is basted together at the seams and still missing a neckband.

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With Michael's assistance in wielding the measuring tape, not to mention with the gauge math, I was able to convince Designaknit to provide something resembling a pullover pattern. I don't really understand a lot of the UI choices in DAK, but I'm trying to ignore that and move on to just making garments. So! I began with a sleeve...

One sleeve of a colourblock sweater - cream at the top, light grayish tan in the middle, and darker brown at the bottom.

And then I knit the other sleeve, the back, and the front. Except the directions were really unclear (and I'm new) so the neck opening came out totally off centre. I ripped back to the colour change, rehung the stitches, and reknit the neck properly on my second try.

The back and two sleeves of a colourblock sweater - cream at the top, light grayish tan in the middle, and darker brown at the bottom.

I've never made a sweater before, so I've never done any real seaming. Last night I watched some videos about how to set in sleeves and then did my best. I got as far as seaming the shoulders together and then seaming up and around the sleeve caps before calling it a night.

A colourblock sweater - cream at the top, light grayish tan in the middle, and darker brown at the bottom - in the process of being sewn together. The side seams are still undone.

The rest of the seaming - up the sides and down the sleeves - should be relatively simple. Then I have to pick up stitches for the neckband and knit a few rounds of ribbing, which I plan to do by hand. Washing and blocking will soften up the wool, and probably smooth out some of my seaming inexperience as well.

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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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