Archive for the “machine knitting” Category

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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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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"So where do you keep your knitting machine?"

Well, there's this adorable little nook in the loft, between the stairs and the sliding door that leads out to the terrace. It's just big enough for the machine on its table, two bookcases, and me. This picture is from when Puppies was still in progress:

A small nook with a knitting machine, two bookcases, and a sliding glass door covered by a curtain. A stairwell is visible to the left. There is a half-wall between the stairs and the back of the knitting machine's table.

Here's a shot from a slightly different angle so you can see where the stairs are in relation to everything else. I only have the round table next to the machine because I was using the extension rails, and wanted to make sure no one accidentally walked into the one that's sticking out. It's hard to see in dim light, and the switches are on the wall next to the sliding door. Usually the table lives under the light switches, though.

A view of the knitting machine corner that shows the stairs, the half-wall behind the knitting machine table, two bookcases against the wall, and a sliding glass door covered by a curtain.

Having the shelves right next to me while I work is perfect, as I have a spot to keep all the little bits and pieces that accumulate with machine knitting: weights, transfer tools, cones of waste yarn, and so on. Plus there's room for the machine boxes and ribber across the top of the bookcases.

The table is actually a four-foot workbench that I got on sale for under $200. I love how sturdy it is! It doesn't wiggle back and forth at all while I'm knitting. On the other hand, it does take two people to move the table or adjust its height... but that seems like a small issue now that Michael's living here too.

So I guess the real question is: now that Puppies is done, what should my next machine-knitting project be? I have a dozen ideas, of course, but nothing's fully fleshed out yet. Socks? In the round, or flat? Armwarmers? Learning double bed jacquard? A shawl? More colourwork design? A sweater?!

And, of course, with what yarn?

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I've wanted to knit Puppies since I got the knitting machine. Last year I bought four cones of laceweight yarn for it, and promised myself that I wouldn't buy any more yarn until I'd knit the thing. So... I knit the thing.

First, I made a swatch and attempted to felt it (not entirely, just a little bit) in the washing machine. I have a front-loader, which makes it a little more tricky, but it seemed to work just fine! There's still some stitch definition, but all the floats are stuck down, which is exactly what I was trying to achieve.

A swatch of the Puppies pattern in purple-gray and white. It looks like damask wallpaper.

And then I got started knitting it on the machine.

The Puppies wrap in progress, hanging from a flatbed knitting machine, with weights hooked into the fabric. The purl side of the fabric is showing.

The wrap is knitted in three sections - first the two outside strips, and then the centre strip connects them as it's knit up. I knit strip one, and then failed to properly upload strip three to the machine... so I knit strip one twice. (Sigh.) After some time and troubleshooting, I figured it out, and knit strip three, followed by the centre piece. Each of the sides took just under an hour, including the time to upload the pattern into the machine... and the centre took more like four or five hours, because of having to hook the sides up as I went. Michael helped me arrange the side strips so that I wouldn't be hooking them up backwards or upside-down or anything silly like that - I am awful at the mental gymnastics of rotating pieces around in my head to get them aligned properly!

The two outer strips of the Puppies wrap with a yardstick for scale. They are much longer than the yardstick.

All three strips of the Puppies wrap, together and laid out on the floor. It is more than a yard wide and probable about two yards long.

Here's a closeup of a "puppy" (I think it looks more like a horse, but hey) with the fabric folded over to show the floats as well:

The Puppies wrap folded over at the bottom so that the front and back sides are visible in the same picture.

And then, with much trepidation, I tossed it into the washing machine. For the most part it fulled nicely... but there are some places that look a little holey, and I'm worried about those. I might try to spot-felt them, as well as the parts of the seam that just didn't quite felt enough. That'll be done by hand in a basin, rather than in the washing machine again.

The Puppies wrap, felted and laid out to dry on towels. It's now slightly less than a yard wide.

A closeup of one of the holes in the wrap. It's not very big, but it is obvious..

Here you can see that part of the seam felted together just fine (circled in green) but part of it really didn't (circled in orange):

Properly and improperly felted areas of the seam connecting two of the strips of knitting.

I'm not super-happy with the results of this project, but it was definitely a Learning Experience with capital letters! I've gotten a bunch of advice on how I can better felt the thing next time, if there is a next time, including a method to keep the edges from rolling up and sticking to each other in the wash (ugh, I had to unroll/unstick them all, and bent back a fingernail in the process) and how to keep the edges from ruffling. I have a bit of the yarn left... which I might use held doubled to make some colourwork armwarmers. We shall see!

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