Archive for the “swatching” Category

So... I got it into my head that I wanted a newer knitting machine - one of the standard gauge ones with bells, whistles, and electronic innards that can be connected to a computer. By "newer," I don't mean anything like "new," because the model I was looking for was made in the late 80s/early 90s. These nearly 30-year-old machines are still cranking right along. It's pretty amazing to see what some people have done with them: check out img2track and this awe-inspiring star tapestry!

After a good deal of research and looking on eBay and Etsy, I found a Brother KH-940 (well, a KnitKing Compuknit IV, which is exactly the same thing with a different label) for a good price and bought it. Of course, getting something for a good deal often means getting something that needs a little fixing up, and that's pretty much what happened.

When I got the machine, it was covered in fine brown fuzzy bits, and the case took a little damage in shipping, but the electronics tested out just fine. The needles were clean and the sponge bar new (whew) but the centre buttons on the carriage were immobile - which is a pretty common issue, as the grease hardens with age, and that was a fine excuse to go shopping and get some more appropriate cleaners and lubricants than what I had in my garage already. It took me about a week of evenings to get it all cleaned up and knitting smoothly.

A view of the control panel and needlebed of the KH940.

Then, of course, I had to make some swatches. First I tried fair isle, and it was like magic. The carriage holds both yarns at once and automatically knits colour A onto some needles, colour B onto others. There are a bunch of patterns pre-programmed into the machine, so I picked number 40 at semi-random and made up this small swatch using leftover sock yarn.

A navy and white fair isle swatch with a pattern of diagonal lines surrounding vertical bars.

Then I wanted to try two-colour tuck stitch, and quickly found that it's much more of a pain in the neck as the knitter has to manually swap yarns every other row to make this work. Some people invest in a second carriage to make it easier, and I can't say I blame them. Here's pattern 302 in the same sock yarn:

A 1960s mod looking tuck stitch swatch in navy and white.

So third, I decided to try a one-colour tuck lace with some of the coned cotton that I have, and when I accidentally dropped the whole piece off the needles I decided that I liked the pattern well enough to attempt a wrap/shawl sort of thing with it. Whooooboy, this was the cursed piece of knitting. Not that there was anything wrong with the yarn or with the machine; everything was entirely user error.

A pale pink swatch of tuck lace, with vertical "ribs" of dropped stitches surrounding wavy lace columns.

How do I mess thee up? Let me count the ways...

By forgetting a yarnover so that the drop-stitch columns don't unravel into the hem (as seen above, if you look closely)
By forgetting to push in the tuck buttons when beginning the pattern
By forgetting that I turned the machine off, and moving the carriage across the needles anyway
By unraveling the resulting badly-formed row... and then resetting the computer to the wrong row number
By the yarn snapping, when I finally get going again

There is a definite learning curve, here...

A pale pink piece of knitting hangs from the needlebed of a knitting machine... with the yarn snapped, and several needles empty as a result.

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On April 4, this blog will be TEN YEARS OLD. Ten! Can you believe it? As my grandma used to say, "Who'd'a thunk it?" (And, as I've heard elsewhere, "how much could there possibly be to write about knitting?!" Quite a bit, as it turns out.) I'd like to release a new pattern to celebrate this significant "blogiversary," but obviously that means starting now so that it has a chance of being ready for release in a few months.

I knew I wanted the hat to be stranded colourwork using four colours of yarn, which is outside the realm of my usual knitting - but a special anniversary calls for a special design! So I opened up Excel and started slapping colours into cells. Then there was a lot of rearranging, cutting-and-pasting, scowling, adjusting, centering, shifting, and re-adjusting. Eventually I had something I liked, so I retrieved the yarn I wanted to use (Jo Sharp Classic DK Wool) and some US size 4/3.5mm needles, and started knitting a swatch.

I knit several inches of stockinette to get a feel for the yarn, and then decided to swatch one of the motifs I'd charted. Unwisely, I failed to record the colourways and dye lots when I bought the yarn a few years ago, but the colours are a rich brown, cherry red, pale blue, and creamy white. It doesn't quite matter, as I'm writing the pattern in two different sizes that will work with four different gauge tensions, so knitters will be able to pick the yarn they like best. This is the colour combination I like for myself, but I'll offer a few other combination ideas in the final pattern.

Yep, I think that's going to work just fine. The back side of the swatch is nifty-looking, too.

Once I'd measured and taken pictures, I unraveled the yarn and wound each colour back onto its respective ball. The swatch is pretty, but ultimately useless - and I might need that yarn before I'm done with the hat!

The hardest part of designing a pattern isn't the charting, the writing, or the test-knitting... it's coming up with a good name. "Four-Colour Hat" is all right for a working title, I guess, but it won't do for the long term. Suggestions are welcome, of course! (Just not "Blogiversary Hat". That would be silly.)

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Here we have the twenty-five yards of my very first attempt at a woollen longdraw, knit into a twenty-six stitch swatch. I started first on size 10.5 (6.5mm) needles, decided after a few rows that it was far too loose, and went down to size 9 (5.5mm) for the rest of it. That's why the bottom of the swatch appears to be flaring out; it actually is slightly bigger! After deciding that the size 9s were just about right in terms of how the fabric felt, I experimented a little bit with a few cables and a little patch of seed stitch. I wanted to see how much definition I would get with the textures, and the answer is "very little." I'm relieved, as if they'd stood out nicely I would be tempted to knit a cabled sweater! Instead, I can plan for plain stockinette with a bit of ribbing for shaping, which should be a quicker project.

longdraw_swatch

After the swatch had soaked and lightly blocked - just stretched into shape, no pinning - I measured 14 stitches to 4 inches, which puts the yarn solidly into the bulky/chunky range. The fabric isn't next-to-skin soft, but that's okay for the kind of sweater I'm thinking of knitting. I'd like to see if I can get down to more of a worsted weight yarn, though. More test-spinning and swatching will certainly be required! I have enough of this roving to do as much testing as I need, and still have plenty remaining.

The only issue (which isn't really an issue) is that testing takes a lot of not-spinning time. Spin the singles and give them a day to rest. Ply them, soak them, and give them a day or two to dry. Knit the test swatch, block it, and then wait for *that* to dry. Meanwhile, the Tour de Fleece is starting in two weeks! I'll need to know exactly what I'm spinning, if I want to make this roving into my TdF project. It's looking like I'll end up doing a bit of this, but also working on some of the pretty dyed top I have in the stash - which I won't mind doing at all.

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