Patterns for Machine Knitters

While you may not be able to chart out a complex garment right away, understanding gauge will help you work with irregular shapes and unusual structures like this modular cardigan. The modular method is explained in Hand Knits by Machine and there is a free download at www.guagliumi.com that explains exactly how this garment was constructed.
While you may not be able to chart out a complex garment right away, understanding gauge will help you work with irregular shapes and unusual structures like this modular cardigan. The modular method is explained in Hand Knits by Machine and there is a free download at www.guagliumi.com that explains exactly how this garment was constructed.

I think I get more questions like “where can I find a pattern for _________” (you can fill in the blank with socks, sweaters, raglans, hats, etc) than I do for any other problem. If you are a careful swatcher and you learn to work with gauges just a little bit, you can use most hand knit patterns, which tend to be more interesting and fashionable than the few that have been available specifically for the machine knitters – and it increases your options endlessly!

Keep in mind that stitches are stitches and rows are rows, regardless of whether you form them with two needles or a whole bed of them. Stitches are still stitches, but the lengthwise measurement must be considered as row counts (RC), rather than measured in progress as hand knitters do. Both, nonetheless, are dealt with in terms of gauge.

Before we start working with gauge, let me add a couple of thoughts to what I wrote in the previous post. Even by machine, there is no such thing as “knitting to gauge”. You simply must do a gauge swatch – knitted as large as possible with the same yarn, stitch size and pattern specs as the sweater. You’re kidding yourself (or magical with blocking!) if you think you “always knit to gauge”.

The “correct” gauge for any pattern was determined initially by the way the yarn was manufactured and any unique characteristics (like slubs or loops or “fur”, etc) then further defined by the designer who wrote the pattern. Matching that pattern’s gauge is your guarantee that the garment you knit with those directions will knit to size. Deviate from gauge and you are probably putting your efforts into a give-away project.

Most patterns specify the number of stitches/rows in a 4” square because that is usually large enough to average in any discrepancies in tension from row to row. (That consistency is usually more of a problem for hand knitters than it is for us.) While it is always tempting to stretch or scrunch a swatch to match 4”, there is just no such thing as “coming close enough”.

Consider this: if a pattern’s gauge is  22 stitches = 4” (which is DK at 5.5 sts/inch) and the sweater back calls for casting on 110 stitches, the piece is supposed to measure 20” wide (110 ÷ 5.5 = 20). However, if your swatch doesn’t really measure 4”, look what happens to those 110 stitches:

If your swatch measures Actual Gauge STS/inch 110 stitches will measure
4.5” 4.88 22.5”
4.25” 5.17 21.25”
4” 5.5 20”
3.75” 5.86 18.75”
3.5” 6.28 17.5”

In the example below the gauge is supposed to be 28 sts = 4” or 7 stitches/inch, which is a typical gauge for fingering weight yarn. The pattern calls for casting on 140 stitches so that the back of the sweater will measure 20” wide. Once again, look what happens to the actual width of the sweater when your gauge is not exact:

If your swatch measures Actual Gauge

STS/inch

140 stitches will measure
4.5” 6.22 22.5”
4.25” 6.58 21.25”
4” 7 20”
3.75” 7.46 18.75”
3.5” 8 17.5”

By the time you apply the “close” gauge to a back and a front, the resulting sweater could be as much as 5” too large or too small and wouldn’t fit before you even start knitting!

Keep this in mind: It takes fewer big stitches and more small stitches to make up an inch of knitting. If your swatch measures less than 4”, it means the stitches are too small. If your swatch is larger than 4” your stitches are too big.

Carry this a step further and you will see that the coarser the yarn/gauge, the more critical it is to match the required gauge exactly. With finer yarns, there may be a tiny bit more leeway. The difference between 7 and 7.25 stitches/inch probably won’t make or break a garment. However, if you are knitting on a bulky or mid-gauge machine, it is imperative that you match the gauge exactly or be prepared to re-chart the pattern in whole or in part.

While you can usually match a hand knit stitch gauge, the row count is often a bit more elusive. In my next posting, we’ll begin working with gauge to adapt existing patterns or to chart our own. Even if you use DAK or Garment Styler to chart your patterns, this is information worth understanding so you are never again a prisoner of somebody else’s designs!

Swatching for Success!

It has been a while! I could blame the unrelenting heat: high 90’s with 98% humidity for my lack of activity, but  this kind of weather provides great opportunities for hibernating with the air conditioning and getting lots of work done inside. The truth is that I have been busy prepping for my two classes at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in NYC this fall and also a trip to Denver with those great folks at Craftsy.com in early fall. Just saying…

Before I get into this week’s topic, I also want to mention that I will be doing a class here in Northford, CT November 12 & 13 for the North Branford Recreation Department and will post the contact and registration information in a couple of weeks. If you live in the Northeast – save the date!

A collection of recent gauge swatches
A collection of recent gauge swatches in graduating stitch sizes

Swatching

One of the most important – and least addressed (and maybe one of the most boring)- parts of knitting is The Swatch. I sometimes spend an afternoon swatching a variety of yarns, then another day charting and planning before I actually get around to any knitting.

The most important thing about swatching is to make sure you knit enough stitches and rows to accurately measure – this is no place for skimping! If you use a charting attachment (i.e. Knit contour/radar/leader), you must do your swatch according to the directions in your manual. These are the normal guidelines:

Standard gauge machines           40 stitches/60 rows

Mid-gauge Machines                  30 stitches/40 rows

Bulky machines                           20 stitches/30 rows

 

Programs like Garment Designer and Design-A-Knit can utilize these same measurements or the number of stitches/rows in 10 centimeters. If you are just trying to match somebody else’s gauge or designing your own patterns, it really doesn’t matter how many stitches and rows you knit as long as you write it down so you can figure out the exact gauge later on.

Assume that I am swatching a yarn for my mid-gauge machine, I’ll cast on with scrap yarn over a width of 40 stitches and knit some rows. Next, I’ll change to my main yarn and set the row counter (RC) to 000; knit 20 rows and then make two eyelets by moving the 16th stitch at each side of zero to the adjacent needle, leaving the empty needles in working position (WP). Knit 20 more rows and then knit two rows with waste yarn.

The scrap yarn acts as a marker for the required 40 rows and there are 30 stitches between the two eyelets. Now, so I don’t forget what stitch size I used, I make a series of eyelets in the scrap yarn. For size 6, I would just make 6 eyelets, but for size 6ŸŸ I would make 6 eyelets at one side and two more at the other. Follow the eyelets with a couple more rows of scrap, slowly increasing (or decreasing) the stitch size for the next sample.

Then just repeat knitting 20 rows, making the eyelets to mark the 30 stitches and knitting 20 more rows. Follow that with some rows of waste knitting and eyelets to mark the stitch size. I often knit a strip of gauge swatches with four or five different sections so I can compare and choose the absolute best gauge.

I bind off the strip and then finish it exactly as I plan to finish my sweater. For most yarns, that means hand wash and lay flat to dry. For superwash wools or cottons, that means running the swatch through the dryer.

You don’t want to measure any swatch until it has been finished. Otherwise, you might be wasting your time knitting a sweater that only fits until the first time it is washed. Most yarns have some tendency to bloom (i.e. fluff out) or shrink or otherwise alter once washed and you don’t want any surprises later on!

Lay the swatch flat and measure between the eyelets for the stitch width and between the top and bottom rows of waste knitting for the rows. You’ve already done the counting!

For a charting attachment, you need to use the special ruler that came with your machine. It converts the required number of stitches/rows to a single number you can use to choose the stitch scale or set the row rotation. For other purposes, you can just divide the total number of stitches (or rows) by the inch measurement to find out how many stitches (rows) per inch.

For general purposes, I usually make a chart like the one below to record the measurements of 30 stitches or 40 rows so I have all my figures in one place to compare and choose which stitch size will get me closest to my gauge goal.

Stitch Size Tagged 30 stitches 40 rows
6
6Ÿ.
6ŸŸ..
7
7Ÿ.

If you are trying to match a specific gauge and haven’t done so, I plan to address some charting in the next couple of blogs so stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

More Thoughts on The Right Yarn….

Last time I wrote about choosing yarns that knit on the “sweet size” for your machine and I thought I would spend a few more words on the topic before I move on to something else. Bear with me.

I do a lot of sampling and playing with new yarns before I commit to a stitch size. Sometimes I’ll just knit a few rows with a variety of sizes to zero in on the best sizes and then I do an actual swatch. Even after so many years, I still find surprises and there are no guarantees that all worsteds are created equal, for example.

Wool and I go back a long way together........
Wool and I go back a long way together……..

One of the things that affects how a yarn knits on any machine is the yarn’s content – it also affects how the fabric stretches or drapes and wears long-term. I have spent years earning my reputation as a yarn snob. I really believe that you get what you pay for and that the yarn is still the least expensive component in anything I knit. My time always ranks first – and not just because of my fascination with hand-manipulated techniques. I spend a lot of time swatching and planning and I try not to skimp on the details as I knit. If a 2-step decrease is going to add something to the finished look of the garment, I don’t mind that they take longer to execute than the simple 1-step decreases would. I try not to skimp on finishing either. Faster is seldom better.

In addition to yarn quality and content affecting the way your garment finishes up, it also plays into the ease of knitting. Tightly twisted, in-elastic yarns are harder to knit with. They probably won’t let you cross wider cables as easily as you would like. Yes, I prefer wool to almost anything else because it is so agreeable to work with. It stretches when needed, but returns to shape. You can block it without killing the fiber. The colors tend to be richer. The list goes on.

My love for wool, however, does not mean that I am blind to the benefits of other fibers. There are some terrific wool blends out there that are fully machine washable and dryable, adopting the characteristics of the blend with the beauty and manageability of the wool. There are also some beautiful superwash wools to choose from, though I am still reluctant to take something I have labored over and toss it into a washing machine….

That said, superwash wool is really practical for children’s wear. Keep in mind, however, that while wools and many bends are engineered to “bloom” when steamed or washed – thus filling out the stitches (and maybe holding in the ends you spent hours weaving into the seams), superwash has been treated so that it never blooms. While it may soften and drape more after washing, the gauge is about the same as it is after removing the fabric from the machine and letting it rest for a while.

Yarns with some stretch to them will work better with tighter stitch sizes because the stitches can stretch slightly to slip over the closed latches and, at any stitch size, they just have more give as they are fed into the needles. They knit more easily.

Yarns like 100% cotton, linen, silk, rayon have very little stretch. What stretch they may have is usually a result of the way the yarn was plied. I still like working with these fibers, but I am probably less likely to try crossing a 5×5 cable in linen than I am with wool or a blend. The yarn’s content always affects the way the machine knits even if the yarn knits right in the middle of the dial.

To a lesser extend, you may even find a difference in the way the same yarn knits in white or navy blue. Many of the dark dyes take their toll on the yarn due to the immersion time and temperature, the amount of dye, etc. While I wouldn’t change stitch size for each color in a navy and white stripe, I would double check my gauge if the navy or the white were used for a solid colored garment. I would never use the gauge for one to knit a garment with the other.

How easily or smoothly any yarn knits on a particular machine can also be affected by how well oiled the machine is, how many weights you are using, how the tension mast is adjusted, the weather, static electricity. In short – there are lots of things that can go wrong, which is why I am even more committed to using the best yarns I can. I am convinced that none of us bought a knitting machine because we needed some sweaters. You could buy a lot of sweaters for what most of us have invested in our machines! Machine knitting is supposed to be fun! Interesting! An ongoing learning experience! Lets all strive for fewer sweaters and make them better sweaters that are worthy of the very best yarns.

Yarn and Stitch Size, what’s a girl to do?

I get a lot of emails and Craftsy class questions about stitch size and which yarns are appropriate for what machines. These are important questions because, coupled with the auto tension (see blog 6/5/16), stitch size and yarn choices account for a lot of the problems that beginning machine Knitter’s encounter.

Stitches form the same way on all machines by shunting the needle butts through a triangular pathway in the cams on the underside of the carriage. First the needles are pushes forward in their slots so that the old stitches slide back over and open the latches. Then, right in the middle of the carriage, yarn is fed into each needle hook before the carriage guides them back in their slots. Larger or smaller stitches are formed depending on how far back the needles are pushed. That distance is determined by the length of the triangular pathway which, in turn, is controlled by the dial on the top of the carriage. (If you own a Bond/ISM, the key plates feature fixed triangular pathways of varying lengths)

Stitch size or tension? I know that some manuals use the term “tension” to describe the numbers on the top of the carriage dial and, in all honesty, I have no idea why. Stitches are formed by the length of the pathway underneath the carriage, which is lengthened or shortened according to the numbers on the dial. There is no tension applied to them. To my mind, tension only comes into play when the yarn passes between the two spring-loaded discs in the tension mast to create more or less tension – or drag – on the yarn. I think that using the word tension to describe both the tension mast and the dial settings is confusing.

I use the term stitch size but stitch tension and stitch size are the same thing and they are controlled by the dial (usually) on the top of the carriage. The larger the number, the larger the stitch size and the smaller the number, the smaller the stitch size. This is because the cams under the carriage create a longer or shorter pathway for the needle butts to travel through. When the butts travel a longer distance, they pull more yarn through each stitch.

No single machine is capable of knitting all the yarns you might want to use – which is why so many of us own more than one machine. Every machine is capable of handling a very specific range of yarns and that is determined by a couple of things. First of all, the yarn needs to be in some proportion to the needles themselves: the size of their open hooks and its size when the latch is closed for the old stitch to slide off over a new one. Stitches must must be able to cleanly fit into the hooks of the needles so they don’t split and cause damaged stitches or a jammed carriage as the needles move back and forth through them to form the next row of stitches. Obviously, a super bulky yarn will not fit the hooks of a standard gauge machine, but it works the other way as well. If a yarn is super thin, it probably wants to form very tiny stitches and, with the dial set on a very low number, the stitches may be too tight to pass over the closed latches.

The space between the needles also affects stitch size and gauge because, once the fabric is off the machine and you give a good lengthwise tug, the yarn that passed below the sinker posts/gate pegs/flow combs is absorbed into each of the stitches, slightly increasing their size. Sometimes you can use this effect to your advantage if you are trying to match a very specific gauge and happen to own two machines. For example, worsted weight wool usually knits around stitch size 7 on a 6.5 mid-gauge machine and on about a stitch size 5 on most bulkies. While you might be able to achieve the requisite 5 stitches per inch on either machine, you might find that the row gauge of the swatch knitted on the mid-gauge is closer than the one knitted on the bulky because of the way the yarn between the stitches is absorbed into the stitches. You can knit worsted on either of these machines, but you may prefer the hand or the drape of the fabric from one over the other .

The chart below will give you a rough idea of which machines can knit which yarns but these are not iron clad rules. Apart from trying to achieve a specific gauge or drape to your fabric, you also want it to be easy for you and the machine to knit the yarn in question. That said, let me state that there is an optimum range for which every machine is calibrated to work perfectly– the sweet spot, if you will, where the yarns knit pliable, drapey fabrics and neither the machine nor the knitter are strained.

chart
Click to enlarge this chart

Most standard gauge (4.5 – 5 mm) machines are calibrated to knit their best with fingering weight yarn on stitch sizes 5-8 (depending on the brand). Mid-gauge (6.5 – 7mm) were designed specifically for DK weights to knit like butter (or, as we say in Boston, Buttah) on stitch size 5, with a range for other suitable yarns extending from 4-7 or 8. Bulkies were designed for worsted weights to knit on size 5 (More Buttah) and their sweet spotr also extends from stitch size 4-7 or 8.

The sweet spot is where you can knit appropriate yarns with a fair amount of confidence that they will knit cleanly and easily. Yes, of course you can knit with a stitch size 10 but be aware that it is not what the machine was designed to do best, is not what it really likes to do (it is just trying to make you happy)) and will probably be harder to push the carriage across each row. It is definitely not where a beginner should be starting! Ditto for size 3. On size 10, the needle butts are pulled down a longer cam pathway under the carriage, which takes more effort on your part and the machine’s. On size 3, the stitches that need to slide over the closed latches can be stingy and small and almost need too be dragged over the latches.

On the other hand, if you work with yarns that knit in the optimum range for your machine, neither you nor the machine needs too work so hard and you are not setting yourself up for yarn problems when you try new techniques. You’ll have a better idea whether it is something you are doing (or not)) that might cause problems as you experiment with new techniques.

Well then, Susan, why DO they have sizes 1-3 and 9-10 on the dial????? Both extremes on the dial are included basically because they can. The smallest stitch sizes become useful when working ribbing (latched and true) because the idea is to create smaller stitches with more elasticity. When stitches reverse from knit to purl, they create the elasticity that causes ribs to pull in the fabric. When those small stitch sizes are combined with double bed capability, the stitches also access the yarn that zig zags back and forth across the beds from stitch to stitch. That length is absorbed into the stitches so that they are not really as small as they would be if they had been formed on a single bed where the stitches can only absorb the short length of yarn between adjacent stitches.

The largest stitch sizes do allow you to extend the range of yarns that your machine can use, but keep in mind that if you are constantly working on size 9 or 10, you probably need a different machine with a coarser gauge and bigger needles. Also, I would never recommend a beginner to start working on size 10 because they need to develop a feel for when the machine is working smoothly so they begin to understand when things go awry.

I’ll add some more thoughts on stitch sizes and swatching in the next blog post once I get caught up in the garden and give some attention to the current book project and the classes I will be teaching at FIT in the fall. If anyone finds a way to get more hours in the day, please let me know the secret!

Beading on the Machine

Its fairly easy to add beads on a knitting machine and although you can do it on any gauge machine, beading really looks best on standard gauge fabrics because the beads are in better proportion to the stitches. That said, the example in my video was worked on a mid-gauge machine (6.5 mm).

You’ll need a tiny latch tool to transfer the beads onto the stitches. Notions counters may sell a hosiery/knit mending tool or I have handmade, wooden handled beaders available for sale on my web site.The ones I sell have a fairly long shaft and you should be able to stack on 6-8 beads, depending on their size. Just be aware that these tiny latches are very fragile and need to be treated carefully.I ship them with a protective cap and you should replace it whenever you store the tool.

You simply insert the hook of the tool into the stitch on the needle – or one row down – then release the stitch from its needle. Close the latch of the tool and slide a bead over the latch and onto the stitch, tugging gently to pull enough of the stitch through the bead to replace it on the needle. I usually work with the stitch one row down for larger beads so that they do not distort the fabric. The carriage will knit more smoothly if you bring the needles to holding position before knitting the next row.

ms.3.phtoYou can combine beading with tuck stitch patterning or with cables or other hand manipulated stitches. For the example at left, I manually enlarged a single stitch in the middle of each cable so that the beads sat right on the surface of the fabric.

Hand Sewn Bind Off for 2 x 2 Rib

A few weeks ago (5/16/16) I posted a blog about a hand sewn bind off for 1 x 1 ribbing and figured I would follow up with the 2 x 2 version while it is all fresh in my mind! Most of the 1 x 1 information is relevant to the 2 x 2 bind off as well so you might want to re-read the earlier blog before you try the 2 x 2 method.

Key to this bind off is a very specific way of scrapping off all the rib stitches. This bind off is suitable for ribs worked by latching up or with a ribber.

Transfer all the ribber stitches to the main bed. Set the carriage for slip. On my Silver Reed 860 I just switch the cam lever to Slip and put the side levers back so the carriage will slip all needles in working position. I set both of the Russel Levers on (II) so that they knit needles that are in holding position.

Bring all of the ribber stitches (the knit stitches as they face you) to holding position and knit 1 row with ravel cord. The needles in HP should have knitted and those in WP slipped. Now set the cam lever to stockinette and knit 1 row across all the needles. Change to waste yarn and knit about 10 rows and then drop the work from the machine.

Press the waste knitting (NOT the ribs) so it does not curl and then fold it back so the stitches present themselves in two neat and distinct rows. The stitches in each row will be paired with a two stitch gap between each pair – the gap is accounted for by the pairs of stitches in the opposite row.

The important thing to remember here is that each stitch is worked twice. You always insert the needle into a previously worked stitch and out through a new stitch, regardless of which row of stitches you are working on. So, in the old and out the new is the rule.

In addition, when working on the lower row of stitches (left in my video), the needle always enters up through an old stitch (left to right) and down through a new one (right to left).

When working the upper row of stitches (right in the video), the needle always enters down through the old stitch and up through the new one. In the video the needles enters the old stitch from right to left and up through the new stitch from left to right.

The yarn passes over the edge as you alternate from side to side and sometimes the two stitches are immediately adjacent to each other; other times they are further apart. In either case, only tug the yarn enough to prevent any loose loops, but not so tightly that it binds the edge and prevents it from stretching.

As with the 1 x 1 bind off, this edge almost exactly matches the circular cast on edge and is a goods place to thread through some elastic to remind cotton or linen edges where to return to. The elastic won’t correct a bad rib, but it will act as a memory for a good one so that it always contracts nicely.

I always shape my necklines with short rows and retain as many live stitches as I possibly can. Then I join one shoulder seam, rehang the entire neck edge and knit my ribs. I end with the ravel cord and waste knitting I described earlier and then I drop the work from the machine. I usually join the second shoulder before I work the hand sewn bind off because I can work the bind off continuously across the seam to disguise its beginning or end.

These hand sewn bind offs are well worth the effort because they look better and they stretch and return to shape better than any other method I have tried.

 

Tension Matters    

mastTalk about the double meaning of the word “matters”! Tension matters could mean discussing things about tension, but what I really mean is that it matters! It is terribly important to your knitting success. I think that the majority of beginner’s problems start with yarn prep and tension, which is why I am returning to this topic again.

Last time I talked about preparing the yarn to flow smoothly. Well, that carries over to the tension unit too! You want the yarn placed directly below the yarn guide of the mast and then you want it to pass straight through the various guides and discs without looping back on itself.

First and foremost, if your tension dials have numbers on them, stop looking for a magic number and start paying attention to how the unit functions. The tension mast serves the same purpose that wrapping the yarn around your index finger serves in hand knitting. The idea is to avoid loops at the edges, tight stitches at the edges (or across the row) or dropped edge stitches. Poorly adjusted tension will never produce even rows of stitches.

One of the problems with having numbers on the dials is that the numbering system differs from brand to brand and even from model to model. For some machines a number “1” indicates the tightest tension, which you would use with very fine yarn (little number=thin yarn). On other machines, however, it indicates the least amount of tension (low number=low tension for thicker yarns).

If your manual isn’t handy or you have a momentary lapse, thread the mast and catch the end of the yarn under the clip to hold it. Then pull down on the yarn below the yarn guide until the wire touches the last threading eyelet or guide. If the wire stays down, then “1” is the tightest tension on your dial. If it flies back up, it is the loosest. Neither setting is what you ultimately need, but you do need to know which way to turn the dial!

The Correct Tension is one where the wire is able to lift up any slack at the beginning of every row and then drops down as you knit across the row, ready to lift up at the start of the next row. If the wire is not able to pull up edge loops, the tension is probably to loose. If the wire stays down near the eyelet throughout, it is too tight.

The reason you need that up and down bobbing has to do with the distance between the edge needle and the center of the carriage, which is where new yarn is fed into the needle. That distance can often amount to 5-6” of extra yarn that must be pulled up when the carriage starts to move. Otherwise, you get loose edge stitches, dropped edge stitches or yarn wrapped around the brushes and wheels and gizmos under the carriage arm/sinker.

If you make note of that action, you’ll take control of the tension and feel like an empowered knitter! When things do go wrong, the tension mast is the first place I look. Sometimes the yarn may have worked itself out of a guide or maybe it wasn’t actually under the pin and between the tension discs to begin with. Re-check everything.

Also, you can avoid tangled yarn mishaps if you get into the habit of only leaving short (2”) tails clipped to the mast. Longer lengths whip around, build up static electricity and eventually mate up with the yarn you are using until both of them are jamming their way through the tension discs and the carriage comes to a grinding halt. Wonder how I know so much about that…….

One more thing! If you would like to thread multiple yarns through several masts, there is a free download on my web site (www.guagliumi.com) entitled “Multiple Tension Mast Holder”. It works like a charm for busy stripes!

 

Yarn Preparation

Between my website, this blog and my two Craftsy classes, I get a lot of email from machine knitters – especially new knitters who have nobody else to answer their questions. Probably the majority of beginners’ problems and questions are due to the way the yarn is delivered to the needles or the way the fabric is weighted (or not). So, I thought I would address this blog to yarn preparation and some future blogs to top tension, stitch size and weights. While not every problem can be traced to these factors, they are the culprits for the majority of beginner angst and many knitters do not realize how important these details are.

In a perfect world, all of the yarns we want to use would be available on cones. Truth is, however, that a very narrow range of yarns is available on cones and we need to rely on skeins and balls for the rest. The majority of the yarn on cones is for standard gauge machines, fewer for mid-gauge and bulky.

Cones are terrific for two reasons: the yarn reels off evenly and smoothly and you have fewer ends to finish off later. Every interruption in the yarn can result in skipped, tight or dropped stitches so it is really important to make sure the yarn flows smoothly.

Ideally, cones should be placed on the floor directly below the tension mast. If your table is very wide, however, the yarn will rub against the back edge of the table and then angle forward, towards the yarn guide, which can add extra drag or tension on the yarn. You might want to consider drilling (yes!) a couple of holes in the table to eliminate that possibility. Just make sure you sand them smooth or insert a nice metal grommet to finish the hole properly. This is why knitting machine stands and tables tend to be quite narrow.

Yarns that are sold in balls, skeins or hanks must be re-wound onto cones or into balls that pull smoothly from the center. Some ball winders can also wind the yarn onto plastic cones and if you run short of cones you might be able to use saved cardboard cones from a previous coned-yarn purchase or even the cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper. The advantage to re-winding onto cones is that the yarn will pull smoothly and the cone will stay put on the floor.

Make sure the base is wide enough not to tip over.
Make sure the base is wide enough not to tip over.

For cones or narrow tubes that don’t stay put, you can easily make a cone holder by drilling some holes into a piece of flat scrap lumber and inserting a short length of dowel for the cone to sit on. Remember to sand smooth!

I own a number of winders, including some that wind onto cones and others that have a convoluted threading to ply two yarns together. I also have a Simet electric winder that I have had for about 30 years. Sadly, Simets are no longer available but I know there are still electric winders to be had. I have no personal experience with any of the newer ones so am hesitant to make recommendations, but search the web and put out a question on Ravelry.com for endorsements.

I use a wooden umbrella swift to hold skeins open so I can wind them into balls. When I use the Simet, I often find that I need to re-wind a second time because the swift exerts enough tension to produce a fairly tight ball. It is simpler to re-wind a second time, more loosely, than to continually interrupt my knitting to pull out more yarn from a tight ball. Good prep is everything! I prefer wooden swifts because they can be repaired if (necessary) and they also manage large skeins better than the less expensive metal swifts. Either one is better than a grumpy husband with arms extended!

I usually place balls of yarn right on the table, underneath the yarn guide. The yarn pulls smoothly straight up from the center of the ball, unlike yarn that whips around as it reels off a cone and, therefore, needs more space to do so. The only problem you might have with balls on the table is static electricity and a can of Static Guard spray often helps with that.

If the yarn is already wound in an old fashion, roll-around ball, you can pout it inside a coffee can with a hole in the lid to keep it in lace as you rewind.

Use an inverted wire basket or a metal or plastic "milk crate" to separate the two cones.
Use an inverted wire basket or a metal or plastic “milk crate” to separate the two cones.

 

If you want to work with a doubled yarn – to increase the size or to blend colors – the best way to do this is with a simple doubling stand. I find I am most apt to double finer yarns, which usually come on cones. You can build a fancy doubling stand, but I just invert a tall wire basket (or an empty “milk crate”) over one of the cones. Then I thread the end of that yarn through the wire mesh and through the center of the second cone, which I place on top of the inverted basket. The yarn on the upper cone will wind around the yarn feeding through its center. You still need to keep and eye on the tension so that neither yarn forms extra loops, but I find that this method works like a charm.

Make sure edges are sanded smoothly - especially the hole in the second shelf. To be sure, glue a metal grommet in place.
Make sure edges are sanded smoothly – especially the hole in the second shelf. To be sure, glue a metal grommet in place.

Alas, I have no answer better than a closed door to prevent Buster your cat from attacking the yarn as it reels off so temptingly. I just wish the soulful mewing outside the door wasn’t so sad and couldn’t be heard above the noise of the machine!

Next time, I’ll share some thoughts on tenioning that yarn you have so perfectly wound!

 

 

The following are sources I know and trust for umbrella swifts and ball winders:
Craftsy
Stanwood
The Woolery
Schacht Spindle Company

Craftsy Class #2 is Up and Running!

I’m delighted to tell you that my second Craftsy.com class has launched! I’ve known the date for weeks, but was sworn to secrecy until the launch was official. You can watch the trailer for the class here and the link below will bring you right to the class page on Craftsy where you can purchase the class with a 50% discount – my thanks to you for following my blog and/or web site.

50% Class Discount

I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the folks at Craftsy. They are professionals who are committed to producing the very best on-line learning experiences. It’s a lot of work – to be sure! – but the end results are so well worth it. You’ll feel like you are sitting right next to me at the machine because there won’t be anybody else blocking your view or asking all the questions. You might be wearing your pajamas and it might even be 3:00 AM, but I won’t mind a bit! That is the beauty of on-line learning! If you have questions, just click and type and I’ll get right back to you…..though probably not until my day begins.

While the first class was aimed at new (or returning) machine knitters (almost 4,000 of them so far!), the new class is focused on three very specific areas: using the garter bar, knitting intarsia and working entrelac with holding position. They are all skills that will help move you forward with your machine and instill new confidence in what it – and YOU – can do!

Over the weekend I drew the names of five lucky blog subscribers who have each won a free class. (One from the U.K., 1 from Scandinavia, 1 Canadian and 2 from the U.S. Quite the diverse group of machine knitters!)

I plan to do more drawings this year as a thank you to those of you who have subscribed to my blog. In fact, on May 30th I will be drawing three more names. Those winners will each receive a free copy of my book, Handmade for the Garden. So, if you haven’t actually subscribed to this blog, make sure you subscribe (over on the right where it says “subscribe”) before the next drawing so you will be eligible to win!I won’t share your information with anyone else, but you will get an email telling you whenever I post a new video or blog.

Hope you all enjoy the new class!

Hand Sewn Bind Off for 1 X 1 Rib: The Gourmet Bind Off!

IMG_0087
This hand sewn bind off is my method of choice for binding off 1 x 1 ribbing. It exactly matches the circular cast on edge, holds its shape and never binds. What’s not to like?

Hand knitters often struggle with this method for binding off because they usually work it directly off their hand knitting needles. When worked off properly knitted scrap knitting, it couldn’t be easier to do. In fact, even when I hand knit a ribbed neckband, I transfer the stitches from the hand needles to the machine and scrap off as I will describe below. It makes all the difference.

First of all, the stitches need to present as two separate rows of stitches that you can think of as upper and lower rows. This is the factor that makes it easier to see what you are doing and enables you to distinguish which stitch to work and how. The work is scrapped off in a way that creates those two visual rows for you.

This bind off is worked the same for latched up ribbing as it is for double bed ribs. Let’s assume you have worked your ribbing on a double bed machine. End with the carriage on the right. Transfer all the ribber stitches to the main bed, pulling each needle out to Holding Position (HP) as you deposit the stitches. Cut the yarn, leaving a tail about 3 times the width of the knitting. Drop the ribber bed out of the way and, if necessary, switch to the single bed arm/sinker plate.

Set the carriage to Slip all needles in Working Position (WP) and to knit needles back from HP. The stitch size should be set for stockinette. You can use ravel cord for the first two rows or, for practice, just knit with waste yarn that contrasts well with the rib. Knit 1 row. The needles in WP should have slipped; the needles in HP should have knitted. For the example in the video, I knitted a second row with ravel cord and then switched to waste yarn.

Set the carriage to knit in both directions. Knit 8-10 rows of waste, cut the yarn and then drop the work from the machine. I usually press the waste yarn (not the rib) to assure that it lies flat and is less likely to ravel.

Please refer to the video included in this post for the visuals to accompany these directions. The numbers below also appear in the video as I work each step. Thread the main yarn tail through a blunt yarn needle and hold the work as shown in the video, beginning on the right edge. You should be able to clearly distinguish between an upper and a lower row of stitches held by the pink ravel cord. For most of the video, I held the fabric flat to avoid confusion, but it is actually easier to work the stitches with the waste knitting folded back – the two rows of stitches pop right up. Make sure you stitch through the actual stitches – not the ravel cord stitches.

1. Insert the needle down through the first stitch in the top row and then down through the first stitch in the bottom row. Pull the yarn through the stitches, pulling just snuggly enough to eliminate any excess length, but do not tighten the stitches.

2. Insert the needle back down through the first (upper) stitch and then up through the next upper stitch (down and up). Pull the yarn through the stitches just enough to eliminate excess length – not too snuggly. [The same goes for all following stitching whether or not I keep saying it].

3. Now, insert the needle up through the bottom row stitch you worked before and down through the next bottom row stitch (up and then down). It is important to notice how the yarn passed over the work when I switched from working the upper row to the lower row. That is actually what forms the edge itself.

4. Pass the yarn over the work and insert the needle down through the last stitch you worked on the upper row and then up through a new stitch (down and then up).

Each stitch is worked – twice – first as the second (new) stitch in each sequence and then as the “old stitch” in the next sequence. This is essential. Also, notice that whenever you work the upper row of stitches, the needle always enters down the old stitch and up through the new stitch. When working the lower row of stitches, the needle passes up through the old stitch and down through the new one. So, the upper row of stitches end with an “up” stitches and the lower row ends with a “down” stitch. This alternation, to, is essential.

5. This is the next bottom row sequence so the needle works up and then down. Continue to alternately work a pair (1 old and 1 new) of upper row stitches with a pair of lower row stitches until you reach the left edge of the fabric. You might be able to work both stitches with a single needle motion or it might be necessary to fully insert the needle through the first stitch and then through the second. It usually depends on the size of the stitches.

6. When you reach the left edge, work the last upper row stitch and then insert the needle up through the last lower row stitch and down through the last upper row stitch to end.

Pull out the ravel cord – or ravel the rows of waste knitting and behold your perfect edge! I usually run a thin knitting needle or blocking wire through the edge and give a strong tug to help set the stitches. You could also thread a yarn needle with some ravel cord, thread it through then pull against it to set the stitches. You will notice that the bind off tends to roll to one side, the side that faced you as you worked. Therefore, it is a good idea to always work with the wrong side of the sweater facing you.

This bind off can be worked from left to right just as easily if you are left handed or your yarn ended on the left side to begin with. For neckbands, I usually join one shoulder seam, work the entire neckband, scrapping it off as I described above and then I join the second shoulder seam. When I work the bind off, I try to make the ending stitches as blend as smoothly as possible with the beginning stitches so the edge is continuous and smooth.

This method – and lots of other great techniques are shown with excellent illustrations in The Guide to Knitting Techniques, a paperback book from Silver Reed that is still available. The book sells for $36 and you can purchase it from The Knit Knack Shop.

This book was originally one of a hard-bound set. The other book deals with specific knitting directions for the garment patterns that came with the charting attachment that used to be built into the machines (or available as an accessory). I don’t think the garment book has been available for a very long time and, although the knitting directions might be helpful for a novice, they are very specific to the old patterns – which have very little ease and even less style. If you happen upon an inexpensive copy, don’t pass it up, but don’t pay a lot of money for it either!

 

Remember – only a couple more weeks till the new Craftsy class launches and I am giving away FIVE FREE CLASSES to blog subscribers! Sign up so you have a chance to win!