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.
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.
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.
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!