This guest blog was written by my old friend, Charlene Shafer. Many of you know Charlene from her dozens and dozens of books and patterns and The Knit Knack Shop, which she and her husband, Harold (superb repairman!), have run for about 35 years. They also hold one of THE best seminars in the country every year in the spring so get on the mailing list!
I promise you, I am not abandoning this blog, but am still recovering from some fairly extensive back surgery last month. I’m doing great – just tired and still on the mend and planning to be back at work by the end of the summer! In the meantime, I am grateful for talented friends like Charlene (and Nancy Roberts last time) stepping in to help keep these pages filled.
My friend, Nancy Roberts, is the owner of Machine Knitting to Dye For in Berkeley, California. She is a knitter, spinner, weaver and dyer who has taught at local and national knitting, weaving and spinning conferences and whose articles have been published in Knitwords, Spin-Off, and Handwoven. As she will explain in this guest blog, she came to machine knitting via an unconventional path. Nancy’s work is an explosion of color!
How I Started “Machine Knitting to Dye For”
A guest blog by Nancy Roberts
I never had any intention of using a knitting machine to make finished pieces. I was strictly a hand knitter and I bought my first machine—an LK-150–solely as a tool for dyeing. I was inspired by a vague memory I had of an article by Rebekah Younger that I had read in Threads magazine (No. 59, June/July 1995, pg. 68). Ms. Younger had machine knitted undyed yarn and then painted it with dye in stripes of graduated colors. She then unraveled the yarn and re-knitted it to create an hombre effect on her knitted garments. I was intrigued, but did not own a knitting machine at that time. Nearly 10 years later in 2004, I set out to try the concept on my own, and by then, I no longer had the article for guidance. It was a great gateway into machine knitting because a dropped stitch was inconsequential as I’d be unraveling my knitted fabric in the end. I knit small swatches, painted them in stripes, unraveled the yarn, and reknit two colorways in Fair Isle patterns. The more I played with the technique, the more obsessed I became. At one point, I became so impatient to see the fruits of my play that I got out my hairdryer to dry the freshly dyed swatches faster. I convinced myself that if a blow dryer was good enough for my hair, it was good enough for sheep’s hair.
I showed my finished machine knitted and dyed work at spinning, weaving and hand knitting retreats and conferences I attended. Folks wanted to learn more about what I was doing and I was asked to teach the method I had developed. However, if I was going to teach, I needed machines. That’s how I became a Silver Reed dealer and my business, Machine Knitting to Dye For, was born. I’d take basic LK-150 machines to my classes and hope that students would be intrigued enough by the dyeing technique or machine knitting—or both—and buy the machine at the end of the workshop.
It didn’t take long before I could see the infinite possibilities machine knitting, apart from my initial use as a mere tool for dyeing. I was a convert and I became a missionary for machine knitting. Along my journey, I found machine knitting guilds. Teaching for those groups was a breeze: they already knew how to machine knit the “blanks” for dyeing and I didn’t need to “schlep” or ship machines to teach a class. As a side benefit of working with experienced machine knitters, I got to learn more about our shared craft.
For those initial classes, I needed to come up with a project that was accessible to the novice machine knitter and could be knitted and dyed in a one or two-day class. Self-striping socks were the rage, so I worked out an easy pattern for socks blanks that could be re-knit by hand or by machine. I employed “marker” rows to isolate areas for dyeing distinct color stripes. I had three variations of marker rows which had the byproduct of teaching novice machine knitters about some of the machine’s capabilities. The easiest way to create a marker row is to increase the stitch size/tension by several numbers. This works fine, unless your main tension is at the upper end of the dial. In that case, I recommend an every other needle tuck stitch row to mark the beginning or end of a painted stripe. My third method is to use a couple of rows of a contrast yarn without cutting the main yarn so that the main yarn remains a continuous strand when you ravel it later. For very distinct colored stripes where one stripe’s color doesn’t merge into the next, I knit more than two rows of the contrast yarn to create a wider dye barrier between the rows of main yarn.
Sock Blank Pattern
Click here for a Sock Blank Pattern for fingering weight yarn (approx. 2000 yards/lb) on a standard gauge machine. I use an undyed sock yarn that’s 75% superwash wool and 25% nylon. The pattern includes marker rows to separate dye stripes and sections of the finished sock: foot, heel and instep, and cuff. Choose whichever method of marker rows you like: wider gauge, 1X1 tuck stitch or two or more rows of a contrast yarn. You can work the pattern from the top (foot) to bottom (cuff) or bottom to top, depending on which section you want to start with on your finished sock. In other words, if you want to start knitting the actual sock at the cuff, start the blank at the foot so that cuff section will be the ready to unravel.
Instructions for Dyeing Blanks
I have instructional booklets for dyeing sock and hat blanks available on my website. The booklets include complete step-by-step dyeing instructions with photos and a pattern for handknitting the self-striping socks or hats. They also include information on dye suppliers.
I’m still plugging away on book #4 (Hand-Manipulated Stitches, Exploring Open Spaces) and although there are no sweater patterns in the book itself, I just posted the third free pattern (based on the techniques in the book) on the web site.
The first pattern was called “Swirling Eyelets” and the second “3D Eyelets and Nops”. Both of those were inspired by the first section of the book, which deals with extreme eyelets.
The third Open Space pattern is called “Slit Topper” and is indicative of the kinds of things I am including in the section on Slits. Eventually I will get some Ladder inspired sweaters done as well.
Frankly, I’m having a lot of fun playing with the “what if” and “I wonder if I could…” approach to some of these experiments in open fabrics, but I am getting restless to start making some sweaters. Hopefully the fall will afford me a bit more time. I think I say that every season, but the end is in sight and eventually I will have the time to do some garment knitting. I hope!
As often as I can, I weave in ends as I work, but for this garment, I should have waited until it was done and worked them in by hand. It turned out I like the purl side of the fabric even more than I do the knit side. The woven-in ends showed just enough to negate the possibility of using the purl side as right side and they were clipped too close to start re-working them in. Live and learn. I did include some photos of the purl side of the fabric in the pattern so you can see the difference. I think that the way the fabric curls towards the purl side adds an interesting bit of texture to the overall fabric. My advice would be to wait on the ends until you decide which side you like best for the right side.
In the meantime, enjoy this new pattern! You can access all the free downloads by signing up for the newsletter on my web site. Just save the confirmation email with the link that will bring you directly to the list of free downloads – you cannot directly access that page from anywhere on the web site.
I usually rely on Bridging (or double bed drop stitch) to create enlarged stitches across a row – either increasing the stitch size or hand-knitting specific needles back to non-working position. I covered Bridging in my first book and dedicated the entire second book to the subject. I think it is the most important thing to know for opening up the possibilities on any machine!
I demonstrated Bridging in the video that Taunton Press produced to accompany Hand-Manipulated Stitches for Machine Knitters and posted the section on Bridging on my YouTube channel (Susan Guagliumi). If you have my Hand Manipulated Stitches Craftsy class, I explain it there as well.
I have to say that I got a chuckle out of watching the YouTube version the other day when I got to the part where I definitively say “these are the largest stitches you can form on a single bed machine”. Ha! It was just 1989 and although I knew full well that double bed drop stitch would allow me to form enormous stitches, I really hadn’t yet begun experimenting with other options for single bed knitting.
In some earlier posts, I presented some YouTube videos by a Russian knitter named Elena Luneva. She uses a similar method to produce enlarged stitches and loops and I recommend you taking a good look at her work as well. The more tricks you have at your disposal, the less likely you are to be frustrated by the :limitations” of the machine!
Instead of just hand knitting the needles back to non-working position, I eventually figured out that I could pass the yarn around a gauge of some sort before hand knitting each needle back to the rail. The larger the gauge, the larger the stitches I can form. You have the option of wrapping the yarn around your gauge and then knitting each needle back to working position – or all the way to non-work. You could also wrap the yarn around the gauge twice for each stitch.
In this video, I have used a size 13 wooden knitting needle and a standard desk rules as gauges. There are all kinds of things you can use for a gauge and the size of the gauge also helps determine the size stitches you can make.
You will find that the first few wraps and needles knitted back are awkward to manage. You can use a paper clip or an elastic band to help stabilize the gauge if you want to – I usually find that they get in my way so I struggle through the first few (as I did on the video) until the first few stitches help to stabilize the gauge and make it easier to hold onto.
You will find that the stitches drop more easily and evenly if you have a well-weighted comb inserted in the lower edge of the fabric. Also, try to always wrap the yarn around the gauge the same way each time so none of the final stitches is twisted or crossed.
Believe me, I would not advocate working an entire garment like this, but for occasional rows of a special texture, this method is worth trying. For knitters who work on single bed machines and cannot rely on double bed drop stitch, this method opens up all kinds of possibilities!
Finally! Spring has arrived in CT. No, wait! We didn’t get any spring, it jumped right into summer with a 90 degree day. Hard to believe we had the heat on just last week because it was so cold!
I still have some videos to edit (and more to shoot) but for now, thought I would share a couple of things with you.
First of all, I am thrilled to tell you that my first Craftsy class, “Machine Knitting: Essential Techniques” was just included in the first group of classes available on DVDs for those folks who don’t like streaming directly. If you go to the Craftsy site and click on the class, the DVD option comes up on the page that describes the class. There are currently 60 classes available on DVD with more to be added continuously. So far no special offers for people who already have the streaming, but I will be sure to let you know if there are any specials in the future. Right now, there are more than 6100 students in this class, which astounds me!
I had a great time teaching a two-day seminar at The Knitting Cottage in Waynesboro, PA this month. One of the knitters who attended the workshop produces pattern-holding clips that mount to the tension mast on most machines. They fit the mast on Brother, Toyota, Artisan and older model Silver Reed machines. The newer Silver electronics all use a much thicker mast so the clips will not fit those machines. The cost, including shipping, is $10 with additional masts in the same package costing $7. For questions, contact Lynn Jones at LT51990@yahoo.com.
Elena Luneva sent me links to more of her classes on You Tube and once again, they are terrific! I love that she is sharing with us and that machine knitting transcends international boundaries and differences.
“It may be better if You look part 5 as the first. Because in some ways this part is the summary of previous parts includes the details and my thoughts about the possibilities of this technology.
With best regards,
Arlo is entertaining himself and us nicely – chewing everything in sight and plunging into his little wading pool. Only Buster is less than amused as he has not been able to convince the puppy that cats are ferocious creatures to be avoided, not chewed. Hoping that this phase passes. Arlo was a mere 19 pounds when we brought him home at the end of March and now weighs in at about 45 pounds. The vet thinks we are just about half grown and judging from the feet we think he is right.
I’ll get back to editing and filming more of those video lessons, but if you know me at all, you know that right now the garden is sapping every spare moment……that and trying to prevent Arlo from nipping off every bud or blossom he sees.
All double bed machines – including flat beds with a ribber bed (RB) – are capable of racking. There is a lever or knob on the end of the front/ribber bed that is used to move the RB left or right by a specific number of positions. Your manual may refer to a “swing lever” or a “racking lever” – they are the same thing.
Although there are some racking stitches done with the beds in full pitch (P), most of the more elaborate patterns are done with the beds in half pitch (HP). As the ribber beds shifts position, it must do so in either P or HP as established at the first row.
Some machines retain the relative pitch of the beds with a single click of the racking lever/knob. Other machines – like the Silver Reed SR860 I use in this video – require two clicks to maintain pitch because each click is really only a half position, moving the bed to P, HP, P, HP, etc.
On most Silver Reed machines, the ribber bed is able to move 8 positions left or right and other machines are probably about the same. It is important to begin your work with the bed in the correct position so that you can move the required number of positions/clicks to knit your pattern. For example, if you need to move the bed four times to the right and then four times to the left, make sure you begin with the indicator right in the middle – not at either end.
You can rack all-over stitches like English rib, which gives the fabric an interesting sort of zigzag texture or you can bring selective needles to work at intervals across the ribber bed to create traveling knit stitches on a purl background. The possibilities are endless.
As the ribber bed moves one position every row or two, after a number of moves its needles are likely to have moved beyond the edges of the main bed knitting. In that case, you need to transfer stitches from the RB to the MB and create new stitches at the opposite end of the RB by bringing needles into working position. You can do this by simply bringing empty needles to working position so they cast on ad begin knitting or you can pick up the purl bar of an opposite stitch for a cleaner beginning.
With racked drop stitch, like all drop stitch knitting, you must begin with all the stitches on the main bed. Then, bring specific needles to working position on the RB and begin knitting and racking. As the RB needles are shifted beyond the edges of the main knitting, you can simply drop the stitches from those needles and put the empty needles in non-working position. At the opposite end of the bed, just bring empty needles into work to begin knitting.
Periodically, just separate the two carriages and run the RB carriage across the bed alone to drop the stitches from the RB needles. Remember, they can only run to the point where they were cast on and you began your work with all of the stitches on the MB. Those RB stitches were just an add-on.
Racked drop stitch form lacy and open designs on a solid stockinet background. Textured yarns tend to retain the open effects better than smooth ones, where the stitches are likely to “melt” into adjacent stitches.
Drive Lace is a slightly different drop stitch application. The work begins with all the stitches on the RB so that the punch card or electronics can select needles on the main bed. Then, with the aid of a handy little P-Carriage you drop the MB stitches, which creates larger, more elaborate open stitch designs. Because of the punch cards or electronics, the patterns are usually more varied than those worked with regular drop stitch.
When moved across the MB from right to left, the P-carriage pushes the needles forward from working position so that the stitches slide behind the latches of the needles. Then, when it slides back from left to right, the needles are returned to working position and the stitches drop. Pretty slick little gizmo!
If you do an internet search you might find directions for converting a P-carriage to work on a Brother bed. However, please be careful because you can damage your machine or, at the very least, sacrifice some needles if the conversion isn’t done right.
Beyond drop stitch and Drive Lace, I use my P-carriages more for working with sticky yarns or when I have several stitches on the needles, but I only use it from right to left to bring the needles forward so they knit more easily. More about that next time!
I’ve been busy these last few weeks. Spring has finally arrived here in CT, our new puppy, Arlo, keeps us on constant watch and I’ve been traveling for a couple of seminars. Had a great time with the guild in Minneapolis last month and the Knit Knack Shop this past weekend. Looking forward to the Knitting Cottage in PA in a couple of weeks.
In the meantime, there will be an organizational meeting for the formation of a guild here in the northeast on April 22nd and I am teaching a beginners’ sweater class the weekend of May 20-21. There was more info in my newsletter, but if you didn’t get a copy, just email me and I will provide full details.
From my earliest days, working on Passap and Superba, I came to love drop stitch because it opens up an entirely different set of stitches and possibilities on any double bed machine.
First of all, you need to wrap your mind around the idea that a stitch can only drop to the point where it was cast on. I think many of us have been blithely knitting away on a double bed set up when we realize our sleeve caught an extra needle and nudged it into working position. When you drop that extra stitch off its needle, it only runs back to the point where it was caught up and began knitting. And when the stitches that it formed are released, they create larger stitches in the fabric. That is the basis for drop stitch.
In the video that accompanies this posting, I have begun by showing that extra stitch starting to knit and then tried to extend the concept to some basic variations.
First of all, you need to make sure that the needle arrangements and/or bed alignment will not place working needles directly across from each other. You either need to work with a 1×1 needle arrangement (for example) or the beds must be in half pitch.
Secondly, stitch size is really important. If the stitch size is too large, the carriage will be harder to push; if too small you may not be able to knit required rows on just the main bed. In short, experiment and try several variations before you settle on the final stitch sizes for both beds. I usually find that the stitch size on the ribber bed is much smaller (maybe half) of the stitch size I use on the main bed.
Depending on the effect you are trying to achieve, you will find that some yarns are more suitable than others because they retain the open structure, while others seem to allow the openness to spread to adjacent stitches and melt into the background. Obviously, highly textured yarns like mohair will be more apt to retain an open fabric while slippery rayon or smooth cottons will not. That might be a factor if you are trying to create a pattern of open blocks contrasting with solid knit, but wouldn’t matter if you were working row after row of enlarged stitches or Condo Stitch. Again, experiment and play a bit before committing to a whole project.
The yarn also affects how often you should release the ribber stitches from their needles. I never wait until the end of a project to drop all the stitches. Instead, I usually move the ribber carriage (alone) across the bed at regular intervals – every 10 or 20 rows – and give a tug on the fabric to make sure everything releases cleanly. It also provides an opportunity to separate the beds and check things out.
Silver Reed ribber manuals have directions for “Drive Lace” which is a patterned version of drop stitch with the main knitting on the ribber bed and the main bed (MB) used to select needles by punch card or electronics. In that case, the MB needles are released with a special little carriage, which, in the interest of time and space, I will show you in another post.
In this video, I brought groups of 5 needles on the ribber bed into work for a number of rows and then released the stitches from their needles to form squarish open areas in the fabric. However, if you began with 1 needle and then every two rows added one on each side of it; then dropped one at each side until back to a single stitch, you could easily create diamonds.
The carriages were much easier to push across the beds when I brought every-other-needle (EON) to work on the ribber bed than they were with full needle rib (FNR), but in the final fabric it is hard to tell one needle arrangement from the other because of the way the excess length is absorbed into the main bed stitches. You could also allow just every 10th (for ex) needle to knit for a vertical pattern. The possibilities are endless.
The needle arrangement for condo stitch is FNR, but the ribber carriage knits in one direction and slips in the other, which means that the main bed stitch size must be suitable for stockinet, every other row-or slightly smaller than stockinet. I especially like the way this fabric looks on the purl side where you can plainly see huge rows alternating with much smaller rows. In hand knitting, this is accomplished by using two mismatched needles that differ greatly in size.
Apart from the decorative uses for drop stitch, it is great for producing rows (or groups) of huge stitches for various hand-manipulated stitches that require larger stitches than the carriage alone can produce. It is also the best way I know to knit stitches large enough for a loose, non-binding bind off!
I hope the video gets you thinking about drop stitch and that you have some fun playing with the possibilities. Next time, we’ll take a look at racked drop stitch.
I’ve always promised people I wouldn’t waste newsletter space with stories/photos of my pets, but I am making this one exception. I wanted you to know why my postings might be a bit more sporadic for the next few months – I will be spending a lot of time out of my office, supervising Arlo, who joined our family a few days ago. In November we lost our old lab, Blue, and this little guy is just the cure we needed for a broken heart. I have a couple more videos already shot, but they need editing and tweaking and I will get to them as soon as Arlo can be trusted out of my sight for more than ten minutes!
Once you’ve knitted your perfect rib at the beginning of a garment, you might want to continue working single bed so you’ll need to transfer the stitches from the ribber to the main bed. The double-eyed bodkin that came with your ribber is a useful little tool for doing just that and once I have dug around in the bottom of my tool basket and found the elusive little thing, I sometimes use it for transferring particularly tight or un-stretchy stitches from the RB to the MB. Sometimes.
Most of the time, however, I am more likely to use a regular transfer tool as I show in this video. Depending on the yarn, I may use a single prong tool or I might opt for a multi-prong. Either way, I find it a whole lot faster and easier to manage than that tiny little bodkin.
One thing that I also do – and did not show you in the video because it blocked the camera’s view – is to bring the needles out to holding position first. Then I only need to hook on the transfer tool and push the needle back to get going. That speeds things up even more!
I also didn’t bother to show you some other tools/accessories that can be used on standard gauge machines. The first is something people affectionately call “Jaws” – the shadow lace transfer tool. It works like a pair of multi-prong tools hinged together and as long as you don’t damage the spacing of the tool it works like a charm. There are probably some out there on the used market, but they are just for 4.5 mm standard gauge machines. The eyes on the prongs are not large enough to work on the 9 mm bulkies.
You might also come across a multi-prong tool with bent tips which looks like half of “Jaws” and is also meant for transferring stitches. I know I once had one and I just spent 20 minutes searching for it, which tells you that (1) I have never used it often enough to know where it is or (2) I never had one to begin with or have long since passed it on to somebody else.
Many of the standard gauge machines had ribber transfer carriages available. The Silver Reed version is called an RT1, Brother made the KA7100 and KA8300; Passap had the U70, U80 and U100. I have no idea what the differences are from model to model, but if you go on line you will find the manuals and some YouTube videos to help you find the right one.
At the risk of casting aspersions on any of these accessories, let me say that I had better luck using the Passap transfer carriages, which slide across the bed in one smooth motion, scooping up the stitches and depositing them on the back bed, than I ever did with the RT1. The little “needle” on the RT1 is easily sprung and once sprung will never work without dropping stitches and I have no idea if that part is still available. The RT1 operates a little differently in that you need to turn a crank and work stitch by stitch across the bed. I don’t have any personal experience with the Brother version so cannot comment on them.
With any of the rib transfer units I have used, they work best if you increase the stitch size on the last row that you knit so that the stitches are more easily managed. It is important to have some weight – not too much and not too little – and to work as smoothly as possible. In short, I find these accessories fussy and not all that dependable to use so wouldn’t add it to the list of must haves. The greatest risk with any of these units is dropping stitches – a few or many – and I have always felt it was faster to use a multi-prong transfer tool that leaves me in control. That said, if you do a lot of double bed work, it might be worth it to you to spend some time practicing and perfecting the use of a rib transfer carriage.
Over the years, there have been several books about double bed knitting and using a ribber. So I am not planning to re-write any of those! What I would like to do is share some of the ways that I use my second bed of needles to enhance the kind of work that I do and for some general purposes. Where possible, I plan to include video similar to the one included in this blog post.
As I said in earlier posts (5/16/16 for 1×1 rib and 6/14/16 for 2×2), I often start my projects on waste and go back later to knit the ribs, binding off with the hand sewn bind off. I do also, however, begin some projects with rib and when I do, this is the cast on method I always employ.
With the exception of Passap (and then, not always) double bed machines require the use of a cast on comb and weights for double bed work. The comb often distorts/stretches the edge of the cast on and can sometimes cause torn or irregular stitches when working with delicate yarns. Except for samples and gauge swatches, I never-ever-ever cast on with the main yarn. I always begin with waste yarn.
I knit the zigzag row with waste yarn, hang the comb and then knit 8-10 rows, using the stitch size I might use for knitting the actual rib for all of these rows. There is no need to start with smaller sizes or to finely tweak this rib because it will be removed later – make it easy on yourself. This waste rib will be the point of attachment for the comb, thus saving your main yarn from any stress or stretch or breaking.
After the waste, I work two circular rows with ravel cord. Years ago I purchased a couple of cones of nylon at a tag sale so I can be pretty free with how I use it. If you rely on the short pieces that came with your machine, you probably don’t want to tie knots in it. Instead, let it hang between the beds and weight it with a binder clip or clothespin. You can also use some strong crochet cotton for these two separating rows. Look for good contrast and a no-fuss fiber to assure easy removal and no tell- tale traces of colored fuzz.
After the circular rows, set both of the carriages to the smallest stitch size and knit 1 row across all needles. This is the zigzag row where you would normally hang the cast on comb – except that you don’t have to hang it because it is already in place! Now, raise the stitch size by 1 number (on my ribbers it is from “R” to “0”) to work the two circular rows. I know, I know – the manual says to do 3 circular rows and if you like the way that looks, go ahead and do three. I don’t like the look of a 3-row edge so I always do 2. OK, so why do the manuals (Japanese machines) say 3? They are hoping the extra row evens out the differences in stitch size between the two beds (see my last blog post about the set of the beds). Try it both ways to see which you prefer.
After the 2 (or 3) circular rows, raise the stitch size by one dot and set both carriages to knit in both directions. This first zigzag, cross-bed row may be tight so do yourself a favor and bring all the needles to holding position and set the carriages to knit them back. Continue raising the stitch size by just one dot every row until you reach the stitch size you want to use for the remainder of the rib and then continue kitting until you complete the required number of rows.
Why raise the stitch size so slowly? It contributes to a firmer edge that is more likely to hold its shape than one that immediately jumps to a larger stitch size. Control is the name of the game here!
This video shows 1×1 rib, but you can use the same method for 2×2 ribs as well. For wide ribs, I generally cast on as if to knit 1×1 rib and after I have knitted 1 or 2 rows across both beds with the main yarn, I transfer stitches for the wide rib arrangement and continue from there, raising the stitch size 1 dot each row. The 1×1 cast on edge adds stability to the wide ribs and looks pretty terrific too! Give it a try. In fact, I would suggest that you spend some time knitting a variety of ribs with this method so you get a good idea how it works and what you might want to tweak for your own machine or taste.
Next time, I’ll show you a couple of ways to transfer stitches between the beds!
Many of you probably realize that what I love about machine knitting is single-bed hand-manipulations. I do (occasionally) use my ribbers and I should tell you that my first machines were the Passap and the Superba – both European double bed machines. So, although I don’t do a lot of double bed work, I am more then competent when it comes to working with two beds.
I have gotten a lot of requests to do some blogs and videos on double bed work, including a lot of requests for a Craftsy class. I don’t know if that will ever happen and my own view is that it would be about as exciting as watching paint dry. All the action takes place between the beds or by changing dials and levers. Not much to see. Add to that the differences between brands, the things that one brand does and another does not, all the ancient used machines still in use out there and it just doesn’t seem like a very easy or interesting class to produce. I could be wrong and I may end up eating my words some day.
That said, there are some things that I think are fairly universal from brand to brand and across the gauges so I have a number of ribber/double bed blog posts and videos I plan to share with you. I’m torn about the terms “ribber” vs. “double bed” because, although there are more similarities than not, they are two very different animals. I will probably use the terms interchangeably, but I want you to be aware of a few things before we start.
True double bed machines like Passap, Superba and (I think) Artisan machines feature “V” beds that are both (permanently) mounted at the same angle. Japanese machines with ribbers are not perfectly pitched “V” beds and the ribber, in fact, is at a steeper angle than the main bed. This causes the fabric to form closer to the ribber bed as shown in my diagram at left. This affects stitch size and, for example, stitch size 5 on both beds will differ slightly because of the angle of the beds and possibly enough to affect the gauge and the appearance of the fabric. In most instances – like ribs – you won’t even notice it. It is likely to show, however, in circular knitting for socks and other in-the-round projects.
On most Japanese machines, the ribbers come with a close knit bar that is inserted at the front of the main bed, behind the sinker posts/gate pegs to help adjust the stitch size of the main bed stitches. It may or may not solve the problem for you, but it is one more thing to be aware of.
Another difference between V-beds and machines with ribbers may be which bed is considered the main (patterning bed) and which bed is used for knitting plain stockinet after transferring the stitches from rib. You’ll need to rely on your manuals for that kind of information.
Most ribber carriages are what I call “dumb” – they do not have selection or patterning built into them. They usually do, however, have the capability to slip or tuck in one direction or both and some have the ability to select alternate needles.
Those controls are usually called “lili” buttons or levers because that is how the stitches are shown graphically (long, short, long, short). This is a useful feature for double bed tuck stitches and also for a variety of double jacquard backings. With plain knitting, it may help sticky yarns knit more easily.
On machines that have separate controls for each direction, remember that it is always the leading end of the carriage that determines what the needles do. The trailing end of the carriage is just along for the ride and doesn’t affect any of the needles until you reverse direction.
There is a definite advantage to having permanently mounted double beds because the beds are more likely to be properly aligned. Probably. With Japanese ribbers, you must pay special attention to aligning the beds when you tighten the ribber in place.
The two beds can be in half-pitch or full-pitch, depending on which needles you are using. There is usually a little indicator on the left end of the bed (along with a racking/swing lever or knob). With half pitch, the needles from the two beds alternate their placement and you can use all of the needles on both beds for full needle rib (also called close rib).
With full pitch alignment, the needles are directly, perfectly opposite each other and you cannot use all of the needles at the same time because they will collide. Instead, full pitch
is more suitable for 1×1 rib and similar arrangements. In either case, the needle diagrams supplied with your machine will elaborate on the pitch of the beds when giving directions for specific stitches. It is important to pay attention to pitch because you risk jamming the carriages or replacing a lot of needles.
In addition to changing the pitch of the beds, some models also allow you to change the spacing between the beds. This was one of the nicest features of the Superba, which allowed a slightly wider opening for thicker yarns.
The spacing between the beds is a major contributor to stitch size when working double bed and it is the reason you can finally, safely, use those smallest stitch sizes on your dial. If you try to knit with stitch size 1 on most single bed machines, the carriage will be extremely difficult – maybe impossible – to move across the bed. If it does move, it will probably skip a lot of stitches. There just isn’t enough yarn going into each stitch to enable the needles to move forward and back as they must to form stitches.
When working double bed, however, the yarn that zig-zags across the beds is absorbed into the stitches as each row is formed and the fabric drops between the beds. Now, take it a step further: 1×1 rib is easier to knit on a small stitch size than is 2×2 or 3×3 rib. Why?
Having more stitches side by side eliminates the zig-zagging for those few needles and the stitches form more tightly. It gives birth to a simple rule for double bed work: The more adjacent needles there are on either bed, the larger the stitch size must be. So, as the needle spacing gets closer to that for stockinet, a larger stitch size is required. 4×4 rib is really like narrow blocks of stockinet on each bed so the stitch size required to knit it will probably be the same as that required to knit stockinet on one bed.
Next time, I’ll share a video of my favorite double bed cast-on method with you!