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.
One of my all-time favorite knitters happens to be a hand knitter – Deborah Newton. I’ve known (and adored) her since we were both authors working on our first books for Taunton Press back in the 90’s and when I tell you she is bright and funny and incredibly talented, I am not exaggerating one bit. I know I am a little star-struck when it comes to Deb, but she really is the best and I am fortunate to count her among my friends.
You can hardly scan an issue of Vogue Knitting over these many years that doesn’t feature one of Deborah’s designs and, beginning with Designing Knitwear she has produced a trio of books that should be in any knitter’s library because what she has to say transcends needles or machines!
While Deborah carefully explains various necklines and garment shapes, she also details design considerations for specific body types and fitting problems. I found it refreshing that some of the models are somewhat more normal sized women (i.e. not size 3!) which gives me a much better idea what the garments might look like on me and helps to illustrate some of her tips on fit.
I especially love the swatch photographs in Good Measure because they tell you so much about what the final sweater will look like. Deborah works out all the details on each swatch before she begins any project. If you are familiar with Deborah’s work, you know that perfect fit is the hallmark of her designs and it starts with the switching process. If you are a hand knitter, you are probably familiar with Deborah’s designs. But if you have only knitted by machine and tend to avoid hand knit patterns and books, you owe it to yourself to take a look at these books because she will open new worlds for you!
OK. So – the books are fabulous and her work is the gorgeous and I am clearly #1 fan. Here is the best news – Deborah will be teaching a workshop for North Light Fibers in September on gorgeous Block Island, Rhode Island. Space is definitely limited so if you’re interested in giving yourself a special gift, use this link to get the details and to sign up for the retreat! Four days on an island with Deborah Newton sounds a little bit like heaven to me!
As a teacher, nothing makes me happier than seeing students explore and use the ideas and techniques I share on this blog. Mijung Jay took one of my classes at Vogue Knitting 3 or 4 years ago. However, the beginners’ class was full so she signed up for one of the other classes, content to learn whatever she could – even though she had never worked on a machine before!
In the few years since then, she has blossomed into a fearless knitter, willing to try anything new. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised when she sent me these two photographs today. She was clearly inspired by the 3-D Nops and Eyelets that I explained in my blog post on 1/4/17 and went to town with it!
The blue sweater was worked as I described with 3 stitch transfers, but because the pink yarn had less stretch, she opted for a 2 stitch version instead. I especially like the way she used stockinet for the lower portion of the sleeves and the rolled stockinet neckline. Great work, Mijung!
Has anyone else tried this technique? Send along some photos to share with the rest of us!