Transferring Stitches from Bed to Bed

Arlo at 9 weeks. Sweet and mellow and a real love-muffin.

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!

“Jaws”

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.

 

The Perfect Ribber Cast On

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!

Ribber 101

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.

The fabric hangs equidistant from both beds on a true double bed machine.
The fabric hangs closer to the ribber bed than the main bed on a Japanese machine.

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.

Full Needle Rib (FNR) uses all the needles on both beds with the beds in half pitch (HP).

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

1 x 1 rib is work with the beds in Full Pitch (FP) because there is a non-working needle opposite each working needle.

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.

2 x 2 rib knitted in FP requires non-working needles opposite working 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.

2 x 2 rib worked in HP can be knitted with a slightly tighter stitch size because there is more zig-zagging to supply length to the stitches.

 

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!

Cool Stuff from Vogue Knitting Live!

First I bought a Yarn Valet….

I had a blast this past weekend, teaching at Vogue Knitting Live in NYC for the fourth (or is it the fifth?) year. The classes were great and I loved meeting some of the students who knew me from Craftsy.

Once again, I spent some time cruising through the market place, resisting temptation as best I could. As always, however, I found some things that I just couldn’t resist.

First, I bought one of the yarn dispensers from Yarn Valet when I saw how perfectly it holds a wound ball or skein of yarn – and turns as the yarn is pulled from the outside of the ball. For a mere $16, how could I resist!

Then I ran into Dan Tracy ……….

A little further on, I ran into Dan Tracy Designs and found a beautifully made wooden version of a similar holder……what is a girl to do?! I wandered around the show for a few more aisles and then I wound my way back to Dan’s booth to buy myself a birthday present. After all, wood feels and looks so nice and these ball (or cone) holders are mounted on ball bearings so they turn so beautifully and with tax, it only set me back about $54. Happy birthday to me!

Don’t  get me wrong – there was a LOT OF YARN to look at and I did buy some silk wrapped paper yarn from Habu that I will show you once I knit with it. I’m just a sucker for great tools and stuff.

I didn’t buy any slipper soles from Joe’s Toes because I wasn’t sure what size I needed for some grandson feet, but once I knit their next round of slippers, I know where to go for nice thick felted innersoles and non-skid outer soles.

Somehow, sharing this info with you helps me justify my purchases. Heck, a girl can’t just teach, race to the train and head home – she’s got to indulge once in a while. Right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shawl Collared Cardigan

I haven’t forgotten part 2 of the Charting posting, but wanted to introduce you to this shawl collared cardigan first. We’ll get back to the charting – I promise!

I designed this sweater in 1996 and knitted it – the first time – with a wonderful boucle from Lang Yarn called “Harvey”. I’ve knitted it several times since with a variety of yarns. The shape is an easy one to re-chart for any yarn and the style seems to look good on everyone. I think a collar can add a lot to a sweater and because this one is knitted as part of the front it doesn’t require a lot of fancy finishing.

I am including two versions of the pattern. The first version  shawlcollarjacketgauged is written for a specific gauge (5 sts/8 rows = 1”) and can be knitted on the mid-gauge Sk-860 (LK-150) with stitch size 5 (4). The other version cardiblank only gives the dimensions so that you can re-write the pattern for whatever yarn/gauge you prefer! The pattern is written in two sizes, with the directions for the larger size in ( ).

For all of the garment pieces, I knit 1” of 2 x 2 ribbing. If you have a ribber, you can do this right on the machine. If not, begin on waste knitting and pick up the edge later to work the ribs by hand. Not a hand knitter? Use whatever edging or band you are comfortable doing. Because the jacket has a smart, boxy fit, I would avoid wide bands or bands that draw in the bottom of the garment. I chose 2 x 2 rib to keep the edges from rolling and to prevent stretching. I wasn’t looking for elasticity here.

After the ribbing, continue in stockinette (or a pattern stitch when you re-chart for your own version), tagging the armholes at RC (row count) 96 (106). This will eliminate the need to guess or re-measure later when joining the sleeves to the body.

At RC 176 (196) scrap off the back stitches in three sections, 42 (50) sts for each shoulder and 31 (32) for the back neck.

Knit two fronts with reversed shaping. The neckline decreases begin at RC 88 (108) and should be made 12 stitches from the front edge. You’ll need a multi-prong transfer tool to do this or else you will need to transfer 3-4 stitches at a time. The wide decreases help the front edge form the collar fold and are the main reason this collar loks so great when you finish. The short- hand on the diagram indicates that you should decrease 1 stitch every 10th (8th) row , 8 (10) times.

At RC 176 (196), scrap off the shoulder stitches and continue to RC 200 (220) on the remaining 30 sts to knit the back of the collar. Scrap off.

Knit two sleeves alike. Increase 1 stitch at each end of every 4th row 30 times and then (for the larger size only) increase 1 stitch every 3rd row three times. Scrap off all 100 (112) stitches. If you tag the center of the sleeve before you scrap off, it will be easy to line up the center of the sleeve with the shoulder seam later on.

Finishing: Block all pieces to size, using the schematic as a guide. Join the shoulder seams on the machine or by hand. Invisibly graft the ends of the back collar together. Then join the edge of the collar to the back neckline, easing to fit if necessary. Join the sleeves to the garment between the armhole tags and matching the center tag to the shoulder seam.

I finished the front edge of my sweater by picking up 131 sts along one front edge (all the way to the back collar seam), hanging it on the machine and knitting 1 row. Then I transferred every-other-stitch (EOS) to the ribber to knit 2 x 2 rib for 8 rows; transferred the ribber stitches back to the main bed and knitted 4 rows stockinette before using a back stitch bind off (See blog 5/8/16). Then I repeated it for the other side of the neckline and seamed the two bands together at the back neck.

You should use whatever band or trim you used for the lower edges of the sweater. You could also work an I-cord bind off (see blog 4/8/16) or hand crocheted finish. The choice is yours!

And now, because the promised storm has not materialized and the sun is actually shining, I am going to spend the rest of this afternoon digging in the dirt and tending my bone-dry gardens. Next time I’ll go into some detail about converting this pattern to a different gauge. See you then!

 

 

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!

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!