Machine Knitting to Dye For

One of Nancy’s colorful garments where the dyed yarn is used as the contrast color in Fair Isle.

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.

A gorgeous woven dyed silk scarf

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.

Self-Striping Socks

Fair Isle socks with self-striping contrast color.

 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.

Socks with distinct stripes created by knitting wider marker rows to keep the dyes separate.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Enlarging Stitches – really HUGE stitches!

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!

 

Single Bed Drop Stitch

My last couple of postings were about Drop Stitch, which is typically worked on a double bed machine. Not all of us, however, have two beds to work with so this short clip shows you how to work drop stitch on a single bed machine. This is a great way to cross cables without strain or to quickly create enlarged stitches for a variety of effects.

What I do first is to temporarily “borrow” a couple needles by transferring their stitches to adjacent needles. The empty needles remain in working position where they cast on in with the next pass of the carriage. When that cast on loop is dropped, it is longer than a simple ladder (yarn passing in front of a non-working needle) would be and provides the extra give you need.

Next, cross the cables and then return the stitches to the borrowed needles and finally, hand knit the needles that were in hold and the stitches just returned to their needles. I never just leave a ladder next to cables because (a) it really doesn’t provide all that much extra give and (2) when the fabric is removed from the machine, the edges of the cable often “spread” into the ladder’s space. I just don’t think it looks very good. Give this method a try and I think you will agree!

One last note, you can also re-form the stitches that you remove and then return to the borrowed needles if you want to include a purl stitch along each side of your cables.

What IS a P-Carriage?!

This short video should give you an idea how to use the P-Carriage that comes with all Silver Reed ribbers. The manuals always describe using the device for double bed Drive Lace and pile knitting. I have to tell you that I cannot remember the last time I did either of those techniques – probably when I worked for Studio and was responsible for training dealers!

Drive Lace is a detailed drop stitch lace method worked by using the needle selection (punch cards or electronic) on the main bed to select needles for the drop stitch pattern, while the main knitting is secure on the ribber bed. The P-Carriage is used to drop the  MB stitches every two rows, after the needles have been selected and knitted. So, although you are working with 2 beds, the technique produces a single bed fabric – not ribbed.

Pile Knitting also produces a single bed fabric knitted on the ribber bed. In this case, the ribber bed knits both a ground yarn and a pile yarn every row, while the main bed knits only the pile yarn on needles selected by the punch card or the electronics. The P-Carriage releases the loops every two rows.

If either of these methods sounds appealing, I have to refer you back to your manuals because it has been far too long and I use the P-Carriage for something else altogether.

Let me begin by saying that the “hardest” thing any carriage has to do is to push needles from working position (WP) forward in their slots so that the old stitches slide back behind the latches and new yarn is deposited in the hook of each needle. After that, it is fairly “easy” for the carriage to guide the needles back in their slots so that the old stitches slide over the closed latches and form new stitches. The trailing end of the carriage just shoots the needles out, lined up back in WP.

With very tight stitches, non-stretchy yarn, crossed or twisted (or otherwise-manipulated) stitches, it can be difficult for the carriage to push all the needles forward so that they knit cleanly and easily. This is where I rely on the P-Carriage to help.

The P-Carriage is hardly a carriage!  There are no knobs or levers to manage and the pathway underneath is a fixed pathway – there are no movable cams – that moves needles between WP and upper-working position (UWP).

When the P-Carriage moves right to left across the bed, the needle butts in WP enter the pathway (on the left), travel upwards so the old stitches slide behind their latches and then exit the unit in UWP.

When the P-Carriage moves from right to left, all needles in WP are channeled into the pathway where they are pushed forward in their slots so that their stitches slide over and open the latches. They exit the pathway aligned in UWP. The “hard” part has been done.

 

 

When the P-Carriage moves left to right, the needles in UWP enter the unit on the right, travel through the pathway and exit on the left WP, having dropped their stitches.

When the P-Carriage is moved back from left to right, it drops the stitches – which is what you do with Drive Lace or Pile Knitting. – as the needles are returned to WP.

I started using the P-Carriage years ago to facilitate many of the hand-manipulations that I do. I simply slide it across the bed from right to left and then knit 1 row with the main carriage. It adds another step to the knitting, but I really find it is worthwhile.

When working twisted stitches or cables, etc. I may only need to use the P-Carriage every so many rows, but for sticky yarns that won’t knit cleanly, I may use it prior to every pass of the carriage.

There is a similar device, a D-slider, available for some Brother machines, but I am not familiar with the unit and cannot tell you which machines it fits. You’ll have to do a little research. The Silver Reed P-Carriages do not fit other machines because the width (front to back) of the beds differs and it is important for the unit to sit securely on the back rail and slide smoothly across the front edge of the bed.

That said, this blog offers directions for converting the Silver Reed P-Carriage for use on the Brother. The unit itself is inexpensive enough that it might be worth experimenting with!

 

Some New Russian You Tube Videos

Last week I got an email from a Russian machine knitter named Elena Luneva, asking if I would take a look at her You Tube videos and share them here on the blog. I think they are terrific! She has had the text translated into English on-screen titles and although I would love to have heard that rich Russian accent speaking English, the titles are probably easier for most of us to manage.

If you go to Elena’s You Tube page, make sure you click “Like” so that you are the first to know about any new classes she adds.

In the first class, Principles of Knitting Terry Cloth, Elena uses a ribber comb to work a hand-manipulated, purl-side looped fabric on a single bed.  

The following class, Knitted Baby Cap with PomPom from Terry Fabric, has patterns to use the looped fabric.

Her third class, The Principles of Formation of Elongated Loops, is about creating giant stitches and ideas for using them.My kind of fun!

Elena’s fourth class, Woven Insert,  features a truly unique way of weaving ladders right on the machine. I found this one particularly interesting because I am currently/still working on a chapter about ladders for TBTWNE (The Book That Will Not End) and can honestly say it never occurred to me to do what she does here. Truly innovative!

With all of the US/Russia controversy in the news these days, I really like the  fact that knitters all,  ultimately, speak the same language! Thanks for sharing, Elena!

2017 Retreat with Deborah Newton!

Deborah Newton

 

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.

A recent design from Vogue Knitting is perfect for a mid-gauge or bulky machine!(copyright Sixth & Spring)

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!

 

This is one of the garments from Finishing School.(copyright Sixth & Spring)

Finishing School: A Master Class for Knitters, her second book, is my favorite go-to book for finishing details and techniques (and a dozen great patterns). Her newest book, Good Measure: Knit a Perfect Fit Every Time is loaded with gorgeous illustrations to support the purls of wisdom she shares on how she designs sweaters – and tells you how to do it yourself! There are also 24 patterns included in the book.

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!

The inn on Block Island

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!

A Great Tip!

I’ve always felt that my students have as much to teach me as I do them! These two tips came in recently from blog subscribers who were happy to share them with you!

This first tip is from Patricia Lewis and I think it is an ingenious idea!

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Hi Susan,

As I was working on a scarf project today, it occured to me that I should share my method of keeping track of which stitches need to be transfered.  I use “Avery Removable Coding Labels”in the 1/4” size, which are just the perfect size of dots to stick on the LK 150 needlebed.  I place the dots just above or below the numbers on the number strip.
The color coded dots indicate to me which stitches need to be hand manipulated.  I also place a matching color coded dot on the pattern text to remind me of what that dot means!
In the photo attached, you will see several different colored dots, this is allowing me to switch between working on several different projects without losing time to figure out all of the charting all over again.
These little dots are a “God send” as they are so easy to stick on the machine, do not interfere with the carriage & are easy to remove with no residue left behind.  I can pick them up at Walmart here in Canada and I assume you can get them in the USA Walmart as well.
 Pat Lewis
The second tip is from Carol Olson and will make it even easier for you to work the K2P2 bind off I posted a while back. She knits two rows of ravel cord before scrapping off the work, but knits each one in a different color so she avoids any confusion of which stitches to work! Makes it easy to distinguish the knits from the purls in the rib. Wish I had thought of that!
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