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!