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!

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