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.