Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hats and Blankets

Nearly a month since I last wrote and  time seems to be rushing past faster each day.  Guess I should consider myself lucky to never be lacking for something to do.

Still concentrating on the machine knitting.  Right after my last post, I made another hat using the techniques I learned in my Newton's class -- this time an adult-sized one.   My friend Corrinne was a good sport and modeled it for me.

Saturday Spinners met at my house a couple of weekends ago, and I could kick myself for not taking pictures.  Members shared their finished projects and works in progress.  At one point my dining room table was covered with wonderful fibery creations and I was so in awe of everyone's work that I didn't think to grab my phone and start snapping.

While moving the 360K knitting machine that weekend, I dropped the yarn mast and one of the tension knobs shattered.  And of course it was a holiday weekend.  I had planned to spend most of my free day practicing more on fair isle technique.  Didn't even occur to me to get out the MK-70 until just now.  Dagnabit!

Following weekend I had my third machine knitting class at Newton's Yarn Country.  Fortunately, they had the parts to repair my yarn mast and I was back in business.  Third lesson was a car-seat sized baby blanket.  Techniques included a weaving cast-on, using ravel cord, fair isle, hanging a hem, and tuck stitch. I learned to finish the sides with a scalloped looking trim that you make by hanging the three end stitches on needles, knitting six rows, then hanging the next three stitches and knitting six rows, until you have covered the length of the piece.

I was a complete disaster in class that day.  I kept leaving out important steps (such as switching the levers on the carriage when changing techniques or adding the contrast yarn when starting the fair isle rows).  Lost track of how many times I had to start over.  But by the end of class, I had completed everything but one side of the trim.  And I have to say that as frustrating as my mistakes were, I still enjoyed the class.  It's very liberating when you give yourself permission to make mistakes.

Finished the blanket the very next day and here it is:

Proceeded to start another blanket using the full width of the machine the very same day.  Found out the hard way that I didn't have a single ravel cord long enough.  Faked it (which in hindsight turned out not to work but I didn't know at the time).  Got all set up for the first fair isle row and forgot to add the contrast yarn.  Again.    The pattern I chose had only one contrast stitch in the first row, so I thought perhaps I could pick up the dropped stitches and proceed.  Wrong!  The more I tried, the more stitches I dropped, until I just had to give up.  But the good news is that if I had been able to proceed, I would have invested a lot more work and a lot more yarn in the project only to find out at the end that there was a gap between the two pieces of ravel cord I used and I would have had waste yarn stuck in one hem.  Found someone selling ravel cord on ebay and ordered myself a bunch of it. 

A friend asked me if she could pay me to make another car-seat sized blanket for her niece.  Absolutely made my day.   I will love making another this weekend but I'm not going to charge her for it.  Having her admire it enough to want one is payment enough.

Last night's TriCommunity class was a treat.  I'm still spinning the same  "Potluck Roving" from Ferndale Fiber in "Stormy Sea" that I started last April when Bunny Watson joined my spinning wheel family.  The same fiber I have been spinning at every class and every guild meeting with just a short break for the Tour de Fleece.

I'm down to just one or two yards of roving left.  At Saturday Spinners we announced our resolutions for the new year - mine is to finish spinning this and actually make something with it.   I may actually be able to keep this resolution.

A few weeks ago, some fellow Inland Empire Handweavers Guild members and I ordered 1-foot square pieces of carding cloth through the Spinsters on Ravelry.  They're a Puget-Sound based group that put together a large order from Howard Brush for a DIY blending board project.  They generously allowed others to participate.  The carding cloth arrived last week, and last night my friend and teacher Gail surprised me with my finished blending board!  She had some beautiful wood cabinet doors left over from a remodeling project, and cut them down to size.  The wood has been nicely refinished, and Gail added a handle, making the board easy to carry.  She even added a dowel for rolling the finished rolags off the board.  Now to get Michelle at Textile Sanity to make us some blending board covers.

Then dear Kathleen arrived and presented me with two of her late aunt's machine knitting books:

Hand Manipulated Stitches for Machine Knitters.

I mentioned this book a few months ago, when I borrowed a copy.  And have been lusting after it ever since.  This book has a really clear explanation about how knitting machines work, various tools you might need, and the basics of casting on and binding off before it gets into the more exotic and decorative stitches. After taking a few lessons, I'm getting more from the second reading of this lovely book.

The Harmony Guide to Machine Knitting Stitches.

Includes a very well-illustrated explanation of machine stitch basics, cast-on and cast-off, increasing, decreasing, and finishing techniques, then explains how to use the included patterns to make punch cards, graphs, or hand-manipulate individual needles.  Topics include Fairisle, Motifs, Tuck Stitch, Tuck Lace, Slip Stitch, Weaving, Cable Panels, Cable Patterns, Lace (using two different types of transfer carriage), and Fancy Lace.  So now I get to try punching my own cards (a moose on page 18 and a hedgehog on page 19 are calling to me), and I have a bunch of patterns to choose from now when my lessons get to the laces and cables. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Time Flies When You're Knitting

Happy St. Distaff's Day!

Can't believe a over a month has gone by without posting.  It certainly isn't because I haven't been having fibery fun.

There have been some excellent distractions.   Beautiful sunsets like this one...

that have left me standing on the porch with mouth agape just staring at the beautiful colors on several occasions.

And some irresistible cuteness...

This is my little Tallulah who is humiliated on a regular basis by being made to don costumes when we're making cards for all the major holidays (and a few minor ones).  And by having to wear a zebra-striped jacket on cold days.  Egregious use of dog picture, but but I can rationalize it by admitting that I'm saving her hair trimmings to spin. She's 2 1/2 years old and I already have at least half an ounce of her hair. (!)

And last, but not least, getting to spend quality time with extended family and friends over the holidays.  Who would not appreciate having their photos in my blog, so I will abstain.

I still found time to work on some projects.  In early December, I took my first machine knitting class at Newton's Yarn Country.  The Studio 360K I received from a friend was all cleaned with a new sponge bar, and worked like a charm.  The project for the first class was a small scarf -- techniques learned include e-wrap cast-on, fair isle knitting using the 24-stitch punch cards, back-stitch cast-off, and mattress stitch seams.  The scarf fabric came off the loom all rolled up a tube, then we steamed it (relatively) flat.  I'm in the process of stitching the two long edges together using mattress stitch, but the purple color is so dark it's a struggle to see what I'm doing.  So finishing the seam and adding the fringe is on hold until I get myself under a good lamp with a magnifying glass.

If you look closely, you can see a couple of flaws in the pattern knitting, but since this was more for the training than for the finished object, I didn't go back and correct them.  Somewhere I read that an artist should always include at least one small error in his art to prove his humility to God.  I've decided to be grateful that I probably won't ever be in a position to lack humility.

But right after the lesson I went home feeling a little too full of myself and ready to create a larger, more complex scarf.  Wrong!  I succeeded in setting up the machine properly and that's about it.  I could not do anything right.  Kept dropping stitches, forgetting to change a setting and not getting the pattern where I wanted it, getting yarns caught on the stand, carriage jams, you name it.  After about the third time I confidently "knitted" across a row and had the entire project come off the machine, I told myself to step away from the machine and put it away until after Christmas.

Next time I got out the machine, it was a different experience.  I got out the instruction book and  followed it in excruciating detail.  I think a lot of the problem I had earlier was because I was just a little too excited about what I had learned and I was forgetting to flip a lever here, check my tension there.  Things new knitters simply have to make routine.  I practiced the easy stuff first -  casting on, plain knitting, changing yarn colors... 

This is just a simple striped scarf in my school colors -- it knitted up easily and very fast -- a matter of under an hour even with all the color changes.  Will probably take me longer to stitch the back seam and do fringe than the knitting took.

Then I switched to Fair Isle.  By following the instructions one step at a time, I did get this scarf fabric finished.  I don't much like the pattern - something about the solid red parts are just visually disturbing to me.  But the knitting still had some major errors -- a few spots where the white yarn got picked up in the knitting where it didn't belong, and one big spot where I dropped stitches without realizing it and had to darn by hand later.  

You can see in this photo how obvious the error is, and a little bit of my clumsy darning.  By the time I was learning to knit and sew, darning was already a lost art, so I completely bluffed my way through this one.

And in the photo below, you can see how long some of the floats were  - on some patterns the floats can be nearly the width of the whole fabric, so learning to control these is important.
I tried a couple more Fair Isle patterns - thought this one would be really fun for my greatnieces -- but ran into the problem with misplaced stitches.  Frustrated, I set aside the Fair Isle until I could show the problems to my teachers at Newton's.  I learned in my second lesson that if I pull the first stitch on each row forward, it helps to keep the yarn that should be floating from getting into the pattern by accident.  I also learned that I need to pay more attention to keeping my weights closer to the top of the knitting.  

I needed to do something totally different.   I've been intrigued by the mesh yarn used to make ruffly scarves and wanted to play with some.  Since I couldn't visualize how to hand-knit this, I decided to try it on the knitting machine.  After a few false starts, I cast on 20 stitches, and ran a row of the mesh across every six rows. 

It took a bit of getting used to looping the mesh over the needles.  If you don't maintain tension on it, the loops just pop right off the needles.  I ended up pulling down on the mesh with one hand while moving the needles out and hooking the mesh over them with the other.  It helps to be ambidextrous when you have to switch directions every other row.

This is what the scarf looks like on the "front" between rows of the novelty yarn.  Since the mesh ranges from a very pale shade to a dark one, I figured a mid-range would be suitable.  You can't even see it through the mesh.  One thing I didn't count on, but should have, is that the scarf would have a solid back. 

Here's what the back looks like.  Although I like the extra weight the yarn gives the scarf, this is going to look junky if it flips over.  So I'm going to stitch the edges together to make a tube completely surrounded by the mesh.

I have another skein of the mesh, and think next time I will try a much loose tension.  Would like the scarf to be a little less weighty and would also like it to be a bit longer than the first one.  


Had my second lesson last Saturday, and it was SO much fun.  First, we talked about my "issues" and Helen gave me some really good pointers for dealing with them.  Since then, knock wood, the only problems I'm having happen when I get careless and don't check my settings.  In the second lesson, I learned a weaving cast-on technique, and learned to decrease rows by moving stitches from one needle to the next and taking the unused needles out of action.  Got a little more practice with the Fair Isle technique, and didn't have a single problem with it. Huzzah!  At the end of the lesson, I had a completely finished little infant's cap.  This technique would actually make wonderful caps for chemo patients -- because of the way it's folded and the seam is mattress-stitched, there is no edge inside to irritate tender skin.  I'd like to get some really soft yarns to make more of these.

My Studio MK-70 was all repaired, cleaned, and ready to come home.  It is such a cool looking machine, I'm not sure I would care if it didn't knit worth a darn.  But it does.  Although I'm taking my lessons on the Studio 360K and plan on sticking with it until I'm comfortable with all its bells and whistles, I couldn't resist trying out the MK-70.  This one also is capable of Fair Isle, but the cards are 18-stitch, so cannot be interchanged with the 360K cards.  I have just the five cards that came with the machine, one of which is not intended for Fair Isle knitting.  Here are the four patterns I do have:

Three geometrics...  I like the top one, am so-so about the middle, and really dislike the bottom one.  And one that looks like heart-shaped flowers.  Sorry - my photo is a bit blurred -- but I really like this pattern. 

I 'd really like to find more18-stitch pattern cards or at least some  blank cards to someday make my own.  You'd think that the dozens of 24-stitch cards I have would keep me busy with the 360K, but the MK-70 can knit with a bulkier yarn and I would like to have the versatility.

But for now, MK-70 is back in her box, waiting patiently while I attempt to master the 360K.  This month I'm concentrating on switching from Fair Isle to plain stitching and trying to get a handle on visualizing how the pattern on a card will look knitted up.  I've already had a couple of surprises.  And this is becoming so much fun!