Friday, February 6, 2015

Sock Blanks!

A few years ago at Convergence, I took a class from Nancy Roberts on "Machine Knitting to Dye For."  Nancy is a hand-knitter, but uses knitting machines to knit fabrics to be dyed and frogged, to make unique yarns that are then knitted by hand.

Being a gadget geek, and having 'fond' memories of a Japanese knitting machine that my mother tried unsuccessfully to use (the instructions were in Japanese) when I was a child, I couldn't pass up the chance to play with one under supervision.  And, of course, I came home with a machine. Since then, three (!) other flatbed knitting machines have joined my studio, gifted by a dear friend.  And my circular sock machine, Elias Cabot, has become a big, although neglected, part of my life.

I've talked about Elias and sock blanks before so I'm not going to bore you with a repeat of all that. Instead, I'll bore you with some photos.   I recently wrote an article for the CSKMS newsletter and didn't have the time or space to get these into the article.

SOAPBOX ALERT!  If you're interested in circular sock machines and are not already a member of CSKMS, please have a look at our website and check out our Ravelry group.  And if you're reading this in early 2015, consider joining so you can attend our upcoming conference.  We'll be making Socks in the Rockies July 29 - August 31 in Denver, Colorado.  More on that in a future blog post.

These are all swatches I made from sock yarn salvaged from a disastrous attempt to use my skein winder.  No actual socks were harmed in the making of these photos.

 A few words on dyeing techniques.  There are loads of different ways to 'cook' the color into yarn.  My favorite is the crockpot because I can walk away and leave it to its work for a few hours.   You can also steam in the microwave or in a pot on the stovetop but you have to watch them carefully.  BTW - any containers you use for dyeing (unless you're using edible dyes) should not be used for food afterward.

When you steam fabrics, you don't want them sitting in water.  I couldn't find a rack that fit inside my crockpot, so I poked holes in a pie tin.  I set it in the crockpot upside down and add as much water as I can without it rising above the bottom of the tin.  Then I stack my blanks rolled up in plastic wrap inside, put on the lid, turn the heat to 'high' and walk away.  In a few hours, my blanks are ready to be cooled, rinsed, and dried.

When you're working with actual sock blanks, you have to take into account the proportions of the sock blank to the final knitted sock.  Most of the finished swatches here are just flat pieces of fabric just 5" wide. The blanks varied from about six to 15 inches wide.  All of my blanks were knitted using a creamy white wool.  You can also use cotton or even (gasp) acrylic if you use the appropriate dyes and finishing technique for those fibers.  On either end of each blank I knitted a few rows of waste yarn (usually orange or green).  My knitted samplers usually have white waste yarn on both ends.

On this sample,  I just painted alternating stripes of orange, brown, and red on the diagonal. This is the blank immediately after painting.

Note that the orange on top and bottom is waste yarn and will not be part of the final swatch.

Here's the same blank after steaming in the crockpot.  You can see that the colors ran quite a bit, but the diagonal stripes are still pretty distinct.

And this is the result.

As much as I dislike hate orange, I love how it pops in the knitted sample.

This was an experiment to see if there was any difference in the amount of bleeding between a solid fabric and a fabric that had been 'laddered.'  I painted the same orange and green vertical stripes on the solid top and the laddered bottom.   Painting vertical stripes gives very short repeats of color.

The result:  I think I see a little less bleeding in the laddered swatch on the right - but that may just be coincidental pooling. 


In this swatch, I wanted to see what would happen if I used waste yarn (orange) between bands of sock yarn to mark stripe placement and control bleeding.

I did not take the time to make sure I had fully saturated each stripe with color.

The color irregularities you see here are not from bleeding, but from poor dye saturation.  Not my favorite sample...  Having the waste yarn between stripes did a good job preventing bleeding from one section to the next.

In this swatch, I was playing with the 'message' sock idea.  This is a fun idea to try with kids if they can be careful with dyes or if you have plenty of Reduran on hand.

This is the top portion that had the word 'happy.'  Although the turquoise mostly pooled on the left in this sample, it's coincidental, not intentional.

And this is the bottom portion with the polka dots. 

 I dyed this blank with a slightly olive green color - deliberately (this time) applying the dye unevenly.  I had hoped to get a heathery effect.   When it came out of the crockpot, it was just a yucky, mottled mess.  So I added the brown dots at random.

Evidence that sometimes mistakes can be corrected.

 This was just a little swatch where I was trying to play with color blocks.  It got pretty ugly.  I think that if I had left out the orange or the black, the final result wouldn't have been quite so jarring.

This is a full-sized sock blank I painted with a foam brush at my friend Loan's house when she had a fiber play day a couple of months ago.  I started out with just the purple and pink hearts, but it was pretty boring.  I added some slashes of turquoise then dipped the brush into each of the colors at random to blend them.  Also painted along the rolled selvedges of the blank to reduce the amount of white spots they would cause.

Below is the same yarn being turned into a sock by Elias Cabot (with a little assistance from me).   I got as far as the heel and lost my nerve.  But I WILL finish this sock someday soon.