Monday, May 19, 2008

New Adventures

Well - I tried stretching myself and trying something new. Jewelry. It started with me buying a beautiful pendant from a friend on Etsy - Zuda Gay. She does lovely polymer clay work. I had the pendant sitting around on my work table for a while until the creative spirit moved me. Then it came! I knitted a cord of cotton to go around the neck 3 times. I then crocheted bobbles to add an accent and close the necklace. I was happy with the results!

Then I tried a crocheted necklace with a blue pearl cotton. It was a blast to do. It was a good piece to make while traveling in the car.

I have to finish a cashmere knitted necklace over wooden beads. I have been trying to find the right type of clasp. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Machine Knitting - Part 7

Is there any competition between hand and machine knitters?

I walked into a yarn store with my draft of a scarf to buy the expensive yarn I needed. I had designed it and machine knit it in a cheap yarn. This allowed me to see where the flaws in my design were and correct them. I probably knit 2 or 3 scarves until I got it right. A knitter ran up to me to see the scarf, looked at it, asked if it was machine knit and then walked away when I said it was. The owner was clearly embarrassed.

Since I do both, I can see both sides of the issue. Hand knitters feels that machine knitters are 'cheating'. Machine knitters feel that hand knitters have no idea how much time and talent it takes to machine knit. They are clearly 2 similar, yet different crafts.

Hand knitting is recognizable to any knitter. It has a great, one of a kind look. Machine knitting sometimes looks too perfect. There is a lot of love in a hand knit garment. Unfortunately, no one is willing to pay the price that these pieces of art deserve. Hours and hours of work go into sweaters. People complain about spending $300 on a sweater when they can buy a sweater for much less at WalMart. But a store bought sweater has none of the beauty of hand made.

Machine knitters call our works 'hand loomed' or 'hand crafted'. There is also a lot of work, talent and love in machine made knits. We think of knitting machines like sewing machines. No one looks at a dress made by a crafter on a sewing machine as less of a craft. It is using a tool and talent to create. It usually takes us less time to make a piece, but that doesn't account for all the time to learn our craft.

I believe there is a place for both crafts. Lots of love and hand work go into both. I enjoy doing both - I sure can't take a machine on a car trip, or curl up with my machine in front of the fire. But I can't produce my one-of-a-kind scarves at an affordable price knitting by hand.

Hand knitters - as one of you - I salute your craft and the lovely work you do. Machine-knitters - as one of you - I salute your craft and the time and talent it takes to do what you do.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Machine Knitting Part 6

About those bags ...

If you have seen one of my knit bags up close, you will notice that there are no seams - none on the bottom, none on the sides. That is done with the ribber and circular knitting. The knitting machine can knit a 'tube' of yarn! The carriage can be set so that it knits on the main bed for one pass and the ribber for the next - back and forth, back and forth. You end up with the same thing as you would knitting on circular needles by hand.

The end is cast on to seal it and then the circular knitting begins. When the bag is the correct length, the stitches on the ribber are bound off creating a neat edge. I continue knitting on the main bed, reducing the stitches as I go to form the flap. The strap is called an "I cord". It is 3 stitches knit on the main bed to the desired length. The fabric naturally rolls and forms that nice cord. I attach the cord all the way down to the end of the bag on the inside to give it stability. To attach it just at the top of the bag would save on yarn, but would make the bag sag.

There is much more that I want to experiment with my machines. I have a whiteboard full of ideas, from wire jewelry to woven bags. I will keep my blog updated as I make new things. There is just one more installment of this series right now - my views on machine knitting vs hand knitting. See you soon!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Machine Knitting - Part 5

So what about those baskets?

Those are done with a lace stitch. I can do those with hand manipulated stitches or with a lace carriage. To use the lace carriage, I take off the regular main bed carriage and put on the lace carriage. Sometimes I do the lace by hand, sometimes with the carriage. The carriage is very tempermental - it needs a very clean machine, a fairly new sponge bar (holds the needles down) and lots of weight. It is faster than hand manipulated, but frustrating.

Lace is done by moving a stitch to the next needle to get a hole. The next carriage pass closes the hole. That gives the open pattern. My baskets are done with a very simple lace pattern. The baskets are so small that anything more complicated would get lost. I admit that I haven't spent much time yet on the more complicated fashion lace, but it is on my to-do list.

It takes time to design the correct size for the lace to fit my forms. After the lace is knit, I sew up the seams and prepare a starch mix. The lace is put in the starch and then stretched over the form. I secure it with wooden clothes pins until it is dry. I usually do lace in the winter so I can dry it on our boiler - that is really fast.

The lace is then taken off the form and decorated. I decorate the top of the baskets and the edges of the box tops. The baskets are stiff and keep their shape as long as they are not subjected to too much moisture (like in a bathroom).

OK - I noticed that your knit bags do not have any seams on the sides or the bottom! How do you so that? Stay tuned for Part 6!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Machine Knitting - Part 4

Those are pretty fancy stitches on the blankets. How do you do that?

The lacy stitches on the blanket are called tuck stitches. Selected needles hold the stitch in the hook for one or more rows instead of knitting it off. Then all the stitches on that hook are knitted at once. This gives an interesting open pattern. I use a double bed tuck on the blankets - double bed means I use the main bed and the ribber. So on the blankets, I switch from tuck, to double jacquard and back to tuck. The tuck gives the lacy texture and the double jacquard puts in the name. This is all controlled by how I tell the computer to knit and how I adjust the carriage.

But that is not all the stitches I can do! Slip stitch passes the yarn in front of selected needles to form a pattern that is different from tuck. Do a slip in 2 colors and you have another intersting pattern. I can also do a weaving stitch to make thing like placemats. This allows me to use a heavier yarn than my standard maching usually can handle by passing the yarn in front of the needles and not through the carriage. Then there is plating where 2 yarns are knitted together with one yarn showing on one side and the other on the back.

Ok, OK - but what about those starched baskets? They look like they have holes in the knit! Yep - part 5 will let you in on the secrets of lace knitting.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Machine Knitting - Part 3

The blankets must be done differently because both sides are 'good' sides. How do you do that?

Remember, the scarves were done in fairisle. That means that the yarn was carried behind the knitting causing 'floats'. That is fine for scarves because they are folded in half and all those ugly floats are inside and can't be seen. The blankets, mugrugs, wine cozies need 2 good sides. Enter the RIBBER!

A ribber is a separate (read expensive) addition that hangs on the bottom of the main bed. at a 90 degree angle. You can see in the picture that only one of my machines has a ribber. Ribbers make the ribbing on the bottom, cuffs and necks of sweaters, of course, but they do much more.

A ribber can do double jacquard! I use 2 strands of yarn and a color changer. That is the arm shaped thingy at the end of my machine. The carriage picks up one color and does 2 passes, then picks up the other color for another 2 passes. One side has the pattern, the other side has stripes - or plain if you prefer. The material is double thick with no floats.

The mugrugs and cozies are all double jacquard. My blankets are actually a combination of double jacquard and a tuck stitch - but more about that in ..... (wait for it) ..... Part 4!

Knitting Machines - Part 2

OK - how DO you get the designs in there? My scarves are done in machine knitting fairisle. Fairisle is repeating small patterns done in 2 colors - like you see in sweaters and mittens. Fairisle in machine knitting is using 2 colors, carrying one behind the other, regardless of the pattern.

Patterns can be machine knit in 3 ways - hand manipulated, punch card and electronic. All of these involve moving the needles to accept or reject the yarn. I use electronic. My ideas are drawn on a computer using special software. Since I was a computer engineer, I feel very comfortable with this. The computer screen is a grid that I 'draw' on. I can use jpegs, photos or text in my designs. It takes a long time to design a scarf. Sometimes what looks good on the screen does not transfer well to yarn. It is trial and error.

When I am happy with the design, I begin to knit. The carriage can accomodate 2 strands of yarn, one for the background and one for the pattern. The carriage is set to 'fairisle', the yarns are placed in the carriage and cast on to the machine. Weights are placed on the knitting to keep tension on the needles. My yarn comes on 4 lb. cones.

The pattern is fed electronically from the computer to the carriage, moving the needles into position. I have a motor that moves the carriage for me to eliminate repetitive motion damage to my hands. This way I can do 100 scarves in a reasonable amount of time.

The scarves then have to be finished - the long seam linked together, edges surged to prevent unravelling, the scarf steamed and blocked to size and then the fringe sewn on. Voila! A scarf!

Next - how do you do the blankets with the names?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Machine Knitting - Part 1

I am a machine knitter as well as a hand knitter and crocheter. Though many people knit and crochet, there were few machine knitters. There are probably 2 reasons - expense and time. Knitting machines can cost over $1000!! And then you need the rest of the "stuff" - ribbers, tools, yarn winders, etc etc etc. And the learning curve is very steep - you HAVE to take lessons before you knit the first stitch (actually it is next to impossible to get started without someone showing you).

A knitting machine is about the size of an electronic keyboard. There are different sizes of machines for different yarn. Yes - that means if you have an expensive machine to knit sports weight yarn, you will need ANOTHER expensive machine for bulky! YIKES! Generally there are 4 sizes - lace, standard, mid and bulky gauge. My standard has 200 needles (and, yes, they are SHARP). They look like little latch hooks. A carraige runs over the needles and makes the stitch. One pass of the carriage equals one row. That is where the speed comes it.

My main business is making scarves and hats for fundraisers. I have done scarves for schools, symphonies, swim teams, soccer teams, graduating seniors, class reunions, family get-togethers etc. I design the scarves with the chosen colors, words and designs. Here are a few:

Next installment - How do you get the designs in there?