Featured

Hello, and welcome

Vikki_2013smallTurnedThis blog covers many aspects of textiles, but its main focus is on knitting; both hand and machine. You will find discussions on Creative Machine Knitting along with instructions for using machines, machine accessories, repairs, tips and techniques. As the blog has grown it has embraced other aspects of textiles.

Amongst my personal interest in textiles, I am also involved in ongoing, textile-related academic research.

 

Machine Knitting workshop, Brighton TAG

Today I ran a workshop that introduced members of Brighton Textile Art Group to machine knitting. To give a wider experience both a Knitmaster and a Brother machine were used, one standard and one chunky gauge. The chunky was particularly popular once it was found that it can knit handspun yarns.

Techniques explored included shaping, fair isle, single motif fair isle, knitwear (again great for hand spun), holding and short rows and simple, manual lace transfer.

I took along a little circular machine to demonstrate the difference between the two machine types, but the real interest was in the flat bed Japanese machines.

After the workshop response were really positive; people who had thought they would hate it had great fun, and those with machines were enthused to go home and get them out. Unfortunately the workshop clashed with the East Sussex Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers meeting, so another workshop had been requested in the Spring or Summer of 2020.

Talk in March 2020

I will be talking to Long Buckby Machine Group next March about my career in knitted textile and knitwear design, and the inspiration behind ‘Translating Between Hand and Machine Knitting’.

I’m looking forward to meeting members of this well-established machine knitting group.

Brother KH260 chunky knitter being a cranky machine

There is only one photo to go with this post as I was so covered in oil I didn’t feel secure holding a camera!

I am running a machine knitting workshop for my local Brighton and Hove Textile Art Group (TAG) in a few weeks, and most uncharacteristically I decided to plan in advance and check out the machines I will be taking along.

TAG is affiliated to the East Sussex Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, so most members spin in one way or another (drop spindle or wheel), so knitting hand spun yarn seems a pretty sensible thing to cover in the workshop. Because of this I intend to take my Brother KH260 chunky, single bed machine. I do love this machine, but haven’t used it in several years. Whilst I was working on ‘Translating Between Hand and Machine Knitting’ I used my two electronics, a Knitmaster mid-gauge HK160 and a Knitmaster punchcard, so there just wasn’t room for the 260 to be out. Since completing the book I have been diverted to spinning and dyeing for a refreshing change, hence the long storage of the KH260.

When I unpacked the machine it was frustrating to find that the timing belt seemed jammed. The carriage would knit fine in stocking stitch mode, but everything else refused to work. Luckily my long experience at machine maintenance stood me in good stead to sort out the sticking cams on the carriage which were preventing the KC dial from activating and connecting the carriage to the timing belt, taking the machine cover off to expose the workings at the back, and understanding the basics of the patterning mechanism. For a start, the carriage and pattern mechanism parts were all covered in yellow, thick gloopy oil that I know glues the workings of the machines when they are left unused, so I applied LPS1. After watching many of ‘TheAnswer Lady and Jack’ YouTube videos when working on various machines I had invested in a can of this spray cleaner/lubricant; it works really well and is to my mind well worth the rather high cost (in Europe, not sure about elsewhere). According the Jack, LPS1 does not damage the plastic parts of the machine like mineral oils do and is similar in chemical composition to the Bellador oil supplied with Passap machines.

Having replaced a broken Brother timing belt before I’ve found its quite a long and exacting job so I am wary of timing belts and did not want to stretch or break this one whilst sorting out the problem. The service manual (downloadable from the wonderful resource at machineknittingetc.com) is really useful, but I still couldn’t work out what was jamming the belt. So it was back to ‘The Answer Lady’ and Jack, who is a fount of all knowledge on knitting machines.

After watching two of their helpful videos about the Brother timing belt I was pretty sure that the problem was connected to the right hand end of the belt and the associated cog and cam. On the right of the card reader, there is a round cog with a spring on the top that the timing belt goes around and inside this there are cams that activate the patterning mechanism; this clog refused to move more than a third of the full revolution, and felt ‘sticky’. So I soaked it in LPS1, making sure to get the little tube over the holes so that the spray would penetrate fully into the enclosed middle. But 24 hours later it was still stuck, but the black roller rotated, and now the card roller knob popped up and down when the cog mechanism revolved the short distance it was able to, but this still jammed after a third of a revolution.

After a further trawl of YouTube I found another, slightly older video that discussed reasons why the pattern mechanism won’t advance in a bit more detail. In this video, Jack explains that a drive cam hidden underneath that right hand, cog mechanism rotates the lower of the two card mechanism rollers (the white plastic one), which I had already noticed was not revolving when the top (black) one did. I now knew that the problem was definitely under that right hand mechanism. More LPS1 went into it; the machine case was now awash with the stuff! After another hour or so soaking the time had arrived for another test run.

With a rag to help my grip I nudged the clogged mechanism into a place it didn’t want to go. I could feel the gunk fighting me, but it was slowly yielding, and most importantly, as I nudged it, the lower, white roller began to revolve. I was now certain that the hidden cam was stuck up with gunk, and needed to be helped to free itself. I connected the carriage to the timing belt by setting it to KC, and if I gently moved this in the right direction I could add a little more leverage – gentle was the word here, remember my fear of damaging the timing belt? More LPS1 went in, and a bit more nudging back and forth, and slowly it all began to free-up. At last the cam gave and the clogged mechanism moved fully, the lower roller rotated and the punchcard mechanism advanced!

Wooppee!

Next came a test with a punchcard, which seemed to select needles and rotate OK. It took several rags to mop the LPS1 out of the case; it was leaking a bit and I didn’t want it to run out on the floor when I put the machine back on its end for storage.

Before putting the case back on I tested the patterning by knitting a piece, which worked up no problem. I felt wonderful – its such a kick mending something.

Those oily rags then came in useful to wipe off all the yellow gloopy oil that was left on parts of the inner workings of the machine. After that the case went back on. I’d reserved an oily rag to wipe down the beds and other exposed metal parts to protect and lubricate the machine; we live near the sea so I am very conscious of the rust factor. My old Knitmaster 700 had a rather sad case of rust when I was bequeathed it, but LPS1 was a great help in restoring it to good health.

I now have a working KH260, shiney and ready for the workshop. On to the next machine…

The Answer Lady and Jack videos can be found on YouTube, and these were the ones I used to help me with this problem.

Several Reasons why a Brother card reader might not advance, The Answer Lady and Jack, on YouTube.

Onion skins and Eco-Dyeing

Jacob’s fleece spun into a marl yarn and mordanted ready for dyeing

I’ve got a pot of onion skin dye ready to tie-dye a silk scarf and a skein of hand spun Jacobs marl yarn.

The yarn changed colour during the mordanting, and the cream ply has taken on a pale golden yellow tone. I think I will dip dye it to preserve this rather pleasant effect. Let’s hope the pale yellow doesn’t wash out at the end!

The scarf is already dyed in an ombre effect from grey to white, but cool greys don’t suit me; I want a warmer golden colour. The underlying ombre effect will be interesting, and I’ve tried marbles in in a pattern. I may add some eco prints on too, I’ll see what happens with the tie dye.

Rinsing the silk and wool after mordanting the fibres

I’ve rigged up a spoon and bowl into a frame to hold the hank of yarn whilst being dip-dyed.

I use a neat little induction hob from Ikea for dyeing to save energy as we have solar panels.

A steamy view of the dyeing process

The yarn was a little disappointing. I think I didn’t have enough dye material in the bath, and the silk took it up faster than the wool. However I dunked it into an iron mordant and it’s slightly saddened it into a softer yellow that blends better with the darker ply.

The scarf was ok, tie-dyed but wishy-washy and unexciting. So plan B, to eco print on it, came into action. During my dog-walk I collected a variety of leaves, luckily there is a small cluster of sumac and lots of Oak varieties in our local park.

My trawl of leaves, including Sumac, Oak, Maples and others

I also collected a few bunches of Rowan berries, beech and other leaves.

In my excitement I forgot to take a picture of the tie-dyed silk, or of laying out the leaves. I did that lengthwise along half of the width of the scarf, then folded it in half to sandwich the leaves between two layers. I’m not sure if this would have worked better if I had waited until the scarf had dried; I added the leaves directly after rinsing it after tie-dying.

Not having a spray bottle handy that I wanted to use for iron mordant solution, I’d already decided to soak the whole thing in the iron solution. Before doing that I folded the scarf widthwise once again and then tightly wound the folded scarf around a short length of plastic pipe, securing the ends with elastic bands. After giving the rolled packages a good soak in iron I used load of string to bind the fabric really tightly to the pipe all along its length.

Then it went into an improvised steamer for an hour. Unfortunately, because the steamer set-up only allowed a shallow water bath, I managed to boil it dry! This has mildly effected the outer layer on the underside of the pipe. It’s a bit darker.

For good measure I dribbled a bit of copper mordant on it as well. The effect was so strong that the white plastic pipe has now got leaf prints on it as well!

After unwrapping the scarf from the pipe, and following thorough wash it has come out rather well I think. Miles away from the boring grey one anyway!

George the cat approves of it as well!

George gives the finished scarf the seal of approval.

Don’t waste the demo yarn!

Whilst demonstrating as a member of a local textile group, Woolly Umbrella, at the Wild Chalk festival, I kept a drop-spindle of my own going with singles that I Andean plied at the end as part of the demo.

I don’t think repeatedly putting it down and restarting helped me get an even twist, or it may have been the plying, or a mixture of both, but the yarn isn’t balanced. I knitted a lace pattern with it, and the bias isn’t so pronounced as in stocking stitch, but I can see it.
For fun I added the knitted sample to a purple dye bath I had prepared to dye some other yarn, and here is the result.

Hand spun yarn dyed with purple acid dye.


Dyeing to be purple

For no better reason than wanted to play with acid dyes I dyed a 58g hank of handspun Texel and Clun Forest 2 ply today. Inspired by WASPI I chose to mix a purple. If we haven’t won our pension compensation by the winter I shall knit mittens for wearing on demos.

I’m going to pop 100g of Shetland fleece that has some pink staining on the tips into the exhausted bath to hopefully give it a tint.

Half-way through the tint was looking too blue, so I added 1/8th TSP magenta to bring it back towards purple.

Below is the yarn, it’s still wet so it’s going to be a lot lighter when dry.

Satisfaction is a bobbin of plied yarn

I love the final plying process when spinning yarn. This is Texel and Clun Forest wool fibre, processed from raw fleece. One single of each as an experiment.

I find it very difficult to get a smooth yarn from my own prepared raw fleece. It’s pretty easy from commercially prepared tops, but getting all those little nepps and second cuts out is pretty impossible for me.

I’ll wash this and see how it comes out.

Quick to make T-Shirt tunic

In a flurry of energy today I made a T-shirt tunic out of some of my fabric stash. My stash is a pile of fabric that hunkers down in the corner, offering me enticing glimpses of exotic colours, textures and exciting new projects before my guilt makes me go and do the hoovering.

So today I said ‘hang the Hoover, dump the dishes, it’s time to SEW!’. And I did!

This is my variation of The Makers Atelier ‘Boxy T-Shirt’ pattern. I’ve lengthened the whole T-Shirt into a tunic, and made the back a little longer than the front. They advise using stretch interfacing to stabilise the shoulder seams, neck, cuffs and hem, and luckily I had some to hands – that’s the beauty of being a fabric hoarder.

The Makers Atelier patterns are easy sized and they encourage you to be inventive when using their patterns. I cut between the medium and large to get the fit I wanted. I considered altering the pattern by adding bust darts but am now pleased I didn’t bother. In a fabric with less drape that might still be a good idea for the future.

This cotton print Jersey fabric has been tantalising me from the depths of my stash for a few years. It was a remnant, so only just over a metre long and never quite enough for most things I considered. It had been expensive as it’s really good quality fabric so I didn’t want to waste it on something I wasn’t going to be happy with. All of which meant that it’s lain there waiting for its moment.

Now it is finally made-up into this tunic I am very pleased with it; this will be going on holiday with me. The Jersey won’t crease too adult and I can dress it up and ring the changes with linen trousers, Capri pants, leggings and even skirts I think. Plus it will work on the beach. Win-win I think!

It took me about 4 hours to make including cutting out the main fabric and interfacing, (oh and finding the interfacing which I had put somewhere totally illogical). The making was interrupted by the ‘incident of the bloody overlocker’ – when there was a ‘bang’ and the machine light went out. Well yes, I did panic, but it turned out that the bulb had gone ‘pop’ and blown the fuse of the overlocker at the same time. So it was easily repaired thank heavens. I hate it when my machines break.

Finishing off called for the coversew machine. I could have topstitched with a double needle on the sewing machine, but why have a coversew machine if you don’t use it? Threading it up is a bit of a pain but it sews a lovely hem, especially when the fabric is interfaced, so it was worth the bother.

I have a glow of achievement as I sit here blogging.

Adding a sparkle to Kefir

I’ve been making Kefir from grains at home for over two years now and use it on fruit mainly at breakfast time. I know some people think it might be a problem to use skimmed milk, but I have done this from the start and it has always worked fine.

Because its only me that likes it, I only make smallish quantities, and it can develop rather a strong taste quite fast. I have tried various ways of mellowing the taste. In the hotter weather (this is the UK, so we are talking somewhere around 20 degrees Celsius) , it develops fast and is thin and a little sour. I find putting the whole pot in the fridge for the last half of the fermentation makes a thicker and sweeter Kefir. In the winter I just leave it on the worktop and it does fine, making a sweeter result without much effort.

This has all been OK, but then I saw a YouTube video in which it was suggested that you can double ferment the kefir using fruit, and this has added the sparkle mentioned in the title of this post.

One simply strains the Kefir as normal, put it in a jar, and add a small piece of fruit. Then leave it for about 4 hours to ferment with the fruit before putting it in the fridge. I’ve tried a few different fruits, peach, apple, orange peel, raspberries and even cinnamon, but my favourite is definitely orange peel. It gives a wonderful sweet and fresh zing to the kefir whilst removing some of the tang, which suits me fine. I’m afraid I can’t remember the name of the person who posted the video on YouTube, but thank-you whoever you are. Its even better if you strain off some of the thin whey to give a thicker, creamier textured Kefir before you add the fruit.

Kefir has never tasted to good.