This 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.
I’ve been having back problems and unable to use my knitting machine for several months which had been frustrating. Especially as I am coming towards the end of writing my latest book and wanted to knit some of the final samples. The same was of course true of trying to sit down to write the text of the book, or do any work at the computer.
I had seen sit-stand desks, and fancied one for computer work when I first looked at the start of the panedemic in the UK, but they were terribly expensive. My son acquired one for his work as a computer programmer and it looked an interesting solution for spending a long time writing at the computer. I tried putting my computer on a static raised desk, which was great for teaching as I could move about, but then I couldn’t sit down to do the accompanying admin and ended up with real back problems. After the best part of two years struggling with WFH teaching online, (actually we were all trying to do most things online weren’t we) as well as writing a book, my back finally gave up with an acute bout of sciatica
Several months down the line I am still plagued by this problem, and have invested in a sit-stand desk converter. So far this is proving to be a solution for computer work, (along with a timer telling me to take a walk). I chose a converter because I didn’t want to lose the lovely desk my husband had built for me.
Back to the knitting machine. Yes I know this is a round about way of telling the story, but I’m getting there.
The physiotherapist from whom I am receiving treatment for my back problem suggested putting the knitting machine on a high table to improve the ergonomics of working on it. I have long wanted to do this so that I could stand whilst working on it – as if it was a Dubied – but I also sometimes want it lower, for example with or without ribber. The practicalities of moving machines from high table to low table, let alone the space I would need to do this made a static high table a poor solution. Recently, whilst investigating sit-stand converters it dawned on me that I might be able to solve both of these ‘wants’ by using a sit-stand desk as the table for my knitting machine. Having been put off by the price when I had looked before, I did a fresh internet trawl and found the price first these desks has become almost sensible – lots of demand I guess – so I decided to research a combination that would work.
The max load for the lower priced, single motor ones seemed to be 70kilos, and my machine plus ribber comes within that. Next questions were, ‘would it overbalance? and ‘would there be room for the clamps?’ I bought the powered version, frame only and we fitted a separate top so that it could be positioned to address these issues. In fact the frame is pretty sturdy, and the feet quite deep, so the balance works OK and the top overlaps at front and back sufficiently to allow room for clamps. Another advantage of fitting our own top was that the controller could be fixed to the side so it isn’t obscured by the ribber. Cable management was next, and not to arduous and then my machine was ready to zoom up and down – well not too fast!
Price-wise this solution cost probably five or six times that of a standard machine table, but I hope it will mean I can use my machine comfortably both now and in the future. So far its going well, and I am very pleased with the result. The top is wide enough for two single bed machines back to back instead of the double bed if I want to do this at some point in the future. Let’s hope it lasts long enough for me to test this arrangement!
I took a quick look at the Amazon page for my book Translating Between Hand and Machine Knitting and thought I would share some reviews.
I notice that subscribe wishes to express their annoyance because the price has been reduced. I fully appreciate how annoying this can be, and wonder if retailers understand how this upsets customers. I felt similarly annoyed when I bought a new drawing tablet only to see it was reduced by £40 in the Black Friday sale two weeks later! They wasn’t much I could do but accept that I’d had two week’s use of the tablet already, (working on my next book). So although this is beyond my control, my apologies to anyone to whom this has happened.
So moving on from issues of frustrated shoppers, here are some of the very nice things said about the book.
JayBards from the US writes, ‘5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Coverage of Topics, Great Photos and Illustrations’, and finishes the review with, ‘The text is really well-written, very clearly presented, easy on the eyes, and a pleasure to read. This book will become an important part of my extensive library on knitting. In short, I LOVE this book! Congratulations to Dr. Haffenden on an excellent book that should become a classic.’
Thank you JayBard for your feedback and review.
Meceo from Canada writes, ‘This is one of the best books I’ve purchased covering the hand knit patterns converting to knitting machines. It is beautifully done with lots of photos and information to help anyone interested in this type of knitting.’
Sharon Sullivan from the US writes. ‘Very well written book. Haven’t had the book very long, but the time I’ve spent going through it so far, it’s an A+ book. Content is excellent. Photography is excellent. Easy to understand. Definitely worth the cost. I don’t usually do reviews, but think everyone should know that this book will help a machine knitter immensely.’
Its so helpful as an author to get feedback, and positive criticism, (suggesting improvements rather than just pointing out what you don’t like) is the most helpful.
So thanks to all who have taken time to review my book and help others decide if it is right for them.
Back problems have meant I need to avoid computers and knitting machines for a while, so I wanted a hand knit project to work on. Digging around on shelves, ( I can’t get at my stash boxes at the moment) I found a bag of knitting I had forgotten about. Inside was the first few rows of a top-down sweater. I remembered how long it took to work out the pattern, (yes I did it myself) and how carefully I chose the yarn. The notes with the pattern are dated 2013, which says volumes about my engagement with larger hand knit projects!
Luckily the moth had stayed away, thanks to ziploc bags, and I haven’t used the balance of the yarn for something else. This seemed a perfect opportunity to get on with my long-lost dream jumper.
I knitted a top-down jumper last winter with good results. Although it has dropped quite considerably due to the stitch I used, do is more a dress than a number. I like the method because you can check the shoulder fit, which is so important, and adjust it before embarking on the larger areas. Monte Stanley wrote about top-down knitting and as I am interested in integral knitting, I find the technique intriguing
I had obviously found fault with the stored knitting because there is an separate neck and shoulder be sample threaded into waste yarn in the bag. On reflection I seem to remember it was discarded because of the shaping finish rather than size. I will unravel it if I need the yarn later on, but at the moment it is useful for reference.
It’s knitted in DK alpaca/wool/silk blend yarn on a very pretty warm stone colour.
I’m using a 4mm circular needle from the KnitPro convertible system. These are very versatile so am using these for this project where they are separate ‘tubes’ to work on. Being able to change the length of the cable means it’s easy to work narrower sleeves as well as the larger circumference of the body.
The design is a raglan sleeve, generous fit jumper with cable panels running up front and back. Shaping is worked fully fashioned along the raglan ‘seam’ lines using lifted left and right increases. My initial sample was not fully fashioned, and clearly the fully fashioning makes a much nicer finish.
I’ve just finished one sleeve, (stocking stitch) with fully fashioned decreases along the underarm ‘seam’, and the fit seems good so far.
Working out the pattern was quite complicated even though I used Designaknit for the basic silhouette. It was easy enough to invert the shapes, but then I had to combine them in-the-round. Some maths later I had a picture in my head, and the numbers to match it on paper. I worked out the positioning of the cable panels manually because it was important to have plain stocking stitch for the raglan shaping.
If I get the next sleeve done I might even got to finish the cable front and back before 2025!
Update : OK, it’s now the end of December and I have completed both sleeves and am part way down the body. So far I’ve used one bag of yarn, (500g) and anticipate using another 200g, making the jumper quite heavy!
The body is slightly flared, just enough so that it’s not a straight tube shape. The increases are worked down where the side seam would be, and at the outer edge of the outer cables every 11th row.
Update January 2022
The jumper is now complete! First blocking fine, now test-wearing before sewing in the ends. Then I shall wash so that it matches the revision swatch and the stitches even out a bit more. Something I noticed whilst knitting was that although this is a lovely yarn it has a tendency to leave fine fibres on the needle so the stitches catch. At first I unpicked and reknitted some stitches, thinking I had miss-knitted the stitches and it took me a while to realise what was happening. Gentle tugging releases the fibres and opened the stitches, but from the tension swatch I can see that washing will even the knit out.
The neckband is a single rib with a rolled edge. The neck band was picked it up into the neckline so is integrally knitted which has a tendency to stretch on top-down sweaters. In the past I have sewn take along the back neck to stabilise the neckline, but Roxanne Richardson on her YouTube channel suggests making a line of crochet slip stitch along the back neck instead. She also suggests using this solution along raglan seams.
Because it’s knitted top down, seamless I’m going to watch the raglan ‘seams’ to make sure they doesn’t drop. If the jumper does start to drop I will also work a crochet slip stitch in the back of the seams to stabilise them.
I’m just hoping the weather stays cool so I can continue to wear my new jumper.
I’ve been running a suint bath for washing fleeces this summer. Whilst the temperatures are reasonably good the suint has worked well. I’ve actually finished washing all the fleeces now so we’ll probably use the diluted suint bath as fertilizer.
Suint is explained it chemical terms by other people far better than me, but basically it means that the fleece soaks in a liquor composed of the sweat and dirt and developing microbes. The bath is built up from other fleeces. I use the dirtiest fleece first as that made the best base for the suint and have worked through 5 fleeces weighing about 1-2 kg each before going into the bath. I skirt and sort the fleece first because I don’t see the point in washing really dirty stuff that’s never going to come clean, but I equally try to preserve as much of the fleece as possible. I’ve got a bucket of the really unsalvageable stuff soaking so that I can use that liquid as a fertiliser as well.
I didn’t take a photograph of the locks of this Scoth Mule fleece before the suint bath so can’t make a comparison but it has come up beautifully clean.
My process was as follows. I laid The fleece out on a mesh grid cleaned as much of the dirt out as I could by shaking it and then skirted it. Next I sorted it into qualities, picked out as much vegetable matter as I could. Each quality was put into several smallish mesh laundry bags and then into the suint in manageable quantities. The suint bath really stinks, which I think must be caused by ammonia, as it makes my eyes water!
I left the fleece in the suint for 5 to 7-days then using rubber gloves and, with a peg on my nose, I removed it and left it to drain. Once it was drained, I rinsed it in a couple of changes of clean, cold water. Because I didn’t want to put the stinky mess in spin dryer I swung and it around to remove excess water.
Next I washed the fleece in batches in hot water with Eurolana wool wash. This is good as it cleans well without loads of suds so rinses out easily. The smell was slowly fading, but even after two rinses it lingered.
A final spin and then the fleece was emptied out of the mesh bags into a two-tiered flat mesh dryer. This goes outside and by the time the fleeces are dry the smell has gone. Phew.
I purchased these two fleece in July and due to family and work things didn’t get around to washing them until August. They are what I believe is called Scotch Mule, a cross between Blue Faced Leicester and Scottish Blackface. These two were classed as ‘more BFL than Blackface’ which is what attracted me.
I set up a suint bath for them which is still going strong, (and I mean STRONG in an olifactory way when it is disturbed. The suint does clean well, but my family are threatening to leave home if I continue for much longer. Only four more bags need to be washed, and are soaking in the ghastly liquid right now.
They have come up nice and white with delightfully soft locks. There is stil some VM to be picked out during combing, but it wasn’t too bad overall. Some dirty tips have had to be removed.
I am very excited about starting to process the fleece using a set of Viking wool combs. I used these for a Lleyn fleece last year and was pleased at how fast I got at the combing (though sadly not as fast as carding).
Should I dye the locks before hand or after spinning? To be honest there is so much I could do some and some. The average staple in one fleece is 7″ and the other is 9-10″, which is going to lovely for worsted spinning.
Through one of my fellow members of the Woolly Umbrella spinning group I was asked if I would help renovate a vintage sock machine. The machine is part of the Stanmer Preservation Society collection and they hoped it could be got working for their Heritage Week this week.
Sue sent me a photo of the manual, but with little info on the machine apart from. ‘It worked a few years ago’, I was in the dark.
So today I packed a range of tools, oil and cloths etc and set off for Stanmer not sure what I would find. The machine was in a sad state. Not really bad, and most of the parts seem to be there, but it was pretty rusty. It seems to have been left uncovered and un-oiled in a damp shed for the last few years so had a thick layer of dust along with the rust.
Luckily the instruction manual is with the machine, but there is no maintenance manual. Having used one of these before I know the general points about it, but not the precise specifics. A quick YouTube trawl found some useful videos and it was time to tackle the job.
The rib dial was not attached and I didn’t want to address that in this session. My aim was to get the machine working well single bed first. So the rib dial stayed in the somewhat dusty and rusty spares box for now.
A thorough dusting helped a bit, but there was no air hose or even a vacuum cleaner so it was down to cloths and some blowing and picking the dust out of cracks. I dismantled the top tension and removed the yarn feeder. That was a bit rusty so some gentle fine emery paper was needed to clean it up. Next came removing the spring to allow the needles to be taken out and the dial removed. Most needles were slightly rusty on the hook if not the shaft as well, so I gently emery papered the bad areas and then soaked them in surgical spirit and oil for a while. Two broken and two bent needles were rejected at this point as too far gone to salvage. Meanwhile the cams were now revealed and could now be inspected and cleaned.
Once all seemed OK, if not in perfect condition, I reassembled the machine. Some needles still felt sticky, so it was a matter of replacing them one by one in the jamming areas to eliminate bad ones.
Time to cast on with that horrible little ‘daisy’ claw tool. A job that I hate, but went OK in fact. Sticky latches caused several repeating ladders and miss stitching, but after some use, and easing the latches it began to knit properly. Only one needed to be replaced before the whole dial would work! So satisfying.
I want to get the machine knitting a reciprocating sock heel before I tackle the rib dial, but if that goes well next time, I hope to be able to tackle the rib dial after that. There seem to be some spare needles for the rib dial, but not sure if there are enough. We will see…
I’ve marked the dial into quarters; the half way mark was already filed of the needle truck. So far it’s working for a creating the heel, but returning the needles to work causes holes.
We took it to pieces again in better light, and found that the cam is a little with on one end, but I’m not sure that’s the problem.
I sent of an embroidered a patch for the ‘coat of hopes’ today. The cost is being worn by many on the walk from Newhaven to Glasgow. In time for the United Nations Climate Change conference in November.
I recently read an article in SpinOff about distaffs and decided to try using one when spinning in a wheel, not just on a drop spindle. Luckily I had a handy drumstick lying around that I use to roll rolags off the blending board and it is just about the right length and weight. Its varnished surface also helps the wool slide off easily as I take it from the distaff.
At the moment I am spinning Ryeland fleece and have been preparing batts on the drum carder. I used to be able to take a roving off but since the carder was motorised its not so easy as it won’t rotate freely. So now I split the batts into narrower lengths to wind around the distaff. This seems to work OK and after a spray with spinning oil I find the fibre supply much easier to handle in this manner. Using my (new) large double drive wheel I get a good speed up and even doing short draft can spin a surprising amount, (for me anyway) at a sitting.
I will carry on with this and see how it works out. I may even get to attach the distaff to one of the wheel uprights which might be even more efficient.
Distaff held in my waistband, but sometimes under my arm or in my outside fingers.
Rather like buses, spinning wheels come along when you are not looking in the right direction. I didn’t intend to gather another into my collection, but could not resist this one.
This one is a Frank Herring imported Norwegian wheel from the 1970s (I think). It’s had a lot of use and a bit of abuse, but works fine. They are after all meant to be used!
I really wanted a double drive wheel with a large wheel that has a good solid tensioning system. My converted d drive is OK, but it’s really hard to get the take up going without cranking the mother of all up at quite an angle.
Part of my rationale for the wheel is that I grew up near to Dorchester, where Herrings are based. I used to see this very (maybe?) wheel in their window in the High St as we went past on the bus when visiting my grandparents in South St, and found it a magical thing, even as a child. So it’s a short of revisiting childhood, reclaiming the magic, back to my roots thing!
I never could have imagined the path my life would take as I gazed at that wheel, and now I own one. Definitely a personal journey. I don’t care if it creaks!
Actually it spins beautifully, plenty of take up and very easy to adjust. I probably need to use a slightly better drive band than kitchen string…
I just need a few more bobbins as it only came with one.