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.

Recent reviews of ‘Translating Between Hand and Machine Knitting’

cropped-img_9164About ‘Translating Between Hand and Machine Knitting’.

‘An outstanding read’

‘Here’s a new hardback book that’s packed with all the information a machine or hand knitter would wish to find.’

‘You’ll have no regrets, as this will be your best ever buy as a machine or hand knitter.’(Guild of Machine Knitters newsletter February 2019)

 


‘Vikki Haffenden outlines the necessary knowledge, especially of stitch construction – the basic necessity for knitting by all methods’.

‘Throughout the book the author uses very clear diagrams and photographs to explain stitch patterns, techniques and equipment’.
(Annec Cartwright in Slipknot, newsletter of the Knitting and Crochet Guild, June 2019)


 

I cannot tell you how much I adore this book’

‘Thanks to your work my eyes are open to the possibiliites of working on fresh and modern projects without having a background in fashion or textiles’
(Turtlemelon crafts, via Instagram)


 

 

About Translating between Hand and MachineKnitting…

Hi, I’m Barbara from Italy and want to thank you for writing “Translating between hand and machine knitting”. It’s just great, I can now understand the differences between silver reed and brother. I have one of both but got frustrated trying to use the silver reed, so just stopped working with both… now I have the chance

Thank you Barbara, its great to hear your feedback.

What’s inside ‘Translating Between Hand and Machine Knitting’?

Lace knitting – see more about this on my Translating Between Hand and Machine Knitting page, but in brief, yes this is explained in loads of detail, with helpful photos and diagrams, examples and step-by-step instructions.

The book does not include garment patterns, it explains how to knit different stitches by hand and machine, and why some stitches are more suitable for hand and others for machine knitting.

 

Hand and machine knitting – using a ‘lifeline’ when knitting lace

When hand knitting lace it is so easy to make a mistake or drop stitches, even on the plain rows, (I have a habit of dropping the yarnovers).

To save yourself the hassle of having to unpick and rediscover your pattern, adding a lifeline is a real life-saver; although it may seem tedious at the time.

A lifeline is a piece of thread passing through all the stitches along one row of the pattern so that if a stitch unravels some rows above it cannot drop below this retaining thread.

Decide where you want the lifeline to be, this would usually be at the end of one full vertical repeat of a lace pattern, on a non-patterning row, (usually a purl row). If it’s a short lace pattern repeat that is only two or four rows high, then you might put a lifeline in after every four or five repeats of the pattern.

To prepare and insert a lifeline:

  • Choose a contrast colour that’s no thicker and preferably thinner than your knitting yarn. On fine lace sewing thread is ideal.
  • Cut a length of yarn that is 20 cm longer than the width of your fabric.
  • Thread the yarn into a large eyed bodkin sewing needle. Avoid using a needle with a sharp point as this may split your stitches.
  • Using the sewing needle thread the yarn along the stitches on the needle, making sure the thread goes through each stitch.
  • Pull the lifeline gently so that there is an even length of thread at each side of the knitting.
  • Remove the bodkin sewing needle and knit the row as normal.
  • Once you have threaded another life line in place at your next chosen position you can remove the first one.

You can use a lifeline in exactly the same way when machine knitting, it is just a little bit more fiddly to thread the yarn through the stitches. But believe me, its worth it!

The image below shows a lifeline (yellow yarn), being inserted into lace knitting being worked flat, but using a circular needle. A circular needle has a thin wire in its centre (in this case its a red wire), and sliding the stitches onto the wire before inserting the lifeline creates more space inside each stitch, making it easier to thread the lifeline through.

A lifeline being threaded into lace knitting. Insert the lifeline after working a plain row. This gives you easily recognisable loops to work into.

‘Translating between Hand and Machine Knitting’ – publication date is 31st August

Cover of Translating between Hand and Machine Knitting
The cover features a voluminous and irresistibly tactile 3D knitted textile by Marie-Claire Canning

‘Translating between hand and machine knitting’ is about to be published

i have just received my pre-publication copy of ‘Translating between Hand and Machine Knitting’, it was waiting here on my arrival home from holiday. It’s a great welcome home present.

Holding the book
My pre-publication copy just out of its wrapper.

Here are some sample pages.

Point to point linking.mp4

What is a linker?

Making up knitwear can be quite a chore, and using a linker makes it a lot quicker.  Linkers make a chain stitch, which is extensible so will not burst the seam when the fabric is stretched.

Domestic linkers can be operated by hand or have a motor. The most common make in the UK is the Hague linker, which is blue, and made in the UK by Hague. It can used on a table, or mounted on its own stand. When joining large pieces whilst working a table you have to be careful that the pieces don’t drag as the dial revolves as this is likely to effect the stitch formation and make the machine heavy to use. Using a stand means that larger pieces can hang down and revolve with the dial.

Hague type linkers make the stitch on the outside of the dial where the needle is positioned, and the chain on the inside where the looper is situated. A linker is a usually circular, and has a dial of spikes radiating outwards. These are called ‘points’ and as with a knitting machine, the number of points per inch is used to describe the gauge of the linker.

Linkers have large eyed, usually curved, needles and are designed to be used with a similar weight yarn to that in which the garment has been knitted, e.g. a linker with 5 points to the inch will take yarn of similar diameter/count to that used on a domestic knitting machine. The linker in this video has more points per inch than one intended for use with domestic machines; it is probably a 10-12 point model.

Linking different gauges of knitting

Obviously its not possible to have a linker for each of your different machines, or for hand knits, but the good news is that you can use a linker for different gauges of knitting. If the stitches are wider spaced than the points, spread them out so that not every point has a stitch; the chain will carry over the odd empty point. If the stitches are closer together than the points, it is a little more difficult as you have to double them up on the points, and to frequent doubling can lead to a gathered seam, so I wouldn’t recommend using a domestic linker for finer than 8gge knitting.

Before starting, hold the knitting up to the dial (remember that the circumference of the dial is smaller at the inner end of the points, where the stitches are made), and estimate how often you need to add a space, or double-up on a point. Make a note of this, and put the stitches up onto the points with evenly spaced gaps or double stitches.

Linking tips and troubleshooting

If the garment is knitted in a fancy of fluffy yarn, I recommend linking with a smooth, strong yarn of a suitably matching colour instead.

The tension of the chain stitch can be adjusted with a thumb screw, and it is important to use this adjustment to achieve successful linking. Put broadly, over-large and/or missing loops indicate loose tension, and skipping, dragging and stiff operation indicates too tight, but the only way to get it right is to practise on scraps of knitting prior to sewing the garment.

In very rare circumstances the timing of needle and looper can become disrupted, and it is impossible to get the linker to make stitches; the needle may break or bang into the looper, or the looper may be totally out of synch with the needle thrust. Although it is possible to adjust this yourself, unless you are very experienced with the machine and understand how the stitches are formed, I recommend sending the linker to Hague for repair.

Preparing your knitting

When preparing knitting for point-to-point linking the last row of main yarn knitting is not bound off; the stitches are left ‘live’. Before removing the knitting from the machine, 10-20 rows of ‘waste’ yarn are knitted, then the piece is knocked off the machine without binding off. When choosing ‘waste’ yarn, aim for a strong colour contrast in a yarn that is slightly thicker than the main yarn. A thicker yarn will open the last row of stitches, making it easier to insert the points, and a contrast colour helps the operator pick the correct row of stitches to catch onto the points. Try to choose smooth waste yarns; fluffy ones may leave contrast colour fibres when the waste is removed.

More detail about the video example shown above

The video above shows how to point-to-point link a double thickness, folded collar around the neckline of a garment. The collar in this example has been knitted across the needle bed of the knitting machine, with ‘live’ stitches left at both start and finish as follows:

  1. cast on with waste
  2. work 10-20 rows waste
  3. change to main yarn and knit the number of rows required for the collar outer depth e.g. 20 rows
  4. knit a loose tension fold row if you want one
  5. knit a second series of rows equal to the inner depth of the collar, e.g. 20 rows
  6. change to waste yarn
  7. knit 10-20 rows
  8. remove the knitting from the machine

See ‘Preparing your knitting’ for how to work the joining rows between main and waste yarn to facilitate easy linking.

Putting the knitting onto the linker

Before starting to put the collar and garment on the linker, check whether your linker makes the stitches inside or outside the dial, and position the piecs accordingly. In my example, the stitches are on the outside, the loops inside.

Put the open stitches of the inner edge of the collar onto the points as described in the video, (wrong side facing in this example), and then put the garment neck onto the points (right side facing the operator in this example). Finally fold the collar over the top of the garment neck edge, and catch the open stitches onto the points – make sure to align the inner and outer stitches so that the collar is not twisted.

Sew through the three layers, and pull the end back through the last chain to secure the linking. Remove the garment and unravel the waste yarn back to the main stitches. Take care on the last row, and if any stitches have been missed, catch them with a pin or a strand of waste yarn. I find those little safety-pin stitch markers very useful for this on domestic- machine knits.

Hague direct’s website