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.

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.