Ergonomic knitting machine table upgrade

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!

Here is the machine on the desk, with a little demo of it rising up. The motor is a bit noisy, but nothing like as loud as the machine!

Picking fleece for a marathon carding session

I have a large sack of Texel fleece that had been making me feel guilty for a while. It’s not the most soft of fleece so I decided to blend it with some Alpaca that has also been lurking in the cupboard. Unfortunately the Alpaca (from an animal called Kiki), has quite a bit of VM in it, but it is deliciously soft.

Picking and hand picking got a lot of the VM out, but sadly not everything. I carded both the Texel and Alpaca separately and then split the batts and layered them up in alternate layers; one wool, one Alpaca etc, and put them back in smaller batches through the drum carder.

As my carder is quite coarse I do a second run through for most fibres. So I did it for these batts. I think I probably should have done a third run, but I was afraid of over-carding the fibres and decided they had blended well enough. The result is a little uneven!

I’ve spun two small samples, one thick singles sort of semi-woollen and the other long draw woollen spun.

I’m now perfecting, (ha ha) my long draw technique with several hundred grams of comb waste that I have carded up. Hopefully by the time I get through that I will be proficient enough to tackle long draw spinning that large amount of Texel/Alpaca fibre!

I’ve hand knitted small samples of the both yarns The thicker spun on 6mm needles and the long-draw spun on 5mm needles

Left: Long draw spun yarn hand knitted on 5mm . Right: Thicker semi-woolen spun hand knittedon 6mm needles.

Colour-changing yarn spun from a distaff

I’ve had a number of different colour hand dyed carded batts sitting waiting for me to find inspiration. They are all from fleece I have scored and carder myself, so are a mix of Shetland, Suffolk and Texel, with maybe a little Alpaca blended into some of them. Some are in 200g amounts, some less. I’d got a bit stuck about how to use them until I saw a useful tip by Anna from my spinning group that she has put on YouTube.

Before you start, select a group of colours that work together. After a designing session during which I wrapped different colours together, I chose five: orange, pale green, mid blue, pale blue and lilac.

Anna used a combination of hand dyed and commercial roving, but the principle is the same with your own carded batts.

1. First of all split the roving/batt into the required lengths, (I just used the whole length of the batt of my drum carder).

2. Then split each length lengthwise into 4, (or more, depending on the thickness of the roving/batt).

3. Next, lay out the colours lengthwise, next to each other in the order you want to spin them into yarn. Test this beforehand to see how they mix throughout one repeat of a yarn, and if this works for your chosen outcome, such as knitting.

4. Repeat the colour sequence three more times so you have a table full of ‘stripes’ of fibre. If you have more than four lengths let colour, carry on until all are used up.

5. Now this is the clever part. I have hand spun colour changing yarns before and got the sequence wrong because I put it all away in a box between spinning sessions. To keep the sequence do the following.

6. Take a metre + long length off ribbon and tie a pencil or empty pen across one end. This is your fibre-stopper. Tie a hand-sized loop on the other end. This is your distaff.

7. Starting at one end of the ‘stripes’, wind each length off fibre into a loose roll and slip the looped end of the ribbon through the centre hole. Carry on doing this, working methodically through the fibre lengths, keeping the colour order as mapped out in your ‘stripes’.

8. You will end up with a ‘necklace’ of colour ordered fibre rolls on the ribbon. Tie the ends together to stop the fibre sliding off.

The dyed fibre arranged on the ribbon distaff before spinning

Now to can put them in a box and they won’t get muddled. To start spinning, simply lift the necklace out, untie the ends, and slip the loop over your hand. It acts as a distaff and will hold your fibre nicely as you spin each colour.

Spinning the lengths into singles

What a great tip!

I plied the colour changing yarn with a single spun made from navy blue Corriedale. This made a lovely marl yarn that to me resembles stained glass windows. I can’t wait to see what it looks like knitted.

The plied yarn

Here is the link to Anna’s video

Swinging the picker!

To chew my way through all that dyed fleece and open up the fibres I am using my swing picker.

As with any machine, I fiddle endlessly with the settings, but for the moment it’s picking like a good’un.

https://youtu.be/uLxuiqUJuY4

They are advantages to machinery. My son came in and is fascinated with the picker, so I can carry on carding whilst he does the picking!

I can’t believe how cloud soft the Dorset fleece I’m carding is after just a brief finger pick. You’d never have thought it would be like this if you’d seen the fleece before it was scoured!

Spinning outdoors

Last week a few of us got together (safely distanced and masked), to take our textiles into the park. I enjoyed myself so much I forgot to take a photo!

The thought of spinning outside in the sunshine encouraged me to use bright colours. So I took along some Shetland fleece I dyed a while ago using acid dyes, (I have written more about dyeing fleece with acid dye here).

I’d spun up a bobbin of Suffolk fleece that is not very exciting, so I planned to use that as the core for a bright, irregular spun, core-spun yarn to which I would add a charcoal wrapping yarn. All 100%wool. I took my folding Louet Victoria S95 wheel which is a joy to use.

The core yarn was Z twisted quite tight. The wrapping colours were also put on Z twist, and the final charcoal, commercial yarn was S spun over the others.

Photo taken at might, so the colours are not accurate.

After washing and drying the twist the colours hardly muted and it’s come out as lovely yarn.

Taken outdoors, but the colours are a bit light.

Another new sewing machine – my Singer 401g

I have been toying with the idea of buying a Singer slant shank machine for a while, and during lockdown I took a punt and bought one reasonably local on eBay. Not the smartest move you might say, sight unseen and all that. I spent quite a time scrutinising the photos very carefully, read up about the machine, and asked lots of questions of the seller. Call it a treat to myself.

Updated with some photos just now, 16:00 4th July

Above, as it arrived, a bit grubb

And below, after a good clean up

Finally I went to collect it – social distanced collecting methods in use and no stopping en route. Its outside is a bit grubby, but its working and has all its accessories down to the lint brush and set of screwdrivers. Its obviously well used, it was owned by a dressmaker before, but I would guess not used for several years. However, its got service labels and having all its accessories indicates to me that it was well cared for and valued. It came in a drop down table, which was perfect as wanted one in a table, but not a massive cabinet.So far I’ve opened it up and cleaned its insides, removed as much old gummy oil – or as I can reach – and given it a thorough oil with light sewing machine oil. The double direction pattern dial was gummed up, and this gentle cleaning and oiling helped to loosen it up so that I could (very carefully) encourage it to move, and now it works freely. Its fascinating to see how the selection mechanism works, not that I am an expert at mechanics, but I can see the little paddle moving and the rise and fall of the selector post (probably the wrong name). I am itching to try out all those amazing built in patterns. I can’t right now as you will see in the next paragraph.The original clam-shell foot pedal is with it, and it did work – sporadically. After a while there was a nasty smell (reminded me of when my Bernina 1030 went into melt down, and when my Brother 950i knitting machine and very, very vintage Kenwood Chef did the same) and the machine would not stop running. Luckily the plug was close to me, so I whipped it out to the socket before any damage was done.My clever son opened the pedal and told me I should have cleaned that out (didn’t even think of it, sorry), and then he replaced a blown capacitor – he is pretty nifty at this and has a stock of electrical bits. The pedal now works – but the connection from the pedal lead to that ‘banana’ plug is dodgy. In addition some of the old plastic has broken away inside the pedal and the plug has a chunk missing which worries me. I’m not confident around electricity having had a few experiences that unnerved me, (see above). He offered to repair the lead and plug (he thought Sugru) and will in time, but I decided to order a replacement so that I could use the machine until then. I will compare them to find which gives the best speed control as some reports say new ones are not as sensitive.The motor seems OK, and my son will clean it at some point. So far the machine has displayed a lovely straight stitch – equal if not better than my Bernina 1030, and far better than the Jones 125.I did hanker after a Singer 411g or 431g but I think the 401g will satisfy me. It was only the chain stitch of these I wanted, but reading about it it sounds to require lot of fiddling to get it right and so that do you leave the machine set up just for that? Seems a waste to me, so I’ve let that wish go for the moment. I also think I remember that my Janome Coverstitch machine will do chain stitch, so maybe that is something to explore. I’m not even sure why I want chain stitch – I’m just a machine nerd (maybe?).Want this space for more chats about the Singer 401g that has joined my machine stable. Its going to be sewing frontline masks once the new pedal arrives.

Knitting and Wellness

Today met James McIntosh and Dr Thomas Ernst, inventors of the term ‘knititation’ and authors of Knit and Nibble. They had been invited to speak at the University of Brighton School of Art’s Centre for Arts and Wellbeing event, Knitting and Wellness.

When we first met, James told me that he had found The Knitting Book really helpful when he was teaching himself to knit – which was truly gratifying feedback. It’s nice to find out how people use and value my contribution to sharing knowledge.

James was first to speak, and he described his personal journey through depression and how knitting mindfully enabled his recovery and brought colour back into his life. Thomas discussed the science behind mindfulness and it’s aptness to knitting.

Nina Dodds, author of Invisible Jumpers, and I provided yarn and needles so that everyone who wanted to could knit during the event. We were gratified that everyone took up the opportunity!

This was my piece of knitting.

It was a great talk, entertaining and interesting. James and Thomas kindly gave me a copy of their book which I am reading this weekend.

At the end Thomas led a short mindfulness session, which was a new expressive for some of the audience. Hopefully we all left feeling refreshed.

Like James, and so many others, I find hand knitting keeps me calm; it’s repetitive movements bringing my attention back in a rythmic cycle. So now I’ve written this it’s time to take up my needles for a soothing session.

Duck-bill scissors for trimming seams

I’ve just made a boiled wool dress with to stitched seams. These needed to be trimmed to reduce bulk, which have me the chance to try out these duck-bill scissors I’d bought at an exhibition. The wide blade is supposed to prevent accidental snips into the main fabric, and enables you to get close to the stitching line.

These worked well, and are nice and sharp. A successful purchase!

I’m not sure if this is the accepted easy to use these scissors, but it worked for me.

“This book ought to be mandatory reading for every new machine knitter!”

I came across this review of my book, ‘Translating Between Hand and Machine Knitting’, and would like to share some of it with you.

“This book needs to be on every machine knitter’s manuals shelf, in pride of place, no matter if you use Silver Reed or Brother!”
“Where was this book when I was desperately trying to learn how to design lace/translate lace cards between Brother and Silver Reed?!?!”

This book is absolutely essential equipment as far as I am concerned!
The pictures will blow you away and they only get better.
The details are absolutely in depth and extremely easy to understand with stupendously clear focused pin-pointed and highlighted photography and exemplary diagrams that compare every aspect of stitches, fabric, mechanics, of hand and machine knitting. 
It isn’t a how-to… it compares them and shows some GREAT visuals of them on and off the needles. Refer to your manual for specifics on how-to cast-on and cast-off. Basically, this book compiled most of the answers to questions I have asked in the past, questions I have hunted down answers to, and questions that I hadn’t even thought to ask. It is utterly fantastic.
Buy it! Buy it NOW!
I can not say enough how much you need this book! How much I needed this book… now if I can just convince her to write one on Passap…
No! I have no affiliation with the author… I wish I could say I know her.’
Thank you to B. Newson on Amazon.com