I’ve been up to something!

After my most recent machine knitting rant I decided I would start an alternate blog devoted to machine knitting!  Specifically, devoted to publishing new machine knitting patterns, not written for a specific machine but in general terms so that lots of knitters will be able to use them.  I have no idea, really, whether this will work out, but I think it will be fun to do and maybe it will encourage some people to try out those knitting machines languishing in under their beds.

The first two patterns are now up on Fabulous Machine Knitting.  Go and check it out if you are interested in machine knitting.  If not, our regular sewing service will resume soon :-).

Standardising Machine Knitting Terms (A Rant)

Continuing my little rant from yesterday… So it bothers me when I read machine knitting patterns and see “set the Russell levers forward” or “make sure the right part button is engaged” etc.  And I have seen countless complaints about the PASSAP N/DX notation, not to mention the mysterious Superba squiggles. Every machine is different, of course, but in fact, in my experience, there are only three basic stitches that a machine can make automatically (hand manipulation is a whole other thing of course):

  1. Knit (ordinary stitch)
  2. Tuck (loop of yarn held on the needle – a “yarn over” if you will)
  3. Slip (yarn passes under the needle)

There are three other operations which are generally semi-automatic:

  1. Transferring stitches between needles on the same bed (usually a lace pattern)
  2. Transferring stitches between needles to a different bed on a double-bed machine
  3. Racking the beds relative to each other on a double-bed machine

In Passapese, at least the Duo80 version, the needles are instructed to knit by the setting N (needles knit both ways) or CX (needles knit in one direction only AKA circular or tubular knitting if both beds are in use).  They are instructed to tuck by the setting AX (selected needles tuck both directions) or DX (selected needles tuck one direction only).  Finally the slip stitch is setting BX (selected needles slip both ways) or HX (selected needles slip one direction only).  Transferring can be done manually with transfer tools or decker combs or the double-eyed bodkin, or by using the transfer carriage for cross-bed transfers.

On my ancient circular machine, the needles can either knit or tuck.  They can’t slip.  To set a needle to tuck, you pull out the needle to holding position. Transfers are completely manual.

On my new Designer 2, needles will knit in position 2, tuck in position 3, and slip in position 1. A button can bring slip needles back to knit position.  Transfers are manual.

Another thing is that there are many different methods of needle selection.  My Singer Memo II has a little electronic punchcard.  Electronic machines can take patterns from computer (.dak and .cut files, for example).  There are a range of different punchcards.  And Passap machines can use pushers to set patterns.  In my world, these would all be given by charts, which we as users would be more easily able to transfer to our own language.  Or even better, we’d have a chart-to-punchcard or chart-to-pusher setup or chart-to-printout app that was programmed for our different machines.  I have more than once been frustrated in trying to understand whether a punchcard design could be done with pushers on my Passap.

My POINT is, there’s no NEED for patterns to be written with directions for a specific machine.  Instead of saying “ensure the lili button is pushed in and the little mountain button is engaged” they could say “set your machine to an every other needle tuck pattern.”  Or “the following chart shows a double-bed transfer pattern”

Now, some machines have capacities that others don’t.  A pattern with a slip stitch isn’t suitable for my little circular machine, for example.  Other machines are easier to work with for certain techniques – for example, the lace carriage on Japanese machines makes light work of single-bed transfer patterns, while the pushers on the Passap mean many patterns can be worked without punchcards.  So not all patterns would be suitable for all machines, still.   But standardisation would REALLY help to extend the range of patterns to the widest range of machine knitters.

Ummm. Rant over.  FOR NOW.

But I think I’m going to start a table with the six basic functions and various machine models.  Tell me why not.

Alpaca bandana and thoughts on machine knitting

Here’s the first (totally unnecessary) project on my new-to-me Singer Designer 2 knitting machine – the one I wrote about before.  It’s extremely lovely and warm and really not the colours I might have chosen had I been buying yarn specifically for me instead of recycling it from an unmade sweater for a newborn.  But I digress, here is the object in question.  Click through to see my project page on Ravelry.

Pattern is a free one by Purl Soho. I worked it in Drops Nepal, a worsted-weight yarn of wool and alpaca. It’s lovely and warm.

As I was struggling through the pattern, learning the machine’s quirks (such as, for example, the carriage will stop unless the out of work needle butts are bang against the top of the bed, and that the stitches must be behind the latches on every row or there will be no knitting, just a mass of yarn), I wondered, how does ANYONE learn to machine knit?  The manuals are truly terrible for the most part; all the mistakes you make are never covered; and on and on with the things you can and will do wrong without any advice to help you along.  I have no idea how I began to understand this craft, but I do know it took the better part of a year.  Not to produce my first garment, but to understand really what was happening.  My first machine knitting post was about two years ago, and I really didn’t sew again for almost a year.  ALMOST A YEAR. That’s just crazy.  That’s how much brain space this hobby needs.

Side view. There’s a seam up the back. I could tame the lower curl by pressing, but I haven’t. The cowl is shaped with short rows, which are super easy on the machine. Sadly, the garter stitch borders and the central decreases are both a bit of work.

I absolutely love machine knitting.  The combination of gadgets, math, and textiles is so appealing to me.  I love both what I can make and the process to make it appear.  And it adds such a breadth to what I can consider reasonably making.  I wouldn’t trade that year of machine knitting immersion back.

I am so sad, likewise, that nearly all the manufacturers are out of business, that there is only one functioning magazine (and not in a style I particularly care for), that hardly any new patterns are being produced, etc.  One spark of light is the new Craftsy class being taught by Susan Guagliumi, who has also brought out a couple of new books recently.  But it is time for a new generation of designers to bring more modern sensibilities in — only, without the financial support made possible by machine manufacturers and spinners, I wonder if they will be able to.

The whole craft is also ripe for standardisation – there needs to be a standard language for patterns so that people using Brothers, Silver Reeds, Superbas, PASSAPs, and Bonds, both single and double-bed, can understand and trade patterns with each other.  Without a range of manufacturers pressing their own agendas, this is to some extent taking place now.  Also, if hand knitting designers could possibly add schematics and a description of their stitch patterns, this would help a lot (currently only done by Japanese designers, for the most part).  But that’s probably just fantasy.  Hand knitting has had such a resurgence, machine knitting…not so much.  Hand knitters don’t need us.  The prognosis is not so good.

A final view from the front. Decreases at the side towards the top make this a wonderful piece of winter wear because you can easily pull it over your nose and ears. Providing you have made your bind-off stretch enough. I had to re-do mine on knitting needles because I fluffed it the first time.  Isn’t it rather beautiful, though?  I love the regularity of machine-knitted stockinette.

Another day, another project

If you wonder why I never seem to finish my organised sewing, it is because I am, at heart, a flighty sort of person, easily distracted by new shiny things and put off when things go wrong.

Case in point, pyjamas, which were in any case interfering with the cocktail dress sewing, which in itself is a distraction from wardrobe sewing.  I pulled the pyjamas out yesterday thinking to finish them.  Attached ribbing to the sleeves.  Put in the placket.  Completely wrongly.  Sat, staring.  Ripped out placket.  Could not face cutting new placket.  Abandoned sewing table for shiny new knitting machine.

Actually a bit of an old grotty knitting machine since it arrived recently (after SOMEONE put in an eBay bid on it – I can’t say who.  Blackout moment).  This is a Singer Designer 2, manufactured by Superba.  Singer had the habit of branding a wide range of totally different machines by different manufacturers in different parts of the world, so that’s why knowing the manufacturer is important.  Anyway this is a 9mm machine which will handle chunky yarns.  It’s slightly more complex than the bond, but only very slightly.  Plastic apart from the needles.  Single bed (only knitting, no purling).

Looks like this, sort of:

This picture is from Patrick Madden’s excellent blog entry on these machines, and belongs to him, not me. My machine has a brown carriage but is otherwise similar.

I have a little bit of worsted weight yarn in my stash, so I set about trying to cast on. This machine has a little in-out button on the back of the carriage that controls the behaviour of the needles. Out usually knits, but not, apparently, always. Owing to not understanding this feature I had to restart several times.

One plus, though, was that I mastered the machine knitting equivalent of the long-tail cast on, which is my favourite cast on for hand knitting. I have this new book, see, “Hand Knits by Machine” by Susan Guagliumi, where she lays out machine equivalents for hand-knitting techniques.

Here’s the book. I like her books! She writes with great clarity. And now she has a Craftsy class for machine knitting, so if you are interested I’m sure it’s worth the money.

A chunky machine takes yarns that most people knit by hand and so if you want your sweater to look “hand knit” it’s an ideal machine. Anyway I modified her cast on to make it much easier and am very pleased with the result. I’ll try to post with pictures later.

I picked a pattern to knit using the following rationale: cowls are easy. I’ll knit a cowl. Oh look, a super-cool bandanna cowl! I’ll make that!

This is from Purl Bee, a source of patterns I always find myself drawn to. They are usually in worsted yarn, this is no exception. I am using Drops Nepal alpaca yarn with a contrast border. On another note, don’t they know that alpacas come from the Andes? Calling a yarn “Nepal” makes me think it includes yak wool.

Here is where you should, as a machine knitter, back away from the garter-stitch border and the centred decreases.  Not to mention the fact that this is knitted in the round which you can’t do on a single-bed machine.  I did not back away, and as a result after several hours of labour I am on row 2.  But with several new skills.

Thus: no cocktail dress, no pyjamas, and no knitted bandana to speak of. I wonder if everyone else’s creative process looks as messy as mine.

Distracted sewing – Ottobre 6/2015 kids pajamas

When I went to buy fabric for a top the day before yesterday, I took my daughter (the fabric store being conveniently next to the toy store, and her being in dire need of Frozen trading cards).  As I poked through the stack of knits, she made a terrifying discovery: a pile of Frozen jersey fabric.  I was immediately forced to buy Elsa and Anna for her and Olaf and Sven for her little brother.    That night before bed she asked me if the pyjamas were done yet.  Touching faith, no?

Ottobre 6/2016. Charlotte wants the one on the right. Johnny will get the one on the left.

I had in mind regular top-and-bottom trousers, but upon being shown the potential selection in the recent kids Ottobre, she picked a long all-in-one pyjama.

I need hardly tell you that obviously I do not have enough fabric to make a long Elsa and Anna all-in-one.  Because I am thrifty and bought 70cm, which is REALLY enough to make a REGULAR pyjama.  I told her this and the tears ran freely.  I am attempting an all-in-one in a different fabric.  The tears ran freely at this suggestion also, since the STUPID fabric I am making them from was something she had picked out last MONTH and not at all suitable for NOW. Fortunately she is not really this spoiled, just disappointed, and will be perfectly happy with the all-in-one in the pretty little house jersey. Of course I shall also have to make the Elsa and Anna fabric TOO, probably a nightgown and leggings.  And Johnny came up and demanded his Sven and Olaf pair – he tried to wear the fabric to bed.

Cocktail dress, I banish you from my mind.  All is pyjama from now until the weekend.  At least three pair.  And THIS is why I can’t have nice things.

Working on a cocktail dress – Burda 3/2008-102B and 120

My husband is going to take me out to Stockholm for a weekend in December.  We’re staying at a luxury hotel and will be eating nice food and going out.  Most of my wardrobe consists of casual work clothes, not going out to dinner clothes, although they will do in a pinch.  So I got the urge to make a cocktail dress.  For some reason I had a plain short dress in mind, but scouting through my reliable Ottobres revealed mostly casual work clothes (must be why I love them so much…).  What I wanted was Burda.  Now if you recall I have just tidied my sewing room and my Burda collection was among the things that didn’t make the cut.  But I kept a couple of issues, and in the 3/2008 issue I found what I wanted.

Burda 3/2008-102 and 120, “Mia Farrow” style wedding ensemble. Only, you know, I’m not Mia Farrow nor am I getting married.

This is a two piece ensemble, a shift dress plus jacket.  The dress has no waist seam but it does have princess lines in the front and a fisheye dart in the back.

Line drawings. View A is awesome and has (drumroll) POCKETS. But I didn’t think I should add pockets to a cocktail dress, so I skipped them. The view A yoke is topstitched and there are buckles on the straps.

I cut a 42 on top and graded out to a 44 at the bottom.  I’m bigger than a 44 on the bottom so I knew I would be making more alterations.  What I did was mark hiplines 9 inches below the waistline (thank you burda for marking the waistline) and then measure the circumference of the skirt there.  I needed an extra 5 inches all round.  The 2 1/2 inches on the front were easily added at the princess seams and side seams – 7/16, more or less, on each of the princess seams and 7/8 on each side seam.  But adding 2 1/2″ invisibly to the back had me stumped for a while.  You can’t just add 1 1/4 inches at the side seam and call it done,and the centre back seam needed to be more or less straight because there’s a zipper. Then I remembered the dart.   I shifted the whole side out and added another dart of 7/8″ more or less at the waist to make up for the excess at that level.  I’ll try to take a picture (forgot) but it worked really well.

On my mannequin, which is a merely decorative piece as yet and so the dress is much too big. But, you can clearly see it is a knee-length dress – here the picture in the magazine is not at all representative. I used ribbon for the straps, why not.

I basted the whole thing together and tried it on.  November is Fix Your Fitting Equipment Month and man, I could use it!  My dress form is just a mannequin, relatively unpinnable and certainly the wrong shape, and I can’t find my camera tripod.  So I have a single full-length mirror (in my daughter’s room).  Nevertheless I could immediately see a few things.  First, the bodice was a perfect fit.  Thank you Burda!  Second, the skirt was – weird and puffy looking.  I had added too much fabric to the bottom.  I took in the princess panels and side seams on the front – probably half the initial paper alteration.  The back was more difficult.  There was both excess fabric in above my rear and something funny going on just at the seat.  I altered the shape of the fisheye darts, taking up more fabric toward the lower end.  It was mostly a good fit but the rear grainline tilted up.  As with an FBA for the bust, if you have a full rear you need not only more width but also more length to go over the curve. Like this.  Two pictures below to illustrate.

Paper doll pattern for a doll without shoulders? The hortizontal line is the hipline, the darts are biggest at the waistline.
Slash at the hipline and add extra length at the CB. True the back seam and draw a new grainline.

I can test this by adding in a strip of cloth although the final grainline will be different so it won’t hang exactly right.  If the alteration is small enough, as you can see from the second photo you can take it out of the side seam allowance at the back of the skirt – essentially you may a more A-line skirt back (which probably explains why some so-called a-line skirts look like straight skirts on me).  I might try that first with my muslin since cutting and adding strips of fabric is not my idea of a good time.

So basically the fit is now good and I just need this final tweak to the skirt back before I am ready to go.

The fabric I am using was another choice – I have at least five fabrics I could use for this.  But last night I looked through them all and decided on a Wedgwood blue satin, which is a beautiful colour on me and pretty glam.  I’ll cover the yoke, the jacket, and the dress with a lovely black silk organza embroidered cutout fabric that my sister found somewhere and sent to me.  The transparency at cutouts mute the stark effect of the black but it adds glamour.  The jacket I can see being wearable with other things too.

And, to reward you for reading this long post, a picture of the river this morning.

Klarälven 7:33 am, 10 November 2016.

Plans for upcoming winter sewing

From November to January I sew a winter wardrobe along the 6PAC guidelines.  Winter in my part of Sweden is not super-cold, but it definitely calls for wool and layers.  In addition to sewing  this time of the year is characterised by stocking up on tights and camisoles to form under layers.

The six garments that are the basis of the winter wardrobe are two layers, two tops, and two bottoms.   This winter, I really want a nice handmade winter coat, so that is on my list in the form of the Anne Klein peacoat pattern for Vogue.   I have a dark navy melton which will be perfect, and a quilted black lining fabric for extra heft.  I have the pattern and fabric, but haven’t begun yet.

V1467. This is actually a lightweight pattern but I’m going to modify it to be less of a jacket and more of a coat.  There’s a sew-along running where the leaders did this modification, fortunately.  And, my buttons are not as shiny.

My second layer is a black cashmere knitted sleeveless jumper from a pattern by Pierrot patterns.  I’ve knitted a gauge swatch for this and have to recalculate the whole thing which has slowed me down, but, in theory at least, I have the pattern and yarn for this.

The Aurora vest. Pierrot is a Japanese brand and the charted patterns they have are ideal for converting to machine-knitting. I’m using Rowan Finest cashmere yarn in “Spell” (black, to you and me).

Then I’ll be trying to follow Kate from Fabrickated’s tutorial on how to make a Vivienne-Westwood type skirt in a grey wool plaid I’ve had forever (see here and here).  This will also force me to pad out my fitting dummy, which is something that’s sorely needed.

My second bottom is a pair of dark navy lined wool trousers from an Ottobre pattern.  These are cut and partially assembled, although I have neglected them.  They should really have been in the autumn collection….  I post no picture since they are really just ordinary trousers.

Then a couple of tees form the final two pieces.  I want these to be easy.  I plan to do them in burgundy and blue.  I need to buy the blue fabric, but otherwise I have the fabric for all the pieces already in the stash.  These are saddle-shouldered tees.  I have the fortune to possess a very square pair of shoulders which look fantastic in raglan and saddle styles.

I’ll sew in outfits, so the first will be the trousers, the blue tee, and the coat.  Then the skirt, the burgundy tee, and the black vest.

(I may have got slightly distracted in terms of the order of the pieces by trying to make a cocktail dress as an extra…)

Things I make, and things I think


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