machine knitting- I DID IT!

So this weekend I got the chance to go to a machine knitting workshop: thank the lord, I thought! I have a knitting machine that lurks in my spare room, sad, neglected and guilt-inducing. It looks like a prototype that NASA rejected because it was made entirely of beige plastic and random bits of wire. It would be a lot less intimidating if it wasn’t older than me, but it is, and the instructions really show it. I found it fiddly to set up and difficult to use properly, so after making a few attempts I pretty much just ignored it. A workshop seemed like a great way to learn to use it properly; sometimes things are just impossible (or so difficult that I give up, so I count that as impossible) to learn from leaflets, and you need a person there to help you. That person in my case was Kate (founder of Oubas Knitwear) who runs workshops in Halecat, Witherslack.

The setting is beautiful: stone buildings in the middle of fields, with the original Georgian building of Halecat House just up the road. It was interesting just to see inside the workshop of a knitwear business and admire the yarn stash! The knitting machines were set out in a square so it felt fairly communal, and there were cups of tea and coffee all round. Kate had cast on so that in the morning we concentrated on getting used to using the machine and experimenting with tension and simple stitches. It made a big difference to how confident I felt using the machine, I imagine in the same way it’d be a lot easier to learn to use a sewing machine if you didn’t personally have to set it up yourself. (The seventeen different places you have to loop and dip the thread on a sewing machine always seemed like a really complicated, unknowable ritual to me).

Turns out that it’s much easier than I thought to machine knit. When we’d gotten used to playing around with the tension (which creates a subtle stripe pattern) we moved on to lace and tuck stitches. This is a tuck stitch:

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Tucks are created by picking up a single stitch and hooking it onto the current stitches waiting to be knit (I’m sure there’s more technical language to describe this but hey) . At the top of the fabric you can see where I made diagonal tucks by moving them a few stitches to the right or the left when I joined them. I love the effect this has! The other women in the workshop did some awesome things with larger tucks (where you pick up stitches from much further down your knitting) which created a really slouchy, textured fabric.

Lace stitches are also easy to do once you get the hang of moving the stitches about. In handknitting you would knit two stitches together and create a yarn-over, but in machine knitting you only need to knit two stitches together (by moving a stitch from one needle to another) and the machine just knits right across. After lunch (mainly ginger cake and coffee for me, provided by Kate) we learnt how to cast on and off ourselves. This is the MAIN thing I wanted to learn, and now I do actually feel confident doing it. Huzzah, hurray, etc. All of us were at completely different levels of competence but Kate led us all through in logical stages and was there to help if we needed it, or leave us be if we were happy knitting. One woman managed to finish a scarf by the end of the day!

In the following photo, the swatch on the right is lace stitches (and a ladder, which is an easy extension of the original lace stitch). The left swatch shows tuck stitches, and the middle swatch shows my personal BIG ACHIEVEMENT….shaping!

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It’s true. I can officially increase and decrease on a knitting machine.  I could practically knit a jumper right frigging now! There is NOTHING holding me back!

…except that my machine at home is nowhere near as easy to use as Kate’s. I know I’m being a bad workman and blaming my tools, but the fact is that at this workshop I was able to make fabric that doesn’t look like a pile of spaghetti down the side. This has never been achieved at home. Luckily Kate has experience restoring old machines (erm, they are basically all old btw. Good luck finding a new one. THERE IS A GAP IN THE MARKET MANUFACTURERS, HELLOOOOOOO!) and told me that she had the same issue and it was solved by replacing a sponge bar (didn’t even know my machine had a sponge bar) and you can buy kits to do this on ebay. So not only did I learn how to do the basics of machine knitting but I also got a tip on how to fix my home machine. Definitely worth the money and a trip to Witherslack!

the slippers are dead- long live the slippers!

Have you ever heard that joke? I remember being really confused when attending a folk camp and someone was talking about their local pub, the King’s Head, being closed down. But, they said, there was another pub called the King’s Arms down the road that they were going to transfer to. ‘So it’s a case of ‘the king’s dead, long live the king!” he shouted out to rapturous applause. Apparently it’s down to the continuous nature of the monarchy- as soon as one King dies, another is created instantaneously. The people announcing the death of one monarch would immediately proclaim the new one in the same breath. I imagine this was reassuring to people who wanted the stability and reassurance that a smooth succession would bring in times when the monarchy held absolute power, and that is also how I feel about my slippers. They are totally necessary to the daily functioning of my life, and reassuring to someone such as me who has the same body temperature as a particularly chilly lizard.

 

So, when one pair of slippers begins to decline, it’s time to make a new pair.

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These gorgeous fox slippers have served me well, and lasted about three years. That does include a change of soles though- as you can see in the above photo with the slightly less felted patch of stockinette over my toes. Also one eye and ear is going wonky, but hey, it gave them character!

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The pattern is ‘Step Softly’ by Birch Hollow Cottage, made with aran yarn. I used Drops Peru which felted nicely, except for the white colourway which I suppose was too heavily dyed to felt as well as the orange. The pattern itself made a very wide style of slipper that I didn’t really like, so I ended up cutting slits out of the sides and sewing them up to make a more fitted style. However this is totally down to personal preference, and a more experienced knitter would probably be able to alter the pattern if they wanted a thinner foot. This was my first introduction to felting from a knitted product so I had no idea how to do this at the time!

Looking at Birch Hollow Cottage on Ravelry I see that these kind of cute, wildlife-inspired designs are definitely her thing, so have a look at the other patterns if you are the kind of knitter that appeals to! (I definitely am).

 

As for me, I am working on the birth of a new pair of slippers to ensure a smooth transition when my foxes finally retire.

wash day

the weather was absolutely gorgeous here today (northern England) so I thought I might as well make use of the sun for something other than cultivating my freckles. sunny day means WASH DAY!

I had an absolutely massive stash of socks awaiting washing, two sinks full.

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I really like seeing the variety of the socks I’ve made. I can see:

socks made from my Christmas present, the Socksyeah! book by Rachel Coopey.

aran socks from a pattern by Emma Wright, my absolute favourite boot socks ever

socks made from yarn I dyed in a gradient

socks I cast-on on holiday, absolutely desperate to have a knitting project to do

etc etc. it reminds me of how much every knitting project is linked to a certain time and place and can bring back memories every time you look at it or wear it. You don’t get that with store-bought socks!

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playing (and losing at) yarn chicken

 

It’s the CIRRRRCCCCCLE of LIFFFFFEEEEEE!

You buy yarn, to begin a new project.

You run out of yarn mid-way through, so you have to buy some more.

You finish the project, but still have some yarn left over.

AND THE CYCLE BEGINS AGAIN!

Currently I am stuck at the ‘running out yarn mid-way through’ point, as shown in the photo. I’m just starting re-joining in the round after the heel flap on the second sock, and I have totally run out of one of the colours.

One of the things I really liked about this book of patterns (Socks Yeah! by Rachel Coopey) is that the cover photo shows the endless balls of random bits of yarn that we all get left with, and the patterns seem to be designed to use up these little bits. OR SO I THOUGHT! What if the truth is something more sinister? What if Rachel Coopey has actually cunningly designed these socks in order to constantly keep her knitting fans stuck in the circle of yarn chicken. You THINK that you’re sensibly using up odds and ends, but in reality all you’re doing is leading to another purchase of yarn when you inevitability run out part-way through.

They are GORGEOUS though.

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So I don’t begrudge my knitting addiction keeping me trapped in this cycle…too much 😉

Yarn: Coopknits SocksYeah! by Fyberspates in Benitolite, Sphene, and Kunzite

Pattern: Twylla in Coopknits SocksYeah! Volume 1.

 

 

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