Wednesday, June 27, 2007

How Not to Machine Knit

Machine knitting seemed like a faster way to turn baby / sport yarn into Project Linus blankets than hand knitting or crocheting. I took yarn on my vacation last month and planned to use one of Wanda's knitting machines. A good opportunity to learn the basics of machine knitting.

After we went to the Fiber Arts Fiesta, Wanda set up a knitting machine on the kitchen counter. We threaded the machine and attempted to set the tension. The dial would not turn. We read the manual. We tried this and that. The tension dial would not turn. The machine had not been used since it was disassembled and cleaned. Maybe it was reassembled wrong.

Out comes the service manual. We take the carriage off the machine bed and start disassembling. We're not finding anything. Read the service manual. Look at the machine. Read the service manual. Poke at the machine. Not a clue.

We try to put the machine back together. It doesn't want to go back together. We give up. I start consolidating what parts I can, so there is less to keep track of. Put screws back in the holes. Put the knob back on the dohickey without the putting the cam on first. Now the tension knob turns the way it should! Houston, we have a clue!

The cam that slips over the dohickey and sits under the tension knob was not all the way to the bottom of the dohickey like it needed to be. A spring-lever fits against the side of the cam. It's very hard to get the cam down to the slot in the spring-lever. It's impossible to get the cam past the slot in the spring-lever.

Half an hour later, I finally managed to slip a long skinny screwdriver through a teeny-tiny hole, lever the immovable spring-lever a micro-millimeter to the left and push the cam past the slot in the spring-lever. To do that, I had to squint, hold my breath, cross my eyes, fingers and toes, and stand on my head.

With the machine reassembled and a working tension dial, we cast on a few stitches and make a small swatch. Looks good. Cast on the full width of the machine bed and knit a couple of rows. We're skipping stitches at the beginning of the row. Start over with few stitches to make sure the carriage clears the needles at the end of each row.

Still problems with skipped stitches. I realize that there is slack in the yarn at the beginning of the row. The yarn stand is in the middle of the machine bed and the mechanism that keeps the slack out of the yarn doesn't work well when the carriage is at end of the bed. The solution is to manually pull up the slack yarn as you start each row.

Now we're knitting away. Made it through the first blanket. We used a heavier yarn for the second blanket. After manually knitting some skipped stitches in the middle of a row, the carriage jammed in the middle of the next row.

Uh-oh! What do I do now? Fortunately, the instruction manual covers this. Release the carriage and manually unknit the partial row. Then dial back the punch card and reread the last line of the pattern before resuming knitting at the proper point in the pattern.

I knitted the third blanket in 6 row wide stripes. More than once, I got carried away and knitted 6 ½, 7, or 10 rows in the same color. I became rather adept at unknitting and resetting the pattern.

Stay tuned for pictures of the blankets.

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