Autoknitter!

Yesterday’s post office run netted me my birthday present from Chad: 2 boxes that came to me from Amelia Garripoli, of The Bellwether. What’s in them? Well, she decided to sell off some of her circular sock machines, and I was lucky enough to score her Autoknitter with 60, 80, and 100 needle cylinders, and the ribbers that match, and a full range of accessories and tools that go with it. She said of it:

#1) Autoknitter, very good condition, and I will include new needles
in addition to the needles that I put in new when I got it. Includes:
Machine with ribber
Cylinders: 60, 80, and 100 (!!)
Ribber plates: 30, 40, and 50 !!
2 wooden bobbin-things that stand on their own to hold yarn,
and a bobbin winder with its working leather cord
metal set-up basket and machine-knit setup bonnets for all 3 cylinders
(great for holding the ribber plates!)
one of my faux-replacement-buckles, your choice, acrylic or wood,
and one of the large blue pins I use for hanging the weights, along
with a “weight stack”. Heel pin (two-ended thingie).
Various other tools & goodies as I sort through the machines so you
have a complete, working setup — just bring yarn, tabletop, and oil.
This is a working machine, I’ve been using it this week in fact.
Autoknitter manual copy included.

And to my surprise, several very nice skeins of sock yarn, in appropriate thicknesses for each cylinder, with notes reading “Happy Birthday.” I don’t even have to haul out my commercial yarn storage bins and find sock yarn. 😉

Amelia packed this treasure meticulously, and with the kind of thoughtfulness that only another fiber nerd could appreciate. Every bubble-wrapped object is carefully labelled; the first thing evident when opening box #1 was a large envelope including a copy of the original manual, entitled The Auto Knitter Instruction Book – Better than a Hundred Hands. It only gets better from there; Amelia meticulously tagged and labeled every single object. There is a very real possibility, as I’m unpacking this, that I could actually be doing things with it before the day is over.

Anybody wondering whether or not to buy a used item from Amelia or The Bellwether can absolutely rest assured they’ll be getting exactly what she says, or better. I’m positively delighted. I don’t think I have ever bought a piece of used equipment — let alone a working museum piece such as this — and been so satisfied! I’ve bought brand-new modern things that were less ready to go, less well-packed, and less well-labelled.

****3 hours elapsed***

Manual cover

As is typical for manuals and instructions from before, say, WWII, it explains things very well, but makes assumptions about what you know — whereas modern instructions, of course, assume you know nothing, and couldn’t pour, er, liquid out of a boot with instructions printed on the heel, as you’d need instructions to tell you which one is the heel and how to get to the instructions there printed. Most of the time, I dislike modern instructions — but on the other hand, this Autoknitter is a tricky beast. In about three hours, I made it to page 9 in the manual, and I’m not that bad in terms of mechanical aptitude.

4 hours in, I managed to get the set-up bonnet onto the thing and ready to go… and in the first round cranking, blew that, due to poor positioning of the carrier that goes around the outside, resulting in exactly 2 stitches getting knit. Well, I thought, perhaps some will pick up if I do one more round, slow and careful… HAH! It took about 20 minutes to remove all of that, and another 20 to get the bonnet on again. I spent another 2 hours on 3 more tries, all unsuccessful; I could get the setup bonnet on, but actually getting functional knitting to happen eluded me within 2 rounds. Taking tangled blown knitting OFF the thing is rather time-consuming.

After taking a break for dinner, I relocated from my office, where I’d unpacked the machine, to the evening tv-watching zone and spent the remainder of the evening familiarizing myself with it. I successfully made the scrap yarn make a tube! And then when I added in less-scrappy yarn in the same grist, well, it turns out to have been somewhat denser than the scrap yarn and I didn’t adapt in time, and so I wound up with wasteful tangle again.

Thinking it over, I decided to move to a slightly thinner yarn — some Norwegian Sport Wool from elann.com that I’d had in my stash for probably 5 years. This yarn being enough thinner than either of the previous yarns, it required me to work on better understanding the tension apparatus than I previously had, which resulted in me and Chad both going over diagrams in the manual to really grasp it, assorted tinkering and fine adjustments being tried, me improving my speed at putting on the setup bonnet in quite a substantial way, and finally, a 50 gram white tube, with dropped stitches and varying problems I’d worked around or corrected as I was able to see how to correct. I took a picture, and Chad ripped it for me and wound it back onto one of the large bobbins, while I took a break.

I reknit that same tube, with some problems each time, 3 times before the night was over, and learned a ton!

My first attempts are far denser than I’d like. Per the manual, this is due to me pulling really hard, or heavily weighting, the work; but if I ease back on that, I get stitches not being made. There are clearly delicate fine adjustments, and elements of having a feel for things, which will take time. This is definitely one of those things, like weaving, where setup being done well is key to success — and it’s hard to know whether or not you’ve done set-up well when you have no experience with the thing! With weaving, I started weaving at age 5, but didn’t learn to warp and tie heddles until I was 8 (fairly typical), and then it was at least a year before I was consistently able to warp really consistently and tie really good heddles — which were still not as good, nor done as fast, as those done by adult master weavers. I was 10 years old, 5 years into learning to be a weaver, and about halfway through the progression of pattern-learning and so forth, before I was really good enough at setup to be able to do it fast enough and consistently enough to be put to work doing things like workshop setup for my parents’ workshops; for teaching purposes, setup had to be really, really perfect.

There’s a pretty steep learning curve here, even for someone with a broad range of textile expertise. I expect my newbie learning stages will last far longer than they would have to if I had an expert handy to teach me about this apparatus in person. At this stage of the game, I don’t have any idea how long it’ll be before I proceed from one phase or another; I may well be in “working on making a good tube” for quite a while.

First tube!

For today’s adventures with the autoknitter, I’ve resolved to simply not care at all about the fabric being too tightly knit or too dense, and to work on a few seemingly-simple basics:

  • Set-up bonnet speed (I’m using a knitted setup bonnet kindly provided by Amelia), evenness, and neatness; getting that first round knitted.
  • Knitting a distance with waste yarn, then changing to the non-waste yarn, without blowing the tension
  • Getting the buckle or clips on right, and weights attached

If, by the end of today’s autoknitter time, I’m able to consistently get a good tube with NO problems in it like dropped stitches, changing from scrap yarn to not-scrap, I’m going to feel very positive about my accomplishments.

I’m not going to worry about the quality of the fabric with respect to density; I’m not remotely close to thinking about the ribber; I’m not ready to think about going bidirectionally with the machine, as required for heels and toes.

I will make concerted efforts to document what’s going on and the problems as I encounter them, however; that way perhaps expert CSM folks can look at my pictures and say “Simple fix, n00b! Lern 2 crank!”

On several occasions last night, I found myself thinking, “Man, my handspun yarn really would be easier to work with than this commercial yarn.” Why? I’m splitting the commercial yarn more than I’d like to be, and I know my 2-ply handspuns aren’t so splitty. Minor adjustments to the carrier eliminated most of them — but I’m still getting a few splits and they’re nigh impossible to see as they happen.

Auto Knitter Photo Gallery

One thought on “Autoknitter!

  1. Hi, if this is anything like learning to use a regular knitting machine (and I’m pretty sure it is) the learning curve is very steep and what you’re experiencing is the norm.

    I took classes and still had an awful time with it. That balance between enough and not enough weight is a delicate one, but the truth is that if you’re getting a too heavy fabric it’s probably because you have it set up for finer yarn than you’re using, not that the weight is too much. Look at the different cylinders and the tension settings–they will govern the fabric density.

    With a regular knitting machine it’s hard to put on too much weight and adding more weight would make the fabric slightly less dense, not more dense.

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