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

Productivity Report, 3 Jan 2007

  • Uploaded photos, cropped, edited, updated blog, 1 hour.
  • Made list of drafts to write in January, roughed out outlines for three of them; 90 minutes.
  • Cleaned the drum carder. Medium cleaning, not a super-deep clean, but beyond just cleaning the drums. 30 minutes.
  • Did 2 blends to use up bombyx silk seconds (the top got ratty in the dyeing process). Documented blending of varying-staple-length fibers for future article on the subject. Put up these two blends in smaller twists. About 4 hours.
    Superfine merino, camel down, and bombyx silk blend
  • Packed and shipped 3 boxes, made post office run; 40 minutes.
  • Spun and plied 95-yard 3-ply sample skein for Jade Sweater; skeined it and washed it; 90 minutes. To be swatched in the coming week or so, so that the rest of the yarn can be spun. Documented process in digital photos.
    Sample Yarn for Jade Sweater
  • Knit a while on the back of the Purple Slate Sweater, finishing waist shaping and reaching about an inch shy of the start of the armscye. About 3 hours.
    Back of the sweater, 3 Jan 2007

Total time for 3 Jan 2007: about 12 hours if you count the evening’s knitting and spinning, 7.5 hours if you don’t.

My personal rating of the day’s productivity: low to medium, still not back in the swing of things.

My son came home from school with a piece he’d written in class that day, which read as follows:

My favorite holiday memory was when I recived my 3-D puzzle Globe. I gave my family more time together, because my mom is busy “comanding” her buisness (frankamont fibers) and my buisness.

I was really charmed by this one (and patted myself and his dad on the back mentally, for giving him the shorter of our two last names instead of the impossible-to-spell one). He went with me on the post office run, and was a huge help at the supermarket afterwards. I suspect I’ll be thinking of myself as “commanding” my business from here on out, and grinning. As to commanding the manchild’s business, make no mistake — my better half does more than his fair share of that.

The two main blends I did, a pink one and a purple one, are impossible to photograph well without sunlight. Grrr. I really want some real sunlight! I know, I know, wrong time of year, and really what I should be seeking out is a solution to the lighting problem in general. Flash photos, and bulb-lit photos, of anything with a lot of silk in it, just come out awful.

Purple Slate Yarn
The Purple Slate Sweater is working up nice and quick, which was the point of the “big needle” project (supposing you figure US 6 /4mm needles are big) and gauge seems to be spot on; but I’m a little concerned I may run shorter of yarn than I really want. So I drafted an alternative version of the pattern as well, this one featuring a low scoop neck and sleeves closer to half-sleeve than 3/4. I really will be annoyed if I run short; the old pattern I’d drafted and lost, I was pretty confident about. I’ll take stock when I’m done with the back, as it being a raglan that’ll be something like 3/8 of the yarn needed, depending on how long I make the sleeves… if I’m going to run short at that point, I’ll have to change it to a short sleeve, which I’d rather not do, or come up with a way to work in a complementary, but different, yarn (since the 846 yards of this one is all there is or can be).

I’m still undecided about the pattern to decorate the raglan lines — well, other than being certain it’ll have nothing to do with cables, since I’m concerned about my yarn quantity!

As for the sample yarn, I’d purchased a pound and a half, maybe 2 pounds, of a 90’s grade green merino top a while ago, with intent to spin myself a sweater yarn from it, but it’s been sitting unspun for at least a year. Maybe two. And about 18 months ago I’d picked up 8 ounces of a sort of clovery merino-tencel. Sometime last, oh, February or so, the thought had occurred to me that those two would potentially complement each other nicely and it would let me work the merino/tencel into another sweater, since I was liking it as an element in the Purple Slate yarn. So I dug the two out and set to sampling.

Green superfine merino, bluer merino/tencel

Originally I’d been thinking 2 plies of the merino, one ply of the merino/tencel, but then I felt like that would just sort of overwhelm the merino tencel entirely, give no real variegation or interest to the yarn other than the minimal marled effect, and so maybe instead, I might do a single that went back and forth between being merino and merino/tencel, a single of merino, and a single of merino/tencel. That’s what I sampled for last night, and while it looks pretty in the skein, I don’t know — it might still overwhelm the sheen from the merino/tencel blend, and it’s hard to say. It’ll have to be swatched. And I may have spun the sample skein too fine, as usual. It’s finer than the Purple Slate yarn. I don’t know that I have any great inclination to knit a biggish sweater from yarn that fine, but it remains to be seen how the swatching goes. It’s entirely possible I’ll end up saying, nope, just spin up the merino, and the merino/tencel separately, they don’t really work together all that amazingly well. I do want a whole sweater from merino/tencel 3-ply. I have made that decision. Not this clovery colour though. Something else. I’ll have to shop for it.

Well, I’m off to the post office — I happen to know there’s a pair of exciting boxes waiting there for me to pick up! They’ll contain my new (to me) fully restored circular sock machine! And that will doubtless consume my entire day.

Productivity Report, 2 Jan 2007

  • Spun on spindle while waiting at the periodontist; about 20-30 minutes in the waiting room. I could have spun a lot more but I had no idea I was going to wind up just sitting and waiting as much as I did once I was actually in the chair, so my bag with my spinning was all the way across the room and I was stuck reading magazines.
  • Packed and shipped 5 boxes of stuff sold over the weekend.
  • Put up about 3 pounds of handpainted and hand-dyed bombyx silk in one-ounce lots from a dye day in December; about 40 minutes. Still to go: 2-3 pounds of tussah silk. Then both piles need to be tagged and inventoried and photographed, then those photos cropped and put online; probably this evening I’ll do the tussah and maybe the tagging. Then if it’s sunny in the morning, find a good spot with good light to take photos. My office works well for this in the mornings, though this time of year, good natural light is just horribly hard to find.
  • 45 minutes, about half a repeat, on the cashmere scarf; but then I decided I just really needed to give myself a break from small and fiddly and do something with needles that exceed the 3mm range.
  • Came to grips with the fact that I’d lost the pattern I wrote for a 900-yard pullover, and ripped the completed back so that it could have a new shot in a new pattern. About 15 minutes.
  • Roughed in a new pullover pattern; about 45 minutes
  • Started on the back, finishing the ribbing and a few inches other than that; about 3 hours.
    One evening's knitting on the Purple Slate Sweater
  • First set of test photos for “how to knit on” taken.

During the day, I typically engage in strictly work productivity, while evenings allow for personal non-work fiber stuff. It’s always a challenge to balance various types of productivity, too: there’s packing, shipping, inventory management, supply chain management (hah! that really means, “Crap, I’m almost out of silk again, I’d better buy some before I really am”), pricing, marketing, writing ad copy, dealing with correspondence… and that could be a whole job all by itself, if I let it! But there’s also dyeing, blending, spinning, testing patterns, and product development

December was a horror for me in terms of getting anything done, since I spent half of it Vicodined to the gills due to the aforementioned dental purgatory, which at least is winding down now. My third grader goes back to school tomorrow and between that and being done with the worst of the dental stuff, work productivity should start coming back to the levels I’d managed to settle on in October and November, which were solid levels of production in my opinion. I’ll definitely lose a few days to this whole periodontal surgery thing, but hopefully nothing like December.

I did manage to get a fair amount of writing done in December, which was a big missing piece that needed to be fit into my overall fiber work life; I’m not going to write December off as having been totally unproductive! My half-hitch article (which was written and finished in November) went online in Spindlicity, and I finished up my article about spindle plying on the go, which should be making its appearance soon in another fine online publication. I’m trying to set a goal for myself of getting at least one draft per week for fiber articles of various types; this obviously doesn’t mean all of those will be publication-grade, but I need to bring some focus and discipline to my fiber writing (a purpose this blog is intended to work towards as well).

For January, leaving aside sick days, I’m figuring on something like this for a division of work:

  • Production: 12-24 hours
  • Operations: 10-12 hours
  • Development: 12-20 hours

Total work hours in a typical week: 32 – 56.

Production is things like dyeing silk, or producing yarn and fiber for sale.

Operations is stuff like packing, shipping, inventory, accounting, routine correspondence.

Development is writing, patterns, product testing, market research, and some correspondence.

Both production and development have strong risks of slopping over into my personal life; in some cases this is acceptable and in other cases, it’s not — but that’s a whole new range of stuff to talk about, best left for another day. For now, suffice it to say I’m figuring a slack week is 30-some-odd hours of work, a busy week maybe as much as 60; with average weeks somewhere in the “around 40 work hours” range. The big tricky issue for me, really, is how to limit time and be focused; I have a tendency to just work nonstop, whatever I’m doing, and that’s what needs controlling most in my life.

Drop Spindle Plying On The Go: More Plying Tricks from the Andes

These days in the modern world, where spinners have access to a wide range of tools, plying on a drop spindle is sometimes rejected and thought of as slow or cumbersome. We also sometimes tend to think of plying as very tool-dependent, seeking out lazy kates, tensioning devices, and so forth. While useful (and in the case of some plying techniques, all but indispensable), these tools can also be limiting, and nothing equals the freedom of being able to take your plying with you.

In the Peruvian Andes, traditional spinners use drop spindles exclusively, achieving very high levels of productivity with very simple tools, including at times no tools other than hands and existing yarn. All spinning, and all plying, take place on drop spindles, commonly while walking from place to place. As a girl, I learned numerous yarn management techniques which can greatly speed up — and liberate — your spindle plying. Even though my modern life in the United States includes a wide range of tools, there are plenty of times when I choose a heavy plying spindle over anything else. Sometimes, this is because of unparalleled portability; other times, it’s because I don’t want to be limited by bobbin size. And at times, drop spindle plying has saved me tons of work, or outright disaster, on a yarn I didn’t think was ever going to see a spindle. You can read about one such incident here: http://www.abbysyarns.com/wordpress/?p=14

Making your plying portable starts with freeing yourself from the bobbin or full spindles. Without needing to ply from bobbins or spindles, you no longer need a tool to manage those, such as a lazy kate. The well-accepted technique of plying from both ends of a center-pull ball is one way to do it, but many spinners agree this doesn’t work ideally for all yarns, and isn’t ideally transportable. The solution for a 2-ply yarn: simple! Just take both ends of the center-pull ball, and rewind them together into a new ball. You could do it as a center-pull ball, or as an outer-feed ball. I like to use Peruvian-style ball winding techniques, which produce a firm ball that keeps active singles under tension and, having courses, allows you to secure a ball to your clothing with a safety pin (for example) for worry-free transport of your unplied yarn.

Traditionally in the Andes, when a spinner has a full cop on a spindle ready to be plied, one of two things happens: first, you actually have two full spindles. Due to the design of the Andean Pushka spindle, with a pointed shaft bottom, the most traditional thing to do is plant those ends firmly in the ground, spindle shafts vertical, and take both ends from the spindles and wind them into a 2-stranded ball. Yarn slips neatly off the end of the shaft without issue. Although Andean weaving yarns are all traditionally 2-ply yarns, you can use this technique with any pointy-bottomed spindle… so long as you have some ground you can jab pointy sticks into, of course! If you live in the rural Andes, you likely do; in the modern first world, you very well may not. In those cases, I do what I’d do if it were raining in Peru and I couldn’t find a good patch of ground: take off my shoes, and put one spindle shaft bottom between each big toe and its immediate neighbour, and use my feet to hold the spindles to wind off of together.

When you get to the end of one of your spindles full of yarn, this is where Andean spinners actually use what US and European spinners now refer to as “Andean Plying” — the bracelet is actually viewed as nothing more than a yarn management technique to simplify finding both ends of a longer length of high-twist yarn than you can reasonably handle without some sort of trick. You then take the end of the fuller spindle, splice it with the end of the shorter one, feed out your “Andean Plying Bracelet,” and finish winding your 2-stranded ball. The bracelet technique is never traditionally used for really full spindles — it is fairly impractical for the volumes of yarn typically packed onto spindles by Andean spinners (commonly several thousand yards of very fine, high-twist yarn). While a very handy trick, it isn’t really viewed as a production technique.

So, what if you only have one full spindle? If you’ve wound your cop well and firmly, and you’re careful, you can slide it off the end of your spindle, find the leader yarn at center and the spun end at the outside, and basically treat it like a center-pull ball. If you are less daring, though, this may be a place to use the Andean bracelet winding technique to wind your 2-stranded ball. It could also be a good time to simply wind a single-stranded ball, very tightly, holding the spun yarn under tension, and then proceed to spin more. I do this if I’m spinning on a spindle that is very lightweight, producing a medium-twist fine yarn or spinning from down fibers; in that case, the added weight of spun fiber can dramatically change how the spindle acts. I also do it if I’m traveling and have only one spindle with me. Eventually, this way you end up with a few single-ply balls stored under tension; and at this point, you can wind one of those together with the yarn that’s on a spindle, together with each other, and so forth.

Next: what if you don’t want to make a 2-ply yarn? No problem — you can wind a ball with as many strands of yarn as you want (though I don’t think I’ve ever done more than seven, and don’t routinely do more than 4). The down side to a 3-ply is that you don’t have a handy trick like the plying bracelet or center-pull winding to easily find 3 ends; so in this case, you need to either work from three spindles or balls or bobbins, winding all at once, or else wind a 2-strand ball and then combine that with a third. You can, of course, for a 4-ply yarn, simply repeat your first and second winds: say you wound a 2-strand center-pull ball — now take both ends of that, in turn, and wind a 4-stranded one.

Okay, so why would you do all this winding and rewinding? Well, consider plying directly from spindles and bobbins, and the yarn management issues you can run into with tension and so forth; and consider what you may have encountered if you ever put down a yarn you were in the middle of plying from a center-pull ball. Winding and rewinding separates the yarn management from the actual plying, and allows you to focus on one at a time. You eliminate problems like uneven wind-on causing uneven wind-off and backspinning bobbins or breaking yarn. You have an additional opportunity to correct any undiscovered flaws in the single, with quick splicing and so forth. Lastly, you wind up with something you really can put down, carry around, throw in a bag, and so on.

That said, there are some things to be aware of when winding a multi-stranded ball. The first is what Quechua-speaking Andean spinners refer to as a ch’oro — a Quechua word for something which is off-center, out of balance, or uneven. If one of your strands is looser than the other(s), you get an uneven ply — sometimes even with a little tag hanging off the side, where one ply has corkscrewed up on itself! You have to be vigilant, as you are winding, to be sure you’re winding fairly evenly. But it doesn’t generally matter if some twist sneaks into the yarn as you’re winding — after all, you’re getting it ready to be plied, and most of the time, you can just pass by that and keep winding without any real unevenness happening. Just watch (and feel!) for the real ch’oro, and fix it as you are winding your ball.

With your multi-strand ball wound, simply take the end from which you plan to ply (I use the outside of a tightly-wound Peruvian-style ball), attach it to your spindle as you desire, and ply away! You can put the ball in a bag, a loose pocket, a bowl on the floor if you aren’t going anywhere, or (assuming it’s a Peruvian-style ball), put a safety pin through the ball several courses below the working outermost course, and pin it to your clothing — I routinely do this by pinning to a belt loop on my jeans. You can feed quite a bit of yarn from courses outside of the point where the safety pin is, and then simply move to a newer, more inward course when you reach the pin. And with a Peruvian ball, when you get down to the very end, where the ball is light, you’ll be able to slip the loops of it over your wrist and ply the last little bit from a bracelet without worrying about the lightweight ball bouncing all over the place.

It’s also not uncommon for Andean spinners to wind 2-stranded skeins of yarn, dye the yarn unplied, and then ply it afterwards — often straight from the skein, with the arm of their supply hands through the center of the skein, and the loose skein simply hanging there. Me, I like this method less — it is a little finicky to put down, and unless you’re really careful, it’s too likely to present you with a great opportunity to practice your skein untangling skills (there’s probably an entire article in that subject alone, too!). It’s a common enough sight, and the folks who like to do it that way sure make it look easy, but take my word for it: it’s not easy.

Andean spinners have several more tricks that speed up plying and spinning both — and several tricks generally thought of as silly kid tricks, which are entertaining and sometimes even useful to a degree. The first thing to master is walking your yarn up on the fingers of your supply hand — this allows you to control a longer length of yarn than your armspan, keeping it under tension. The more you can spin or ply between wind-ons, the faster you’ll be. The second, verging on the silly kid tricks, is to ply off a ledge. I used to stand on a balcony, and drop the plying spindle all the way down to the sidewalk below. Girlhood friends and I would ply off Inca terraces. Mind you, with the silly kid trick element here, make sure your half-hitches are good, or you could be chasing your spindle a long way, much to everyone else’s amusement.

You can move twist past your forward hand while plying, with relative ease — simply slide your forward hand back and forth along a foot or two of the yarn you’re plying, and you’ll see twist move past it more than you might have thought! This, too, is key in allowing you to spin or ply longer lengths between wind-ons.

The final speed trick for plying — you could do this for spinning as well but it is riskier in terms of breakage — is to get the spindle spinning by rolling it between your hands (see video). It’s not unlike the popular thigh roll, often used with top whorl spindles, but between your hands. You can spin the spindle in either direction this way, of course — starting with your left hand at the back, and pushing it forward, you will cause a clockwise spin, whereas if you start with the right hand further back and push it forward, your spindle will spin counter-clockwise — same difference as if you were to thigh roll up vs. down your right thigh, or down vs. up your left.

If your plying spindle is not heavy enough to have sufficient momentum to keep spinning long enough to get your desired amount of twist in, walk the yarn up on your fingers, and repeat — you can basically drop the yarn all the way into the spin. Mind you, if you are plying off a balcony, terrace, or substantially raised surface, have a strong yarn if you’re going a long way — otherwise, you can snap it.

I love plying on low whorl, hookless drop spindles weighing upwards of 1.5 ounces / 50 grams. The heavier a spindle, the better it is for plying (taking into consideration other spindle physics premises, of course). Plying on a drop spindle is a terrific way to teach brand new spinners the motions involved in keeping a spindle in motion, how to wind on, and so forth.

Fiber Work List, 1 Jan 2007

  • Got bio and ad to Fiber Femmes, just in time I think!
  • Wound balls:
    • Peach Fuzz
    • Desert Flower Heather
    • Pink Sock
    • Orange Bulky 3-Ply

    …spent 20 minutes doing so, wow!

  • Spun 420 yards falkland/bombyx blend into yarn for felting. 50 minutes, plus 10 to skein and throw in the finishing wash.
  • Most of the rest of the day knitting away on the Desert Flower shawl… like 8 hours, which seems to add up to about 16 rounds. The thing must be bigger than I think it is.


By the time evening rolled around, I was starting to get curious about whether or not I must just be slowing way, way down on the Desert Flower shawl; sometimes that’ll happen to me as I get into the final laps of a lengthy project — not always due to perception, I mean sometimes I really DO slow down. So I counted stitches for a short side and a long side, and concluded that right then, each round on the rectangle was 440 stitches; and every other round, it increases by 8. Then I timed myself knitting a round: 25 minutes.

I reflected on the slowness as I continued, determined to make it to a point where I was going to be working on the final pattern round or, if I opted to extend the particular one I was in, I could refer to the knitted portion rather than a chart, if I needed to check myself. That way, I figured, I could take the thing with me to 2007’s first installment in Abby’s Ongoing Dental Purgatory.

Two major things occurred to me. First, I’d opted for this particular portion of the shawl to be a garter-stitch based Shetland lace pattern with patterning every row, which because I’m working in the round, also requires some fancy footwork to seamlessly hide the turns required because the particular pattern, I know from experience, doesn’t lay right if you don’t really do it turning the piece. With patterning that involves eyelets and careful decreases and that sort of thing on every single row, you also end up with annoyances like the sequence below, contrast enhanced in hopes of making it visible:

Clear as mud? Okay, let’s say you do a yarn over increase on row 247,000 (can you tell I feel like this project has been going on forever?) If row 247,001 were one of those “row 2 and all WS rows: purl” type rows, the appropriate leg of the YO would be sitting where you can easily pick it up purlwise, you’d just purl in that yarn over and then by the time you get to row 247,002 where you have to do a decrease right next to the eyelet a row back, the stitches are lined up in such a manner that they’re fairly easy to slip your working needle in and execute whatever stitch is required.

But, with row 247,001 being a knit row including pattern, by the time that you get to the spot where you’ve got to do a decrease next to a YO, especially if you have lots and lots of stitches on the needles and keep sliding them around a circular, sometimes that yarn over will try to lay across one or more of the stitches next to it in a most annoying fashion. It’s then necessary to separate them a bit so you can get the needle into the correct stitch without snagging that YO and screwing up your eyelet. I wind up doing this by tugging a bit on the knit fabric below the culprit stitches, which makes things pop back into line. But, in this particular pattern, there are so many k2togs right next to a leggy yarn over, my thumb was growing exhausted from constantly having to do what’s shown in the second photo above, to get to the third photo. And that sort of tired thumb situation takes a toll on my left wrist too.

Ergonomically, projects which are all knit rows drive me nuts. I opted to finish only one repeat of that particular pattern, then move to a pattern that isn’t close-worked for the remainder of the shawl, so as to have some merciful, hand-easing rows of 500+ purls. Which seriously are much much faster; I timed myself for a straight purl row once I finished that pattern repeat, and though that row was at least 32 stitches longer and I was more tired, it took only 16 minutes.

The second thing that occurred to me is that it’s harder for me to read the fabric on close-worked patterns (where there’s pattern to be done every row instead of every other row), meaning I have to spend more time counting, checking things carefully, and so forth — whereas with patterns containing an every-other-row-is-plain element (whether in garter or stockinette) I can easily read the knitted fabric as I go and know what has to happen.

Well, time’s running out and I must be off to the dentist. Productivity so far today: none.

Well, so this is 2007! Bring it on!

So far this decade… well, century… hrmmm, milennium at that! I’ve found the even number years to be rough, tough, and challenging, with the odd number years much less eventful. However, I don’t know that I expect 2007 to be uneventful or unchallenging, what with a fledgling business in play now and everything! I’ve got more than a few plans and goals for the coming year, and I’m very much looking forward to 2007 and all it brings.

First up, I decided that for at least one month, I would attempt to document, and put online, everything fiber oriented that I do. Yes, everything! I expect this to actually be trickier than it sounds, as I suspect that there are fiber-oriented things I do which I don’t even notice or remember — sort of like how one doesn’t really notice or remember what t-shirt one was wearing 3-4 days ago, or that one had a snack, or all sorts of little things. I anticipate that I’ll routinely forget that I spun this sample, or tried that blend, or repaired Chad’s hat, or wrote a quick article about something… and I bet even I will be surprised by how much I actually do.

That said, of course, so far this morning of 1 January 2007, I’ve done nothing yet. Well, I guess I did go find a bunch of my old posts about fiber arts, and put them into the archive on this site, while drinking my coffee and doing a year-end/new year email reorganization.

On tap for today, I plan to work more on the Desert Flower shawl, whose purpose is really to be a giant swatch for this yarn, which was spun as an example for the blend next to it, which is for sale on eBay this week. The blend is camel down, silk, merino, and a bit of firestar nylon, and the first big skein — I intended to just swatch one skein — was spun from two batts, preserving colour separation to get an interesting long-repeat self-striping yarn.

The shawl starts with the yellow at the center, and radiates outward through the pink, into the purple at the outside… or that was the plan. But into the purple, I realized I was going to run a little short and this posed a dilemma: run off with another couple of the batts from sales inventory, and spin up just the purple parts, or do something else? In the end, I took one large batt and spun a heathered yarn; so now when it’s all done, the outside edge will be a heather of all the discrete colours in the entire shawl, and a good example piece for how you can do a lot of interesting colour tricks with a multicoloured batt.

The original skein was about 400 yards, and the second is 240. And no, you can’t see any pictures of that yet, because it looks like a giant sack on some 40″ size 3 US Addi circulars! It’s a rectangle, somewhat haphazardly throwing in assorted patterns from Sharon Miller’s Heirloom Knitting, which happens to be the only knitting book I didn’t pack when we moved, leaving it out as a reference while traveling instead. And I haven’t unpacked any of my fiber books yet; I should put up more shelves in either my office or workshop, so I can do that.

Other than that, on the UFO knitting list for the moment, I have a scarf for me from commercial cashmere (Belisa cashmere laceweight yarn I picked up at Stitches West last year) — which among other things, is part of my “achieve peace with pink” goal for my near future: the yarn is variegated salmon pinks to a smoky tan. That one’s just an elaborated print o’ the wave simple one for carrying around places. The toughest part of it so far has been finding a lacy pattern that I felt looked good with the length of the colour repeats. It’s sitting by my slothing chair on a pair of old size 2 straights and I haven’t touched it in probably 2 months.

There’s also the triangle swatch. Urgh! The point of this was to swatch some of my handpaint lace yarns. It’s presently taking up a pair of 40″ size 2 Addis and every day I try to make myself knit a bit more. It’s really going to be a small shawl or large scarf when it’s done, with a falling leaves center that increases as you go up, forming an isosceles right triangle, around the outside of which is an in-the-round… well, in the triangle… lace border which is about to shift back to falling leaves from a more open improvised X’es sort of thing. The “urgh” comes in because for this project, I had to actually seek help from someone who remembered more trigonometry than I did, to work out the logistics of how I wanted to do increases in the round at the 45-degree angles. I know from experience that when I fudge that, I get almost a shawl collar on the shawl, which while it’s sorta comfy, I think looks crummy (vis this little shawl, which I wear and actually like for function, but find that I never wear it for style, only as a practical thing).

I’m trying to keep my plate relatively clear, because I know that any day now, two boxes will be arriving in the mail containing my birthday present, which is nothing less than a vintage autoknitter with 60, 80, and 100 needle cylinders, which I hope will consume a great deal of my excessive handspun sock and lace knitting yarn stash.