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I’ve decided I’m going on a March Finish-A-Thon. That’s where you take all the stuff you have sitting around taking up needles, hooks, bobbins and other tools, with balls of yarn hanging out of it, wadded up in piles, stuffed in bags, and whatnot, and finish as much as you can. I’m including drafts in this! My folders of drafts are starting to pile up as well.

Last night, I finished my woeful little Falling Leaves Isosceles, another in the line of big swatches. The purpose of this one was to take a look at how some of the handpainted laceweight millspun I’ve done lately works up, plus to see if I remembered enough trigonometry to actually execute both 90-degree and 45-degree mitered corners. I remembered the math, but was stumped on the execution until I talked the problem over with my father-in-law, who pointed out I had it backwards and what I was thinking would work for decreasing, not increasing.

No pictures yet, save for this sad little in-progress shot, in which it looks like mud on some circs:

That’s the big problem with lace projects — the in-progress shots just all look godawful.

All in all, this one came out to be an isosceles triangle, even unblocked, and I think it’ll block out to a nice scarf or kerchief size, which in fact I need to go be doing right now so that I can leave it blocking while I’m off at the dentist. Yes, the dentist! Back I go. Hopefully this time it’ll only be fillings, but I’m a bit worried about one of ’em and half afraid I haven’t gotten to have the old, old filling replaced in time to avoid another root canal and crown scenario. But geeze I hope I have. All in all I hope to be done with the so-regular dental visits come June or July when my dental implant saga is finally over. I’ve always known that dental woes were a price I’d pay for my storied childhood and flawed brushing habits in early adulthood, but somehow I never expected the bill to come due and payable in full with terms of net 30 days, you know? Still, again I remind myself that if I lived in the third world, or many parts of the first world at that, I’d be outright missing plenty of teeth by now, and there wouldn’t be any of this 6 month long getting an implant process and I’d wish madly for root canals.

Anyway, yes, so I must block that triangle and see what it does. Continuing with Finish-A-Thon March, here’s what will be going to the dentist with me today:

It’s a little scarf in an elaborated Print o’ the Wave. Incidentally, is it obvious to anybody else yet that I haven’t unpacked most of my books since the move, and the only lace book I seem to be able to find is Sharon Miller’s? I’m doing stuff that is in her book, that I have memorized, or which I’m making up. I’ve got to solve the fiber book storage problem and really unpack them. Perhaps as part of Finish-A-Thon March I’ll try to do that.

Anyway, I started this sucker in September to take on a trip, since it’s a memorizable and easy to read pattern whose only tricky points are the fudging at the edges plus not spacing the turnarounds. And what with being worked back and forth across only 60 or 70 stitches or whatever it is, it feels like it’s working up insanely fast after the stuff done in the round and point-up triangles and all that sort of thing. The yarn is Belisa Cashmere that I picked up at Stitches West in 2006, and really liked (as far as I ever like millspun knitting yarn at any rate) despite its pinkness. In fact, this yarn marked the start of my resolution to come to peace with pink.

Although I really liked this yarn, it was actually a painful process finding a lace pattern that didn’t look like utter garbage with the way the colour variegation tended to pool. I think I tried four others before settling on this one with its sort of tiger-striping pooling effect.

I did not finish it on that trip in September, as it happens. I did very little with it on the trip, in fact. And it’s not hard enough to be engaging when I sit down to work on it, so even though it’s fast, I’ve been being pretty lazy about it, and here we are in March and I’ve done like 5 repeats. I need at least 12, then maybe some small edging. So off to the dentist with me it shall go.

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Desert Flower Shawl

Huzzah, I have actually Finished A Project(tm). Its primary purpose was to show what one could do with a few of my Luxury Batts, spinning them in different ways. So here we go:

Phase 1: Fiber

40% camel down, 40% mixed silks, 20% superfine merino, with firestar added after that to give it a bit of sparkle. I pulled 2 batts out of the to-be-sold pile, and spun them up preserving the colour separations: the sandstone yellow, the painted desert pink, and then the surprising lavender. I put each batt onto one bobbin, and then plied those together into…

Phase 2: Yarn

2-ply fingering weight or so, and it looks like I recorded neither the weight nor the yardage in my little notebook! It was two batts, so probably the original skein was around 3 ounces or a little over.

Phase 3: Start Knitting

I started with some size 3 US straight knitting needles, and a small rectangular center made up of three Shetland-style lozenges worked in garter stitch, from charts in Sharon Miller’s Heirloom Knitting book. With the three lozenges done working back and forth, I switched to double pointed needles and picked up stitches around the three other sides. I put a zig-zag around the lozenges, still garter, then switched to doing it stockinette for some cats-paws (again from Sharon Miller’s book). After three rounds of cats-paws, I stuck in a round of ferny trees, again from the same book. Once it got too big for the dpns, I switched to a circular needle and placed stitch markers at each mitered corner.

By this time, I was into the last colour of the yarn, the lavender, which meant I’d used up two thirds of it, and it was just not going to be enough to make it remotely shawl-like — in itself not a huge problem since the objective was basically “giant swatch” — but there was’n’t going to be enough of the lavender to complete what I’d figured on putting at the outside, another round of lozenges, and cast off.

Phase 4: Spin More Yarn

What with running out of yarn, I had three possible options, all of which involved pillaging the sale inventory further.

  • Spin another long-length colour shifting yarn with only one repeat of each colour?
  • Spin just some more lavender?
  • Mix things up, and spin some heathered yarn to demonstrate an entirely separate option for spinning these 3-coloured batts?

I decided the third option was the most principled solution, and grabbed a third batt for this purpose, producing the following results:

Phase 5: Knit Till You Run Out Of Yarn

As I’d anticipated, I ran out of the first skein about halfway through the final pattern round in the lozenge border. I added in the second skein, and proceeded. Upon completing the lozenges, I started a batch of improvised diamonds, and upon completing those, threw in a zig-zag to go around the outside, leaving eyelets at regular intervals from the tips of the diamonds, to use for blocking purposes (I’m lazy).

I bound off with a simple crochet cast off that’s essentially the same as the decrease cast-off, and pretty stretchy (I used an H hook to do it, which is the counterpart to a size 8 US needle). That brought us here:

Ah yes, that always disappointing and somewhat horrifying moment when you’re done with a lace knitting project, and it’s a) far smaller than you thought, even knowing it would be smaller than you thought, and b) ghastly-looking in its unblocked state. What makes it even worse, of course, is something Sara Lamb talked about in January in Anatomy of a Project — The Letdown. You’re done, now what? It’s over. Except of course for…

Phase 6: Blocking

Here it is, pinned out on a large “bath sheet” (aka a big towel) on the floor of the master bedroom closet so the door could be closed and keep cats away. Why yes, that is a box of mothballs in the upper right hand corner, you’ll find things of that nature pretty much anywhere dark that I ever leave anything like a textile. But I digress.

I told myself I was going to pin it out and see if what I really needed to do was spin more and add length, so I didn’t get too worried about precision pinning it out. But then I looked at it, said, “Well, that’s the size of a typical bath towel or a little larger, so, fine, so be it. I don’t really need to drag this out any longer.” Could that be impending The Letdown talking? Maybe. Or maybe it’s simple acceptance of the fact that this was never meant to be a masterpiece, only a giant swatch. I closed the closet door and walked away.

I did not look at how there were 9 lozenges on one long side, and 8 on the other. No, I did not. I’d known I was off, and told myself to charge ahead anyway, as it’s a Giant Swatch, and not A Great Undertaking.

Phase 7: The End

Later that afternoon, I opened the closet door to see what had become of the thing. It was fully dry, and when I unpinned it, it didn’t totally collapse back into the fugly nightmare it had been the night before, freshly released from the giant circular needle. I quite liked the loftiness of the fabric. It was, however, a bit small, and the longer long side didn’t keep its pointiness as much as I might have liked; but it looks more or less in square. Er, rectangle.

Well… so that’s what one can do with a few of my Luxury Batts. Mission accomplished, Giant Swatch completed, and I’ll leave it be.

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A Few Random Bits of Productivity

I’ve been felled by a cold. A stupid, nasty cold. It’s been hitting me fairly hard, and upon reflection, I think part of the reason why is that it’s the first real cold since the massive amount of dental work, and my left ear has sounded different ever since the wisdom teeth came out.

So I haven’t gotten a lot done lately. I did spin up some too-small-for-sale batt remnants into heavy laceweight yarn, though:

ABALONE: superwash merino, Falkland, camel down, tussah silk, bombyx silk, camel noil. 2-ply, 220 yards, heavy laceweight.

If I weren’t feeling sorry for myself about the cold still, I’d actually measure it for weight and wpi too. By “heavy laceweight,” I mean that eyeballing it, it’s on the “few wpi” end of laceweight, rather than the “really stupid insane fine” end of the scale. You know, “knit with size 2 needles” kind of small, rather than “knit with needles you can’t see” kind of small. Saved from “stupid fine” by the magic of Falkland’s poof.

WOOD NYMPH: 2-ply lace to fingering weight; 270 yards. Superwash merino, Blue Faced Leicester, Tussah Silk, Firestar.

I can’t get the photos of this one to stop trending to too blue. It’s the lighting and the weather and all that crap. Bring on April. February lasted too long. Let’s have March move at normal speeds, mmmmkay?

And I did get a bit of knitting done. I finally finished (by which I mean, used up all the yarn allocated for the project) the Desert Flower Shawl, which had better block out to much more massive than its unblocked state (I mean, it will, but I mean a lot bigger, please, so I don’t have to spin more of the heather and make it even bigger, though I’ll make it longer if I absolutely must).

In all its unblocked, flash-photo glory, on the media room carpet where I flung it last night upon finishing a crochet cast off that’s essentially the same as the decrease cast off:

Now I just have to come up with a block me huge! plan.

What I’ve actually been enjoying knitting — and it’s made the Desert Flower Shawl, which was knit on size 3 US needles, seem like the big needle project — is this improvised lace triangle piece of whatever it ends up being:

It started out like this, but then…

…that just looked like crap, plus I had two fudged places that were glaring at me and would have been annoying to fix, so I just ripped the one night’s knitting and started over. Two more evenings into it, we now have…

…which is composed of several q’enkos (zig-zags), which get bigger by one stitch per one going into the center; these are delimited by eyelet-based straight lines. But at a certain point, the thing was really shaping itself more diamondlike than I wanted, so I decided to split the outermost q’enkos off towards the sides, and shove a few cheap loraypus in there and plan on blocking the finished thing such that the q’enkos turn and start going straight up the centerline in the middle.

This does still leave me with shaping quandaries as I attempt to play with bias but keep a flat (or close enough to flat to be blockable to flat) piece overall, that is more or less triangular. And through which the colour changes in the yarn move in somewhat varied ways so as to cause hapless yarn dorks like me to stare at it and think “Huh, so that’s a row, and that’s a row, and huh, that sure does bias funny…”

This is using up this yarn here, but shows poorly in the photos due to the flash; the skein photo is accurate, while the in-progress carpet blocking (thanks June for the term, which I’m going to lemming onto from here on out) shots are definitely off for colour, and will long-term really only serve for a reference on progress.

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Do you know anything about Andean chullu knitting?

I mentioned chullu knitting on the spin-list, and was asked for a little more information. Here’s my reply, and a repost of something from 2005 about learning to do it, with pictures.

The Question and Reply

I’d like to know more about the Chullus you mentioned. Do you know how they are “knitted differently”?

In fact I do. 😉 The basics are that they’re stranded colourwork with 3 and sometimes 4 strands carried and secured with sort of a braid methodology between stitches; the “working side” that you look at is the purl side, and all the work is purled. All the strands are carried around the neck and tensioned that way. I’m told it’s similar to an old Arabic knitting technique, and it’s believed to have made its way to Peru via the Spanish at the time of conquest. They are knitted bottom-up, starting with a rather complicated braided cast-on and typically a zig-zag pointed edging. Traditional patterns are the weaving patterns, but worked horizontally rather than vertically and sometimes with some variations as well.

Are those the “bowler” type hats?

They’re the pointed earflap hats. The form factor is very popular and is often used in hats that are knitted via more European means, but the traditional Andean chullu (sometimes spelled chullo) is a form of knitting that came very close to disappearing in most regions. It’s a significantly steeper learning curve than other forms of knitting, and demands weaverly yarn-management hand knowledge in order to perform with any reasonable rate of speed. A skilled chullu knitter can make on in about 2-3 nights, or one really really long day. They’re knit with the smallest metal needles that can be found (the yarn is small), and the needles are often made from bicycle spokes.

Really interested in the knitting technique, and more about the tightly spun yarn that is used to make them.

The yarn is simply Andean weaving yarn. It’s a 2-ply yarn, spun and plied very very tightly; so tightly that European and US textile traditions view it as hopelessly overspun, both in the spin and the ply. When I learned about it a couple of years ago, we weren’t able on short notice to find small enough needles to work with my stash of Peruvian weaving yarn, so my example was done on size 2 needles with some baby yarn or another that I had lying around.

Part 1

Years and years and years ago, before kindergarten and all, before I spoke Spanish or Quechua, I made friends with a girl — or she made friends with me — even though at the time, we had no language in common. Because when you’re a kid, you don’t need that, and it comes eventually. She was a little older than me and she could talk me into anything. We got older and learned lots of things together, competing with each other to show off our spinning and weaving skills, chasing her family’s sheep around when taking them out to pasture, walking several km to school when it was schooltime… and then I’d go back to the US, and have no friends to play with and no yarn stuff competition with my peers and all that. Then I’d go back to Peru again and there would be my friend, just like before, and we’d pick right up where we left off. I remember being in 3rd grade and thinking about my friend and saying that it was like we were part of the same pattern, except she was the one in Peru and I was the one from the US and so someday, it was going to be nice to have her come where I lived and that would make everything balance out right. She was a lot more competent and accomplished than I was, and quicker, and stronger, and faster, and she kicked my butt at pretty much everything. I had all kinds of chances and opportunities and stuff that she didn’t — just by chance, and all, because I happened to have been born in the US and whatnot.

We got older and stuff, and somewhat more serious and somber in our competitiveness. Eventually we were teenage peers. She could still talk me into anything. I was an inch taller than her. She was way better at math and could do more things at one time than I could. When the woman who was like a grandmother to me died of pneumonia and we walked to her burial in a cold, steady rain, we shared her heavy shawl and I sobbed on her shoulder and she caught me when I slipped and almost fell into the graveyard mud. She had a ewe that bled to death lambing out on a terrace, and we took turns carrying the bloody little lamb back to her house and tried to save him, but he eventually died anyway. Her mother and my mother have the same name. She was as much a daddy’s girl as I was. But she worked harder and did more things than me, and she did them better. I knew we’d be friends forever and she’d always edge me out on pretty much everything. I never grudged her that, or envied her, or anything. She deserved everything in the world and she worked for it all.

But, one day back in the US, I learned she had just died of typhoid at seventeen. In some respects I still haven’t come to grips with the fact that she died and I lived. In my heart of hearts I think I still feel like it’s the most unfair thing I have ever personally been party to in any way. Oh, there’s other stuff that’s up there or tops it for heartbreak, but it’s not as unfair as her dying so young. Her death is the one and only thing I’ve never been able to think about and say “Yeah, but you know, tragedies happen and life isn’t fair, just deal.” I mean I deal, and always have, but I still think, UNFAIR.

My Peruvian godmother once told me that, so long as you can in any way cry a tear for a person who’s dead and gone, you owe that person a debt. It took me a while to think of what debt I might owe my dead friend Angelica and eventually I concluded that, among many other things, I owed it to her to live a worthy life. Because, you see, I got to keep mine and she didn’t. And if it would have been me in her shoes… well it couldn’t have been, really, because white American girls from Ivy League families don’t die of dehydration while recovering from typhoid in a third-world hospital. She even might not have died if she’d gotten sick while we were there. For my whole adult life I have lived with that, without ever a week going by but that I think of her, and wonder what she’d be doing if she were still alive.

Well, time passes. She had a little sister named Carolina. I never knew Carolina well — she was several years younger, and she didn’t spend so much time running around with the kids our age. She was a kid sister, just like I had. But you know… as time passes and people grow up, it’s funny. She looks a lot like her older sister looked, but she’s a bit shorter. She’s doing a lot of the stuff I think her big sister would have done. And right now, she’s in the US and I get to have her stay with me for a few days… like I always thought her sister someday would do. I’m so glad she can come hang out with me and my family and know what my life here is like. She is here in the US studying English and doing some lectures and demonstrations about weaving, for CTTC.

I never learned how to START a chullu, the Peruvian hat, only how to continue one once started, and *that* was 25 years ago. So, since Carolina was going to be working on hers last night I pleaded with her to show me how to start one. And it’s pesky! Which is why you don’t have an 8-year-old start it! 😉 I was never anywhere near as interested in knitting as weaving, so… I can’t say I tried very hard to learn it before, either. But now, I must achieve victory over starting the chullu! Even if this one is a small example fella and not a real one.

Part 2

More work on the chullu knitting last night — which is actually a coin purse type object, so as to be small.


Cutij Kh’eswa

Inside. See? No floats at all, up to 3 colours carried at a time, this tactic is the real meat of this style of knitting… except, so’s the cast-on. And understanding Andean patterns… and knowing how to work with yarn under tension and… well anyway. My mission now is to increase sufficiently that I can do Jakaku Sisan. And that will probably be coin purse sized, so that’ll probably get followed by another cutij-kh’eswa and raki-raki, if I know anything at all about the RULES.

Also, again I vow, the next one of these I make is not going to be sport weight floppy superwash wool. No. It will be high-twist 2-ply handspun.

The finished pouch!

Shown with small pockets (sort of like glove fingers) which will be obscured by the fringe when that’s done being applied.

Totally Unrelated

And also, this being the date that it is… happy birthday, Ed, you’d have been 62 and I still miss you every day and extra on your birthday.

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Autoknitter Socks, and Some Productivity, and Milestones

Well, yesterday I turned 35, which seems somehow implausible, but there it is. It was a very pleasant birthday.

I seamed toes of a few autoknitter socks, and tried some to-be-seamed ones on after that to see if I really felt like grafting the toes, or if I would rather rip and reknit them. This, too, allowed me to determine what I really want to be spinning for in yarn for the sock machine. It can handle a wide variety of things; but I’d like to get some socks I’m really going to wear. To that end, I have some issues to resolve, and these can be handled in various ways including yarn customization.

Sock #1: Austermann Marina. This was a discontinued superwash merino yarn I bought a bunch of on sale some time ago. Very soft, very springy. Makes a great sock on this machine, as it turns out, but there are issues with the toe on this one — too much fabric. I could see about shortening the foot portion of the sock, and simply blocking… but with it being superwash, and as springy as it is, a better solution would be to figure out how to narrow the tow and round it a little more.

I actually really like this sock, and will seam up the mate to it, and they’ll be wearable. Using the different colour yarn for heel and toe made it easy to see where I wanted to graft and various other things about the sock structure.

Sock #2: handspun falkland/silk 2-ply. Sigh. This yarn will make fabulous socks, but I was way too loose. So I’m going to seam up the other one and try to shrink ’em and felt ’em a bit.

Sock #3: handpainted laceweight merino/silk 2-ply (commercial, handpainted by me). Think Jaggerspun Zephyr, if you’re familiar. This one I tried on before seaming, having really high hopes for it. And this pair, this pair is the winner. I will definitely wear these socks.

So for me, right now, the easy way out is to spin a nice 5000-6000 ypp wool blend yarn, and crank the socks out fairly tight, to roughly the formula I used on the third pair of socks in this photo. That determination being made, I went up to the yarn room and grabbed some ball of orange merino-tencel top I had picked up somewhere…

and get started spinning some singles for a 3-ply sock yarn…

Should be nice and toasty. And I’ll keep practicing and thinking about how to make good socks with, you know, not laceweight type yarn.

Oh, this morning I was charmed by Edward opting to wear his favourite shirt to school. It’s a shirt I made him last year, so I took a few pictures quick before he outgrows it.

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More Autoknitter!

I spent the weekend largely on the autoknitter, and have been rewarded with this:

Socks to finish

In case it’s hard to tell, that’s a grand total of 5 pairs of socks. Now, frankly, I think I’m going to get 3 pairs for real, and end up ripping the other 2. I have another pair mid-rip — some of my temporary “hold this till I can fix it and see if it’s really worth fixing” solutions make ripping annoyingly slow so I haven’t finished ripping ’em yet.

By the end of Friday night, I had managed to finish the cranking portion of a Proof of Concept Sock!

Proof of Concept Sock

Lest anyone be unfamiliar with the term, “proof of concept” is one that I came to via the software world — it’s a roughed-in, not fully fleshed example that, well, proves the concept can work, without doing all the real work involved in the final product. Basically, it’s a functional rough draft that has issues. This proof of concept involved one skein of Patons Kroy, a healthy dose of skepticism mixed with perseverance, and some blind faith. I was absolutely positive that I was misreading the 1922 instructions which stated “The toe is worked exactly the same as the heel, save that in the second half [a one-stitch difference].” I wasn’t, but my execution remains off. The toe is just not as round as I thought, which is actually fine.

Blaze SwatchAfter the Proof of Concept sock, I daringly worked a tube from a thing of handspun that I had sitting on my end table, which I’d wanted to swatch as a stockinette item regardless, and which, hey, this’d be a lot faster! And from that, I concluded that indeed, my handspun yarn splits a heckuva lot less than millspun, sheds less, wears better, and actually, thinner yarn was easier for me to see — so even if I didn’t get useable socks, I resolved to do a little more practice with thinner yarn.

Falkland Silk BlendAnd as far as other decisions/lessons learned by Friday night, I had concluded that the 1922 manual, which definitely has an opinionated tone regarding “the cleverness of the operator” and so forth, had a good point about not letting your work run off the machine, and I concluded that the overused purple Patons Kroy with which I had practiced would be just the thing to use to prevent my work from running off the machine. Although this raises other logistical questions, but that’s for later. But that’s why the pile of socks in the chair above looks rather more like a giant tube with funny lumps and oddly placed stripes. Stripes of waste yarn are used as sock delimitors and in lieu of having to do any setup. Even though I have significantly improved my speed with the setup bonnet.

I’m still a ways from ready to put the ribber attachment on. There remain too many things I need t be able to watch the inside of my tube-in-progress for, and the ribber would block that view. Not to mention too many times I’m dropping stitches and too much I’m still learning about tension, weight, stitch length, yarn selection and how it changes the aforementioned things, and I think I have my sequencing off on the heel thing, so for a while it’s going to be purely stockinette socks with hemmed tops or else I’ll separately knit on ribbing, or do a crochet edge atop the sock.

Lots more photos here, lots of things I’ve been messing with as I go…

Autoknitter Photo Gallery

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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 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

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Christmas Knitting Done in the Nick of Time!

This year, I hadn’t planned on any knit, crochet, or woven Christmas stuff. And usually when I do make such plans, they’re for crochet items, which are significantly faster. But then, as it happened, I had a yarn that I wanted to swatch for photos, and so sometime in late October I decided I’d combine that need to swatch with a knit scarf for my third grader’s teacher — it’s her first year as a full teacher, our son isn’t the easiest student in the world to teach, and she’s really been going above and beyond in my opinion, and I usually do like to give a handmade fiber gift to his teachers. Or chocolate. So, I started lackadaisically knitting up 200 yards of the handpaint tussah single into a fairly lazy little improvised lacy diamonds kind of thing, which since I wasn’t knitting on it with any great regularity, I just barely managed to finish yesterday afternoon.

Scarf for my son's teacher

In lieu of blocking — which lacy knitting truly requires — I opted to wash it, and iron it dry. This worked out very nicely, however, and the finished scarf was not only thus dry in time to wrap and send in to school with our son on his last day of school before winter break, but super-flat, shiny, and wispy — and almost 8 inches wide and 5 feet long.

More of this same yarn is available in my eBay store, here.If that link doesn’t work out for you, just go straight to the store home, and enter “raw silk” in the search box. The handspun, hand-dyed tussah singles I routinely list for sale would also make similar scarves, but are finer; whereas this scarf was knit on US size 6 / 4mm needles, I’d recommend a US 4 / 3.5mm needle for the handspun tussah singles.

Other than that scarf, right after Thanksgiving, my better half mentioned — as he has more than once in the past — this one Christmas when his mother knit everyone in the extended family stockings, and how those had been the best stockings ever, and they were SO stretchy that as Christmas stockings they just were so great, and the next time I was talking to his mother, maybe I might ask her for that pattern. Indeed, I thought, I should finally do that.

Unfortunately, the pattern was lost some time ago, but she was able to lend me a finished stocking, from which to reconstruct the pattern. Armed with the actual object, the web, and — believe it or not — Red Heart Super Saver and sparkly acrylic “holiday” yarn, I set out to make three of them. These, I narrowly completed the night before last, and they now grace the mantel which Chad had put up specifically as a platform from which stockings could be hung.

Stockings were hung by the chimney with care

Edward’s was by far the most annoying; I can’t give “Red Heart Holiday” a particularly glowing review as yarn, nor is the resulting fabric terribly appealing; but it was the yarn he chose! And yes, folks, this handspinner is totally unrepentant about using cheap acrylic yarn for this project — Christmas stockings, after all, will be stored untouched and unseen in a dark place for most of the year, should be machine-washable if needed, and the last thing you want is to be unpacking the Christmas box and discover it’s been irretrievably moth damaged. Nothing eats that kind of yarn.

Depending on my level of ambition, however, I may redo these stockings in the coming year. Or the year after that. Certain things about them just disappoint the perfectionist in me a little.

Of course, there is a “well, that didn’t happen in time” to mention: a week and change ago, my son charmingly requested a Santa hat to wear to school, and I even bought some truly heinous but indestructible yarn for the purpose, but it just didn’t happen. I’m afraid December, and the last part of November, were largely lost to me due to dental work which I can really only term as extreme — until last week, I never knew it was possible to get half a root canal before having to be referred out to the super-specialist for the remainder of it. And never in my self-aware life have I subsisted for over a week on nothing but broth, yogurt, and pudding, nor had to commit to painkillers for weeks at a time. Here’s hoping I never do again!

Photo Gallery for 2006 Christmas Knitting
Photo Gallery for Christmas Stockings

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Purple Mohair/Silk Triangle; Creme de Menthe Scarf

Some recent finished objects with handspun yarn, and one in progress.

1. Triangle, bottom up, improvised variant on “Falling Leaves” lace, bounded by criscrossed diamonds. The yarn: I blended mohair, tussah silk, and a dash of the horrible-looking orange and black firestar nylon, and that is this 2-ply yarn.

2. Sampler scarf, including lots of fudging! The goal: fit various lace patterns into bounded diamonds while using up the yarn, which I’ve been meaning to do something with for 2 years now. It’s a cashmere/tussah silk/merino 2-ply yarn, and the scarf, knitted on size 2 US needles, came to about 6 feet long.

3. Again with the using up stuff I spun a while ago, this yarn was dated 1/4/2004, and is a L:ouet camel/tussah blend that gave me because he rules.

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What is blocking?

What is blocking?

It’s when you stretch your completed object out or finish it in one of various ways in order to make it stay a given size and shape. The shawl I’ve been knitting on, here:

will not be that size or shape exactly when it’s done, and the pattern will really pop out once it’s blocked. As it is right now, you can’t really see the pattern — it’s very muddy looking.

Once the shawl’s complete, I’ll wash it (because I also want the mohair to bloom) by hand in cool water, and then roll it up in a towel and squeeze it till it’s only damp. While it’s damp, I will spread it out someplace big enough, tug it here and there to be make the pattern show and line up and so the whole object is the right size, and then pin it, weight it, or lightly go over it with a not-so-hot iron to make it steam a bit. Once it dries, it’s set in place like that (until it gets soaking wet again, of course).

Before blocking:

After blocking:



I’ve promised detailed blocking pictures for the next project to be blocked. 😉