Friday, May 21, 2010

WIP: Red Milonga Wrap

One of the works in process in the studio today is this machine-knit wrap. It is being made of a thin woolen single-ply yarn by Pendleton Woolen Mills. The design is a simple alternation of sections of stockinette stitch and sections of lace faggoting.

As a relative neophyte in the knitting machine world, I have experienced my share of problems with this device. At one point last summer when the previous wrap project was hanging on it, I was swearing at the machine, slamming the weights down on the table, and throwing things in frustration. A couple of hours later, sweet Mr. ChaCha remarked that it sounded like things weren't going very well in the studio that day. You feel a little sheepish after a good tantrum, but sometimes it's the only thing that can diffuse pent-up bad energy.

There are days when I should just stay away from the machine. You know those days--the ones when you run into everything you go near. You stub your toe and while leaning over to hold it you knock over a cola onto your keyboard. I call those days my "sticky energy" days. Everything sticks to me as I go blithely around knocking things over and then tripping.

Using a knitting machine requires a huge amount of patience and extreme alertness. Things that are simple to do with knitting needles are much trickier here. You also might want good lighting and no distractions.

While you are learning, so many mistakes are made that you wonder why on earth anyone would do this instead of using two sticks the old fashioned way. I tried to use these machines and then put them away multiple times over a 15-year period. (Yes, I own more than one. They come in different four different gauges of which I own three.)

Until two years ago, I had only knit things in basic stockinette and felt like that was a huge accomplishment. Now things are going better and I'm on a learning mission.

Here's my biggest tip if you want to learn how to use a knitting machine: get yourself on over to the YouTube, and search for Diana Sullivan. She is my hero. If it weren't for her great videos, I never would have figured out how to use a garter bar.

Here's a closer view. You can't tell from the photo, but when you knit on a machine, the reverse stockinette side is what faces you. If you want purl stitches and knit stitches on the same row you will need to hand-manipulate what will be the purl stitches on the opposite side from the one you see and remake them so the knit stitch side faces you. This is done using little transfer tools.

If you want a whole row of purl stitches on the side opposite you, and you don't want to change each stitch one by one, you can use what is called a "garter bar" to lift all the stitches up off the machine and then turn the work around and reload the stitches onto all those hooks you see in the photo. It can be a tears-provoking task.

The wrap above is 75 stitches in width. Each little stitch sits on its own latch hook. By moving a carriage over the stitches you can knit a row in the time it takes a hand-knitter to knit one stitch.

Whoa! Now you may be thinking, like many hand-knitters do, that this whole deal is fast and therefore "cheating". Let me dispel that myth right away.

Having recently learned to spin on a spinning wheel, I can say that it is much faster than spinning on a drop spindle. I would never say that using a spinning wheel is "cheating". Similarly I would never say that using a sewing machine is somehow cheating because you should do it by hand.

Not everything about a knitting machine is fast. The setup isn't fast. The hand manipulation of stitches isn't fast. Taking care that you do the twelve steps in your pattern routine precisely, so that the whole work does not fall off the machine, is not fast.

The wrap above will probably take me 5-6 hours not including the border that I will crochet around the edges. It might take me 25-30 hours or more by hand. Using a machine allows me to make things in a more affordable way for my customers. So it's a skill worthy of learning, and from the point of view of my customers' pocketbooks, it's so not cheating.


Brenda said...

Wow! I gave up in frustration with my little bitty knitting machine. So not intuitive for me! You're my heroine!

Sharon said...

You're right, Brenda. These machines are definitely not intuitive! Once you get into sync though, a certain rhythm is created. It's sort of like learning to play a musical instrument.

vj said...

Oh, that wrap looks gorgeous!