Saturday, 9 July 2011

"So you don't just press a button?"

One of the advantages of procrastination is inevitable reflection. It is now several weeks since the very satisfactory MKAV Seminar, and time has worked to the surface my stand out memory, The Human Knitting Machine,seen by the lucky crowd on Friday evening.

Can I divert for a moment to note that our President, Angela, gets my vote in the category, Geniuses I have Known? The sheer number of ideas, and speed with which she moves on to the next thought might sometimes obscure the brilliance of her efforts, but the Friday night demonstration demands preservation.

This was machine knitting stripped back so far that even the machine was gone. This was machine knitting at its clearest - one needle, one stitch. You want more stitches? Have as many as you like as long as you can find a needle for each stitch. What can each needle do? It can either knit or not knit. If it doesn't knit, the yarn can pass over the top or underneath the stitch. And that's all. Everything else, the push buttons, the punchcards, the electronic controls, they are just means of telling each needle to knit or to not knit without the effort of hand selection.

I'll leave it to some subsequent video recorded performance to explain exactly what was done. For now you can just admire the knitted results.

Della wearing the knitted piece

A closer look at the knitting

At the other extreme, I caught part of a Barbara Fletcher workshop on hidden techniques in the Passap E6000, the most sophisticated domestic knitting machine available to us. What an extraordinary range of knitting interests covered! From the very simplest to the most complex machine any domestic machine knitter is likely to meet.

Friday, 3 June 2011

What is a critical mass of machine knitters?

I had a bunch of good reasons why the Biennial Victorian two and a bit day conference dedicated to the now rather retro art of machine knitting on domestic machines should be allowed to lapse quietly in favour of less ambitious events more suited to current customs and lifestyles.

But now I am not so sure. It is so good to see machine knitters from interstate and New Zealand swapping ideas and experiences over numerous cups of tea and too much food. I was particularly pleased that three first time participants really enjoyed the experience and got a lot out of it.

It is so encouraging to have demonstrators and other participants show such generosity with their skills and techniques. Recently I have come across instances where machine knitters have tried to protect their patch by refusing to pass along the craft to new recruits. It may be hard for craftspersons to make a living from low volume production in the world we live in, but without a viable machine knitting community, the craft is doomed. We need to share ideas, but we also need to be a market for machines, parts, services, yarns on cones. We also need to show the public a range and quantity of machine knitted products to build appreciation for the things we make. A restauranteur once explained to me how it was much better to be in a street full of other restaurants rather than be the only one on the block. That way you get plenty of passing trade, as well as folk who set out just for your place.

I smile when I see how thoroughly Tony Bennett, of Dormani Yarns, has taken to heart the concept that community is the key to survival. He is so generous with his time and ideas, so helpful to anyone who asks. Also a dazzling beacon of inspired simplicity, always ready with a faster, more modern and saleable solution to share for every knitting challenge

I failed picture gathering completely, but with a bit of luck someone will have some images to share

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Thursday, 12 May 2011


Machine knitting often gives off waves of the most conservative housewifely respectability. It is always amusing to subvert a paradigm, so in response to a request in a comment on a previous post, this post is dedicated to selective deconstruction.
Random holes can add a bit of instant history to any garment

Shift one stitch to a neighbouring needle, then continue knitting for a simple hole.
For a more dramatic effect, knit for a few rows, then drop the stitch in line with the hole

The ladder will not drop past the shifted stitch, and has no way to go above the stitch where knitting is resumed. One empty needle brought into work between two needles already in work will knit and be a secure base for stitches in subsequent rows.
If you don't want the ladder to bulge so much, just leave the needle out of work until you want to resume regular knitting.
If you would like a more pronounced hole, but without laddering, manual tucking using holding position on your machine is handy.

This hole has two stitches each moved to the next needle, then those two needles left in holding position until the needles were brought back into work one after the other in subsequent rows.

You can generate a lot of grunge effects with holes and ladders

Another way to subvert the regularity of your knitting is to make random tucks in the fabric by picking up loops from already knitted fabric and rehitching them onto active needles. For a skewed effect, shift the picked up stitches across the needle bed. A seven ended tool is handy for this, but your standard 3 ended tool, or even the 1 or 2 will be able to make interesting effects See the puckers in the picture above? That's the effect.

You can add a slash of contrast using short rows, then maybe confuse it with holes, ladders and puckers

You can also just manipulate needles by hand to work in differnt colours or textures

You could manufacture hideous carbunkles using this technique and an evil imagination.
Once you have knitted your piece, if it is not yet the statement you strive for, you can pick up a few stitches in the piece, ewrap across the picked up stitches and a couple of needles either side (if you want to allow for some curling in) and knit some tags

I played with this during a day of communal knitting. This is as far as I got when it was time to go home. Many techniques approached with a skewed point of view will adapt to a grunge aesthetic. Set free your inner punk.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Skinny Yarn

It took me a while to properly appreciate just how much I like really skinny yarn. There was a time when I would ask the good folk at the Yarn Barn to wind together skinny yarns that I thought would combine well. But I got over that.

There were a few steps. I found out that:
Machine knitting life is much better if you abandon all thought of following a conventional pattern.
There are lots of beautiful skinny yarns
Two shades can be better than one.
Two different yarns knitted together may make random stripes.

If you use a twister stand, purpose built or improvised, you can make different marled effects. And they will be different depending on the order of the stacked cones.

There are weird and interesting yarns coming out of Japan. The demonstration garments made with these yarns are made with multiple yarns, combining colours, textures and materials, and the yarn will stlll be skinny, even after you have combined two or three.

A standard gauge single bed Japanese machine will make a wide range of pleasing weights and textures of fabric with skinny yarn.

The more uptight Passap machine needs more seductive coaxing to consent to being party to a modern relaxed style of fabric. But if you need a classic smooth rib, the Passap could not be more obliging

Of course the Passap and I are still getting to know each other. I could be judging harshly.
Skinny yarns go a long way. 150 gms of 2/60 nm silk from ColourMart, lasts almost forever knitted with 2/20 nm wool from Superfine Wool Australia, (no link, but some contact details here ) , making a luxurious fabric for a utilitarian price.

And remind me to put on my list to do, work on taking better photos of knitted things

I will also beg pardon for any odd picture placement in this posting. I am distracting myself from overwhelming domestic challenges in a bona fide remote location, with a just installed booster to the next G service. It seems to work. Last time I tried to post from here I had to travel to a convenient fast food outlet to take advantage of the free wi fi. But the pictures seem to have developed independent views in transmission.

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Saturday, 19 February 2011

Why should I go to the MKAV Seminar?

This question was put to me by one of the new wave of machine knitters. Why would I spend quite a bit of money to spend a weekend listening to presenters I have never heard of, demonstrating projects of unknown merit, on machines different from the one I own?

For a start, it is a pleasant way to spend a weekend. The Hemisphere Conference Centre is a part of Holmesglen TAFE, with lots of good lunch and morning and afternoon teas (special dietary requirements catered for with notice) included in the deal. Friday and Saturday night dinners optional extras.

There is an hotel within the centre where many of the local as well as the interstate knitters stay. It too is a model establishment. Book early if you hope to stay.

It is the biggest gathering of machine knitters you are likely to find. And all of them thrilled to explain just how to do that technique in that ...pullover, baby blanket, cactus sculpture or whatever.

There will be traders of all things machine knitting. Even Reynolds, the last(?) new machine dealer in Australia, is expected. Tony Bennett, from WA will have a trading stand as well as being a star presenter. There is no arrangement for checking out the traders without signing on for the Seminar. If you are desperate, but able to afford one of the optional dinners, you could maybe come as a guest and hope that the traders have time to trade as well as eat.

Then there is the ' Think not what your Country can do for you' element. The machine knitting community is too small to have separate and exclusive groups. The community needs the new knitters to bring new ideas and new ways of doing things into an organisation formed in a previous era.

And there is always the possibility that you will get something out of the presentations. Don't worry that most of the presenters use Brothers and you use a Singer. the differences don't count. And some things are not machine dependent at all. Tony Bennett, who has made a living from all things machine knitting for years now, has a mantra, 'It's not a mistake, it's a design feature' And his loyal followers shout out the coda, 'And you can charge extra for that!'

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