Sunday, 8 June 2014

Learning to knit with a domestic knitting machine

Ever since the Brunswick Novices group was established, I've been dithering over the question of basic machine learning.
As a recovering school teacher, I am not anxious to reprise that role. I was very happy to have the opportunity to take some lessons from experienced knitters and instructors, but I have noticed that not everyone responds well to that style of passing on the craft. Some are anxious to charge on at breakneck speed, and others would like lots more time to become familiar with just one part of the material presented, and others still are hoping that something else would have been covered.

Last week, I heard something on the radio that crystallised my thinking on the subject and inspired me to work out how knowledge could be passed along in a way I could be comfortable with. I heard about the work of Sugata Mitra,  Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University in the UK. I met the concept of a Self Organising Learning Environment.
Have a look at this TED clip. It seems to me that a Self Organising Learning Environment, is an ideal model to use with adult would be machine knitters.

I picture creating an environment, with access to a variety of resources.
1. One or more knitters familiar with the particular process under consideration.
2. A large TV connected to an iPad to show YouTube clips or other online demonstrations.   
3. Another electronic device with e books and /or access to online resources..
4. Dead tree books with information on the process
5. Any relevant notes
6. Enough machines for each participant to try the process hands on.

Each participant can draw on all or any of the sources to take what is needed.
We'll give it a try and see how it goes.

Edited to add, This could be seen as just a souped up and labelled plan, very close to the experience to be had at Elaine's East Malvern weekends, and the Lancefield live in weekend of knitting. Both of these are regular and and successful MKAV events.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Industry Standards!!!?? Reflections on the unsatisfactory nature of clothing size standards.

Would you be shocked if I were to admit that I don't especially like making clothes? I enjoy thinking about clothes. I'd like to have slightly intimidating clothes, because that's sometimes necessary. But mostly, I'd like to have clothes that look like they were meant for me. That's me as I am. Not me less a few kilos. Not me with broader shoulders. Not me surgically altered to a more convenient shape.  I'd be perfectly happy to buy them in a shop, where I could see how they looked , without having to construct them first. I'm not hung up on exclusivity, I don't care if a whole lot of other people have the same thing. But the problem is, they don't have clothes that look like they were meant for me in the shops. 

Given that I rarely find ready made clothes, I was delighted to find an indie pattern designer in Melbourne, selling contemporary designs to the world. Stylearc. Have a look, the website is good. There are tutorials on sewing and construction. There is an excellent magazine style newsletter. All good, but, when I check out the size chart, I find the industry standards used for the patterns are the same standards that make commercial dresses and tops so unsuitable. Who ever thought it was consistent with reality to increase the width of the shoulders with every dress size? Apparently the average dress size in Australia is 16. According to Elizabeth Zimmerman, late inspired knitting evangelist, most women have a shoulder width of 14.5 inches. According to the size chart that's a size 8. Maybe the measurement was taken a little differently, but the shoulders are still going to be way too wide on most people using the larger sizes, and the result will be frumpy, unless some skilled alteration takes place.

Check out the Clothing Engineer for some of the Stylearc designs beautifully constructed - and patiently altered to fit.

But what, I hear you ask, does the doll up in the corner have to do with any of this? She is there illustrating my solution to the fitting problems, pending commercially available design that really is sympathetic to actual body shapes. She is wearing a version of my friendly cardigan, with the design features added to a her basic block, referred to in this recent post.
Her skirt is based on a Miyake design,
very easily adapted to any size and shape, and using small safety pins instead of the snap tape in the original design. And her rather odd hairstyle is disguised with a merino and silk headwrap
Rather than try and alter patterns to fit, I find it easier and more satisfactory to work out the real dimensions of the body I want to clothe, then work the design features required into a personalised block (sloper)

Sometimes though, a design is more accepting of a variety of dimensions. You may see a similarity between the jacket in this Miyake pattern, and this jacket ,  discussed in another post. Another example of a paper pattern based knitting project.

Edited to add, I drafted this post over several days, having been moved to disagree with the Stylearc claim that patterns will fit if they are drafted to Industry Standards. Either I was oversensitive to the references to Industry Standards, or the references I recalled had been altered or removed by the time I published the post. I do not mean to disparage Stylearc patterns, the designer is doing a great service for the community making clothes outside the mass market. The size chart gave me the measurements to crystallise exactly what I find unsatisfactory in industry standard sizing 

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Adapting paper patterns for knitwear design

Finding, or drafting, a pattern to produce a garment that faithfully embodies your
style and fit decisions can be a huge stumbling block to a contemporary machine knitter.
A dressmaker’s pattern can be a big help. For instance, I have drafted a Knit Radar pattern for a large cardigan using Butterick B5049 by Connie Crawford as a reference
I used this pattern for the armhole and shoulder line. That was all. Almost everything else I changed. Connie Crawford knows that more padding around the middle does not make your shoulders any wider. In this multi size pattern, the width of the shoulder seam is the same for all sizes. The armhole increases in depth and slope with increasing size. If you would like a more complete description of the process of making the big cardigan, and you are a Ravelry user, it is aRavelry project
If you are looking for interesting design lines, you can find guided inspiration in the pattern books. Vogue 1476, a Miyake design that has never been out of the collection since it was published in the early 80s, includes a shirt with an interestingly shaped back that I noticed repeated in a design by popular knitwear designer Sally Melville. There are other great knittable Miyakes, but they out of print. You can get some idea of the shapes from this website showing the envelopes of most of theVogue Miyake designs
Some of the Vogue patterns of Marcy Tilton have shapes that would translate well into knitted garments. They would show off fancy stitch patterns and textures too.
You can also find patterns easily adapted to knitting on the internet, take a look at this take on the wrap with sleeves idea.
Happy to use a paper pattern, except you already have a perfect jumper and no pattern for it?
Here's a technique you can use to make a pattern without cutting up your garment. In the clip, David Coffin copies a shirt, but we can adapt.

There are three ways to approach using a paper pattern to guide your knitting
i. You can knit pieces in the traditional way – make sure you adjust seam allowances and hems.
ii. You can go over to what some would see as the dark side and go the full cut and sew from lengths you have knitted.
iii. Or you can take a middle way, knitting parts of your garment approximately to size, and cutting and sewing things like necklines. This works for me. Probably best not to try it on your Show entry.

Have a browse through your pattern collection – it may open a whole new knitting vista.

This post was originally published in June 2009, in the Moonee Ponds blog, which fell out of use about the same time.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Machine knitting for men

There is a short course in machine knitting going on in Chicago now, and thanks to the wonders of the electronic neighbourhood, I've been chatting with Jesse Seay, whose baby this course is. The sponsoring centre is Pumping Station:One - Chicago's Hackerspace, and you are probably not surprised to hear that there is a higher than average enrolment of men.

Which brings us to the issue of easy projects that will minimise embarrassment to the young male knitter (or to the young male recipient of his granny's knitting)
Rectangles, approached with the right sort of imagination and a suitable colour palette, will provide many projects to be going on with.
Scarves are good, and acceptable to a wide cross section of the male population.
This is one that worked for me, or rather the recipient (male 20something musician) and his Dad (male, 60something computer programming professional)

Jonathan's Man Lace Scarf, discussed in these Ravelry project notes

Tuck lace has several advantages;
It does not look too lacy.
It works well with lace weight alpaca or cashmere to make lightweight but very warm fabric.
An open knit, lightly fulled tuck lace will lie flat even though it comes off a flatbed machine without ribber attached.

The younger, hipper end of the market in freezing Chicago will probably appreciate a really big scarf, might even be prepared to call it a shawl.

Fair Isle is another of the glories of the knitting machine. The process and possibilities vary between machines, but it is a clever knitting process that you can delegate to the machine. The easiest way to impress an audience of the uninitiated, is to set up a Fair Isle pattern and let the interested bystanders move the carriage to and fro and create a row of kangaroos or whatever.

I've been pleased with some houndstooth scarves made for men in my life, using two shades of grey cashmere.

And just to prove that I occasionally use colours other than shades of grey,

Of course you need to enclose the floats on single bed Fair Isle, which I did by simply doubling the fabric end to end. If you doubled the fabric side to side you would need half as many passes of the carriage, but it may not be so symmetrical.

A piece of Fair Isle would also make a fine Messenger Bag, but I haven't done that yet.

There are examples of more adventurous Fair Isle or double bed Jaquard pieces around. Just a couple of blocks from my house, Otto & Spike is a small company keeping the knitting industry alive and contemporary in Melbourne. Browsing their product range may inspire some interesting Fair Isle.

Another source of inspiration might be the work of Lisa Anne Auerbach, an artist who uses Jaquard to send messages to the world. See a selection here. And if you are interested enough, read about her work.

As for a simple garment for a man, you could do a lot worse than a Bog Coat. Now I know the web is awash with women wearing Art to Wear quilted interpretations of this ancient design, but the ancient simplicity of the design could well be reclaimed by a suitably determined male knitter. It is a design much better suited to the male body in my opinion.  Despite the directions being for a woven interpretation, modelled by a woman, this article gives a bit of history and good diagrams of the structure.