Stopping by the sock machine on a snowy morning

I took a break from sock production in mid-December and I’m just getting back to it now. Last month I took the machine apart, cleaned out all the gunk, oily yarn bits and lint bunnies, and put it back together.

I’ve done this many times, so I wasn’t really worried that I couldn’t get it working again. But, this morning did not go so smoothly. I got the machine threaded with waste yarn and started cranking. And got this.

Many dropped stitches

Everything had been running smoothly, before cleaning, and now the ribber needles were dropping stitches like mad. Once in a while one will go bad and need to be replaced, usually when the latch gets bent. But not five or six all at the same time. Not from the batch I’ve been using regularly for months, if not years.

Ribber needle

I remembered that I hadn’t re-oiled the machine since the cleaning. So I applied oil to the ribber plate so the needles would move smoothly and cranked some more. More holes, more dropped stitches.

I replaced needles, I oiled some more, things improved slightly. I decided to out in some leftover sock yarn and see how the machine liked it. Not so much.

More ladders 😦

So I swapped needles and cranked some more. There was a slight improvement so I put the waste yarn back in to get ready to knit a real sock. Cranked and more drops. By this time I’m swearing and really annoyed. This is a VERY well-behaved machine. I know it’s foibles and generally speaking we get along well. It had to be something I did when I took it apart and reassembled. I had to think back years ago to when I first got the machine and my friend Elsie helped me get it working.

The needles aren’t picking up the yarn consistently. What controls that? Well, the yarn guide. If the yarn isn’t positioned correctly with respect to the needle heads, which only move up/down or in/out, then they can’t catch the yarn to knit it. It was knitting, mostly, but missing often enough that maybe the yarn was in the wrong place. So, I took a look at the yarn guide which I have to remove in order to disassemble the machine. Sure enough, when I put the machine back together I had not gotten the yarn guide seated low enough. It should look like this

A stitch on every needle is the goal

Once I got the guide seated correctly I put in some more leftover sock yarn to see how it would knit.

No dropped stitches!!!!!

Yay! Success! No more swearing! Now it was time to knit a sock for real. I got going and knit the cuff and the sock leg with no issues. It was time to turn the heel. I’ve done this maneuver hundreds of times, and I almost don’t need to think about it. My hands just do the right thing. Well, apparently taking 6 weeks off from using the machine meant a loss of muscle memory. I did things in the wrong order and instead of knitting just on the front stitches to make the sock, I knit around onto the back stitches.

This is one of those unrecoverable errors, at least if you are making ribbed socks. The ribber needles got disengaged at the wrong time so when I knit around to start the heel, they dropped their stitches.

Drat!

With the ribber plate in place on top of the machine, there’s no way to reach in and ladder those stitches back up. I could do it at the end when the sock was off the machine, but frankly, a do-over seemed more prudent. So, I snipped the sock yarn, tied the waste yarn back on, got the stitches and needles back where they belonged.

On the off chance that the sock yarn itself was somehow cursed (it has a weird backstory) I decided to try a sock in a different yarn. Happily, it worked and after I’ve knit the second sock I’ll go back to the lovely speckled blue yarn.

One sock, no unintended holes

I really, strongly considered taking a time-out and doing something else. I’m glad I persevered because clearly this was a problem that wasn’t going to sort itself out, and delaying would only ruin another day in the studio.

Author: Jennifer Kortfelt

Owner, Heron Pond Designs, a fiber and textile exploration.