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.

More fiber goodness

As if knitting, weaving and the very occasional date with my spinning wheel were not enough, I’m reviving my long-dormant interest in sewing. Oh, I’ve sewed a couple of things over the last few years, but now I’ve got a more focused effort going.

I’m taking a class where I’m learning to create a pattern from a garment that fits me. I’ll make some design changes, like going from a long-sleeved dress to sleeveless. And I’m simplifying some of the pieces to have fewer seams. It’s a bit of one dress and a bit of another.

We started the class by making dress forms. We used the “plastic bag and layers of duct tape method” and now I’ve got something that is shaped like me (which is somewhat horrifying.) We’ll use our dress forms to adjust the pattern muslin for a good fit and then I’ll sew a dress.

I’m looking forward to honing my skills (I need tons of practice) and to getting advice from my instructor who sews for a living. I think it’s the first formal sewing class I’ve ever had. The last time I had any instruction was from my mom when I was a child. Probably for a Girl Scout badge. I’m hoping that I won’t repeat some of those early sewing disasters (Mom, do you remember the mauve jumpsuit I was trying to make? What WAS I thinking?)

If this goes well I’ve got a beloved blouse that may be the next to copy.

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Starting over?

I’m in a lull between knitting projects. One was just mailed, another is drying and two await feedback from clients before I can proceed. So I’ve been tidying in the studio. Putting away the needles from the last projects, filing project notes and clearing the decks. A couple of weeks ago I was looking for something in the studio closet and I came across a box labeled “Teaching Materials”. A quick look reminded me that it was notes and swatches for classes I’d either taught or proposed at a local yarn store. I was in the middle of something, so I just left the box on the floor to be dealt with “later.”

Today turned out to be that day. I hadn’t just shoved it back into the closet because I noticed that many of the swatches were sitting on stitch holders. No wonder I can never find enough of them when I’m in the middle of a project! The store has closed and I’m not teaching these days, so a reclamation project was in order. I put the live stitches onto yarn holders, zipped the samples into storage bags and filed the notes.

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Reclaimed stitch holders and markers

The extra balls of yarn were headed to a storage bin that’s a bit over-full already. So I gathered some of the like yarns into more storage bags. I identified some partial balls to donate for kid crafts, and shoved the rest back onto the shelf for another day.

As I moved through the studio, I kept walking past a tote bag with an in-progress project. It’s a Hap shawl that I started about a year ago. I’ve been thinking about this project in the last few days and wondering what to do about it. I love the pattern, Uncia, and definitely want to make it. But the yarn was a poor choice. You see, I was in a hurry. We were heading out for a long weekend at the ocean and I knew I’d have quiet knitting time so I chose a pattern that was complicated. I’ve been trying very hard to use up yarn I already have before buying new for a project so I selected some sock yarn that was the right weight, or close enough, for what the pattern specified. I knit on the project during that weekend, and pull it back out once in a while when I have time for it. And every time I think that this isn’t the right yarn.

The pattern calls for a 100% merino super wash yarn. The yarn I chose is a super wash merino/nylon blend. It is not tightly spun and is a bit splitty. Not impossible to work, but not as pleasurable as the right yarn probably would be. Even though the pattern yarn is superwash, I’m worried that my yarn is not going to block out well, won’t open up and show the intricate stitch work. So, why haven’t I just ripped it out to start over? Because I’ve already done this much.

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The tip of the Uncia

And it has gorgeous complicated twisted stitches like these.

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Detail of stitch work

And I think about all that work I’ve already done. On the other hand, the saner hand, I may never be happy with it if I finish it with this sock yarn. And if I don’t like it then what was the point? It’s not like I’m anywhere close to done yet, there’s miles to go on this.

So, there are some options.

  1. I could block the work in progress and see how the yarn behaves. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
  2. I could rip the whole thing out to reclaim the yarn and wait until I find something more suitable.
  3. I could put this aside and find new yarn and make the “rip it out” decision later.

When I started writing this, I was sure it was option 2 and had not even thought of option 1 yet.

Or maybe, I’m just trying to justify a yarn purchase 🙂

What do you think I should do?

 

Space

My usual morning routine finds me in the studio with a cup of coffee and a knitting project. I love the early morning quiet, watching the sky lighten and the sun rise. And there is almost always some client project on the needles looking for my attention.

But this morning, I decided to spend some time reading first. I’ve pulled back to the top of my reading pile “Master Your Craft” by Tien Chiu. A book that I was very excited to purchase last summer and which has been falling ever deeper into the reading pile since. I had read a few pages when I first brought it home and was enjoying it, but production deadlines pushed it firmly into the “someday” pile.

I don’t know what prompted the shift in focus this morning, but as I read strategies for exploration, creativity and design I recalled that I have been wanting my studio time to be more than just production, more than just pushing out designs that I’ve already developed and refined. But I haven’t yet figured out how to do that. How to explore. It’s so … unstructured. There isn’t a plan to follow. And telling myself to “just play” hasn’t worked out so far.

Recently I was lunching with an artist friend, talking about this same idea and I mentioned that I’ve been wanting to try quilting and had even bought a small amount of fabric to play with. I committed, at that lunch weeks ago, to find the fabric and do something with it.

So after a few sections of the book I wandered into the studio to find the fabric. Finding it wasn’t really the issue, I knew exactly where it was, in a box marked “studio art” on a shelf in the closet. A box I packed up last summer before we moved into the new house. A box of art supplies, design prompts and fabric that I’d not made time for. As I found places for most of the box contents, I moved into a declutter and discard mindspace. I filled a bag with yarn donations from a bin that hasn’t been opened since the move. I found yarn that I thought I’d lost, and yarn that desperately needs a project to use it.

And as I was emptying and sorting and rediscovering, I realized that I wasn’t fretting at all about the production that wasn’t happening. I was allowing myself the space to be with my stuff and think about what it might want to be.

I was allowing myself space to be. To imagine. To not be manic about a deadline. It was an important first step on the way to experimenting/playing. To allowing myself to believe that there is more to my “work” than churning through production. That my growth as an artist requires having the space to try something new. And that the lifestyle I want to have is not that of a one-woman factory churning out the same thing over and over.

The fabric is on the sewing table. I didn’t get to it today, but it is out in the open waiting for me. And I thought, as I sorted, and then moved on to my current knitting project, about what my fabric might want to be.

So long 2017

As I write on the last day of the year, it is a bright and sunny, albeit cold, day here in Vermont. -2 right now with an expected high of maybe 3°F. There is a wind chill advisory for tonight and I’m happy to be tucked up in our warm house with nowhere else to be right now.

Christmas tree with birds
Enjoying bird-o-vision

This isn’t going to be an exhaustive list of 2017 happenings. Nor is it a 2018 resolution list. I don’t really do either of those sorts of reckonings in a formal way. But as we come to the end of the holiday “break” and start back into the regular routine of life I find myself writing out a big to-do list and thinking a bit about what I might like to be different next year.

Many of the blogs I read are talking less about “resolutions” and more about self-care. As I went into the studio to grab my laptop I walked past the laundry room and noted that the hanging pieces were dry, so I folded them into the basket. Recalled that I wanted to wash all my hand-knit socks and started the tub filling while I got yesterday’s pair from the hamper. Tumbled the rest into the tub and started them soaking. Folded a few more things as I walked past the drying rack and 10 minutes later finally accomplished the original mission of fetching the laptop. A small illustration of the meandering, distracted paths that sometimes make up my day. And somewhere in all of this is the thought of being slightly more, I don’t know, mindful maybe? Focused on the task at hand? Organized isn’t really the right word. But I have noticed days where the meandering path, setting off a series of reminders of what isn’t done is more stressful than useful. I’d like a bit less stress in my life, wouldn’t you?

For amusement I’ve decided to try the dot journal thingie. I do live by lists and schedules and feel so much more in control when I’ve got those to-dos written down somewhere and not cluttering my brain. I bought a book (because that’s what I do) Dot Journaling — A Practical Guide by Rachel Wilkerson Miller, read it through and started building my journal. As much as I rely on my electronic calendar, I have never embraced electronic to-do lists. I prefer the piece of paper (or more than one) with a pen handy to jot down things as they occur to me. I don’t want to find the phone, launch the app and type on the tiny keyboard. Nor do I want to have it pinging at me every time it thinks I should be doing something. Really important infrequent stuff, sure. But not all 20-odd things I need to get done this week. [And no, thanks, not looking for suggestions for the app you know will work for me. Because I realized that it’s not just about how good the app is. It’s that I don’t want to spend that much time with my phone/iPad/electronic device.]

So, dot journal, bullet journal, paper & pen-based organizer. I’ve got a notebook and a pen and colored pencils (if I choose to get fancy) and the beginnings of a plan for the first week of 2018.

To sign off I leave you with this image. When I got up this morning this path had been made in our field. There’s a straight line and a half circle sketched above it. The sun rising over the horizon line? The image does face east. An unfinished “Kilroy was here”? Who were the mysterious visitors and what does it all mean?

snow path
half circle over horizon line

 

Design challenge

Inspiration from the yarn stash

A few weeks ago a friend helped me sort through my personal yarn stash. She asked some tough questions about age of stash and intended use. We filled a donate bag and two big eBay bags and when we were done I still had LOTS of yarn. One of my most favorite yarns is Mountain Mohair from Green Mountain Spinnery. I love the colors and the feel. The slight sheen that comes from the mohair. It’s great to knit with and I’ve used it in sweaters and hats. I have a tendency though to pick up one skein of a color that tempts me. Over the years I’ve accumulated a few of these. I’ve added to my stash during their tent sale and, of course, with the leftovers from buying sweater quantities. While it is lovely to have this yarn to pet and admire, might it also be fun to knit with all of these great colors?

Part of the stash-sorting project was matching yarn to projects. Some pairings ended in divorce when I realized either that I no longer liked the pattern enough to knit it, or that I had been slightly misguided about my love for the yarn. But there is no breakup ahead between MM and I.

I decided that what I needed was a bit of a challenge. Sure, I could knit an established pattern. Trust me, I can get lost for hours looking at patterns on Ravelry. But what I wanted was to force myself to experiment a bit. Work outside of the strictures of a published pattern and the designer’s color scheme.

After a few minutes in the MM bin (one 12x12x12 cubby) I came out with 5 colors: Elderberry, Vincent’s Gold, Coral Bell, Partridgeberry and Blue Violet (clockwise from top left). I didn’t play with color wheels, or values or hues. I dove in and chose colors that I thought might work.

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My inspiration

I selected an appropriately-sized needle using the ball band gauge as a guide and remembering that I usually drop two needle sizes to match pattern gauges. My project, my canvas, was a cowl and my design source was Alice Starmore’s Book of Fair Isle Knitting which contains page after page of charted designs. My other goal for this project was to gain more experience with two-color knitting.

I didn’t do a gauge swatch. I guessed at how many stitches to cast on, again with the ball band information as a general guide. As this was an experiment I wasn’t too concerned about fit. The important part was to play around without too many strictures. So, armed with yarn, needle, and motif inspiration took off for an overnight with the knitter friend who helped with the stash assessment.  I’d put all this aside for a week or more waiting for this visit and hadn’t looked at it at all.

As I pulled the yarn out to plan my cast on I had a big “what was I thinking?” moment. These yarns are terrible together! This is going to be awful. But I’d decided ahead of time that I wasn’t going to switch anything. I was going to make this up as I went along, choosing the colors I wanted each time I changed motif.

I started with strongly contrasting colors for a corrugated rib. I knit that until it seemed long enough (5 rounds) and then opened Starmore to choose my first pattern.  I wanted to start with a 3 or 4-row pattern then move on to a taller motif.

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Deciding what to do next

As I was knitting along I was willing to consider also that the cowl would not be symmetrical from top to bottom. I was trying to counteract my strong sense of order and balance. But in the end there was only so much of my nature that I could change with this one project.  As I completed the tall center motif I realized that finishing as I had started would give me about the size cowl I wanted, so I repeated the first motif in both pattern and color and finished with the same corrugated rib.

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Far from the disaster that I expected, I have a lovely cowl. The colors work well together and I’m happy enough with this first attempt. My two-color knitting needs practice, the stitches are not as even as I’d like. And I should have worked that first round of corrugated all in knit to avoid the purl bumps (as you can see on the bottom of this picture.)  See the difference as you move into the rib at the top of the picture?  I think I’d also look for a cast-on that matched the cast-off a bit better.

I’m pleased with this. And since I’ve barely made a dent in the Mountain Mohair in that bin I’ll have to see what to knit next.

If you’d like to know more about how color inspires my designs, you can read about the Birds Eye Twill scarves I weave in my latest newsletter.

Scaling up

I’ve been accepted to a show in November, Craft Vermont, and I need to significantly increase my scarf inventory before then. One way to do that is to wind warps for multiple scarves in one run instead of one at a time. I’ve done this many times before when I weave dishtowels but up until now have preferred to do my scarves one at a time.

This has made sense when I have a limited supply of the warp yarn, or I’m going to use a funky accent yarn. But when I am planning to use the same variegated yarn for the warp and vary the color of the weft yarn, it makes sense to add some efficiency to the process. On the up side, I only have to sley the reed and thread the heddles once. Likewise, tying on to the front and back rods. On the downside, I’m winding a longer warp (10 yards vs 3) for 3 scarves, and managing the length through the process of dressing the loom.

I also needed to know what length to weave. When I set up to weave a single scarf, I typically weave the full length of the warp (minus the waste) and whatever I’m allowing for fringe. I don’t have to measure as I go because I keep going until I can’t. But with a 3-scarf warp I had some figuring to do. I knew how long the scarves were once I got them off the loom, but I hadn’t been measuring the weaving under tension and there’s always a loss of length (the take-up) between on loom and off.

I spent a few hours last weekend with my weaving notebook (notes on all the past projects) and my warp requirements planning spreadsheet and tried to figure it all out. I’ll spare you all the gory details (email me if you really want to know more), but I finally had something I thought would work.

This week I wound a test warp, 10 yards, for three scarves.

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warp chain along with two of the three weft yarns

I can whip out a 1-scarf warp pretty quickly, so I hadn’t thought real hard about how much longer it was going to take to wind this one. Once it was finally ready for the loom the threading went as quickly as ever.

Then there was the winding on of the warp onto the warp beam. There were some issues. The first was a rookie mistake. I hadn’t used the loom since I unfolded it after the rug workshop so it wasn’t quite set up correctly. The rod that’s supposed to go up and over the back beam was instead snugged right up against the warp beam. As I was tying on I kept thinking that it didn’t look right, but I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. After tying on most of the warp bundles I realized the problem. I painstakingly untied about 9 double knots, moved the rod into place and started the knotting process over again. (If it had been the loom below, I could have removed the back beam, slid it under the threads and replaced it, but my Baby Wolf doesn’t have that capability.)

Here’s what it is supposed to look like (this is not a scarf!)

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Warp threads properly going over the back beam

Then it was time for the winding on. I warp from the front, so in this step I’m turning a crank and winding all of the warp threads through the reed and heddles from the front of the loom to the back and onto the beam that is covered with cardboard in the picture above. The cardboard (some use sticks or heavy paper) keeps the threads from sinking into the layers of threads that I’ve wound on and thus I maintain an even tension across the width of the warp.

As I wound on, I knew I needed to keep the tension even, but I was using a mishmash of cardboard rolls, some of which were more squished flat than others, and it turns out I didn’t get it as tight as I should have. This was revealed to me only as I was weaving. I’d weave a couple of inches and go to advance the warp and there would be a lot more slack to take up than usual.  I’ve since cut a new 10-yard length of fresh corrugated to use and armed with that and this experience I’m hoping the next run will go much better.

I’m not doing anything here that I haven’t done many times before, but just making the one change, warp length, added some complexities to work out. I do think that in the long run it took less time overall to make the three scarves than if I had made them singly, and as with any process I expect to become even more efficient with practice.

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One warp, Painted Desert, three wefts: Greyed Teal, Taupe and Mineral Green

These haven’t been finished yet, they lack washing and pressing. If they look OK after that, they’ll go into inventory.


And finally, a reminder that the Vermont Sheep & Wool Festival is at the Tunbridge Fairgrounds on Saturday 10/1 and Sunday 10/2. Yarn, fiber, finished goods (I’m a vendor). Equipment, both for fiber processing and for animals. Sheep, alpacas, rabbits, and more. Loads of fun even if you aren’t a fiber person. Check out the website for a schedule of events including sheep herding demonstrations.