After I broke a needle (serious business since replacement needles are not available for my knitting machine), and had the knitted blank leap off the machine for the third or fourth time, I finally gave in and acknowledged that Things Were Amiss. I consulted Mike, who is much more observant and patient, and thus much better at machine repair than I. We took apart the machine, replaced the needle, washed everything down in alcohol to remove the sewing-machine oil I’d been using, and relubed with a “dry” bike chain lube that wouldn’t attract lint. We also adjusted the yarn guide, that holds the yarn as it funnels into the machine. Knitting machine now functions more-or-less correctly, which is a relief.
So I knitted up Yet Another Blank, which is 114 needles wide (double width) and 225 rows long. I had calculated that this would yield about 6 inches of fabric, and in fact it yields 6.375 inches (on the loom) once woven. That’s a variance of about 6%, which will disappear in wet-finishing, so I think those calculations are good to go.
I also rinsed out the Uber-Long Blank of Doom, aka the 4,050-row blank I knitted over the weekend and dyed on Sunday. The good news is that the dye does seem to have set correctly at room temperature: there was very little rinse-out and no further bleeding. The bad news is that, with the additional time to cure, the dyes seem to have blended into a single color rather than the blotches I was going for. I am debating whether to knit another test blank, this time adding thickener to the dye so it doesn’t run together as much. I do want to get to weaving, but I also want to make sure it will work with my design.
What I am currently debating is whether it will look better or worse with more horizontal color “texture” (i.e. if I add thickener to the dye to keep it in blobs). It all depends on what I do with the fiber-reactive part of the dyeing…if I am doing interesting stripes and swoops with that, then I want to tone down the background. If I am doing more uniform colors, then an interesting background becomes more critical. And of course I don’t want it to argue with the collar.
So I think what I will do is:
- Do as Stephanie suggested, and try the fiber-reactive dyes out on a sample. I don’t anticipate problems as I have done cross-dyeing before with no visible effect on the “hand”, but that was with alpaca and wool may well be different. I think the key thing I did was to neutralize the soda ash with vinegar in the very first rinse bath, without swooshing it around or otherwise abusing it – that removes the alkali so the wool is less inclined to felt. Also, I’m not sure, but this may be superwash yarn, in which case the whole issue of felting is moot.
- Unravel and weave up the big blank, and dye it in various colorways and patterns using fiber-reactive dyes.
- Knit up a third blank using twice as many needles (and thus half the length) and thickener in the dye. Paint with fiber-reactive dye in various colorways and patterns, and see how they interact.
- Experiment with better ways to unravel the blanks. While they are unraveling more smoothly now, it still took me 18 minutes to unravel six inches’ worth of yarn, which is much slower than I’d like.
Finally, Ruth asked what kind of knitting machine I have. I have an ArtKnitter RK-10, an ancient knitting machine that I bought on Craigslist for $50. Sadly, there is no info about it anywhere on the Net, suggesting that it was not a common machine when it was made and has since vanished into oblivion. It’s a pity, because that means that (a) there are no spare parts available and (b) no instructions beyond the “instruction manual”, which is written in very poorly translated Japanese and hence incomprehensible (except the pictures). I did figure out how to cast on and knit stockinette stitch with it, though, and that’s all I need.
At any rate, when I went up to visit my friend Nancy, maven of machine knitting, we noticed that the carriage on my knitting machine was much lighter than the carriage on hers, probably because the machine is very simple and only does stockinette stitch (I think). Fewer gizmos = lighter carriage. The other two things I’ve found are that lubing works wonders, as does moving the carriage with your hips and not your shoulder. Basically I stand sideways to the machine, one foot in front and one in back, and rock back and forth from one foot to another. This pushes my torso forward and back, and the shoulder, arm, and carriage naturally follow the torso. This reduces wear and tear on the shoulder substantially.
Off to test those fiber-reactive dyes!