Introduction to a knitting machine and creating a totally local beanie.
Several weeks ago Hailey Mackey and I met to discuss her knitting machines and how we could collaborate on creating clothing with them. I was excited, creating clothing by hand is especially time-consuming when you haven’t knitted or crocheted continually. I enjoy crocheting and look forward to knitting efficiently but also realized I had given myself a time limit! These machines seem to be a lifeline in reaching my challenge to wear only local clothing starting Earth Day, 2022.
“Handmade is not homemade. Do it right and wear it with pride!” - Reba Linker in 'Follow the Yarn'
Vintage machines such as hers also resale for quite a few pennies (check out a few on Etsy), I feel so fortunate that Hailey’s impetus to work with them aligned with my project. Sometimes fate rules. But I had so many questions. How do they work? Would they run properly after being stored for years in an attic? How long until I could create something with the machines? I wondered.
Like anything new I want to learn, I went to YouTube and watched various videos on cleaning the machine, setting it up, and creating the first garment. The Answer Lady provided no-nonsense videos and a website but far from the only one - a quick search on YouTube provides so many options for everyone's taste. After viewing many videos, it seemed obvious a hat was the easiest first venture as several videos were dedicated to creating a simple hat. But, first to ensure the machine was ready...
Created in the 1980s and 90s, predominately in Japan, these machines are mainly metal construction, made to last. These are mostly mechanical, some with punch cards but later models boast computerized systems. The basic ones mimic antique knitting machines of the early 1900s but I have been told much less fussy. I hoped so!
Setting up the Knitting Machine
I carried over a machine and got it properly mounted on its stand. I oiled it up, inserted a new ‘sponge bar’ a device that applies pressure to the knitting needles as they are moved IN or OUT in various positions to complete the knit cycle. Not having knit much before, the learning curve was a bit higher for me than most crafters, but I understood the general idea of knitting and was able to watch the needles move and do their job. I was ready to insert some less pricey yarn and see what happens!
I threaded the machine and got started. At first, all my edges were loopy! Ugh, I watched more and more YouTubes and tried different adjustments, ordered carriage parts made of rubber that broke likely due to heat exposure over the years, nothing worked. I still had loopy edges. The one thing I realized is that the yarn wasn't pulling up properly when I moved the carriage, creating the loop. What I didn't know if how to fix it. At that point, I knew I was missing a very basic concept that even the YouTube videos didn’t cover, but that truth didn’t help the fact that I didn’t know what it was! I didn’t know any machine knitters but Hailey knows everyone and I am lucky to know her!
Talking to a Real Person - the Best How-To Help
Hailey set me up on a phone call with another knitting machine user who has a business making slippers. And, after the conversation, I was reminded why actually speaking to someone is so superior to watching videos. I was making a simple mistake by not watching a looped wire move up and down. It was getting snagged, causing the yarn not to draw up as I moved the carriage across the knitting needles. Problem solved. I went from extra loops to a nice edge and even tried my hand at reducing stitches with the machine. Although this is done by hand, it isn't time-consuming and allows one to practice removing the stitches as needed at the end of any project.
"The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together." - William Shakespeare, 'All is Well that Ends Well'
The Almost Finished Product
I was able to create the basic hat in about 15 minutes which essentially appears as a rectangular piece of cloth on these flat machines. I also made a brim by folding up the rectangular piece during the knitting. After the knitting was completed, I needed to pull on the end yarn to create a gathered top for the beanie. I added a few securing stitched to close up the small hole still visible after pulling tight. Then, using the long yarn tail from the gathering, sew the sides together to finish up!
Again, my lack of knitting in the past caught up with me. I was having difficulty seeing the stitches to properly complete the mattress stitch which was the recommended blind stitch for the beanie to create an invisible seam. I also noticed that the machine edges didn’t quite appear like the hand-knitted pieces in How-To videos. I admit, this is a basic stitch and I felt a bit inept in having difficulty seeing the stitches. The wool was a bit fuzzy, and I figured the dark color and texture weren’t my friend. By the end of the seaming, I realized that the stitching was visible. Oh no! I needed to figure this out.
"Just because something is fun doesn't mean it's a waste of time." - Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
So, like anyone working with crafts and a bit impatient - I got out my scissors and attempted to cut out the visible stitching. Unfortunately, just like I had difficulty seeing the stitches to do the mattress stitch, I had difficulty seeing stitches to remove them. While removing the mattress stitches, I actually cut a bit of the machine knitting as well. I knew then, this was firmly a test hat and learning experience.
Then, feeling a bit more confident I got my crochet hook out to try to fix the seaming. I did a slip stitch crochet to seam up the hat and it worked much better. Some seaming was still visible due to cutting the machine knitting by accident - but I look forward to creating more pieces and finding out the look when you use crochet to seam your ends from the start!
I can wear my imperfect trial hat during my challenge as the yarn used to create it came from a local Green Mountain Spinnery in Putney, VT. I can't wait to create more beanies, adding some flair with two yarns, or use the punch card patterns. Now, if only the weather would cool down!