Sunday, 21 July 2013

Starched knitting

At the last Sandown Park knitting show, I purchased a solid crocheted box. I was intrigued, and started investigating ways to stiffen crocheted or knitted fabrics to create solid useable objects. The ladies at my local machine knitting club all knew about starched knitting, so I conducted a literature search, and found one book on the subject: "A Ticket A Tasket Let's Knit A Basket!" by Margaret Parker. It is a short booklet that provides some knitting machine patterns which can then be starched, and some suggestions on which starches to use.

The book suggests using potato starch or corn starch, but I have been unable to locate a source for either in our local area. I did, however, have some Arrowroot in the cooking cupboard, which has similar thickening properties. Let the fun begin!

My first test has been a very strong 1:3 Arrowroot solution. 1 tablespoon of arrowroot, mixed with 2 tablespoons of water. Bring to the boil, then allow to cool, whilst stirring thoroughly to stop any lumps appearing. Then, dunk the knitting into the solution and allow to soak for a while, agitating frequently. I used a tension square of two-colour fairisle. Wrap a ramekin disk in clingfilm, then squish the wet knitting over the bottom of the dish, stretching it to match the shape of the dish. Leave over-night to set. When it was fully set and dried, and cut the excess knitting away, and here are a couple of photos of the result. I was pleasantly surprised. More investigation is required of different yarns with different strength solutions.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Knitting machine colour techniques

There are 3 main techniques for colour knitting on a machine: fairisle, intarsia and double jacquard. Each technique has its own strengths and weaknesses. The same pattern can be used with all three techniques, but with quite differing results.
Fairisle is the simplest technique. It consists of only 2 colours per row. The non-worked colour floats across the back of the worked colour, producing loops called (quite logically) "floats". Therefore this technique works best for patterns where the colours alternate every 5 stitches or less, in order to reduce the length of the floats. The technique is identical to its hand-knitted counterpart. Where long floats are required by the pattern, there are options to try and manage the floats by hooking-up the floats so they are captured by the stitch above, or hooking-up the floats to themselves. Alternatively, the finished item can be lined with stretch netting and attached by stitching the netting to the back of the knit stitches at regular intervals (this tip I picked up from Kim Witcher who gave a fabulous talk at Fleet Machine Knitting Club about the technicolour dreamcoats she makes for the Joseph musicals).

On machines that have a built-in carriage setting for fairisle, or a specialised fairisle carriage, the knitting is created very quickly. 2 cones are set up, with the main colour and the contrast/pattern colour both being loaded through the carriage. The main colour will be worked on the needles in the working position, and the contrast colour worked on the needles in the upper working position. No hand-manipulation of the stitches is required. In combination with an appropriate colour-changer, both the main and contrast colours can be alternated on every-other row (when the carriage is on the colour side of the machine).
Intarsia was a very popular technique during the 80s and 90s when picture knitting was very much in fashion. As with fairisle, the machine knitting technique is very similar to its hand-knitting counterpart. Multiple colours can be used in each row. A small amount of each colour of yarn is wrapped into a small skein (butterflies is a term I have often seen used). Each coloured yarn is laid over the needles as per the pattern dictates. The carriage is moved across. Then, the yarns are laid over the needles again, but with care taken to overlap the end of each yarn over the start of the next yarn. This stops holes appearing between colours. This technique is also very close to its hand-knit equivalent.

Intarsia works well on large bold blocks of colour, and designs that require more than 2 colours per row. It is manually intensive, compared to fairisle, but with practice, it can become quite fluid.
Double Jacquard is the most complex. The technique requires a double-bed machine (flat-bed knitting machine plus a ribber-bed that sits perpendicular to the flat bed). The two sets of needles allows two layers of knitting to be done at the same time. The yarn is interwoven between the front and back of the fabric. This results in no floats! Therefore, very complex and intricate patterns can be created without the need to worry about how many stitches of each colour are used. The downside is that the technique is complex to get the hang of, does have a habit of sometimes ending up as a big yarn birds nest, and requires a machine in top-notch condition to reduce the risk of dropped stitches.

Jacquard works well for cut and sew designs because of the difficulty to shape the knitting whilst it is on the double-bed. I think of it as producing a fabric rather than knitting a garment.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Image to Knitting Machine software version 2

The first version of the front-end software was to make it quicker and easier for me to knit samples for visitors at Maker Faire using a scanner as the source of the images. Now that Maker is over, I have had  chance to get my first beta tester to run the software. Aunty Marion was the willing volunteer. Marion would ideally like to be able to knit pictures, that her grand-children have drawn, using a Brother 970. We haven't quite worked out the difference between the 950i and the 970, but luckily Marion has a 950i as well.

The software was quickly installed and set-up. We ran through how to use the software, and several usability issues became obvious. These were quickly resolved by a few changes to the wording on the buttons on the application, and re-organizing the buttons. Here is a screenshot of the new layout:

The improved software is available now on my website.

In other news, I had a marvelous find on eBay: a Chad Valley Knit-o-matic. It needed a really good thorough strip-down, clean and oil, but when it was back together, I was quite impressed by the knitting that I could achieve on it. Looking forward to more playing to see if I can make up the patterns that are included in the box.

Added to the To-Do list: make a clear-plastic and wooden version of the Knit-o-matic that I can show clearly how the needles move when doing basic knit stitches. Will be a fabulous hands-on demonstration piece to take to events.

Looking forward to Knit In Public events next Saturday. 

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

User-friendly front-end for Brother 950i

At Maker Faire (UK) 2013 in Newcastle, I had a stand set up with a Brother 950i knitting machine, a scanner, a laptop, and a large pile of paper, chunky markers and pens. Visitors to the show could draw a picture, then scan it in to the laptop, convert it in to a knitting pattern, that I then knit on the machine.
To speed up the process, I wrote a little desktop app that loaded the latest image from the scanner, converted the image, then loaded the disk emulator with the output disk image. If you would like to have a play, then please do. It is a work in progress and makes some assumptions.

You can read more, and download the software, at Front-end for Brother patterns.

Screenshot from Scanner to Knitting Machine software

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Maker Faire (UK) 2013

After a 1 year hiatus, April 2013 saw the return of Maker Faire to Newcastle (UK). After experiencing a very successful Mini Maker Faire in Brighton last autumn, and as I had finally got everything working on my knitting machine to be able to scan pictures in then knit them, I thought it was worth the 320 mile slog up to Newcastle to experience Maker Faire in all it's glory.

Stand 11: Bitmap Machine Knitting
6 of us headed up, and given how busy we were on the stand, I am so very glad it was not just me and the other half! There were 300 stands and over 10,000 visitors over the weekend. I was stunned by the turnout. As well as my parents making the trip especially to see what craziness their little one was up to this time, I was also very pleased to bump in to old friends I hadn't seen since Mini Maker Faire, and various machine knitting enthusiasts who I have chatted to on-line over the last few years. Fabulous to put faces to the names. I also met new people who I am looking forward to chatting to on-line over the next year.

The stall I ran was Stand 11: Bitmap Machine Knitting. Not the most creative name for the stand, and possibly the use of the word 'bitmap' was confusing a lot of non-technical people. I will have to think of a better name for my next Mini Maker Faire application. The concept was: Draw it, scan it, knit it. I had my Brother 950i set-up with a laptop and a scanner. Visitors could draw a picture, then I would scan it in and knit them a 60 stitch by 80 row sample using the 2-colour Fairisle technique. I lost track during the show of how many samples I knit, and I forgot to take photos of all those I made. However, I did have the scanned images saved (which I have put on my website) and I count 30 visitor images, and 2 of my own (bitmap machine knitting sign, and toilet sign as the blanket hanging up at the back of the stand covered the toilet sign on the wall behind). Given the show was open for 15 hours in total over the weekend, that is an average of 1 image every 30 minutes, or, 160 stitches per minute! No wonder I was exhausted after the show!
Drawn Bitmap Machine Knitting

Knitted Bitmap Machine Knitting

Lots of people said it was the noise of the knitting machine that drew them to the stand. The most common phrase said was "my Gran used to have one of those". Sadly only half a dozen visitors actually had machines themselves, and of those only 2 still use them. Hopefully I inspired the others to dust their machines off and give it another go. I was interested to hear that several Fab Labs and Maker Spaces had knitting machines that had been donated to them, but didn't know what to do with them. I have their business cards and hope to help get these machines up and running for Makers to be able to play with.

Mine was not the only knitting machine stand at the show. We were in the crafty zone along with sewing machines making bunting, a quilting stand, several jewellery stands and a stand making books. Next to us were Knitic (who have replaced the internal boards in a 930 for an Arduino) and Roboknit (a life-size mannequin robot that makes circular scarfs on a rotating knitting loom).
Knitic stand at Maker Faire UK
Roboknit stand at Maker Faire UK