Monday, 17 November 2014

Victorian knitting with 1mm knitting needles

The Knitting Reference Library at Southampton University has digitised 67 pre-1900 books from the Richard Rutt collection (books that are out of copyright). This is a wonderful resource of a wide range of knitting recipes, advice, guidance, and social history.

The instructions to knit a garment are referred to as recipes, which in current parlance we refer to as patterns. The use of the term pattern seems to infer colour patterns and the yarns used, rather than how to make the garment. There is a lack of drawings or images of the finished items, and no gauges. In a few cases there are instructions to knit for a certain distance, but other than that, no finished garment sizes are provided, and certainly no details for creating the garments in multiple sizes. 

To start my foray into knitting a Victorian garment, I selected a baby bootee recipe: Baby's Shoes (a very pretty pattern) from The Knitters Companion by Mrs Mee and Miss Austin, which was published in approximately 1840-50. Here is a screenshot from the digital copy:

After some research at the Knitting Reference Library in Winchester, and some looking-up of standard wire gauge measurements, the nearest modern needle size I could find to Victorian No. 19 pins are 1mm DPNs. Not easily available. Most knitting shops only go down to 2mm needles for very fine lace knitting or socks. Luckily for me, the Knitter's Pride Karbonz go down to 1mm (US 00000), and were available by mail order.

Whilst waiting for the 1mm DPNs to arrive, I had a go using 1.75mm DPNs (the smallest I had in stock) and some 2 ply wool from my stash and I produced the first version of the baby shoes.

They came out about the size of a 3 year old's foot. For the second attempt I used 1mm DPNs and Yeoman Yarn's 1 ply merino wool that I had left over from making a Zandra Rhodes machine knit circular jacket. 

This one seemed to come out about the right size, though several friends with babies commented that the size is at the smaller end of baby feet, but suggested perhaps Victorian babies were (on average) smaller than today. The Victorian knitting recipes certainly assume a much higher level of knitting ability from the reader, and in some places are more of a guide than instructions. The finished shoes certainly received warm praise and lots of "ooohs" from the members of the Knitting History Forum at the annual conference last month. 

Friday, 14 November 2014

Image conversion - which knitting machine can I use?

A frequent question I get asked is which knitting machines can the draw-scan-knit software be used with. The short answer is that the software I am currently using only works with the Brother KH-950i. This works fine for me, as it is the only electronic knitting machine I own. However, the 950i is not the only electronic programmable machine, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to source a good working model.

The 'hack' that I use is largely a collection of open-source python scripts that emulates the Brother external FB-100 disk drive. The original brianredbeard branch on GitHub, and the adafruit branch, are both configured for the Brother KH-930E, which is a Brother model released in the USA. In the UK, Brother released the 950i. My branch on GitHub is for the 950i model only. The branches are needed due to a difference in the memory size between the 2 machines. I have briefly tried the same software against a Brother KH-970 long enough to determine that it has another completely different memory size.

If you have a 970, or other Brother electronic knitting machine with an FB-100 port, and like playing with Python scripts, then I would recommend doing a compare between the 950i and 930 branch code in order to show where the memory size differences occur. You can they play with your particular scripts/machine in order to find a setting that works.

If you don't fancy messing about with Python scripts, then the wiki is trying to maintain a list of other software that is available for knitting machines (commercial and open-source).