Hello, and welcome

Vikki_2013smallTurnedThis blog covers many aspects of textiles, but its main focus is on knitting; both hand and machine. You will find discussions on Creative Machine Knitting along with instructions for using machines, machine accessories, repairs, tips and techniques. As the blog has grown it has embraced other aspects of textiles.

Amongst my personal interest in textiles, I am also involved in ongoing, textile-related academic research.

See my books about hand and machine knitting on my Amazon.com Author Page


Another addiction: weaving on a rigid heddle loom

I haven’t really woven on a loom since I was a student at college. I have a Spears toy loom which I used for one project but the width is limited and the heddle is quite fiddly to work with. What I really wanted to do was to find a technique that uses up my small bits of handspun yarn my experiments and my texted handspun that I don’t think looks very good in knitting.

The Spears loom is actually quite good, and is very much like using a rigid heddle loom but with the shortcomings mentioned earlier. So I was really pleased when a friend offered to lend me 15 inch rigid heddle loom that she had in her attic. This now gives me the extra width and also the heddle is much easier to manipulate.

And so my weaving adventure has begun. Kindly she put a viscose thread warp on it for me to get me going and I’ve used this to practise using some acrylic DK yarn I had to hand.

Playing with acrylic yarn to get the feel of the loom.
My first handspun effort

Acid dyeing session

Having acquired a Devon/Cornwall fleece that is quite similar to a Romney in feel and quality, I thought I’d dye some for blending. This fine will be great to comb for a semi-worsted spun yarn.

One of my favourite methods for safely dyeing fleece without matting the fibres is to use a slow cooker. I have a large family sized one that will dye 100g comfortably and 150g at a pinch, and a single-person one that does 20g for samples etc.

Using a pre-mixed colour I’ve used before I did a blue first. However, on this fleece it came out darker than I anticipated, but will probably lighten up once combed or carded and spun.

From the remains of the dyebath I got a pretty light turquoise.

The blue at the back, turquoise at the front

I have combed these colours as shown in this video.

Note that in this video I talk about ‘roving, but technically I am making ‘tops’. Roving is a similar narrow length of fibres drawn off a drum carder (usually, but can be hand carders) and has a slight twist added to keep the fibres together.
After combing, both colours have come out as
I hoped.

I also wanted an olive green, and have a recipe that worked perfectly on a Dorset fleece last year. I must have made a mistake somewhere, because I got a dark green instead. Maybe it is the different fleece, but I think I got my proportions wrong!

Pretty enough, but not olive green!

Once again they was some colour left in the bath, so in went 100g of Dorset fleece. OMG, the colour was bright! No idea what I did wrong, but it makes me blink.

The only compensation is that the fleece has not called at all due to using the slow cooker method.

That bright green total exhausted the dye – no surprise really! I will probably card this as the staples of the Dorset fleece are short and it is a soft fibre. Great for soft woollen spun yarn.

If you are interested in discovering the difference between different terms such as roving, tops etc, click here to read Abby Franquemont on Spin Off.

Spinning outdoors,(well almost) – on my Ashford Espinner

Its a mix of rain and sun this afternoon, and we are in our caravan so I decided to do some spinning on my Ashford Espinner. I’ve brought four Frankenstein batts I carded from a mixture of old cream Jacobs and two pink and orange poorly dyed batches of Dorset fleece. Plus a small amount of a pretty olive green. The poorly dyed had nepps from the partial felting, and I kept some of these when carding to add texture.

These were all carded on the electric from carder in stripes. I ended up with four largish batts which I split and spun as rolags.

Below you can see how I split the batts and I worked out the TPI of the singles on the espinner.

Author’s not: I originally intended to upload this as a ‘story’ post, but after the uploads gobbled up my mobile data and it still didn’t work properly I decided to make it a normal post.

I split the large batt horizontally into smaller sections.

The smaller sections were then hand-rolled into individual rolags. Because the batt had been double carded and divided between each carding, the colours ran from side to side. I like to work with small rolags, so halved each one, but worked with through the rolags in a zig zage way so that the ends met to keep consistency to the colour grading.

Spinning singles on my Ashford Espinner in the caravan awning
Achieving the desired TPI on an espinner is based on knowing the number of flyer rotations per minute, which is controlled by the speed dial.

For this singles I wanted around 8 TPI, and I had already measured my drafting of 2″ lengths at about 40 which equals me 80″ per minute. So I multiplied the TPI x draft length per minute

8 x 80 = 640.

So I set my speed dial to where I know I get about 640rpm. Its not exact, but neither is it on a wheel, but it gave a pretty good average of 8TPI.

I plan to ply this with a plain colour, otherwise the colours become overwhelmed by each other. Maybe a rust or cream, or even a black?

Update. I eventually plied it with a Dorset singles from my stash. Made 70g of very useable yarn or approximately 7 TPI, 8 WPI and 20 degree angle of twist.

The finished yarn.

Brother KH710 knitting machine refurbishment


How I disassembled the needle selector plates of a KH710 and they lived to knit again

I have purchased one of these older, push-button knitting machines and at first look it was not in too bad condition. I have fond memories of these machines; Jones KH588 machines were the first ones I used at college when I started my degree in textile design in the dim and distant past. Apart from being cream rather than blue, the KH 710 is pretty similar to look at, and has the same functions and a lace carriage included. The KH710 is a little more streamlined as the two carriages have integral handles, not screw-on ones like the 588.

The 710 unpacked, de-needled and ready to be worked on

After a quick assessment it seemed to be complete and by the state of the brushes, I would say never used – but the main problems were sticking push buttons and, sadly, rusty needles. It looks like the machine may have been stored in a damp place as the needles were rusted underneath the sponge bar. This is not too bad, as the hooks and latches are not damaged so I planned to salvage as many as possible. The sponge bar itself was disgusting, melted, sticky and disintegrating into the bed, but this actually made it easier to clean it and re-line with a replacement sponge from Xena Knits. https://www.xenaknits.com/

The new sponge bar ready to go in

Before I tackled the sponge bar I removed the needles and put them into a jar of 10% citric acid for about an hour or so to see if I could shift the rust. The needles came out of the soak and after a thorough rub with wire wool and surgical spirit followed by a gentle oil they are not too bad. I’ve only had to swap a few few dire ones for fresh ones, and after a knitting test the salvaged needles knit fine. I’ve tried tuck, fair isle and slip in an acrylic 4ply and all went well.

Sample still on the machine, fair isle, tuck and slip all working OK

However, I now needed to take a look at the push buttons as some were sticking down. This started with number 8; it was very slow to rise up so the cancel button didn’t clear the selection and the needle was reselect – really annoying.

Brother apparently didn’t issue a separate service manual for the KH710, so I worked with the KH588 one I have, which was a good starting place. Although I have taken these machines apart before it was a long time ago, so I trawled the internet and found useful info on YouTube from the Answerladyknits and also from Vintage Knitting Machines. However, as with the service manual, these feature older KH585 and 588s which seem to be slightly different inside – particularly where the button module sits.

Whilst working on the machine I cleaned out the buttons, not that they were dirty, but one of the little springs was out of line, so had to be babied back into position. I may have done that whilst repeatedly testing the buttons for a clean return.

One of the parts that was difficult to get apart was the long wire that is attached to the plate which slides the button/needle selection across the bed. This is connected to the black numbered scale on the cover which shows the needle positions and has to be removed if you want to take the main back cover off. The screw is difficult to remove becasue there is nothing behind it, so no resistance to turn against. I managed to strip this and needed to use pliers in the end and a new screw was needed to replace the old one.

Since starting the refurbishment I’ve taken it apart several times and made a video which might help people with this model. I will put it on YouTube and link to it at the end of this post. The first time I removed the case, and sprayed the insides with LP1 to clean and food grade silicone to lubricate as recommended by Jack on the Answerladyknits, using both on the selector plates as well. After testing I thought the buttons were freer, but they reverted to sticking quite quickly, and had this had now moved to numbers 3 and 7. By now they were not miss-selecting but the slow return was annoying me! The physical needle selection with the set lever was also a little sluggish, so I decide the problem was probably with the needle selector plates inside the machine rather than the buttons themselves. All really frustrating. A lot of rude words were heard!

As I had taken the machine apart I thought it might be useful for other owners of 710s to see how I did this. Sadly I didn’t think of this until I was putting it back together again, but have put photos and video together to show most of my method, as you can see below.

This video explains how to disassemble and reassemble a Brother KH710 push button knitting machine. I have also made another video about unsticking sticky buttons on this machine and refurbishing rusty needles.

This video explains how to check over a Brother KH710 push button machine and the first thing to try to release sticky buttons. It also describes how to clean rusty needles and knitting to test the machine. For a more advanced fix, which includes taking the needle selector plates apart for extremely thorough cleaning, read on…
Garment pattern in tuck and stripe knit cotton yarn. Prepared in DAK 9 to be knitted on the KH710

At this point, thinking I had solved the problem I decided to knit a garment to test the machine. But whilst knitting this number 3 button began to get sticky and annoyingly slow to respond to the cancel button and pop up to neutral. It was only a little glitch, but enough to be noticeable. I also noted that number 1 and 2 were a bit slow as well. After I completed the back my frustration with the buttons overcame me and the machine came apart again.

This time I decided to concentrate on the needle selector plates. There are eight of these plates which are thin metal strips with tabs along the top, longer edge that look a bit like castle battlements. These are sandwiched between two ‘L’ shaped nesting metal needle selector plate holders in one complete assembly. Each thin plate has differently positioned, evenly spaced tabs which correspond to a push button and a needle. These plates are held in the needle selector plate holder with pins and screws and slide across each other, so must be clean and smooth without any gunge between them.

Close up of the selector plates when out of the machine, but still in their holder. In this image, plate one, which responds to button one is at the back, plate eight, which responds to button eight is at the front. This positioning depends on the way in which the needle selector holder is viewed.

The way these plates work is rather neat. Each has a different sequence of holes, (round and elongated) along their length. They also have as series of slots shaped like extended ‘U’s. When the plates are stacked together in the holder in the right order the holes overlap, forming a set of eight small holes that line up with the control wires, (or feelers) that come from the eight push buttons. When a button is pressed its feeler wire moves to the side, sliding the corresponding plate so that the tabs are inline with the needle number (1-8) to be selected. However, the plate is still too low to touch the needle butts and this is where the pins and slots come into action. When the plates are stacked in the holder, the slots fit onto the pins. As a plate slides, the slot travels over the static pin and the plate rises upwards as it reaches the higher side of the ‘U’. This lifts the tab high enough to align it with the butt of the correct needle. As the set lever is pulled the whole plate assembly slides forwards and each selected plate tab pushes the needle in front of it as it moves forward.

So I bit the bullet and stripped it down a bit more. To start with I unscrewed the white nylon zig-zag arm and removed the metal plate that slides the button selection/assembly along the bed from position 1-8. You can see how to do this in more detail in the earlier video. This allowed me to see the needle selector plates more easily. At this point the needle selector plates were still inside the machine. Next I tried taking out the three little screws on the base of the plate holder assembly which hold the right angle plate-holders together. This allowed me to open them up so that I could slide a scalpel blade between the plates to open the gaps, and squirt more LP1 into the gap and clean out any debris. I then stood the machine at 45 degrees so that the fluid would run out from between the plates and left it for an hour or so. After this the sticking improved, but didn’t go away. Plus I had a pool of lubricant in the lid of the machine that I had sat the end in… messy and smelly.

Next I decided to remove the plate holder itself. This involved removing the button assembly as well. Horrors! I was entering the dark side…

All the sensible advice is to avoid disassembling the needle selector plates, but I could see that there was a stringy, viscous substance between them preventing them sliding across each other. I really needed to clean this off! My envy of videos showing effortless button pressing on other machines spurred me on.

The selector plates being taken apart. Note the ‘U’ shaped slots and the labelling of the parts. These plates are shown with the tabs at the top, as they would be in the machine.

It all came out quite easily, which was a surprise to me. The whole needle selector assembly is mounted on three raised-head screws that enable it to slide from left to right but there is a long, screwheaded nut that fits through a metal blocking plate attached to the button assembly which stops it sliding totally off these mounting screws. I had to remove this long screwheaded blocking nut to remove the holder from the machine body. The button assembly had tocome out as well, so before going any further I carefully unscrewed the two large headed screws that hold it in place on the metal slide its rear. Once that long headed blocking nut was removed, and with a little fiddling the whole needle plate holder could be slid to the ‘keyhole’ end of the three long screw slots and holder and button assembly lifted out completely. The button wires could then be slid out of the plates and put to one side. Mine was clean, but if yours needs cleaning do that after cleaning the plates and before reassembling it all.

The long screwheaded blocking nut fitted underneath the needle selector plate holder. It fits through that metal plate so that the plate stops against a bracket, preventing the needle plate holder sliding all the way out of the raised-head mounting screws.

Now it was easy to take the plates apart. BUT, if you do this, take the time study how it all works before starting. Take lots of photos as you disassemble, and label each part clearly in permanent marker BEFORE moving it. Then if you knock things over, or have to leave the machine for a period of time, you will know how it goes back together again.

My order of work, once the holder was out of the machine, was a follows:

Remove the inner plate holder

Label L and R end

Remove all the plates in one go and lay them parallel to the inner with the tabs facing away from you

Label the outer holder L and R.

Carefully separated the top needle selector plate

Label it on one end. I used ‘L1’ meaning it is push button 1, and that that end matches ‘L’ on the holders. All others followed as ‘L2’, ‘L3’ etc. One is the plate at the rear of the holder, eight is the one at the front.

Wipe the plate clean of oil and dirt and polished both sides

Replace it onto the pins in the outer holder, matching L to L.

Repeat with each plate, making sure to label them methodically.

Test that the plates slide smoothly.

Screw the holder back together.

Phew, time for a cuppa now!

With a little fiddling the button wires went back into their respective holes. I found this easier to do with the assembly held so that the wires were vertical.

Sliding the button wires back through the selector plate holes

Because that long screwheaded blocking plate nut is really awkward to replace in situ I replaced it in the needle plate holder before putting it back into the machine. This meant that I had to remove one of the raised screws which the holder slides on otherwise the blocking plate didn’t fit correctly and the holder would not slide. These raised screws attach through to the set lever mechanism, but temporarily removing the left hand one, (button side of the bed) meant that I could slide the needle selector holder and button assembly back in place so that the blocking plate and nut fitted together correctly and did their job. Just remember to replace and fasten this screw before you move anything else.

A quick test showed that the buttons were zapping away cleanly and efficiently and that the needles were selecting with ease. After that is was plain sailing, and the machine went back together as shown in the original videos without any problem.

I hope this might help anyone who wants to take a Brother KH710 apart for repair. I certainly could have done with a bit of help.

I will put this into a pdf at some point and upload it here.

My best loaf yet…I hope

I’ve called this post ‘my best loaf yet… I hope’, because I haven’t sliced this sourdough loaf yet.

Sprinkled with a little stardust… Specially for the ‘ear’

Typically this was rather thrown together on a hot day day.and baked in a hurry, straight from the fridge, before I went out this morning. I used the same Sourly recipe as my last loaf, with 50g of the bread flour swapped for 50g Spelt. As I suspected I was allowing my shaped dough you over-prove, I put it straight in the fridge after shaping – without leaving it out for the 80 minutes that is suggested. I think in the winter it will probably need this, but the temperatures at the moment here in the UK are in the 30s so it works best without.

The starter is still my original one made from raisin-water yeast that I started in January 2020. I feed it with plain flour and occasionally with spelt or rye – just to give it a bit of a different flavour. I feed the starter with 100 g of flour and 100g of water to 100g of starter so I think this makes it 100% hydrated? Not sure.

As with my own recipe the bread dough comes out as about 70 – 72% hydrated after mixing. The main difference between the recipes is that Sourly’s uses 130g starter, and I was using 94g. I prefer using 130g as there is less starter to discard each time. Then it’s just a matter of less flour and less water to manorial the ‘baker’s percentage’. You can read more about the ‘baker’s perecentage’ in my post here.

Update – crumb is as good as the crust!

Open crumb loaf sourced open

Possibly my first sourdough ‘ear’

This is the first time I’ve got an ear on my sourdough loaf!

Flap of dough lifted up on a cooked sourdough loaf. Black sesame seed topping

The loaf was prepared using Sourly’s recipe which only really varies for my own in that it’s got honey in it but otherwise is about 70% hydration I think. This has always seemed to work normally ok for me.

I made a double quantity and a round and rectangular shape but was a bit disappointed in the round loaf. The dough just spread out and made out of blob not a nice boule shape. I’m sure it will taste nice it just looks a bit burnt to be honest. The boule was scored and then baked open on a baking stone – with steam – in the oven.

The rectangular was open cooked for 5 minutes, scored then covered in the cloche with a good water spray.

Sourdough boule with flax seed topping

I think my oven temperature is probably too high – it’s so hot today day maybe I could have done with the lower temperature?

I’ve come to the conclusion that my problem is that I over prove the dough. So although I retarded this in the fridge overnight I followed Sally’s suggestion to sit outside for 80 minutes before putting in the fridge. I think it was this in the hot weather that has caused yet another over- proof.

To be honest I used to get much nicer looking loads with a lower hydration somewhere between 60 and 65% but a nicer, holey crumb with the 72%. So more experimentation still needed on one day I might get it right.

Sourdough bread-baking update

I’ve purchased some new tools for my bread making. The first was a bread cloche (well my version of this). More recently I indulged in a bannetton basket with liner and a plasterer’s spatula. These are not only useful, but fun to use and experiment with. I’ve written a bit more about using these, and how they have aided my sourdough baking in my page Getting a Great Crust on Sourdough Bread.

If purchasing a plasterer’s spatula, make sure it has a stainless steel blade.

Still practising scoring…