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

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.

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

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…

Ergonomic knitting machine table upgrade

I’ve been having back problems and unable to use my knitting machine for several months which had been frustrating. Especially as I am coming towards the end of writing my latest book and wanted to knit some of the final samples. The same was of course true of trying to sit down to write the text of the book, or do any work at the computer.

I had seen sit-stand desks, and fancied one for computer work when I first looked at the start of the panedemic in the UK, but they were terribly expensive. My son acquired one for his work as a computer programmer and it looked an interesting solution for spending a long time writing at the computer. I tried putting my computer on a static raised desk, which was great for teaching as I could move about, but then I couldn’t sit down to do the accompanying admin and ended up with real back problems. After the best part of two years struggling with WFH teaching online, (actually we were all trying to do most things online weren’t we) as well as writing a book, my back finally gave up with an acute bout of sciatica

Several months down the line I am still plagued by this problem, and have invested in a sit-stand desk converter. So far this is proving to be a solution for computer work, (along with a timer telling me to take a walk). I chose a converter because I didn’t want to lose the lovely desk my husband had built for me.

Back to the knitting machine. Yes I know this is a round about way of telling the story, but I’m getting there.

The physiotherapist from whom I am receiving treatment for my back problem suggested putting the knitting machine on a high table to improve the ergonomics of working on it. I have long wanted to do this so that I could stand whilst working on it – as if it was a Dubied – but I also sometimes want it lower, for example with or without ribber. The practicalities of moving machines from high table to low table, let alone the space I would need to do this made a static high table a poor solution. Recently, whilst investigating sit-stand converters it dawned on me that I might be able to solve both of these ‘wants’ by using a sit-stand desk as the table for my knitting machine. Having been put off by the price when I had looked before, I did a fresh internet trawl and found the price first these desks has become almost sensible – lots of demand I guess – so I decided to research a combination that would work.

The max load for the lower priced, single motor ones seemed to be 70kilos, and my machine plus ribber comes within that. Next questions were, ‘would it overbalance? and ‘would there be room for the clamps?’ I bought the powered version, frame only and we fitted a separate top so that it could be positioned to address these issues. In fact the frame is pretty sturdy, and the feet quite deep, so the balance works OK and the top overlaps at front and back sufficiently to allow room for clamps. Another advantage of fitting our own top was that the controller could be fixed to the side so it isn’t obscured by the ribber. Cable management was next, and not to arduous and then my machine was ready to zoom up and down – well not too fast!

Price-wise this solution cost probably five or six times that of a standard machine table, but I hope it will mean I can use my machine comfortably both now and in the future. So far its going well, and I am very pleased with the result. The top is wide enough for two single bed machines back to back instead of the double bed if I want to do this at some point in the future. Let’s hope it lasts long enough for me to test this arrangement!

Here is the machine on the desk, with a little demo of it rising up. The motor is a bit noisy, but nothing like as loud as the machine!

Googling myself again!

I took a quick look at the Amazon page for my book Translating Between Hand and Machine Knitting and thought I would share some reviews.

I notice that subscribe wishes to express their annoyance because the price has been reduced. I fully appreciate how annoying this can be, and wonder if retailers understand how this upsets customers. I felt similarly annoyed when I bought a new drawing tablet only to see it was reduced by £40 in the Black Friday sale two weeks later! They wasn’t much I could do but accept that I’d had two week’s use of the tablet already, (working on my next book). So although this is beyond my control, my apologies to anyone to whom this has happened.

So moving on from issues of frustrated shoppers, here are some of the very nice things said about the book.

JayBards from the US writes, ‘5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Coverage of Topics, Great Photos and Illustrations’, and finishes the review with, ‘The text is really well-written, very clearly presented, easy on the eyes, and a pleasure to read. This book will become an important part of my extensive library on knitting. In short, I LOVE this book! Congratulations to Dr. Haffenden on an excellent book that should become a classic.’

Thank you JayBard for your feedback and review.

Meceo from Canada writes, ‘This is one of the best books I’ve purchased covering the hand knit patterns converting to knitting machines. It is beautifully done with lots of photos and information to help anyone interested in this type of knitting.’

Sharon Sullivan from the US writes. ‘Very well written book. Haven’t had the book very long, but the time I’ve spent going through it so far, it’s an A+ book. Content is excellent. Photography is excellent. Easy to understand. Definitely worth the cost. I don’t usually do reviews, but think everyone should know that this book will help a machine knitter immensely.’

Its so helpful as an author to get feedback, and positive criticism, (suggesting improvements rather than just pointing out what you don’t like) is the most helpful.

So thanks to all who have taken time to review my book and help others decide if it is right for them.

Renovating an Imperia circular sock machine

Through one of my fellow members of the Woolly Umbrella spinning group I was asked if I would help renovate a vintage sock machine. The machine is part of the Stanmer Preservation Society collection and they hoped it could be got working for their Heritage Week this week.

Sue sent me a photo of the manual, but with little info on the machine apart from. ‘It worked a few years ago’, I was in the dark.

So today I packed a range of tools, oil and cloths etc and set off for Stanmer not sure what I would find. The machine was in a sad state. Not really bad, and most of the parts seem to be there, but it was pretty rusty. It seems to have been left uncovered and un-oiled in a damp shed for the last few years so had a thick layer of dust along with the rust.

Luckily the instruction manual is with the machine, but there is no maintenance manual. Having used one of these before I know the general points about it, but not the precise specifics. A quick YouTube trawl found some useful videos and it was time to tackle the job.

The rib dial was not attached and I didn’t want to address that in this session. My aim was to get the machine working well single bed first. So the rib dial stayed in the somewhat dusty and rusty spares box for now.

A thorough dusting helped a bit, but there was no air hose or even a vacuum cleaner so it was down to cloths and some blowing and picking the dust out of cracks. I dismantled the top tension and removed the yarn feeder. That was a bit rusty so some gentle fine emery paper was needed to clean it up. Next came removing the spring to allow the needles to be taken out and the dial removed. Most needles were slightly rusty on the hook if not the shaft as well, so I gently emery papered the bad areas and then soaked them in surgical spirit and oil for a while. Two broken and two bent needles were rejected at this point as too far gone to salvage. Meanwhile the cams were now revealed and could now be inspected and cleaned.

Once all seemed OK, if not in perfect condition, I reassembled the machine. Some needles still felt sticky, so it was a matter of replacing them one by one in the jamming areas to eliminate bad ones.

The Imperia sock machine being re-needled

Time to cast on with that horrible little ‘daisy’ claw tool. A job that I hate, but went OK in fact. Sticky latches caused several repeating ladders and miss stitching, but after some use, and easing the latches it began to knit properly. Only one needed to be replaced before the whole dial would work! So satisfying.

I want to get the machine knitting a reciprocating sock heel before I tackle the rib dial, but if that goes well next time, I hope to be able to tackle the rib dial after that. There seem to be some spare needles for the rib dial, but not sure if there are enough. We will see…

I’ve marked the dial into quarters; the half way mark was already filed of the needle truck. So far it’s working for a creating the heel, but returning the needles to work causes holes.

We took it to pieces again in better light, and found that the cam is a little with on one end, but I’m not sure that’s the problem.