Top-down knitting resumed

Back problems have meant I need to avoid computers and knitting machines for a while, so I wanted a hand knit project to work on. Digging around on shelves, ( I can’t get at my stash boxes at the moment) I found a bag of knitting I had forgotten about. Inside was the first few rows of a top-down sweater. I remembered how long it took to work out the pattern, (yes I did it myself) and how carefully I chose the yarn. The notes with the pattern are dated 2013, which says volumes about my engagement with larger hand knit projects!

Luckily the moth had stayed away, thanks to ziploc bags, and I haven’t used the balance of the yarn for something else. This seemed a perfect opportunity to get on with my long-lost dream jumper.

I knitted a top-down jumper last winter with good results. Although it has dropped quite considerably due to the stitch I used, do is more a dress than a number. I like the method because you can check the shoulder fit, which is so important, and adjust it before embarking on the larger areas. Monte Stanley wrote about top-down knitting and as I am interested in integral knitting, I find the technique intriguing

I had obviously found fault with the stored knitting because there is an separate neck and shoulder be sample threaded into waste yarn in the bag. On reflection I seem to remember it was discarded because of the shaping finish rather than size. I will unravel it if I need the yarn later on, but at the moment it is useful for reference.

It’s knitted in DK alpaca/wool/silk blend yarn on a very pretty warm stone colour.

I’m using a 4mm circular needle from the KnitPro convertible system. These are very versatile so am using these for this project where they are separate ‘tubes’ to work on. Being able to change the length of the cable means it’s easy to work narrower sleeves as well as the larger circumference of the body.

The design is a raglan sleeve, generous fit jumper with cable panels running up front and back. Shaping is worked fully fashioned along the raglan ‘seam’ lines using lifted left and right increases. My initial sample was not fully fashioned, and clearly the fully fashioning makes a much nicer finish.

I’ve just finished one sleeve, (stocking stitch) with fully fashioned decreases along the underarm ‘seam’, and the fit seems good so far.

Part way down the first sleeve. As you can see, I love stitch markers!

Working out the pattern was quite complicated even though I used Designaknit for the basic silhouette. It was easy enough to invert the shapes, but then I had to combine them in-the-round. Some maths later I had a picture in my head, and the numbers to match it on paper. I worked out the positioning of the cable panels manually because it was important to have plain stocking stitch for the raglan shaping.

If I get the next sleeve done I might even got to finish the cable front and back before 2025!

Update : OK, it’s now the end of December and I have completed both sleeves and am part way down the body. So far I’ve used one bag of yarn, (500g) and anticipate using another 200g, making the jumper quite heavy!

The body is slightly flared, just enough so that it’s not a straight tube shape. The increases are worked down where the side seam would be, and at the outer edge of the outer cables every 11th row.

The sleeves folded towards the front cables. The cuffs are knitted as rolled edges on 3.5mm needles for 8 rows.

Update January 2022

The jumper is now complete! First blocking fine, now test-wearing before sewing in the ends. Then I shall wash so that it matches the revision swatch and the stitches even out a bit more. Something I noticed whilst knitting was that although this is a lovely yarn it has a tendency to leave fine fibres on the needle so the stitches catch. At first I unpicked and reknitted some stitches, thinking I had miss-knitted the stitches and it took me a while to realise what was happening. Gentle tugging releases the fibres and opened the stitches, but from the tension swatch I can see that washing will even the knit out.

The neckband is a single rib with a rolled edge. The neck band was picked it up into the neckline so is integrally knitted which has a tendency to stretch on top-down sweaters. In the past I have sewn take along the back neck to stabilise the neckline, but Roxanne Richardson on her YouTube channel suggests making a line of crochet slip stitch along the back neck instead. She also suggests using this solution along raglan seams.

Because it’s knitted top down, seamless I’m going to watch the raglan ‘seams’ to make sure they doesn’t drop. If the jumper does start to drop I will also work a crochet slip stitch in the back of the seams to stabilise them.

I’m just hoping the weather stays cool so I can continue to wear my new jumper.

Suint bath and lovely locks

I’ve been running a suint bath for washing fleeces this summer. Whilst the temperatures are reasonably good the suint has worked well. I’ve actually finished washing all the fleeces now so we’ll probably use the diluted suint bath as fertilizer.

Suint is explained it chemical terms by other people far better than me, but basically it means that the fleece soaks in a liquor composed of the sweat and dirt and developing microbes. The bath is built up from other fleeces. I use the dirtiest fleece first as that made the best base for the suint and have worked through 5 fleeces weighing about 1-2 kg each before going into the bath. I skirt and sort the fleece first because I don’t see the point in washing really dirty stuff that’s never going to come clean, but I equally try to preserve as much of the fleece as possible. I’ve got a bucket of the really unsalvageable stuff soaking so that I can use that liquid as a fertiliser as well.

I didn’t take a photograph of the locks of this Scoth Mule fleece before the suint bath so can’t make a comparison but it has come up beautifully clean.

My process was as follows. I laid The fleece out on a mesh grid cleaned as much of the dirt out as I could by shaking it and then skirted it. Next I sorted it into qualities, picked out as much vegetable matter as I could. Each quality was put into several smallish mesh laundry bags and then into the suint in manageable quantities. The suint bath really stinks, which I think must be caused by ammonia, as it makes my eyes water!

I left the fleece in the suint for 5 to 7-days then using rubber gloves and, with a peg on my nose, I removed it and left it to drain. Once it was drained, I rinsed it in a couple of changes of clean, cold water. Because I didn’t want to put the stinky mess in spin dryer I swung and it around to remove excess water.

Next I washed the fleece in batches in hot water with Eurolana wool wash. This is good as it cleans well without loads of suds so rinses out easily. The smell was slowly fading, but even after two rinses it lingered.

A final spin and then the fleece was emptied out of the mesh bags into a two-tiered flat mesh dryer. This goes outside and by the time the fleeces are dry the smell has gone. Phew.

One of the clean and gorgeous locks

Long staple Scotch Mule fleece

I purchased these two fleece in July and due to family and work things didn’t get around to washing them until August. They are what I believe is called Scotch Mule, a cross between Blue Faced Leicester and Scottish Blackface. These two were classed as ‘more BFL than Blackface’ which is what attracted me.

I set up a suint bath for them which is still going strong, (and I mean STRONG in an olifactory way when it is disturbed. The suint does clean well, but my family are threatening to leave home if I continue for much longer. Only four more bags need to be washed, and are soaking in the ghastly liquid right now.

They have come up nice and white with delightfully soft locks. There is stil some VM to be picked out during combing, but it wasn’t too bad overall. Some dirty tips have had to be removed.

I am very excited about starting to process the fleece using a set of Viking wool combs. I used these for a Lleyn fleece last year and was pleased at how fast I got at the combing (though sadly not as fast as carding).

Should I dye the locks before hand or after spinning? To be honest there is so much I could do some and some. The average staple in one fleece is 7″ and the other is 9-10″, which is going to lovely for worsted spinning.

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.

https://youtu.be/T-0_rSJCrbw

Distaffs

I recently read an article in SpinOff about distaffs and decided to try using one when spinning in a wheel, not just on a drop spindle. Luckily I had a handy drumstick lying around that I use to roll rolags off the blending board and it is just about the right length and weight. Its varnished surface also helps the wool slide off easily as I take it from the distaff.

At the moment I am spinning Ryeland fleece and have been preparing batts on the drum carder. I used to be able to take a roving off but since the carder was motorised its not so easy as it won’t rotate freely. So now I split the batts into narrower lengths to wind around the distaff. This seems to work OK and after a spray with spinning oil I find the fibre supply much easier to handle in this manner. Using my (new) large double drive wheel I get a good speed up and even doing short draft can spin a surprising amount, (for me anyway) at a sitting.

I will carry on with this and see how it works out. I may even get to attach the distaff to one of the wheel uprights which might be even more efficient.

Distaff held in my waistband, but sometimes under my arm or in my outside fingers.

Another Spinning wheel

Rather like buses, spinning wheels come along when you are not looking in the right direction. I didn’t intend to gather another into my collection, but could not resist this one.

My new-to-me Norwegian wheel

This one is a Frank Herring imported Norwegian wheel from the 1970s (I think). It’s had a lot of use and a bit of abuse, but works fine. They are after all meant to be used!

I really wanted a double drive wheel with a large wheel that has a good solid tensioning system. My converted d drive is OK, but it’s really hard to get the take up going without cranking the mother of all up at quite an angle.

Part of my rationale for the wheel is that I grew up near to Dorchester, where Herrings are based. I used to see this very (maybe?) wheel in their window in the High St as we went past on the bus when visiting my grandparents in South St, and found it a magical thing, even as a child. So it’s a short of revisiting childhood, reclaiming the magic, back to my roots thing!

I never could have imagined the path my life would take as I gazed at that wheel, and now I own one. Definitely a personal journey. I don’t care if it creaks!

Actually it spins beautifully, plenty of take up and very easy to adjust. I probably need to use a slightly better drive band than kitchen string…

I just need a few more bobbins as it only came with one.

Ryeland on the bobbin… Should be Dorset really…

I am in love….

Spinning a balanced yarn

The fleece I am working with is not brilliant, but I am using it to practise making a balanced, soft spun woollen yarn for knitting. To do this I read up on Mabel Ross’ method, and with a little tweaking to suit my preferred yarn handle, it worked!

Mabel Ross worked it out for us and it is quite logical really. You do need to know your wheel’s ratios, work consistently with your draft and count your treadling to start with, so if thats not your style, don’t go there.

I was aiming for around 2tpi in the finished yarn, but actually increased this a little after the first samples.

The equation is to do with spinning the singles at the tpi you want and then plying them to get the final tpi you want. Its really helpful to remember that if you spin your singles Z, when you ply them S you will be unwinding some of the single’s twist. (update- I have subsequently spun some yarn at a much higher tpi using a 1:10 whorl that has come out soft after a similarly balancing plying method. Maybe I’m getting it…)

I worked backwards from my 2tpi goal.

For example: I was working with a 1:6 whorl, therefore one revolution of my wheel would turn the bobbin 6 times. I was spinning ‘Z’ twist with a long draw of 12″.

First of all I needed to know how many treadles to the 12″ draft would give me the tpi I required. Yes I know I’ve muddled metric and imperial, but it still works.

Number of treadles = (required tpi x planned draft length)/ divided by wheel ratio (which i know will be 6)

tpi of my singles = tpi of my plied yarn divided by number of plies

II reckoned that if I want 2tpi in the plied yarn, I needed to spin the singles at around 4tpi.

The equation I worked with using MR method to find out how many treadles I needed to a set draft length was:

tpi = (wheel ratio x treadles)/divided by draft length.

Go back to the earlier question of how many treadles?

Number of treadles = (required tpi x planned draft length)/ divided by wheel ratio (which i know will be 6)

which came out as

tpi (4) x draft (12″) = 48/6 = 8.

So 8 treadles using the 1:6 whorl to a 12′ draft should give me 4tpi. in my singles…

Well I wrote this post a while ago, and since then have done some spinning. It was not successful, way to soft and loose spun for my taste, but a balanced yarn – no twisting and it knits without bias.

I upped singles tpi a little and also the ply by a smaller amount and the yarn improved. and stayed balanced! A lesson learned.