Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Researching the knitting author Miss Lambert

After taking a break from my knitting experiments and research for 18 months, due to a seriously ill member of the family, the knitting machine and Victorian books have been dusted off. In a boost to getting back on track, there was extensive use of mind-maps to identify what I have achieved, what directions to head off in.

The review narrowed the immediate research to three area:

  • The books of Miss Lambert
  • Building a corpus of knitting texts published between 1800-1850 with the intention of digital analysis
  • Standardisation of knitting patterns for use with virtual and physical 3D visualisations
Miss Lambert's books are at the top of the list. Luckily, Miss Lambert's books were published by John Murray Publishers, who still exist today. The archives of the last 200 years of this fascinating company are now held at the National Library of Scotland. The staff are very helpful and knowledgeable, and they provided digitisation services for researchers unable to make it to the archives themselves. 

The initial analysis of the original accounting logs shows that the imprints of Miss Lambert's books ramped up quite quickly, and provided some significant income.

The initials "F.S." in the preface of one of Miss Lambert's books seems to have been a bit of a red-herring. Research at the London Metropolitan Archives has confirmed entries in the Thompson's business directory, and the Post Office business directory, which I am working through. Rather surprisingly, the census entries for the addresses found in the business directories don't directly link up, providing more questions than answers.

A trip to the archives at Kew is planned, to try to resolve some of these loose ends.

The results so far will be written up as a research poster to display at the Knitting History Forum and conference in November. 

On a more technical front, I'm working on 3D-printing replacements parts for my knitting machine, and intend on writing up a brief article for the Machine Knitting Guild newsletter on the subject, with a detailed blog post to follow.

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 K2G2.org wiki is trying to maintain a list of other software that is available for knitting machines (commercial and open-source).

Monday, 8 September 2014

Brighton Mini Maker Faire 2014

The annual Brighton Mini Maker Faire kicked off at 10am on Saturday, and it was the busiest Faire to date. Last year there were waves of creatives asking interesting and thought-provoking questions, but this year it was a constant stream.

As well as my faithful staples of the giant machine knitted periodic table blanket, and the glowing crocheted hat, there were new items of interest including some baby shoes from a Victorian pattern knit on tiny 1mm needles (the nearest equivalent to a Victorian number 19), and a steampunk-style coat made from a decommissioned parachute.

The draw-scan-knit end of the stand was in constant demand, and according to the counter on the scanner, over 40 pictures were knit during the 8 hours the show was open ... a new record for me! (my arms didn't half ache the next day!). The questions ranged from interest in how a knitting machine actually worked, through to some very technical questions from both textile students and keen Makers.

Last year there were a few 'Learn to knit' kits that I had made up from finds in local charity shops. That went down really well, so this year we upped our game. The fabulous Knitting and Crochet Guild supplied knitting needles and both knitting and crochet instruction leaflets (the leaflets are a free download from their website). The crochet hooks, yarn and British-made recycled paper bags were supplied courtesy of a small Arts Council grant. We took enough stock for 150 learn to knit bags, and 50 learn to crochet. A quick look through what it left suggests we gave away about 100 knit kits, and 25 crochet kits. The enthusiastic response was infectious. A few people took the bags away to try and home, but a lot wanted to have a quick go on the spot.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

EL wire

I first heard about electroluminescent wire from friends who took part in one of the early UK Maker Faires. It then became popular in the radio-controlled helicopter fraternity, cable-tied to night-flying canopies.

Although quite thick (0.3mm) and limited flexibility, I thought it worth trying to use it with knitting or crochet. The EL wire is not flexible enough to knit with. I tried 3mm, 4mm, 5mm and 6mm needles, and just ended up with blistered fingered and snapped EL wire.

This hat was on my stand at Maker Faire (Newcastle) and Mini Maker Faire (Brighton) in 2013. It was very popular, though many commented on how heavy it was, but how useful the battery pack is.

This hat is adult-sized and was crocheted from a mix of wires using a 4mm hook. The EL wire is too expensive to make a whole hat from. It was padded out with standard gauge electrical wire and twisted-pairs from inside old CAT5 cables found in the garage.

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.