Saturday, October 27, 2018

My head is exploding

The Sewing Lawyer has never been one to shy away from technically difficult projects and has continued the trend with computer-controlled machine knitting.

Selbuvotter Pattern (Ravelry)
There are so many fabulous stranded knitting patterns on Ravelry and lots of them are free. The wonderful liberation from 24 stitch repeats that AYAB promises had me itching to try one of the many stranded mitten patterns where the palm is one design and the back of the hand is another. I found a free pattern called Selbuvotter and I was off.

The details of this pattern are similar to the mittens traditionally knit in Selbu, a municipality near Trondheim in Norway. As explained in the page I linked, they have a lace cuff, a repeating pattern for the palm and a centred motif or complex pattern that covers the back of the hand. There is a knitted border marking the transition from the palm to the back of the hand. The thumb starts narrow and grows in a gusset. It is like a miniature version of the mitten with its own fancy centred pattern on the outer side of the thumb and the repeating pattern from the palm on the other side, separated by the 3 stitch knitted border.

If knitting these by hand, you would definitely do them in the round. For machine knitting they need to be done flat, and although I suppose I could hand manipulate the lace, I am fine with ribbing.

I had to modify the pattern chart a bit for flat knitting. I added a seam stitch at each edge, attached the thumb gusset to the thumb instead of having it as an integral part of the mitten, and fiddled with the pattern to make it more symmetrical (centred on the palm). I also added some contrast stitches with the goal of reducing the number of long floats on the back.

Here are my modified charts (made in GIMP).

Sorry they look so fuzzy; for AYAB each stitch is one coloured pixel so in original size they are microscopic.

I decided that the 3 stitch border should be attached to the back of the hand as the decreases are made. I couldn't get my head around charting this in GIMP so decided to manually select the needles for this feature. It is not complicated, every second row the middle stitch is in the main colour.

Throwing caution to the wind I set off, making many discoveries about AYAB in the process.

  • In hand knitting you knit from the right side but on the machine it is reversed. AYAB nicely flips the pattern automatically, making it imperative to remember which side the thumb is being made on. If knitting the chart as displayed above, the thumb has to be made on the left hand side of the needle bed. AYAB has a feature to mirror the pattern if you have already set up your knitting, as of course I had, with the thumb to be knitted on the right.
  • I managed to knit up to the top of the main pattern, having taken the palm stitches off the machine once I needed to decrease to continue knitting them separately later. I made some mistakes in the border pattern but it looks decent. Continuing to knit the palm in the pattern was a challenge. I learned how to resume on AYAB, but managed to pick the wrong row to start on so there is a duplicate row there. It is hardly noticeable (I hope). 
Technical knitting problems were also encountered, like how to add the stitches above the space for the thumb, and how to increase the gusset stitches so the stripes marched continuously up instead of in steps and stairs fashion. I am working on that.

Here are some in progress photos. It is going well enough that I am encouraged to continue. I'm using junk yarn and the gauge is wrong but it is sort of looking like it could some day be a mitten.

In the right hand photo, the orange line on the palm is the life line. You can see the duplicated row above it.

I started the thumb (4 thumb stitches are on a safety pin in the photo at left) but that's when my head exploded. I'm going back to it now.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

New technology

Hanging around the machine knitting forums on Ravelry can be dangerous. You learn that you could, if you only had this or that bit of technology, accomplish amazing things.

So it was that I heard of the mysterious AYAB (All Yarns Are Beautiful) - a little computer board and custom program that with an Arduino can instruct a Brother electronic knitting machine to do just about anything. I did not own a Brother electronic knitting machine. I had not seen a second hand one for sale in my area. But late in the summer I finally found a KH950 with ribber for a reasonable price and I pounced.

Hacked at the U of O Makerspace
Long story short, I bought it, I acquired the board thanks to the help of a very generous knitter on Ravelry, I went to the local university maker space (very great resource, if you are looking to 3D print or laser cut something and lack the machinery BTW) and with the help of a great on-line tutorial and an engineering student, my 950 was successfully hacked.

My delight at producing this dumb little swatch was almost as great as the amazement of the 20-something student who helped me install the AYAB at how fast the machine could produce actual knitting. (Quite a few 20 somethings came over to ask what the heck that machine was, anyway...)

As I was engaged in this exercise, news of the amazing Australian knitter/software engineer who literally knitted a map of the universe hit all the sites, and friends kept sending me links. She uses AYAB!

So my late 1980s knitting machine technology was brought up to date and can now be controlled by way of a graphics editor running on a modern laptop. Goodbye, 550 random built-in 1980s patterns, hello unlimited knitting potential!

I downloaded GIMP which is free and seems pretty powerful although for my purposes I only need the most basic function (making pixels black or white). I found a video tutorial on YouTube that explains it very clearly.

Chart made in GIMP
My next step was to find some interesting stranded knitting patterns. I found a free pattern on Ravelry for fingerless gloves (Latvian Blooms). It's a hand-knitting pattern but who cares? It has charts! I entered the pattern into GIMP pixel by pixel. One pixel correlates to a stitch in AYAB. Then I copied the chart multiple times, somewhat randomized, into a bigger document (approximately 4x as wide). I uploaded that bigger image into AYAB and knitted it. It is knitted on 137 stitches and 90 rows and it took me no more than an hour to set it up and knit. The machine beeps as each new row is ready to be knitted. It's pretty brainless knitting, all things considered, and the machine works really well.

Once I finished knitting the chart, I set the machine to knit plain and continued for an unknown number of rows for a lining for my tea cozy (the stranded pattern has some really long floats that would get caught on things). This was super approximate.

AYAB automatically reverses the design so the knitted piece is the same as the original chart, not reversed left to right. This would be very handy if knitting text, for example.

Today I steamed the piece to control the curling edges and sewed it up with my sewing machine. It is basically a lined tube that is gathered at the top with a length of machine-knitted I-cord.

If it was the right size it would make a dandy hat, or a very warm cowl.