Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Adventures in machine knitting, garter bar edition (part I)

 Last summer I took a course with Diana Sullivan, machine knitting guru from Austin Texas. Of course I wasn't in the same room as she was, nor with any other attendees (and there were dozens). She offered it on Facebook through a private group. It ran over 4 weekends and each Saturday there was a live 3 hour class on the group. You could easily ask questions through the chat function if you were watching along, and Diana would stop and answer as she demoed various techniques.

The videos were recorded and could be reviewed at your leisure while the group page continued to exist. Unfortunately, Diana took it down after a few months. She is now selling edited videos of the entire seminar on her website.

My version of Le Mont Royal shrug
For me, the garter bar "extra" class was worth the entire cost of this seminar (which was modest). I've had a standard (4.5mm) garter bar set for a long time but have (still) never used it. At some point I decided I ought to have a garter bar for all my machines so I bought the mid-gauge (6.5mm) and bulky (9mm) ones from KrisKrafter. Like I used the one I had all the time so I was sure I'd use these too? (I'm not sure what gets into machine knitters but we have to have All.The.Things.)

Let me speak to you of garter stitch. It's the easiest stitch to knit by hand, and the most awkward on a machine. By hand, you turn your knitting, and every row is a knit row, knitted into the back of the knit row below it. By contrast, the machine holds the knitting with the same orientation all the time, knitting row after row back and forth. Stockinette is what results. You need to turn your knitting (or reform individual stitches) to get garter stitch. You use a garter bar to do this turning. 

Here is a YouTube video showing how it's done. I especially like her honesty when she says "you're going to swear at the machine a lot when you first start to try and use it" and also how, after turning the knitting over and hooking it back on the needles, she says that "with any luck" all the stitches will be on a needle.

Le Mont Royal

In a fit of inspiration (even before the Diana Sullivan class) I decided to make myself a simple thing on my bulky machine using a garter bar. A shrug, which is a rectangle of knitting with the ends closed to a tube (sleeves) and the middle left open (body). I used this free pattern - Le Mont Royal by Espace Tricot.

You'll notice that the sleeve ends are a good chunk of garter stitch rows, and that the edge of the shrug is also garter stitch. I used the garter bar to knit all of the edging rows, and reformed the edge stitches by hand, every second row, for the body of the shrug.

Test swatch with garter bar
I picked mohair yarn for this project, which conceals a multitude of mistakes, but is also "difficult" in that it has these hairy bits that like to get caught up in the gate pegs (knitting machines are spiky). 

Also, the base yarn is very skinny, and it turns out it was hard to make sure I had all the stitches (as opposed to the hairy halo only) on a needle after turning the knitting. But this yarn is such a glorious colour combo - basic teal but with flashing red and green and blue hairs when the light catches it. I think I had 10 skeins in total which is what was at the thrift shop the day my husband found it.  

Considering that the shrug was 66 stitches wide (meaning I had to stick the two half-bed width garter bars together to turn it) and that it was my first outing with this ornery tool, it worked quite well. I resorted to life lines just in case, but also got very adept at using this nifty tool (photo at left) to latch up when I dropped a stitch. I made a fascinating video of me knitting one row of this shrug. Lucky for you, I had had lots of practice by that point so there were no tears or bad words, and I only dropped one stitch which I was able to repair.

The pattern is knit in one piece from one end to the other. I couldn't figure out at the time how to start the knitting with garter stitch (I could have used waste yarn and ravel cord of course) so I knitted from the middle out and seamed the two halves together instead. This at least means my two ends are identical. 

The shrug has 4 buttons on each "sleeve" which means you also have to make 4 buttonholes in the garter stitch. 

It is designed to be worn as a shrug or unbuttoned like a shawl. 

I didn't think this through and made my two halves mirror images so that the buttonholes would be on the top on both sides (symmetrical). This means that when I wear it like a shawl (which to be honest only happened for this photo) I have two buttonhole edges meeting rather than one buttonhole edge and one button edge. So I made a toggle out of two pieces of horn. 

Mohair is toasty warm!

I have another garter bar project, inspired directly by the Diana Sullivan seminar, but it'll have its own post.



  1. Garter bar and mohair — you are a brave knitter. 😀 Very nice shrug. Karen

  2. Oh the garter bar. I too had the 4.5 which I never used and ended up buying the two others. Luckily, I did make myself practice with a hat, so when I got to working on a sweater, I felt more confident. There is a garter sweater I hope to attempt soon.