Tuesday, July 25, 2017

How Difficult is Machine Knitting?

My mission is to help people who want to get their knitting machine out of the case, learn it, have fun with it, and make things.

So, how difficult is machine knitting to learn?  Well, I don't want to compare it to rocket science because I don't know a thing about rocket science.  But I have tried to learn a few difficult things in my life.  For instance, isn't a musical instrument rather difficult to master? 

Learning to use a knitting machine is not anywhere as difficult as learning to play most musical instruments.  If you understand and follow the steps, good knitting happens.  So why do so many people struggle to learn to machine knit?

First of all, there aren't a lot of knitting machine dealers to give private lessons.  Even though most people have lots of clothing made on knitting machines, very few people own a knitting machine.  For the general public, these are alien objects.

If you try to learn on your own, most of the knitting machine manuals have small diagrams, puzzling lists and tables of instructions, and cryptic advice.  The machine's parts and tools are strange and unfamiliar.  They don't look like sewing machine parts, or hand knitting tools, or other gadgets in our ordinary lives.  They're different, and they have peculiar names.

I use a common teaching method, that is, breaking the tasks into their individual steps and then working to describe the step in sufficient detail to make each step easy.  Video is a wonderful medium for doing this, since I get to use pictures, sound, and movement, but diagrams and written instructions are often also necessary.

Most of the videos I do are free.  You can find them here:  https://www.youtube.com/user/dianaknits

I also have some for sale at www.dianaknits.com.  My Beginner Course is two DVDs, nothing fancy, just a methodical course.  If you'll just watch a lesson and do that one lesson each day, you'll be quite proficient in a little over a month! 



Friday, July 21, 2017

How to Improve Your Life (and the Lives of Others) With an Altruistic Hobby

How to Improve Your Life (and the Live of Others) With an Altruistic Hobby

Guest post by Maria Cannon

Photo courtesy of Pixabay by aitoff

Did you know that volunteer work and community service have some surprising health benefits? That’s right; as it turns out, your altruistic hobbies benefit more than just the community and those in need.

While altruism - or the act of selflessly giving to those in need - is often seen as an external benefit to those on the receiving end, recent scientific research is now indicating that these selfless actions might have mutual benefits for both parties - including a variety of health benefits. In fact, modern evolutionary psychologists now believe altruism is a particularly useful trait that humans evolved as a means of survival (and it’s not just humans; altruism has been observed in other members of the animal kingdom, too).

As one psychology website bluntly puts it: “Compassion, cooperation and community are key to our survival.” In addition to bringing happiness, joy and fulfillment, making a hobby out of doing charitable actions can actually improve your life in more tangible ways.

Here are just a few of the ways altruism helps you, in addition to helping those on the receiving end:

Mental Health
Whether you are feeling anxious or suffering from depression, incorporating a beloved hobby into your daily life can help reduce your stress levels and improve your mood.

Addiction Recovery
As any addict will tell you: recovering from drug or alcohol addiction is not easy. Luckily, hobbies can help make it a smoother process for you. Stress-reducing hobbies like yoga, tai chi, qi gong and meditation have been shown to be particularly effective among recovering addicts and alcoholics.

Mental Fitness
Hobbies challenge your brain by helping you to build new skills. As you gain these new skillsets, you will have feelings of accomplishment and increased confidence. In addition, particular hobbies such as yoga and tai chi have been shown to potentially reduce your chances of developing certain forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s Disease.

Self Esteem
Hobbies also provide opportunities for socializing and making new friends. As you get better at tasks you enjoy, you’ll become more confident and your self-esteem will naturally increase. Hobbying can be a great way to boost your confidence while also doing something you already love.

Think the benefits listed above are just one-time coincidences? Think again! Recent research has consistently shown that giving back to one’s own community can be as rewarding for the person doing the giving as it is for the person on the receiving end.


As you can see, there are many clear ways that altruistic hobbies can be beneficial for everyone involved. Next time you are thinking of doing a good deed, you will already know that there might be some surprising health benefits in store for you. In exchange for your kind behavior, you might actually be doing yourself some favors by possibly improving your physical, emotional and mental health. So… why not give back to your local community? After all, you’ll be helping others while also helping yourself.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A little fun de-stashing - and finding more knitters!

Here in Austin, we have an active Freecycle community.  This is a group where items are given away free.  You put up a "WANTED" ad if you need something, and put up an "OFFER" ad to give away items.  This is quite a resource when you're trying to be frugal about something specific you need and quite helpful when you just need to clean things out.

I recently was given a large, rather nice yarn stash.  I kept a few cones for myself, just couldn't resist, although I haven't enough room for all my yarn.  I shared some with my knitting club friends, but they have a lot of yarn, too, so I still had some.  I ran an ad on Freecycle to give away the rest.

I gave away yarn AND a bunch of duplicate machine knitting magazines, and in that process, I met a local lady who attends a weekly knit and crochet group who make things for charity.  She said some of the ladies have knitting machines, and in fact, she has one.  I was completely unaware of this sister group in our community.  Of course, I invited her to ours and she invited me to hers, and when I get back from Monroe, I plan to attend.  They're at a restaurant, but she said I can bring a portable machine.  A nice dinner and a new group of knitting friends - what's not to like?

This turned out to be a rather unusual way to find machine knitters! 

Monday, July 17, 2017

This Month's Video - Silver Needles Cone Winder

I meet a lot of beginning machine knitters, and if there's a rookie mistake most people make, it's not preparing their yarn before knitting - rewinding it.  Sure, there are instructions in the machine's manual telling you to do this, but the instructions don't tell you WHY to do it.

Your knitting machine uses yarn at an absolutely furious rate, yards in minutes.  It pulls it right into the yarn feeder, generally much too fast for you to notice a knot or a tangle.  Your machine will knit a knot right into your garment (usually in a TERRIBLY) visible place, and you won't know until you're sewing it together or blocking it.

Alternatively, your machine might choke on a knot or a tangle, giving you an absolutely horrendous mess - unjamming the machine, getting the knitting picked out or put back on needles, and getting the machine back into pattern.

Another problem is your yarn might be intended for hand knitting.  Machine knitting cone yarns have usually been treated to slide through the machine better than skeined yarns.  While you are preparing the yarn, you can hold a cheap candle against it, and you'll see a marked difference in how well the machine runs.

We have yarn winders for this, and I do love my Jumbo Yarn Winder, which makes a large, cake-shaped ball of yarn.  Once you wind yarn into a "cake," you get to choose whether to pull from the inside or the outside of the ball.  The inside is a straighter shot up to the machine's upper tension unit.  The outside works best if you leave the plastic core in the yarn. 

You need to be careful with winders not to wind your yarn too tightly.  Winding very tightly flattens the yarn and removes its elasticity.

The general rule is, you want your yarn to feed absolutely freely.  The only tension added to the fiber feeding should be from the machine.

Cakes, set on the floor, feed into the machine fairly well, but the very best way to feed the beast is with a cone on the floor.  I recently invested in a Silver Needles electric cone winder.  Now this is a blessing!  It puts my yarn on cones, which feed extremely well into my knitting machine.  For my circular sock machines, having the yarn coned makes an even bigger difference in ease of use and the evenness of the knitting.  In addition, the winder is fast, which means I can spend less time prepping yarn and more time knitting.

Here's my little video:

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Dyeing Sock Blanks at Knit Natters

I happen to love making socks on my machines, with my all-time favorites coming off my 100-year-old Legare 47.  It's old and rough-looking, but it does make a gorgeous sock.

Marta, in our knitting club, had dyed sock blanks and knitted matching hand-dyed socks, and the group begged her to teach us.  Last weekend, we had our shot.  We were supposed to show up with the sock blanks, knitted and ready to go.

Here's how I did my blanks - first, I rewound a 100-gram hank of undyed (natural color) sock yarn using my jumbo winder, which makes cake shapes. Then I grabbed out the center of the ball and weighed that.  I added a few yarns to get the 50 grams I needed.  I rewound both the balls, the small one and the one with the center gone, to make the yarn feed the same.  I threaded my bulky machine with a ball in each antenna, then put them in the machine together, e-wrapped on 65 needles, and knitted until I was almost out of yarn, binding off is a latch tool cast-off.   I actually made two sock blanks using 2 100-gram hanks of wool/cashmere yarn Marta had sourced from England.  Gorgeous, soft stuff.

At the club meeting, Barbara had covered the floor and tables at the church where we meet with painter's plastic.  Marta had brought the acid dyes.  She set up three pots of dipping dye and a whole bunch of small jars of painting dyes.

After we dipped, we brushed.  Marta had both brushes and cotton swabs, both of which worked just fine.  Everyone did something a little different.  After we dipped and painted, we rinsed until the water ran clear. 

I took mine home in a plastic bag, microwaved it to further set the dye, hung it over a plastic hanger and let it dry. 

The acid dyes Marta brought produced very rich, clear colors.  I made no effort to create any kind of a picture, because I knew that my blanks are 65 stitches in a big tension (T5 on my bulky) and my socks will be 72 very small stitches.  The colors are going to break up, but the two socks will be alike.  I just used dribbles and dabs of overdye on the purple blanks. 

After they dried, I thought making the blanks into two balls, one for each sock, would be a pain, but it was actually easy.  I did it alone - it would be a snap with a buddy and two yarn winders - just winding two balls which I rewound later with my lovely electric cone winder.  I have found cones are absolutely idea for my circular sock machine.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Machine Knitting Retreat

A couple weekends ago, the Knit Natters went on a knitting retreat in the country.

The idea came up when we were contacted by Debbie Awtry, who owns and operates the Mountain Laurel Retreat.  It's a house out in the Texas Hill Country near New Braunfels (between San Antonio and Austin), a beautiful, peaceful location.  We hadn't ever done a retreat before, but we decided to go for it, and not to have any particular curriculum, but just show up, have fun, and do whatever knitting we felt like doing - "free range knitting."

In addition to some of our Central Texas ladies, we had a knitter who came from the Houston area and one from the DFW area.  We'd had nine signed up, but two had to cancel, and we ended up with seven women.

Barbara, Angelika, and I borrowed my hubby's SUV and loaded it to the gills.  We had machines, stands, partially finished projects, yarn, winders, tools, water and groceries, overnight bags, and so forth. Some of the ladies were willing to test mid-gauge patterns that are going in my new book, and I had brought along a pile of printed out drafts.  It was a gorgeous, hot summer Texas day, and Barbara drove while Angelika navigated and I goofed off.  We avoided all city traffic by taking the scenic route west of Austin. 

The Mountain Laurel retreat was a nice surprise, a good-sized, newer 3-bedroom house with current d├ęcor and an enormous work room.  That might have been a three or four car garage, but it's all beautifully finished and set up for quilters.  Debbie has everything immaculately clean, every kind of pot, pan or serving dish we might need, and her own quilts on every bed and on some walls, too.

That workroom is amazing!  The room is very brightly lit, clean and fresh, and she has lots of huge tables, two ironing boards, and several quilters' design boards on the walls.  These are large areas covered with batting where fabric pieces and blocks will stay in place so quilters can step back and look at their arrangements.  The room is stocked with comfortable, rolling purple office chairs. The tables were too thick for our machine clamps, but we were expecting that and had brought along stands or anti-slip shelf paper, which works well for the lightweight portable plastic bed machines. 

Debbie's own beautiful quilts are all over the house.  This lady can match points!  Her workmanship is wonderful.  She has several twin beds in each of the bedrooms, and the great room has a giant kitchen, big dining area and big sitting area.  The house really would work fine for 12 people. 

Marta and Pat were already there, and Marta had brought a swift, her tools (she's our club's very own Ms. Fixit), a yarn winder, and her knitting gear as well as undyed yarn for our upcoming sock blank dyeing project (not at the retreat, at an upcoming regular meeting).  They'd gone to dinner and were working away, knitting.  Ruth came from the Houston area, and Karen came from the Dallas area, and we had our full group.

Carl, Barbara's husband, had picked up the groceries for us.  Carl had hit a warehouse store as well as the local grocery, purchasing so much food we changed our plans and didn't go out to eat at all Saturday, just munched away at the goodies from Carl and other snacks some of the ladies had brought along. 

The retreat is a very different experience from a regular knit club meeting.  First of all, you get such a great opportunity to get to know each other!  I found out things about these ladies that I didn't know after going to knit club with them for years.  I am so impressed with all of them!  Secondly, we were all knitting and collaborating.  A couple of the ladies remarked at how useful that was for learning, because there was a whole group of knitters to give suggestions for the situations that developed.  In addition, knitters are such nice people, and everyone was very kind, helpful and considerate, which made food prep and cleanup a snap.

One of the things that just did my soul good was being away from home and all my normal responsibilities and interruptions.  I couldn't really feel guilty about what I wasn't getting done when it wasn't there to do, could I?  I greatly appreciated the change of scenery.

I had thought a whole weekend of knitting would feel like forever, but the time flew by.  We had all kinds of socializing while we knitted (and before and after, too), so that even the plain parts of the knitting weren't boring.  Angelika and Pat tested several of my patterns and gave me lots of corrections for the new book.  They were tremendously great sports about all the errors and omissions.  Not only that, but after the retreat was over, photos of their finished items are a good part of my book.  I love a photo-filled book!

We had a wonderful discussion Saturday night, and I thought to myself, I LOVE these women.  One thing I don't tend to do is take time for close friendships.  My everyday life is rushed, and this was not rushed.  There is just no substitute for taking enough time, feeling a sense of community.  Debbie has televisions in the retreat house, but we didn't turn them on.

I got a bit of knitting done, myself, samples I needed for the new book. 

Will we do it again?  Probably.  At the very least, we'll have more knit-ins, where we set up machines in the morning at the church and knit all day together. 

Here's our group, from left, Marta, Barbara, Angelika, Ruth, Pat and Karen!  I'm taking the picture :)