For the first part of the semester this fall, I took a machine knitting workshop at my school. It was a lot of fun! I decided quite early that I wanted to make a cardigan (I love cardigans!), and I had this mustard-colored yarn at the ready, after frogging a sweater earlier in the summer.
I’ve used a knitting machine earlier, but it was a long time ago, and the most complicated thing we did was to change colors to make stripes. During this workshop however, we learned about shaping the knitted pieces to make garments, graft the pieces together, and decorative touches such as cables, holes, and running stitches.
The knitting machines look a little bit like a keyboard, except that they have a bunch of little crochet-looking hooks in place of keys, and a handle (kind of visible on the left side of the knitting hanging down) that you slide back and forth over the bed, as it’s called, and that action is what creates the rows of stitches; the actual knitting. The yarn is fed through a series of wires that looks like a fishing pole, but that is what controls the tension.
We made our garments by knitting each piece by itself, and then joining them together – much like in sewing. The other option is to just knit a length of fabric, and cut out your pieces from that, similar to buying yards of jersey, or other knitted fabrics. To make the pattern, we draped fabric on dress-forms and marked the shape we wanted. Then, using the gauge we’d figured out by knitting little test-swatches, we did a lot of mathematical calculations, measuring our draped fabric pattern-pieces, and multiplying those measurements with the number of stitches per inch in our swatch. The measurements were thus our guidelines for when to increase, when to decrease, and when to stop knitting altogether.
The decorative effects and shaping of the pieces is made through changing the position of the stitches on the needles. It’s a little hard to see on the picture above, but those little tabs that are sticking up not quite consistently are part of the needles, or hooks.
The shaping of the pieces was done at the edges of the knitted piece. To increase stitches, you move the stitch on the edge over one needle, so there is a vacant needle between the knitted piece and the edge-stitch. The purl-bump of the edge-stitch is moved to the vacant needle, and when you knit the next row by gliding the handle over the needles, they all get knitted and you’ve added a stitch. To decrease, the edge-stitch is just moved inwards one, so there is two stitches on one needle. It’s not terribly hard, but very exciting to see your knitted piece change shape, and even more exciting when those shaped pieces are put together and turn into a shaped garment!
It’s been so much fun to turn a bunch of yarn into a garment that I can wear! I’m sure I’ll be back at the knitting machine to take advantage of the speediness, but it does have a downside: it’s not very portable. Hand-knitting will never be abandoned; you just can’t beat curling up on the couch with a cup of tea and some lovely handiwork.