Posted by Peg in South Carolina
Tien has revived my interest in the possibility of weaving with knit blanks which I could dye and then unwind onto pirns for use as weft. In this process, the weft yarn is first knitted (on a knitting machine) and the resulting knit fabric is then dyed with the desired gradated color changes. After the knitted blank is dyed, it is unwound onto pirns or bobbins for weaving. Then one uses these bobbins in the correct order to weave with.
SOME NOTES ON HISTORY OF MACHINE-KNITTED BLANKS
Sara Lamb was the first person who I was aware, through her blog, of using this technique. She had learned of the process from her good friend Nancy Roberts. At that point Nancy had been machine knitting and dyeing blanks for hand knitters to use and so Sara pursued this. Go to her 2005 post “More Dyeing Fun” to learn how Sara dyed the blank and then hand-knit it.
Later that year, Nancy got the idea of machine knitting blanks not just for hand knitters but for weavers as well. So Sara agree to weave up one of Nancy’s machine knit and dyed samples. To see what she did with the blank, go to this post, A Little Help from my Friends. You won’t be disappointed with the eye candy that Sara provides.
The next year, Nancy presented a workshop for Sara’s guild. Sara talks about this workshop in her post, Dye Another Day. This was primarily about dyeing sock blanks for knitting socks.
While Sara often refers to this technique as “Nancy’s technique,” Nancy explained in an email conversation with me that her source was Rebekah Younger. To see some of Rebekah’s creations, go here. Rebekah had an article in a 1995 Threads Magazine on the technique, a technique she used for knitting.
An article on this technique can be found in the current Handwoven magazine (Issue 143, pp. 16-17). This is the story of the collaboration between Nancy and weaver Penny Peters. Here I learned that Nancy can make knit fabric even with 60/2 silk. Aha! My favorite weight of silk.
As a former machine knitter, and one who knit on a fine gauge machine at that, I had not believed it possible to use 60/2 silk in a knitting machine. And apparently Nancy wasn’t so sure either. But she found she could, and Penny’s weaving shows the brilliant results.
Now Tien is playing with the concept. Go here to read Tien’s description of her process along with wonderful photos.
MACHINE KNITTED BLANKS AND MY WEAVING
Reading Tien’s post on this process started me thinking once again about using it in my own work. I had not realized until Tien’s posts that anyone knit these blanks for sale. That meant, I realized, that even though I no longer had any knitting machines, I had easy access to purchasing knitted blanks. But I “knew” that of course 60/2 silk was out. Thanks to the piece in Handwoven I know that Nancy could knit me up 60/2 silk! Wonderful!
Right now, however, the kind of weaving I am doing does not seem to lend itself to using this technique. But were I to use it, I would not use it in the same way Tien does.
Tien is using very long colorways. In fact, looking at Tien’s photos, it looks like each of the colorways takes up enough yarn for one pirn, for a total of seven pirns. Elsewhere, however, she mentions that she is using 14 pirns. In any case, if I were to use such long color ways, it would for me make more sense to dye the yarns myself.
Dyeing the yarn in separate skeins would make it easier to make decisions as to when to stop weaving with one color and move to the next. As Tien makes clear, one has to calculate all this fairly accurately in advance.
Another advantage to doing the dyeing myself, I could choose on the fly when to move to the next bobbin. This would give me plenty of opportunity to play with (i.e., change my mind about……..) my original plans for working with the weft colors.
When I dye small bits of yarn I use canning jars and an electric frying pan to provide a water bath. The pan holds 8 jars. Actually I have two frying pans designated for dyeing and have been known to dye as many as 15 different yarns at a time. To dye 16 (or even more) gradations with two colors would require only that I make the two basic stock solutions and then gradually mix them into the number of dye pots I wanted. The number would be determined by just how smooth I wanted the gradations to be.
So, with long color changes, I’m not sure about the knitted blanks. If, however, the colors change relatively quickly, then I think the knitted blanks are a brilliant way to save some time as well a to reduce the number of weft ends that have to be woven into the fabric.
TO LEARN MORE
To find out more about this and to see examples of the beautiful things that have been created, go to Nancy Roberts’ website, Machine Knitting to Dye For. There is also a Machine Knitting to Dye For group on Ravelry.
I am indebted to Nancy for her help and advice with this post.
Related Post: Anger Despite Playing with Dyes