Holiday machine knitting

Holiday crafting consisted of only two projects this year (which will, at this rate, be done in mid-January).  May I just say that my large extended family is wonderful for deciding this year that we should do a cookie exchange for the adults and only do gifts for the (2) children.  So much less pressure!  So I planned and began a couple of machine-knit scarves for my nephews thinking that nothing could be faster… except that I chose a tightly-repeated fair-isle “snake” scarf for one of the two projects…

Although I knew that my very basic knitting machine had no fancy way to deal with fair-isle beyond hand manipulating each needle, I somehow assumed that this would not be a difficult or time consuming task… that is until I began the scarf, read my machine’s directions for fair isle, and realized that each one completed row requires two sets of needle manipulation and three passes of the carriage.  Wow.

So the first 50 cm took me about 3 weeks working for an hour or two each night.  I had started behind schedule in early December anyway, and soon was kicking myself for for my bad assumptions.

What were my bad assumptions?

1) I assumed that I could machine knit fair-isle (as described in my manual) faster than I could hand knit it.  That turned out to be wrong.

2) I had assumed that working more than an hour on my machine would not cause me any physical difficulty.  It turns out that I find it quite tiring on my back after an hour and painful after 2 hours – I think I don’t have the most ergonomic set-up, but lack the means to change that at the moment.

3) I assumed that if I did run into some kind of slow-down, I would find a creative way to short-cut in the pattern.  This is always successful… except that I couldn’t think of any way to change the pattern now that I had started that wouldn’t look bad.  I even considered taking it off the machine and switching to hand-knitting, but I didn’t think I’d be able to match the tightness of the gauge midstream.  Snakes shouldn’t have weird pattern shifts mid-back –  I mean, I could come up with an excuse about snakes shedding their skin or something, but I would know it was a pretty lame cop-out.

So how’s a knitter supposed to deal with these setbacks?  I was about ready to cry over the slowness of my progress and was feeling like I’d be spending the next few months on this silly scarf and it might be spring by the time I’m done.

Desperation breeds creativity.

This is not wholly novel, I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of doing this, but I felt like such an innovator when I came up with this solution.  I made cardboard combs to manipulate the whole row of stitches at once.  There are two combs, one for rows 1 & 3 and one for row 2 of the stitch pattern.  On each comb, the stitches that are supposed to be black are cut out notches across the cardboard.  I push them one way for the first pass of the row and the other way for the third pass.

I’ll share a complete description of how it works once I have pictures.  For now, suffice it to say that I am now making measurable progress every night instead of getting maybe two centimeters per night.  I sure wish I thought of this in early December.

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