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Why doesn’t my knitting machine work?

While it is frustrating not to have objects behave as expected, I also find that this can be a very fun challenge.  Asking myself ‘why doesn’t my knitting machine work?’ is an invitation to better understanding all the little brushes, switches, flappers, and levers that are interacting between the machine bed and the carriage.  Non-electronic knitting machines are (presumably) a solvable equation.  If it doesn’t work, there is almost certainly something you can fix about it (although it might require replacement parts up to and including a whole ‘spare parts’ machine).  No advanced degree in machine knittery or rocket science required.

But mechanical aptitude and willingness to experiment are valuable attributes.  I will point out that I’m far more apt to experiment on the knitting machine than other types of things around the house.  Our furnace, for example, is temporarily knocked out and while we have opened it up and adjusted and cleaned some things to temporary good effect, I am quite ready to have a professional look at that dangerous and integral system.  See?  After staring at the guts of my furnace and all it’s gas and electrocution hazards, knitting machine repair seems like quite a soothing hobby!  The worst the knitting machine can do to me is snag my yarn and suck away my time.  It’s all about perspective.

Since I have 3 machines in my home that require some TLC and trouble-shooting, I think it’s time I develop a process.

Here’s my first few steps in assessing the “health” of a new-to-me knitting machine, (and I expect this process to evolve with practice):

  1. Check for really obvious missing parts (refer to manual for what should be present), look for bent/broken needles.  Try running the knitting carriage back and forth a few times.  If all goes well, no carriage jamming, move on to step 2.  If carriage jamming, skip ahead to step 4, Trouble shooting.
  2. Basic cleaning and lubrication – this means brushing needle beds and carriage with a medium-firm brush, removing excess lint, and rubbing everything with a soft cloth that has knitting machine oil on it.
  3. Check the sponge bar – if it has a sponge bar.  Disintegrating or permanently squished sponge bars are a really common problem in used knitting machines.  It’s an easy, relatively cheap part to replace.  I have read elsewhere that if the spongy part sits less than 3/8″ above the metal part, you should replace it.
  4. Try to knit a basic sample per machine manual instructions.  If that succeeds, great!  Move on to a test of the punch card operations, and then the lace carriage (if applicable).  If knitting a basic sample fails, move on to trouble-shooting mode.
  5. Trouble shooting mode.  From here, I want a flow chart…  but until I develop one, here is a nice chart on Needles of Steel for Troubleshooting tips.

So far, I have one machine (the KH 881) that won’t close stitches and I’m hoping it’s the sponge bar because I just ordered one for it, and the other machines (the bulky and the KH 800) are knitting the basics fine but may have other issues.

I’m also hoping to try Jack’s cleaning method, from The Answer Lady Knits & Ask Jack video series.  I watched a bunch of the videos while I was home sick one day last week.  It was kind of like listening to the Click & Clack of knitting machines.  The two people have a great rapport and cover a lot of really useful material about how to clean, test and repair knitting machines.  So far though, I haven’t noticed a video that covers a starting troubleshooting process for the beginner, which is why I want to develop my own process.

Also, it might be worth noting that, if you don’t feel you have the wherewithal to troubleshoot and repair your own knitting machine, people like Jack or others can be paid to service your machine.

Until next time… keep those needle beds zipping!

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Clear stamps: techniques and tips

In a previous post, I was lamenting the difficulty I was having in getting good stamp impressions out of some of my cling stamps.  I did some research across various forums and websites, and here are some tips I ran across.  I haven’t had time to try all of them, but my results are improving, and I am highly optimistic that after some experimentation I will find a method that works consistently for me.

20131208-215358.jpgStamp Quality:

  • Not all clear stamps are the same.
  • Photopolymer process stamps tend to be easier to ink, and work with, but also more expensive (e.g., Flourishes, Simon Says Stamp brand, My Favorite Things).
  • Cheaper silicone or acrylic clear stamps might take more experimenting to get a good impression (e.g., Scrappy Cat, Inkadinkado).  However, not all “acrylic” stamps are equal either.  There are reports that a few brands (e.g., Penny Black, Recollections, Martha Stewart, Fiskars), are acrylic but are less squishable and less prone to image quality problems.
  • Photopolymer stamps often have a weird initial smell, in case that helps identify what you have.
  • Now that I know there is a difference, I realize that I haven’t had a problem so far with the photopolymer clear stamps, just the acrylic ones.  And I’m curious now to try the “better quality acrylic” stamps, like the Martha Stewart ones I have picked up, to see if they less troublesome than other acrylic brands.

Stamping Surface and pressure:

  • Many users recommend using a mousepad, a pad of papers, or some other cushioning under the paper for a good impression.
  • Make a test stamp on scrap paper, and try different paper types as well if image quality is a problem.
  • Be careful not to use too much pressure, as some clear stamps, especially smaller designs, can be squished out of shape causing a blurred impression.  I have seen this problem on some small snowflakes that I have!
  • There are some acrylic blocks that have foam feet that are meant to both give cushion and even pressure, although they seem like they would be annoying to ink to me!

Inks:

  • Of course, everyone has different favorite brands.  But it seems that the acrylic stamps do better with types that are pigment-based, or water-resistant “archival” inks.
  • Dye-based (e.g., Distress inks) tend to bead up on the surface of clear acrylic stamps, giving a poor impression.  I have certainly experienced this, as most of the ink colors that I have are dye-based.  I never realized there was so much variation in ink types!
  • Solvent-based inks (e.g., StazOn) are supposed to lead to deterioration of clear stamps, although I’m not sure if this includes acrylic as well as photo-polymer stamps.  It make sense to my mind that solvents would be bad on photopolymer, as I think it’s more chemically fragile.  I would be surprised if the acrylic stamps were as susceptible to damage from solvent-based inks.
  • A lot of people in forums specifically mentioned having good luck with Colorbox Chalks on clear acrylic stamps.  Although both Colorbox and Colorbox Chalks are pigment-based, the Colorbox Chalks are considered quick-drying while regular Colorbox have glycerin-extended drying times to make them better for embossing.  I suspect the glycerin would cause beading up just like water-based dye pads.

Cleaning the Stamp:

  • The manufacturing process may leave residues on the acrylic stamp.  Supposedly this is not an issue with photopolymer.  Washing clear stamps with mild soap and warm water may help and certainly won’t hurt.
  • After reading this tip, I used a strong light and looked at some of the stamps that I hadn’t used yet (and had never cleaned).  I noticed that the unused acrylic stamps did seem to have a bit of slightly yellowish residue on the surface.  Cleaning the stamps well did seem to help the impressions a bit, but alone did not seem to be enough to get a perfect image.
  • Beware of lint.
  • Avoid using solvent-based cleaners and cleaners meant for removing solvent-based inks, as these may lead to deterioration of clear stamps.

The Stamp’s Surface (*WARNING: none of these tips are universally recommended, use extreme caution because these methods may ruin the stamp):

I am providing these tips, with warnings, because sometimes it’s better to use a potentially tool-destructive method than not be able to use a tool at all.  I am optimistic that these won’t be necessary if some of the other methods are employed first.

  • SEE ABOVE WARNING*: Some users recommend scuffing the surface of the acrylic stamp with a pink or white eraser.  More recommended the pink.
    • UPDATE:  I have discovered that Bo Bunny Stamps recommend on their packaging to rub their stamps with a pink eraser before each use for better inking.  So maybe this is not such a dangerous idea after all.
  • SEE ABOVE WARNING*: Even more scary, some users had success scuffing the surface of the acrylic stamp with very fine sandpaper!  I would say this should be a last resort.
  • SEE ABOVE WARNING*:  Some users had positive results by inking the stamp first in an archival or solvent-based, letting it dry, and then inking in the desired manner.  As an added step, some of these users recommend never cleaning off that initial layer of ink.  Again, not recommended because of the risk of the stamp chemically deteriorating over time.

Stamps Losing their Adhesion to the Acrylic Block:

  • Double stick tape, or Aleene’s Tack it Over & Over will get the job done.

So that’s what I’ve learned over the past few days!  I’ll try some of these methods out over the next several days as I finish up my holiday card-making.  I have to say it’s a little frustrating to find that these acrylic stamps are so fiddly, since I have a few of them around.  Hopefully, I will get a good solution worked out.

Until next time, keep those fingers inky…