Thursday, June 18, 2015

Floppy Drives and Embroidery Hoops

 The view from my lap this week. Over the weekend I had a chance to spend some one-on-one time with a seasoned machine knitter from my guild, Cindy. She was so gracious as to allow me into her craft room and utilize some of her ancient, expensive, and highly-coveted (by me) technology.

SO, my knitting machine has electronic functions -- so far, I have only explored the more manual aspects of these capabilities -- but I knew there were ways to take designs directly out of the computer and upload them to the machine, bypassing any need to input the pattern by hand. I had no idea how, hence my idea to ask for help.

SIDE NOTE: This year, more than any other year, I have found myself actively seeking help from others with knowledge beyond my own. It's a really good idea. And if there is knowledge you can share with them..well then the cycle of learning never ends.

In anticipation of Cindy's help, I challenged myself to make the largest stranded knitting design (aka- fair isle, aka- 2-color design) ever in my lil' history. I had parameters, mainly the limit of the width of the machine, which is 200 stitches wide. So I ran with that and this is what I came up with.

I started with the familiar, toothbrushes and houses, and from there, found myself creating new motifs. In my newest body of work, I'm beginning to comment on the wide-range of technology that's seeping into our day-to-day lives, with an emphasis on my dual love and hatred for all these screens. So that's where the satellite dish, iPhones + earbuds, and solar panels are coming into play. (Also you know where the solar panels are coming from.) The design was also inspired by a traditional rug layout. 

One of my inspirations for this design; I saw this rug in a museum on University of Georgia Athens' campus. Not only is the layout inspiring but I love all the little animal motifs!

This design is also a personal reaction/reflection of my own home. The solar panels that were built in my backyard were a source of great pain, but now in the wake of the dust settling, there is still much beauty around me as well as some surprising benefits as a result of the changed landscape. As in, we now get a great view of the sunset. So, there's another duality being expressed in this piece. A sort of harshness (chain-link fence) mixed in with cheeriness (flowers blooming).

Once over at Cindy's, we attempted to bring my DIY computer-knitted design into her pro knitting software called DesignAKnit, or DAK. It worked somewhat, but then I spent the next few hours cleaning it up and adapting it correctly to her program. It is such a cool program -- the next time I find $800 burning a hole in my pocket, I've got to buy this!! Once the design was completed, we hooked Cindy's Tandy floppy drive to the computer -- again, just the cord to adapt the drive to the computer comes at an exorbitant cost. It's basically an emulator function, these sort of external floppy drives were never meant to receive information from a home computer, rather you would buy the disk that had the design you wanted and that was that. We had to export the design into 6 separate tracks due to the limited memory space on my CompuKnit III. Finally, another cord connects the floppy drive to my machine, and we begin the uploading and knitting process.

Are you still following me?? 

Ok, now here's how we actually got to knitting. We uploaded the first track from the floppy drive onto my machine. I get it set-up with proper orientation and I start running the carriage. When we get to the end of the programmed design (carefully cause the machine will automatically begin repeating the design so you hafta hafta make sure you end on the exact right row), we plug the floppy drive back in and overwrite Track 1 with Track 2, and knit again. There's some careful steps that needed to be taken between the designs to make sure they lined up correctly, Cindy and I would speak out loud for every operation so as to be constantly confirming with each other that we had done everything. This went on for all 6 tracks before we were finally finished. 

OH, ALSO during this time, I was attempting to create a gradient with my background color. See, I forgot until the night before our get-together that I would have to to bring all the yarn I needed with me and that I would require more than one ball of yarn to complete the project. That's new for me to need larger quantities of yarn. So in a pinch, realizing that I didn't have enough of any one color, I decided I would used 4 similar colors, and create a rough gradient through changing lines. Knitting 2 rows of new, 4 rows of old, 4 rows of new, 2 rows of old, and finally changing over to the new yarn color. In theory, this made sense to me.


Was NOT happy with the result (this is the best picture I took of the lines showing). For the first color change, the 2 different yarns were so similar in shade that it looked good. But for the yellow-to-green, and then green-to-blue... I wasn't happy. So more need for ingenuity. That's where the embroidery hoop comes in. I decided to deepen the illusion of a gradient, and remove the harshness of the lines, through duplicate stitch. Basically an embroidery stitch where you're going over the existing knitting with what looks like a typical knit stitch, one at a time. I utilize this technique often to garner the results I desire and to add complication to my design. 

It's a slow process but it's doing the trick! I'm about 3/4 of the way through so when I get it done, I will share a photo asap!

I have been a little reticent about fully automating the knit process, just because to me the making is the beauty, and I never want to take away from the making process. But, I also see the wonder in being able to allow my ideas to come to fruition more quickly. Especially since no matter how many hours there are in the day, I never feel like I can get anywhere very quick. It's in those times when I feel frustrated about how slowly my projects are coming that I remind myself of the journey and how with enough baby steps I can get there one day. Just maybe not this day.

The reality of me being able to further utilize these automated abilities is limited, unless I'm willing to invest in the equipment or if Cindy can tolerate me being over at her house all the time :) but I'm glad to know how they work now and know that it is an option.


As to my sewing machines, they're far from gathering dust! I'm playing with making my own underwear, inspired by Amy from Cloth Habit. The idea was sparked from my desire to live a handmade life. Thus, now when I'm in need of a certain material possession, I try to figure out if I can make it first before I go shopping. Not to mention, I see all the scrap fabric that accrues at my 9-to-5 and we've been looking for ways to use as much as we can and throw little away. Amy provides a FREE pattern for this panty (I only customized it slightly with those diagonal seams. That was to cater to the scraps that I was working with) and this has got to be the best style of underwear anyway, so no need to improve upon it!

Finding much needed time outside with my boo thang at the frisbee golf park :)

Hope you enjoyed, thanks for reading!!

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