Machine knitting & how I ended up here

October 5th, 2016

Slow Fashion October seems the right sort of time to be talking about making, alongside the evolution (forced or otherwise) of our processes. Anyone who follows me on Instagram may have noticed that I went through a huge knitting surge, sharing loads of FOs, trying new things and making big plans. This was proceeded by a quieter time, a time in which I moved house and did all the stressful things associated with that, and a time in which I tried to come to terms with the persistent, shooting pain running through my right wrist.

Machine knitting yarn. Cones of wool.

Anyone who has ever suffered RSI (repetitive strain injury or tendonitis, as my doctor prefers to call it) has my extreme empathy – who knew it could be so painful? I don’t to dwell too much on the details of it, suffice to say that it is multitudes worse than a bit of discomfort whilst knitting, it also encompasses waking in the middle of the night, partly because almost all pain seems worse post the midnight hour, and mostly because that seemed to be the time at which the pain was most alarming.

I tried to ignore it, I tried to keep knitting, knowingly making it worse, yet unable to resist the call of the needles. After the condition, unsurprisingly, didn’t improve but actually got a lot worse after a few months, I had to stop knitting completely. I had so little strength left in my poor wrist that I could barely hold up a full pint glass at this point. I committed to changing things, to lovingly packing away my knitting with a quietly whispered promise to return one day, in the meantime allowing my wrist to heal. A month of no knitting and being careful of other classic RSI activities, such as typing and using a trackpad, and I began to slowly see positive, fledgling, changes. I’m still not hand knitting and, after one too many quietly moody days or bout of frustrated tears, I decided that knitting couldn’t be removed from my life in this cruel, cold-turkey fashion. I hope to hand knit again, and soon, but I know that I’ll forever have to be exceptionally careful and learn to stop at the slightest hint of pain. I needed a more palatable solution than this, a way to feel engaged in knitting and making on a daily basis without damaging my body. I took a deep breath and reignited a long-held, secret dream to learn machine knitting.

One night, after a couple of glasses of wine and much perusing on eBay, I took the plunge and bought a Silver Reed SK280 and an assortment of yarn. With the help of a lovely friend* I tottered through the first steps and learnt to get my eye in as I cast tiny stitches onto tinier needles. Each new skill tallied up in my brain until I developed a headache born as much of excitement as overwhelm. More than anything, I’ve been learning that machine knitting is an entirely separate skill, with its own language and technical learning-curve. I’ve always mixed technical skills and creativity in my work, so this increased technicality is a draw rather than a worry.

I had been hoping to make knitting a more dominant force in my life, with plans to run a little website dedicated to it, to sell a few things and to offer classes and tuition. I’ve been rethinking these priorities recently as I still want to wake up and head down to my studio and knit all day. I hope that my knitting machine provides a route to doing this. I want to explore the processes, share the skills and make things. Maybe I’ll end up making things other people want and will treasure. It’s a small dream, but one I hold dear and intended to keep pursuing. I’ll try to document as much of this knitting journey as possible here, I know that machine knitters are a rare breed and I hope that knitters of the more traditional variety will gain something too.

Machine knitting doesn’t quite fill those evening hours when one settles, heavy of stomach, for a restful night watching old Seinfeld or new Bake Off. I hope that my wrist will improve to the point where I can knit (probably Continental-style rather than English) for a short time each night. My hands need the repetitive action it seems, or else I fall to being irritable and easily distracted. Maybe one day I’ll hand knit bit on the move again, if so, I’ll be the one in the coffee shop haphazardly attempting Continental knitting whilst sporting a rather fetching wrist brace!

*If you’re or near Bristol and want to learn to machine knit, get in touch with Amber Hards via her website.

This was probably a little rambling and less polished than most of my writing. I decided not to over-edit myself, I feel that simply isn’t necessary when things are a little closer to the bone.

Machine knitting. Silver Reed SK280

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