I had created a few different prototypes with different surface design treatments for other experiments. The style of stitch is key here. Yet, the last piece I did surface design for Luciferins, was felted from wool fibers. It was not machine knitted. So, not only did I need to prototype different stitches to get the surface design I was after, I also needed to see how the surface design and felting process impacted the end product.
After I had machine knitted a couple of loooong circular structures (8+ feet), I realized I needed to develop some test samples before felting these newly knitted large structures.
I circularly knitted a few smaller pieces and set about with my stitches. The first one:
The first one I did a running stitch, relatively straight across it. The stitches weren’t precisely planned, but they followed a regular length and trajectory. The goal was for them to not be precise and to line up. I used a cotton thread for the stitches and stitch counters to help secure the ends.
After felting the piece, I not only had a better idea of how long to felt it for, I also noted that I did not pull it tight enough in a few spots. As a result, the design was lost.
In the end, this is what it looked like:
(A bit later on I’ll go into why this place is flat and not circular. That came about later in the process.)
I had another circular machining knitting experiment that hadn’t faired so well in the process of becoming a full fledged structure. I iterated the surface design with the latest tweaks for tension and thread to create the surface design.
I noticed the a semi-regular running stitch was producing regular ridges, instead of a more irregular surface design.
After felting them, I noticed that the longer the stitch was, the greater/taller the ridge. This is an interesting effect, but not quite what I was going for. I also realized that I needed to felt it longer for the crevices to fully felt.
Still not quite what I was after. But after felting the piece, I not only had a better idea of just how long to felt it for, I realized that the cotton thread was too thick. It was nice and sturdy, but after removing it once the felt dried, the holes had felted into the surface as a result. I switched to using a 1-ply acrylic thread.
At the same time, I was realizing that these circular knits were shrinking down to a diameter/width that was much smaller than what I am looking for, with regard to circular knitting a single structure in one piece. I sat on this for quite a bit and ruminated.
Breaks are quite good. They are critical to the making process. Giving my brain a rest and some space on the matter enabled the clarity to assemble another added direction. This direction gives the piece exciting new material dimension, which is something I am seeking. I do not want to just have plain knitted structures hanging in space. I experimented with different shapes created by the knitting machine, and was not happy with the result. They were too regular. Yet, the break brought to mind the workshop I did with Angelika Werth at the last Felters’ Fling. Another blog post will come on this, but in short: I pivoted from knitting circular structures to knitting material to then surface design, felt and then CUT to then construct by sewing. (Hence the cut piece above.)
With this realization, I started to explore U-Style knitting on the knitting machine. Instead of a circle, you have one open end. This enables the fabric to then open/expand. So, I set off to give this a-go on the machine.
I had a few trials and tribulations. Managing the tension is critical and this gets challenging with an open end. Too much tension (ie weights) and the piece will rip. Too little tension and the thread will not catch to knit. Practice is key. My practice yielded a few failed attempts. Yet, these were perfect for iterating my stitch design with the 1-ply acrylic.
I did different stitch patterns. I made notes about how far apart each stitch grouping was from the next in both the x and y directions.
Pulling the acrylic thread to get the gathers.
I was getting more excited with this direction. Even before felting it, I can tell this is going in the direction I want.
I felted them. I was thankful the color of the pull thread didn’t run!
Yet, I made notes with regards to the next iteration. Less sharp turns (ie, V’s), smaller tuck stitches (no more running stitches); Further stitches apart and groupings. The quick turns and the running stitches give longer ridges. I’m going for more of a “puff” or bunching in areas, versus lines.
You can see the lines from the stitches in the image above and below. This results from a running stitch, as well as the length between the stitches. It’s a great texture. Just not want I am going for here. I’m seeking something more organic and less concentrated.
On to the next U-style knitted sample. Armed with this information, I set off to iterate my stitches in more of a square s-shape, with small stitches at the turns of the s-shape. So, this would be a small stitch to start, run to the next corner/turning point, small stitch, run to the next corner/turning point, small stitch, etc. I did a small variety, to see how they would turn out.
I still had some more v-like stitches in there as I was spreading out the area of the stitches. This knitted sample is only a few inches wide/long.
You can see the s-style stitches on the bottom part of the above fiber. Or, the top part of the image below.
This was the entire sample and all the stitches:
Pulling each of the individual acrylic threads and adding stitch counters at each end to secure the stitches while felting them:
After felting the piece, letting it dry with the pull threads in is key. This takes awhile due to the thickness and bulk. But afterwards, I pulled out the threads and stretched it out. It felts well and isn’t shrinking too terribly bad. I did use a little olive oil soap this time in the felting process. While I’m not getting the wrinkles I did with the wool fibers (they won’t “shock” in the same way as a result of working with a spun fiber), I am satisfied with the sections that I did the s-style stitches. This creates more of an area that is treated/textured. The small stitches upon changing direction are key, as are constantly rotating the direction of that small stitch (ie, is it in the direction of the traveling stitch? Put the stitch at a right angle or an off direction is better).
The bubbles and pockets are more of what I am going for. (Seen in the above picture on the lower right and on the left in the image below.) Leaving enough distance between the stitches is also key. Bunching the stitches close together creates a more busy/dense section. I’m going for an over-all relatively even look. This gives is a unique presence, without an overall forced look.
So far, so good! I’m eager to see how this looks on a larger/longer piece. Now to take this to a large circularly knitted piece and then to felt it. This is going to be quite a task considering the circularly knitted pieces are over 8 feet long and about 42 inches wide. I am ordering more stitch counters to help with all the individual pull threads, for sure! Here goes!