At Woolyknit, we love to see your amazing yarn creations on social media, and each month we like to get to know small business owners, artists, hobbyists and celebrate their incredible talent. One of our favourite artists to look out for on Facebook is our next guest in our Meet the Maker series, Sally Butcher.
Keep reading to learn about how she started as an artist, as well as her advice for machine knitting beginners.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I took early retirement from my job nearly two years ago, in order to spend more time with my elderly mum (who lives with us) and – not incidentally – to do more of my various crafts. I originally come from Surrey, but for the past 20 years we have lived in Cornwall, in the beautiful south-west of England, so I am surrounded by moors, sea, wildlife and history.
I run a local machine knitting group – currently suspended, of course – and I teach crafts at a local haberdashery store. I have recently started to do virtual machine knitting lessons by zoom, with two customers so far, and this has worked well.
I have been interested in making things ever since I was a small child, but I was told at school that I was hopeless at “art” because I can’t draw. It’s taken me a long time to realise I could create without needing to draw.
I bought my first knitting machine in about 1984 – the exact date eludes me – because I loved knitting, but hand knitting was so slow, and any experimentation took ages, and seemed like such a waste of time if it didn’t go to plan. My first machine was a very basic chunky model, and I was quickly bitten by the bug, and bought a standard gauge machine and ribber not long afterwards. I knitted a lot for about ten or twelve years but then knitting went out of fashion and my machine were packed away whilst other crafts kept me busy. Fast forward to about 2008, knitting was getting to be the “in” thing to do, so I hauled the machines out of the loft and started again.
The biggest change these days, has to be due to the internet and social media. Years ago, if we had a problem, there were very few places to go if you didn’t have a local club, and most information was gleaned from specialist books and magazines. Now, there is instant access to Facebook groups, Pinterest, YouTube videos and online tuition. It has made such a massive difference.
As an artist you craft in many ways, which is your favourite technique?
Yes, so many I’ve nearly lost count! I’m an inveterate dabbler, apart from knitting, I do crochet, embroidery, calligraphy, zentangle, kumihimo, beading and jewellery making. I’m always willing to have a go at anything. Currently, my favourites are my knitting machines, and – even after 40 years – I can still be surprised at what they can do. My favourite technique on the machine is knit-weave, it has so many possibilities, as you are no longer constrained by the thickness of yarn.
What was your first wool project?
I was taught to hand knit at about the age of six, and would be given leftovers by my mum and nan, from which I made very lumpy Barbie doll clothes and toys for the dog. My first serious piece of knitting as an adult, was a hand-knitted round yoke fairisle sweater. I knitted it on my train journeys to work and it took months. It was this experience that led me to buying a machine.
Describe your work in 3 words
Simple, Wearable, Accessible
What product design are you most proud of?
It’s not really one design as such, but a series of Knit-a-Longs. For the past three years I have been one of the four admins on a Facebook group – Machine Knitting Beginners and Returners Circle – which, as the name suggests, is aimed at new or returning knitters.
We have posted a series of ten KALs – of which I have written five – which are patterns we have written, and which have been designed to introduce the new machine owner to all the basic knitting techniques required to make and finish their first garments. They are intended as stepping stones onto more intricate work. Our members are encouraged to try them, our mantra being “no question is too stupid”. I’m currently working on number 11.
Additionally, I post individual tutorials on my Kalamunda Krafts page, which take the knitter step by step through the processes to knit various techniques on the machines. These are all done on my Silver Reed machines, of which I have several, ranging from the basic LK150 plastic starter machine, through the punchcard models, and lately I’ve acquired two electronic models as well. This has started a whole new adventure with Designaknit software.
I was so pleased that Woolyknit introduced the 4 ply acrylic yarn. We are always being asked where people can buy yarn on cones, and beginners often want a good, economical yarn that they can experiment with, without fear of wasting lots of money. The colour range is excellent, it knits up beautifully, and the cost is reasonable so that a customer can buy lots of colours without breaking the bank.
What inspires your designs and what is your creative process?
I try to keep my designs fairly easy to knit, and wearable. There’s no point coming up with some fantastic creation that sits in the wardrobe because it’s impractical to wear, and a nightmare to knit.
My starting point is always the yarn – it has to tell me what it wants to be. I’m always buying yarn, like a kid in a sweetie shop, often without any idea at the time of what I’ll do with it. I will then swatch it on the machine to find out how it knits up, and wait for inspiration! This might take minutes, hours, days or months. I will then sketch out the shape and start doing the maths.
I am a plus size, and there is a dearth of patterns for the larger person. There is also a misconception, that the fixed number of needles on the machines, means you can’t knit larger garments. I have come up with a number of strategies over the years to overcome this, and make garments that will fit up to a UK size 28-30
What are your plans for Kalamunda Krafts?
To keep being curious and an experimenter. I started the page as a place to record my crafting activities, but since I began it, it’s become the “go to” place on Facebook for hints and tips on using Silver Reed knitting machines. The next step, is to expand this onto platforms such as YouTube. My aim has been to freely share the knowledge that I’ve learned from other generous knitters and crafters over the years. I want to carry on doing that.
What are your top tips for machine knitting ?
Read your instruction book! Thoroughly! I’ve lost count of the times I’ve dealt with owners convinced their machine is broken, when in fact in 99.9% of cases it’s operator error. The instruction books have stood the test of time for many, many years. Unless your machine has been dropped, or had a massive whack, it’s unlikely to be damaged to the point where it won’t work.
Keep your machine clean and well maintained. Parts – even for the older models – are usually easy to obtain. Check the needle retaining bar (sponge bar) regularly and replace it when it gets flat.
Find a space for your machine where you can keep it out all the time, and organise your workspace. A good table, chair and light are essential.
Use good quality yarn and understand the correct stitch size and settings for your knitting project. Even the best behaved machine will have problems if your yarn is too thin or thick, or your settings aren’t correct.
Your tension swatch is your best friend. There’s no avoiding it.
Do you have any advice for knitting beginners?
Well, apart from following the top tips, join our MKBRC group on Facebook for lots of help and advice. Don’t try to run before you can walk, there is a learning curve and every person will follow this at their own pace. Remember that the machine doesn’t knit the garment for you, there is still a lot of input from the knitter. More than you might expect. Find a local club if there is one.
What’s on your Woolyknit wish list?
As well as my standard gauge, I have mid and chunky gauge machines, so I would love to see heavier yarns like Aran and chunky on cones.
If you want to be a part of our meet the maker series, make sure you tag us using @Woolyknit on your Instagram photos.
All images are taken by Sally Butcher.