Tubular Fair Isle/Pattern Knitting on the Superba

A few times someone has brought up the possibility of machines that can knit tubular fair isle, but I actually don’t know of any machine that does it automatically. Maybe a passap? I don’t know. But after my three-colour jacquard investigations using a “blank” pass, I had wondered if it would be possible to do the same type of thing on the Superba, but in the round, so you’d have a tube instead of a double-bed jacquard fabric.

So I finally got around to trying it out. Am I the first person to do this on the Superba? I very much doubt it, but I couldn’t find any documentation about it so I’m writing it here. Probably this is a technique that was passed down in newsletters or magazines back in the ’80s and everyone knew, but they didn’t have Superbaknit, so maybe I’m the first one to document it with that, ha.

Essentially, the process is just knitting two colour “skip stitch” or slip stitch on the back bed as I talked about in my previous jacquard post. The only real difference is:

  • We are doing one pass of each colour, in the same direction each time, across only the back bed – not both to create the pattern
  • We’ll knit that same yarn back across only the front bed in the opposite direction, in birdseye setting to avoid the front bed having double the rows and thus ending up longer than the back bed

Because the two beds are never joined, you get a tube of fabric with a pattern on one side and stripes on the other. And as I discovered after, if you are willing to do hand selection, you can knit the entire thing in pattern. So let me show you what you need to do.

First, cast on in the usual fashion for making a tube. Set the flow combs so that your needles won’t crash together if you accidentally knit across both beds, because trust me, you will probably do this at least once. If you want the whole thing to be open, and not sealed at the bottom, you would want to cast on in waste yarn, do a row of ravel cord, then change to your desired yarn and e-wrap or double e-wrap your first row around the tube. If you don’t care that the bottom is joined, just cast on with a zigzag row and then carry on in circular knitting. For help with casting on if this makes no sense, consult your machine manual or some of the helpful videos on YouTube for casting on on your Superba.

After your cast on, when you are ready to start knitting in pattern, stop with the carriages on the left hand side. Just as a note, on Superbas the circular setting only knits clockwise – left to right across the back bed and right to left across the front. This doesn’t actually matter once we get going, as for this we won’t be using the circular setting, but since it is easiest to change colours on the left hand side of the machine, that’s how I have continued.

Now you need a suitable pattern for knitting your design. Pretty much any two-colour pattern you would knit in fair isle can work. The main thing is that when you open it in Superbaknit (if you are using it) it should say “method 2” for the knitting. I would suggest to stay away from anything with long floats, because unlike in a DBJ, you will see/feel them on the inside of the tube, depending on what you’re using it for. I chose this one, MOT28 from the system 9000 collection of patterns included with Superbaknit:

Once you have selected a pattern, load it up in Superbaknit (or your pattern input if you are not using Superbaknit.) Your settings should be like this:

Superbaknit settings

In case that’s hard to see, you need to input your width, and the important settings are SKIP STITCH, DOUBLE ROWS, and LEFT, since we are starting on the left. Center, repeat and wrap and any other modifiers are up to your discretion and how you want the pattern to look. At this point, don’t forget to set your cursor stops and SET 0 for your cursor. If you are using another method of patterning input, you would want to select the appropriate settings to achieve this.

Next you need to set your carriages to knit in skip/slip stitch. It’s very easy – select nothing. Just engage the birdseye or “lili” knob on the side for the direction you will be knitting on the front bed. If you are knitting clockwise, you engage the left knob by pushing it in and turning it up.

Back bed settings: nothing selected, NRL at neutral position.

Front bed settings: Nothing selected, NRL levers to neutral, LEFT lili/birdseye knob engaged. Do NOT select circular button or it will override the lili button and knit all stitches on the front bed.

Now you are ready to start knitting. If using Superbaknit, make sure you click “KNIT” before you start, in the knitting window. Which, by the way, will look something like this nightmare fuel:

I have no idea why Superbaknit decided to make blue the background colour here, but it’s a little hard to look at. In any case, when you knit across to the right, you should see that selected stitches are knit, and the rest skipped. In my case on row 1, the green stitches knit, and the blue ones skip.

While your carriages are at the right, you will want to thread up your second colour and secure it at the left side of the machine, and manually knit it into one stitch on the left end of the front bed. If you are using the colour changer, now is the time to set that up as well. Or, if you will be managing yarns with the jacquard claw, pop that in.

Now comes the important part. PUSH THE CURSOR BACK TO THE LEFT WITHOUT THE CARRIAGES. Superbaknit will register this as knitting a row, and will have you all set up ready to go on row 3. You can then push the carriages back to the left. It will skip every stitch on the back bed, knitting nothing, and because of the lili knob, knit every other stitch on the front, starting with the second from the right, ie/ 2,4,6 and so on.

Once you get back to the left, change colours, and knit across to the right again. It will knit in pattern as per row 3. As before, push the cursor back to the left. But this time, you will need to bring one needle forward on the front bed, at the right edge of the work. This will not be knitted, it is simply to ensure that this time, your front bed knits every other needle starting with 1,3,5 from the right etc. because it skips the first needle. I hope this makes sense. If you don’t do this, your front bed will always knit on the same needles, resulting in a mess. You can then just push it back out of the way after the row is knit. To help keep track of when I was supposed to bring a needle forward, since I was using blue as my main colour and white as my second, I made myself the handy little rhyme, “Blue, nothing to do. White, extra stitch on the right.” Once you get into the flow, it’s not so bad. Always pause on the right, figure out if you are on a needle-forward row or a needle-back row, and of course, push that cursor back to the left. It will result in vertical stripes of each colour on the front bed, which is a nice visual cue for whether you need the extra needle or not as well.

And, with all that, you get something like this:

I posted about this in the Superba Facebook group, and it came up that you could hand select the front bed in pattern as well, and I’m pleased to say that it works just the same. Deselect the lili knob, and before knitting across on the front bed, push any needles that you’d like to knit out to position 2, and it will knit them while skipping the others. I only got a tiny swatch before my yarn broke and it fell off, so you will have to trust me on this one, but it does work. If you have a jac40 for 5mm machines, that process would be super easy. I don’t, and I can’t really think of any compelling reason to do all that hand selection at the moment, but I’m sure someone out there could.

I think I might record a video on this soon; I realize this wall of text is not easy to read. Let me know if you try this!

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