Category Archives: techniques

Knitmare on my street

In addition to being cruel, knitting just loves to yank my chain. Just when I’m feeling smug about some technique that I’ve mastered, along comes a project eager to smack that confidence right out of me!

While I was waiting for the yarn for the Scalloped Lace Toddler Sweater, I decided to cast on for the second sweater I had planned to knit the munchkin this fall. Several years ago, I had stumbled across A Cardigan for Merry, which was a baby-size adaptation of A Cardigan for Arwen from the Winter 2006 issue of Interweave Knits. I loved the clever reversible cable, and decided to use it as the inspiration for a sweater for my daughter. I had some Knit Picks Andean Silk yarn (an alpaca, silk, and merino blend) that I’d picked up when it was discontinued a few years ago which seemed as though it would make a scrumptious and warm sweater. It was a worsted weight, though, which meant that the cables from the original pattern would be too large for a child-size sweater. Serious swatching ensued, while I tried to determine the best-sized cable and settle on a fabric that would be dense and warm but not stiff (or unpleasant to knit).

I decided that I would put a small cable at the bottom of each sleeve. Since the cables are reversible, the cuffs could be worn folded up now and then unfolded later, so the sweater could hopefully see more seasons of wear. (I had used this same approach on a Baby Surprise Jacket for my daughter which she’d only recently outgrown after nearly two years of use.) To make the cuff completely reversible, I decided to graft the cable pattern. It was top-to-bottom grafting, so there wouldn’t be any half-stitch jog to complicate matters. And after all, I told myself, I am old pro at Kitchener stitch. Grafting in pattern wouldn’t be that hard.

Oh, such hubris! My first attempt wasn’t horrible, but I discovered that I needed to rethink how I’d planned to pick up stitches along the side of the cuf for the sleeve. So I knit a second cuff. That time, I used a different provisional cast on, keeping the loops live around a spare circular needles. I read a couple of articles about how to graft in pattern. I was ready! Well, that approach ended in abject failure (not to mention some rather unladylike language!). I tried again. Same result. (Well, maybe worse language, which I followed up with a beer and a good night’s sleep). The next morning, fortified with coffee, I decided to use the K.I.S.S. method: I cast on with waste yarn and knit four rows. I switched to the working yarn, knit the cuff again, and switched back to waste yarn for several rows at the end. Then all I had to do was follow the path of the waste yarn. Finally: Success! Picking out the waste yarn was a pain, but better than ripping out my hair!

Seamless cable cuff

What do you think? The grafted seam is just above the end of the yarn on the left side.

So tell me… what techniques give you fits?

 

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In praise of i-cord

I’ve been told that the “I” in i-cord stands for “idiot,” which I find to be quite unfortunate, because it is one of my favorite knitting techniques. By itself, it makes lovely ties and is a fun way to finish off the top of a hat. Applied i-cord gives you even more options and is one of my favorite ways of finishing off a raw edge.

For the Scalloped Lace Toddler Cardigan, I decided to work the button bands with applied i-cord in a contrasting color. I picked up and knit on the right side with the purple yarn, purled back, and on the next row worked 3-stitch i-cord. When I came to a buttonhole, I worked the bottom half of the buttonhole like TECHknitter’s Tulips buttonhole, and for the top I simply worked three rounds of plain (unattached) i-cord. It worked like a charm.

I liked the way the contrasting trim looked so much, I decided to do the same thing around the neckline. Except that I didn’t want to work any extra rows. I picked up stitches around the cast-on edge of the neck with a sock-sized circular needle. I tried to work i-cord directly on those stitches, but the white yarn underneath showed through. I knew there had to be another trick, so I hunted around online (Thank you, Google!) and found this technique at The Purl Bee. Brilliant!

Scalloped Lace Toddler Cardigan, i-cord neck trim

I even figured out how to weave in the ends so that the I cord appears to travel seamlessly around the neckline. So all this time spent waiting for my yarn order so I can finish the sweater wasn’t totally wasted.

To keep myself from stalking the KnitPicks site to see if my order shipped, I’m working on weaving in the hundreds of ends. I think I’ve tackled about five hundred, with about three hundred left to go…

Ends, billions of ends, waiting to be woven in...

The next sweater I knit is going to be a solid color, with a yarn I can split-splice, so I only have two ends to weave in when I’m done!!

Friday Funnies: On Swatching

“[Swatches are] as honest as ex-husbands with new girlfriends and hair transplants who owe you child support…. on a good day.”

The Yarn Harlot

Sock it to me

I finished the second Solemate sock last night. I love it. The shadow-wrap heel fits better than the German short-row heel, feels smoother inside, and looks nicer. I like the way I reduced the gusset stitches on the second sock better, too. (I worked it flat, like a heel flap, rather than reducing the stitches in the round, which made the first sock a bit baggy around the front of my ankle.)

Solemate socks, version 1 and version 2

Solemate socks, version 1 (bottom) and version 2 (top)

Both socks are about the same size, but the second sock used 4g less yarn than the first. I’m not sure how much of that was the heel structure and how much of that was gauge. I worked the the first sock using DPNs from and the second using circulars from a different manufacturer. I worked the back of both socks above the heel turn using needles one size smaller, but I switched back to the larger needles sooner on the first sock.

The only piece of the puzzle that I’m not totally happy with is the bind-off at the top of the sock. I worked the k1, *p1, slip both stitches back to the left needle and p2tog, k1, slip both stitches back to the left needle and k2tog, repeat from * bind off. (I’m not sure what it’s called exactly.) It’s super-stretchy, which is great, but it flares out a lot, which is not so great. I didn’t weave in the ends yet; I think I might pull it out and work a tubular bind-off instead.

In the meantime…. Right after I snapped this picture, I ripped the first sock back to the heel. I’ll ponder the bind-off while I redo the heel and leg. I’m open to suggestions!

Heel-tastic!

My first pair of socks was a pair of top-down, traditional heel-flap socks. They fit my too-long, too-narrow, too-high-arched feet perfectly and hooked me on sock knitting. Then I discovered toe-up sock knitting, and was torn.

There were a lot of pros for toe-up socks:

  • Running out of yarn 1/4″ from the end of your sock is a lot easier to deal with if you’re working toe-up
  • Judy’s Magic Cast-On is An Amazing Thing of Beauty (and is way more fun than Kitchener stitch)
  • Short row heels look more like “store-bought socks” (and tend to be better-received by non-knitters)
  • Easy to check sock fit and make adjustments as you go along

But there were a few cons, and they were pretty significant:

  • Short row heels don’t tend to fit people with high arches as well
  • My attempts at traditional, wrap-and-turn short row heels were pretty darn ugly, full of holes and stretched-out stitches

So I played with a few variations. My Serpentine socks used a gusset heel that fit my instep well, but were a bit too big around my ankle. The short row heels in my Everyone Outta the Pool socks fit well but still weren’t that pretty, and they were a bit harder to keep track of/adapt to other patterns. The German short row heel I used in the first Solemate sock was easy to execute and looked okay, but was a little bit lumpy inside and required a plain round in the middle of the heel that messes up self-striping yarn patterns (and would also make it difficult to add a contrast-color heel).

But once again, Ravelry came to my rescue. Another Raveler mentioned being pleased with a “shadow wrap heel” in one of the Rav forums the other day. Of course, I had to look that up immediately. And then I had to try it out on the second Solemate sock, which had patiently been waiting for me to get around to turning the heel.

To accommodate my high instep, I combined the shadow wrap technique with a gusset: First I increased 1/3 of the heel stitches on either side, then I worked the shadow wrap short row heel (over the original number of stitches only), and finally I worked a 1×1 rib heel flap, consuming the gusset stitches until I was back to my original heel count (well, in this case, until I was down to my new heel count, as I needed a few extra stitches to continue my cable pattern seamlessly around the sock).

Shadow-wrap short-row heel

Success! The heel fits beautifully and comfortably over my arch, and the ribbing (which I worked on needles one size smaller) hugs the back of my heel and adds a little bit of padding like a top-down heel flap does. The short rows are easy to execute and keep track of, and the finished seam is pretty and gap-free. I think I’ve found my go-to short row heel!

Now the burning question is… should I leave the first sock alone, or should I rip it back and redo the heel using this technique? I’ve already decided I want to rip the ribbing at the top and redo it. But how far should I rip? If I redo the heel, I can also try a few things to round out the shape of my short-row heel a bit, to accommodate my super narrow heel even better. Hmmmmm…

What’s your favorite sock knitting method? Top-down? Toe-up? Heel flap or short-row? Wrap-and-turn or something else? Gusset or not? Have some other fabulous technique I haven’t heard of yet? Please let me know in the comments!

I felt bad

So… about those slippers I made for my daughter… The first set I made was a bit too small, but (since I had a large amount of Patons SWS in my stash) I decided to knit up another pair. I finished this pair while we were on vacation, despite having to improvise a bit on needle size. They languished in my knitting bag while I was catching up on our post-vacation laundry, but yesterday I pulled them out and decided to do something about them.

Slippers, Version Two

Slippers, Version Two, Pre-Felting

I felted the first pair in the sink. It took a loooooong while, but I finally got them to felt up. In fact, they felted up a bit too small! For the second try, I decided to do something different and try felting in my washing machine.

We used to have a top-loading washing machine. When I made slippers for my son, I used it to felt them. I could open the top and check out the felting process as I went along. Worked like a charm. But then that washer died, so we got a new high-capacity, high-efficiency front-loading washer. For everyday washing, it’s great. Low water usage, gentle on clothes, yadda yadda. But for felting? Hmm. I read on Ravelry that you could felt in a front-load machine, but that it took several cycles. So I put the slippers in and selected the highest-temperature wash cycle. This machine is electronic, so instead of setting the time/temperature/etc. manually, you pick the type of cycle and the machine adjusts accordingly. Again, great for everyday washing, but a bit tricky for felting. The highest-temperature cycle is also the longest cycle, but the washer is so gentle on clothes, I thought it would be okay. (You’re laughing and rolling your eyes now, aren’t you? You should be!)

Rumor has it that you can open up a front-load washer during the cycle and the water level will be so low that it won’t spill out. I tried this out once and got suds all over my laundry room floor, so I wasn’t about to try it again. I threw in some towels and turned the washer on. When the cycle was finally done, I fished out the bag with the slippers in it. They had felted. In fact, one of them had felted closed in the middle of the foot! And everywhere they had creased in the washer, they had felted into a lump. So I had two small, lumpy, misshapen slippers, only one of which would actually hold a toddler’s foot.

Felted Slippers, Take Two

The too small, the too lumpy, and the too much like a coaster

Yes, I’m going to knit her another pair. In a bit. I’m still feeling a bit grumpy now though!

The best laid plans….

I finished my first sock. I’m pretty happy with it, but I’m going to make a few tweaks with the second sock (make the toe and heel a tad narrower, make the gusset a bit smaller, and make the cuff at the top a tiny bit tighter). I was all set to cast on for the second sock when a little munchkin stole my sock and put it on. (It came up to her thigh.) When I tried to get it back, she pitched a fit and refused to give it back, insisting that she needed a sock, too. So what’s a mom to do?

Well, first I tried to distract her by offering up a store-bought sock. She’s no dummy, though, so that approach was doomed from the git-go. I had no choice by to grab some pretty sock yarn and cast on for a sock. Only that wasn’t going to turn into a sock fast enough for my munchkin, so we went to Plan C:  Felted slippers.

Before felting, on foot

They’re a little big, Mom…

A few years back, I knit up some super-quick socks for my son and felted them in the washing machine. Sweet kid that he is, he looked doubtfully at the gigantic socks I’d made and said, “I love them! They’re a little big, but that’s okay, Mom.” He was pretty surprised when they felted down to fit him. 🙂

Slippers, before felting

Before

The munchkin was equally skeptical about the slippers, but she did think the splashing about in the sink part was pretty fun (we have a new front-loading washer, and I wasn’t sure I could felt them enough in there). They actually felted up a bit too much, so I have a feeling I will be knitting up another pair soon. That’s okay; they are a seriously quick knit. I knit up the first slipper while watching the Olympics Friday night and knit up the second Saturday night.

Slippers, after felting

After

I actually felted them a little too much. (Who knew? Score one for elbow grease!) I also used a short-row heel without adding a gusset, so it’s a bit of a squeeze to get your heel in. (I’ve been kind of obsessed with them lately, so I slapped one in there without thinking about it too much.) Felt slippers usually stretch a bit, though, so I think they may be okay in the long run. I still need to paint the bottoms with some puff paint to make them a little less slippery.

Now, about that second sock for me

FO Friday: The Haruni Shawl

Haruni Shawl 

Pattern:

Haruni by Emily Ross

Yarn:

Sundara Sock Yarn in Lunar Landing (1 skein, 370 yards)

Needles:

Signature Needle Arts circular needle, US size 7 (4.5mm)

Susan Bates Crochet Hook, US size 9 (1.25mm) for beads

Boye Crochet Hook, US D (3.25mm) for fringe

Other Materials:

Miyuki Japanese Seed Beads (6/0 round) in Heavy Metals Mix, 2-20g tubes

Modifications:

Lots. I knit the body plain (similar to the body of the Ishbel shawl). I used my yarn scale and Excel to calculate how many petals I could get out of the single skein of yarn I had. I added extra clusters of petals at either end to maximize my yarn use. (And I ended up with only 3g of yarn when all was said and done). I added beads along the stem and the edges of each petal, using the crochet hook method.

The crochet bind-off was new to me. A little slow to execute, but again, well worth the effort. It might have looked a little bit better with a slightly smaller hook. I’m very glad I learned how to crochet before I tackled this!

Time to complete:

Less than a year. 🙂 I cast on for this in May of 2011, right after MDSW. I finished the plain portion in a week or so, and then it sat through the summer and into the winter, while I bought beads and figured out what size to make. The dark yarn and the beads made this project slow going.

The verdict:

Love, love, love it! This may be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever made.

Techniques: Provisional Crochet Cast-On

The Scalloped Lace Baby Cardigan starts with a provisional crochet cast-on. You cast on four stitches and work a number of garter ridges. Then you knit the four stitches, turn the work clockwise 90°, pick up one stitch in each garter “ditch,” and then turn the work again, unzip the provisional cast-on and knit the four “held” stitches. This gives you a seamless 4-stitch garter edging that goes up one side of the cardigan, around the back of the neck, and down the other side.

There are loads of ways to cast on that will give you live stitches going in two opposite directions. When I am going to be working the cast-on stitches right away (as you would in the toe of a sock or the bottom of a bag), I like Judy Becker’s Magic Cast-On (I like Jeny Staiman’s interpretation best), as it puts all the stitches on a needle or circular cable.  But if I’m going to work in one direction for a while and then come back to other half of the stitches, I prefer to put the unused stitches on waste yarn using a provisional crochet cast-on.

A lot of knitting references will have you crochet a chain first, then pick up stitches in the chain. I find it far easier to cast the stitches directly onto my knitting needle. I’ve put together a simple tutorial to demonstrate this technique. I hope you find it helpful!

Materials:

  • The yarn you plan to use for your project
  • A knitting needle in the appropriate gauge for your yarn
  • Some smooth cotton yarn for your provisional cast-on. The gauge of this yarn should be no larger than the yarn you plan to use for your project. (It can be smaller; I have a skein of a fingering-weight mercerized cotton yarn that I use for provisional cast-ons and for putting garments on waste yarn.)
  • A crochet hook in a gauge close to that of your cotton yarn. (Gauge is not critical for the hook, but it should be large enough to hook the cotton yarn without splitting the plies.)

Step 1: Using your cotton yarn, form a slipknot and place it over your crochet hook.

Provisional crochet cast-on, step 1 

Step 2: Hold your crochet hook in your right hand and your knitting needle in your left hand, with the working yarn held behind your knitting needle.

Provisional crochet cast-on, step 2

Step 3: Reach the crochet hook across the knitting needle and hook the working yarn.

Provisional crochet cast-on, step 3

Step 4: Pull the working yarn through the loop on the crochet hook. Tug the working yarn until the loop around the knitting needle is snug (the loop around the crochet hook should have enough slack to make it easy to pull the next loop through). You have now cast on one stitch.

Provisional crochet cast-on, step 4

Step 5: Move the working yarn behind the knitting needle. Hold the crochet hook in front of the knitting needle and reach across the needle to hook the working yarn again.

Provisional crochet cast-on, step 5

Step 6: Pull the working yarn through the loop on the crochet hook. Two stitches now cast on.

Provisional crochet cast-on, step 6

Step 7: Continue in this way until you have cast on as many stitches as you need. (Tip: cast on a few extra stitches. If you accidentally drop a loop while knitting the first row, you can simply skip that loop and move on to the next. Any extra provisionally cast-on stitches can simply be dropped at the end.) 

Provisional crochet cast-on, step 7

Step 8: Once you are done casting on stitches, chain a few extra at the end by simply pulling the working yarn through the loop on the crochet hook without wrapping it around the knitting needle. Place a safety-pin or a locking stitch marker in the last loop. This will mark the end you will “unzip” from. You are done with the provisional cotton yarn at this point, so if you were working from a ball, you can cut the yarn, leaving a 6-inch tail or so to prevent your loop from unraveling by accident. (I keep several short lengths of cotton yarn in my knitting bag for this purpose or for putting stitches on waste yarn.)

Provisional crochet cast-on, step 8

Step 9: Hold the working yarn for your project behind your knitting needle with the crochet loops.

Provisional crochet cast-on, step 9

Step 10: Knit the first stitch as you would normally, then continue across the needle.

Provisional crochet cast-on, step 10

Step 11: When you have knit all the stitches that you need, you can slip the extra provisional loops from your needle. (They will not unravel and will form a simple crochet chain.)

Provisional crochet cast-on, step 11

Continue knitting normally. Your chained stitches will be held in place until you are ready to knit with them. When you need to free them, begin from the end with the stitch marker. Pull each loop out one at a time, placing each stitch on a free needle.

I hope you found this tutorial useful!

Techniques: Beads and knitting

I still haven’t gotten good pictures of the finished Haruni Shawl, but in the meantime, let’s talk beads and knitting.

Haruni was my first shawl with beads. The original pattern didn’t call for beads, so I drew up my own version of the chart (which I had to do anyway because of my other modifications to the design) and marked where I wanted to place my beads. I knew there two basic ways (with loads of variations, of course) to place beads on your knitting: Stringing all the beads first, and placing the beads as you go.

The first method sounded like a lot of work, and (depending on how the pattern is designed) sometimes the beads can migrate to the back of the work, negating all that effort. It also causes extra wear-and-tear on the yarn, but since I was using a tightly-spun sock yarn, I wasn’t as worried about that aspect as I would have been if I’d been using a laceweight cashmere yarn.

The second approach, which is the one I opted for, was to place the beads as you go along. This can be done with a piece of orthodonic dental floss or with a tiny crochet hook. I tried both and found the crochet hook to be slightly easier to work. Plus, since I was using multi-colored beads, it gave me the flexibility of being able to select each bead individually so I could avoid placing two identical beads right next to each other. I also liked the fact that I could place a bead, then knit the stitch, so even if I dropped a stitch, I was less likely to lose the bead.

I took some photos and put together a small tutorial to show you how I did it. In the interest of thoroughness, I am using Sundara sock yarn, a US size 7 (4.5mm) Signature Needle Arts circular needle with stiletto tips, a US9 (1.25mm) Susan Bates crochet hook, and size 6/0 seed beads. (I strongly recommend using a very tapered needle for this method—the stilletto tips from SNA are perfect for this—so that you can replace the bead and knit it without distorting the surrounding stitches.)

  1. Scoop up a bead with the tip of the crochet hook. Turning the hook so that it faces up, insert the hook purlwise into the next loop on the left knitting needle and pull the loop off the needle. Placing beads, 1
  2. Using your finger, slide the bead down the hook and onto the loop of yarn, making sure that all strands of the yarn pass through the bead.Placing beads, 2
  3. Replace the loop onto the left needle, making sure that the stitch is oriented correctly. Keeping the stitch at the tip of the needle, use the tip of the right needle to knit the stitch. (If you try this with blunt-tipped needles or if you try to force the width of the entire needle, you’ll end up pulling yarn from the surrounding stitches and distorting your pattern.) Placing beads, 3
  4. Once you’ve knit the stitch and dropped it from your left needle, you can push the new stitch fully onto the right needle.  
    Placing beads, 4
  5. Admire your knitting and your pretty beads! Placing beads, 5
  6. Resist the urge to place beads on all of your knitting projects. (I have found that husbands and boy children are somewhat less enamored of beads than I am…)

What projects have you knit with beads? What technique did you use? Any suggestions for me?