Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Knitting 101- Knit and Purl I-Cords

Photo By Knit Purl Hunter
If you haven't made them before, I-cords are a nice embellishment, and EASY!  You can use them as handles, buttonholes, decorative additions, and much, much more.

I-Cords are the next natural step in knitting and purling.  They look extremely professional and fancy, and they're one of the easiest things to make.  They're easier than standard knitting.  One thing that's fun is that it is only the knit stitch!  For those of you who have never used double pointed needles or look at them like they're scary, no they're not.  I wouldn't ask you to try this if I had any doubts that you're ready, and that you'll be successful.  Take a breath!  Ok.

From Hattie My Love blog

You can make I-cords on straights, or you can make them on DPNs.  DPNs (double-pointed needles) are funny looking needles it you haven't used anything but basic straights.  They have a point at each end.  Other than that they are the same as any other needles, and come in all the same materials.  You'll probably like your DPN's very slippery for I-cords, so if you haven't made them before I recommend metal.  You'll only need two of the set of 4 or 5, so set the others aside.

These directions work for straights.  Cast on 3 stitches.  This will result in a 4 stitch I-cord.  Really!  Knit across the 3 stitches at regular tension.  *Now, slide the work back to the first needle.  From the front of the work, with yarn on the left side of the work, pick up the working yarn, and knit across the work again in absolutely regular tension.  Repeat from the asterisk.

From KraftyKritter1 blog

These directions work for DPNs.  Cast on 3 stitches.  This will result in a 4 stitch I-cord.  Knit across the 3 stitches at regular tension.  *Now, slide the work to the other end of the needle..  From the front of the work, with the yarn on the left side of the work, pick up the working yarn, and knit across the work again in absolutely regular tension.

If you're the type who does better with a video, this one is good.  It's by elsteffo on YouTube.

For the first few rows, the work is going to look really strange to you.  It's okay.  Just keep going until the work is about 4 inches long.  The bottom of the cord is probably a little wonky, but as you went along, it became very regular and smooth.  You'll notice that as you have knit, the yarn you've drawn across the back of the work has created a fourth stitch!  So cool!

I-cord Frog Closure from Threads Magazine website
How do these cords become something useful?  It's almost always listed in the pattern.  The tail from the cast on and the one from the bind off will usually be used in securing the I-cord to the garment.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Free Class on Grafting

You need to take this class!  If you're confident about grafting, it's an excellent refresher.  If you have any doubts or problems, this will resolve them.  The class is taught by the incomparable Anne Hanson, knitter, designer, and owner of Knitspot yarns.  No, this isn't just for Kitchener stitch! Ins and Outs of Grafting

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Knitting 101 - Knit and Purl recap

If you are working on the Knitting 101 course, then you've probably worked your way into the squares I recommended.   How are they working out?  The cotton yarn should be showing you where your weaknesses are. 

Stitches of Uneven Size

This is a question of tension in most cases.  Tension varies for a few reasons: lack of experience, failing to keep your points together during the knitting itself, or letting the knitting sit on straight needles for more than overnight.  Experience can only be gained by knitting more.  Keeping your points very close consistently (half an inch or less apart) is a question of building a new habit.  To practice this, you will have to look at your work while you knit, and be careful not to hold the needles in a death-grip.  Your hands need to be able to move smoothly across the needles and the work.  Lastly, knitting shouldn't sit on straight needles for extended periods of time (especially cotton and cotton blends!)  Knitting on circular needles eliminates the problem because you can slide the work onto the cord.  Otherwise, transfer your work to a needle at least two sizes smaller than the one you are knitting with.

Splitting the Yarn

If you find the yarn splitting while you knit, the problem is likely either the yarn or the needles.  If the yarn is a very loose twist, it should still hold together well enough to be knit with ease.  Let it go, and upgrade to a yarn with a higher twist.  If the issue is the needles, they may not be smooth.  Wooden needles are notorious for this.  The points may be irregularly shaped.  Lastly, they may be lace needles.  Lace needles come to a much finer point than knitting needles, which makes them split lower-twist yarn.  Bamboo needles may need to be sanded smooth with an emery board, then lightly waxed with furniture wax.

I hope it helps!  Keep knitting!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Tight Knitters, Let it GO!

tight, uneven knitting tension
No to knitters have the same natural gauge or
tension.  It would be great if we did, but we don't.  Instead we work to "get gauge", or make our swatch have the same stitch count per inch as the pattern recommends.  One type of knitter seems to have more trouble establishing gauge than others - the tight knitter.  This problem starts when you first learn to knit, and if you don't break it, it follows you for the length of your knitting life.

I'm talking to and about the knitters whose wrists hurt from trying to force the needles into each stitch.  The knitters whose work never slips off the needle because the stitches are strangling the needle.  The knitters who can't imagine how people perform the magic trick of cabling, because every time they try, they break the cable needle due to extreme stitch tension.  Does your stockinette stitch always look wavy, even after blocking?  Then this is for you.

wavy knitting due to knitting too tightly below,
 corrected tension above
Besides the fact that it's physically uncomfortable to knit this way, why stop knitting so tightly?  Well, it's definitely going to improve the look of your knitting.  Loosening up will allow you to explore a variety of stitches that have never worked for you before.  And knitting at an average gauge extends the life of the garment you create.  (Why?  We'll get to that in a minute.)

How do you stop choking the needle?  First, commit to breaking this habit.  Just take my word for it, this works.  In between every step of the stitch, let go of yarn and needle and put your hand in your lap.  Put your needle into the stitch- hand in the lap.  Wrap the yarn around the needle- hand in the lap.  Draw the new stitch through the old- hand in the lap.  And start again.  After the first couple of rows, it gets much easier. 

check your tension
Now look at the knitting you've created with the new method.  It's much looser, and it's very, very even.  Did you need to learn to hold your needles in a slightly different angle so the work didn't slide?  Did you see that holding on to the yarn for dear life didn't, in fact, create any benefits?  Great.  Now, slowly but surely, as you move forward in your swatch, you can return to holding your yarn, but loosely this time.  At the end of every row, assess the tension of the stitches on the needle.  If you see that you're tightening up again, return to putting your hand in your lap.  Cool, huh?

When you pick up your work next time, repeat the exercise.  Do this until you check the last row you've worked, and it isn't tightening up.  You'll see that it doesn't take too many sittings.  You're most susceptible to going back to tight knitting when you're on autopilot.  But after a few sittings, regular tension will become second nature. 

Why do your garments suffer when you strangle the needle?  Because all the added tension you put on the yarn stresses the fibers.  They no longer behave the way they were designed to.  Flexibility and loft are lost, and twist is exaggerated.  This exaggerating causes the knitting to twist or bias on the diagonal as the yarn tries to return to its relaxed state.  Everything you do to the fabric you've created after it has been knit in very high tension breaks down the yarn, causing pilling, more twisting, messy edges, and irregular wear patterns.  Enjoy the fruits of appropriate tension.  You'll find it's faster and much more satisfying.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Freebie Friday

Colorblock Hand Warmers
These hand warmers come to us from the Purl Soho website, the website for the wonderful yarn shop in Manhattan. 

Why do we like this pattern?  Lots of reasons.  The long length of the sleeves is a great start.  It means they'll never come untucked from under your sweater or jacket.  Also, this pattern was designed to please the beginner and the experienced knitter alike.  Thirdly, there are instructions for a light weight version and a heavier version.  What's not to like about that?

This is a terrific "first" pattern to knit in the round, as it's big on satisfaction and low on complexity.  You will need needles in US 2 and US 3.  Like all "pair" patterns (mittens, gloves, socks) there is a slight risk of UFO if you don't stay committed, but you'd never let that happen, would you?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Knitting 101 - Knit and Purl

Perfect Stockinette in Cotton from Knit-together.com
Knitting 101 is an educational knitting series designed to take your knitting to a new level with ease.  Just like world-class musicians still play scales every day, expert knitters practice basic skills.  January's Knitting 101 skill is mastering the knit and purl combination.  If you knit the entire skill-building series, by the end of the year you will have significantly improved your knitting skill and confidence.  We will be improving our skills by swatching.  Swatches are like so many basics we've learned in our lives; sometimes we let them fade away into the background.  In this Knitting 101 series, we're going to swatch all the skills that make knitting the wonderful art that it is. 

The knit and the purl stitches are the building blocks for all the rest of knitting.  Let's brush up to make every stitch uniform in size, tension, and texture.  Look at some of your stockinette knitting.  If your purl stitches don't look like your knit stitches, or if your stitches have one thin side and one thick side, or if your stitches have a little twist at the bottom, you know you have a problem. 
Simple Knit and Purl Swatch Exercise

If you hate knitting in silk, cotton, or other un-stretchy yarns, you may have a problem.  If you discover your stitches or rows are not all the same size, you may have a problem.  If you have no concern, do the exercise anyway!

More often than not the problem with stockinette knitting is the purl stitch method, so here's a video for a refresher.  If you knit in the American style, also known as "throwing", this is the method for you.  It's available at knittinghelp.com. 


If you knit in the Continental style, also known as "picking", this is the purling method for you.  It's from allfreekintting.com.


The fastest way to learn to make perfectly even stitches with even tension is to work with a very unforgiving yarn.  Most cottons will work well for this purpose.  Use size 5 needles and  DK weight yarn or US weight 3.  Go with a solid color, and work with a yarn that has absolutely no give to it.  This will quickly reveal any unevenness in tension, structure, or skill.

Seed Stitch

Cast on 30 stitches, and work alternate knit and purl rows (stockinette stitch)  until you have a beautiful, smooth piece of knitting at least 4 inches long.  If that means you need to knit a total of 9 inches to get to 4 smooth inches, knit 9. 

When your swatch looks good to you, bind off.  Start a new one working a basic knit/purl pattern.  There are several available here: http://knittingwithkarma.blogspot.com/p/clothsquare-charts.html  Or, you can use the Vogue Knitting Basic Stitch Patterns page to make up a square.  Seed stitch is always good practice.  Make at least one full square of your pattern, whatever the chosen dimension is, and if you feel it isn't as smooth and neat as you'd like, knit another one.  (Remember, everything looks better after blocking!)

If you're a new knitter, it will take you a fair amount of practice to produce swatches you are proud of.  This is normal!  If you start with cotton, you will quickly learn to identify your mistakes, as yarns with no give and no halo (fuzz around the main strand) make every mistake really stand out.  This makes them much easier to correct!  Try it.  You'll love it!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

First Freebie of 2014

It's been a long time since I brought you another great, free pattern.  Sorry!  I will return to Freebie Fridays at least once a month for the next year.

I've searched high and low, and found one that is well written, and adorable!  If you're a fan of the Scottie dog, knitting a toy for a child, or allergic to dogs and this is the only way you'll be able to own one, this pattern is for you.  It's called Radley Dog.  Make it on US Size 4 needles with DK or light worsted wool.  It comes to us from UK Hand Knitting, alongside over a dozen other charming free patterns.  Enjoy!


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Yarns Storage: Part 2

kitchen scale
In the last article, we discussed some of the materials you'll want to have on hand to organize your stash for better storage and efficient stash dives.  You'll need the zipper bags for each skein or for groups of several skeins.  You'll need index cards, plastic bins or boxes or bags, and a kitchen scale that weighs in grams.  Bins are available at major department stores ($3-$15) as are kitchen scales ($18-$40).  Zipper bags are available at the grocer, or in a variety of sizes in large quantities on line.  (I find the online resources to be cheaper.)

Everyone knits differently, and works on different projects.  This will have an effect on the larger storage choices, but the smaller packaging I recommend will be the same.  The yarn needs to be clean and dry, and you need to bag it in dry circumstances (not on a rainy day near an open window!)  Lay out your bags, yarn, index cards, and a Sharpie marker.

Each individual skein or group of skeins in a particular dye lot needs to go into its own bag.  So if you have 4 skeins of Mountain Colors Bearfoot in Juniper colorway, they'll all go into the same plastic bag.  Or, if you have 2 full skeins and a partial skein of Bearfoot, they will also go in the same bag.  The total contents of each bag should be weighed on the kitchen scale.  The bag contents will be listed on an index card in large, bold writing as follows:

Mountain Colors Bearfoot

zip close bags
426 grams total

If your stash is large, you'll want to squeeze all the air out of the bag before you close it.  Most skeins are almost 1/2 air!  Squeezing it out gives you more storage room.  (Don't worry, it bounces back after a few hours out of the bag.)  The purpose of the big printing on the index cards is that it's easier to read than a ball band, and gives you all the information in one place. 

Now, the question I'm always asked at this point is, "Why do we have to weigh everything?"  Because you can tell how much yardage you have by knowing the weight.  If your yarn gives you 200yds per 50g, you do the math and get 4yds per gram.  Now, however many grams are listed on the index cards multiplied by the number of yards per gram = how much yardage you have in your stash.  Exact yardage is great to know before you start a new project.  The pattern will tell you how much yarn it needs, and you know at a glance whether you have enough.

If you're on Ravelry, you don't need to do the math for your yardage.  The "Stash" function keeps track of it all for you.  And you don't need to look into your stash boxes, either.  Click on the yarn name in your "Stash" list, and you can locate a photo of the yarn!

Group yarns as you wish.  I choose to group by weight and by fiber.  Worsted cotton has a bin, worsted alpaca is in another, and worsted wools are in another.  (My stash is embarrassingly huge!)  Other people group by color, manufacturer, season, or whether it's machine or hand spun. 

Doing all of this takes some time.  You may not want to do it all in one sitting, or even one weekend.  But when you're finished, your stash will be compact, safe from pests, smells, and other contaminates, and neat.  What more can a knitter ask for?