Hot Tip: Steam out the kinks

Hot Tip: Steam out the kinks

One of the hottest debates among knitters is what to do with the kinky-curly yarn that results from ripping out your knitting. If you just knit with it, will it affect your gauge? If so, do you soak and dry it in hanks (flat or hung?), or just knit a new kinky gauge swatch? Or none of the above. Like most knitting-related matters, everyone’s advice and experience is different. Romi Hill (you know her amazingly intricate designs, right?) says it does affect her gauge, and her favorite solution is to simply steam the kinks out of the frogged yarn before beginning again.

A hand-held steamer or travel steamer is also a handy tool for blocking knits when you don’t have time for a full soak, or just for freshening things up from time to time.

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PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: Bridge the gap

Images courtesy of Romi

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Hot Tip: Bridge the gap

Hot Tip: Bridge the gap

There’s one tiny side-effect of knitting things seamlessly that have appendages — as in, a mitten with a thumb or a top-down sweater with two sleeves. There’s a moment where you set aside those thumb/sleeve stitches on waste yarn, carry on with the hand/body, and then come back to do the appendage. You put those live stitches back onto needles, pick up a few stitches around the top of the thumb or the underarm of the sleeve (pictured above) to complete the circle, and then knit the rest of the appendage. The side effect being that you will inevitably have a little hole at either end of the picked-up stitches. This isn’t a flaw of your knitting or of the pattern — it’s just a fact of life. Patterns will often tell you to simply take the yarn tail from where you reattached yarn at that point, and weave them closed. But there is also a simple way to minimize them, which is to pick up an extra stitch in that spot — in the gap between the live stitches and the picked-up ones — and then knit it together with the adjacent stitch on the next round, so you haven’t thrown off your stitch count.

There’s still a chance you might need to do a little refining with your yarn tail at the end, but the holes will be noticeably minimized.

EXAMPLE:
For the sleeves of the sweater pictured, I have 40 stitches on waste yarn and need to pick up another 10 along the edge of the underarm, starting at the center of the underarm stitches. So I’m picking up 5, then knitting the 40, then picking up another 5. However, to help bridge the gap, I’ll actually pick up 6.
Top photo: You can see the live sleeve stitches that have been hanging out on waste yarn, placed back onto a needle, and to the right is the cast-on edge of the underarm.
Middle photo: I’ve picked up my designated 5 stitches along the underarm edge, but you can see there’s a good 3/4″ between the underarm stitches and the sleeve stitches — that’s your future hole.
Bottom photo: I’ve plunged my needle behind both legs of the stitch right at the corner, halfway between the underarm and sleeve stitches, and picked up one extra stitch, which I’ll knit together with the adjacent sleeve stitch on the next round.

p.s. Like I love to say: A top-down sweater is a giant fingerless mitt with two thumbs instead of one — same process, just more of it. If you can knit a mitt, you can knit a sweater.

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Understanding Knitting

How to read your knitting: knits and purls

Friday night I realized I had nothing to knit. It was late; I was tired. It had been an extremely stressful week (both for me, workwise, and on a global scale) and I needed yarn in my hands, but I had bound off the body of my cardigan and it was awaiting blocking. And the only other thing in progress was the purple top-down tutorial sweater, which was at the point where I needed to put the second sleeve back onto needles, pick up underarm stitches, and consult the markers I had left in the first sleeve to see how I had spaced the decreases. None of which sounded appealing right at that moment. I just wanted to sit down and knit. So I cast on another Bob hat.

As I sat there k2-ing and p2-ing just as naturally as breathing in and out, I realized this weekend marked six years since I learned to knit, and I thought (as I often do) about what it was like in those first months, when I didn’t know my knits from my purls.

I knew how to KNIT: with yarn in back, insert my right needle into the first loop on my left needle from front to back, wrap the yarn around it and pull that new loop through, dropping the previous one off the left needle.

And I knew how to PURL: with yarn in front, insert my right needle into the first loop on my left needle from back to front, wrap the yarn around it and pull that new loop through, dropping the previous one off the left needle.

It took me awhile to grasp that all I was doing in either case was pulling a loop through a loop, and that the only difference between a “knit” and “purl” was whether the new loop poked its head through the previous one from the back or the front. Or more to the point: was the top of the previous loop (what’s referred to as “the purl bump”) wrapped around the back (knit) or front (purl) of the new one.

In the months before I got that, all I could do was chant to myself whatever the pattern said to do and hope I didn’t get interrupted or lose my place. If that happened in the middle of a row, I would have no idea what I’d last done. I didn’t know how to read my work. And since I also didn’t know how to fix anything, anytime I lost my place or made a mistake, the only thing I could do was rip the whole thing out and start again. It’s a wonder I stuck with it!

Learning to identify a knit from a purl was so minor, so simple, and so entirely game-changing. I could not only see if I had purled where I was supposed to knit, but I could also understand that fixing it just meant popping it off the needle, tugging the loop out of the one below it, and pulling it back through from the other side. (And at the same time, I learned that the right leg of the stitch sits in front of the needle, as seen in my fancy drawing up there — which meant I also now knew how to take work off the needle and put it back on correctly. No more needless frogging!) More than that, though, being able to actually see my knitting meant I no longer had to keep anything in my head. Whatever I needed to know was right there on the needles in front of my face — all I had to do was look at it.

What I’ve learned in six years is that, mentally, it’s not far at all from k2/p2 to this fisherman pattern, and I will write that post soon, so think of this as the introduction for it. And going into next year, I’d like to write more about the fundamental building blocks of knitting, as well as pulling out some of the tips and techniques that are buried within past series and long posts. (Like this one!) But for today, in honor of six years of picking things up from others and passing them along, I want to point to the collection of posts I did awhile back that are collected on the Beginning to Knit page — a grab bag of how-to’s and pattern suggestions for anyone working to build their knitting skills. We all need knitting in our lives these days, right? The more successful and less stressful the better.

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The yarn pictured is Cashmere Merino Bloom in Helix, sent to me by Purl Soho last year

The Details: Folded neckband

DETAILS: How to knit a folded neckband

Any time I make anything, I make a lot of decisions along the way — some of them quite minute. The more I knit, the more comfortable I am with the basic functions of knitting, the more attention I find myself paying to little tiny tweaks or details or finishing tricks. I revel in making things as polished as possible, including on the inside. (Even though I often unapologetically leave ends hanging around inside!) I try to share as much of my thinking as I can because you never know which little detail might be exactly the thing someone was wanting to know or didn’t even know to wonder about — I always appreciate that in reading about people’s projects. But it means I wind up trying to pack too many thoughts into every FO post, and a lot gets left out. So I’m starting a new series called The Details, and my aim is to pull out (at least) one little detail per project to focus on in its own space.

I’m starting with the neckband on my fisherman sweater — or more specifically, the spot where the fold meets the pick-up ridge. This folded neckband was a little controversial in the comments the other day, but I am a big fan of a folded neckband. To me, it gives even (or especially) a simple pullover a really nice polish. It’s quite common and popular right now, but if you combine a slightly higher neckline with a folded band, it does have a bit of a retro look. This sweater comes by its retro neckband naturally — it’s a 1967 pattern — but I’ve done folded bands on my last 4 pullovers: fisherman, yoke sweater, b/w striped sweater and the purple Improv sample. It’s one of those choices you’re always free to make — if a pattern has a folded band and you hate it, don’t do it; if it has a plain band and you prefer it folded, go for it.

Over these four sweaters, I’ve been playing around with different techniques for accomplishing the same task. A folded band is just a band that’s twice the width of the plain band, folded in half and stitched down to the inside of the garment. (Although some patterns will have you knit the dead-center row on a larger needle, but I find it unnecessary.) It’s best knitted from picked-up stitches, so you have that pick-up ridge to sew it to, but beyond that there are options. Technically, you can do whatever you want, as long as you’re careful to retain some elasticity where you’re sewing the two together. (Just like binding off too tightly on a plain band can make it difficult to get over your head, you have to be careful not to stitch a folded band down so tightly that the neck hole has no give.)

Some patterns call for you to bind off all of your stitches “in pattern” and then sew the bind-off edge to the inside. Other patterns will have you knit to the intended depth and then sew through the live stitches. That saves the step of binding off, but it means if you do make it a little too tight and the seam strand breaks when you pull it over head at any point, you’ve got live stitches on the loose. So I prefer to bind off all of the stitches, but you do need to do it verrrrry loosely so there’s plenty of stretch. I work the bind-off round (and sometimes even the round before that) on a needle 2 or 3 sizes up from my ribbing needle, and then use a separate strand of yarn for the seaming. The nice thing about sewing it down is the ribbing acts as a perfect guide — make sure you’re folding each rib down onto its own back side, and everything will be perfectly aligned all the way around.

But there’s the question of how you’re binding off and how exactly you’re joining the two edges. With this fisherman sweater, I found my absolute favorite mix of all the methods I’ve experimented with. I worked the bind-off row (on a size US8 needle after working the ribbing on US6) all as knit stitches, rather than in pattern, which leaves a visible chain along the edge of your ribbing. I love the way that bind-off edge looks when laid down next to the pick-up ridge — it’s like having a lovely bit of braid overlaying a join. To keep the neatness, I joined them together by running my tapestry needle down through the bottom leg of the stitch on top and the top leg of the stitch on bottom (the adjacent legs from each edge, in other words), pulling the yarn snug but not tight, then up through the next stitch and the bottom leg of the one above it, then back down through the next pair, and so on. It’s a lot like grafting — the seam yarn is basically invisible. I stumbled onto this out of a mix of haste and curiosity and it’s the neatest inside of a handmade neckband I’ve ever done. Will be my method of choice from now on.

p.s. If you’re wondering when I’m going to shop posting pics of this sweater, the answer might be never!

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Hot Tip: Knit all the parts at once

Hot Tip: Knit all the parts at once

Knitters will always tell you about socks and sleeves: knit them two-at-a-time so you don’t have that dread feeling of starting over with the second one. I feel the same way about ALL the parts. As much as I love a seamed sweater, I don’t enjoy starting back at the cast-on edge 4 or 5 times, especially once I’ve gotten into the rhythm of a chart or stitch pattern. So no matter what I’m knitting, I’ve become a polygamist: I rotate between the pairs or component parts rather than knitting them in the ol’ serial monogamy fashion. (Same for a top-down sweater — you’ll usually see me moving back and forth between the body and sleeves, advancing them all gradually.)

In the case of this fisherman sweater, I’ve now blocked a half-sleeve (as previously discussed) and the partial back, so I can see what’s really happening with my stitch gauge between the two (their being quite different, due to the differing stitch patterns) and make decisions about the respective sizes of the body and upper sleeves before I get to the underarms. So each time a piece went into the bath, that was a perfect chance to cast on the next one!

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Hot Tip: Count, don’t measure

Hot Tip: Count, don't measure

One of the fundamentals of knitting that it’s taken me the longest to truly absorb and incorporate into my process is that if you really want something to fit correctly in the end, as you’re knitting toward whatever length your project or pattern calls for (e.g. “knit until piece measures 7″ from cast-on edge”) you must count rows rather than measuring lengths. (Advice offered here by Kate Gagnon Osborn three years ago in a larger post about fit.) There are a couple of reasons why:

1) Measuring knitted fabric is an iffy proposition to begin with. A grippy or curved surface, the pressure of your hand, even wishful thinking can all influence it.

2) The fabric might change once it’s been soaked or washed in whatever way — it could grow, shrink, widen, shorten, you name it. If you’re just measuring your raw knitting and not taking into account how it will change in the end, that measurement could backfire on you.

Length is determined by number of rows and how tall each row is (i.e., your row gauge) and only a blocked swatch can tell you that. If your swatch doesn’t change — the row gauge is identical before and after you soak it — then only #1 up there applies. In that case, if you want to knit to the intended length and determine that with a measuring tape, ok.

But if your swatch does change, it’s a different story.

The way to be truly accurate, no matter what, is to calculate how many rows — at your row gauge — are needed to equal the intended length, and knit that many rows. Even if your swatch doesn’t change and you’re knitting two of something (sweater fronts, sleeves, sock cuffs …) counting rows is the way to make sure they match. To make keeping track simpler, try putting a pin in your work at helpful intervals, use the features of the fabric as a guide, or employ this elegant little trick.

EXAMPLE:
The two half-sleeves of my fisherman-in-progress above are identical, except the top one has been soaked and laid out to dry (with no pinning or stretching or manipulation of any kind, so I could find its natural gauge — this is my sleeve swatch), whereas the bottom one is virgin knitting. As you can see, this fabric (heavily textured Arranmore) pulls up a bit when soaked. Therefore, if I were to knit each sleeve to 18″ as told by a measuring tape, and then block my finished pieces, they would turn out too short. I think I’ve counseled before to think of pre- and post-block gauge in percentage terms, or just “keep it in mind,” but the precise answer is counting rows. My row gauge here is 7.3 rows per inch — measured on this blocked fabric over 9″ to be really certain. So if I want my sleeves to be 18″ long from edge to underarm, I need to knit 131 rows from cast-on (which will be longer than 18″ in virgin form but will shrink to that length when blocked). In this case, there’s a cable cross every sixth row, which makes it easy to add them up, and I’ll also make sure both sleeves finish on the same row of the chart to guarantee they’re exact twins.

See also: How to knit and measure a gauge swatch

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PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: Test your pick-up ratio

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Hot Tip: Test your pick-up ratio

Hot Tip: Test your pick-up ratio

When it comes to picking up stitches along a vertical or slanted or curved edge of knitted fabric, have you ever wondered why so many patterns tell you to “pick up X sts for every Y rows” instead of stating a specific number of stitches? A lot (most?) of the time when we pick up stitches, it’s to create an edge treatment that will be worked perpendicular to the direction of the original knitting, such as a ribbed button band on a cardigan. If stitches were square, aligning those two bits of knitting perpendicularly would be a 1:1 situation, but stitches are generally wider than they are tall. So if you were to pick up one stitch for every row of your cardigan fabric, your button band ribbing (to stick to this example) would be wider than the length of edge it’s attached to, causing it to flare or even ruffle.* Since row gauge can be hard to match, and you might also have decided to make your cardigan longer or shorter than the pattern — or it blocked out a bit different than you intended, etc — it’s often best for the pattern writer to give you the formula to go by, rather than a fixed number. But even that’s not foolproof: You might do exactly as the pattern says and still find your ribbing is splaying the original edge a bit. Or there’s the inverse: If you pick up too few stitches, you’re gathering the fabric along that edge, causing it to be shorter than it started out. So if you run into trouble — or you’re not working from a pattern, or you’ve deliberately made changes — how do you know how many stitches to pick up?

My incredibly knowledgeable friend Kate over at Kelbourne Woolens advocates for an elegant mathematical way of figuring it out, by breaking your gauge down into a fraction (or potentially a compound set of fractions). I’ve used that as a loose jumping off point since first hearing her talk about it in a class at Squam a few years ago. But even then, I adhere to advice I first read in Pam Allen’s Knitting for Dummies when I was a newbie: Test it. Especially when you’re picking up along a lengthy edge, such as a cardigan front or a shawl border, it’s worth taking the time to pick up only along a few inches first, knit your edging, and see if it lays flat.

You can also do this on a swatch, although I prefer testing on a larger area than just 4 inches. The beauty of a picked up edge is that it takes very little time to knit — it’s generally only a few rows of knitting — and can be ripped out without having any effect on the original fabric. So it’s a simple thing, and completely worthwhile, to engage in a bit of trial and error.

*Same as if you pick up too many stitches around a neck hole — you wind up with a ruffly, stand-up collar. Pull that sucker out and pick up fewer stitches around the sloping parts to get it make a nice round shape that lays flat.

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EXAMPLE:
In the photo above (previously seen on Changing the Channel), I’ve entirely departed from the original treatment of Jared Flood’s Channel Cardigan — working a picked-up garter-stitch band instead of the pattern’s seamed English-rib collar. First, measure (maybe even mark off) the section you’re using for your test, so you’ll be able to tell if and how it’s changed once you’ve picked up into it — I used just the straight part of front edge here. I picked up 4 out of 5 for the first few inches (alongside the ribbing), then 3 out of 4 for the rest. You can see just looking at the photo that the lower part is being stretched — 4/5 is too many stitches here — and the rest of it was pulled in just a bit, so 3/4 is not enough. The correct ratio was somewhere in between, or rather a blend of the two. In order to effectively pick up 7 sts for every 9 rows, I picked up 3 out of 4, then 4 out of 5, repeat to the end. Make sense? Here’s how it turned out.

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