Hot Tip: Go long

Hot Tip: Go long

I ran across this tip on Pinterest a few years ago — a link to a 2009 blog post about “traveling loop” — and only just recently tried it. It’s a cure for what may be a less-common problem: trying to knit with a circular needle that’s longer than the circumference of your knitting. All you do to get the excess cord length out of your way is pull the right needle tip out, along with the slack in your cord, bend it into a loop, and start knitting. The loop will remain between those two stitches, and will travel around the round with them, just like a stitch marker would. (In fact, it could function as your Beginning of Round marker if that’s where you create the loop.) It will continue to travel on up your left needle tip at the end of the round, so once you’ve knitted the last stitch, you start over — pushing your stitches to the end of the left tip, pulling the right one out, making your loop. There are step-by-step pics in the blog post linked above, but it’s also the kind of thing that’s hard to grasp until you’ve done it.

So when and why would you do this? It will work on a cowl or a sweater body or any circular situation where your cord is too long but your tips aren’t. For small-circumference knitting, you’d still need to resort to Magic Loop or DPNs. (Long needle tips won’t allow you to knit a hat or mitts this way.) But I’ve discovered a bonus aspect of this, if you’re knitting a sweater body in the round, is that using one really long needle is a decent alternative to the two-needle method for try-on. With this method, when you’re ready to try on, just pull the two tips free and the whole sweater can rest on the longer cord. It makes for more fiddly knitting, but it’s a good trick to have in your arsenal.

(And why are the two tips in the pic different colors? See Mismatch your tips.)

UNRELATED: I’ve been having a lot of trouble getting this blog (and others) to load in Safari over the past week. Are you any of you experiencing that?

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PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: Bury your ends

Hot Tip: Bury your ends

Hot Tip: Bury your ends

I don’t weave in ends — I bury them. Among the many arguments over why seamed garments are better than seamless, or vice versa, the one that comes up possibly the least often is how useful those seams are when it comes to weaving in ends! Seamless lovers often say they hate mattress stitch or don’t want to take the time, but in my view mattress stitch is way less time and bother than trying to weave in ends invisibly on a seamless garment. Mind you, I am a devout spit-splicer, really only use splice-able yarns, and so my projects have as few ends as possible. But every knitted item has at least two ends, and a garment will have several more, by the time you join new balls at underarms, pick up stitches at necklines, etc. (And this gossamer striped sweater would never have happened if I hadn’t known I’d have basted seams to bury all those ends in.) If you’ve got seams to work with, and always join new yarn at an edge (where a seam will be), all you have to do after the seaming is done is run your tapestry needle up through the seam allowance, then back down again, and voilà! Fast, secure and simple.

See also: Q for You: How do you weave in your ends?

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PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: Postpone the sleeves

Hot Tip: Postpone the sleeves

Hot Tip: Postpone the sleeves

I know the last Hot Tip was about knitting the sleeves first, but this time I want to talk about the exact opposite! This is my St. Brendan-in-progress, and it’s a perfect example of a case where deferring the sleeves makes more sense. With bottom-up-seamless construction, you knit three tubes — one body and two sleeves — then you work a join round where you knit across the front of the body, across the stitches of one sleeve, then the back of the body and the other sleeve, and voilà, you’ve got them all joined together on one circular needle, ready to proceed with the seamless yoke. But sometimes, you might not be ready to commit!

Sleeve length is a function of two factors: the depth of the yoke it attaches to (shoulder to underarm) plus the length of the sleeve itself (underarm to cuff). In the case of this sweater, I don’t know exactly how deep the yoke will be, so how could I know how long to make my sleeves before joining them at the underarm? What do I mean I don’t know? The schematic in this case is not quite as detailed as I like a schematic to be, but even if it were, that’s not enough information. I already know my row gauge tends to be more compact than everyone else’s, so working the prescribed number of rows might very well leave me with a shallower yoke than the pattern writer’s. Plus I’m planning to change the neck a bit — working some short rows to bring the back neck up a little, and making a smaller neckhole. So I’ll be adding rows that the pattern doesn’t call for, and don’t know how many (I’ll be experimenting), which means I can’t know precisely how my finished yoke will sit.

That’s when this trick comes in handy. (That, or you aren’t certain about the fit or styling or color or something, and want to see how it plays out before investing sleeve time. Or you just really want to get on with the yoke because that’s where all the fun is!) I learned this one from Felicia of The Craft Sessions a few years ago and find it invaluable. As noted above, when you get to the point of joining the body and sleeves, you have the body on one needle and the sleeve stitches on another. It doesn’t actually matter whether those stitches on the other needle are literally sleeve stitches — you just need stitches to work into. In this case, I am meant to have a sleeve composed of 54 sts, 8 of which have been set aside for the underarm, and the other 46 of which are to be joined to the body. So I need a needle with 46 stitches on it. To get them, I’ve simply taken a length of waste yarn, cast on 46 stitches (plain old long-tail), then worked the join row into them exactly as if they were the sleeve stitches (repeating for the second sleeve). When my sweater is done and blocked and I know exactly where the underarm falls, I can measure exactly how long I want my sleeves to be. At that point, you carefully unpick the waste yarn and put those live stitches back on a needle, and you have a couple of choices about how to proceed:

  1. Knit the sleeves from the top down, either picking up or casting on for the necessary underarm sts, and reversing the sleeve shaping so you’re working decreases instead of increases. You can even knit them top-down flat, if you like. (Note that in a case like this one, where there is colorwork involved, you’d need to work the chart from the top down as well. Not all charts are readily invertible.)
  2. Knit the sleeves from the bottom up, exactly as described in the pattern, then graft them together with the live stitches from the yoke.

Of course, to get sleeve length (or any length) right, in any case, you need to have blocked your swatch and measured it carefully, before and after blocking. If the fabric grows or shrinks with blocking, you always need to take that into account when knitting your sweater/parts. As always, a blocked swatch and precise measurements are the key to nailing the fit.

p.s. If anyone’s concerned about the shape of this sweater, remember the bottom 8″ or so have been blocked and the rest has not, which is why it’s so much wider at the bottom right now.

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PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: Start with a sleeve

Hot Tip: Start with a sleeve

Hot Tip: Start with a sleeve

I know I’ve mentioned doing this many times and it’s a fairly common practice, but it’s worth including in Hot Tips for those who might not be aware of it. That is, if you’re knitting a bottom-up sweater, start with a sleeve. I sometimes let the sleeve be my swatch — cast on as directed and knit several inches of the sleeve, then block and measure for gauge. You can transfer it onto waste yarn, or just leave it on the cord if you’re using interchangeable circs. If you’re way off, no harm done — it’s essentially the same as having knitted a swatch, except you’ve also swatched for the edging (another bonus). Whereas if you’re on track, you’re already making progress!

But there’s another way of looking at it, too. If you’ve knitted a sweater before, and you are a devout swatcher, you’ve likely had the experience of your sweater gauge turning out to be slightly different than your swatch gauge. So if you have swatched and measured, and then you knit and block and sleeve, it’s a chance to confirm you’re still on track. (Of course, if you’re knitting sleeves in the round and the body flat, or vice versa, you might find a difference in your gauge between the two. So there’s always that to keep in mind, no matter what.)

Plus getting the sleeves done first will make you feel like you’re ahead of the game! Win/win.

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PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: Count your cable crosses correctly

Hot Tip: Count your cable crosses correctly

Hot Tip: Count your cables correctly

I’ve written before about my aversion to being on publishers’ review-copy lists, but when I heard Norah Gaughan had a book about cables coming out — with photos by Jared Flood, including the one glimpsed above — you know I signed right up for an advance peek! The mailman dropped it off yesterday and I would like to curl up with it for a few days, please. Norah Gaughan’s Knitted Cable Sourcebook (currently available for preorder) is an incredible compendium of over 150 cable motifs, along with a dozen garment and accessory patterns and all sorts of Norah wisdom, like the little nugget she kindly allowed me to share below.

You know how I love knitting cables, but one thing I struggle with sometimes is counting the rows between them, given that by their very nature they distort the fabric. I’ve taken to pinning a marker in an adjacent plain stitch in the same row, and counting from there. But Norah has a much simpler and more foolproof tactic, which I will quote verbatim rather than paraphrasing:

“At the point where your cable crosses, there is always a small hole. For some reason the hole tends to be larger on the left side of the cable for most people, so that’s the hole I use in my counting technique. I put a finger into the opening from the back of my knitting, then use the same finger to open up the ladders above the hole so I can more easily count the ladders. When counting ladders, the first one is the cable crossing. So, if you count 7 rows above the hole as in the photo above, you’ve worked the cable + 6 more rows.”

Brilliant! By the way, it’s just a month until I get to meet Norah in person at the Knitting With Company retreat and I’ve heard there are still some spots available. So if you’d like to spend a few days knitting with Norah and me — plus Julie Hoover and Catherine Lowe — in a cozy lodge by a scenic lake, get your registration in!

ALSO — SPEAKING OF GOOD THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN OCTOBER, if you’re wondering whether Slow Fashion October is happening again this year, the answer is YES ABSOLUTELY YES. I’m just still pinning down the details yet — so watch for more on that very soon!

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PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: Abuse your swatch

How to knit inset pockets (top-down)

How to knit inset pockets (top-down)

Last February I did a tutorial about how to knit inset pockets on a bottom-up garment, and today I want to talk about how to flip that around and knit inset pockets in a top-down sweater, for those who might be doing an Improv sweater for the Top-Down Knitalong and want to add pockets to their design — or just want to add pockets to a pattern you’re knitting from, or whatever the case may be. (I apologize for doing this with yet another black sweater — it’s just the pocket-in-progress I had available.) Basically, the premise is the same: You’ve got the fabric of your sweater body, and you need to create a slit in it from which the pocket lining will extend. When you’re knitting upward from the hem of the garment, you bind off stitches at what will become the top edge of the pocket front, then join the lining (which you’ve knitted separately) to the next row and carry on upwards (loads of pics in the previous tutorial on this). From the top down, it’s the reverse: You need live stitches set aside from which you’ll knit the pocket lining, and new spanning that divide for continuing on with the sweater body.

As with pretty much everything in knitting, there are various ways you could accomplish this. The two most obvious are:

A) Work it like an afterthought heel or thumb, where you knit your desired number of pocket stitches onto waste yarn, slip them back to the left needle and knit into them again with your working yarn. In that case, the slit is held closed by the waste yarn while you finish your sweater. When you’re ready, you’d return the upper row of stitches to your needle and knit the pocket lining downward; then return the lower row of stitches to your needle and either bind them off or knit upward for a few rows to create the pocket edging. Or—

B) What I’ve done and photographed here is I set aside the pocket stitches on waste yarn and cast on the same number of stitches for continuing on with the body. When the body was complete, I put the live stitches back on a needle and knitted downward for the pocket lining. (I find it useful to use a smaller needle when picking up live stitches like this — just make sure you knit into them with the correct size needle!) Then I picked up stitches along the cast-on edge and knitted upwards for my pocket edging — this time deliberately using smaller needles for a denser fabric at that edge.

I chose the latter method because I would rather have a bound-off edge than a cast-on edge for the finished edge of my pocket — easier to make it a nice clean edge — but I wanted cast-on stitches rather than live stitches to work from for that edging because I don’t like a droopy pocket. I felt like picking up stitches along a cast-on edge would give it some useful firmness there.

However you want to go about it, the basics steps are to figure out how many stitches wide and how many rows tall you want your pocket to be, and where exactly you want them to fall within your sweater body — i.e., work out your placement. I like the bottom edge of my pocket to be stitched down right along the row where I switch to my waist ribbing. I wanted this pocket about 2.5″ deep, so at my row gauge I decided on 16 rows of pocket depth — which means I started my pocket 16 rows from where I planned to start my waist ribbing. When I put the live stitches for the pocket lining back on my needle, I put a marker in that row so I’d know for sure which row to count from, and I knitted 16 rows and bound off, then tucked it in through the slit so it’s sitting behind the main fabric before proceeding with the edging. Make sense?

Again, however you go about creating your pocket, the last step (after it’s blocked) is to whipstitch the pocket lining to the backside of the sweater (see Cocoknits’ great tutorial on this) and mattress stitch along the sides of the pocket edging if you’ve done that.

I’d love to show you a finished photo of this pocket, but with it all seamed together the camera just sees a solid mass of black fabric. I’ll try to get a pic once the buttonband is done and I can shoot it vertically. But it just looks like an inset pocket!

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PREVIOUSLY in Top-Down Knitalong: WIP of the Week No.3

How to knit a compound raglan

How to knit a compound raglan

For this week’s Top-Down Knitalong post, I want to address the notion of a compound raglan, even though I know a lot of you are already past thinking about your yoke! But it’s interesting to think about and maybe play with on your next sweater, if not your current one. (I definitely think you want to have a grasp on the standard raglan method before messing around with this!) Shaped raglans are one of those things I started tinkering with when I was first knitting, just pondering how sewn patterns come together as opposed to how top-down raglans are created, and long before I heard the term “compound raglan.” What does it mean? When you knit a raglan the traditional top-down way (as detailed in my tutorial), what you’re making for the yoke is a flat rectangle with a hole in the middle for your head and mitered corners, which are the raglan “seams.” By increasing evenly in all four sections of the sweater, you’re creating raglans at a 45° angle to the neck, which isn’t necessarily the most flattering line running across the body, depending on the body in question and how high/low those angles start and so on. With a compound raglan, you increase at different rates in the sleeves and body, allowing you to create more of a curved raglan line.

My first attempt at it was just spacing out the raglan increases and then varying the rate of increase toward the bottoms of them, so that the fabric would sort of bend toward the underarms more gracefully, as explained in this old post. When I went to knit my black lopi pullover earlier this year, I wanted the ease of the raglan process but a look that was more like a saddle shoulder. I took a good look at (and some measurements from) a saddle-shoulder sweater in my closet, and wondered why I couldn’t just start out with a higher proportion of sleeve stitches than tradition calls for, and not increase them as quickly or as much. That would mean the sleeve-top sts would stay fairly constant in the beginning while the front and back sections got wider at a faster rate. Then I sped up the sleeve increases (to every-other row) while slowing down the body increases (to every fourth row), causing the seam to bend downward and creating something in between a raglan and a saddle shoulder. You can see from the stitch markers in the image above where I was increasing only every fourth row vs every-other row in each section, and what the resulting raglan seam looks like. There are precise details in the FO post about this sweater, but the key thing is that if you’re going to try this, you have to be really meticulous about your increase math, making extra sure you can fit all of your increases into the number of yoke rows you have available.

When I sat down to write this post yesterday, I thought about the fact that I now know there is this term out there, compound raglan (which I first heard on a knit.fm episode a couple of years ago), and I wondered what sort of norms or standards are reflected in people’s use of the term. So I googled it, which you’d think I would have done a long time ago! Apparently credit for the term goes to Maggie Righetti, who wrote about it in her book Sweater Design in Plain English long before I learned to knit. From what I can tell from the few blog mentions that come up in a Google search, her method involves increasing every fourth row vs every-other in certain places! Which means now I’m dying to know how close my approach is to hers. So if, like me, you want to know more about how to calculate for compound raglans, get your hands on a copy of her book.

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PREVIOUSLY in Top-Down Knitalong: WIP of the Week No.1