It occurred to me as I was shooting my beret the other day that I’ve never posted about how I make pompoms, although I’ve taught it in my classes. Here’s the tried-and-true method for making pompoms that I’ve been using since childhood, no special tools required:
1.) Wrap yarn around the fingers of one hand (or piece of cardboard, a spatula, anything that’s a bit bigger than you want your finished circumference to be). It takes more yarn than you might think. For a loose, shaggy pompom, use less yarn. For a denser, fuller pom, use more. Experiment!
2.) Carefully slide the bundle off your hand and lay it across a separate strand, then use that strand to tie a knot around the belly of the bundle. Pull it tight, but don’t break the yarn. If you need your pompom to have tails for attaching to something else, leave them long and keep them out of the way as you proceed.
3.) Insert your scissors into the clump of loops on each side of the belly band and cut through them, being careful not to cut the strand holding them together. You now have a limp, shapeless pre-pom.
4.) Start pruning! Trim the ends just like you would a hedge, shaping it into an orb. The more you trim, the denser the pompom will be. (Especially if you use a loosely plied yarn that unplies as you work.) Again, experiment to see what suits you!
That’s it! For a hat, run the tails down through the top of the hat, secure on the underside and weave in the ends. (Pictured above is my version of Courtney Kelley’s April Hat, a free pattern.)
If it’s going to be attached to any surface, I like to leave the bottom a bit flat. For any other purpose, you’ll want to make it fully round. Pompoms are a great use of yarn leftovers, and you never know what you might find to use them for!
Knitting a swatch is considered sacrosanct to some; a waste of time to others; and still others just can’t get their heads around how or why to do it. I’ve addressed the most basic aspects of how to knit a swatch before, but today I want to talk about why. Because there are more reasons for taking the time than you may have considered.
1. Meet the fabric To me, this is even more important than the standard reason cited for swatching (which I’ve thus demoted to No. 2). Casting on without swatching is like getting married at first sight. Think of the swatching process as you and the fabric getting to know each other first. If you’re using the yarn specified in a pattern, you might find out you don’t really like it, or would prefer it knitted at a denser or looser gauge. If you’re substituting yarn, a swatch will help you know if you’ve chosen well. What about your color choice — will the pattern (and the fabric) look good in that color, or will the yarn and stitch pattern drown each other out?
The purple swatch above was for a potential Bellows Cardigan. I loved the sweater pattern and the color of the yarn, but as soon as I knitted the swatch in that color, I knew that was not a garment I would wear, so I changed course before ordering a sweater’s worth of it.
You want to know that you’ll want to wear this fabric, so knit a big swatch, and block it. Wrap it around your forearm like a sleeve. Tuck it in the back of your shirt collar and wear it around for awhile. Or if it’s for a hat, tuck it inside another hat, pressed against your forehead, and see how it feels. (And don’t forget to abuse your swatch to see how it holds up.)
You also want to know that you’ll enjoy knitting it. The swatch in the upper left is Mungo, and the one next to it is a strand of Mungo held together with a strand of Pebble, which I thought I might like even better. I did like it better, but not so much that the added expense of the second strand was justifiable, plus I discovered that it would have been maddening to knit, as those two yarns are super clingy with each other. So the second swatch convinced me to stick with the first.
2. Check your gauge (or “tension”) The only way to know what the finished dimensions of your knitted object will be is to know how big your stitches are. If you’re knitting from a pattern, and it states finished measurements, yours will only match those measurements if your stitches are the same size as those of the person who wrote the pattern.
Stitches are the building blocks of knitted fabric.
Imagine I’m hanging out with Monique and Tessa and I build a little castle wall out of blocks. The girls want to copy it, so I tell them how many blocks wide each of my rows is, and how many rows tall, so they can replicate it. If Monique is using the same blocks as me, her wall will match. If Tessa’s blocks are smaller, she will quickly realize that if she follows my directions, her wall will be smaller. If her blocks are bigger, her wall will be bigger. Same with knitting.
Knitting patterns include gauge so you can make sure you’re building with the right size blocks. If you don’t care how big your “wall” turns out — if you’re knitting a scarf or a shawl; or if the hat, socks or sweater you’re planning to knit can turn out any old size and you’ll find someone who fits them — then maybe don’t worry about it. But if fit matters, knit a swatch, block it and measure your gauge.
3. Try out the stitch pattern(s) Becoming a more advanced knitter means continually tackling new challenges and developing new skills. Lace, cables, short rows, different increases and decreases. These things can look a little messy on first try, or maybe you just want to see if you can do it before casting on a large project’s worth. Try it on a swatch! The swatch in the center right above is my first swatch for my Amanda cardigan, and in addition to establishing my gauge, it gave me a chance to get comfortable with some cable motifs I hadn’t done before at that point — the diamond, the braid and the honeycomb stitch.
This is also a chance to discover things you might want to know before you officially get started. That swatch was on gauge but I didn’t like how the honeycomb looked a bit cracked, so I wound up going down a needle size and liking it better. On my second swatch for it, at center left, I also decided to test whether cabling without a cable needle would impact my gauge — and boy did it! If you look closely at that center left swatch, you can see that the bottom half of the honeycomb is sort of squashed, compacted. That’s the part I knitted without a cable needle. For the upper part, I did use a cable needle and it gave the honeycomb a more natural look. So even though that’s a ton of cabling, I had to make the commitment to do the entire cardigan with a cable needle — and I’m glad I knew that beforehand.
Likewise, if you’re doing colorwork you may simply want to practice first — but you might also find your colorwork gauge is different from your single-yarn gauge. So if you’re knitting, say, a sweater with a colorwork yoke and a solid-color body, you may need to use two different needle sizes to get the same gauge across those two different fabrics. (Many knitters need to go up one needle size for colorwork.)
4. Do your own math If, like in the cable example in No. 3, you consciously decide to knit at a gauge different than pattern gauge, then knowing your gauge (the size of your stitches) in comparison to the pattern gauge is the way to control the outcome. Going back to those building blocks, once Tessa realizes her blocks are smaller than mine, she can choose to stick with my numbers and let the wall be smaller. If she wants to know how much smaller before committing, knowing the size of her blocks and mine will allow her to calculate that. If her blocks are half the size of mine, her wall will be half the size. If, on the other hand, she likes the look of her smaller blocks but wants to use them to make a wall the same size as mine, again, knowing the size (the gauge) of her blocks is the key. If her blocks are half the size, she’ll need twice as many. Or she might decide to build a wall like mine but to her own preferred measurements, which she can easily calculate if she has simply measured her blocks. If each block is 4″ wide and she wants to build a 20″ wall, she’ll need 5 blocks per row. Just like stitches! (Of course, if there’s a stitch pattern involved, you always need to keep its multiple in mind. E.g., a 6-st cable that repeats across the fabric would require a stitch count that’s a multiple of six.)
5. Buy enough yarn There’s also the matter of yarn math. Pretty much every swatch I’ve ever knitted for someone else’s pattern has come in at tighter row gauge than theirs. If my building blocks are shallower than theirs, it will take more of them to reach the same height, right? If it takes me more rows to fill in a sweater than it did for the pattern creator, I’ll also require more yarn than they used. So again, you want to know a thing like that before you get started.
. . .
These 5 cases are largely focused on situations where you’re knitting from a pattern, but of course if you want to knit from an idea in your head, a swatch is the starting point. Swatching is a way to figure out what sort of fabric a given yarn might want or be willing to be. (“What happens if you hold two strands of Pebble together and try to cable with it?” See second-from-bottom swatch above.) And once you’ve knitted your yarn into a fabric that feels right for it, what sort of object does that little square of fabric want to become?
After sharing the latest pic and steeking progress on my mini Sólbein Cardigan on Instagram over the weekend, I’m getting a lot of questions about how I’ve adapted this pattern for child-size, and the specifics of what’s going on. Since it seems like a number of people are considering casting on, I thought I should tell you two key things now instead of waiting until I’m all done with the knitting—
First, I have made no adjustments to the pattern. It’s a perfect demonstration of how gauge matters: All I’m doing is knitting the pattern as written, following the instructions for the smallest size, but using smaller stitches. The pattern gauge is 3.5 stitches and 4.25 rows per inch on recommended US10.5 needles — aka bulky gauge. I’m knitting with heavy-worsted yarn (chiefly Kelbourne’s Germantown) on size US8 needles, and my blocked gauge is 4.25 stitches and 6.25 rows per inch. Smaller stitches add up to fewer inches, ergo the sweater is way smaller.
I did stop to check the math and make sure I didn’t need to redistribute the sleeve/body stitch counts at all before I separated them. Making sure to count the underarm sts, I divided the stitch counts from the pattern by my stitch gauge to see where it would put me, which turned out to be about 25-26″ chest circumference (once I factor in button bands) and just under 10″ upper sleeve. I then consulted this chart to see where that would put it in the size/age range, and I’m looking at a child size 6. To double-check (especially since some of those numbers and labels are a little odd to me) I also asked a friend to measure one of her daughter’s sweaters, and these measurements seemed fine. So I’ve stuck with the stitch counts from the pattern right through the sleeve separation, and all I need to do differently is knit the body and sleeves to size-appropriate lengths, rather than the lengths given in the pattern.
I’ve made the body 14.5″ long (the yoke came out to 6″, so 8.5″ for the body). I’ll make the sleeves 12″ long, and you can see I’m leaving out the lower colorwork, just knitting contrasting hem and cuffs.
One thing I did not take into account when shrinking my stitch size is that the pattern contains only 2 sts for the steek — you sew down those two stitches and cut the running thread between them. At my reduced scale, that is a very small target. Sewing along those 2 sts before cutting between them left me with no room for picking up stitches for the button band. I’ll need to pick up into the center of the first knit stitch, rather than beside it, which will leave me with a half stitch of colorwork butting up against the button band. I think it will be fine, if not ideal. But if you’re planning to do this, I would highly recommend giving yourself a couple of extra stitches in the steek, so you have more room to work with.
One side effect of my tenseness when I slid this under the machine to secure that narrow little steek is that I forgot to keep an eye on the tail of my waste yarn. And yep, I managed to sew perfectly along about a two-inch length of it. It’ll be my little hidden secret (my humble spot) once it’s turned under and covered with a pretty ribbon, but ack! I think I might be the only person in the entire #fringeandfriendssteekalong feed who had any trouble with the steek! It was fun anyway, and somehow the sweater is even more darling now that it’s cut open.
The other question I’ve gotten is why did I secure and cut the steek before knitting sleeves. The answer is two-fold: 1) I couldn’t wait to do it! 2) If I screwed it up, I didn’t want to have wasted time knitting sleeves.
While there aren’t people taking really major liberties with the Sólbein Cardigan (which 99% of the #fringeandfriendssteekalong participants are knitting), there are numerous smaller modifications happening that illustrate all of the freedoms and flexibilities that excite me so much about knitting, so I wanted to point you to some of them. These are the sorts of design detail tweaks you can consider for just about any sweater you might knit:
MIDDLE LEFT: Short rows. Several knitters have added short rows between the neckband and start of the colorwork, so the back neck will sit higher. @caitmariejohnson shared her notes on how she did it (swipe to the third image in the linked post) as did @knitterbree.
It’s hard to believe we’re only halfway through the official timeframe, given how many finished sweaters there are. But again, the fact that so many people have completed sweaters in under three weeks tells you there’s still plenty of time to join in! And remember, you don’t have to be finished to be eligible for prizes. The details on all that are in the kick-off post.
I’m casting on this weekend! Happy Friday, everyone—
When I was first knitting — almost entirely in the round, mind you — I had a lot of trouble with my yarn kinking up on me between my work and the ball. Some yarns were worse than others, and I remember running across a discussion on Twitter (this would have been 2012) wherein Clara Parkes was talking about it potentially being a problem of too much twist in the yarn, and/or that it can be an issue with yarns that are Z plied vs S plied … or maybe it was vice versa. I don’t remember! I have no doubt that was accurate information, but it didn’t lead me to a solution. One day I went to the nearest yarn store (which no longer exists) and asked the owner about it, as I was having a LOT of trouble with it and my yarn of that moment. She suggested I try knitting from the other end of the skein, which made no difference.
It was only in the past couple of years that it really sunk in that when I was knitting around and around and around in a circle, I was adding twist to the yarn in the process. So it’s only natural that it would have to be unspun once in awhile to get the kinks out — like the phone cords of yesteryear. But I also realized I have a habit of turning my work the same direction for every next row when working flat, which means I’m effectively doing the same thing whether I’m knitting flat or in the round. It was a hard habit to break, but I’ve gradually trained myself to turn the work one direction and then back the other, and I rarely have kinky yarn anymore.* The mnemonic that eventually worked is that I turn the work clockwise when turning to the right side (right/right, get it?), then counterclockwise to go back to the wrong side. Problem mostly solved!
*To be clear, this yarn I’m currently knitting with has no twist issues whatsoever. I forced it to kink for the sake of this photo!
The first Hot Tip I ever posted was about using two different-size needle tips if knitting on interchangeable needles. When you’re knitting in the round, you only use one end of the needle for making stitches, and the other end is essentially just a stitch holder, and it’s easier to work the stitches off of a smaller tip. Many of you responded at the time that you also mismatch your needle tips for working flat to make up for gauge differences between knit and purl rows, which I found completely fascinating and sensible! (Bonus tip!) And then on Instagram over the weekend, I saw a whole ’nother angle on this from my friend Veronika of YOTH Yarns.
Ve is knitting what appears to be a cardigan with the body knitted in one piece, flat, so she’s got about 48″ worth of stitches on a long circular needle, and she’s working a lot of cable crosses on top of that, which causes her wrist strain. To help with the strain, she puts a smaller needle tip on the left end (or non-working tip end) of her interchangeable and the proper gauge needle on the working end, again making it easier for her to work the stitches (and especially the cables) off the smaller tip. That does mean every time she gets to the end of a row and is ready to start back the other direction, she has to swap out her needle tips. Seems tedious, yet according to her wrists it’s well worth taking the 30 seconds to do. But on top of that, she had a really clever tip for how to simplify that process, which you can kind of see in my screengrab of her video above. She slides the needle key doohickey through the hole in both tips at the same time, unscrews one, unscrews the other, then screws them back on in opposite positions. Like most great tips in life, that seems so obvious now that I’ve seen it!
Ve is a fount of stuff like this, so make sure you’re following her on Instagram @yarnonthehouse. Thanks, Ve!
p.s.If you’re not using interchangeables, I highly recommend them, and we stock the Lykke Driftwood beauties at Fringe Supply Co. If you’re reluctant to commit to a full set without trying them, I always suggest buying a pair or two of needle tips in your most-used sizes (which means you’ll want extras of them regardless) and a couple of cords. Then if you like them, you can either build a collection of the sizes you use, or invest in a set, which really does pay off quickly. Says the person who bought an ungodly number of fixed circs in her first couple years of knitting …
Sometimes the finish line of a project is not a bright line — you can ease your way across it with finesse, as needed. Take this sweater, for instance, which I bound off on Labor Day. This was a classic case of why knitting top-down is great and also why some people rail against top-down: To wit, A) yes you can try it on as you go and get it exactly how you want it, but B) only if you take into account what happens when you block it. My unblocked gauge on this sweater was 7.25 rows per inch, whereas after a wash it came in at 8.25. That’s substantial shrinkage! Had I simply tried on the sweater and bound off when it looked done, it would have been way too short once it was washed. Here again is why it’s critically important to count rows rather than measuring fabric. But that said, I wasn’t 100% sure how I wanted it to fit or how long I wanted the cuffs and waist ribbing to be — those are all little fit and design details that I like to let the sweater dictate as it takes shape. Part of trying on a top-down in progress, for me, is letting it tell me what it wants to be.
So in this case, I did my math to calculate total rows and decrease placement for my projected lengths but also left room for last-minute adjustments, just in case. A few rows before what I thought would be final, I put the cuffs and body on waste yarn, washed and dried the sweater (this O-Wool Balance is machine washable, but you always want to treat your swatch and your WIP however you’ll treat the finished garment, whether that’s hand-washing or whatever) and put it on again to make those final decisions before binding off and seaming. (I knitted the sleeves flat, as usual, so yes there was seaming.)
It’s all about being the master of your own knitting! I’ll show you the whole sweater as soon as I can get photos.