Hot Tip: Take a selfie

Hot Tip: Take a selfie

Dianna Walla recently shared a great tip on her Instagram feed: Especially if she’s thinking of knitting with a color outside her closet comfort zone, she poses with the skein. Snapping a pic of the yarn held up to her face lets her see how she’ll look in that color and consider whether it’s really a shade she’s comfortable with and wants to wear.

For best results, stand near a window for natural sidelight — taking the pic under artificial lighting will throw off the tones of both your skin and the yarn.

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PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: Check the back

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Hot Tip: Check the back

Hot Tip: Check the back

Even if you think you’re really good at reading your knits and purls, it’s not always entirely straightforward. Some stitch patterns are harder to decipher than others, so you also have to get good at finding other ways of tracking or counting or seeing things. Often, it’s as simple as flipping your work over and checking the back side. Take this stitch pattern for the Bellows cardigan, for instance. The main texture is “broken rib”: purl rows alternating with k1/p1 rows. You can get the hang of how to count those purl bumps in one column vs the other, or you can just flip it over — the back side is garter rib. It’s not only easier to count the columns of knits (for me, anyway), but it’s also quicker to see where you are in the stitch pattern at any give time.* The same can be true for large fields of cables and many other textures. So whenever you find yourself working on a stitch pattern that’s a little harder to read or count, check the back! You might find the answer there waiting for you.

*Just remember: A purl bump is the back side of a knit stitch, and vice versa.

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PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: Steam out the kinks

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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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PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: Knit all the parts at once

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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PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: Count, don’t measure

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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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PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: Slope your bind-off