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.

. . .

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.


PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: Slope your bind-off

Hot Tip: Slope your bind-off

Hot Tip: Slope your bind-off

I’m preeeeetty sure the first time I ever encountered the Sloped Bind-Off was in a Brooklyn Tweed pattern (that has come up again so often lately, Bellows). Since then, I’ve used it everywhere it makes sense in my knitting, and in my own three sleeveless patterns: Anna Vest, Camellia Tank and Sloper (coming soon). It’s useful anywhere you want a smoother bind-off than the stair-step effect that traditional bind-off leads to — so in cases where you’re binding off gradually (a few stitches per row at a time), such as with armhole or shoulder shaping. But I find it especially key when the edge you’re creating is the finished edge, and not one you’re going to seam or pick-up stitches into, such as the armhole edge of Sloper (that’s a funny coincidence, I just realized) pictured above.

So how do you work the sloped bind-off? Easy: When you’re working the last row before a BO row — e.g., you know the next row begins with something like “BO 4 sts, work as established to end …” — you stop one stitch short of the end of the row. Turn your work. Now you’re ready to start that BO row, but you have one unworked stitch already on your right needle. With yarn in back, slip the first stitch from the left needle to the right needle, and pass the unworked stitch over it, binding off that one stitch. Now proceed with the rest of the instructions. If the instruction is to bind off more than one stitch at that point, you only do this with the first one — the adjacent stitches are bound off as usual. Repeat the sloped BO each time the first stitch on the following row is to be bound off.

WHY? When you BO a stitch the normal way, it lies at a 90-degree angle to your fabric — it’s a square corner. So if you BO 4 sts and knit the rest of the row, then work your way back to the end of the following row (back to where you started, in other words), then BO the next few stitches on the third row, you’re terracing your work, right? With the sloped BO, the BO stitch at the edge is leaning into the fabric from the row below at more of a 90-degree angle, so you’re creating a curve instead of a terrace. So simple and yet such impact!


PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: If it ain’t broke, don’t rip it!

Hot Tip: If it ain’t broke, don’t rip it

Hot Tip: If it ain't broke, don't rip it

I’ll never forget being a brand-new knitter, having no idea how to fix a mistake, and ripping my work out every time I made one. And I mean ripping all the way back to nothing. Total do over. (As I always say: If you only take one knitting class in your life, make it a fixing-mistakes class.) Gradually I figured out how to “tink” back to fix a mistake in the current row, how to rip out a row or two and put the stitches back on the needles, etc. One day I mis-crossed a cable and was irate at the notion of ripping out a lot of perfectly good knitting just to fix a couple of stitches. So I googled and came upon a Yarn Harlot tutorial about how to “ladder down” to a fix a cable error, and that blog post changed my knitting life.

In short: In many or most cases, if you’ve made a mistake and failed to notice it right away, it can be fixed in a targeted, surgical fashion. Take the mistake in my Channel cardigan seen above, where I had apparently spaced out for a moment on which row of the chart I was knitting and messed up the chevron pattern in one spot. It’s 13 stitches, 24 rows down, in a sea of otherwise flawless knitting. (Right in the middle of my lower back, in plain sight.) If I were to rip out all 24 rows from end to end, it would mean repeating about 6 hours’ worth of knitting. Obviously undesirable, and fortunately unnecessary.

Here’s all you have to do:
1 ) Knit to where the problem area begins, then slide only the affected stitches off the left-hand needle. In my case above, that meant freeing up the 13 stitches of the chevron repeat.
2) Take a deep breath.
3) Gently pull the first strand loose, effectively ripping out the first row of stitches between the two needles. (Everything that’s still on the needles is secure — you needn’t worry about the adjacent stitches.)
4) Repeat for each row of stitches until you reach the row where the mistake occurred. That will be the last row you pull out, leaving you with the live stitches from the previous row — the last one before you screwed up.
5) Put the live stitches back on a needle. (I like DPNs for this process. You may find it easier to pick up the stitches on a smaller needle, but make sure you do your knitting with DPNs that match your working needles.) Each of the loose strands will be your working yarn for reknitting those rows.
6) Starting with the first loose strand above the row of stitches on your DPN, reknit your row correctly.
7) Repeat with the next strand, and the one after that, until you’re back at the top of your work.
8) Slip the stitches back onto your working needle, ready to be knitted as normal.

It’s undeniably awkward to knit with a little strand like that, and you’ll almost certainly find your tension a bit wonky. I tend to pull too tight at the beginning of the row and wind up with extra yarn at the left end. If that happens to you, just take the tip of your needle and tug on the stitches to even them out as best you can, and trust that blocking will take care of the rest.

As many times as I’ve done this over the past few years, it always feels a little scary going in, but when you put those corrected stitches back onto your working needle, you can’t help feeling like a superhero.

NOTE: Please excuse these horrible photos — I wasn’t thinking of the blog at the time I was doing this! Several people on Instagram had asked how I was going to fix this mistake, and these are just screenshots from the unartful blow-by-blow I posted on my IG Story. Next time I need to do this kind of surgery, I’ll try to get better images.

(Stitch markers from Fringe Supply Co.)


PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: Go long

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?


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?


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.


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.


PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: Count your cable crosses correctly