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.)

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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?

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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

Hot Tip: Abuse your swatch

Hot Tip: Abuse your swatch

There are a lot of great reasons to knit a swatch, gauge being just the most obvious one. But it’s how you can see if you like how a colorway knits up (which can be very different from how it looks in the skein); whether the yarn is well-suited for the stitch pattern involved; whether colors go together, if you’re using more than one. As a fiber mind-meld. Lots and lots of reasons. For me, one of the most important is to see if I even like the fabric (and want a whole garment in it) and also how it will wear. We talked recently about pilling, and a lot of you wanted to know how you can know in advance whether a yarn will pill. It’s a sooooper complicated subject — it has to do with the characteristics of the breed/fiber, how it’s shorn, how it’s spun and plied, how it’s being knitted. But basically you should assume yarn will pill! The question is how much, and what’s your tolerance for it. Plus there’s the matter of what kind of wear the garment or accessory will get. Is it a sweater you intend to wear often and with a backpack or cross-body bag, or one you’re making for the occasional dress-up event? Will your hat get treated with kid gloves, or shoved in your pocket and purse and glove compartment? In my opinion, not only do you need to wash your swatch the same way you intend to wash your garment, but you should also put it through a little bit of abuse. Sleep with it under your pillow, carry it around in your pocket or purse. Shove it in the glove compartment! See how that baby holds up, and whether your enthusiasm for it grows or wanes.

(For advice on how to knit and measure a gauge swatch, click here. Yarns pictured are Camellia Fiber Company Patrick for something I can’t talk about yet, and Clever Camel for my upcoming Channel Cardigan. Pouch and safety pin/keychain from Fringe Supply Co.)

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PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: Relax your cast-on