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

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!

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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.)

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PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: Go long