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Sunday, September 1, 2013


Lady Windemere's Fan needed beads on that scalloped edge. Trouble was, again, the garnets had too small a hole for even my finest gauge crochet hook.  Plus, this design took a lot of knit-and-rip, knit-and-rip to get it right. Who wanted to mess with beads under those conditions?

But still, the finished garment called out for garnets. They were a Victorian favorite, after all; they do suit the color of the yarn ("Chocolate" Sea Silk by Handmaiden), quite well; they would add to the drape of this eminently drapeable shawl, I knew.

So I unwound a few feet of fine monofilament fishing line and I loaded that line with every garnet in my stash. Several knots in the loose end of the line anchored it to the right corner of the shawl; then it was a matter of lashing the loaded end at the proper intervals (two wraps, a bead, and two more wraps for each bottom loop of each scallop) and knotting off the final end at the left corner.

It's an almost invisible solution that saved the day.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Some Like it Garter

Among knitters, there's quite an appetite for patterns that use garter stitch a lot, or even exclusively. Something about  coming into that stitch back to front makes a lot of folks uneasy. 

Our ancestors may have felt the same way, for garter enjoyed great popularity among Victorian knitters. So did the ubiquitous yo, k2tog, the most basic element of lace knitting.

Well, here's a lass that makes a nod toward that heritage yet has her fashion solidly forward: Sheila Has-No-Purls.

The prototype, for lack of an appropriate model, spent a couple of weeks languishing in my craft room. Then Lori showed up to sell us some advertising. She was most elegantly accoutered—almost as if for an evening out, I thought, enviously—but green turned to gold when I realized that there was my appropriate model.

She was shy; I was persistent, cajoling. So, trusting me, she took those delightful strappy sandals out onto our lawn and donned Sheila while I snapped away. Later she told me I'd put her at ease, and that the shot that showed her smiling captured the real Lori.

See? The universe really does provide.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Another Way to Bead

My newest original, On the Front Porch Swing, soon to be released on Ravelry, needed a test knit.

Not being one to thrive on repetition, I decided my second knit needed beads. And since I already had a finished model, it was easy to decide where the beads should go.

But this particular knitting project found me in the middle of a household move—not only a move, but a remodel. (Only those who have been through a simultaneous move and remodel will understand how completely disorienting the whole process can be.)

Now, the basic lace pattern for this design is Peri's Parasol, an engaging, scalloped-edge confection. It's not that difficult, as lace patterns go, but it does require focused attention. And wow, was my attention fragmented. A single row became a project in itself, to get it just right, never mind the beads.

So here's what I found myself doing: When I came to the row to be beaded, I left off the beads and focused purely on getting the stitches right. Then, once the row was correct, I went back over the entire row, slipping stitches until I came to the ones that needed beads, which I applied then and there from the loaded crochet hook carried in my right hand.

And you know what? Not only was it easier that way, but it really didn't take much longer, because I wasn't having to set the hook down and pick it up again. Plus, I was sure I was getting the beads in the right place.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

P2togtbl (Purl Two Together Through Back Loop) the Easy Way

Sometimes a pattern calls for p2togtbl (purl two together through back loop). It does this so the stitches to be knitted together will lie the right way, usually as seen from the opposite side, which is frequently the right side of the fabric.

But many people dislike working this stitch. No less revered a figure than Hansi Singh has called it "the most awkward stitch in all of knitting."

Fear not, for there is an easier way to accomplish the same effect. The answer lies in backward knitting (see previous post).

When you reach the stitches to be purled together through their back loops, do this:

1. Turn your work around so that the live yarn is on the left needle and the stitches to be worked are on the right needle.

2. Slip these two stitches to the left needle.

3. Insert tip of right needle through both these stitches, passing from right to left.

4. Catch the live yarn with the right needle, and pull a loop through both stitches, letting them slip from the needle.

5. Transfer this loop to the left needle.

6. Turn your work back to its original position and continue knitting (or purling, as the case may be).

Problem solved.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Knitting Backwards

There may come a time when you just can't face purling another row; in fact, some folks will seek out garter stitch patterns expressly so they don't have to deal with repetitive purling.

That's the time to consider backwards knitting.  A row that is knit backwards comes out looking exactly as if it had been purled.  Here's how it works.

Instead of purling a row by working stitches from the left needle onto the right:

     1.  Turn work so all stitches are on right needle.

     2.  Holding yarn to back of work, insert tip of left needle into front loop of first stitch on right 
          needle,  coming from back of loop toward the front (from left toward right of that loop). 
          Left needle will ride above right needle; tip of left needle will exit loop in a position
          between first and second stitches on right needle.

     3.  With right needle, draw yarn through loop, creating a new stitch.

     4.  Slip new stitch onto left needle.

     5.  Repeat steps 2 through 4.

This method is a little slower than purling, but it produces exactly the same results.  Keep it in your bag of tricks.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Showing Your Work to Best Advantage

How do you photograph your work to look its best?  Well, it probably helps if you have a young, beautiful model.  My daughter-in-law Sherri politely agreed to my Thanksgiving plea.  "While you're here, could I please ask you to model my newest design?"  (The results of our photo shoot are on the right.  Click on the link to see more ways Sherri used Sally Lightfoot.)

A caveat:  the young model must not be so stunning that she steals the show.  Cleavage is definitely a distractor; that's all some viewers will notice.

Some folks rely on a clothesline.  This works if your back yard is attractive and free of clutter and it's not raining or snowing or blowing.

Some folks lay the work out on the floor.  But please, please, please don't let the cat (or dog) curl up on it.  That is SUCH a turn-off.  If you don't respect your own work enough to keep the animals off it, what does that tell the viewer?

I've seen photos that used those blocking foam squares, the ones with brightly colored cartoon images, as a background.  Again, major distraction. 

If the garment is suitable, you can hook a hanger over the top of a door.  That usually works well enough. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hints for Beginning Lace Knitters

Despite many years of knitting experience, I'd never (until now) gotten into what I consider real "lace knitting."  Oh, I'd done my share of woolen scarves with simple lace motifs, but Tiong Bahru, that enticing, geometric confection by Asa Tricosa, has taken me into new territory—the real Land of Lace.

Here's what I'm learning.  I leave these little markers along the path for those of you "brave enough to knit" lace.

Marker #1

Choose yarn that is tightly plied.  I fell in love with the color and sheen of an unplied, 8-stranded silk yarn I found on Etsy, but working it is a real challenge.  Those tiny unplied filaments are snagging mercilessly.  A rough bit of cuticle, a prong on a ring will catch on a single strand out of the eight, pulling it into a free-form loop I have to go back and repair.  Even keeping the eight strands together to knit (or purl) them is problematic.  It's an exercise in patience.  Save yourself the extra hassle and start with yarn whose strands are firmly plied together.

Marker #2

Choose a pattern from an established designer.  It takes a meticulous technical edit and precision test knitting (optimally, from more than one test knitter) to produce an error-free pattern.  Beginners don't need the hassle of encountering errors.  It's better to choose a designer with a track record for proven excellence.  I've been very happy with the work of Susanna ICBoo KnitsCarina Spencer, and Asa Tricosa, to name a few.  

As a corollary to this principle, never be an early adopter.  Beginners should always make sure that a significant number of others have successfully knitted any given design.  You don't want to be the first to discover errors in a written (or charted) pattern; leave that for the expert knitters who will know a mistake when they see it.  And be skeptical of any pattern for which a number of errata have been published, because there may be more on the way.  

Marker #3

Choose a lace pattern that is obviously symmetrical.  Motifs (the "picture parts" of the lace) should have a clear center line; each side of that center should precisely mirror the other.  For a beginning lace knitter, this will be of great help as you get into the actual knitting.

Marker #4

Choose the right needles to suit your yarn.  If you're working with a slippery silk, you don't want it sliding around on aluminum needles.  Bamboo needles are far better suited to silk yarn.  Save the slippery needles for a yarn with some "tooth," such as wool or mohair.

Marker #5 

As I used to tell my computer students in a metaphorical sense, "Never let it see you sweat."  Now I mean that literally.  If your palms or fingers are moist, your yarn (especially if it's silk) is more likely to bunch up and balk at climbing from nylon cord to bamboo needle. 

Marker #6

Think design.  For the first few rows of a lace pattern, we are usually following the written instructions by rote.  Until about the fifth or seventh row, it's hard to see the picture that's developing from our conscientious observation of "k2, k2tog, yo, ssk, k2," and so forth.  But as soon as the pattern begins taking shape, we must pay careful attention to the picture we're developing and use it as a constant reality check.  Does that k2tog seem out of place, given what's gone before, what's already established?  Maybe you dropped a stitch.  Learn to refer less to the written code and more to what's developing under your fingers as you follow that code.

Marker #7

Think symmetry.  Lace depends upon pattern repeats.  Most lace motifs depend upon mirrored symmetry.  Use this to your advantage as you begin each row.  Seek out the internal symmetry in the written instructions.

This:  *ssk, k22, k2tog, (yo) twice, k5, yo, k5tog, yo, k5, (yo) twice, rep from *

symmetrically, is really this:

ssk, k22, k2tog [balanced and symmetrical, with a decrease on each side of a 22-stitch knit section]
(yo) twice, k5, yo, k5tog, yo, k5, (yo) twice [balanced and symmetrical, having at its center the k5tog, flanked on each side by the yo, k5, (yo) twice].

Learn to see the symmetry in the written code, and you're way ahead with your reality check about whether your knitting is producing the balanced and symmetrical vision of the motif.

Marker #8

Slow down.  Narrow your focus.  It's exciting to watch a lovely pattern develop from our patient efforts, and we can get in a rush to "get there."  But with lace, the devil is in the details, and the details must be consistent with each and every pattern repeat.  So try to see each and every row of each and every pattern repeat as an end in itself, to be worked to perfection before the next repeat can be begun.

If it helps you to see it this way, consider installing stitch markers at the end of every pattern repeat.  It will slow you down, but that can be a good thing.  Nothing is more Zen than knitting lace.  Try to see each step of the journey as its own destination, and you'll be knitting perfect lace before you know it.

Marker #9

Pay careful attention to your return rows.  On most lace patterns, the operations that produce the lace—the yarn-overs, the knit-togethers—occur on the right side, or knit row.  The return (wrong side, usually purl) is basically a consolidating row, so it's easy to get impatient and rush to get back to the "fun stuff."  Trouble is, those yarn-overs can have a sneaky way of riding up over neighboring knit (now purl) stitches, which leads to problems.  To make it easier to distinguish the yo from the p (and to avoid mistakenly purling both together), I've found it helpful to use my left thumbnail to tease that yo back into its proper position.  Again, slow and careful is the watchword for beginning lace knitters—even on the return rows.

Marker #10

For multiple knit-togethers, call in a spare needle.  The typical k2tog or ssk usually doesn't present a problem, but you may find yourself instructed to knit as many as five stitches together at once (see Marker #7 for an example), which can be tricky if you're a tight knitter.  Here's a little strategy that will help:

Slip those five (or however many) stitches onto the left end of a short circular needle or a cable needle at least two sizes smaller than your master needle.  Then slide these stitches to the right end of that spare needle and knit them together, using the right end of your master needle.  If the stitches still seem too tight to knit together, try poking the right tip of the master needle into each stitch and tugging downward to gain whatever slack may be available.