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Thursday, March 31, 2011

On Tenterhooks

Way back in the 14th century, before the Industrial Revolution, woolen goods were milled by hand, on looms of limited width, capable of holding only a limited length of woven fabric.  It’s still done this way by handcrafters.    

The hand shuttle’s product wasn’t finished until it had been fulled (which, of course, is where the surname Fuller came from), using fuller’s earth, a type of clay.  Notice that they weren’t making felt, here, or boiled wool—just the usual woolen goods that would be cut and sewn into, oh, Harris tweed and such. 

Well, how do you dry a considerable length of washed wool?  On a frame (a “tenter”), of course, stretched by its selvedges across hooks.


On particularly productive days, whole fields would bloom with tenters set out in the sun.  It must have been quite a sight. 

In miniature, we do pretty much the same thing when we block a finished piece of knitting, pinning it to shape on a cardboard cutting board.  Steaming it lightly or thoroughly.  Letting it dry before removing the pins.

The tenterhooks are still with us.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fulling, Not Felting

That bison fiber I spun?  It carried some interesting instructions:

“After you have plied your yarn . . . give your bison yarn a wash in hot, soapy water.  Full it by pounding the yarn in the water—use a sink plunger.  Rinse in icy, cold water.  This will remove all the spinning oils and help the bison fiber bloom and become even softer.  Remove excess water by rolling the skein in a towel and simply hang to dry.” This was signed by Judith, from Buffalo Gals.

Well, I figured Buffalo Gals knew what they were talking about, so I went ahead and did it.

Beekeeper Barbara reported having received similar instructions about the handling of her newly-spun alpaca yarn.  <>  She also had trepidations but proceeded.  Both of us had good results.

Why were we worried?  Because there’s some confusion about whether fulling is also, in and of itself, felting.  Numerous Internet sources claim that fulling is a synonym for felting, producing the same results: a densely packed fabric in which the fibers have deliberately been entangled. 

This may be true for a finished knitted garment—I’ve never felted, so I can’t speak from experience—but from my personal experience following Buffalo Gals’ advice about fulling my newly-spun bison yarn, I’m here to tell you they were correct. 

There’s a noticeable difference between fulled and unfulled bison yarn. Mine did, indeed, become softer, fluffier, more appealing after its “shocking” in hot, then icy cold water.  When dried, it did indeed bloom into a lovely cloud-like yarn, not matted, not entangled as one would have feared.  But I used the plunger gently, in an up-and-down motion, not a twisting or severe agitation. 

One authority says the difference between fulling and felting lies in neither the water temperature nor the soap, but in controlling the amount of friction/abrasion.  More friction = felting.  Less friction = fulling.  So I guess I did it right.

But don’t throw your lovely wool sweater in the washing machine unless you want it to come out like boiled wool and two sizes too small. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Dropped Stitch—Accidental and on Purpose

Every knitter of any experience has had the experience:  finding you’ve dropped a stitch. Usually we notice it when our stitch count is off.  If we’re lucky we discover it before too many rows have passed; if we’re lucky it’s a simple purl or knit that’s been left behind. 

Back in the days when ladies wore long stockings, we’d sometimes develop a “runner,” which looked like a little ladder that would go all the way up to the top of the stocking unless we stopped it with a dab of clear nail polish.

The same runner develops when we’ve dropped a stitch, although our subsequent knitting may disguise it.  The task is to reveal the ladder, find the missing loop at the bottom of it, and coax that errant loop back up the ladder’s rungs, one at a time (careful, don’t miss a rung) to the needle, keeping to the proper knit or purl sequence as we go.  A crochet hook makes this easier.

I find it more comfortable to hook the loop back up the ladder’s rungs if it’s a knit stitch I’ve dropped, so if I’m looking at a dropped purl, I’ll turn the work so it’s now a knit.

Now, here’s a secret I’ll share with you:  Since I’ve been doing my own designs, I sometimes drop stitches—a long, long ladder of them—on purpose.  That k sequence just needs to be a p series, I’ll decide, and so I release it and open those ladder rungs for, oh, quite a ways down sometimes.  It seems easier than ripping, especially if the design change is local and minor.

I could do this with a block of stitches, and did once, until I found the tension suffered.  Now I ration myself to one deliberate stitch column drop-and-change at a time, going to its neighboring column when k has been transformed to p, or vice versa.

So there is an alternative to a major rip fest.  Just keep a good crochet hook handy. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

One is Not Enough

With field guides, dictionaries, and knitting books, one is never enough, I've found.

Always in search of unfamiliar patterns and treasured how-to tidbits, I have a panoply of them.  There's the popular 365 Knitting Stitches a Year, with its colorful perpetual calendar styling--fun to flip through, fun to use for test swatches.

There's The Knitting Stitch Bible, also spiral-bound, also in color, but with charted patterns instead of written ones.

There's Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Needlework, from which I've gleaned a tip or two.  And Vogue Knitting Quick Reference, so useful for construction details.

For clarity of basic instructions I like Hansi Singh's Amigurumi Knits.  Hansi, probably half my age, is unwittingly one of my prime mentors.  Mesmerized, I knitted my way through two-thirds of her menagerie of magically whimsical critters.

And Jay Petersen, whose work you can see both on Ravelry and on his blog, Fuzzy Logic, is a mentor for his charted entrelac designs.  Like a treasure hunt, they are, requiring of the reader much I-spy-with-my-little-eye work.

But if you were to limit me to one—no, two; it must be two—authors whose encyclopedic works I have found most useful, it would be the Barbaras:  Abbey and Walker.

In 1971 Barbara Abbey gave us The Complete Book of Knitting.  Watch for it in used book stores.  Along with basic knitting information, she included a selection of traditional stitch patterns along with their best uses.  Those words are key, for they point the designer toward the kind of fabric a given stitch will produce, and its most felicitous applications.

Then came Barbara Walker, with her now-legendary series that began with A Treasury of Knitting Patterns.  Walker picked up where Abbey left off, and then some.  Again, besides the cornucopia of heritage and new patterns, Barbara Walker guided us toward their best use—a critical component, in my opinion.

I started with her first and second treasuries.  Now I can't wait for Amazon to deliver her third in the series.  I'd knit an entire scrapbook of test swatches, if only the written version didn't spark so many ideas!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Having a Ball

That skein we made, measuring the yarn?  We could go ahead and knit with it, hanging it over a forearm or a shoulder.  I've done that.  But though doable, it's not as tuck-in-your-tote-and-go portable as a ball.

Balling yarn is so companionable, if you have someone to hold the skein as you wind.  If that someone has a dancer's instincts, it's better.  Left hand dip, right hand dip, thumb restrain, thumb release:  you know the rhythm.  Hard to teach someone, though, if it's not intuitive.

Hubbest doesn't dance.  He doesn't do too well with skeins, either.  Less frustrating to just drape it over my knee and wind away.  Fortunately, the distance around my bent knee is nicely equivalent to the distance between my thumb and crooked elbow.  The skein fits fine, and I can tension or relax it by repositioning my foot.

And so I wind away, always remembering my mom's admonition:  never wind your wool too tight--it's not a baseball.

I begin with about twenty passes over my four right fingers.  Then I remove that loose, long wad from my fingers and hold it at the finger end of my palm, making another twenty passes over it crosswise.  That wad, in turn, gets removed from my fingers, turned forty-five degrees, and another twenty passes over it.

That's the base.  Loose and fluffy.  Now here's where I've developed my own little twist.

I keep my thumb on that wad and as I wind with my left hand, I use my right fingers to inch the wad slowly clockwise, each time bringing the yarn up to and touching that thumb.  My thumb becomes a post around which the ball grows (loosely, always loosely--it's not a baseball), and my fingers keep inching the ball around, around, sideways a little...if you try it, you'll see where the inching needs to go next.

When I'm finished, I have a nice symmetrical ball, evenly wound in all dimensions, with a nice little hole in one side.  The perfect place to tuck the tail end of the skein.

There.  You're done.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Zen of Knitting

Long ago, in a galaxy far away, when I was producing needlepoint kits to outfit my original designs, a repeat customer called me at home.  “Can I come out and get something?” she pleaded.  “The stores are all closed, and I have to have something to do with my hands.”

Who knows from what demons yarn and needles protect us?

My mother-in-law knitted dresses, in the fanciest lace pattern she could find.  “So I won’t be able to think about anything else,” she once confessed.  She knew what demons.

Mrs. Peters knitted “So I’ll have something to do while he’s talking.” 

A knitted garment can be a rosary, each stitch recording a loving thought about its intended recipient.  I can call back those thoughts, giving that final inspection to a scarf or vest.  There they lie, engrams embedded in the body of the fabric.

And knitting can be a link to our mentors, all those known and anonymous knitters who devised or passed along some felicity of mind.  Those who invented them, those who recorded them, those who lovingly showed us how to interpret them:  One loop through another, back through the ages. 

Can you feel them as you knit?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Pickers, Flickers, and Escorters

Are you a picker, a flicker, or an escorter?

Aunt Ruth was an escorter; it’s why she took up crochet as being more satisfying.  Ten-year-old step-granddaughter Maria also was an escorter; it’s why she’d been working on the same beginner’s scarf for three years. 

An escorter drops the right-hand needle and, using thumb and forefinger, escorts the yarn personally around the needle for each and every stitch.  Obviously, that takes ages.

A flicker also puts the yarn over the right needle with the right forefinger, but with a quick flicking motion while the right needle rests between thumb and forefinger.  This is the way my British-born mother taught me.  It’s the way she still knits, fluently and quickly, her needles making soft little clickety sounds.  It’s the way I knitted until last year, when repetitive motion injury finally forced me into the other path…

…the picker.  Which is how, after a good video, a good book, and a few months of self-retraining, I now classify myself.  The picker uses the Continental method, holding the yarn with the left hand and using the right needle to pick the yarn through the loops. 

Left-handed Maria took to this naturally, once I showed her how, and is now turning out rows and rows in only a few minutes.  So am I, after some initial floundering.  It’s easier to come to motor skills young. 

But if your choice is retrain or leave the craft, I choose the new learning curve.  No more pain in that mouse thumb, though the computer still makes it complain.  And now that I’ve achieved some fluency, I remind myself of those German women I always admired, racing along with their mystifying left-hand knitting. 

Pickers, flickers, and escorters:  happy knitting to us all.  

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Knitting Mindfully

Have you ever, disbelieving, stumbled across an error in a book's knitting pattern?  Just yesterday I came across one.

The first time I found such an error, some fifty-odd years ago (told you I'm a long-time knitter), I was disbelieving.  Ten times I must have checked it against my work, but yup, the mistake was in the printing, not in my knitting. 

I was young and hadn't yet heard about type lice, that apocryphal scapegoat of printers and publishers.  But I'd been watching where the designer was leading, and that sure looked like a glitch in the get-along to me.

It's somewhere between a treasure hunt and a dance, this practice of following a written pattern.  A stranger leaves coded clues that we bring to life, much as a musician enlivens the composer's notations.  When we play the music, we can hear if a note has gone sour. 

We must learn to knit the same way.  Mindfully, checking print against purl.  Realizing that communications can go wrong.  Always asking that ghost on the page, "Is this really what you intended?"

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Measuring Yarn

No matter the weight in grams or ounces, no matter the ply, when you want to find yarn to outfit your pattern (or vice versa), the only measure that matters is yardage.  Most yarn manufacturers, realizing this, will state the yardage of a skein or a ball on the packaging.  But what if they don't?  What if you have oddments left, of unknown vintage, and need to find yardage?

The fastest way would be to use a niddy-noddy, the spinner's friend.  What, you don't own a niddy-noddy?  You don't even know what a niddy-noddy is?

No matter. You've got one built in, and I don't mean the tip-of-the-nose-to-outstretched-thumb gambit.  That's messy, slow, and inaccurate.

Your niddy-noddy is your own good right arm, bent at the elbow.  Grasp the tail of the yarn-to-be-measured between thumb and forefinger.  Make a right-angle bend with your elbow.  With your left hand, wrap the yarn down around your crooked elbow and bring it back up on the inside of your arm, past your thumb, folding it over the yarn tail.

Around and around and around you go, and soon you'll find a nice little rhythm, and you'll be swinging your arm toward your chest to meet the oncoming yarn wrap.  You can count as you do this, or you can count a single set of strands later on, when you've reached the end of your string and have taken this nice little skein off your arm.

With any handy scrap of yarn, tie the skein at top and bottom to prevent its unraveling.  Hold the skein at top and at bottom, give a few twists, then pull one end loosely through the other to secure it.

All that remains is to run a tape measure around that loop from your thumb to the bottom of your crooked elbow and back to thumb.  Most likely it will measure something like 28 inches or so.  Multiply that number by the number of wraps (a single set of strands), divide by 36, and you have your yardage.  Works every time.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The One-Row Buttonhole

If you've been making your knitted buttonholes with a bind-off on one row, a cast-on on the next, there's a better way:  the one-row buttonhole.  With a wave and a nod to the wonderful Barbara G. Walker, and with my usual proclivity to chart for clarity, I'm going to walk you through making a sample of this marvelous self-reinforcing buttonhole.  Save it for your scrapbook.  (You are keeping a scrapbook of swatches, aren't you?)

I'm presuming you're working with a firm yarn such as a worsted.  If you need a buttonhole on a soft, fluffy yarn, knit in a single sewing thread of the same color for the row before the buttonhole, the row of the buttonhole itself, and the row following the buttonhole.  Later, you can unravel the two ends of the thread that are not worked into the buttonhole. Knot these ends and hide any loose tails.

Cast on 15 stitches and work in stockinette for four rows.  (These figures are arbitrary, but they'll help with the instructions.)  Now we're going to make a 5-stitch buttonhole that will begin and end on this same row.  

Looking at the stitches on your left needle, mentally number them 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15.  Number One is the first stitch you're looking at on your left needle, counting from right to left.

Knit stitches 1–5.

Bring your yarn to the front of the work.  Slip stitch #6 onto the right needle.  Pass the yarn to the back of the work and let it just hang.  We're not going to use it again for a while.

Slip stitch #7 onto the right needle, pass #6 over it.  (1 st bound off)
Slip stitch #8 onto right needle, pass #7 over it.  (2 sts bound off)
Slip stitch #9 onto right needle, pass #8 over it.  (3 sts bound off)
Slip stitch #10 onto right needle, pass #9 over it.  (4 sts bound off)
Slip stitch #11 onto right needle, pass #10 over it.  (5 sts bound off)

Slip stitch #11 back onto left needle.  Turn work.
Pick up the yarn we left dangling; pass yarn to the back.  There are 5 stitches on your left needle.  They are purls.  They’re numbers 1–5 as seen from the back.

Now we do a cable cast-on.
Insert needle between stitch #4 and stitch #3.  Draw a loop through the gap.  Slip this loop onto the left needle, ahead of stitch #5.  (One stitch cast on.  This is our new #6.)

Insert needle between stitch #5 and stitch #4.  Draw a loop through the gap.  Slip this loop onto left needle, ahead of the new stitch #6.  (This is our new #7. Two stitches now cast on.)

Insert needle between stitch #6 and #5.  Draw loop through; slip loop onto left needle.  (This is a new #8:  three stitches now cast on.)

Insert needle between stitch #7 and #6.  Draw loop through; slip onto left needle.  (New #9; four stitches cast on.)

Needle goes between stitch #8 and #7, draw loop through, slip onto left needle.  (New #10; five stitches cast on.)

Needle goes between #9 and #8, draw loop through, BRING YARN FORWARD, then slip loop onto left needle.  (New #11, six stitches cast on.  Note that yarn exits space between stitch #11 and stitch #10.)

Turn work. Slip first stitch on left needle (the old #11) onto right needle, and pass the extra cast-on stitch over it.  You are now back to the original stitch count of 15 on the swatch. 

Your buttonhole is finished.  Knit to the end of the row.  (The illustration shows the purl side of this one-row buttonhole.)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Soy on the Side

Now, speaking of soy (yes, as in soya bean), there's an interesting fiber.

It's a beast to spin, all fluffy and flyaway and getting-all-over-your-clothes and even up your nose.  And spinning it to a fine thread has occupational hazards.  Paper cuts, anyone?

But it has a lovely silky sheen, and it's so strong that I can't snap the thread but have to go fetch a pair of scissors.  And it drapes like a dream:  heavier than bamboo, more sinuous than silk. 

It's the perfect fiber to ply with cashmere, of which I had a precious modicum left.  Adds just that touch of subtle shimmer--not at all metallic; more muted.  Adds just that hint of difference--not variegated; just a whisper of an accent. 

But what it really contributes is strength.  The way we used to knit the heel of a sock in nylon.  It's going to be invaluable when I get to the buttonholes.  Without the soy ply, I'd be knitting in a thread for those two rows.  With the soy, the reinforcement is built in.

Of course, I'll have to save the spit splice for the cashmere; there's no spit-splicing soy.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Someone corresponding with her craftswoman sister once used the shorthand of "kneedles" (for knitting) as distinct from "needles" (for sewing).

So, how many kneedles do you have, and which is your favorite?  Straight, double-point, circular, cable--each has its best purpose.

Circular is my default position:  nothing to get lost except the kneedle itself, and the supple nylon cord allows an accurate gauge check when beginning, a sense of shape and drape as the piece comes along.  Over the years I've acquired a host of sizes and lengths, but I have yet to suffer a surfeit, a plethora.  Always there's another kneedle needed:  super-long, for moebius, perhaps.

I've never seen the purpose in introducing children to knitting with big, thick, long kneedles that hang up at the elbow and defy all natural balance.  I switched Maria, the elder stepgranddaughter, to a nice doodly #5 circular, and that worked out well, even for a lefty, even for a recalcitrant pull-the-yarn-around beginner.  (I never could turn her into a flicker, but she's doing well as a picker--more about that anon.)

Beyond form, there's substance:  Wood, aluminum, bamboo, plastic, for sure...but did you know there are stone kneedles?  I met them at my hairdresser's, and so ingratiating were they, I rushed to the fabric store only to find they had sold out.  Handmade, from Tibet, cool and smooth and lovely to the touch.  Circular, of course.  I now know kneedle envy.

Hubbest says I could make my bamboo kneedles slide more easily if I were to wax them, and I may do just that, because certain clingy fibers, the kind with teeny tiny claws, clutch and grab at the bamboo.  With a really slippery fiber, a little cling is an advantage.  The Addi Turbo is just too slick for silk or soy.

Choices, choices, choices; thank goodness we have them.  Which kneedle do you find yourself favoring?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Knitting Buckwheat

I'm knitting Buckwheat.

The breeder of this little Pygora wether informs me that he is no longer with us, but that when he did grace Applebright Farms, he was gentle, cheerful, and very productive of fleece.

Pygoras, developed in Oregon in the 1980s, are a cross between pygmy goats and angora goats.  They exhibit a range not only of color, but also of texture, ranging from a credible cashmere feel-alike (which the breeders call an "A" type) to a silky mohair (designated a "C" type) and a place in between (obviously named "B").

Buckwheat (fleeces are named after the individual that produced them) is silky and very, very soft, but like cashmere, has less natural springiness than many wools.  That meant I needed a stitch with good stretch, to compensate.

A broken rib is working out fine.  It's got good stretch, good memory, and a subtler look than the vanilla k2, p2 ribbing.  These are things designers think of.

Ideally, a good garment is fiber-driven.  Its ultimate purpose and the technical way it gets there should derive from the roving.  Buckwheat is seductively soft.  It would make a spectacular sweater, if I had enough.  But at $16.50 an ounce (from the retail store) for the roving alone, I'm rationing it out as I would cashmere.  So it's turning into a turtle-kerchief.  

I don't think you're going to see much of this yarn on the market any time soon--at this point in time, from a retail store, it's just too pricey (and rightfully so, considering what it takes to produce a skein)--but if you do, I recommend taking it for a test drive.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Making Do

I'm knitting with a toothpick.

It's not that much smaller than the #5 double-points I'm working on right now.  I don't have a cable needle in the house, if indeed I ever did.  And the spare #5 double-point keeps sliding out, flopping around, getting in the way.  But the toothpick just agreeably sits there holding that single stitch I'm cabling, and while it's waiting for its next assignment, it's resting between my lips.

It's a lot easier on the teeth than an aluminum #5.

If I own stitch holders, I can't find them, so usually I just use safety pins.  Or an out-of-service small circular needle.

Stitch markers are handy, but in a pinch I've been known to use paper clips.  Loops of yarn.  Little squares of paper I've poked the needle through.

How many ways do we find ourselves making do, rather than running to the store or postponing a project?  Knitters are a creative lot, given to substitution and adaptation.  "Whatever works" might well be our motto.

What's your favorite make-do?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Endings and Beginnings: The Spit Splice

I spoke about those stray hairs that get worked into your knitting.  There's another way we can put ourselves--literally--into our work.

Have you ever run out of one ball of yarn and needed to attach another, right in the middle of a row?  Do you just tie a knot and keep on working?

There's a better way.

If you're working with a natural animal fiber such as wool (camel, alpaca, any critter that eats grass), you can use the spit splice, which calls upon that natural animal fiber's ability to make felt.  Basically, a spit splice is a miniature felting project.

Unravel an inch from each end you want to join together.  Choose one strand from each end.  Lay those two unraveled inches together side by side.  Now put that matched pair in your mouth and pretend it's a fuzzy peppermint.

When it's nice and soggy, transfer the joined pair from your mouth to your thigh.  Roll it with your hand to create the friction that will do the felting.  If your spit and your polish were adequate, you now have a single strand.  The other unraveled threads on each side can be twisted around this stable core and you can proceed with your knitting.

Too much trouble, you say?  Well, how fiddly is it to work in the loose ends of a knot?  One way or another, we're in for a bit of fuss when we run out and need to start anew.

Like births and funerals, weddings and divorces, endings and beginnings are always a little extra work.  Let's try to make them as neat as we can.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Fiber is Somebody's Hair

I just realized why I was drawn to that gorgeous auburn alpaca I spun into the yarn for Hubbest's neck-warmer:  it's the color of my mother's hair.  Actually, I have spun my mother's hair itself.  You see, when I was born all those many years ago, Mom had long, thick braids she wore in a coronet.  But dealing with a newborn, the tresses were too much work, so she took the shears and lopped them off whole, with the rubber bands still on.

A few years later, some of the hair from one of those braids became the tail of my toy pony, sewn by Mom to delight me.  The other braid I still have, but when I began to spin, I worked a goodly quantity of it into some yarn I sent my sister-in-law to knit into a scarf for David, my brother. 

Fishermen's wives used to knit some of their hair into the sweaters they made their husbands, as a talisman and a link to home.  And who among us hasn't found a stray long hair of her own accidentally knitted into a garment?

Mom saved the sheddings from her Australian Shepherd, Sam (what a lovely dog he was), and I spun some of it for her.  Yes, you can spin a dog.  Or a cat. 

Fiber is somebody's hair, so it's no surprise I'm attracted to Pygora, that crossbreed of pygmy goat with angora goat.  Breeders sell their fleece by the animal's name, so what I recently spun, the roving milled from the fleece from a critter called Buckwheat, was sold as Buckwheat, along with the little fellow's picture.

That really brings it up close and personal.  Who wouldn't love a rascal like this?  (You might have to copy/paste that link, but it's worth the trouble:  pygmy goats playing on top of a pot-bellied pig.)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Valuing Your Time

Knitting, for some of us, is an addictive joy.  That joy can make the path, the destination.  Do you know anyone whom you cannot mentally picture without yarn and needles in her hands?

You, maybe?

Me, for sure.  And yet, joyful as is the doing, when the doing's done I want the having to be a lasting pleasure.  For me, that means tactile satisfaction.  And that means quality fiber.

And so I spin--and knit--with alpaca, merino, camel, bamboo, silk . . . I've even done cashmere and, yes, bison.  Expensive, I know, but what's the value of life moments spent in the knitting?

Is that week of my life worth angora?  Or only acrylic?

As clever as the synthetics have gotten, a faux is still not a fox.  To the eyes, maybe, but not to the fingers.

My hairdresser understands this.  He, being manly enough to knit, decided, when he was learning the basic k st, to do a garter stitch scarf in baby alpaca.  Now there is someone who understands the value of his time.      

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Turning it Around

Short rows are simple.  You just turn your work and head backwards.  Trouble is, if that's all you do--head backwards, that is--you'll be left with a gap at the turning point.  That's where the wrap comes in.

I know the books say w&t (wrap and turn), but to me it sure seems more like t&w (turn and wrap), so that's the way I'm writing this one.  After all, this pattern is for beginners.  I want it to be as simple and straightforward as possible.

Those experienced knitters among you will probably recognize my t&w as the method used when turning from a purl row.  You're right. 

1.  Turn the work around.  Yarn faces you.
2.  Slip the first stitch from the right-hand needle onto the left-hand needle.
3.  Bring yarn to back of work, facing away from you.
4.  Return slipped stitch (now carrying the wrap) to the right-hand needle. 
5.  Continue knitting stitches on the left needle.

Sure feels like turn-and-wrap to me. 

What about the bars?  Those little horizontal dabs of yarn that constitute the wrap, that you run into next time you pass this way? 

Normally we'd lift them and work them together with the stitch they wrap around.  But this pattern is--aha!--garter stitch.  The bars are going to be all but indistinguishable, so I'm not even going to suggest they be "concealed" by lifting (and working like a k2tog).

Better for the beginners this way. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Back to the Numbers

So, possessed by the concept of another neck cozy for my Harley man, I began what I hope will become a very easy beginner's piece.  Knitted flat and seamed in back, I see this one as using garter stitch exclusively--knit, knit, knit, knit, nothing more.  Easy enough, right? 

The rub (for the designer) comes with the short rows.  How else are you going to morph a 16" neck into a 42" chest, using only garter stitch?

It's not that short rows are difficult; they're quite simple, actually.  The trick lies in getting their interval right.

So I kept borrowing Hubbest's broad back:  knit and measure, knit and measure.  (He gets an award for patience, because I interrupted him when he was cooking.)

And I did get the first quadrant, from the middle of his back to his left shoulder, to come out looking good.  Problem is, I had to do a lot of "fudging" with the short rows to get there. 

Fudging won't work when you're designing a pattern for beginners.  It's got to be perfectly accurate and consistent so they can see the plan developing.

So it's back to the numbers.  Beautiful, consistent, logical numbers.  I'll count them for you:  you just do the knitting.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream?

Ah, that active squirrel mind that won't let go.  Even while sleeping.  Visions of sugarplums are for the children; I see knitted fabric.  Swimming up from the depths come pattern possibilities, like those little messages in the fortune-telling "8-Ball."

One of them clamored to see life, so knit I did, because knit I must.  Three-Button, Three-Flounce Cravat merely awaits those three beautiful porcelain buttons I envision, but they're in the store ten miles away, and the needles are right here.

I did it in a tencel/merino blend because that's what I had spun, and it uses less than 90 yards, because that's all I had left.  I think the flounces would drape better if done in bamboo, to which purpose I began spinning some more of that pound of shimmery stuff in my stash, but then . . .

. . . but then came another sleep and another message from the depths, and so the wheel is working a sorrel-colored alpaca (because I had it) to ply with a sorrel-colored merino (because I have it), to knit into another neck-and-chest warmer for Hubbest, who needs it for his Harley.

I'm going to have to ask the visions to take a number and wait in line. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

It's All in the Numbers

With knitting, the numbers are everything.  It's like giving somebody road directions:  I may know how to get there, but unless I can give you accurate landmarks and mileage, you'll end up way off track.

As I was developing the Lacy Popover you see featured here, I thought I was jotting down accurate stitch notations.  But then when I did a test knit reading only from the instructions, oops!

It's much like the way our brains skip right over a typo in print, seeing it the way we know it should be, instead of the way it is.  Professional proofreaders know that reading text backwards, from end to beginning, can be a helpful way to spot mistakes.  But that sure won't work with knitting.

No, with knitting it's all in the numbers.  And those pesky little stitch abbreviations.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Roving Speaks

Pulling one loop through another, over and over, the knitter creates fabric and garment at the same time, shaping as she goes.  It seems almost magic to me.

Magic, also, is the way a finished garment can echo the roving from which it sprang. 

That bamboo roving had a subtle gleam and a sinuous drape; so did the skein of sport-weight yarn I spun from it; so does the lacy cover-up it morphed into.  Form was changed by the knitter's hands, yet substance remains the same. 

When I went rummaging through my stash, thinking "light and liquid," the bamboo roving practically jumped up and down, "Me, me, me!"

Most knitters don't have roving to listen to, but yarn can do the same, if it's in skeins rather than balls.  Think like a designer in the yarn shop.  Open the hank and let it float or dangle from your hand.  Crunch it up; spread it out.  Imagine it draped densely or loosely on the body. 

Even through the yarn, the roving can speak.