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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.   


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Copyrights and Such

Long ago and far away, I had a home-based business selling my original architectural needlepoint designs, which I put up as kits complete with hand-painted canvas and Paternayan Persian yarn.  After a few years, I'd built up quite a nice little clientele. 

One lady, who was a regular customer, once confided in me a coup she was particularly proud of:  She had purchased a stitchery kit from a large department store—solely for its design.  She then xeroxed the pattern and returned the kit to the store for a complete refund. 

Basically, she stole the design.

And bragged about it.

It amazes me how otherwise honest people, who would never steal material goods, can justify to themselves the stealing of intellectual property.  Because make no mistake about it, that's what a design (or a book, or a song) is:  intellectual property.  Intelligence, if you will.  Like software.

Now, I ask you, why should a designer put in the sometimes hundreds of hours it takes to develop and transcribe an original design . . . for free?  If everyone cheated in the manner that "lady" did, how many designers—or artists, or composers—would be left?  We'd all starve to death.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Getting Your Beads On #2

So, before I tell you how those glorious garnets got me into trouble, let's review how beads get knitted into your work in the first place. 

Blackberry Blossom Scarf takes the unusual approach of knitting them into a long-tail cast-on.  Erica, the talented young designer at Fiddle Knits, directs us to thread a needle with the beginning end of yarn and then string the appropriate number of beads onto that strand.  Then you pull the beads up the strand until you have a loose beginning tail long enough for your anticipated long-tail cast-on.  Begin your cast-on, and at every other stitch, bring a bead down the string before casting on that stitch.  This knits the bead directly into the cast-on edge.

I found this method to be quick and easy, though it will only work if you're applying beads to the outer edge of your garment.

The more conventional approach is to apply beads throughout the body of your shawl, as I did with Basilica.  Using a steel crochet hook of a gauge fine enough to fit through the hole of your bead, you pass the hook through your bead, catch the first stitch on your left needle (the stitch to be beaded), and pull it through the bead, restoring that now-beaded stitch to the left needle.  Then you knit that stitch onto the right needle.

Sweet Dreams required the second of these two methods.  Now, I had ordered 4mm (#6) round beads of solid garnet—the gemstone, not the color—anticipating that the hole would be the same diameter as the hole through the glass beads I'd used for Basilica.

It wasn't.  It was dramatically smaller.

On some of the garnets my finest gauge crochet hook would fit through the hole, but then as I tried to draw my beautiful silk/seacell yarn through the bead, the hook snagged the yarn, fraying it into fragments.  Obviously another approach was called for.

Instead of placing your bead onto a crochet hook and pulling the stitch through, it's possible to pass one end of a short piece of fine line—beading wire, for instance—through the stitch.  Then you match both ends of this piece of line and poke them through the hole of your bead, drawing the stitch through the bead.  This works.

But not even my very fine gauge beading wire would easily pass through the bead's hole when doubled, and drawing the yarn through was a strenuous physical task.

"Do you have any wire finer than this?" I asked Hubbest.

"No," he replied.  But knowing something about fly fishing, he suggested, "What you need is a tippet."

Turns out a tippet is the very, very fine monofilament to which a fisherman will attach his fly, way out there at the end of his heavier line.

[Interestingly, in this case, a tippet is also the name for a short-than-elbow-length shawlette of yesteryear that draped over the shoulders and hung open in front, just as my modern-day Basilica was going to do when finished.]

Well, I was fresh out of tippets, not being a fly fisherwoman myself, so I used a piece of finely plied metallic thread whose ends would adhere together if I wetted them.  Spit did the job.

You might find tippets a less messy solution to the problem of a very, very tiny bead hole.  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Getting Your Beads On #1

Sweet Dreams, that delightful confection of a shawl, uses beads for glamour and for drape.  They're knitted on, which in this particular case presented something of a challenge, which I'm going to get around to in due time.

First, a word about beading in general.  Most patterns will tell you what size and how many beads to buy.  They'll also guide you as to bead placement, either in written instructions or with a chart.  From there, you're on your own.  The choices can be bewildering, as a visit to any good online retailer (such as will prove. 

Example:  When I worked Basilica in hand-spun pygora, I used 4mm (#6) round glass beads in a lovely apricot hue.  For Blackberry Blossoms (see previous post) in washable merino, I used #6 cube-shaped glass beads with a raku finish.  For Sweet Dreams, worked in silk/seacell, I chose 4mm round beads of real garnet

The garnets got me into trouble, and thereby hangs a tale I'll relate in my next post. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sweet Dreams, a Silken Shawl

So, Sweet Dreams is off the needles and off the blocking pins.  A lavishly beaded, semi-circular shawl, here's what she looks like close up:

I used HandMaiden's silk-and-sea silk blend in their chocolate color.  This luxury yarn has a sinuous drape and a sleek hand.  Though not inexpensive, it was a joy to work with. 

I always choose the finest fiber I can find, for nothing is more valuable than my time.  If I invest my many hours, I want the product to be heirloom quality.  This is.

Notice the beads.  They're not glass.  Those are real garnets.  Talk about heirloom . . .

Next post I'll speak of beading and the challenges those garnets gave me. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Unfinished Business

How many unfinished knitting projects can you tolerate?  How many must you generate?

Some folks are driven to finish the current project before casting on for the next.  Others can merrily start three or four projects, alternating among them, ultimately finishing each one.

I'm in the latter camp.  Good thing I have a large collection of needles and a wide range of yarn weights in my stash.

At this moment I have five projects on the needles--circular, always circular:

"Sweet Dreams," by Boo Knits (part of the In Love collection on Ravelry, see Sweet Dreams), is a romantic, lavishly beaded shawl requiring close focus.  It's going to be worth the concentrated attention, but I figure my persistence span is about two rows a day.  So that's my quiet time project #1.  I'll speak of it further; stay tuned.

"Holden," by Mindy Wilkes (a free download on Ravelry, see Holden), is a lacy shawlette some folks used for this year's Ravelympics.  I'm up to the lace portion, which qualifies it as another quiet time project, though not so demanding as Sweet Dreams.  It's in quiet time #2 position.

"Semele," by Asa Tricosa ($6 USD on Ravelry, see Semele), is an intricate confection requiring that I sit tight and read carefully.  I've begun enough to know it's going to be gorgeous in silk ("Apricot Falling Off the Twig," dyed by a couple of young ladies in Nuremberg--so magical these Internet connections).  It's in quiet time #3 position.

"Spectra," by Stephen West (yes, real men do knit), is my pick-up-and-take-along piece ($6 USD on Ravelry, see Spectra).  Its rational repeats keep the fingers busy while the mind engages in conversation.  Everybody needs a knit-and-talk project.

"Blackberry Blossom Scarf," by Erica Jackofsky (FiddleKnits, $5 USD on Ravelry, see Blackberry Blossom Scarf), begins with an outrageous cast-on in excess of 600 stitches--beaded, no less--and then some lovely lace work with nupps, but now I have it to the pick-up-and-take-along stage, so it's knit-and-talk #2.

And then there's my own newest unvention [thanks, E.Z.], a sideways-knit coat of many colors that uses only garter stitch, thereby qualifying as an excellent Road Trip project.  (You CAN knit without looking, can't you?)  Stay tuned for more details and some photos.

So that's, let me see . . . oh my goodness, SIX current projects in process.

That might be my all-time high.  What's yours?