Archive for the ‘Techniques’ Category

27
Feb

Why You Should be a Knitting Needle Snob

Posted under Knitting, Product Reviews, Techniques No Comments

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It’s all just sticks and string, so why hunt down the ‘best’ needles? Why not just use what’s most readily available? Or those vintage needles you came across? People have been knitting for hundreds of years on all sorts of things. Some of my favorite traditional knits are the Andean chullos traditionally knit on hook ended needles made of baling wire. And I’ve personally knit on toothpicks, paperclips, large dowels, and even porcupine spines! If any old stick will work, why pay more for those needles? It’s the yarn that goes into the finished piece, so isn’t the yarn the only thing you should be splurging on?

NOPE. Your needles and pattern are just as important and very much worth spending a few extra bucks to have quality because it will very much show in your finished object, even if those needles aren’t going to be a permanent part of the project, they’re just as important as the yarn. Good needles can make a bad knitter’s work look better and a great knitter’s work look horrible, just by being good or bad needles!

I’m currently working on designing a new hat using a stitch I’ve created. It’s a lovely hat and I’m sure you’ll all want to knit it when it’s released. The first hat was knit from a ball of variegated bulky weight yarn, a long on color yarn that when used with such a stitch count creates beautiful stripes. I do love the stripes, but it makes it a bit harder to appreciate the detail of the new decrease and how well it works in ribbing. As such, I purchased a new ball of yarn, the same exact brand, but in a solid color.

The first multicolor hat was knit on a set of double pointed needles and I had a bit of trouble with stitches popping right off the ends of the needles until I hit the crown decreases. It was just too many stitches for the needles. When I was out in the snow picking up the solid colored ball of yarn, I also grabbed a set of 16″ circulars in the same size. Of course I had to get a different brand as no big box shop carries the brand double point I’d been using.

The second I got home, I cast on for the new solid color hat. I’d like it done and photographed as soon as possible so I can share the pattern with you all. When I got into the knitting a ways, I stopped. Something didn’t look right at all. I compared the in-progress hat to my completed one. YEP. Something’s horribly wrong. The stitches are all correct and the new color has much better stitch definition than the multicolored yarn,  but the new needles ruined it! I was over halfway through the body of the hat section too, so it’s a bit sad to rip out. That’s probably an hour and a half of work.

Here’s a close up of the first hat’s stitches. This bit is plain k1p1 ribbing.

Multicolor hat stitches

It’s beautiful, right? The stitches are even, uniform and straight. Now, here’s the same exact pattern and size hat knit in the same brand of 100% acrylic yarn one day later by the same knitter on different needles. Neither piece has been blocked.

solid hat stitches

 

Can you see the differences? The blue one looks horrible. The stitches are crooked with the left leg dominant. It’s wider and sticks up from the fabric more than the right one. Some stitches are more squat, some are taller, and some are just plain wonky.

The needle change also affected gauge in addition to the shape of individual stitches. The multicolor hat has 9 ribs in 4 inches where as the blue one has 8 ribs in 4 inches.

Gauge of multicolor ribbed hat

Gauge of solid ribbed hat

Changing needle brands means redoing your gauge swatch. Changing brands of knitting needles, particularly if that includes a change of knitting needle material, requires redoing your swatch. While only one rib, two stitches, in four inches doesn’t seem like much, in bulky yarn over enough stitches for an adult sized hat, that equates to adding about two and a half inches to the circumference of the hat. That’s huge!

Ribbed Hat difference with ruler

I know the ruler here only shows one and a quarter inches difference, but you’ve got to multiply that by two since there’s two layers under that ruler. Even if it were only an inch off though, that’d surely be enough for a strong wind to carry your hat away while out walking the dog on a brisk winter day.

What are the things that matter about a pair of needles? Generally the tips and the material. How sharp are the needles? How smooth are they? Do the cables have good flex yet aren’t too soft if they’re circulars? Here’s the needles I used for these hats.

Sharps versus Clover

 

The taper on the tip is nearly identical between these needles which is why I was willing to give the cheap and most importantly immediately available ones a chance. The metal ones have a slightly sharper tip, but almost imperceptibly so. The big failure here is that the bamboo needles are a little sticky. Not sticky like they were covered in toddler hand goo, but more in that the yarn doesn’t slide freely down the needle. You’ve got to stop and readjust the knitting to move more stitches to the top. The stitches don’t slide over the join from the cable and back up over the needle well either.

So, what are these needles of win and doom that are making and breaking such a hat? Surely one cost four or five times what the other did, right? Not at all actually. At regular prices one is $8.99USD and the other is $11.50USD with the $11.50 ones being the better ones. Of course given that the cheap ones are from a big box shop though, you could use a 40% off coupon on them which is exactly what I did as it was the only thing I was buying at that shop. That drops them down to $5.40 which means the better needles still are less than twice the cost of the bad ones! Here they are, the hat-ruining Clover bamboo needles and the wonderful but harder-to-come-by HiyaHiya Sharps made of stainless steel.

Clover and Sharps

So what are your favorite brands? What needles will you avoid at all costs? Do you have any problems with allergies to knitting needle materials? I adore the Addi needles, but I have trouble with the nickel in them. I’ve tried their brass line as well, but the smell drives me bonkers!

Lastly, keep in mind that yarn can vary in thickness even within the same brand and weight, so when changing between colors, you might want to redo your gauge swatch too, even if you’re using the same needles. Multicolor acrylics are notoriously thinner than their solid counterparts. If anyone knows why this is, I’d love to know!

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09
Oct

Fair Isle Socks

Posted under Knitting, Life, Product Reviews, Techniques 1 Comment

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I bought a kit to make these socks from Knit Picks a while back. The pattern is called Apirka. It’s horrible! It gives a rectangular gauge and fair isle should have a square gauge. As such, the majority of the reviews on Ravelry tell the tale of failed socks that came out more like a mens’ 13 than a women’s medium. Lesson learned: always check ravelry reviews before buying a Knit Picks kit. Ravelry doesn’t screen the pattern notes like I strongly suspect Knit Picks does the user reviews!

I knit up a gauge swatch the very day my kit arrived because I was so excited to have a wonderful colorwork project. Stranded colorwork is my favorite type of knitting and I love Knit Picks’ Palette yarn. It’s one of my two favorites for fine colorwork projects. The runner up is Brown Sheep’s Naturespun yarns.

When I realized that they’d be impossible to knit following that pattern, I put them in a long time out. I was so upset that I’d spent good money on this kit!

Eventually, the county and fair season started to roll around. I’d originally planned these socks to be show pieces for the fair and I’d get them back just in time for the weather to start to turn cool in September when I could wear them all the time. I didn’t want to waste more money on another pattern and more yarn. I really love the snowflake motif and earthy colors in this pattern. So I measured and remeasured my gauge swatch and feet. I ended up completely writing a new pattern with new charts to knit a pair of socks. The colorwork happens to look the same, but I have entirely unique heels and toes on my socks to keep them from being too long and pointy. I also changed the calf shaping in addition to adjusting the charts for the different stitch counts. I also modified it to be a toe-up sock rather than a top-down one so it’d be easy to try on as I went along and to be sure I wouldn’t run out of yarn.

It was the most challenging pattern writing I think I’ve ever done. I’d knit a bit, try them on, and write out the next chunk of pattern. I worked them two-at-a-time using two sets of double-pointed needles. Two-at-a-time with magic loop and stranded knitting just makes too many tangles. Plus, double-pointed needles rock. it did look like I was playing pick up sticks most of the time though.

In the end, my new custom pattern worked out beautifully. These are currently my favorite socks. Because I knit them to my gauge swatch and my foot instead of a pattern, they fit me like a glove.

The socks did get done in time for the county fair and went on to the state fair after that. They won first place for knitted accessory item and reserve champion for the knitting department at the county fair and second place for knitted accessory at the state fair. I’m not too upset they didn’t win champion for knitting at county…another one of my projects took that top honor! More on that tomorrow.

27
Feb

A lucky bit of color

Posted under Free Patterns, Knitting, Spinning, Techniques No Comments

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I’ve become hooked on knitting with my own handspun yarns to such an extent that I can usually control myself in a yarn store, even one with great sales. Now a fiber shop? I’m in trouble. I look at a big bump of top and think, “What do I want to make? A bulky weight hat? How about a lace shawl?” I love the freedom to take a fiber I like and literally make anything with it.

Last summer when my grandmother was visiting, we bought some natural colored BFL top which I spun. I wasn’t nearly so good of a spinner back then and have improved immensely since then, but my 3 ply sport weight yarn is at least usable. I knit up a bit into a cute little toy mouse as one of my Ravellenic Games projects. This little guy earned the Bobsled, Toy Tobogganing, Stash Skeleton, and Single-Skein Speed Skate medals.

As I knit him, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. The heathered yarn is mostly just that, a heathered yarn, but thanks to my pre-drafting and the chain plying technique, there are periodic sections of yarn that are solid white and very few that are solid brown. The handspun yarn turned white at exactly the right spot to make a lighter colored face on my mouse! I couldn’t have planned that if I’d tried!

When it came time for a face, I wanted to maintain the handspun feel of the mouse, so I headed over to my loom and cut off a bit of the remaining black handspun warp from the rainbow bag fabric I wove. Hooray for not yet cleaning up my loom!

To stuff the mouse, I used some lower quality wool I had and mixed in a few pinches of dried organic catnip. It felt so, so strange to be mixing in vegetable matter into my wool when I spend so much time trying to get it out normally! Even though I did load this mouse up on catnip and make his tail short for kitty safety, I just love his lucky face so much. I think I might have to keep him and make grandma’s cat another one from the same yarn. This one is just too cute to end up lost under the refrigerator! Looks like he’s headed to the shadow box of handmade mini critters instead of a lifetime of kitty breath, teeth, and claws.

For those wanting to try out the mouse pattern themselves in whatever yarn you’ve got some scraps of, handspun or not, the pattern is available for download free on Ravelry here. It’s made entirely in one piece and works up rather quickly as a result. The ears were an interesting technique and one I’ve not done before, so go check it out! The ears are actually cast on and then drawstring tied up. This requires you to cut your yarn leaving a very long tail for completing the knit and carefully using that very long tail on a tapestry needle. It sounds complex, but when you get to that point in the pattern it feels shockingly natural. Plus, worst case scenario and you get stuck? A large bobble would work just as well!

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10
Jan

The Knitting Survey – Jan. 2014

Posted under Knitting, Life, Techniques No Comments

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Between a project for Nerd Wars during the last tournament and putting together a list of knitting techniques I’m comfortable teaching at work, I started wondering, “What haven’t I done?” I’m always inthralled by new techniques, yarns, fibers, and colors.  To make sure I wasn’t leaving anything horribly obvious out, I checked around the net for a knitting survey. You’re supposed to bold the things you’ve done, use italics for the things you want to do someday, and leave the rest in normal text. Here’s my list as of today. Keep in mind I also crochet, spin, weave, and felt (wet and dry) with my fiber too! This survey is just for knitting.

Afghan
I-cord
Garter stitch

Knitting with metal wire
Shawl
Stockinette stitch
Socks: top-down

Socks: toe-up
Knitting with camel yarn
Mittens: Cuff-up
Mittens: Tip-down
Hat
Knitting with silk

Moebius band knitting
Participating in a KAL
Sweater
Drop stitch patterns

Knitting with recycled/secondhand yarn
Slip stitch patterns
Knitting with banana fiber yarn
Domino knitting (=modular knitting)
Twisted stitch patterns
Two end knitting aka Twined Knitting from Scandinavia
Knitting with bamboo yarn
Charity knitting
Knitting with soy yarn

Cardigan
Toy/doll clothing
Knitting with circular needles
Knitting with double pointed needles
Baby items

Knitting with your own hand-spun yarn
Slippers
Graffiti knitting
Continental knitting
Designing knitted garments
Cable stitch patterns (incl. Aran)

Lace patterns
Publishing a knitting book
Participate in an exchange
Scarf
Teaching a child to knit
American/English knitting (as opposed to continental)
Knitting to make money- wouldn’t that be nice!
Buttonholes
Knitting with alpaca
Fair Isle knitting
Norwegian knitting
Mosaic Knitting

Dying with plant colors
Knitting items for a wedding
Household items (dishcloths, washcloths, tea cosies…)
Knitting socks (or other small tubular items) on one or two circulars
Knitting with someone else’s hand-spun yarn
Holiday related knitting
Knitting from a recipe type pattern
Knitting from a chart
Teaching a male how to knit (done both adults and kids)

Bobbles
Knitting for a living
Knitting with cotton
Knitting smocking
Dying yarn
Steeks
Duplicate stitching

Knitting art
Knitting two socks on two circulars simultaneously
Knitting two socks on one circular simultaneously
Fulling/felting

Knitting with wool
Knitting with novelty yarn
Knitting with ruffle/mesh type yarn
Textured knitting
Kitchener stitch

Knitted flowers
Yoke type sweater

Purses/bags
Knitting with beads – both prestrung and added as you go with a crochet hook
Swatching
Long Tail CO

Entrelac
Knitting and purling backwards
Machine knitting
Knitting with self patterning/self striping/variegated yarn
Stuffed toys
Baby items
Picked up a dropped stitch

Knitting with cashmere
Darning
Used a lifeline

Jewelry
Knitting with synthetic yarn
Writing a pattern
Gloves
Intarsia
Knitting with linen
Tinked back

Knitting for preemies
Tubular CO
Picot CO
Picot BO
Judy’s Magic CO
Jeny’s Stretchy Bind Off
Brioche Knitting

Free-form knitting
Short rows
Cuffs/fingerless mits/arm-warmers
Pillows
Knitting a pattern from an on-line knitting magazine
Rug – alas, I’ve only crocheted and Tunisian crocheted rugs before. I have yarn on hand to start a knitted one though!
Earning the TKGA Knitting Masters (3 levels)- someday I’ll be able to afford the classes!

Knitting on a loom
Thrummed knitting
Knitting a gift
Knitting for pets
Shrug/bolero/poncho
Knitting with dog/cat hair
Entering your knitting in a fair/contest
Winning a blue ribbon for your knitting

Hair accessories
Knitting in miniature (smaller than size 3/0 needles)

Knitting in public

I actually ended up adding TWENTY more items to the list because, well, frankly the list was lacking. There’s not much left on it that’s not bold, but I will be knocking out rug very soon with a series of rug patterns I’ll be publishing! I made my stepdad a rug for Christmas in Tunisian and have another Tunisian rug on the hook as we speak which will be a part of a 3 piece pattern set. I’ve got some more yarn too as I’m going to release the Tunisian 3 piece mystery set in a knitted version as well so I’ll need to whip up a knitted sample for photographs!

I may also try moebius knitting soon as well. I know how to do it, I’ve just never done it! My Grandma B is due for a fantastic scarf for her generous donation to the house fundraiser. She sent along some beautiful mohair she’d bought to try to make an infinity scarf that wasn’t turning out quite like she wanted. My task is to whip it up into a perfect, light, airy scarf, and ideally an infinity scarf. It seems like it might end up being the perfect chance to try out a moebius cast on with a really long circular needle!

So, what else should be on the list? What would you add?

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05
Feb

Duplicate Stitch Tricks and More Free Charts

Posted under Free Patterns, Hexipuffs, Knitting, Techniques, Tutorials No Comments

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I’ve been a but quiet for a while due to increased pain levels and being busy as a bee designing new hexipuff charts for the Beekeeper’s Quilt!

The new charts are primarily a series of buildings and more flags. The reason I’m making so many flag designs is that I’m trying to collect mini skeins from as many countries as I can and knit them into puffs for my quilt! I will be knitting each flag as I receive yarn from that country. If you’d like to send one in from your country, shoot me a message on Ravelry! I’m Swamps42 over there. So far I’m set for yarn from the United States and Canada only! I am expecting yarn from Cuba and the UK any day now though!

Of the new charts, which are all posted for free via the hexipuff chart tab at the top of this page, the castle is the one that tempted me most to get out a needle and do some duplicate stitching. Duplicate stitched puffs take much longer than a plain puff, for me about an hour and a half longer. I do think it’s worth it though, don’t you?

The chart

 

The resulting puff

Whenever I post picture of my duplicate stitched puffs on Ravelry, my inbox is filled with PMs from people asking how I get my duplicate stitched puffs to look just right. Common problems with duplicate stitching include the background color showing through, the puff looking bunched up, the duplicate stitching unraveling over time, and the design not being centered on the finished puff. I’m pretty good about responding with my tricks, but doesn’t it seem better to have a photo tutorial to send folks to with all the tricks I’ve learned over time through my own successes and failures?

The Duplicate Stitch Tutorial of Win

***I’m assuming you know the basics of how to duplicate stitch by following the Vs of existing stitches. If you have no idea what duplicate stitching is or how to do it, please visit a beginners tutorial and then come back here for all the tricks that take your basic duplicate stitching and make it look professional!

Of course, first you need to pick a chart and knit your puff with the appropriate background color(s). Here I’ve chosen the castle chart. The background in this chart is two different colors. I cast on with green yarn and switched to blue just before starting the increase row to move up to 16 stitches. I then finished out the hexipuff as per my usual modifications. I use Judy’s magic cast on and eliminate the last knit even at 10 stitches row as the three needle bind off counts as this row if you want a puff that isn’t top heavy. Don’t bind off the puff yet. Just stop knitting after the decrease down to 10 stitches row. Split the stitches on the front of your puff onto two needles and leave all the back stitches on one needle. This will make it easier to get in and out of the puff to weave in ends.

Next, thread your needle with your first color working form the top of the puff down. I’m doing grey. Turn the puff inside out and weave in your ends. The appropriate way to weave in ends requires you to split the ply (or fibers in a single ply) of the existing stitches, purls on the inside of a puff. I usually go one direction horizontally, back, and then up or down one or two stitches just to be sure my yarn is really solid and will hold up to repeated washings. If you’re using something really slippery, like a silk, you may want to run it through a few more times just to be sure. By splitting the ply, you not only assure yourself that your tail won’t be visible from the outside of the puff, but it also provides a more secure grab on your yarn tail.

Now, turn your puff right side out and decide on which stitch to begin with. I find the best results come from duplicate stitching a design from the top down. You will get more complete coverage with your top yarn, but we’ll get there. For now, pick your first stitch at the top of the design. If you are knitting your puffs with the same modifications that I am, your loops on the needles are the bottom row of 10 stitches in the chart. So the third stitch down from the needles on the first stitch on the right hand side of the right hand needle is the furthest top right stitch of the castle!

One of the most important tricks I’ve learned in duplicate stitching is the importance of NOT making twisted stitches. This means that to get a smooth stockinette finish on your duplicate stitching, you need to take directions into account. If you’re moving to a stitch left of the current stitch, you need to go through the current stitch from the right to the left, moving toward the next leftward stitch. Alternatively, if you’re working right to left on a row, you need to move right to left when you insert the needle under the V of the stitch above. Here you can see me working from left to right and so I’m inserting the needle left to right. Remember to work your duplicate stitching somewhat loosely! You want it to be soft and stretchable just like the original knitting!

The other big trick you’ll notice here is that since I’m on the second duplicate stitch of the row, I can pick up only the grey V of the stitch above and not the underlying original blue stitch. This helps prevent any blue yarn from showing through the crook of the V in the duplicate stitch!

It can also be very helpful to grab a bit of fiber or even a full ply of yarn from the neighboring stitch as you’re continuing along a row. This helps prevent your background from showing through in vertical stripes, an otherwise common problem. Here I’m working from right to left and have grabbed a bit of the grey yarn from the previous stitch to the right to help the current stitch and the one to the right stay snugged up against one another.

Continue working top down and side to side in this manner until your first color of duplicate stitching is complete.

Carefully turn your puff inside out again and weave in the tail of your duplicate stitching yarn just as you did when you were starting out. Now, you have loops of both your background yarn and your working yarn, grey. You can split the ply and weave your tail into any of these. If you weave into grey purls, your tail will not show up between stitches on the front of the puff. Of course a mixture or even all background yarn is fine too, just so long as your tail is securely woven in through the ply or fibers of the existing yarn.

Cut the excess grey yarn, thread your needle with black yarn, and weave in the end just like you did to begin working with the grey yarn at the beginning. Turn the puff right side out, and insert your needle through the first stitch. Remember to work from the top of the puff down. It is also important when filling areas like windows here to catch a bit of the wall yarn on either side of the window to make sure the stitches stay snugged up against one another and no blue yarn shows through. Here I’ve grabbed a bit of the right side’s grey wall fiber, the two V legs of the black duplicate stitch above, and a bit of the left side’s grey wall fiber. This stitch is sure to stay snugged into place and banish the blue to the background where it belongs!

Again work from the top down filling all the black stitches. If you need to strand across an area on the back, try to catch a bit of the black yarn underneath the purls of grey duplicate stitches on the back to help secure it. Remember to keep a loose tension as you’re duplicate stitching. If you don’t allow your duplicate stitching yarn to be fluffy, you won’t get good coverage. This is why embroidery floss is not good for covering large areas in duplicate stitch. My preferred fiber for duplicate stitching is the same fingering weight yarn I’ve used to knit the puff. I used all Knit Picks Palette colors to do the castle.

When you’re done with your final color of duplicate stitching, weave in it’s end on the inside as before and turn the puff right side out. I like to stretch my puff in each direction at this point to help the stitches settle into place and make sure there aren’t any gaps or mistakes. The reason a bit of background yarn shows through at the bottom of the door is because there is no stitch below it. Your bottom stitches will look like this unless you also duplicate the purl inside the V. Personally, I don’t think it’s worth it. You can barely see the background with the zoom and flash on a camera. In person you’d really, really have to be looking.

Stuff your puff and bind off. Weave in your final tails and enjoy your perfect picture puff!

Remember guys, if you knit a puff with my charts I’d love to see it and feature your hexipuff on my blog! Drop me a line in the comments here or to swamps42 on Ravelry!

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