Category Archives: Techniques

Sketchy

It’s planning time!

I’m working on my tea cozy, and as much as I would like to, I can’t just pick up my needles and start knitting.  I’ve got to do some planning.  And before I really get down to the nitty-gritty planning (math!), I’ve got to get some ideas.

I pulled out some of the yarn I’m thinking of using, my tea pot, and a steaming mug of peppermint tea.IMG_3268Believe it or not, I do this for almost all my designs (sometimes ideas come to me fully formed, but those are sadly few and far between).

I sketch out a half-dozen or so general ideas, and make notes next to them (in case I come back to the designs later and go “what the heck was I thinking”).  Some of the ideas I know aren’t going to go anywhere, but there are usually one or two that I end up liking.

So, let’s look at them.  (As usual, there are some I like, and some… not so much.)

IMG_3284At the top of the page, I did a little practical sketch, laying out the parts of the tea cozy.  I think I’ll knit it from the bottom up, with ribbing at the cast-on edge.  I’ll work it flat, leaving an opening for the spout (maybe a gusset, like a mitten, or maybe just a big button hole).  Then, I’ll knit in the round for the “crown” of the cozy, like a hat.  I think that should work pretty well.  Now I just have to decide how to decorate the cozy.

The first design I came up with is a plain stockinette cozy, decorated with flowers knit separately.  You know, old-school tea cozy.  I like this design in theory, but it’s so not me.  Also, I don’t want to knit up that many flowers.  Can you imagine all those ends?

I kind of like the next design, an alpine-sweater-inspired tea cozy.  Complete with a fun, geometric colorwork pattern around the “belly” and a big ol’ pom pom at the top.

Or, I could just do simple stripes.  I love stripes, and it  would be a good way to use up all the little ends of yarn I’ve got laying around.  But is it too simple?IMG_3275After the maybe-too-simple stripes, I swung the other way, going over the top with a fully-charted Fair Isle design.  Maybe little tea cakes?  Or trees? Or a Great British Bake Off theme?  I This one is still pretty vague in the back of my head… but I bet I could come up with something good.

Or, I could make some sort of “fancy stripes.”  Maybe alternate solid stripes with stripes polka-dotted down the middle?  It would be a fun way to use a mix of colors, but be fancier than the simple stripes.

Another idea was to go full-on Aran Sweater.  Big, fat cables. Texture out the wazoo.  Thick, lovely yarn to keep your tea piping hot.  But Aran Sweaters are usually undyed, and tea is brown.  I’d hate to stain my tea cozy.  I suppose I could work it in a different color, though.

And, honestly, the last idea was just to fill up the page.  Big old intarsia polka dots on a white/light background.  Not a fan.

I’m probably leaning toward the Fancy Stripes, the Alpine, or the Aran designs, but I’ll need to think about it before I do any swatching.

What do you think?

Casting On: Picking Up Stitches

I’m going to say something that might be controversial (or it might not be):  Picking up stitches is one of my favorite ways of casting on.

I know, radical stuff.  Let me explain.

If “casting on” is essentially a way of beginning a knitting project, making the initial row of stitches, then why can’t we count picking up stitches as a way of casting on?

I  think it’s pretty fun, easy, and results in a more polished finished product than knitting two separate pieces and sewing them together later.

Of course picking up stitches isn’t an any-time cast on.  You have to have an already-finished piece of knitting from which to pick up the stitches (obviously).  But I love using it to add button bands on sweaters, turning the heel on socks, and it’s essential for modular knitting projects (like this blanket).

So how do you do it?

Naturally, you start with a piece of knitting to form the base of your project.  I’m using a little swatch of stockinet, but you can pick up stitches off of any piece of knitting.  On this swatch, I slipped the first stitch of every row.  It leaves a nice, smooth edge that makes picking up stitches that much easier.  But, if I need to pick up a lot of stitches, I’ll knit all edge stitches.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen, I’ll poke my needle through the spot where I want my first picked-up stitch to live.  See how I go through both “legs” of the stitch?  If you only go through one leg, you end up with a flimsy piece of knitting. No bueno.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWrap your yarn around the needle, just like every other knit stitch you’ve ever done.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd pull the new stitch through.  You’ve picked up one stitch!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKeep picking up stitches until you have the number that your pattern requires.  See how nice and neat the picked-up stitches look?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey even look nice and neat from the back.  See that horizontal row of red V’s?  Those are the edge stitches that we picked up.  Prettier than a sewn seam!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen, keep on knitting your project.  Your new knitting will grow off the side of your old knitting and be magical and wonderful!

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Stellar’s Jay Sweater-Shoulders

Indulge me in a little “do as I say, not as I do.”  The first time I made an EPS sweater, I ignored a step in the shoulders.  It was a vague little instruction where Elizabeth Zimmerman said to “work a few short rows across the shoulders”.  I was so close to being finished, and anyway, I didn’t know what “short rows” were, so they couldn’t be that important.

I ended up with a perfectly fitting sweater, except that if felt like it was trying to choke me.  Constantly.  With Icelandic Wool.

Ha!  That showed me.  I’ve never skipped the short rows on a sweater again.

So, where do short rows come into play for a bottom-up (or a top-down) sweater knit in the round?

It turns out, that, if you look at your neck from the side, it actually points a little forward, instead of pointing straight up.  (It points even further forward if you’re a sloucher, like me.)  See?

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????So, if you make a sweater without any short rows, the neckline will sit parallel to the floor.  This will pull uncomfortably on your throat and make you want to burn your sweater.  Also, it looks kind of dumb.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????What you want, to be comfortable, is a sweater that is higher (by an inch or two) at the back of the neck than the front.  Like this:

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Looks better, right?  So how do you do it?  Usually three or four short rows in the last couple inches of the shoulders are enough to raise the back of the neck enough to make it comfortable.  I am a big fan of doing a simple wrap and turn.

I like to make my first short row go all the way to the points of my shoulders (or a little past).  Then, each short row after the first gets progressively shorter by 8 or so stitches.  It requires a tiny bit of math, but it works out pretty well.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????All I know is, I will never leave out the short rows on a sweater like this again!

Casting On: Backwards Loop Cast On

Today’s cast on is the easiest cast on of all time.  For real.  The backwards loop cast on only uses one strand of yarn (no fussing with tails or scrap yarn).  If you can do a loop increase (sometimes called a make-1), you can totally do the backwards loop cast on!

My favorite part of the backwards loop cast on is that you can use it in the middle of a project.  Need to cast on extra stitches for an underarm?  Making a baby sweater, and need to start knitting sleeves?  The backwards loop cast on is for you.  Let’s see how it works:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKnit along, until you’re ready to start your increase.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAForm a backwards loop with your yarn, and slide the loop onto the needle.  Pull it snug.  (It’s really that easy!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKeep making backwards loops and adding them to the needle until you’ve got as many cast-on stitches as you need.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen, keep on knitting.  The very first row after the cast on might be a bit tricky; sometimes the backwards tail cast-on stitches try to fall apart.  But, if you go slow and knit carefully, you won’t have a problem.

This isn’t a cast on that I would use for an entire sweater or blanket, it’s a little delicate, and doesn’t look great.  But it’s very useful in small doses, especially when you need to cast on extra stitches mid-project.  So file it away in the back of your brain and pull it out when you find a project that calls for the backwards loop cast on.

Stellar’s Jay Sweater: Joining the Sleeves

Once I had my sleeves (and body) all knitted up, it was time to join the whole thing together.  On first glance, this seems like it would be difficult to do, cumbersome and fiddly, but it’s not too tricky, actually. Just go slow, and make sure you count your stitches correctly!

The goal is to end up with the sleeves arranged on either side of the body, with active stitches all the way around (so that you can keep  knitting the shoulders).  If you are imagining looking at your sweater from the top down, it would look something like this:

SchematicStart knitting at the beginning of your round (usually the center back of a pullover, or the center front for a cardigan).  Make sure to use a great big circular needle, or you’ll run into trouble in a few minutes! Work your way across the body of the sweater until you reach the armpit.

Schematic 1Then, pick up your sleeve and knit around the outside of the sleeve, leaving its armpit unworked.  Leave the active armpit stitches on a piece of scrap yarn or a stitch holder.

Schematic 2Switch back to knitting the body, and work your way all the way across the back (or front) of your sweater.

Schematic 3Then, repeat the process for the other sleeve, knitting around the outside of the sleeve, while leaving the armpit alone.

Schematic 4The final step is to close up the armpits.  Attach the sleeve armpit stitches to the body armpit stitches on either side.  I like to use the Kitchener stitch, but you could also use a 3-needle bind-off, if that’s your favorite.

Schematic finalNow you’re all set up for the knitting the shoulders on your bottom-up sweater!  Just keep going in the round (if you’re making a pullover), or turn the work and go back the other direction (if you’re making a cardigan).  Simple!

Stellar’s Jay Sweater- Sleeves

My Stellar’s Jay Sweater is roughly based on Elizabeth Zimmerman’s EPS (Elizabeth’s Percentage System) sweaters.  EPS sweaters are based on the idea that the size of someone’s arm is roughly proportional to their bust size, which is roughly proportional to their neck size.  It’s not perfect for people with more unusual body types, but I’ve found that most people can make the EPS work for them on the whole.  It’s a great basic sweater recipe that you can customize, tweak and otherwise futz with to make yourself the sweater you’ve always dreamed of.

My Stellar’s Jay Cardigan is knit from the bottom up, which means that make the body first, from hem to armpits.  Then I cast on the sleeves at the cuffs, and knit up the arm.

I wanted a slightly fitted, tapered sleeve, so I cast on 22% of the stitches I used for my torso.  It sounds weird, but EZ spent years perfecting her formulas, until she figured out that a cuff should measure about 20-25% of the torso in diameter.  (Crazy, right?)

Then I slowly increased (increasing 2 stitches every 8 rows in a line along the inside of the arm) until I reached 64 stitches, which was my planned upper arm measurement (about 35% of my torso measurement).  Then, I knit along, without any more increases, until my sleeve was long enough for my arm.

The result was a gently tapered sleeve, that perfectly fit my arm.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next thing to do was to join the arms to the body.

Tubular Cast-on and Bind-off in the Wild

On Friday, I waxed poetic about the tubular cast-on and tubular bind-off.  How they look the same, how they’re perfectly stretchy, and how they are ideal for cuffs and collars.  But, I didn’t show you any examples.

Now, it’s time for me to put my money where my mouth is (metaphorically speaking.  I don’t have enough money laying around to just start eating it).

Behold, the hem and the collar of my (almost finished) Stellar’s Jay Cardigan.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASee how they match perfectly?  The k1p1 ribbing makes a lovely subtle edging, and the tubular cast-on/bind-off stops the sweater from pulling even a little bit.  Sure, my perfect edges are something that only an obsessive knitter would notice, but as a slightly obsessive knitter, they’re something that makes me very happy.

Casting on-Tubular Cast On (with bonus Tubular Bind Off!)

A couple months ago, I told you about one of my favorite cast-ons, the Tubular Cast On.  It’s still one of my favorite techniques, so I figured that I would tell you about my favorite aspect of the tubular cast on:  the Tubular Bind Off.

I know, that’s a cheater’s answer. How can a bind off be my favorite part of a cast on?  Let me explain.  The tubular bind off and cast on look identical when they’re finished.  I love using the tubular cast on/bind off on sweaters, because it means that my cuffs (cast on) and my collar (bind off) can have the exact same finished edges.

I’ve already linked you to a really good tutorial, so I won’t waste my (or your) time with showing you again.  But, I will show you how to do the Tubular Bind Off.

Start with a piece of knitting (it looks best with a bit of 1×1 ribbing, which is why I particularly love it for cuffs and collars).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARepeat the following to the end of the row: (Knit 1, bring yarn to front, slip 1, bring yarn to back).  Then turn the work and do the same thing on the next row.  This seems weird, but think about it this way:  you’re knitting all the knit stitches on the right side of your work, then you’re knitting all the knit stitches on the wrong side of your work.

Then, here’s the cool part.  Grab an extra needle (try to use the same size that you’ve been knitting with, but if it’s a little smaller, it’s not a problem.  Don’t go buying extra needles for this).  Now you have two stitch-less needles and one needle attached to your work.

Slip the first knit stitch onto one of your needles.  Slip the first purl stitch onto the other needle.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Then continue, slipping all the knit stitches onto the first needle, and all the purl stitches onto the second needle.  When you’re done, your knitting will look like this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen, cutting a tail at least three times as long as your knitting is wide, use a tapestry needle and the Kitchener stitch to join the two needles’ stitches together.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou end up with a lovely, seamless, super-stretchy bind off that looks identical to the Tubular Cast on.

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Casting On- The Provisional Cast On

I want to introduce you to my friend, the provisional cast-on.  It’s a nifty little technique that can be completely invaluable.  It lets you cast on (and knit), then come back and knit in the other direction.  The finished product is insanely stretchy and totally unnoticeable.  It’s perfect for top-down sweaters (so you can knit the entire sweater, then knit the collar).  It’s also great for lace shawls and scarves, where you don’t want an unsightly cast-on edge.

So, how do you do it?

Grab some scrap yarn and a largeish crochet hook and chain several stitches more than you want to cast on.  Don’t worry about making the crochet look pretty, it’s all going to be removed before you finish the garment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen, use your knitting needle to pick up and knit one stitch in each chain.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKeep going until you have the number of stitches that your pattern calls for.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen, just knit your pattern as you normally would.  Ignore the ugly neon green crochet stitches at the collar of your sweater, they will be gone soon enough.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere comes the cool part.  Carefully undo the crocheted chain one stitch at a time (or a few stitches at a time).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd slip your needle into the newly freed stitches.  (In knitter’s lingo, these are now “live stitches.”)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKeep going, until you’ve picked up all the live stitches.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow you’re ready to keep going.  Join your yarn and start knitting the other direction!

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Casting on- Long Tail Cast On

The Long Tail Cast On is the most basic cast on. The white bread of cast ons. The Ford Taurus of cast ons.  Not flashy, but totally functional.

The Long Tail Cast On is used about 90% of the time (at least by me), and is absolutely serviceable. It’s probably the cast on that your mom taught you how to do back when you were a kid. It’s moderately stretchy, and fairly easy to use. It’s not exactly beautiful, and not as stretchy as some cast ons, but we still love it.

There are a few ways to perform the Long Tail Cast on, but this is my favorite:

Measure out your long tail (make it about 4 times as long as you want your cast on to be).   Start by making a slipknot and (ahem) slipping it onto your needle.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Then, hold the yarn in your left hand, slipping your index finger and thumb between the two strands of yarn. Like this:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUse the point of your needle to catch the thumb loop of yarn.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Then, slip the point of the needle over to your index finger and grab the loop of yarn over there. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd pull the index finger loop through the thumb loop, like this:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen drop the yarn from your left hand, and snug up your stitch.    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Keep repeating these steps until you have all your stitches, turn your work and start knitting. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA