Two New Classes

Today I fly the friendly skies to Rochester, New York, where I have the good fortune to teach at Clara Parkes’ Knitter’s Review Knitting Retreat this weekend.
I’ve developed two new classes this year, both of which will debut at the retreat. It’s fair to say that I’m a little nervous. But I’ve made handouts and have knitted swatches so at least I’ll have something to show.
On Friday, I’ll teach shadow knitting. This is a magical technique where you manipulate garter ridges in two colors to create patterns that seem to appear and disappear, depending on the angle at which the fabric is viewed. Very cool!

On Saturday, I’m scheduled to teach “Conquering Kitchener Stitch”. In three hours I hope to make 30 people comfortable with Kitchener stitch, whether it’s used for stockinette stitch, reverse stockinette stitch, garter stitch, or ribbing. And as a extra bonus, we’ll master the invisible ribbed bind-off, which has its roots in Kitchener stitch. Want to place any bets on whether or not everyone in the class will leave feeling at peace with this most misunderstood grafting stitch?

Happy-Go-Lucky Boot Socks–Gusset Trick and a Finished Pair

As I was working my way down the leg of the second Happy-Go-Lucky Boot Sock, I got an email from Sharyn Sutherland from down under in Australia. Sharyn has found a fool-proof way to prevent holes from forming at the tops of the gussets and was kind enough to share her discovery with me. The timing couldn’t have been better–I was getting ready to start the heel flap on my Boot Sock. And you know what? Sharyn’s trick worked beautifully. Here’s what I did:

Step 1: A couple of rows before the start of the heel flap, place 3 stitches that correspond with the instep and 3 stitches that correspond with each side of the the heel flap on a coil-less safety pin (I use the little plastic pins from Clover). This keeps the stitches on each side of the heel divide from stretching out as the heel flap is worked.

Step 2: Work the heel flap, heel turn, and gussets as normal. You can probably remove the safety pin after a few rows of gusset decreases, but I left it in for good measure.

Step 3: Remove the safety pins and marvel at how there is no hole to be found. Because the heel flap is worked in a contrasting color for these socks, there was a small hole on the other side where I joined the new color. But once I woven in the end, it disappeared!

I happily went on to finish the second sock of the pair.

Notice how there is a much tidier look to the top of the gusset in the second sock (on the right) than on the first (on the left), where I didn’t use Sharyn’s trick.

You can bet I’m going to use this simple trick on my next pair of socks.
Thank you Sharyn!

Mia Culpa

Over the summer I worked out instructions for toe-up socks that look just like top-down socks. The pattern was made available on the Quince & Co website a couple of weeks ago. Problem is, I failed to specify the type of cast-on to use. I am such an idiot!
You should use a method that casts on stitches for working in the round such as Judy’s Magic Cast-On or the Turkish/Eastern Cast-on. You can find instructions for these methods online through a Google search.

Thoughts on the G-word

I like to cast on stitches and get started on a project as much as the next knitter, but it’s an inconvenient fact of life that if I don’t knit a gauge swatch first, the project will likely end up the wrong size. Besides ensuring that you’ve chosen the right needle size for the project, a swatch can tell you a lot about how a yarn knits up. You’ll learn if the yarn is sticky or slippery on a particular type of needle or if the pattern stitch is too boring or too fussy for your peace of mind. This allows you to make adjustments in needle type or stitch pattern before you embark on a full-scale project.
But one of my favorite things about knitting a swatch is the opportunity it gives to experiment with different needle sizes. This is particularly useful when I’m designing a pattern from scratch. The ball band on most yarns specifies a particular gauge with a particular size needle. Rather than a rule, I consider this a guideline for what the manufacturer thinks will be a suitable fabric. Depending on the project I have in mind, it’s not unusual for me to disagree with the manufacturer. For example, I habitually knit socks at a tighter gauge than recommended, even when using dedicated sock yarns. Recently, I knitted a long swatch of each of the four yarns available from Quince & Company. Because I expect to knit socks with this yarn, I knitted the swatches in the round, beginning with at least two sizes smaller needles than recommended and ending at a couple of sizes larger. This gave me a nice range of fabrics from very tight (appropriate for socks, mittens, hats, and gloves) to quite loose (more appropriate for airy scarves or shawls). I now have a record of a variety of gauges to choose from when designing socks with these yarns, which gives me more freedom in choosing stitch patterns that repeat over a variety number of stitches.

Sock Heels

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve become obsessed with knitting toe-up socks with round heels—the kind that heel that is most commonly used for socks knitted from the top down. I’ve taught a class in toe-up socks with short-row heels for a few years, but some students have requested a more “normal” heel for these socks. To determine the method I like best, I’ve knitted a number of samples to experiment with the methods used by Chrissy Gardiner (Toe-Up! Patterns and Worksheets to Whip Your Sock Knitting into Shape), Wendy Johnson (Socks from the Toe Up), and Melissa Morgan-Oakes (Toe-Up Two-at-a-Time Socks).
Finally, I think I’ve come up with my favorite variation. To test it out, I knitted one sock from the top down (shown on the bottom), then a mate from the toe up (shown on top). There are only subtle differences between the two—the most noticeable being that the “wedge” on the sides of the toe-up sock is narrower than that of the top-down sock. This is because I worked the increases one stitch in from the edge instead of two stitches in. I’m happy to report that when on my feet, I can’t tell the difference between the two.

I plan to write up instructions for the toe-up version for multiple sizes and gauges. If all goes well, the pattern will be available online this fall from Quince & Company. I’ll let you know when!

My Top Five Knitting Tips

I realized that I haven’t posted anything significant about knitting lately so today I’m giving you five of my favorite knitting tips.
1.     When working with yarn that is at least 75% wool, I join a new ball by splicing the ends together. This is particularly fun to do in front of the uninitiated. Simply feather the ends of the old and new yarn, put both in your mouth to get them nice and wet (saliva is a must for this part—clean water doesn’t have the right enzymes or whatever is needed to make it work), then overlap the ends about 1” in the palm of one hand and rub your palms together vigorously until the two ends felt together. The overlapped section should be close to the same diameter of the original yarn because it has been compressed.
2.     I have always knitted tighter than I purled. This causes unsightly “rowing out” in stockinette stitch worked in rows. For a while, I avoided working stockinette stitch in rows. Then I discovered that if I used a smaller needle for the purl rows, my purl stitches were the same size as my knit stitches. Now I routinely work stockinette in rows with two needle sizes—say a size 6 for knit rows and a size 5 for purl rows.
3.     I use a set of Boye interchangeable needles so that I can use a different size needle tip on each end of the cable when I knit stockinette in rows. Some years ago, I discovered that if I kept the smaller needle tip on the left end of the cable, it was much easier to work in the round. The stitches are made to gauge on the right needle tip, then they slide easier around the cable and onto the smaller left needle tip to be worked on the next round. Because the left tip is smaller, it’s also easier to manipulate the stitches for lace or cables!
4.     To ensure two pieces of knitting are the same length (such as the front and back a sweater, two fronts of a cardigan, or the legs or feet of two socks), I always count rows. Knitting stretches and it’s all too easy to be a few rows off when measuring length. If the pieces are the same number of rows, they will be the same length (as long as they are worked in the same stitch pattern with the same needles, of course). This makes it so much easier to sew seams.
5.     When counting rows of knitting, whenever possible I count purl ridges instead of individual stitches. I like to turn the work over, pull a little on the length of the knitting, then work my thumb up the knitting, counting two purl ridges at a time. It’s much easier on the eyes than trying to focus on one stitch at a time.

Knitting Retreats and Magic Formula

I spent last weekend teaching for Camp Yawatink, a knitting retreat in the picturesque foothills of the Cascade Mountains west of Anacortes, Washington, sponsored by Ana-Cross Stitch. From Friday morning until Sunday afternoon, the campers immersed themselves in knitting. I taught a full day on Saturday and again Sunday morning. The campers knitted a miniature sweater, learned to follow the instructions in The Knitter’s Handy Book of Sweater Patterns, how to sew seams, pick up stitches for a neckline, and other tips along the way. They also assembled afghans to donate to the camp, enjoyed a gift exchange, and won door prizes. I hope that they had as much fun as I did. In fact, I had so much fun that I didn’t want to filter it through a lens and I didn’t take a single photo!

The reason I’m writing about it today is that I’m still on a bit of high from the weekend. I’ve spent most of this week catching up on a backlog of editing work and piles of laundry (which is why I haven’t blogged much), but it was oh, so worth it. I encourage you all to take advantage of any knitting retreats that are provided in your area or travel to one (the French Girl Knits knitting tours of France look pretty wonderful!). Imagine a weekend where your only responsibility is to show up for meals on time. The rest of the time is spent with like-minded knitters enjoying each other’s company and learning new tricks.

From the feedback I got, the best trick I showed the campers was the shaping formula from Cheryl Brunette’s book Sweater 101 (Patternworks, 1991) and more recently expanded in Shirley Paden’s Knitwear Design Workshop (Interweave, 2010). This formula tells you how to space increases or decreases evenly across a row (or between a certain number of rows) of knitting. Here’s an overview of how it works (check out the books mentioned above for details):

Suppose you have 124 stitches on your needles and the pattern says to increase 14 stitches evenly. To determine how to space those 14 increases evenly, divide 112 by 14. This tells you the number of full times 14 goes into 112, which in this case is 8 with a remainder of 12.

To me, the rest is magical and would take a math genius to understand (I’m sure I’ll never grasp the logic). Next, subtract the remainder from the number of stitches you want to decrease, which in this case is
14 – 12 = 2.
Also add 1 to the whole number at the top of the division equation, which in this case is
8 + 1 + 9.

Finally, draw diagonal lines between the two numbers on the top line of the equation and the numbers on the bottom line of the equation. These diagonal lines tell you to increase every 8th stitch 2 times and every 9th stitch 12 times—14 increases worked over 124 stitches.

Don’t believe me? Check the math:
8 x 2 = 16
9 x 12 = 108

16 stitches + 108 stitches = 124 stitches
2 increases + 12 increases = 14 stitches increased.

For truly even spacings, alternate the two increase intervals. In this case, increase every 9th stitch 3 times, then increase on the 8th stitch once, then increase every 9th stitch 6 times, then increase on the 8th stitch once, then increase every 9th stitch 3 more times—14 increases worked over 124 stitches.

If you don’t want to work the last increase on the last stitch of the row (which I avoid at all costs), split one interval as evenly as possible between the beginning and end of the row. Just to make things more difficult, let’s split the 9-stitch interval:

Increase in the 4th stitch, then increase every 9th stitch 2 times, then increase in the 8th stitch once, then increase every 9th stitch 6 times, then increase in the 8th stitch once, then increase every 9th stitch 3 more times, then work 5 stitches even to the end of the row—14 increases worked over 124 stitches.

Decreases are worked the same way, but remember that a decrease is typically worked over 2 stitches (k2tog), so you would work the decreases on 7th + 8th stitches 2 times and on the 8th and 9th stitches 12 times.