Technique

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.

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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.

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