Building Blocks of Knitting Stitches

Have you ever wondered where twisted stitches come from, why there are two common ways to decrease a stitch instead of just one, or what the heck is “combination” knitting? Do you get confused when you pick up or transfer stitches and find that they seem somehow different from what you’re used to? Has anyone ever told you that you knit “the wrong way”? If so, keep reading—but let’s get one thing straight right up front—there is no wrong way to knit! (And I am not the only one to say so.) If your way is comfortable for you and produces fabric you like, it’s a good way.

No matter what combination of stitch orientation, wrapping direction, and yarn handling you use, there are certain basic elements of how knitting stitches form that are the same. These influence how you work your stitches as you knit, and how your finished stitches look. Once you understand these basics, you can gain the confidence to handle your stitches however the situation calls for, and maybe even the freedom to try out different ways to knit! If you have your own knitting handy, please get it and follow along looking at the live stitches, I think it will make more sense that way.

Knit stitch orientation drawing

Let’s start with the shape of a stitch: when you look at a piece of finished knitting (or the part of in-progress knitting below the needles) each knit stitch looks like a mostly-flat “V” shape, and each purl stitch looks like a horizontal bar. Both stitches are actually just loops of yarn, oriented differently to the ones below. (We’ve talked about that before, and it’s worth mentioning many times—in fact I recommend that you keep thinking about it until you can see it with your eyes closed).

We have knitting needles to hold all the loops we’re still working with until the next row/round, so that they don’t come un-looped. As soon as you put two stitch loops on a needle, they have an orientation, which can be one of only two ways: with the leading side of the stitch (the side which is closest to the tip of the needle holding it) either in front of the needle (closer to you) or in back of the needle (further from you). This is sometimes called stitch “mount,” and the sides of the stitches called “legs,” as if they were riding horses—visualize that if it’s helpful to you.

Leading side in front on the left, leading side in back on the right. We’ll get to the twisted stitches in a minute …

Most American knitters I know expect that the leading side of each stitch will be in front, and most pattern instructions I read assume that it is. With the leading side in front, if you reach the working needle (the needle which is making the stitches, usually the right hand one) into the front of the stitch to knit it, you can see that the stitch is pulled open, and it will make an open, “V” shaped stitch once it is knit. If you reach into the back of the stitch, it feels tighter (this difference is helpful, and noticeable to most knitters even if they’re beginners). If you look closely you can see that the two sides of the stitch are now twisted around each other, and they will remain twisted in the knitted fabric. (Sometimes you want a twisted stitch to tighten up part of your work, but most of the time it’s not the goal.)

Reaching into the front of a stitch with the leading side in front

Reaching into the back of a stitch with the leading side in front

Now look at what happens when the leading side of the stitch is in back. If you reach into the front of the stitch, it feels tight, and the sides of the stitch twist. If you reach into the back, the stitch is open, and will form an open (not twisted) stitch in the fabric. So, it behaves in the opposite way as a stitch with the leading side in front, but the open stitches will be absolutely identical in the fabric. (Side note: twisted stitches formed from these two setups twist in opposite directions.)

Reaching into the back of a stitch with the leading side in back

Reaching into the front of a stitch with the leading side in back

Twisted stitch in the fabric below the needle

We have now discovered a deep truth of knitting: there are only two ways that a stitch can “sit” on the needle, and no matter which way it is, if you knit (or purl) through the leading side, the stitch will be open, and if you knit through the trailing side it will be twisted.

Many knitters first think about these differences when they get to decreases. To Knit Two Together (k2tog),you reach your working needle into two stitches at once, from left to right, through the front of the stitches, and assuming that those stitches have the leading side in front, both stitches will be open,the left one will be on top of the right one, and the decrease will lean to the right.

Knitting two together through the front

If you want a decrease that leans the other way (so that, for example, the shoulders of your sweater will look symmetrical), you could knit two stitches together through the back, so that the right stitch will be on top of the left one. But if your stitches have the leading side in front, that would twist them both and pull the decreasing stitch really tight. This is the reason for the Slip, Slip, Knit (ssk) decrease—if you slip the two stitches (one at a time) to the working needle by reaching into the front (“as if to knit”), it flips them around so that the leading side is in back. Then you can pass them back onto the holding needle with the needles tip to tip (“as if to purl”), and then you are ready to knit them both through the back, so that both stitches will be open, the right one will be on top of the left one, and the decrease will lean to the left. (If you have knitting in front of you right now, you can see this happen before your eyes.)

Slipping a stitch to change its orientation

Knitting two together through the back

All of this works if you are making purl stitches rather than knit, it just may look and feel a little funky if you’re not used to it. You can absolutely purl a stitch through the back side. And you can flip purl stitches around bypassing them between needles. My golden rule for this is: if the needles tips are essentially (or could be) pointing them same way as you are picking up the stitch to transfer it, it will flip the stitch around. If the needle tips are pointing towards each other (tip to tip), you will transfer the stitch without changing its orientation.Note that if you reach into the trailing side of the stitch instead of the leading side to transfer it, you’ll twist it, just like when working it. Play around with it a little bit, you’ll see what I mean.

Setup to work a purl stitch through the back side

Ok, are you with me so far? To review: whether a stitch in knitted fabric is open or twisted depends on these two things: which way the stitch is oriented on the needle, and which way it is knit (through the front or the back). To get an open stitch, always knit or purl through the leading side of the stitch. It’s easy to re-orient the stitches to get the effect you want, by flipping them around with the needles.

Fair enough, you may think, but how do the stitches get to be oriented one way or another in the first place? Don’t they all just appear with the leading side in front? Excellent question. You may have noticed that there are also two (only two) directions in which you can wrap the yarn around the needle as you make a new stitch. If you’re reading this in the US, you were probably taught that the “right” way to knit is to wrap the yarn from under the needle to the front and over the top (counterclockwise if you are looking at the tip of the needle), and the right way to purl is to bring the yarn from the front up over the top of the needle and down (again counterclockwise).

The wrapping direction applies whether you knit by holding the yarn in your right hand and throwing (English style) or by holding it in your left and picking (Continental style). In the photos below, I’m holding the yarn on the left, but it works with either technique. Even in Portuguese knitting, it may look different, but there are still two ways to wrap the yarn!

Setup to knit a stitch, wrapping the yarn counterclockwise

Setup to knit a stitch, wrapping the yarn clockwise

Here is our second deep truth of knitting: if you wrap the yarn counterclockwise, your new stitches will come out with the leading side in front. If you wrap the yarn the other way (clockwise as you look at the needle tip) when knitting or purling, your stitches will come out with the leading side in back.

(If you had rows, or parts of rows, of mysterious twisted stitches as a beginner, inconsistent wrapping direction followed by not noticing that the stitches were different is probably why.)

Here is where combination knitting comes in. If you knit Continental style, by holding the yarn on the left and picking the stitches from the tensioned yarn, you may have noticed that it’s actually a lot easier to form purl stitches by bringing the working needle in front of the yarn and just pushing it away from you through the existing stitch. This wraps the yarn clockwise around the needle tip, meaning that your stitches for the next row will have the leading side in back. Which is no problem now, right? Just knit them through the back, and they will come out open just like you want them to.

Setup for Continental purl stitch, wrapping the yarn counterclockwise

Setup for Continental purl stitch, wrapping the yarn clockwise

I learned about all this not long after I started knitting, from reading the excellent book Knitting in the Old Way by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts and Deborah Robson. There’s an explanation and handy illustration in the Knitting Methods chapter which shows “Western” style (leading side of the stitch in front), “Eastern” style (leading side in back), and a combined style. The combined style made sense to me, so I used it. Later I learned about Annie Modesitt, probably this era’s biggest champion of combination knitting—and a vocal supporter of the fact that there’s no wrong way to knit. (According to Annie’s blog, it sounds like she’s having an awful time lately. I certainly wish her a quick-as-possible recovery and all the best.)

Knitting in the Old Way also gives a fairly elastic bind-off method which I used for just about everything when I started knitting. It’s easy, and I still like it! All you do is knit two stitches together, then pass the resulting one stitch back to the holding needle, knit it together with the next stitch, and repeat. What it took me a while to realize is that I particularly like the look of this bind-off when the stitches are oriented with the leading side in back and knit through the back—that way they lean gracefully in the direction the bind-off is progressing (towards the left, like an ssk decrease) and make a nice series of open “Vs” along the bound-off edge.

Knit-two-together bind-off, worked through the back

Pop quiz: say you are knitting along with the leading side of your stitches in front, and you want to make this bind-off with the leading side in back, what should you do? As usual, there’s more than one correct answer. You could flip the stitches around one by one with the needles as you come to them. Or, you could wrap the yarn clockwise as you work the stitches of the row/round before the bind-off, so that the stitches come out with the leading side in back already!

I’m guessing that all this still seems confusing if you’re new to it, but I promise it gets much more intuitive after you knit with these ideas in mind for a little while. At this point, I can honestly say that I don’t even consciously notice which way a stitch is oriented when I come to it, my hands just put the needle through the front or the back as needed.

Considering all the variations in knitting style that folks use, before we end here I want to put a vote in for patterns to say “twist the stitch” instead of “knit through back of loop” and “work a left-leaning decrease” instead of “ssk.” Really, it would be so much clearer, and more understandable for those who knit in different ways from the American “standard” way. I will try to follow this principle in my own pattern writing.

Speaking of which, have you seen my Cloudscape Hat pattern? It was in part the inspiration for writing this post. I’ve shared my approach to these fundamentals of knitting in various classes, tried unsuccessfully to get a couple of knitting magazines which you’ve heard of to publish it (Really! Can you believe it?), and finally decided just to put it out here.

As Michel Garcia says about natural dye knowledge, are we going to build a wall around what we know and keep it jealously for ourselves, or are we going to share it freely in the belief and hope that it will grow and flourish as more people are exposed to it? Certainly I think this knowledge is incredibly useful to anyone who knits. If you find this post worthwhile, please share it! Wouldn’t it be great if it got more notice here than it would have in a magazine …

Cheers, everybody!

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Knitting 102 Cowl – Free Pattern

 

T with simple knit cowlWhen my cousin was about 12 years old, she knit me a scarf. I’m touched by this gesture every time I think about it. That’s a lot of time and effort to put into an object for someone else when you’re that young. The scarf (at left) is great, made from a colorful thick-and-thin yarn, but it’s kind of short. Then one day a couple of years ago I realized that if I added buttons and buttonholes to the ends, it could be a stylish cowl, and I’d probably wear it a lot more. Which I do.

Then I realized that a cowl like this, just a knitted rectangle with buttons added, would be a perfect second or third knitting project for my students. For when you can knit and purl, but maybe you’d like to make something besides a washcloth using your current skills, before moving on to knitting in the round and all that.

I made a sample one with some seed stitch columns added, and left it at the yarn store where I teach. One day not long ago I was over there, and the owner and one of the employees were telling me about how people ask for the pattern a lot. I was quite surprised. I agreed to write it out. Then I got to thinking, if I’m going to give this pattern to whoever comes into the shop, I’d like to give it to you guys too. So here you go:

 

Knitting 102 Cowl Pattern

 

102 cowl 1

 

To make this cowl, you’ll knit a long rectangle, and then use a simple crochet stitch to make buttonholes on one end. Sew buttons on to the other end, and it’s ready to wear!

This concept is very adaptable. It’s easy to vary the yarn, stitch choices, and size to suit your own taste and knitting level.

 

102 cowl 4

 

Materials

Yarn: the sample is made in Cascade Baby Alpaca Chunky, a very soft yarn with a lot of drape and not much bounce. One skein is enough for a small cowl like this. The finished fabric hangs in liquid folds. If you’d like a cowl that will stand up more, choose a yarn with more body and spring.

Gauge: the finished sample has 4 stitches per inch in both stockinette and seed stitch. It’s OK if your gauge comes out a little bit differently, since exact size isn’t super important for this project. It’s still a good idea to make a swatch with your yarn and see if you like how the fabric is coming out, and measure your gauge to get an idea of how big your finished cowl will be.

Needles and Hook: try US size 8 (5mm) knitting needles, but keep in mind that you may need a larger or smaller needle to get the gauge you want (especially if you use a different yarn). You’ll also need a crochet hook in a similar size for the buttonhole loops. In my experience the hook size doesn’t need to be exactly the same for such a small section.

Finished size: the sample cowl is 8 ½“ wide and 22 ½” long. It fits fairly close around my neck, but is big enough to get over my head without undoing the buttons. You can compare the dimensions to any cowl you like to see if this seems like a good size for you.

 

Directions

Cast on 35 sts (or your stitches per inch x desired size in inches).

Other options: If you’re not quite ready for keeping track of the seed stitch columns, you can also make a perfectly good cowl using garter stitch (knit every stitch, every row) or using seed stitch across the whole piece. (A cowl made with all stockinette stitch—knit one whole row, purl one whole row—will curl up at the edges.)

For the seed stitch pattern, you’ll need an odd number of columns of stitches. In the sample cowl, there are 7 columns of 5 stitches each. You can also vary the number of stitches in each column if that works better with your stitch count.

First row (right side): work in seed stitch for 5 stitches (knit 1, purl 1, knit 1, purl 1, knit 1), and then knit 5 stitches. Repeat this sequence of 10 stitches (2 columns) two more times, and end with 5 stitches of seed stitch.

Note: You may want to put a stitch marker around the needle between the sections to help remember when to switch patterns.

Second row (wrong side): work seed stitch for 5 stitches (knit 1, purl 1, knit 1, purl 1, knit 1), and then purl 5 stitches. Repeat this sequence of 10 stitches (2 columns) two more times, and end with 5 stitches of seed stitch.

Note: this seed stitch in this pattern alternates every stitch between knit and purl, both horizontally and vertically. After set up in the first row, work a knit stitch on top of each purl stitch you see in the seed stitch sections, and vice versa.

Repeat these two rows until you reach your desired length for the cowl.

Bind off—not too tightly or the edge will pucker. Leave a long tail (a couple of feet long) and you can use it to make the buttonhole edge as well.

 

102 cowl 5

 

Crochet buttonhole edge
Go into the first stitch of your bind-off with a crochet hook. Pull a small loop of yarn through with the hook. Go into the next bind-off stitch the same way, pull another loop through, and then pull the second loop through the first loop so that you have only one left on the hook.

(I drew these illustrations for my students, who would also have me standing next to them to show them how to do it.  If this whole concept of crochet edges is new to you, check out this explanation from Knitty, which covers crocheting on to a knitted edge, as  well as the difference between a crochet slip stitch and single crochet stitch.)

 

crochet edge

 

Continue in the same way, going into each stitch as you come to it, pulling a loop though it and then through the loop you already have on the needle. This is called a “slip stitch” in American crochet terms.

You’re making a line of crochet stitches, which should look like another bind off row on top of the first one.

When you get to the place where you want to make a buttonhole, chain (pull loops through your working loop one at a time, without connecting to anything else) until you have enough stitches to just fit around your button.

You can make the buttonholes flat to the edge or more of a loop—your choice, depending on where you attach them—but either way they should be just big enough to push the buttons through, otherwise they may come loose while you wear it.

Reattach the chain to the edge by going into the bind-off stitch you choose, and making a slip stitch as you did before.

 

crochet buttonhole v2

 

The sample cowl has three large buttons and buttonholes, which line up with the three stockinette stitch columns.

 

102 cowl 2

 

Sew on your buttons to line up with the buttonholes.  I use the same method as I do with sewing thread, except the yarn only goes once each way through the buttons since it’s so thick.

 

102 cowl 3

 

Enjoy!  If you make one, I’d love to see it.

 

Blocking Knitting Without Special Equipment

When I mention blocking your knitting, I get a lot of blank looks from my students, and concern about how to do it and what they need to make it happen. Although it can be a magical transformation, it doesn’t need to be mysterious. And although there are a bunch of gadgets (special mats and pins, forms, blocking wires etc.) sold specifically for blocking, you don’t need to use any of those to get good results.  Some pins and a place to hold them will do, and sometimes you don’t even need that.

 
lupine cowl blocking

 

What does blocking mean anyway?

Blocking is actually a simple concept.  It just means using water and/or steam to set the final shape of something after you knit it.  As you knit, you make a new structure—a fabric—with your yarn. When the fabric gets wet, the yarn has a chance to settle into its new shape.  Sometimes it can change quite a bit, expanding or relaxing in response to the tensions (or lack of) that are now on it.

In blocking we take advantage of the fact that the yarn can form new shapes, and influence those shapes in the direction we want.  This can be as simple as gently stretching and patting a sweater so that it looks good flat, and leaving it to dry.  Sometimes more dramatic blocking is part of what makes a pattern shine, like stretching lace as much as possible to make the most of the open areas in the pattern.

Essentially, blocking is getting your knitting wet, shaping it how you want it to be, and holding it in that shape until it dries.

 

Why wet?

Yarns, especially wool ones, can change shape much more easily when they’re wet.  This is because of the structure of the fibers themselves.  (If you’re curious about the science of wool and haven’t seen the wool article I wrote for this month’s Seamwork, check it out!)

You can also stretch/shape your object while it’s dry, and then steam it to set the shape.  In general, I prefer the wet method for a few reasons.  It’s gentler on the fibers, and gives them a chance to relax before being under tension. It also gives a good idea of what your finished project will be like when it’s washed later.  A damp yarn object is easier to shape.  And when you finish knitting something, it may have been dragged all over hither and yon and have oils from your hands (or sticky stuff from your toddler) on it, and washing it is probably not a bad idea anyway.  (Hey—my favorite method for hand-washing is in that wool article too—good timing!)  (And speaking of good timing, Karen posted an eloquent argument this morning about why you should wash/block a swatch before embarking on a big project.  This is especially important when you’re making something like a sweater, where the final size/fit/drape is crucial to success.)

 

Does everything need blocking?

Not really.  I do wash all my finished knitting projects, shape them gently with my hands, and then leave them to dry.  But not everything needs to be pinned out, or to dry in an exact shape.  Socks, for example, are meant to be a little smaller than my foot, and to take on the exact shape of my foot when I wear them, so I don’t see much point in carefully shaping them before wearing.

 

How do I block something without special gadgets?

Everyone should have sewing pins, they’re useful for all kinds of things.  I’m not counting them as special equipment, but, it’s worth getting some with large, easy-to-see heads if you don’t have them already.  I like plain flat-head pins for sewing, but they get lost in the structure of hand knits.

The only other thing you need is a surface where your knits can dry that you can pin into.  A lot of times I use the same folded piece of flannel that I iron on.  An ironing board or a couch cushion covered with a towel are good choices for small projects.  For big items I stretch an old sheet over my bed (see below).

 

blocking shawl 1I tuck a doubled-over old sheet in tight over the bed covers.  That provides enough tension to hold in place when I pin onto it.  Plus it protects the covers from pin marks or any dye transfer from the yarn.  (Forgive the weird indoor lighting.  I wanted to show how I actually do this, but our bedroom is not ideal for photos …)

 
When your finished project is clean and damp, it’s ready to block.  Stretch and shape it with your hands, patting wrinkled areas out, smoothing ridges parallel, etc.  Pin in place any pieces that try to shrink back, away from the shape you want.

 

blocking shawl 2For this shawl, I pinned it at regular intervals along the straight edge, and intermittently along the other two edges.  You may have to move the pins as you smooth out the whole project, and that’s fine.  (This is my Indigo Boomerang, made with handspun.  More details are on Ravelry, and pictures of it worn are also in this post on slowness.)

 
For the cowl at the top of the post, I wanted to stretch the lace sections, but not the plain knitting in between.  I could have blocked it flat, a couple of sections at a time, and that would probably have worked fine, especially if I steamed it.  Instead I decided to experiment with different sizes of rolled up towels, and found a combo which was the right size to block it around.  I opened up the lace with my fingers while it was damp, and pinned the two edges parallel.

When your blocked knitting is dry, take out the pins and check out the shape.  If there are any parts you’re not happy with, or little pulled areas from the pins, those are great places to steam.  Hold your iron over the part you want to adjust (don’t flatten it) and fill it with steam.  Then take the iron away and reshape it with your fingers.

 

Will I have to block my knitting every time I wash it?

Probably not.  The most dramatic change takes place the first time the yarn gets wet in its new knitted shape.  Unless something extreme happens to it, it will stay more or less how you blocked it, with the additional influence of how it’s worn.  Lace may need to be re-blocked to look its crispest, but it won’t go all the way back to how it looked before you blocked it the first time.  For most items, a quick smoothing/stretching with your hands, before letting them dry flat is enough.  I like to drape bigger things like the shawl over the top of a wooden drying rack, using lower bars of the rack to hold the ends so that no part gets too stretched by gravity, or too folded and wrinkly, while it’s drying.

If your project does dry with wrinkles, a little steam will fix that right up.

I hope this helps demystify blocking for you!  The more we can all understand what’s going on with our yarn at various stages and why, the more we can get the results we want.  Happy knitting!

 

Making Jeny’s Stretchy Slip Knot Cast On with Lumpy Yarns

Or, how to make it easier in any yarn.

I love this cast on*; how easily it stretches and bounces back right along with the knitting, how invisible it is (it’s like whatever pattern you’re knitting just appears fully formed, without a visually different edge), and the bonus that since it only uses one end, you don’t have to worry about starting with a long enough tail.

But it’s notoriously difficult to do with uneven or thick-and-thin yarns, since the yarn has to be able to slide easily past itself to make the required shape.  Or does it …  My knitting students were having a hard time with this cast-on, even in a relatively smooth yarn, which got me wondering if I could figure out a trick that would help keep the yarn moving.  I decided to try it with my first handspun project (a thick and thin yarn if there ever was one).  And I did figure it out!  It may have helped that I was stuck on an airplane at the time without too much else to do …  It turns out that there’s one place that the yarn gets hung up on itself, and if you can get past that, you can do this cast on in a lumpy yarn too!  I’ll show you how below.

First, a quick review of what makes a slip knot, since that’s the structure this whole cast on is based on—you’ll essentially make one slip knot after another.  First of all, you need a loop.

 

slipknot cast on 1I’m going to show you using a bit smoother yarn—otherwise it would be hard to see what’s going on.  This is “Sheridan” from Mountain Meadow Wool—yummy!

 

Next you need another loop, and to put that second loop through the first one.  Remember that the ends must cross each other for the loops to stay in place.  So, you can either make a second loop in the bottom strand of the first loop and bring it through the top, or make a loop in the top strand and push it up through the bottom, which is what I’ve done below.

 

slipknot cast on 2

 

Tighten it up by pulling the second loop through until the first loop closes around it.  If you’ve made a successful slip knot, it will go away if you pull on both ends of the yarn.

 

slipknot cast on 3

 

Put this first knot on a needle, and you’re ready for the cast on.  I like to put the working end of the yarn (not the short tail) around my thumb, and hold the end with the last two fingers of my hand, as shown below.  (There are other hand positions and motions that work perfectly well to make this cast on, these are the ones I use.)

 

slipknot cast on 4

 

To make the first loop, I use the needle to scoop up the strand nearest me around the thumb, moving from the bottom up.

 

slipknot cast on 5

 

Leaving this first loop on the thumb, I use the rest of my hand to bring a second strand of yarn over the needle, making the second loop.

I used to think that looping this strand one direction vs. the other over the needle might make it easier to pull the yarn through in the last step.  That might be true, but it also (of course, silly me) determines which way your first round of stitches sit on the needle.  Chances are you want them as shown below, so wrap the yarn starting at the front and moving to the back.  If you’re a “combination” knitter or you learned in a tradition that knits through the back of the stitch, you’ll find your stitches ready to go if you wrap the yarn the other way, starting at the back and moving to the front.

 

slipknot cast on 6

 

In either case, now we have two loops on the needle.  We want to move the first loop over the second one, so that it makes a collar around the base of the second loop, just like in the first slip knot we made without the needle.  To do this, I use my thumb to lift the first loop up and over the tip of needle, and then let it go.

 

slipknot cast on 7

 

In the instructions I’ve seen before, the next step is to hold the new loop against the top of the needle, and pull on the end of the yarn so the collar around it tightens up.  Sometimes this works great, but if your yarn has any resistance to sliding along itself, it will probably get caught up, stop short, and cause you to curse, tug on all the ends available, and try again.

The reason the yarn gets caught easily is that there’s one place in its path where it has to loop quickly around itself, making almost like a little knot (indicated by the arrow below).

 

slipknot cast on 8

 

What I found was that if I pull the yarn through this tight place first, I can then pull on the end and the stitch will tighten up smoothly, even in my lumpy handspun!

I take hold of the outside of that little loop-de-loop, and pull it out, so that the collar starts to form around the bottom of the new loop on the needle.

 

slipknot cast on 9

 

I’ve found that it works best if I get the new loop pretty snug, right up against the stitch before it on the needle, and the collar almost snug as well.  Then with it set up, I hold the new loop against the needle and pull on the yarn end to finish the new stitch.

 

slipknot cast on 10

 

Although this undoubtedly adds a step, to me it’s totally worth it, since I can now use a whole lot more yarns with one of my favorite cast ons.  And I don’t know about you, but I would rather have a slightly more complex but smooth process, rather than cursing and tugging on the yarn every few stitches because it keeps getting stuck.

 

slipknot cast on 11

 

*One of the many bonuses of going to a workshop with Cat Bordhi in person, is that she tells you all kinds of cool little tricks, and that’s where I first learned about this cast on.  The original post about it on Jeny’s blog is here, she links both to her own video of the steps, and to another one which uses different motions.  If you’d prefer not to hold the yarn around your thumb, there’s also a variation using two needles demonstrated by Tillybuddy on YouTube here.

 

Happy knitting!

The End of the Yarn

 

end of the yarn 1

 

My knitting students inspired this post. I do explain in class what to do when your skein of yarn runs out and you need to add more, but it’s a little tricky to visualize without actually cutting the yarn, and easy to forget when you get home and you’re left alone with an internet full of confusing videos … so here you go! These are my favorite, simple, fairly foolproof methods. The first one works with practically any yarn, any project, any time, and the second one makes a totally seamless join in any feltable yarn.

Personally, if I can’t felt the ends together (see below), I almost always just leave the tails, and I don’t mind sewing them in later. There are lots of methods for weaving in the tails as you go, by wrapping the new yarn over/under/with the old yarn, and most of them work just fine. You may find one that you love. But, you don’t need to do any of them. Leaving the tails to work in later is perfectly good. And if you’re still thinking about how to knit, you don’t need anything more complicated going on when you get to the end of a skein.

So, just stop knitting when you have about 6 inches of yarn left unknitted. Pick up your new ball of yarn (mine is purple) and, leaving another tail of the same length, start knitting with it. The stitches on either side of the tails will probably be a little loose, but you can cinch them up later to match their neighbors when you weave in the tails, so don’t worry about it for now. If you like, you can tie the two ends together into a slipknot to keep things neat while you’re working on the rest. That’s it!

 

end of the yarn 2

 

end of the yarn 3

 

end of the yarn 4

 

As long as we’re talking about joining yarn ends, I wanted to include my very favorite method, which takes advantage of the felting properties of wool to join two lengths of yarn without any tails left at all.

Untwist and fluff out a couple of inches on both ends. The first key to this method is to get the fibers as separated as possible. Just like in any other felting, fuzzy, loose fibers will attach to whatever is next to them, and fibers that are already joined or clumped will attach mainly to each other.

 

end of the yarn 5

 

The second key to this method is to mix the fibers from the two ends together thoroughly before you start rubbing them. You want as many places for them to meld as possible, so move the strands around so that all the ones from one end are not on the same side.

Add just a little moisture (I usually use spit unless water happens to be handy). The fibers should be barely damp. Squeeze the join lightly between your hands, and start rolling it back and forth. You want to agitate the fibers together without disturbing their orientation.

 

end of the yarn 6

 

end of the yarn 7

 

end of the yarn 8

 

Small areas like this felt very quickly. The join is done when you can pull gently on it from both sides and the fibers don’t slip. It’s possible to go too far, so that your little felted area becomes noticeably stiffer than the rest of the yarn, so stop when it’s holding together.

 

end of the yarn 9

 

Other than with non-felting yarns (superwash, plant fibers, silk, synthetics etc.) the only time I wouldn’t use this method is if a slight difference in yarn texture will be noticeable in the knitting, like in a very smooth or shiny yarn. A felted join is basically invisible in fuzzy singles, and it also works well with textured and handspun yarns, as well as your more “standard” multi-ply wool yarns like Cascade 220 (shown here, you can see the felted join in the bind off near my thumb below). And, if for any reason the felted method doesn’t work or you don’t like how it looks, you can always cut it off and go back to the first method.

 

end of the yarn 10

 

Happy joining!

 

Make Your Own Tiny Hand-Knit Cover Buttons

tiny knit covered buttons finished front

 

These are the buttons I made for my Talamh sweater.  I found some factory-made buttons covered with knit fabric in my button stash as I was starting the sweater, and the idea stuck.  When I finished the sweater, I knew I wanted buttons covered in my yarn, so I made some.  Afterwards, it occurred to me that I might have been reinventing the wheel here, but searching Google and Ravelry turned up nothing like these, so here are the directions!  At the end of the post I’ll also include some links to other ideas I did find, in case these aren’t quite your style.  As always, click on any of the photos to enlarge for a closer look.

 

Knitting the Cover

Pick your buttons to go inside the knitted cover first.  They should be a little smaller than you want the finished button to be, and ideally a similar color to the yarn you’re using to cover them.

These buttons are knit in the round from the center out.  Since they are tiny, there are only a few rounds before you decrease, and secure the knitting to the button.

You want the button fabric to be tight, so that it will be sturdy and the button underneath won’t show through.  Use a much smaller needle than you usually would with the yarn (even if your yarn is thicker).  Here I used size 1 needles, after using size 4 with the same yarn for the sweater.  I’ve illustrated using double points, but of course you could use two circulars or a magic loop if you prefer.

Start by casting on four stitches, using Judy’s Magic Cast On, or another method that starts seamlessly from the middle (this one from Cat Bordhi is also good).

 

tiny knit covered buttons cast on

 

If you increase 4 stitches per round, it makes a flat circle of knitting.  I learned this from Daniel Yuhas’ book, Knitting from the Center Out.  Since a flat circle is my goal here, I knit into the front and back of each stitch, for 8 total stitches in the next round.  (If you aren’t sure how to knit front and back, otherwise known as kfb, just Google it—more tutorials than you’ll ever need will pop up.)

 

tiny knit covered buttons 8 sts

 

Increase 4 stitches again in the next round (ie: knit into the front and back of one stitch, knit one stitch, repeat those two actions around).  At this point I switched some stitches onto a third needle, to keep my little circle from getting too stretched out where the needles join.

 

tiny knit covered buttons 12 sts

 

Since my button is tiny, I only needed one more round of increasing 4 (knit front and back, knit 2, repeat around, for a total of 16 stitches) to reach the size of my button.  You can compare the amount of knitting you have to your buttons, but it can be hard to judge without finishing.  Luckily, these only take a few minutes to make, so it’s easy to try another one if the first one isn’t quite right.

 

tiny knit covered buttons 16 sts

 

When the button is the size you want, start decreasing, so that the knitted fabric will cup around the edges of the button smoothly.  If your button is bigger and/or thicker, you may want a plain round before you start to decrease, but for these little guys I found it made the cover too baggy for the button, so I went straight from an increase round to a decrease round.

I did one round of knit 2 together, knit 1, repeat.  You can see how the cover begins to puff up in the middle as the edges draw in.

 

tiny knit covered buttons decreasing

 

On the next round, I knit every 2 stitches together, until there were 5 stitches left.  If you have a lot more stitches, it may take a couple more rounds of decreasing.  You also want there to be enough fabric on the back of the button so that you can pull these few stitches together at the center back.

When you have just a few stitches left, cut the yarn, thread the end on a sewing needle, and pass it through the remaining stitches.

 

tiny knit covered buttons needle to yarn

 

Knitting Meets Button

At this point the actual knitting part is done.  There are a couple more tricks I want to show you as we sew it together, to make the button come out really nice.

First, before you start to cinch up the knitting around the button, take the sewing needle from the end you finished knitting with, and thread it on the end left from casting on.

 

tiny knit covered buttons yarn tail inside

 

Open out the little circle so the inside of it is clearly visible.  Use the center yarn tail to cinch up the first stitches from the cast on, if necessary.  Then sew around in a little spiral, starting near the center, piercing just the backs of the knitted stitches (use a sharp needle).  This secures the tail, and adds a little extra cohesion to the stitches that will be the button front.

 

tiny knit covered buttons inside spiral 2

 

When your spiral is done, trim the inside tail, and thread the outside/last knitted with tail back on the sewing needle.

 

tiny knit covered buttons ready for button

 

Place the button in the middle of the circle, and draw the edges up with the remaining tail.

 

tiny knit covered buttons gathering back

 

Pull the last stitches tight together in the center back, which hopefully will snug the whole cover nicely around the button.  If it’s too loose or too tight, just start again, make another one with modifications.

Once your cover fits your button, secure it by taking a stitch through one hole in the button, out to the front side.

 

tiny knit covered buttons stitching through button

 

Then take a stitch back, aiming to enter the knitted fabric in the same place you came out (so as not to leave a stitch on the surface) but angle the needle so it goes through a different hole in the button.  You’re putting a loop of yarn through the button itself, to secure the knitting in place.

 

tiny knit covered buttons stitching through button 2

 

I think this technique would also work with shank buttons, you would just want to take a few stitches around/through the shank instead.

Lastly, I stitched around the edges of the back side of the button, adding a little more yarn and securing the stitches there.

 

tiny knit covered buttons reinforcing back

 

Tada!  A tiny knitted covered button, ready to go.

 

tiny knit cover button back finished

 

I sewed these on using a variation of my usual technique (I updated the photos on that post just this week, and love how they came out): sewing through the yarn on the back of the button rather than through the button itself.

 

knit cover buttons sewing on 1

knit cover buttons sewing on 2

knit cover buttons sewing on 3

 

I’d love to try making some bigger buttons using this techinique, too.

 

More Ideas

As if that weren’t enough, when doing research for this post I stumbled on a few other fun things.  Actually, I fell down a bit of a rabbit-hole of cool ideas for DIY covered buttons, both for sewing and knitting, and another post is probably coming soon.  In the meantime …

Kate Davies has a lovely clear tutorial for yarn-wrapped buttons that come out looking sweet.

What about embroidering a design with your yarn on fabric, and then covering a button with that?  There’s a tutorial here on The Purl Bee.

There’s always traditional thread-button techniques, like these from Threads Magazine. Full disclosure: I long ago tried and failed to make sturdy buttons using similar techniques, but I’m pretty sure it was user error.

You could also knit a circle from the bottom up, rather than from the center out, increasing and decreasing at the sides, and then gather it over a button or use a commercial button form.  There’s an example on Knit Darling here. She uses a cover button kit, and rightly points out that those don’t work in small sizes with thick fabrics.  I think you could gather a smaller size over a regular button and secure it something like the second part of my technique (but I haven’t tried this yet to be sure).

 

Not that there aren’t beautiful buttons out there, but especially during this season when we’re surrounded by encouragement to over-consumption, I just love the idea of putting the final touches on a project myself, made with bits and pieces I have around the house. Here’s wishing you all a restful, creative December!

 

Me-Knit Blue Sweater with Lace

Plus some tips for finishing hand knits.

 

blue talamh sweater 2

 

First things first: stop press!  I finished the sweater which I started knitting in Me-Made-May this year!  Between times when I made a real effort to work on it at least an hour a day while on the road, and times when I was back at home and pretty much ignoring it completely, it averaged out to just about 6 months start to finish.  And I’m fine with that, I mean, it’s hand-knitting an entire sweater.

 

blue talamh sweater 5

 

An entire sweater which I’m pretty much totally in love with.  This is the Talamh pattern by Carol Feller.  I wanted a pattern with some lace, but also some edgyness, some modernity, and I thought the lace pattern she used really fit the bill.  I added the wide lace section to the center back (it looks awesome, right?) but otherwise actually made fewer changes than I normally do when I’m knitting someone else’s pattern.  If you’re interested, I decided to keep those notes on Ravelry this time, feel free to check them out!

 

blue talamh sweater 3

 

In this space, aside from how pleased I am with this project, I thought I’d share a bit about finishing, specifically sewing in a ribbon for stabilization around the neck (which totally saved this sweater!) and how I “weave in” yarn ends.

 

Adding grosgrain ribbon

As I was blocking this sweater (basically just getting it wet, stretching the lace out a bit, and smoothing out bumps before letting it dry) I decided to try putting it over my dress form (if it’s good enough for Kate Davies, it’s good enough for me!).  But the sweater kept slipping down, and, rather than pin it up every inch or so, I decided to let it dry flat.  Well, after it was dry and I tried it on in front of the mirror, the same thing happened.  The join between the body and the sleeves is a bit low anyway (my fault, and one of only two things I’d probably change if I make a sweater like this again).  As the neckline stretched wider, the underarms and the whole rest of the sweater sagged downward until it looked fairly ridiculous, at which point I’d tug the neck up again.  Clearly, the loose-ish ribbing at the top was not enough to hold the rest of the sweater in place.

 

blue talamh sweater ribbon 3

 

I had stabilized various parts of other sweaters with ribbon before, and it occurred to me that I could try it here.  I opened the drawer where I keep bits of ribbon, and there were two lovely grosgrain sections, probably salvaged from recycled sweaters, that both almost matched perfectly!  And each was a width to fit under part of the ribbing on the sweater.  Call it good karma for using up this yarn I’ve had for ages, or proof that if you save the good stuff, it does actually come in handy later.

Pinning the sweater inside out on my dress form to hold it in place, I shaped the ribbon around the curves and steamed it lightly to match them.

 

blue talamh sweater ribbon 1

 

Note that in order to curve nicely like this, you need authentic grosgrain ribbon, the kind with the bumpy edges, where the thick yarns in it are free to move a bit.  “Grosgrain” ribbon from your local big box store often has tight edges, which are fine for straight sections, but won’t curve worth a darn.

grosgrain ribbon

 

I bought sewing thread to match my yarn as closely as possible, and sewed the ribbon on with tiny whip stitches, at the edge where the ribbing meets the first plain knitting section.  After trying on the sweater to check that it was working, I put it back on the dress form inside out, and sewed around the top edge of the ribbon as well.  If you do this, don’t pull the sewing stitches too tight, just try to keep the ribbon softly snug to the sweater, and not to distort the knitting.

 

blue talamh sweater ribbon 2

 

This worked so well!  Like magic, my sweater now stays in place, just where I want it, and the ribbon is basically invisible from the outside.

 

Finishing yarn ends

There were quite a lot of ends in this sweater, mostly because I’ve had this yarn for over a decade (!).  Part of that time was before I knew how to deal with moths, and the outside of a few of the skeins got rather munched early on, leading to extra breaks in the yarn, and weak places that I decided to treat the same as breaks (ie, not use them, and leave the tails to work in later).  I usually tie the ends or the break/place I don’t want to use into a slipknot, just to keep a little tension on the yarn as I’m knitting around it.

 

finishing knitting 1

 

I’m sure there are other good methods for burying yarn ends, this is mine.  Keeping the tail going in the direction it was headed, I take a short stitch, then a tiny back stitch to anchor the thread, followed by a tunneling of the yarn along the back of the existing stitches.

Don’t pull tightly, or you’ll pucker the knitted fabric.  Leave enough yarn tail so that as the sweater stretches, the tail can move without catching or distorting anything.

Maybe my best tip is to use a needle with a big enough eye to hold the yarn, but a very sharp tip, making it easy to pierce just the backs of stitches, and keep the yarn tails out of sight.  My absolute favorite are “Chenille” needles from John James, available at fine sewing and embroidery stores.

With each end, take one short stitch, catching just the back of the knitting stitches:

 

finishing knitting 2

 

Followed by a tiny backstitch, which functions like a knot to keep the yarn in place.  I start just behind where the last stitch ended, and then continue skimming along the backs of the knitting stitches for the length of the needle. In a stockinette fabric like this, the purl “bumps” make handy diagonals, good directions to hide yarn without it showing on the outside.

If you’re particularly worried about this part of the knitting getting stress or pulling out, (or your yarn is slippery) you could take another short stitch and back stitch, then the long burying stitch. That should hold it!

 

finishing knitting 3

 

If at any point you’re unsure if a stitch might be showing on the public side, just check.  One good thing about stitches is that they’re reversible.

Note that the ends should go in opposite directions, at least with the first short stitch.  Take them in the direction they’d pull from if you kept knitting, so that the two ends cross, rather than pull away from each other.

 

finishing knitting 4

 

On garment edges, a good place to bury ends is often along columns of ribbing.

 

finishing knitting 6

 

When you’re finished, trim the ends so that enough remains on the back for the end to stay there, and not poke through to the front.

That’s about it for now.  Just in case you’re wondering, I did make those matching buttons, and I’ll post about them soon too.  I hope this is helpful, and just let me know if you have more knitting/finishing questions!