A Hedgehog Anemone Hat

Plus, another way to fluff up knitted tendrils.

 

hedgehog hat outside 2

 

I know—what??  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, please bear with me for a minute.

First, the hat.  This is one of Cat Bordhi’s designs, the Arctic Anemone Hat.  It just looked SO fun to knit, I really wanted to make one.  But I couldn’t see myself wearing it . . . I could see my mom wearing it, though.  She loves all kinds of sea creatures, hedgehogs, and plants with unusual spiny pods—so it definitely fits her aesthetic.  I had planned it as a surprise, but it ended up being so much better that I told her (when she was thinking about knitting one); I got to ask her what color she wanted, and get her to try it on as I went, and consult her about design details.  We decided to make the tendrils a little shorter, more like hedgehog quills, which I think went well with the grey color.

 

hedgehog hat outside 1

 

This was such a win-win.  The hat was every bit as fun to make as I thought it would be, from the moebius band (yes you can knit a moebius strip—from the inside out) to making the tendrils, it was a blast.  And, my mom loves it!  It looks so cute on her, too.  Actually, it looked really cute on every single one of my relatives who tried it on.  I knit this hat mainly on our Thanksgiving trip, so all my relations saw it in progress, and wanted to try it on when I finished.  However, Mom hates having her picture taken almost as much as she likes unusual creatures, so I decided to photograph the hat in the natural environment.

The only reason I got it back for long enough to photograph it at all, is that Cat’s directions suggest you use a superwash wool (one that’s been treated so that it won’t felt) and fluff up the tendrils by running it through the dryer.  I have a dryer, and mom doesn’t.  This definitely worked.

Before:

hedgehog hat before fluffing

After:

hedgehog hat after fluffing

 

But after fluffing, I began to wonder if there was another way to do it.  I’m a fan of untreated wool, and I wondered if I could get some tendrils to fluff up by steaming them.  After all, what’s happening in the dryer is: dampness, heat, and agitation.  I tried it out on a sample, knit with organic, not-superwash wool yarn.  This worked too!

Before:

tendril sample before fluffing

After:

tendril sample after fluffing

It might not produce quite the fluffiness of the dryer method (keep in mind that the yarn I used was also not as thick), but it wonder if the tendrils would continue to fluff up a bit with washing and wear?  I got the best results by using my iron—not touching the tendrils, but holding it above them and putting on lots of steam for a few seconds.  Then I picked up the sample, and, holding it upside down, gently scrunched and shuffled the tendrils around.  I decided on upside-down because the tendrils tended to wilt downwards with all the steam.  It also seemed to help some that were reluctant to fluff up if I sprayed them with a little water from my plant/laundry mister, then steamed and scrunched.

At least with my sample, it would have required a nearly impossible amount of effort to felt anything using the steam, and gentle fluffing.  However, wool + water (usually much more than this) + heat + agitation does = felt, so be advised.  I would agitate the base of the hat as little as possible while it’s steamy, just concentrate on moving the tendrils around and scrunching them up.

sweet tomato knee socks frontOne more note: in honor of knitting more lately, and knitting something that was so fun without even changing the pattern very much at all, I have finally decided to stop lurking Ravelry and using it only as the world’s absolute best pattern search (you can be shocked, I don’t blame you).  I’ve gone back and posted some of my favorite knitted projects from the past few years, whatever I could think of that I still had and/or had pictures of, and there are a few more of those still to add.  I even posted a few yarns from my stash that might find a better home.  If you’re on Ravelry too, come and say hi, I’m FrenchToastTasha.

Even if not, happy making!  I suggest making something that’s just plain fun to create, at least every once in a while.

Convertible Knitted and Felted Mittens

In which I remodel my mittens to make them better than ever, and show you how to calculate shrinkage when felting your knitting.

 

purple mittens finished 2

 

My friend Tom once commented that many of my clothes have stories behind them, and these mittens are no exception!  In fact, I’m going to tone it down here, story-wise, and stick to only the most interesting and relevant of the many angles I could go for.

 

A Very Short History of the Original Mittens

I started knitting these as my take-along project on our trip to Italy in February of 2010.  I knitted the main parts from yarns that we dyed the first time I ever did natural dyeing, with my grandmother and a bunch of dear family members in 2008.  (I’m telling you, I’m skipping  a lot of stories here).  My goal was glove fingers for finer dexterity, that could also be covered by a mitten flip-top for extra warmth.  Typically for me, I consulted a few patterns, but didn’t end up really using any of them.  I didn’t have enough purple for the fingers and the flap, and because I love purple and green together (one of my favorite color combos for the hats) I decided to get green yarn.  No one else was impressed with this decision, and I can now admit that one of my students at the time probably put it best when she said they looked like “dead fingers.”  So, moving on, when I discovered that they were too slippery to drive in, I sewed on a bunch of patches from faux suede samples in different colors.  Ignoring whether or not this made the green fingers look any better, and also the fact that all the fingers had come out too short after felting, I wore them all the time, all over the place, skiing, shoveling snow, etc., through last winter.  By the end of that season, one of the fingers had developed a rather large (and cold) hole in the end.

 

purple mittens before

 

A Plan for New and Improved Mittens

When I got them out this fall for the season, the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do more than just fix the hole.  You see, if I was going to fix the hole, it made way more sense to knit on a little more finger, so that it would be actually the right length.  And, it would be ridiculous to do that for only one finger.  And, if I did it for the rest of the fingers, I would either have more green fingers or an even more ridiculous color mash-up than before.  I decided to start over on the fingers, and this time, do the math.

As fate would have it, last winter I sent my blog friend Alessa some American patterns, and she sent me some yarn and other lovely stuff from Germany (these mittens really are more full of stories than average, even for me).  Thanks Alessa!  One skein of the yarn (on the left below) was a lovely variegated purple in 100% alpaca.  Alpaca felts like a dream, and is just as soft felted as not.  I saw it in my yarn bin and knew it would be perfect for new fingers.

 

package from AlessaIs that not the most-awesome-looking tin of chocolate?

 

How to Calculate Shrinkage for Felting Knitting

Lots of times I tell my students that knitting can either be all math; full of charts, calculations, and exact numbers of stitches, or no math at all; flowing along and decreasing when it looks right to you.  In my mind, the happiest mix is somewhere in the middle.  When you’re felting, it really helps to have a least a little math, which comes from making a sample in your intended yarn and measuring how much it shrinks, especially if you need it to come out a certain size.  (I neglected to do this for the first fingers, and you saw how that went.)

I started out with a tighter gauge, then decided to increase my needle size, because looser knitting will felt faster (you can see from the before and after that it also affects the percentage of shrinkage).  I’m using two strands of the yarn since it was fairly fine, and I wanted the fingers to be nice and thick and warm when finished.  You don’t have to take a photo, but do measure and draw around your sample.  Also make a note of how many stitches are in your sample, they will disappear into the felted texture and you won’t be able to tell later.  (This is about the smallest sample that will give you an accurate idea.)

Before felting:

purple mittens sample before

After felting:  (As usual, click on the pictures to enlarge if you wish.)

purple mittens sample after

 

Here’s the math part, it’s not too scary: divide the felted measurement by the unfelted measurement, to get the percent of the original measurement after shrinking.  F/U = %  I did this across my various measurements and got an average of 79% for the width, 84% for the height.  I wanted both, because I had noticed when felting the fingers the first time that they wanted to shrink more in height than in width, no matter how I stretched them out, which meant that I had not added enough extra knitting in that dimension.

Now that you have your percentage, apply it like this (there was algebra involved but I did it for you): the unfelted measurement (the one you want so that you know how much to knit before it shrinks) equals the felted measurement (how big you want it to end up) divided by your percentage of shrinkage (.79 or .84 in my example).  U = F/%  Clear as mud?  Try it, you’ll see what I mean.  You end up with a number a bit bigger than the felted/finished number you put in.  You can check it by putting it back in the first formula and see if you get the right percentage.

For my finished/felted measurements, I used the width of the previous fingers (by now chopped off), which I liked, and measured the height of my fingers sticking out of the mittens, adding a little extra for the thick knitted fabric to go over the top.  I calculated the unfelted measurements, then used the gauge from my sample to figure out how many stitches to use for each finger.  You can’t have a fraction of a stitch, so round up or down, whichever is closer or you want to err on the side of.  I knit until each finger was about the calculated unfelted height, erring on the side of a bit extra at the top, which turned out to be a good idea!

Just in case, I made one finger as test (the index finger on the right below) and felted it before knitting the others.  It came out great.

purple mittens unfelted fingersEven though the old fingers were felted on, I was able to snip the green stitches and pull them out, leaving the purple ones which I could pick up and knit from.  It helped that the palms never got totally felted.

Other Improvements

The thumbs were too short as well, plus worn mostly through in one spot from gripping.  And having only one layer of knitting (the part between the thumb and palm where the stitches tend to stretch open no less) meant that my thumbs were sometimes cold.  I fixed all that.  At this point, there was no stopping.  Since the thumbs were somewhat loose, I decided to knit inner layers for them.  I thought that I might need to slash the top of the mitten flap and extend it too, but after felting the fingers, it fit snugly over them, which would be warm, and I could add a bit of ribbing on the palm side for a little more length and to help hold the flap down.  Neither of these new additions would be felted, and both were small, so this was the no-math part.  I made adjustments visually, pulling something out if it didn’t seem right, and tried on the thumbs a lot to fit the shape to my hand.

 

purple mittens knitting extras  This may be hard to believe, but according to my notes, the wool I used for the new ribbing is the same as the original flap and thumb!  So it has definitely faded with sun and wear and washing.  Fortunately I like both colors.

 

A Minor Miracle of Purple Suede

Finally, I needed something for grip on the fingers and palms.  (I’m telling this story whole, it’s a good one.)  I want to be able to drive and grab ski poles and my keys, etc., and I didn’t want to go back to the multicolored bits of Ultrasuede.  I briefly considered using some light green suede elbow patches I got along with a sweater for recycling . . . and was fortunately dissuaded by friends.  What I ideally wanted was something that would match the mittens.

Almost on a whim, I dropped into a rather old-school shop downtown, which sells saddles and leather and a few seemingly random bolts of blanket wool and skeins of rug yarn.  I remembered that the last time I was there, over a decade ago, they had a bin of leather and suede scraps, and I thought if they still did, I might be able to find something close.  I was the only one in the little shop, not too long before closing, and the woman working said that no, they didn’t have any scraps.  I had the mittens with me, I showed her what I wanted to do.  Suede and leather started at half a hide for $24, there were black and green and red . . . and at the end of the rack, four smaller, scrappier pieces, all in dusky, slightly mottled shades of purple.  Not just purple, four distinct purples that each were so exactly what I needed that they looked like they were dyed to coordinate with the mittens, and left on the end of the rack by magic.  “Oh,” she said, “You could use those!  They’re $9 each.  We sold all the red, all the black . . .”  Hardly believing my good fortune, I picked the color I liked best out of the thicker two (two were quite thin), paid for it, and practically skipped down the street towards my car.  A few times, when I’ve been intensely searching for a supply I cannot find, probably which doesn’t exist, I’ve dreamt that I went into a shop and found exactly that thing, only to wake up disappointed.  This is the only time, so far, it’s ever happened in my waking life.  I have a rather large piece of somewhat smelly purple suede left in my studio to prove it!

 

purple mittens finished 5

purple mittens finished 3

 

I love love love these mittens.  I finished sewing on the suede over our family Thanksgiving trip, and just in time too, when we got back our town had a major cold snap, not getting above freezing at any time for over a week, unlike our usual mountain cold nights but mild days.  I’ve worn these cross-country skiing, I wore them to art walk downtown at night (during the below-freezing week), shoveling snow, driving, and never one cold finger have I had!  Felted alpaca is like little down blankets for your fingers.  I can easily wriggle my fingers out of the mitten top for fine tasks without using the other hand.   Having placed the suede patches where the wear was on the old fingers, plus the part of my palm that I use when I grip things—surprise!—they are in the perfect spots.  I recommend the inside of the thumb especially.

 

purple mittens finished 4

 

If you want to make your own version, I’d start with a glove pattern you like.  Either refer to a flip-top mitten pattern, or make up the flap as you go (Basically:  I picked up sts across the back of the hand, cast on across the front and did a few rounds of short rows for a curved shape, joined everything into a round and knit, decreasing following the shape of the fingers underneath).

I realize that I haven’t talked about the actual felting, in fact that felting is probably the thing I know the most about that appears the least on this blog.  Maybe I’ll do something about that in 2014.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about making mittens or felting in general, feel free to let me know!

Happy Solstice, everyone!

 

purple mittens finished 1

 

How to Pick Up a Dropped Stitch in Knitting

 

dropped stitch drawing 1

 

I wanted to show you how to fix hole in a sweater (or other knitted article) and as I started putting words and pictures with how I do it, it became more and more obvious that knowing this first would be extremely helpful.  So, even if you don’t knit, keep reading . . .

A “dropped” stitch is one that falls off a knitting needle, or the thread above it breaks (like a run in stockings) so that it becomes disentangled from the stitch above it.

Knitting is just pulling loops through loops.  When one loop pops out of the loop below it, it releases into a long loose bar, and can easily cause a chain reaction.  But please do not panic, it’s almost as easy to pick those loops up again as it was for them to pop out in first place.

 

dropped stitches 1

  

If more than one column of stitches is coming undone, first find the last/uppermost intact loop of each column and stick something (like a safety pin or a piece of yarn) though it, to keep that column from unraveling any further while you work on the others.

 

dropped stitch drawing 2

 

To pick up a stitch, get a crochet hook (mine is tiny – I found it in a heat vent in an apartment we rented in Madison, and it’s been in my knitting bag ever since – a little bigger one will probably be easier to work with).  Stick the hook through the last intact loop, grab the bar above that loop with the hook, and pull the bar through the loop.  It will form a new loop.  Ta da!  I think it’s easiest (and doesn’t cause twisted stitches) to have the hook facing down, grab each bar from above and pull it straight through.  This does mean you’ll need to take the hook out and stick it straight through the new loop to pick up another bar, if your stitch has dropped more than one row.

 

dropped stitch drawing 3

 

One refinement; knit stitches are loops pulled toward you, and purl stitches are loops pulled away from you.  So, to pick up a knit stitch, have the bar behind the old loop, and pull it toward you.  To pick up a purl, put the bar in front of the old loop, insert the hook from the back, and pull the bar away from you to make a new loop, as shown above.  That’s it!  Not only can you now pick up stitches, if you’re paying attention you’ll understand the fundamental structure of knitting, and the difference between knit and purl stitches.  Pretty cool, eh?

 

dropped stitches 3

dropped stitches 4

 

If you’re working with a bigger area of dropped stitches, pick up one column at a time by making a new loop from each bar, making sure to pick up the bars in their natural order.  Move them around with your finger and check which ones connect to the adjacent stitches where to make sure.  The two pictures above show picking up one column of purl stitches.  When you get to the top of a column, put the last loop back on whichever needle is convenient to continue working, you can rearrange them when you’re done.  Make sure that the loop is sitting on the needle the same way as the other ones which did not fall off – flip it the other way and check if you aren’t sure.

  

dropped stitches 2

 

Move to the next column if there is one, and pick up the bars in order again, until all the top loops are sitting on the needles again.  Look to see where the yarn you are working with is coming from, this is always the last stitch you knit.  You may need to pass stitches which haven’t been knit on this row yet back to the left needle to get them ready to work.  Remember to pass them with the needles tip to tip, which won’t twist the stitches.  And we’re done!

  

dropped stitches 6

 

Now that dropping stitches and picking them up is not so scary, we come to the second great thing about knowing this: you can do it on purpose to fix other mistakes.  Say you look back and realize that three or four rows previous to where you are now, you knit a stitch when you should have purled it in your pattern.  Instead of ripping out all the stitches you’ve done since then, you can just drop the stitch directly above the mistake, and let it ladder down as far as you need.  Then, you can pick up each stitch as a knit or a purl, whatever you need to make your pattern right – and your mistake is fixed!

 

dropped stitches 5

  

I was mostly done with the photos for this post, and wondering if they were clear enough, when I remembered that I already had drawings, scanned in and ready to go, from the handouts I make for in-person classes – a good thing!

If you have questions about this, or another topic you’d like to see featured here, just let me know.  Happy making!

 

About Gauge in Knitting

One of the things my knitting students have a lot of questions about is gauge, so I thought it would be a good topic for a post.  I am helped out on the visuals here by my aunt Kathy, who gave me a lot of this yarn (thanks Kathy!).  A LOT – I made all this stuff, gave 2 skeins to my friend Becca, and still have the ball you see left.  It’s been interesting for me, since I would normally not make several things from the exact same yarn.

Ok, so quickly, in knitting, gauge is: how many stitches per inch you are knitting.  It varies with the yarn and needles you are using, and with your individual tension, how you hold the yarn, so it will not be the same as the person sitting next to you, even if you are using the exact same materials.

A little math:

Imagine you are making a sweater.  If the pattern calls for 5 stitches to the inch, but you are knitting at 4.5 sts/in (knitters love abbreviations, have you noticed?) and you multiply that by the 200 stitches you need for your sweater.  What can seem like a small difference is suddenly 4″, the difference between it fits or it doesn’t.  It follows that the bigger and/or more fitted the project you are making is, the more important it is to know what your gauge is going to be before you start.  I nearly always make a sample square to test gauge before I start, a big one (maybe a foot square) for an important project, and a smaller one for something that’s easier to take out and start over.

How to measure your gauge:

Each “V” or tiny mountain is one stitch.  Line your ruler up with the starting line between two stitches.  Count the stitches (it helps to have a spare needle or something else smaller than your finger to count with).  If you count over more stitches you’ll get a more accurate measurement, especially if you have halves or quarter stitches in each inch, so count over 2″ or 4″ or however many you can in your sample, and then divide to get your number of stitches per inch.  When measuring, take your sample off the needles, or slide it onto the center cable if you are using a circular needle, or bind it off if you want to keep it.  You can see here how the needle is holding the stitches apart, taking the sample off changes the measurement by 1/2 stitch per inch!

If your gauge is not the same as the gauge in your pattern, you have a couple of options.  One is to try to loosen or tighten your gauge, usually by using a bigger or smaller needle.  If you knit loosely, there’s a good chance this won’t work very well, but you can tighten your stitches by keeping them packed closely together on the needle as you knit each one.  Use a finger on your right hand to keep them from spreading out, and thus using more yarn for each stitch.  This fabulous tip is from Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, by way of Cat Bordhi in her amazing workshop earlier this year (Sweet Tomato Heel workshop, from whence these socks)!

Your other option is to do a little more math.  If you like how your sample looks and think it’s a good thickness and drape for your project, you can figure out the finished size of your project by diving the number of stitches suggested in your pattern by the suggested gauge.  That will give you the size in inches, which you can multiply by your personal gauge to get a new total number of stitches.  Be aware that if you choose this option, you may have to make more adjustments as you go, you might need more or fewer decreases, etc.  Knitting lends itself to experimentation (and taking out small sections, then trying them again) so go for it!

Which leads me to my last point – gauge is all in how you see it.  Yarns knit tighter will yield a thicker and stiffer fabric, which might be great for a cowl that stands up on your shoulders and keeps you warm.  The same yarn knit much looser might make a lacy, drapey scarf.  Or it might not, depending on other characteristics like the fiber and the way it was spun.  Try a little bit and see!

If you are interested, here is the breakdown of the things I made and their gauge.  All were knit by me, the yarn is Fiesta Boomerang (100% superwash Merino, I looked it up and they still make it, although not in this colorway).  The small curved sample and the feet of the socks (which I knit along with a mohair & silk yarn, another awesome tip from Cat’s workshop) are both 5.5 – 6 sts/inch, which for my taste is about ideal for this yarn.  The legs of the socks (pre-that tip about squishing the stitches together) are about 5 sts/inch, or would be if they weren’t ribbing.  The tight square sample was made in preparation for the lace mitt (the tube-looking thing), the tightest I could get this yarn was 8.5 sts/in.  It did make a very firm and stretchy ribbing!  By the way, the gauge suggested on the label was 4.5 sts/in – I don’t know where they get those, but they are often way off what I think is reasonable.  A better guide is the weight of the yarn, especially if you are looking to substitute for another yarn suggested in a pattern.

If you think of anything I haven’t covered, feel free to ask!