July 24, 2011

Scary Socks

I know many beginners who get stuck on knitting a gazillion scarves or blankets simply because they don't believe the have what it takes to complete other projects that appear substantially more complicated. The problem with these 'safe' and simple projects is that there are only so much you need and can give away but more importantly knitting confidence is built by challenging yourself a little more each time. Many sock phase out their commercial socks in favor of persomally made ones. Just think of all the techniques you'd need to master to do a variety of different pairs!

How should I pick my first pattern?

For your first sock, find a plain (stockinette stitch or garter stitch) pattern with sport or worsted weight yarn like this cuff down pattern "Socks 101" by Larissa Brown or this "Simple Toe Up Anklets" by Rachel Calado (the only thing I'd change for beginners is that I'd use a set of double pointed needles -- dpns -- instead). Either pattern will knit up quick and give you the basic construction techniques to build the confidence to work on more complex sock patterns. After you complete your first plain pair (or two pairs --- one of each technique), most other sock patterns will then just add different stitch patterns which depend on your experience level.

Toe Up or Cuff Down? --- Does it matter?

In a nutshell, no. There are two methods for constructing your own socks that basically depend on which end you start at, cuff down or toe up. Neither method is more complicated but typically knitters will have a clear preferance because of the techniques involved that can be initially scary and very different for the aspiring sock knitter. Top down socks you'll have to deal with Kitchener stitch, picking up stitches and gussets where as toe up you'll probably deal with short rows and basic increases/decreases. Youtube is the best for visual learning but also check out techknitter's blog --- she's great for preventing/correcting issues and multiple variations.

Either direction you work the sock, you'll be knitting in the round with double pointed needles (dpns) or circular needles (magic loop method uses one circular needle or you can use two circular needles). I recommend starting with dpns. Frequently knitters use two circular needles to knit two socks at the same time. Although this method may seem slow, your socks are garenteed to match row for row. Less known, dpns can actually be used to knit two socks at a time, one inside the other and this looks really cool (check out my youtube links to see what that looks like and how to do other techniques).

Where do I go from here?
When you feel ready after completing your first pair of plain socks, I highly recommend looking into the following designers/books. As with any other pattern, make sure you have all the errata before you start. Some patterns will not have errata printed but you'll find it in project notes of other completed projects on Ravelry -- just sort the patterns by helpful notes first. Also you might also find pattern modications or color schemes you haven't thought of but prefer.

  • Cookie A wrote a couple of amazing books (Sock Innovation and recently published, Knit. Sock. Love.) and some of the designs are stellar if you're comfortable or want to be comfortable with lace and cables. I love her explanations on construction and inspiration.
  • The Joy of Socks is one of my favorite sock books. It's a collection from mulitple designers and the patterns use a multitued of different techniques garenteed to build your knitting skills.
  • The free eZine Knitty has some great ones as well: Here are a few:

July 23, 2011

Book Review: The Essential Stitch Collection

The Essential Stitch Collection: A Creative Guide to the 300 Stitches Every Knitter Really Needs to Know by Lesley Stanfield and Melody Griffiths

There are many stitch guides on the market but this one really sets itself apart from the rest not just in design but the variety of techniques in the visually pleasing stitch patterns available. Here is a list of the features I loved:

  • Each chapter has a gallery of images of all the stitches found in that chapter. It's great for comparing what's available to get the best possible pattern for your project.
  • The stitches are not so similar like other stitch guides; you'll see how to achieve different affects so you can produce your own variations. I love their chapter of unusual stitch patterns and celtic knot patterns in the stranded/intarsia section.
  • There is a good basic section on how to include the patterns in your own designs including how to deal with shaping.
  • There is a pull out flap at the end of the book with a list of abbreviations you'll see in the chart keys. Speaking of chart keys, there is a sharred key on the bottom of each left page for each different symbol used on the two facing pages (which sometimes spills into the right page depending on how many symbols are used). This is great for beginners or even the advance knitter who might forget the abbreviations of less used techniques. 
I would have liked to see borders but one of the authors has already written a book on borders and trimmings. Check it out, I'm giving it 5 of 5 stars easy.

July 19, 2011

A Magical Fairwell

This week marks the end of one of the most popular movie series of all time, Harry Potter. To celebrate the finale, many fiber enthusiasts are showing their love for the series by coming up with some truly amazing patterns, some with really innovated techniques. Even if you are a casual knitter, check out these patterns and challenge yourself to make something different and fun.

Best of Hand Knits
If you haven't seen some of the work by Steve Plummer of Wooly Thoughts, you're missing out. At first glance head on, it looks like an ordinary striped blanket but then as you continue passing by, it catches the corner of your eye and an amazing photo realistic image appears as if by magic. The technique is surprisingly simple. Strategically placed purls on plain stockinette striped fabric create this effect. He has five Harry Potter designs among others, you just have to check them out. Prices for his patterns vary but his website has free tutorials for designing your own which is very cool

Although I haven't seen any images or looked deeply into it, it appears Terry Bradford has tried converting a couple of Steve's Harry Potter patterns into crochet. It might be worth looking into if you strongly prefer crochet.

Best of Crochet

Todd Paschall founded a technique called crochet by numbers. These pieces are gorgeous and photo realistic at any angle. I has done portraits in crochet of several famous people and since added several stunning nature scenes. There is a great article in Crochet Today about him and how it began. What does this have to do with Harry Potter? One of his fans, Lee Mac (totallee) who is also a fan of Harry Potter figured out her own method for generating these amazing patterns (unfortunately both have kept details of their designing methods a secret). All of her patterns are free and she does offer her own technique tips in addition to the tutorials on Todd's site along with many stunning gallery images. She also has a Ravelry group dedicated to this method.

Megan McDuffee has her own method and wrote how to crochet your very own photo realistic Harry Potter blanket (or whoever else you wish to snuggle up in). Details can be found in her pattern page for her. Harry Potter Blanket

A Few Smaller Projects with Great Appeal
Here are a few smaller projects I found on Ravelry that I absolutely love (*Free PDF or Website):
If you're looking to make something but are willing to 

July 16, 2011

Bridal Lelah Modifications

After trying it on I decided a straight tube top isn't flattering for my body type so I changed to my liking. Here is a list of the mods:

Provisional cast on and bound it off with a picot bind off for extra stretch.

No elastic in the hem, no ribbon in eyelets (I was considering a monk cord but it ended up looking like country embroidery with purple yarn --- not good for a wedding)

Bust darts (12 short rows total; six stitches out from the beginning of round and halfway marker then every 3 stitch)

1 cm hem up on the very top sewn with no fold line.

Sweetheart or light v-shaped bust by using a gather. In the very middle of the bust, I threaded up every 5th row between one column of stitches and back down the other side of that column of stitches. When I tried it on, I adjusted gather by removing both bottom stitches and tied the yarn inside to the desired gathered tension. I'm very happy I did short row shaping because this after thought gather caused the front to ride up a bit.

I added straps that cross in the back based on the bra I'm wearing for the wedding (the back of the bra straps actually are detachable). When I hemmed the top, I skipped the stitches where the strap would be by sewing into the purl bumps and continued along. The are 10 sts wide in St st (the first of the 10 is slipped every row for a neater edge).

I did add a short tube for my strap to fit in so the straps would always cover my bra (see right). To knit the tube I added 2 sts and joined in the round. When I switched back to rows, I decreased two stitches. While hemming, I reserved 5 sts in the back which ended up being too thin overall for the back because of the bra clips. I kept the straps the same 10 sts across till the very end where I did a row of k2tog across, purled a row then grafted them together. I used techknitter's kitchener stitch with knitting needles for the grafting. If you haven't tried it, it works great especially if you don't have a tapestry needle handy.

July 06, 2011

H is for Hospital

9:50a It's a beautiful sunny morning by Okanagan lake with a comfortable breeze and a babbling fountain. Unfortunately I'm not here with my boys having an ice cream. Instead also in the background are buses changing and lively conversations. H is the letter on my transfer today as I wait to transfer to my next bus that will take me to the hospital to check out my kidneys. I've had issues with them since last September.

10:25a I'm now in the waiting room.I thought with all the waiting I'd be doing that I'd be getting so much more done but knitting in public is like wearing a sign saying, "Talk to me! I'm approachable." People are genuinely interested in what I'm working on and the conversations that spring off of that seem to go in any direction. It's not common for people to knit their own wedding dress.

4:45p I'm now home with a clean bill of health -- no follow up necessary.

I'm excited because I'm very close to finishing my Bridal Lelah top -- I can't wait! Also, I was reading the current issue Vogue Knitting and I found out there is a new HBO series called "The Knitting Circle" starring Kathrine Heigl. I looked for a pilot date but so far I haven't found anything. There is also a movie due to release in 2013 called "The Friday Night Knitting Club." Julia Roberts is supposed to be involved but it wasn't specified if she is producing or acting. I think it's right up her alley and knitting could use some more great publicity.

June 30, 2011

Designer Stitch Markers for Hand Knits

This morning I felt inspired to make some designer stitch markers similar to those you see in fancy yarn boutiques. I pulled out some nylon coated stainless steel beading wire, some gemstone beads (rose quartz, hematite, sunstone), wire cutters (or nail clippers), crimping beads and pliers. Here is the end result:

June 25, 2011

Bridal Lelah: The Swatch

One of my least favorite tasks when starting a project is producing an accurate swatch. Many times I've compared the yard/gram ratio and picked a yarn that matched almost exactly. Since I want consistency in the yarn I chose for my wedding attire, that would not work for this pattern. Besides, it's a recipe pattern which means you knit a swatch and it tells you how to calculate the pattern so it fits you perfectly. No fussing with letter sizes or a schematic.

If your pattern is knit in the round your swatch needs to be knit in the round. If you don't like fussing around with dpns and want a relatively quick swatch that appears to be knitted flat, you can knit your swatch on circular needles. This method is like knitting an i-cord only with a hell of a lot more stitches. When you get to the end of your row you slide your stitches to the other end of the circular knitting and continue knitting with the right side facing you.

Unlike the i-cord, you'll carry yarn across much like a very long float in fair isle color knitting. Don't pull the string too tight or you'll strain your hands with every stitch. Also as you knit, your end stitches will be very distorted so make sure you knit about 10 extra stitches on each end or in this case I did an extra lace repeat on each end.

When your swatch is long enough, tighten the looser end stitches working bottom up with every float then cut the float in the middle so you can lay your swatch flat. I tied the end fringes together to make sure it stayed together. So finally my swatch is done. Here is what it looks like pre-blocking.

Last night, after I washed, blocked and dried it, I measured my gauge in a couple areas to make sure I have an accurate SPI count. I then calculated out the pattern and voila! It's ready to knit. I did my provisional cast on so today I can start fresh with the lace. I'm excited. Happy knitting!

June 18, 2011

Correcting your Tension in Hand Knits

Since I usually knit in the round and rarely purl (if I do it's sporadic, usually in lace), my tension during purl stitches have loosened up over the past year. Some knitters knit looser while other purl looser. The affect can be shown in the following photos. 

The first photo is the affect that uneven knitting has on the right side of stockinette. Some "V" stitches are longer than the row above. On the back side the uneven stitches are even more pronounced with visible rows. I searched google for a solution and answers ranged across the board:

I remember a while back someone online said it would block out but this simply did NOT happen for me. Maybe overtime it would but till then, my knitting would look sloppy. Not what I was looking for.

  • use a different stitch that doesn't highlight your uneven knitting (this can alter your over all gauge)
  • knit in the round and go seamless (not always possible)
  • use two different sized needles; the smaller sized needle for the type you knit looser (essentially a crutch) 
  • figure out which stitch you knit looser and consciously change your tension until your tension change is satisfactory. This is the most timely solution, possibly the most frustrating, and can be the hardest but it isn't a quick fix or avoidance like the others. 
So how do you figure out which is looser, your knit or purl? The method I liked best was on knittsing's blog. Essentially you cast on about 20 or so stitches and knit a swatch with alternating color bands, 4 rows each, carrying the color loosely up the side (I preferred using 6 rows).

When you're done bind off and turn your swatch so the rev St st side is facing you. Stick a needle or pin in the ridge then turn your swatch to the St st side. If it's in an odd row (1,3,5) than your knit stitches are loose. If it's in an even row (2,4,6) than your purl stitches are loose.

After that I'd practice a bit with your new tension without distraction until it becomes second nature. Problem solved. Swatching and figuring out which stitch I made looser took about 15 minutes. Playing with my yarn tension and practicing afterwards took probably another 20 minutes but the tension is sticking and it showed in my work.

After I corrected my tension using this method, the backside lost the visible gaps between rows and the front looked even.

June 14, 2011

Shrug Modified

Gauge: 5 sts per inch
Needle: Set of 5 #6 Dps

Using crochet provisional cast on, cast on 56 sts; 14 sts per needle.
Tip: put a stopper on the beginning of round needle. Whenever you get back to that dpn, you have to move the stopper to the end of the working dpn, which makes it easier not to forget to count that row.

Knit 4 rounds ending the last round 1 st before marker, m1r, k1.
Next Round: k1, m1L. [58]
Repeat last 5 rounds 6 more times. [70]

Knit 6 rounds ending the last round 1 st before marker, m1r, k1.
Next Round: k1, m1L. [72]
Repeat last 7 rounds 2 more times. [76]

Knit 7 rounds.

Switch to rows and continue St st until about 25" across. Check out my blog entry on tension.

Knit 7 rounds.

First round: k to 1 st before marker, ssk, k1.
Next Round: k1, k2tog knit to marker. [74]
Knit 5 rounds.
Repeat last 7 rounds 2 more times. [70]

First round: k to 1 st before marker, ssk, k1.
Next round: k1, k2tog knit to marker. [68]
Knit 3 rounds.
Repeat last 5 rounds 6 more times. [56]

Key: [ ] K   [~] P   [O] YO

Work rows 1-9 of lace chart. Repeat rows 5-9 until cuff is desired length (approximatively 4"). Cast off in picot bind off.

Remove provisional cast on on other arm and work rows 1-9 of lace chart. Repeat rows 5-9 until cuff is desired length (approximately 4"). Cast off in picot bind off.

Weave in ends; block as desired.

Yes to the Dress!

Rather than going for a traditional dress, I'm knitting a skirt and a top. I found a pattern a while back called Intolerable Cruelty that I absolutely love. Although it is nice enough for a wedding I prefer the traditional floor length where you can't see your shoes. I started knitting it on the first this month but I approached my knee length, I needed to figure out how I wanted my skirt to end. I needed inspiration and I needed it fast. So back track a bit, and my dad surprised me with a Groupon a couple weeks ago for my favorite local yarn store. Art of Yarn has so many different books and patterns that my local bookstores just don't carry --- tons of potential. As I was flipping through Annie Modesitt's book, Romantic Hand Knits the pages... there it was. A floor length white skirt called Now Voyager that I couldn't see the model's toes. Perfect! So here is my list of modifications:

  • Because of the yarn I choose and my gauge, I knit the pattern using the 1X instructions.
  • Instead of reverse stockinette stitch for the pack panel, I just knit through the back loop.
  • In the last decrease row of the shaping, rather than decrease by four stitches, I decreased by two stitches. This gave me a stitch count of 252 which allowed me to start at band 3 of the Now Voyager pattern. Beware: I made the mistake of starting on band 2 forgetting that 252 is the stitch count after completing the increases for band 2.
  • I don't like the slip stitch rectangular detail on the skirt so to make it plain stockinette like the top of the skirt, I just knit where it said to slip the stitch. 
I currently am working on band 7. Since each band has a different amount of rows, I don't know how many more I will have to knit. I'm also not sure I'm a fan of the picot hem on the bottom so I might be looking for a neat crochet edging detail when I get there with the left over crochet cotton I have from my necklace. I've tried it on and I'm loving it so far. I can see myself wearing this skirt over and although I may dye it a different color after the wedding.

The only errata for Now Voyager is the gauge information wasn't provided. If you like her other patterns make sure you check for errata because although there are a lot of nice patterns to knit, there are lots of mistakes in her book and lots of knitters found her personal jargon confusing at times. Anytime you start a new pattern you should be checking two things: for any errata or designer notes not included in the pattern and Ravelry finished projects for that particular pattern -- especially for modifications you might like or notes others have voted helpful. It can save you a lot of time and heartache. Often I find there are some knitters who have done a better job at making their piece fit better than the official models.

Bottom line: I merged these patterns because I like the simplicity in stitch work; I can knit this skirt relatively quick with two kidlets under 2.5 years before the big day. Also, rather than emphasize stitch detail, I emphasized shaping. The ribbon corset on the back is the quick but more importantly, beautiful detail I was hoping for. Most lace skirt patterns I found were shapeless or too complicated. Since the bottom part of my shirt is lace, I didn't want to over do the lace and look like an over sized doily. I wanted to be consistent in the yarn I am using for both pieces and the patterns I chose allow that.