General, Knitting Know How

How to work a provisional cast on

Nicky Barfoot presents

Provisional cast ons are a fabulous way of deferring decisions, creating symmetry and producing a cast on edge that mirrors a cast off edge if kept permanent. Let me explain a little more before I show you how I do a crochet chain provisional cast on.

Deferring Decisions

One of the frustrations of working a bottom up design, let’s say a sweater, is that a firm decision needs to be made on the cast on edge and the welt before the main body of the sweater is worked. If one has done their sketching and sampling this should not prove to be a problem but for those of us who have a plan but are easily persuaded to “I wonder what would happen if I just did this …..” half way through said plan, it is near on impossible to change the welt (design, length etc) after the main body has been worked. This is where the provisional cast on really comes into its own. If you have an idea of the main part of the sweater but wish to defer a decision on the welt until the end, you can cast on provisionally, work the body upwards and then come back to the cast on edge, release the stitches and work the welt downwards. Brilliant!

Creating Symmetry

Sometimes a stitch pattern needs to be worked in a certain direction to create the desired effect. Where a mirror image of the stitch pattern is required to complete another side the provisional cast on is, once again, your friend. A great example of this is my leaf and lace scarf design. The way to achieve the leaf motif at both ends of the scarf is to cast on provisionally at the centre back neck and work one side of the scarf to the motif. You then return to the provisional cast on, release the stitches, and work the other side of the scarf down to the leaf motif thereby creating a symmetrical design.

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Leaf and Lace scarf. Pattern available in my Etsy Shop here

A decorative cast on edge

As the provisional cast on I am going to show you is a crochet chain, it can look rather decorative especially where teamed with a cast off (also effectively a crochet chain) and/or when worked in a contrast colour. Of course in these circumstances the cast on is no longer provisional but permanent, however it is worked in the same way. I have just finished designing this hat (pattern to come soon once test knitting is completed) where I have used this effect.

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Permanent “provisional cast on” teamed with cast off stripes

So, now to the knitty gritty:

How to work a provisional cast on

  1. Using smooth waste yarn and a suitable sized crochet hook start a single crochet chain and work a few repeats (the number is irrelevant here as the cast on has yet to begin). It is really useful if the waste yarn contrasts well with the main yarn as it will make it easier to see when releasing the stitches at the end. Smooth yarns also help prevent snagging, catching and splitting when releasing the chain. I often use a mercerised cotton in a light colour.

    Crochet chain
    Working a few repeats of a crochet chain before starting the cast on over the needle.
  2. Introduce your knitting needle and begin to work the crochet chains over the top of the needle. It is a bit fiddly at first but once you get a rhythm going and remember to swing the working yarn behind the needle again after each chain is pulled through it becomes easier.
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    Start to crochet the chains over the top of the knitting  needle for the cast on stitches.

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    Continue until the correct number of stitches are over the knitting needle.
  3. Continue working the required number of chains over the knitting needle until the correct cast on number has been reached. If the cast on is going to be removed at a later date i.e. it is provisional, then continue for a few crochet chains more without the knitting needle before cutting the yarn and pulling through the final chain. Don’t pull too tightly as this will be undone later.

    provisional cast on 3
    After all cast on stitches have been worked, continue the crochet chain for a few stitches before breaking yarn and pulling through.

If the cast on is going to be permanent then obviously it is worked in the correct yarn for the garment. There is no need to work additional stitches at each end of the chain and the last chain loop created is the last cast on stitch and gets slipped onto the knitting needle.

Once all the stitches are in place, knitting can begin using the correct yarn for the garment. When it comes to unravelling the provisional cast on, the tail end of the yarn is slipped back through the last chain and gently pulled. The chain will unravel leaving the first row of garment stitches live, one by one, which need to be carefully placed on to a knitting needle as they appear. Care needs to be taken not to twist the stitches as you put them on to the needle and I suggest counting as you go to ensure you don’t miss any. Once all of the stitches are on the needle, work can commence in the opposite direction.

I hope you found this tutorial helpful. Provisional cast ons are such a useful tool to get the hang of and I use them a lot so I encourage you to get practicing. I have shown you my favourite way of doing this cast on. However, if you don’t get on with this method there are others so please don’t give up as a bit of research will reveal another way which might suit you better.

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General, Knitting Know How

How to work Short Row Shaping

The wonderful thing about knitting your own fabric is the ability to shape and manipulate it as you go. One of the methods to do this is called Short Row Shaping. Simply put, short rows are areas of the knitting where incomplete rows are worked to create more volume than elsewhere in the fabric. This results in a curved or shaped section, with perhaps the most obvious example being the heel of a sock when knitted in the round.

Why Short Rows?

As well as creating a heel, short rows have many other uses:

  • Shoulder shaping without the stepped effect of the more usual cast off method.
  • A colour work technique creating non linear areas of colour.
  • Adding three dimensional texture effects.
  • Knitting Circles and other curvy 2 dimensional shapes

Working a short row shoulder

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Short row shoulder shaping

A common way to create the slope of a shoulder seam in a sweater is to cast off a certain number of stitches every other row in a stepped fashion as shown in the top diagram. So for example, over 20 stitches, for a right slant, 5sts are cast off at the beginning of each wrong side row four times.

Using short rows, the same slant could be achieved by working 15sts on the first right side row (leaving 5 sts unworked), turning and working back on those 15 sts. On the next right side row, only 10sts would be worked (leaving 10sts unworked), turning and working back on those 10sts. On the next RS row, 5 sts are worked (leaving 15sts unworked), turned and 5sts worked back. On the final RS row all of the 20sts are once again worked, and then all 20sts are cast off on the next row. This achieves a smooth slant versus the stepped one in the first example.

Read on for more clarification on how to do this.

Creating non linear areas of colour

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Short rows used for colour work.

The photo above shows a short row panel on the front of one of my sweater designs. Here I have used short rows to create non linear areas of different colour and texture. “Stripes” can take on a whole new meaning!

Three dimensional texture stitches

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A textural stitch created using short rows

The blue section in the photo above shows a lovely textured bobble stitch which is created using short rows to add volume to parts of the fabric. It can be seen from this example that a hole/gaping stitch is visible at the start and finish of the bobbles. In this particular design, this is desirable and forms part of the overall texture. However, as you can imagine, a holey stitch in a shaped area of stocking stitch e.g. on the shoulder shaping or the colour work examples above, would not be desirable. Thankfully there is a method to prevent those elongated, gaping stitches from occurring. This is called “wrap and turn“.

How to Wrap and turn

On a Knit side:

  • Knit the required number of stitches to the turning point (so using the e.g. of the shoulder shaping above it would be knit 15sts).
  • Slip the next stitch purlwise to the right needle. Bring the yarn to the front between the needles (diagram 1). Return the slipped stitch to the left needle over the top of the working yarn. Bring the working yarn to the back between the needles, ready to purl. Turn the work and purl back. One stitch has been wrapped (W1) (diagram 2).
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Diagram 1, beginning the wrap (on the 16th stitch)
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Diagram 2, the wrapped stitch (stitch 16) showing the horizontal bar across it. The work is now turned and the purl row worked on these 15 stitches.
  • When it is time to work across the wrapped stitch in a later row, the horizontal bar which is visible across it will be hidden by working it together with the wrapped stitch (diagram 3).
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Diagram 3, working the wrapped stitch (stitch 16) knitwise

On a Purl side:

  • Purl to the turning point.
  • Slip the next stitch purlwise to the right needle. Bring the yarn to the back of the work. Return the slipped stitch to the left needle. Bring the yarn to the front between the needles. Turn the work to knit back. One stitch has been wrapped.
  • When it is time to hide the wrap on a subsequent purl row, work to the wrapped stitch. Use the tip of the right needle to pick up the turning yarn from the back. Place it on the left needle (diagram 4) and purl it together with the wrapped stitch.
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Diagram 4, working the wrapped stitch purlwise

This is the basis for the wrap and turn method of short row shaping. I hope this post has given you the confidence to give it a try. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll never have a bulky shoulder seam ever again!

I am teaching a workshop on this technique at the Ashcroft Arts Centre in Fareham (Hampshire) on Saturday 7th October where we shall be using short rows to knit a circle (diagram 5). If you are in the area and you would like to come along, booking is available on their website here. It would be lovely to see you!

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Diagram 5, the short row wheel sample we shall be making on 7th October

If you have anything you would like to share about short rows or this post generally, please do leave a comment.

 

General, Knitting Know How

How to knit a Mitred (mitered) Square (or modular knitting made easy)

I have recently reignited my love of modular knitting (also known as domino or mitred knitting), and have quickly remembered how satisfying it is to work in bite size pieces while creating knitted items with wonderful drape courtesy of the resulting bias in the fabric. This post is an accompaniment to a modular scarf workshop that I had the pleasure of teaching last month at the Ashcroft Arts Centre in Fareham and is intended as an aide memoir to those lovely ladies who attended and also as a beginners guide for those who would like to experiment with a different method of knitted garment construction.

The term “modular” refers to any type of knitting where modules are made individually and the next module is created from the previous one by picking up and knitting stitches from it. However, it is most often used to describe the specific method of creating a module by decreasing a cast on number of stitches until only one remains. Various shapes can be created by the placement and number of the decreases, the simplest being the mitred square module in garter stitch.

Knitting a garter square module

To create this simple square, an odd number of stitches are cast on. This cast on edge will create two of the edges of the resulting square, with the centre stitch the corner. A stitch marker comes in very handy when working the modules as it can be used to mark the centre stitch. For each right side row, two stitches are decreased either side of and absorbed into this centre stitch using an appropriate decrease. One that I particularly like for this as it has a non directional appearance and an aesthetically pleasing little bump in the centre (hence easy to spot if it accidentally begins to wander off), is the centred double decrease or s2kp.  This is worked by slipping two stitches together knitwise, knitting the next stitch, and then passing the two slipped stitches over. The result is two stitches decreased.  This is continued until only one stitch, the centre stitch, remains and the result is that the initial cast on edge is gradually brought in towards that stitch, thereby creating a square.

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How to knit a mitered square

Once the square has been completed the next one can be joined to it by picking up and knitting the stitches along the top of the finished square for one side of the new module, and then casting on the remaining stitches to form the second side of the new module. The process is then repeated.

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A diagram showing an example pick up from the top of a square module

The diagram above shows how a second square module with the same bias direction can be created from the top of the first.

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Picking up modules from squares placed as diamonds

Of course, squares can also be turned on their sides to form diamonds and in this case the centred decrease is now a vertical element. When a module is created in between the two below, the pick up occurs down one side of the first module and up the side of the next, with the centre stitch in the corner where those two modules touch, as shown in the photo above.

While mitred modules in garter stitch create squares, other stitches such as stocking stitch, create a more elongated diamond shape. It is great fun experimenting with these to see what happens and what design possibilities these shapes present.

Scallops

If three or four decreases are placed along the cast on edge, the module begins to curve. This is the modular construction technique I used to create my Sparkle design which was awarded second place in the Rowan international design competition a few years back.

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A scalloped shape modular design

So, as you can see, modular knitting is a versatile method of knitted fabric construction which, due to its bias, can create very flattering garments.

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“Did you tell them why it’s called Weimwood, Mommy?”

For those of you who wish to take your mitred squares to the next level, I have just published a modular shawl pattern called “Weimwood” (so named as it was inspired by and conceived during my daily runs with the Velcro dog around the local woods) which uses mitred squares and triangles in three different 4ply yarns (sock yarn is fabulous for this design) and in different sizes to create an eye catching asymmetrical pattern.  The modules are worked in garter stitch with a simple eyelet pattern along the bottom of each and the shawl is finished off with a classic picot cast off edging.

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Weimwood shawl pattern

The pattern is available in my Etsy shop as a digital download and can be purchased here.

I hope this post has inspired you to have a go at modular knitting. As you might have gathered, I’m a huge fan so I would love to have passed on a little bit of my modular addiction to you.

Until next time, happy knitting.

General, Knitting Know How

How to measure knitting tension (or how to avoid disappointment 50 hours later)

Hello and as promised, welcome to a post all about tension.

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Nooo, not the T word!

Tension has many meanings in modern life and while this one may not cause muscle spasm (although that depends on how tight you have knitted it!) it can cause headaches. I’m sure many of you have occasionally wondered after a huge time and financial investment, how come this garment that definitely said it would fit your bust size appears to have been created for a small child (or indeed, a giant).

Whenever I mention tension and tension squares in my workshops, the utterance gets met by a rolling of the eyes and a groan from my attendees. After all we have the yarn, we have the pattern and we are desperate to get stuck in to the knitty goodness that lies therein. The last thing we want to do is knit one or multiple samples before we can get going on the dream project. Believe me, I get that, but my counter would be, what is an hour or so of initial investment to ensure that the 50 plus hours of garment construction isn’t wasted. Tension explorations can be entertaining in themselves and once viewed as part of the project rather than an obstacle to hurdle are a habit well worth forming (honest!).

So why do we need to measure tension? The pattern has told us what it is, the ball band has confirmed that we have an appropriate yarn for this project, where is the problem?  It is useful to remember that the tension given on any pattern is that of the designer. They may have a very different knitting style and technique to yourself. One person’s 22 stitches to 30 rows on 4mm needles may measure quite differently to someone else’s, and our own tensions change depending on such things as needles (e.g. a metal needle might result in a different tension to bamboo due to the difference in friction), the weather, if we have had a stressful day, whether it is gin o’clock, etc etc.

Am I convincing you yet? Before you start any project where size matters take the time to knit a sample(s) in the main stitch(es) used in the pattern. Modern patterns use 10cm square as the standard measure of gauge (4 inches in US patterns). The way I tackle this is, using the stated pattern tension as a starting point, I get the needles I am intending to make the project with (as mentioned before, even if the needles are the same size they may not result in the same tension) and cast on the number of stitches to 10cm given by the pattern and then add some either side so that my sample is big enough for an accurate measure to be taken, away from the edges where tension is often different to elsewhere. Let’s say I was looking at a DK yarn with a stated stocking stitch tension of 22sts x 30rows, I would probably cast on 30sts. I would work the 30 rows plus a few more (ideally I’d do about 40 rows), again so tension isn’t skewed by cast on and cast off.

A good argument for having a number of projects on the go at the same time is that after creating your tension square you don’t rush to get the ruler out straight away. The square needs to be allowed to relax and settle as fresh off the needles can be a very different tension to after it has been washed/worn for the first time. So, ideally, the tension square gets treated to a care routine similar to that which the final garment will undergo. A gentle squish about in a bowl of warm water with a few drops of the washing liquid you use for your woollens, followed by a rinse and a gentle laying out on a flat surface (blocking mats or ironing board) to allow to dry overnight is ideal. If you really can’t wait 24 hours plus then you might get away with a damp cloth and a steam iron on wool to help the stitches to settle. Don’t force the damp fabric to conform to your measurements at this stage but let it find its own tension i.e. don’t measure and pin, gently smooth out and leave.  As you can see, having another project to pick up to keep those hands busy while you wait is a good distraction.

Measuring knitting tension

Right, let’s get down to the actual measurements. In the pictures you will see a sample square (not big enough I hasten to add!) on which I have measured 10cm across with a ruler (better than a tape measure for this because it is more rigid) and placed pins to mark this distance (there is a slight distortion on the left hand side of the picture which makes it look like the pin is 2mm in from the start of the measurement, please ignore this as it is due to the buckling caused by pinning and a slightly dodgy camera angle).

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 Measuring the tension of a DK sample square

If I count the number of stitches between the two pins it comes out at 22. If I was working with a more textured yarn I would be wise to repeat this process at different places across the width of the sample and take an average of at least three readings. However, as this is a lovely smooth yarn, one measurement is possibly enough as the fabric is very even.

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DK sample tension square

I would repeat the process with the rows, and in this case I get 31 rows. Be warned that half stitches (and rows) matter with tension squares and shouldn’t be ignored or rounded. Remember that you are working on a 10cm sample where half a stitch might not make a big difference. However, if you multiply that up to a sweater circumference for example, those half stitches will add up and could be quite significant.

If your measurements come out the same as the pattern instructions then it is all systems go. However, if they don’t then it’s back to the needle bag again and trying out a different size. If you have too few stitches then try a smaller needle. If you have too many stitches then try a bigger needle. And repeat……..

A final point about tension is a reminder that different stitches have different properties (and of course designers use this to shape knitted fabric). In the stitch sampler shown below, all of the stitches have been worked on the same number of stitches and rows and you can see from the result that they have varying tension.

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Stitch sampler worked on 26stitches and 14 rows per stitch type.

In particular you can see from this that garter stitch is a much fatter stitch than the others shown, producing less height for its 14 rows and rib creates a narrower fabric for the same number of stitches (which is of course one of the reasons why it is often used at the base of sweaters, sleeves etc to stop them from sagging and bagging).

So, to summarise, tension squares are a good investment of your time. However, I shall leave you with a word of warning. It is also worth checking tension from time to time as you work through your project. The increasing weight of the work as you progress can change the tension (as can relaxing into the project and getting the hang of the pattern etc) so it is worth keeping a regular check on it. So while the square is a good start, it is only the guide to get you knitting. Monitoring progress is also well worth the time (not least as I know people who have mistakenly picked up the wrong needle part way through a project and not noticed until a long way down the line when they have realised that the garment size changed part way through).

I hope that this post has been helpful and/or encouraged you to think of your tension before you start your next project. Best of luck developing your new habit. You will thank me for it (you are welcome!).

 

 

Knitting Know How

The Importance of Ball Bands (or holding it all together and entertaining bored pooches).

This year I am introducing some short tutorial style knitting know how articles based on some of the questions that come up during my workshops, partly as a place of reminder and reference for those who attend the Knit Ins and also perhaps as an “Ah Ha” moment or a reminder for those more experienced for whom the collection of hints and tips might make their knitting life a little easier.

The first of these is all about that piece of paper that holds your ball of yarn in a nice neat bundle just before you rip into it to indulge in the yarny goodness held within. Yep, I’m talking about the ball band.

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“What? Those bits of paper I steal and rip up actually have some use?”

While they all look slightly different due to branding etc, ball bands all have the same basic information displayed somewhere on them. Here is a typical example from Jamieson’s.

ball-band

Probably the first thing you will need to know when searching for your yarn is what exactly are you holding in your hands? Somewhere on the band it should tell you what the yarn is made from, in this case 100% Pure Shetland Wool. This is very important information as different yarn types have different characteristics when knitted into a garment so if you are substituting yarns in a pattern, unless you use a similar type of yarn as the original design you might get a very different result e.g. drape, stitch definition, hold of shape etc. While not necessarily a bad thing as a design can be transformed into something new and exciting just by using a cotton for example in place of a wool, be prepared for a bit of experimentation first before investing in the entire garment.

The next thing I would be most interested in is the tension, and that is given on the band usually by a square grid with numbers along the sides. The grid tells you how many stitches and rows knitted in stocking stitch it typically takes to create a 10cm (4in) square of knitting using the recommended needle size, also given somewhere near by. Sometimes the name of the yarn will suggest what weight it is e.g. if it is a DK, aran or 4ply for example but often the tension and needle size is your clue to this. In the example I have given above, the 3.25mm recommended needles and tension of 30sts to 32 rows suggests to me that I am dealing with a light 4ply as these numbers fall within the usual range for that yarn weight. Now of course these tension numbers are just a guideline. We all have our own unique tensions when knitting and one person’s 30/32 on 3.25mm can measure quite differently to another persons as can the same person using metal needles versus wooden ones etc. So, the numbers give you a guide but unfortunately you still need to work your own tension square before you can safely embark on a project. A post dedicated to the joys of the tension square will be coming shortly.

Other important information given on your ball band is the weight of the ball and the approximate length of yarn in a ball of that weight. When knitting a pattern it will tell you how many balls of the yarn it uses to create the various sizes. In the example I have shown above, these balls are 25g each. Thicker yarn such as DK and aran will usually come in 50g or 100g balls. Hand dyed super special skeins of yarn will often be non standard weights but will be labelled. The length of the yarn is especially important if you are substituting yarns as 25g of a wool such as Shetland goes a lot further than 25g of, say, a cotton which is a much heavier yarn. The moral to this story is if you are not using the yarn recommended by the pattern do check the relative meterage/yardage as you might find that you need an extra ball to that given by the pattern instructions.

If you are buying more than one ball of yarn, the dye lot reference is another important thing to check from the band information. The colour will usually have a numerical reference (805 in this example) and often will have a name too (here it is Spruce). As balls of yarn are dyed in batches a slight difference in colour can occur between batches which might not be visible when holding two balls of yarn together but may show in a sweater front if a ball from a different batch is started part way up a front. To prevent this happening to your treasured hand knits, a reference number is given for each dye lot (here it is 8714) so you can ensure when you are buying your multiple balls that they have all come from the same batch and will all knit up the same colour.

Lastly, somewhere on the band should be care instructions i.e. how to wash, press and generally look after your item knitted in this yarn. These are standard symbols and can be found easily by searching on the internet. For the Spindrift example working down the columns we are told:

care-instructions

So lovely knitters, the ball band is your friend (and not just because it stops your yarn getting tangled up in the bottom of the project bag) and it is probably best not to let the dog steal it and rip it up as you may need to refer back to it at a later date. Try and keep at least one for the project you are working on and put it somewhere safe just in case you need to check some of the information again at a later date.

I hope that you have found this post helpful and will join me next time when we discuss the joys of the tension square.  Until then, happy knitting……..