General, Knitting Know How

What is Intarsia and how do I work it?

Intarsia

Intarsia Colour work

Sometimes known as picture knitting, intarsia is a method of creating a single thickness knitted fabric with a motif on it. As yarns are not stranded/carried across the back of the work (as with stranded colour work or fair isle knitting) each time you come to a new colour, you start a new bobbin/length of yarn.

How to work it

In order to prevent gaps appearing in the work at the edges of the colour changes, the yarn that is being put down is twisted with the new yarn that is being picked up. On vertical lines the yarns are twisted every row.

intarsia twist 1
The blue yarn is taken over the top of the white yarn after the last blue stitch, to twist it 
intarsia twist 3
the blue yarn is dropped and the next stitch purled using the white yarn
Intarsia twist 2
when the white stitches are completed, the white yarn is taken over the next blue yarn and dropped. The blue yarn then purls the next stitch and onwards.

When working on a diagonal slant, the yarns are twisted every other row. For a diagonal slant to the right, the yarns are twisted on the right side. For a left slant, they are twisted on the wrong side.

The result as mentioned above, is a single thickness fabric comprised of sections of different colours.

intarsia post 5
the back of a motif showing the single thickness fabric

When to use Intarsia and when to strand?

Intarsia is usually used for blocks of colour and single motifs where colours are not regularly repeating. Stranding is usually used for repeating patterns where each motif is only a few stitches width and colours are repeating all the way across a row/round.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that intarsia can’t be knitted in the round. As yarns are being left at the end of each motif they require a wrong side row to pick them back up again.

Sewing in the ends

Lots of bobbins means lots of ends to sew in (as well as a few tangles during the knitting process). Where possible I try to follow the edges of motifs when weaving my ends in during finishing.

intarsia 6
weaving in the ends, following the motifs

Patterns to practice your intarsia skills

The following two designs use an intarsia motif for decoration. Follow the links in the captions to the pattern.

heart gift bag with knitting etsy
Intarsia heart gift bag. Free pattern available here
Manga tee 3
Manga Tee. Pattern available here.

I hope I’ve given you a taste for picture knitting. It is a lot of fun despite the tangles, and is a method I’ve often used for my knitted art work as well as knitwear. If you’d like to watch a video on how to make a butterfly “bobbin” then visit my Instagram page and take a look at my stories.

Let me know how you get on……

 

 

 

General, Knitting Know How, knitting patterns

Two handed Fair Isle (stranded colourwork) technique

Nicky barfoot presents (2)

Stranding with two hands

I thought it might be helpful to create a post to act as an aide-memoire to you lovely folks who have attended my introduction to fair isle workshops. So here it is.

No right or wrong with knitting, just what’s best for you

Of course there is no right or wrong with knitting. There are many ways of holding the needles and manipulating the yarns. Comfort and tension are always your main measures of success. However, learning to hold the yarns in both hands makes life a lot easier. Less tangle, less puckering and hopefully a smoother tension.

My apologies to left handers as what follows below is a right handed version (mine).

A right handed example

fairisle1
holding the background colour in the RH and contrast in the LH

The first photo shows how to knit from the left hand in the contrast colour (pink). I hold the contrast over my forefinger and use this finger actively to create the desired tension on this yarn. I also use this finger to push down on the RH needle, if needed, to help the catch and pull through of the contrast yarn to complete the knit stitch.

fairisle3
catching the contrast yarn and pulling it through

The second picture shows how I have taken my right needle over the top of the contrast yarn, hooked under it and pulled it through the stitch on the row below.

fairisle4
and repeat

The third picture shows a second stitch created in the contrast yarn in the same way.

fairisle5
back to the background

This final picture shows how I have carried the background yarn across the two contrast stitches I have created, to knit the next stitch from the right hand needle.

It is wise to keep your background yarns consistently in one hand (e.g. right) and the contrast (motif) yarns in the other. This greatly assists with creating a smooth tension and does help stop the yarns tangling.

Practice makes perfect 

If you are new to knitting with two hands I do advise you persevere with this technique. You may find it slow and cumbersome at first as your fingers get used to manipulating the needles and yarns in a different way. However, once you get a few hours of practice in to them you’ll find it becomes much smoother and does speed up.

Remember also if you are new to stranding and the results are not looking terribly even, a good blocking/washing helps the stitches and strands to settle. Also using a wool rich yarn such as a Shetland yarn will make your initial projects look much more pleasing (particularly after washing when they can bloom a little). Smooth, slippy and non stretchy yarns (some acrylics, cottons, merino) are unforgiving and are probably best avoided until you have practiced a bit first.

Some patterns to help you practice your technique

Kitty Beanie

kittyhatlowerresfrontview
Kitty Beanie

I have just published the pattern for this playful beanie in my Etsy shop. It is knitted using the stranding technique described above, in the round (no purl stitches to worry about!). More information on the pattern can be found by clicking here.

Hill Head Mitts

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Hill Head Mitts

Inspired by my favourite coastal haunt, these practical mitts are also knitted in the round using stranded colour work. The pattern can be found by clicking here.

Happy stranding folks. Until next time…….

 

 

General, knitting patterns

Knitted Christmas Bauble Pattern

A few weeks back I wrote a mini tutorial on knitting in the round using the magic loop. If you made it to the end you’ll know I promised a seasonal project to help you put those skills in to practice.

So here it is: You’ll need a 3mm circular needle (or dpns if you’d prefer) and some odds and ends of 4ply sock yarn to whip up a few of these for your tree (or cat!).

A simple knitted bauble

Knitted Christmas Bauble
A simple pattern for you to embellish if and how you wish

Abbreviations

k  knit. p  purl. st(s)  stitch(es). tog together.

Ssk   slip next two stitches knitwise, one at a time to right needle. Insert tip of left hand needle from left to right into fronts of these stitches and knit them together.

M1   using left needle, lift strand between last worked st and first st on left needle from front to back, then knit lifted st through back loop.

Cast on 12 sts.  Join to work in the round.

Rnds 1-2: knit

Rnd 3: (k1, m1, k2) to end. 16sts

Rnd 4 and all even rnds, knit

Rnd 5: (k1, m1, k2, m1, k1) to end. 24 sts

Rnd 7: (k1, m1, k4, m1, k1) to end. 32 sts

Rnd 9: (k1, m1, k6, m1, k1) to end. 40sts

Rnd 11: (k1, m1, k8, m1, k1) to end. 48sts

Rnd 13: (k1, m1, k10, m1, k1) to end. 56sts

Rnd 15: (k1, m1, k12, m1, k1) to end. 64sts

Rnd 17: (k1, m1, k14, m1, k1) to end. 72sts

Rnd 19 – 28: knit

Rnd 29: (k1, ssk, k12, k2tog, k1) to end. 64sts

Rnd 31: (k1, ssk, k10, k2tog, k1) to end. 56sts

Rnd 33: (k1, ssk, k8, k2tog, k1) to end. 48sts

Rnd 35: (k1, ssk, k6, k2tog, k1) to end. 40sts

Rnd 37: (k1, ssk, k4, k2tog, k1) to end. 32sts

Rnd 39: (k1, ssk, k2, k2tog, k1) to end. 24sts

Rnd 41: (k1, ssk, k2tog, k1) to end. 16 sts

Rnd 43: (k1, k2tog, k1) to end. 12sts.

Break yarn leaving a long tail. Thread through sts, stuff, pull up sts, fasten. Create a hanging loop using a crochet chain, or attach a ribbon.

Christmas bauble picture
Stripy versions

Embellish 

Rounds 19 to 28 give you an opportunity to add some simple stranded colour work, stripes, beads etc (as long as 72sts is divisible by the number of stitches in your pattern repeat, and the tension isn’t too dramatically altered). Or you can embellish after knitting.

Other Knitted Christmas decorations

My other favourite knitted Christmas dec is this delightful mini Christmas stocking pattern by Julie Williams. It is available as a free Ravelry download and can be found here.

mini christmas stockings
Cute mini Christmas stockings

Have fun x

 

General, Knitting Know How

Selecting a colour scheme for colour work knitting

Selecting a colour scheme for colour work knitting

Choosing a colour scheme

A subject that comes up regularly in my workshops is how to choose a good colour scheme for fair isle, the double knitting technique and intarsia. I thought it would be helpful to write an article on it. But be warned. This post isn’t about colour, quite the opposite in fact. We are going to set the tone……

Assessing the tone

When faced with the sweet shop effect i.e. shelves full of knitty goodness at the local yarn shop or festival, it is very easy to pick the colours that you think will look great together, only to be confused and a bit disappointed when you’ve swatched them up. The colours appear to have merged in to each other and the motifs in the pattern aren’t standing out. How has that happened?

If you want a colour scheme to “pop” then looking at tonal values can be really helpful.

Tonal values in a yarn selection low res
Looking at tonal values

How do I know if the lovely yarn selection on the left will work in a four colour stranded colour work pattern for example? Without doubt the colours themselves go beautifully together. But how do I make sure that the motifs in my hypothetical chart stand out?

Instinct tells me that the cream is likely the lightest tone. I can hazard a guess at the other three colours but it is easy to get that wrong (in my experience!). The easiest way to confirm the tonal values is to take a photo and turn it into black and white (so easy for smart phones as it is an option in the edit photo function).

My black and white photo shows that I was correct with the cream. The turquoise and the green have very similar values, and the brown is the darkest (but not massively different from the turquoise). If I was to knit with the turquoise and the green in a two colour section of my motif (or the turquoise and the brown for that matter), e.g. a row of hearts on a background say, the hearts would blend in to the background. I may want this subtle effect. But if I wanted those hearts to be visible and pop out of the background I will be very disappointed. The best yarns to achieve this from the selection above would be the cream and the brown as there is the greatest tonal difference between them.

Choosing the tone

A great amount of time and effort is spent by designers swatching colours when designing knitting patterns to get the effect they want. So when you have a pattern in front of you that you have bought from a designer but you want to choose your own colours, a good way of assessing if you are going to get a similar effect, is to turn their photo in to black and white. Armed with the tonal values, you can then photograph your potential yarn selection in black and white and match the tonal values to the original.

Georgia beanie yarn selection tonal values low res
My Georgia Beanie pattern yarn selection and the tonal equivalent. Find the pattern download in my Etsy shop here

Designing your own

If you are designing your own colour work patterns, a great starting place is to choose a light tone, a mid tone and a dark tone. This will ensure that you have a good contrast to make your design lively. Take your camera phone with you to the yarn shop and do a black and white photo of your potential selection before you spend your money, just to be sure.

Enjoying colour

I hope that this post has been helpful and has given you more confidence in your yarn selections for your colour work projects. There is plenty more to colour theory but I’ve given you a good tip here.

As mentioned in previous posts about colour, don’t be put off by the theory. Carry your camera with you so whenever you come across a colour scheme that you like (a visit to the garden centre, the local park, a colourful door against a painted wall) take a picture of it and keep it for reference. Start a Pinterest board or a physical mood board if digital isn’t your thing. If you’d like an example of what I mean have a look at my public Pinterest board on colour inspiration which can be found here.

With the added bonus of black and white also at your fingertips, analyse the tonal values of your images too and see how they impact on the overall effect. Keep in mind that similar tonal values blend and merge producing subtle colour effects. While a big difference in tonal values creates a pop and allows colours to stand out on each other.

I wish you lots of fun with your colour adventures x

 

 

 

General, Knitting Know How

Which cast on should I use? Three popular cast on methods to start most types of garment.

The many ways to cast on

I’ve been meaning to write a post about cast on methods for ages as it is something that comes up regularly at workshops. Many of us have a favourite cast on. If you are anything like me, it was the one your Mum taught you and you used it for everything until you did City and Guilds and discovered the reason why you could never get your hand knitted socks over your arch!

There is a book by Cap Sease called “Cast On, Bind off: 211 Ways to Begin and End your knitting. I shall leave you to investigate the many methods that I shan’t be discussing here. In this post I’ll talk about the three most commonly used cast ons and why it is a good idea to be proficient in all of them. Just like exercise and jeans, one size does not fit all.

Sincere apologies to left handers, the diagrams and explanations below are given for a right handed knitter i.e. me.

Thumb cast on (often called backward loop). As a teacher of knitting this is often the one that people find the easiest to grasp and therefore is often taught to children.

thumb cast on diagrams low resAfter tying a slip knot (counts as stitch one on the needle), a loop is made by twisting the working yarn around the thumb in a clockwise direction (diagram 1). The needle tip is placed in to the loop (diagram 2). The thumb is removed from the loop and the working yarn is tensioned to create an even stitch on the needle (diagram 3).

The advantages of the thumb cast on:

  1. It creates a stretchy cast on and therefore is suitable for garments that need give e.g. sock and mitt cuffs (a revelation for me as hinted at in the introduction above!)
  2. It is simple to do in the middle of your knitting as you continue to work in the same direction. This means that you can use the working yarn as it presents itself from the previous stitches. Hence it is often the cast on used for putting stitches back on to the needle mid row after they have been cast off on a previous row e.g. button holes and pocket holes.

The disadvantages are

  1. The first row can be a bit tricky in some yarns as there is little structure in the cast on stitches and they can overlap and get a bit tangled. However, it is worth taking it slowly and persevering (counting as you go!) as further rows are a doddle.
  2. As it is a stretchy cast on method it can distort and slacken with use e.g. baggy sweater bottoms.

Cable cast on

This is probably the other end of the firmness scale to the thumb method.

cable cast on photos low res

After tying your slip knot (counts as stitch one on the needle), place the right hand needle through the loop as if to knit (diagram 1.). Wrap the working yarn around the needle anti clockwise, again as if to knit (diagram 2.). Continue to create your knit stitch by pulling the yarn through the centre of the slip knot loop on the left hand needle (diagram 3.) and place the loop you have just created on the right hand needle over the top of the left hand needle. Two stitches now sit on the left hand needle. Here it changes:

cable cast on 2 low res

To create the third stitch on the needle (and all consequent stitches), place the right hand needle in between the two stitches already on the needle (diagram 4.). Continue as if to knit a stitch by wrapping the working yarn anti clockwise around the right hand needle and pulling it back through the gap between stitches 1 and 2 on the left hand needle. Place the loop from the right hand needle on to the left hand needle (diagram 5.) to create your third stitch. Continue in this way until all stitches have been cast on.

The advantages of the cable cast on:

  1. It creates an attractive, firm cast on line and as such is great for starting bottom up sweaters etc as it is less likely to go baggy with use and time.
  2. The second row is a doddle (unlike the thumb cast on method as mentioned above).

Consequently the disadvantages are:

  1. It isn’t very stretchy and therefore is not a great choice for cuffs e.g. socks and anything else where the cuff circumference is smaller than the circumference further down the garment.

As these two cast on methods are either end of the stretchy spectrum having both of them in your knitting tool kit will enable you to tackle most garments competently (we are talking function only here and not discussing the many ways of changing the appearance of your cast on edge). However, there is another commonly used cast on method which is a current fave with a lot of the American Knit Stars some of whom claim that they never use anything else. This is probably because it sits in between the two discussed above, being more stretchy than the cable cast on and firmer than the thumb cast on. It is called long tail cast on.

Long Tail Cast On

long tail cast on photos low res

Firstly you need to guesstimate the amount of yarn you need to cast on with. There are a number of ways suggested to do this, one being wrap the yarn around the needle the same number of times as the stitches you require (I would always add a few more on for luck!). This gives you the length of the tail that you will be working with.

Make a slip knot and place on your needle (there are ways of avoiding the slip knot which I shall leave you to investigate if you are interested). Hold your knitting needle in your right hand with both strands of yarn hanging down, tail in front. With your left hand pinch your thumb and forefinger together and place them between the two strands of yarn. When you open your thumb and forefinger the tail end now hangs over the thumb and the working end over your first finger (diagram 1.). Turn your hand to a sling shot position (diagram 2.).

Insert the right knitting needle tip over the top and hook back up and under the outside of the tail end loop. Keeping the strand of yarn from the thumb on top of the needle move your needle over the top of the far side of the yarn on the forefinger and catch it by bringing the right hand needle from right to left. Pull this strand through the loop made with the tail end (diagram 3.). Carefully remove the thumb and replace it behind the tail end to help tension the stitch on the needle. Continue (diagram 4.) until all stitches are on the needle.

A little chant that helps me to remember what I’m doing with this cast on is: over, under, over, under, through, and drop.

If the above sounds way too wordy and complicated for you, there are lots of videos available on line. Just search “long tail cast on” and find the one that works for you.

The advantages of this cast on are

  1. It forms a neat and relatively firm edge.
  2. It retains some elasticity.

The disadvantages are

  1. It is a compromise so before using it I would ask myself whether the function of the cast on would be better met with one of the other two versions discussed above.
  2. You have to guess how much yarn you are going to use before you start casting on. We’ve probably all run out of tail end before reaching our quota of stitches at some time in the past with this method and had to start again. Not such a problem for a small garment but you can imagine the distress this might cause when casting on hundreds of stitches.

I hope that you have found this article helpful. These are only three of the many methods of casting on that are available to you (but for me they are the ones that I use most often, along with the provisional cast on which I have covered in a previous post). The important thing to remember when choosing your method is what is the primary function of the cast on edge for this particular piece of knitting? e.g. decorative appearance, give, firmness etc. This will then inform which method you are going to plump for.

Happy knitting x

Which cast on should I use? Pinterest graphic

General, knitting patterns

How to make a knitted crown (and rock your inner May Queen)

As Spring has now sprung on UK shores (and we do have a royal wedding coming up) I thought it was about time I had my own flower crown. So I spent May Day embracing my inner May Queen by knitting an appropriate head piece. My idea was to adorn it with some wild flowers (weeds to some) not realising that most people were spending their bank holiday manicuring their lawns and verges. Thankfully I was able to find a few unkempt patches to gather a few daisies and buttercups which had managed to avoid the Big Mow only to end up in my fairy photoshoot!

Knit a crown
Yes, your majesty?

This crown is easy to make and involves a small amount of a double knit yarn (mine is shown in Sirdar cotton DK). You will also need a 3.25mm circular needle (or alternative to achieve the required tension) and a couple of stitch markers. I decorated the tips of my crown spikes, of which there are seven, with a metal bead. With a tension of 22sts to 10cm, the crown has a 48cm circumference and is shown on an average sized adult female head of 55.5cm/22in.

Working the rim

Cast on 105sts on to a 3.25mm circular needle and join to work in the round, placing marker to indicate the start of the round.

Work 20 rounds of garter stitch (alternating a knit round with a purl round).

Working the spikes

Now change from working in the round to working back and forth on each spike in turn while leaving the remaining stitches on the circular needle until needed. The spikes require a double centred decrease, an s2kp, which is worked as follows: slip nxt 2 sts together knitwise, k1, pass slipped sts over. 2 sts decreased. Please note that you will need to develop a suitable marker replacement tactic as the central stitch gets absorbed into the stitch in front and the stitch behind with this decrease.

Spike 1 is worked over the next 15sts:

Row 21 (RS): K7, place marker to mark the next stitch as the centre stitch, k8. 15sts. Turn work.

Nxt row (WS): Knit to marker, slip marker, knit to end.

Nxt row (RS): Knit to one stitch before marker, s2kp (rearranging marker to indicate the new centre stitch), knit to end of spike. 13sts.

Nxt row: As previous WS row.

Repeat the last two rows, decreasing two sts centrally on each RS row until 3 sts remain.

Nxt row (WS): Sl1, k2tog, psso. 1 st.

Cut yarn and pull through to fasten.

With RS facing, rejoin yarn to rim and knit next 15 sts repeating the instructions for Spike 1 to create the next and subsequent spikes.

When all seven spikes are complete, sew in ends and decorate as desired.

I threaded through some daisies and buttercups but the crown would look equally fabulous adorned with beads, buttons or embroidery. And for those of you who make your own Christmas crackers……..

knitted crown flatlay low res
How many ways can you decorate a crown?

I’d love to see what you come up with. Please feel free to tag me @nickybarfoot on instagram or post to my facebook page.

Happy knitting!

 

General, Knitting Know How

How to plan your approach to the New Year yarn sales

Happy 2018 to you!

As my inbox is currently full of e mails offering me lots of yummy yarn at discounted prices I thought it would be helpful if my first post of the year shared my previous mistakes and gave you some guidance on how to avoid a costly seasonal yarn binge. I’m not saying don’t buy as that would be hypocritical of me. But do go into it with a plan as the kiddy in a sweet shop approach, in my experience, doesn’t usually go well.

My first spot of advice would be, know what you want to knit first and find the appropriate yarn to make it with. Try not to be tempted by the bargain pack of 12 balls thinking you will be able to find something to make from it later. If you are anything like me, that pack will go into the stash cupboard and probably never see the light of day as other designs catch your attention before you get around to it. In a short space of time that yarn starts to look dated, or worse still becomes moth food.

Even if you are working pattern before yarn as I suggest above, there are still pitfalls to avoid with the sales, the biggest one being colour. We all have a favourite colour palette and if you have ever had your colours analysed on a style and colour day (great fun and highly recommended, particularly if you go along with another person who knows you well) you will be aware that some colours just don’t suit you. Isn’t it tempting when you look up the yarn you want and see that some of the colours are half price? The temptation to “save a fortune” can often override the knowledge that you never e.g. wear hot pink, and on that basis you don’t have anything else in your wardrobe that would go with it either! So that 100 hours of work on that beautiful sweater is all wasted.

Also, remember that the fashion industry works on annual colour palettes. You might have noticed that there tends to be a predominance of a certain colour or colours in all the high street windows at once. How did they all choose the same one? The answer is that Pantone release an annual colour palette and the fashion industry embrace it. Once the new season is upon us, the on trend colours of the previous year and/or season are often discounted to make way for the new ones. So even if you did bring yourself to wear your hot pink sweater, that colour could be sooo last year! And just for your information, Pantone’s colour of 2018 is Ultra Violet. Think Prince and his Purple Rain album cover. I can guarantee you’ll start to see it everywhere pretty soon.

Prince purple rain

Of course if your favourite colour is actually hot pink and you know you look great in it, fill your boots!

The last temptation to be aware of is trying to use a discounted yarn in place of the recommended yarn when actually the yarn type just isn’t suited to the pattern. By this I mean, if the sweater you are making is stranded colour work in Shetland wool, beware buying e.g. a cotton 4ply instead, on the basis that the ball band states the same tension ranges as your pattern, and it is in the sale. Now the finished item might actually look amazing, but the properties of the two yarn materials is so different that it won’t look anything like the picture on the pattern instructions. Be prepared for a surprise and also be aware that regardless of ball band information, it probably won’t work to the same tension either so if you do want to embark on this knitting adventure, swatch, swatch, swatch…..

I hope I haven’t been too much of a party pooper with this post? My aim was not to curtail your sales fun but rather suggest a planned approach to your sales yarn purchasing. Have fun buying, and most of all knitting, with your yummy yarn.

2017-11-19 11.40.31-3
Know your colour scheme (even if it is beige!)

 

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.
    provisional cast on 1
    Start to crochet the chains over the top of the knitting  needle for the cast on stitches.

    provisional cast on sepia2
    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.

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!).