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.
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.
Knitting and stitching are wonderful meditative practices and sometimes peace and quiet (or a gently snoring dog) is the most soothing accompaniment. However, for me, having my hands busing working on something repetitive actually improves my listening skills.
I am one of those doodlers in a meeting who, far from being bored and distracted, is concentrating harder on what is being said through the use of a physical focus. I would have taken knitting to meetings when I worked in an office but I think that would have been tolerated less and misinterpreted even more than drawing on my hand outs. I’m sure there is an explanation for this phenomenon involving different parts of the brain, which I have yet to look into. In the meantime I thought I would share with you my current top five things to listen to while knitting.
I am a massive fan of these and have a 24 book (which only lasts me about 9 months!) annual subscription with audible.co.uk. Many people view listening to audiobooks as something less productive than reading. However, I have found that some stories really come to life with the right narrator. Some of my regular readers will know already what a massive fan of Terry Pratchett I am and his books definitely fall into this category.
At this time of the year I usually indulge in a Charles Dickens novel as nothing quite beats his witty observations of Victorian England to put me in the festive mood. Last Christmas I enjoyed Great Expectations one of my favourite novels from childhood. This December I am listening to Hard Times. Both of these novels are expertly narrated by Martin Jarvis and if you haven’t read a Dickens novel for a while I throughly recommend you listen to one of these.
Being more of an enjoyer of fiction than chat, I came quite late to the podcast genre but am now finding myself listening to more and more of these interview and magazine style programmes. The first I’d like to recommend to you is “Tea and Tattle” a marvellously feminine lifestyle podcast (I was put off to start with, expecting make up and fashion tips but was pleasantly surprised after listening to it). It is presented by best friends Miranda Mills and Sophie Butler and really does feel like you are having a chat over a cup of tea in a cosy kitchen about things ranging from literature to business to hygge.
At the other end of the spectrum I love listening to “Under the Skin” a sometimes risky and occasionally controversial podcast hosted by Russell Brand. I know he is a bit Marmite but I find him honest and entertaining and the subjects he discusses are current and thought provoking.
Radio Six Music.
For times when I am likely to be moving around a bit more and can’t concentrate quite so hard on the spoken word I choose the radio as my background. For many years my choice of station has been the fabulous Six Music. This is a digital only station where the DJs are all passionate about music either having been in, or currently still in, bands themselves (Cerys Matthews, Jarvis Cocker, Huey Morgan etc) or music journalists e.g. Steve Lamacq, Stuart Maconie and Mark Radcliffe. The result is a station which looks at music as a whole, not restricting itself to one or two genres, and where current releases are played alongside great and inspiring music from previous decades. I have been introduced to so many new bands through this station as well as authors, comedians and actors who have either been interviewed or have guest hosted their own show.
I was brought up in a household where music was the constant background courtesy of my father and his extremely wide taste in music. This is a man who went halves with me when I bought Prince’s Purple Rain album as a teenager, was extremely fond of Pink Floyd (I can’t hear Shine on you Crazy Diamond without remembering Dad and my childhood), was just as likely to have a classical album on as a rock/pop one, and who initiated my love of Jazz, a musical taste that I share with Mr B and indulge in regularly through visits to local live music venues in our locality. The most recent of these was a trip to the wonderful Turner Sims music venue at Southampton University to see the extremely talented jazz pianist Aaron Diehl, and his trio. I have since been playing rather a lot of his 2015 album, Space, Time, Continuum. Dad would have loved it.
Midsomer Murdersre runs.
And finally, here comes the guilty pleasure. If the TV remote is the only form of entertainment at your fingertips, you can’t beat a bit of Midsomer Murders to stitch to. Its wonderfully formulaic structure, the 95% likelihood of Wogan’s Law coming true (i.e. the most famous actor did it) and the chance that you have seen the episode a number of times before, makes it the perfect programme to have on in the background. If you get stuck on a tricky bit of stitching and have to focus concentration away from the screen, it is unlikely that you won’t catch right back up when your attention can return to it.
What do you like to listen to while you are creating? Do share in the comments. I’d love to hear.
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.
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!
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.
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.
So, now to the knitty gritty:
How to work a provisional cast on
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.
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.
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.
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.
An October highlight for UK textile enthusiasts is the Knitting and Stitching show at Alexandra Palace in London. Not only do we get to fill our boots with yarny goodness, it is also an opportunity to catch up with fellow enthusiasts from the Textile World, find out who is new and inspiring, and some of us get to spend a day with our wonderful Mums!
I was particularly excited this year as a friend of mine, the super talented and rather lovely Sarah Waters, had a solo exhibition in the textile gallery. I couldn’t wait to see what she had done with it and as expected it was amazing.
Sarah is an experienced felt artist based in the UK’s New Forest. Her work is inspired by our connection to nature and she has a particular interest in sustainability. Her exhibition at the Knit and Stitch shows this year consists of large scale wall hangings, rich with texture and full of beautiful natural colours, depicting stone, the natural inspiration behind it. Felt sculptures add a three dimensional element to the exhibition. Sarah’s exhibition will be at the sister shows in Dublin and Harrogate so if you are lucky enough to be going to these I highly recommend you pay her a visit. More information about Sarah and her work can be found on her website here.
Another gallery which stopped me in my tracks for a better look was Ann Small’s Layered Cloth exhibition. She has recently published a book of the same name and the work she had on display tempted me to add it to my Christmas List. Beautiful ruffles, folds, puffs, slashes, you name it, anything you can do to create a three dimensional effect from stitching and fabric was here.
Her work made me smile, it had a sense of fun to it as well as a technical wow factor hence I wasn’t surprised when I read that she has a background in theatre and fancy dress costume making.
The final artist I’d like to introduce you to in this post is possibly my new favourite textile artist having not come across her work before. Rachael Howard’s gallery “Red Work” consisted of large scale grids of colourful, simplistic illustrations depicting everyday family life. Her inspiration for the exhibition was taken from 19th century red work story quilts and she likens the effect of these historical textiles to modern day Instagram.
Her work is rich in humour, is very accessible and evokes a personal narrative from the viewer. If you get a chance to check out Rachael’s art she has a website here.
In this post I’ve mentioned three of my favourite galleries from this year’s Ally Pally. There was so much to see I always wish I can have another day to fully appreciate everything but unfortunately dog dinners awaited and we had to dash off. We didn’t leave without a bit of shopping though (my Mum is such a bad influence on me!).
Please feel free to leave a comment on this post if would like to share a highlight from this year’s show and if you are visiting the Dublin or Harrogate Knitting and Stitching Shows I hope you have a wonderful time.
I was so excited about Kaffe Fassett’s “Colour” exhibition at Mottisfont this month that I booked a cheeky day off today to go have a look. Kaffe Fassett (apparently pronounced as “safe asset” for those of us who have been getting this wrong for over thirty years!) has been a huge influence on my creativity over the years and as such could probably be described as one of my artistic heroes. His bold and vibrant designs have inspired me from childhood to the present day. I remember as a teenager drooling over his cabbage and frog tapestry kits wondering how many weeks of paper round wages until I could afford one. And his fabulous 1980s sweaters drove my first tatty attempts at intarsia. Overall his creative career has spanned more than 50 years and he is still a highly respected name and sought after public speaker by knitters and stitchers worldwide.
This exhibition has been beautifully curated with each room focused on a specific colour scheme and painted accordingly to show case the fabulous knitwear, tapestries and quilts. As you enter the first room there is a wonderful quote from the man himself to put you in the right frame of mind: “like so many other crafts, knitting has the potential to create magic in our lives”. I couldn’t agree more.
The theme for the first room of the exhibition is set by the quote “the older I get the more classic blue and white appeals to me”. Something I can certainly relate to myself. He also discusses his love of neutrals in this room, likening them to stonework. I guess this is not something we usually associate with the man but there is no denying the power of beige even to those with such an elevated design status!
The next room makes the wonderful statement that “vegetables have such elegant shapes” and is full of the cabbage, aubergine, beetroot et al images and designs that I remember fondly from early Rowan magazines.
More colour themed rooms unfold as you wander through the upper floors of this richly historic house, including a yellow corridor (unfortunately not enough natural light for photos in there) where he comments on the mood enhancing properties of this sunny hue. Also a richly coloured blue room, and then finally a pink room.
One of the reasons for Kaffe Fassett’s enduring appeal is his fearless use of colour. A quote from the man himself from his 2003 book “Kaffe Fassett’s Pattern Library” explains his approach to an area that many people find quite scary and intimidating.
“The main thing is to have a go at trying out colours, the wilder the better. None of us designers really know what works until we see it, so sampling becomes wonderfully exciting as you stumble on really unpredictable and interesting colouring.”
In my recent knitting workshops we have concentrated on the use of sampling both as a means of gathering technical skills but also for design inspiration. Sampling is a wonderfully safe environment (after all we don’t have to wear the end product if it doesn’t work) for putting together different textures, colours and yarn types in a playful way. We were all excited by some of the outputs.
If you are local and are interested in colour and design do try and get to see this collection in the flesh as the photographs I have shown you don’t really do the textiles justice. Above all I for one can take a bit of advice from this talented man and while I do love a bit of beige he always inspires me to live a little more dangerously. Pink, red and orange!? Hell Yes!
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
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
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
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).
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).
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.
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!
If you have anything you would like to share about short rows or this post generally, please do leave a comment.
I’m going to make a confession to you. I am an unsociable knitter. Knitting combined with nattering is not for me and while wonderful supportive multi generation communities have evolved around a common love of the craft (and even a genre of “chick lit” has been inspired by these gatherings) it transpires that I can’t stitch n’ bitch. Even the careful selection of specific projects suited as a background activity hasn’t helped me to join in with these social and sociable events and I have come to the realisation that the act of knitting for me is no longer the distraction activity of a hand wringer and cuticle picker but has evolved into an all absorbing meditation.
Finding an inner peace
Quite when this happened I couldn’t tell you. In my twenties I was a keen student of yoga. During this time I was never able to undertake a satisfactory guided meditation at the end of a workout in a smelly school hall, wrapped in a prickly blanket. Perhaps it was the idea of all that sand sticking to me (we were always told to imagine ourselves on a beach!) and the possibility of bugs crawling into my sweaty hair, which left me more tense than relaxed. Similarly the action of staring at a candle flame only resulted in a headache despite plenty of disciplined practice, while chanting just left me feeling self-conscious.
What is relaxing anyway?
My wonderful husband often berates me for my inability to relax as he equates relaxing with doing nothing (something that I actually find quite stressful). I disagree with him as I think that I relax very well but I do have to be concentrating on something repetitive and methodical in order to still my mind. If I have needles in my hand I will be fully engrossed in the action of creating a piece of fabric, slowly, one stitch at a time and as long as I am not struggling with a particularly difficult pattern, what is more relaxing than that?
Enjoying the Journey
Now I am not an unsociable person but I do enjoy my own company and the quiet companionship of my four legged friends. The term “journey” is probably much overused these days as a way of expressing an involvement and investment in a learning experience (of which life, of course, is the ultimate), but I believe it is a word which explains how I have come to view my knitting and other creative pursuits over the years.
Gone is the focus on an end product. This is quite possibly influenced by years of mild disappointment when that final stitch is placed and the physical result never fully lives up to the time, skill and effort involved not just in the making of this particular item but also in all of those items that were involved in the learning and practice to get to this place. Perhaps there is also a mourning of the end of an enjoyable process with the inevitable what to do now state. And of course for those of us who have tried to sell hand made goods there is also the realisation of the very low value that others put on our invested time and skill when the only comparison they have is how much a “similar” item would cost them if they bought it in Primark.
Meditation in the making
While it would be a bit of fib to suggest, when pattern and exhibition deadlines are looming, that a physical end result is not important. However, there is so much to be gained from the process. There is something wonderful about that suspended state where the only thing that matters is total absorption in creating which I can only really describe as a sense of zoning out. Knitting and drawing are the two activities that really bring on this internalised state for me (running with the dog in the local woods has a similar effect although a higher sense of alertness to my external environment is required for obvious safety reasons) and allow me a temporary escape from the outside world. The great thing about this drug free induced state of calm and meditation is that it can be achieved very easily with practice just about anywhere (I never travel on public transport without a set of sock needles and 4ply in my handbag). The downside is that it can become very addictive and some discipline is required if cooking and cleaning also feature on your list of job priorities. It can also lead to the occasional missed train station stop and appointment but hopefully the calming effect of the preceding meditation will over ride the stress of these hopefully infrequent downsides.
I’d love to hear what drives your making. Is it the creation of an end product, or are you all about the process? Please leave me a comment and let me know.
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.
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.
The diagram above shows how a second square module with the same bias direction can be created from the top of the first.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hello and as promised, welcome to a post all about tension.
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).
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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:
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……..