Archive for the ‘Tips and Techniques’ Category

Blocking Round Lace

So those of you who have worked with lace before probably know about those handy blocking wires that make blocking straight edges so much faster and easier. But what about knitting with no straight edges? What if you’ve knit a circle?

You can’t just…not block it.

unblocked lace

Eww. Blocking lace is not optional.

1. Soak it.

This is pretty much the same as with regular lace. Give your work a nice, thorough soak in cold water. Then go and gather up all of your t-pins. Seriously, all of them. However many you think you need, I promise you will need more. Once your knitting is good an soaked, gently squeeze it until it no longer drips. Don’t wring; felted lace is a tragedy.

soaking

2. Pin the center.

Bring your damp knitting over to your blocking area (mine is a collection of cheap foam squares from the dollar store) and center it. Keep in mind that your blocking area needs to be much larger than the unblocked piece would suggest. Now, if your piece is pretty solid in the center, one pin may be enough. If it has a bit of a “belly button” like my example here, I recommend 4-5 pins to keep it from stretching more in one direction than another.

center pins

3. Pin every point and scallop.

Seriously. All of them. Even the ones that are nowhere near your edges. Start from the center and work your way out, always matching each pin with one on the opposite side of the knitting. This helps keep in symmetrical. If your edges don’t have any points or scallops, you’ll want to put pins in the edge every inch or two as well. Told you you’d need all the pins!

many pins

4. Walk away.

Make sure your lace is safely away from the reach of any pets or small children, and then walk away. Just go away and leave it for a day or two until it’s completely, beyond a shadow of a doubt bone dry. If it’s not totally dry when you unpin, the lace will just scrunch up again. After all the time you just spent pinning, having to redo it would just be a crying shame.

pinned out

5. Unpin and enjoy!

Once your sure it’s dry, go ahead and put away all those pins. Doesn’t that look better?

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Kettle Dyeing at Home

My Flaming June is finally done! The knitting’s actually been done for almost a week, but I’ve been putting off dyeing it because I had other projects with deadlines breathing down my neck, not to mention a whole bunch of late nights at the day job. Then I tried a new dyeing technique over the weekend that utterly failed, so I turned to my old standby of kettle dyeing to fix it. It turned out lovely, as kettle dyeing tends to, and there is no evidence of the abomination my sweater was after the first dye job. Want to learn how to kettle dye at home? Read on.

soaking

Yes, this is the pre-bad dye job soak. No need to soak twice, in my case.

First, soak your FO or yarn for a few hours in water mixed with 3/4 cup of white vinegar. The vinegar acts as a mordant (any acid that helps dye “stick”) to improve color absorption. If you want more muted colors you can use less mordant than that, but I would be cautious about using more vinegar. Too much can make your pigments (in this case, blue and red) soak in at different rates and create some seriously bizarre looking yarn. Note that if your tap water tends to be high in minerals or have a distinctive smell or flavor, you’ll want to use filtered water as well. Random extra minerals can also do funny things to your color.

materials

While your project is soaking, gather your materials. I don’t have separate dyeing equipment, so I am careful to only use food-safe dyes and mordants – usually food coloring and vinegar. For kettle dyeing I prefer to use a crock pot, but a carefully watched stock pot will also work. It’s just a slightly less lazy process, and I’m all about the lazy. You will also want a large spoon, spatula, or tongs for pulling your hot, dripping mess out of the pot when it’s done dyeing, and a pan or bowl large enough to hold said mess so it doesn’t drip all over your kitchen. I like to use metal and glass because you can clean the color off of them, but since we’re using food-safe chemicals this is optional. Keep in mind that food dye might not be permanent or even long lasting on plant fiber or synthetic yarns, but it is definitely permanent on your wooden spoons and many plastics. You’ll also want to cover as much of your work space and yourself as you can with something you don’t mind getting splattered with dye.

dyeing

After your yarn or FO has had a good long soak, heat a cup of water to boiling. I’m lazy and do this in the microwave because it’s fast. Add as much dye as you would like to the boiling water (I used about a teaspoon and a half of Wilton’s for this cardigan) and stir. Keep in mind that the color will be much deeper in the pot than it will be on your yarn. Then drain off as much of the water/vinegar mix as possible into your crock. If your yarn isn’t superwash, be careful not to get too aggressive here. Add in the boiling dyed water and as much extra water as needed to fill your pot about halfway. Set your crock pot to low (with the lid on) and wait a few minutes for it to start steaming. Give it one last stir to make sure your dye is well mixed, then add in your project. Make sure it’s spread out as much as possible and that all parts of the project are covered in colored water. Put the lid back on and go away. Seriously, just go do something else for a few hours.

cooling

Periodically check on your dye pot. When the water looks clear and there is no more dye in it, you can pull it out of the pot and into the pan or bowl you set out. Let it cool to room temperature and rinse thoroughly with room temperature water. The temperature is extra important if you’re not using superwash. Some colors and dye types will bleed more than others, but the vinegar and prolonged exposure to heat should have set your dyes well enough that not too much color should run off. When the rinse water runs clear, dry your piece as recommended by the yarn manufacturer.

rinse

Clean up is pretty simple. Since you’ve used up all the dye in your pot, and you’re carrying your dyed fiber goodies in a pan or bowl, there’s not too much risk of dye winding up on your floor. Hooray! Glass, metal, and crockery should return to their natural color if you clean them with bleach. Be sure to follow with a soap and water cleanse afterward to make sure they’re safe to eat off of! Wash or throw away whatever you used to cover your counters and yourself. That’s it!

Another Crochet Cast-On

Previously I shared with you a provisional crochet cast-on, but today I’m going to share an easy everyday cast-on which also uses a crochet hook. I like this particular cast-on (there really isn’t a synonym for that word, is there?) because it looks identical to the knitted bind-off, and I can be a little obsessive about having matching ends sometimes. It also saves me from the pain of having to estimate how much yarn to use for a long-tail cast-on with sometime big like a sweater or rectangular shawl, only to be a half yard short at the end.

Step 1

slip knot

Choose a crochet hook roughly the size of your needle (exact size is not important, but if the difference is significant, go bigger rather than smaller) and make a slip knot on it. Hold the working yarn behind your left needle.

Step 2

pull through

Reach the crochet hook over the left needle and scoop up the working yarn. Pull it through the loop on your crochet hook.

Step 3

loops

Now you have a loop on your left needle and a loop on your hook. Move the working yarn back behind the needle again.

Step 4

reach over

Repeat the process as many times as necessary, until you have one less than the called for number of stitches on your needle.

Step 5

final loop

When you have one less than the needed number of stitches, slip the loop on your hook to the left needle to serve as your final stitch. Knit away!

What is “Easy”?

In my last post I laughed a bit about how almost all of the patterns on Ravelry are rated as “easy” by the people who knit them, and pointed out that everything is easy once you know how to do it. I also promised to write a post on how to decide whether a pattern is easy enough for you. To do that there are really only 3 things to consider.

pattern difficulty

1. Take an honest inventory of your skills.

Obviously, you need to think about what you already know how to knit (or crochet) – can you do the standard increases and decreases? Do you know how to cable? Yarn over? Change colors? Seam? Graft? There are also the sometimes less-obvious pattern reading skills to consider. Can you read a chart? Can you read the language the pattern is written in if there is no chart? Do you know what “work even” means? How about “work in pattern” or “work as established”? Do you always glance through a pattern for those “AT THE SAME TIME” instructions before you begin knitting? Do you know which decreases mirror which increases, and which decreases lean right versus left (this is useful for patterns like sweaters, which often ask you to “reverse shaping”). How well do you know these things? Can you do them without even thinking about it or does it help to have a tutorial pulled up on your laptop as a refresher? Are they totally, terrifyingly foreign?

2. Consider honestly how hard you are willing to work for this FO.

Knitting is not sports. You do not have to have a natural level of talent or athleticism to be a good knitter or to make amazing things. You do, sometimes, have to be willing to work hard and do some research. If you’d like things to fit you (or your recipient) perfectly, you’ll also need to be willing to do some math. So perhaps the most important step in deciding whether a pattern is the right difficulty level for you is how hard you are willing to work for it.

There is nothing wrong if the answer to this question is “not hard at all”. My grandmother crocheted the same exact ripple blanket, in varying colors, for the last 30 years of her life and was quite happy with it. There are plenty of totally beginner-friendly patterns out there if that’s where you decide your level of comfort will stay, and you’ll probably still be able to go decades without being forced to remake the same pattern. If you have a few more skills (particularly increasing and decreasing) that are totally natural to you, that expands your options even more.

storms close-up

Worth the work? Only you can decide.

Now, if you decide you are willing to put a bit of effort into a project, the next question is “how much”? Are you willing to learn how to cable, but want a pattern with a built in tutorial? Are you interested in knitting your very first (eek!) sweater, but need a pattern that will hold your hand through the process? Or do you already have a good collection of resources at home (books, videos, more experienced friends) to help you when you encounter an unfamiliar technique or phrase in the pattern? Are you adept at using the internet and happy to go diving through Google or YouTube for a tutorial? The world, my friend, is your oyster. It genuinely does not matter if you’ve never knit a single project before; if you are adventurous enough there is no reason your first project can’t be a colorwork hat (I know; I’ve seen it happen!)

3. Learn to make use of the information available about your pattern.

Even if you are buying a pattern online, and can’t actually see the pattern before you buy, there’s still a wealth on info out there about it. Publishers which put out a lot of patterns from a lot of different designers usually have some sort of difficulty rating system which is more reliable than knitters self-rating patterns. Some, like Knitty, still leave a fair bit of flexibility in their definitions. As a general rule, things that are entirely made of knits and purls, with minimal shaping, are “easy”. Add in some shaping, yarn overs, a few cables (either written out or charted), or more than one color on a fairly simple chart and you have an “intermediate” pattern. If you have lots of complicated, all-over cables paired with shaping? Huge charts full of every-row lace? A colorwork chart with 5 colors and an intricate, hard-to-memorize design? That’s an “advanced” pattern.

If your pattern doesn’t have a difficulty rating or you don’t quite trust the rating, consider the actual techniques being used and how much help is offered inside the pattern. Many independent designers, including myself, include a list of all the unexplained techniques in a pattern on that pattern’s Ravelry page (example). Almost every publisher and many, many designers also have lists of standard abbreviations (example), in case you run into an unfamiliar one mid-pattern. Looking at the photos of completed projects should also tell you a lot about what techniques will be in a pattern. Cables, lace, and colorwork are pretty obvious. Clothing in pretty much every form except scarf or rectangular shawl has shaping. If the clothing fits the model beautifully, it has lots of shaping and you will probably want to be willing to do some math to make it fit you just as beautifully. Some techniques, like brioche and entrelac (example, example) are harder to recognize if you are unfamiliar, but will usually be noted in the title or tags. Ravelry tags are definitely your friend.

If you want to try a new technique, but want a pattern that will walk you through it with an incredible amount of detail and reassurance, there are terms you can search for when choosing a pattern. Look for phrases like “first+(new technique)” or “learn+(new technique)”. Patterns that are published in (paper) magazines or on blogs are also a bit more likely to have detailed explanations of non-beginner techniques.

difficulty gauge

Use these to help you decide how difficult a pattern is BEFORE you knit it.

That’s really all there is to it. Sounds manageable, right? As a final note, especially if you know that you have strong preferences for something that isn’t standard (for instance, you absolutely must have your lace instructions written and not charted, or you find the phrase “reverse shaping” morally offensive), there are designers who think the same way as you! With roughly 15,000 crochet designers and 32,000 knit designers on Ravelry, someone will have the same preferences. Find a designer or group of designers who write they way you like and/or need, and patronize them frequently. Don’t worry about all those other designers out there. They’re not writing for you.

Stranded Knitting with Both Hands

Stranded knitting is fun, but you lose a lot of time switching which yarn is in your picking/throwing hand at any given moment. It is possible to save that time and hassle by carrying a different color in each hand (even if you’re knitting with more than two colors, this will still save you some time). This is one of the more advanced techniques I’ve shared on Feel Good, but a good one to have in your arsenal.

To begin with, it helps if you are familiar with both a left-handed and a right-handed style of knitting, such as Continental and English. The links go to Youtube videos if you are not but are willing to learn. I generally knit Continental, but was initially taught English, so I had a head start here.

wip

Once you have a left- and right-handed knitting style, decide which of your two colors is the background color. With many charts this will be obvious, but in some fairly even charts you will have to make an arbitrary decision. Hold this yarn in your right hand. The pattern color then goes in your left.

two-handed

This means  the right-hand yarn will be under the left when knitting, and thus get pulled toward the back of the work just slightly. The left-hand yarn, in turn, will “pop”. If you turn the work over (or inside out) you’ll also notice that the right-hand yarn has just slightly longer and more visible floats, even in stretches where both colors have the same number of stitches. This is what causes the right-hand yarn to pull and recede on the public side.

floats

When working with both strands at the same time, you will have to get used to holding the yarn and the needle in your hand at the same time. Don’t worry, it’s only awkward for the first few rows until the technique works its way into your muscle memory. Keeping one ball of yarn on each side of you helps too. As a bonus, it really helps reduce the tangling that seems so common with stranded work!

While this is not a technique for beginners, I’ve found it well worth the effort. I hope you will too!

Reader Request: Provisional Cast-On Socks

Last week I blogged a post asking what readers wanted to learn/get tips about on this blog. One reader asked for info on provisional cast-on socks that start at the ankle. I’ve never done it, but it certainly would be possible to do. Most sock patterns, with the notable exception of knee socks and a few specific designers, have the same number of stitches in the calf/ankle and the foot. To start, pick a top-down sock pattern (like my freebie DNA Marker socks) and cast on the recommended number of stitches using any provisional cast on. I have a tutorial here if you need one.

dna marker socks

Then just skip over the entirety of the cuff directions and begin at the ankle. When you’re done knitting through the toes, remove your provisional cast on and work up the cuffs. This does solve the “will I have enough yarn for the cuffs?” dilemma, but…The main problem with this method is that you may need to flip or entirely rework your charts for the cuff to keep the pattern from coming out upside down on the cuff. If you’re worried about having enough yarn and not sure how long to make the cuffs, there’s a much, much simpler solution. Toe up socks (like my Brambleton).

Brambleton- Whole Sock

Your foot is going to be the same size no matter how much yarn you have. There’s no getting around that one. It really doesn’t matter if you knit the foot from toe to ankle or ankle to toe. Knitting from toe to ankle, however, eliminates the complication of a provisional cast-on as well as the complication of your foot pattern going in the opposite direction of your leg pattern. You just keep knitting until you run out of yarn, period. Easy.

Ask the Audience

I’m waiting impatiently to post a new pattern which should be released this weekend, and I thought about blogging a skill/tips post while I wait. I was mulling over the techniques in my patterns and the tips I’ve found interesting and/or useful over the years and couldn’t seem to make up my mind what you guys would like the most. Then it occurred to me. Duh. If I want to know what they want, why don’t I just ask them?!?! So, what would you guys like to learn about? I’ll try to get to as many of them as I can!

P.S. Here are the ones I’ve already done, if you’re new to the blog.

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