Monday, September 21, 2009

Knitting from the center: "Belly buttons" and the umbilical waste cord method

includes 6 illustrations. click any illustration to enlarge
Why another method for center-started knitting?
Knitters complain that starting from the middle is fiddly, that their needles fall out, that tension is difficult to maintain. Yes, this is all true.

Nevertheless, there are lots of good reasons to start projects from the center. A center-started hat can be tried to check the length as you go. The concentric rings of lace in a center-started shawl are beautiful.

Until now, the two main ways of starting from the center have been
In today's post, we have a third method:
  • umbilical cords/belly buttons
Umbilical cords are simple--no needles will fall out--yet the end result is identical in looks and structure to the lovely, yet fiddly, disappearing loop.

Belly buttons start with an "umbilical cord" of waste yarn which is later removed. The cord gives you something to hang onto, making knitting easier. Once removed, you get a neat little rosette of stitches--the "belly button." All the beauty points of disappearing loop but far easier.

How to
To make the umilical cord, you have two choices. Either you can follow the waste-tube method shown here. (Follow steps 1-8) or, an even easier way to start the little tube with I-cord from a mill. Same idea, only the I-cord mill makes the umbilical cord.

Once you have the umbilical cord made by whatever method, divide the loops evenly onto two dpn's. If you made the umbilical cord yourself, you will have the right number of stitches for your starting round of garment yarn. If you are using I-cord from a mill (4 sts) then cut that yarn long, and follow the below instructions to knit increases into the first few rounds of the I cord, using the I-cord yarn. Once your umbilical cord has been increased to the correct number of stitches, you switch to the garment yarn.

With the stitches divided onto 2 dpn's, and holding the tube flat (both dpn's held in the L hand, but only knitting off the front one), knit a row--in garment yarn if you made your own umbilical cord--in umbilical cord yarn if you did not. Flip the dpn's over and knit another row. One round knit.

Illustration A, below, shows the umbilical cord which already has one round (ie: a front and a back row) of garment yarn attached.

The second round of garment yarn as an increase round, and this is shown in illustration B. The increase stitches are colored darker--in real life, of course, they'd be the same color as the other stitches. Illustrated here is a backwards loop increase, but really, any sort of an increase could be put into this second round.

Many center-started flat objects feature an alternating two-round plan: First, a plain round, where there are no increases, then this is followed by a second round, an "increase round" where the increasing takes place. This is the plan we are following here. Illustration A shows the plain (non-increase) round, while illustration B shows the increase round. Center started non-flat objects (hats, mittens) use the same idea, but put more plain rounds between the increase rounds.

Illustration C shows flat knitting increases repeated several more times: increase rounds alternating with plain rounds. If you're working with I cord from a mill, once you have the correct number of stitches increased, you switch to the garment yarn.

After only a few rounds, there will be lots of stitches, ready to pop off the dpn's. Rearrange your work either by the magic loop method onto a long circular needle, or add another dpn or two, so that you are knitting with 4 or 5 dpn's.

You might choose to remove your umbilical cord and create the belly button now. To do this, you catch the free loops of the garment yarn on a blunt-tipped (tapestry) needle which you have previously threaded with the tail of the garment yarn, as shown. Illustration C shows all the umbilical cord stitches removed at once, but this is only to show how the loops are to be gathered--don't try this at home! Instead, remove the umbilical stitches one at a time, catching each freed belly button loop as it pops loose. (Take a look at illustrations 9a and 9b in the previous post for examples)

It's easier to flip the work over so the belly button is up and the needles are down: gives a better view of what you're doing.

After the tapestry needle has been passed though all the live garment stitches, the needle is again passed through the first stitch-loop (and only the first stitch-loop) to prevent a gap from forming. The yarn is then drawn up s-l-o-w-l-y to prevent knotting, until all the stitches are snugged up into a center rosette of stitches. This makes the belly button. Alternatively, you can make an attractive little hole in the middle of your work by not pulling the yarn up all the way when you snug up (photo below).

In illustration C, we made the belly button after knitting only a few rounds in garment yarn. This is a good idea, especially the first few times you do this trick--if you mess up, you haven't lost much work and it's painless to start again.To get a better picture of the process, however, illustration D shows what the belly button would look like if you postponed surgery until some way into the project.

Because the cord is taking up quite a bit of room, the fabric is humped up into a kind of a cone in the center. Never fear--when the umbilical cord is removed, the fabric will lay far flatter.

Illustration E shows the umbilical cord removed but the belly button in this picture has not been snugged completely: there's a little open-work circle in the middle--very pretty for lace.

Illustration F, below, shows the same fabric with the belly button snugged up all the way.

To prevent a knot, don't work in the tail by winding it around and around through the stitches of the belly button itself. Packing the belly button with yarn this way makes it a hard knot, an "outie." Of course, in lace, there really is nowhere else to hide the tail, but in anything heavier, find another place for the tail--click here for info on weaving in, here for skimming.)

The umbilical cord here shows 8 stitches cast on with an increase of 8 stitches every second round. This is the default formula for a flat circle. However, umbilical cord works for any number of stitches cast on and any rate of increase. Match the number of umbilical cord stitches to the number of stitches you are supposed to cast on for your pattern, and away you go.

ADDENDUM: Due to not googling before chosing this name, it turns out that Rosemarie Buchanan, the inventive author of "Two sticks and some string!" has a prior claim to this name for this technique. I urge you to have a look--Rosemarie's umbilical cords are made a bit differently, using a flat-knit umbilical cord, then going to 4 dpn's right away, and her method is worth knowing, too.  Click here for a direct link to Rosemarie's post on this matter.

You have been reading TECHknitting on "the umbilical cord waste yarn method for center-started garments, or 'how to make knitted belly buttons.'"


Angeluna said...

Techknitter, you are an ACE! Loved this.

quinn said...

Great post, in every way :)

Dixie Ipsit said...

This is really a special case of COWYAK, isn't it? The waste yarn makes the little tube - but you don't knit the provisional stitches, just run the loose end through them.

--TECHknitter said...

Hi Dixie--yes, you're quite, quite right! The special variation here is the idea of working on 3 dpn's to create the tube and the first few rounds (knit in half-rows) of the garment. This special 3-d feature makes it a special variation deserving of its very own silly name!

Thanks for writing. TK

bunnikins said...

Excellent article, thanks! I tend to start small in-the-round things this way, with an icord 'tail', but I've never been very good at explaining it clearly, so thank you for a fabulous explanation to point people to!

Rosemarie Buchanan said...

Thanks for the link to my blog and my Belly Button Start for Circular Projects.

That is the page on my blog that gets the most attention, which is why I`ve also had it translated into several languages.

Your explanation is excellent, too. And what a great name!

Rosemarie Buchanan

--TECHknitter said...

Thanks for writing, Rosemary. Best, --TK

Jackie said...

Thank you for another very useful and informative post! I'm going to be knitting one of Ysolda's cute little toys soon; this will come in handy.

Dixie Ipsit said...

All of this would work fine with two circular needles, as well as with DPNs or Magic Loop? I've done I-cord with my circ - you just have to push the I-cord farther to get to the other end. And, you wouldn't need a third needle - just the other part of the circ.

--TECHknitter said...

Hi Dixie--
You can, of course, do this by magic loop (and I often do). It's illustrated on dpn's just because that is conceptually cleaner and is less confusing for those knitters who haven't quite made the connection to magic loop yet.

Thanks for writing--TK

Urbanspinner said...

What a fab article! If you're concerned about dropping stitches when you remove the ubilical and close up the belly button -- you can put the equivalent of a lace-knitting "lifeline" in the first row of garment yarn. Run a smooth yarn through the first row of loops, and then tie loosely into a ring. It'll hold everything in place until you're ready to close the hole.

Judith said...

Wow. I've been holding off on reading your blog. Today I opened it and got caught up, and there it is! A new way to start the project I'm spinning and planning for right now.

Anonymous said...

I've been searching for a site like yours for AGES, thank you so much! Its very helpful for me, beeing a very tech-oriented knitter. thanks again!

Anonymous said...

This is terrific! I wish I had known about it when I started my Garden Shawl. It has a very clumsy start in the middle and it's the one thing on the whole shawl I'm not satisfied with..... However, after finishing the thing, (except for blocking) I am NOT going to frog it just to fix that! LOL!
Thanks for posting these very good directions!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your free instructions. Very generous indeed.
Also found the directions very clear and easy to follow