Saturday, March 31, 2007

TECHpattern and tutorial: gaugeless MAGIC LOOP ski hat with a TKIO (Part 3 of the "knitting seamless tubes and circles" series)

This post is PART 3 of the knitting seamless tubes and circles series. It is also (ta da!) the first TECHpattern--a pattern and tutorial for a ...

Gaugeless, guaranteed-to-fit
2 magic loop ski hats
This is a very long post. Every detail I could think of is covered in excruciating detail for those who might otherwise be alarmed by the prospect of knitting a seamless tube. However, this is actually a very simple "envelope-style" ski hat, knit from the top down with a too-long circular needle in the "Magic loop" technique.

This hat doubles as a tutorial on the Magic loop method. But it also doubles as a gauge swatch, because you can make this hat using ANY weight of yarn with any needles proportionate to that yarn. (If you want to learn Magic loop, or if you want to make a gauge swatch for some yarn you're thinking of using for big project, your effort won't be wasted even if you don't want a hat of this style for your own personal collection. Four oz. of yarn in any thickness pretty much makes a hat, and lots of worthy organizations collect hand knit hats for shivering little kids all over the world.)

  • Enough yarn in any weight to make a hat (4 ounces of most weights of yarn will do it) and
  • A too-long circular needle in any size you want to try, in a length of 40 or 47 inches. The needle must have a VERY flexible cable.
  • A second too-long circular needle OR a 16" circular needle, 2-3 sizes smaller than the first, to be used for the ribbing.
Addi Turbos are usually too shiny for me, but they unquestionably have a very pleasant, flexible cable, well-attached, which easily stands up to the cable-torture the Magic loop technique metes out.

I think of ski hats as being knit tighter than ordinary hats, and the two sample hats of the illustrations were each knit tighter (that is: with smaller needles) than is usual for that type of yarn. You can make up your own mind about this. Because it is gaugeless, you can mess around on this hat matching needles to yarn, to see what happens to stitch gauge and row gauge.

If you need more info than the pattern contains, some of the methods used in this hat have been described elsewhere in this blog. Most of these links are also inserted in the part of the pattern where you'd maybe need them, but they're also collected here in one handy spot.
click picture
•The hat is started from a little I-cord loop, called a TKIO (see "The TKIO--a cute way to start hats" TECHknitting of March 6, 2007.)

•Next, the stitches are placed on a circular needle, separated into a front set and a back set in preparation for knitting the hat with the magic loop technique. (see "Knitting seamless tubes and circles, part 2--the theory" TECHknitting of March 16, 2007.)

•The hat grows wider through matching sets of right- and left-leaning increases (see "Two handy increases, one slanting left, one slanting right" TECHknitting of March 20, 2007.)

•Deciding how large to make the hat requires taking "ease" into account. (see "Gauge, ease and fashion or--'why doesn't my sweater fit?' " TECHknitting of January 23, 2007.)

•The hat is ended with a ribbing--the last round of the hat and the first round of the ribbing are knit with a special trick which improves the ribbing transition zone (see "Where the ribbing ends--improving the transition zone" TECHknitting of March 9, 2007.)

•Finally, there's a neat trick for binding off the ribbing (see: Easy fake tubular bind off: casting off 1/1 ribbing the TECHknitting way, TECHknitting of April 1, 2007)


Part 1: starting the hat from a TKIO
STEPS 1-4 are only done once for each hat--to get the hat started from the TKIO.

step 1: (below) Make a TKIO as set forth in the TKIO post. However, do not transfer the stitches to double pointed needles.
click picture
step 2: (above) Transfer the TKIO to circular needles as shown. The ball yarn is coming out to the left, the needle tips are facing left, and you are looking at the "outside" of the TKIO.

TECHtip: All kinds of side-to-side AND top-to-bottom rotation is going to happen next. To better track which needle is which, maybe get a SHARPIE and mark your top needle--the one that's red in the illustrations. Having a mark makes it much easier to follow the action--the marked needle will always be your working (right) needle.

step 3: (below) To get this configuration, the TKIO has been flipped side-over-side so the ball end now comes out to the right, the needles point right, and you are looking at the "inside" of the TKIO.
click picture
step 4: (above) The red needle has been drawn all the way through the top three stitches. Those stitches are now resting on the cable, and the red needle has been brought all the way around to the working position. Fold the TKIO in half so the inside is in and the outside is out--the TKIO should hang DOWN from your needles, not stick up (see step 5 for a picture of this). Using the red (working) needle, knit the three stitches on the green needle. This knits one side of the TKIO shut. (For further info on splitting the stitches into sets, try this link.) You are now about to start knitting on the hat, proper.

TECHtip: Give the yarn a good yank before you knit the first stitch of any set. See--on a circular needle, the cable is a much smaller diameter than the needle tip. By giving the yarn a good yank before you start knitting with the red (working) needle, you're removing the normal slack between the stitches AND considerably tightening up the loop of the previous stitch, that being the last stitch on the cable.

By making the last few stitches on the back needle smaller, and removing the normal slack between the stitches of the back set and the first stitch of the front set, you will get a nice, crisp edge--a built-in fold line. In fact, because of this tightening trick you'll get a MUCH nicer, crisper edge between the stitch sets with Magic loop than would be possible with double pointed needles (dpn's have no small diameter cable to tighten edge stitches around). In a previous post, I said that I find Magic loop best suited to items which will be used folded over as they are knit, such as the ski hat we're making here. This fold-line trick is the reason.

BTW: the opposite is true also. If you want to knit truly round objects--such as socks--with the Magic loop technique, you have to be careful NOT to give that edge stitch a yank, or you will get a "fold line" down the middle of your sock, where you might not want one!

Part 2: Knitting the top (slanted increase portion) of the hat

STEPS 5-8, described below, are the Magic loop technique, repeated throughout the rest of the hat. Each round is made of two half rounds
  • Steps 5-8, when repeated ONCE make a half round.
Each full round is made of two half rounds.
  • You must repeat steps 5-8 TWICE to make each full round
This hat is knitted by alternating one full round "plain" and one full round with increases. On every plain round, no increases occur--you simply knit into every stitch on your needles, including knitting into the increase stitches which were added in the row below. On every increase round, you add four stitches. By locating these four stitches near each end of each stitch set, you get the classic "envelope" ski hat shape.

Knitting one round plain

In starting the hat from the TKIO, you have actually already knit 1/2 a round plain--all that remains in the first round of plain knitting is to create another 1/2 round.

step 5: (below) The front three stitches have been knit with the red (working) needle, and the green needle is popped loose of the work.
click picture
step 6: (above)To get to this configuration from step 5, draw the green needle (the needle now loose) rightwards, so the back stitches which were on the cable, will be resting on the green needle instead, as illustrated.

step 7: (below) To get to this configuration from step 6, the work has been flipped side over side, such that the red (working) needle (carrying the stitches just knitted) is in the back, and the green needle is in the front.
click picture
step 8: (above) To get to this configuration from step 7, the red (working) needle has been drawn out of the back stitches such that these back stitches rest on the cable of the circular needle. The red (working) needle has been drawn to the front, and is ready to knit the front stitches off the green needle. To complete the second half of the round, use the red (working) needle to knit the front 3 stitches off the green needle, until you are back in the same configuration as shown in step 5.

Steps 5-8 are the steps you will follow to make every 1/2 of every plain (no increase) round. In other words, to make a whole plain round, you would repeat steps 5-8 twice--once on the front set of stitches, and once on the back set of stitches.

TECHtip: The gymnastics of rearranging the needles between sets means Magic loop knitting is not a good candidate for marking the beginning of the round with a stitch marker. Instead, put a safety pin in the fabric at the edge where each round starts so you can tell in which half of the round you are working. (The picture of "measuring a hat for length," below, shows a stitch holder being used as a round marker.)

Knitting the increase rounds

The increase rounds are superimposed on the pattern of Magic loop knitting set forth in steps 5-8, above. On an increase round, the increases are made one stitch from the edge on each stitch set. (For further info on increases, try this link ) Specifically, on an increase round, during step 8, make the first half of the increase round as follows:
•* K1 (knit 1).
•Make a right leaning increase by the forwards loop method
click picture

•Knit to within 1 stitch of the end of the stitch set (on the first time you do this, you'll only have to knit 1 stitch before you are within 1 stitch of the end of the stitch set).
•Make a left leaning increase by the backwards loop method.
click picture
•Finish this half of the round by knitting the last stitch on the front needle (K1).*
What you have just done is to perform increases on both ends of the first half of the round--in other words, on both ends of the first repetition of step 8 of the Magic loop knitting sequence. You will now have 5 stitches on your front needle instead of the three you started with, and you'll need to re-arrange your needles as per steps 5 -7 to get to the second half of the increase round. As you knit the second half of the increase round, when you get to step 8 again, you'll repeat the sequence within the asterisks: *k1, make a right leaning increase, work to within 1 stitch of the end of the stitch set, make a left leaning increase, k1.*

From here on out, you follow the Magic loop sequence of steps 5-8 for each half round. The hat is created in 2-round cycles: On alternate full rounds, you knit plain on both sets of stitches (no increases) and on the following full round you create increases during step 8 on both halves of the round (both sets of stitches).

Deciding when to stop increasing

click picturemsurng for stitch gauge
In knitting the hat from the top down, you quickly create enough fabric to measure. And measure it you should. Begin by steam blocking--once you've made enough fabric so you can keep your iron away from the needles (and especially, away from the plastic cable) lay the work (still on the needles) on the ironing board. Set the iron on steam, hold the iron an inch or so above the fabric, and let the steam penetrate the fabric. Pat the fabric flat, let it dry (takes only a very few minutes). Lay a tape measure on the hat. Now you've got your stitch gauge--the number of stitches to each inch of fabric.

You might think the next step would be to measure your Intended Wearer's (IW's) head and keep increasing to match that measurement, but there is a better way. You see---measuring your IW's head does not tell you anything about how your IW likes hats to fit--whether tight or loose. In other words, a head measurement tells you your IW's head size, but says nothing about how much "ease" they prefer in a hat. Instead, take your Intended Wearer's favorite hat, and measure how big around THAT is. Do the math and figure out how many final stitches you must have to make the hat you're knitting match the favorite hat. As an example, if the IW's favorite hat is 21 inches around, and if you are getting 5 stitches per inch, your final stitch count ought to be 21 x 5, or 105 stitches.

TECHtip: Gauge is notoriously hard to nail down, partly because it's so hard to measure. It's very common to mistake 5-1/4 stitches per inch for 5 stitches per inch, or 4-3/4 stitches per inch for 5 st/in. Result? Garments too big or too small. Stack the odds in your favor: measure over 3 or 4 inches or even more. Measuring over this longer span makes it less likely that you're holding the material under tension when you measure, and it also makes it easier to account for fractional stitches. It is because bigger gauge swatches are much better than smaller ones, that gaugeless hats are such a great way to test-drive your yarn while also creating a reliable gauge swatch.

You might think it wise to test the hat's diameter by having the IW try on the hat-in progress. But beware: a try-on can be misleading because stitch gauge has the most ferocious tendency to stretch on a piece of knitting which is not bound off. If the trial try-on and the mathematical option disagree, let the math rule. As long as you've carefully measured your gauge AND the target hat, then--as counter-intuitive as it may seem--the math is far more likely to be right than the try-on as regards the diameter of the hat.

Part 3: Knitting the hat to the correct length

click picture2 folded hats
Once you've got the hat as big around as you need it, stop increasing and simply knit the rest of the hat plain until it is as long as you need the hat to be. Unlike the diameter of the hat, however, the length is a little trickier to measure off an already existing hat. As you can see from the picture, these two hats, knit to the same pattern but out of different yarns have vastly different relative row gauges--they have different angles and rates of increase. The first time through with a new yarn, you really don't know if the ski hat you're knitting might wind up with a relatively flat-ish top, or almost pointy enough to be an elf-hat.
click picturetry hat 4 lngth

This means that even if the ski hat is pretty much the same style as the IW's favorite hat, unless both hats have the same relative row gauge (angle of slope), you really can't measure the correct length from an existing hat because you can't know how deeply into the point your IW's head will go. This is where it IS handy to have the IW try on the hat-in-progress: unlike stitch gauge --which stretches madly on unbound knitting--the row gauge on the hat-in-progress won't stretch. Therefore, you may confidently rely on the try-on to determine the length.

Magic loop and the plain tube

As you knit the plain tube, there is no reason to keep the two circular needle cable loops popped loose of the fabric between the stitch sets as you've been doing up to now. In fact, there are good reasons why you shouldn't keep the cable loops popped out in the same place. If you keep the stitch sets separated past the increase rounds, you may wind up with the fold line carrying down the body of the hat, where no fold line is necessary.

To avoid this problem, you can either switch to a shorter (16") circular needle in the same size as the one you have been using, OR you can switch to a more free-form version of Magic loop knitting which has only one loop of cable popped free. To do this, you simply dig out one loop of cable from between two random stitches, about 3/4 of the round away from where your needle tips are. When you've knit to that spot, you reposition the cable another 3/4 of a round away from where the needle tips are, and so on . By randomly varying the place where the cable pops loose of the fabric, you avoid the fold line problem, and you also avoid any tendency towards ladders which might otherwise trouble you.

In any event, however you choose to do it, at some point, you will have knit the plain tube of the hat 1-2 inches less than the final desired length.


The last 1-2 inches of the hat are knit in ribbing. If you have a sort of ribbing you prefer, and if you have neat way to bind it off, use that. Otherwise, switch to a 1/1 ribbing (k1, p1) and prepare for the ribbing transition zone as follows: Switch to needles 2-3 sizes smaller, and knit the last full round of the hat. On the next round, establish the 1/1 ribbing by slipping the knit stitches, and purling the purl stitches. On every round after that, create the ribbing by knitting or purling as the pattern is set. When the ribbing is long enough, bind off. That's it--you have a gaugeless, guaranteed-to-fit, Magic loop ski hat, started with a TKIO.

(You have been reading TECHknitting on "TECHpattern and tutorial: gaugeless MAGIC LOOP ski hat with a TKIO (Part 3 of the "knitting seamless tubes and circles" series)"

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Two handy knitted increases, one slanting right, one slanting left

EDIT--MARCH, 2021 This post has been superseded by a much newer post with better illustrations and clearer text.  Maybe go there, instead? The old text remains below, just in case someone's got it bookmarked, but the text has been grayed-out. 

Knitted increases based on a twisted tail: Backwards loop, Yanked Increase & Twisted Yarn-over







Original 2007 text follows...
These increases are nearly identical, but the right leaning increase is a forwards loop while the left-slanting increase is a backwards loop. (These increases are really just subsets of the forward and backward looping-on casting-on described in a previous post. However, instead of casting-on an entire row of foundation stitches, only one stitch at a time is being cast on, to serve as an increase.)  These kinds of loop increases are often called an m1 (make-1) although, in truth, there are LOTS of different increases called an m1.
click picture
(Above) The fabric in this picture is growing to the right because the increases are being made very near the fabric's right edge (one stitch in from the edge, actually). The increases are right-slanting ones, which means that they lay smoothly and do not leave a bump on the fabric surface when used to make an increase by the right edge of a knitted fabric. This right-leaning looped increase is made by twisting the standing yarn UNDER the tail yarn (in this illustration, the tail yarn=yarn coming out of the immediately preceding stitch).

The loop which results from twisting the standing yarn under the tail yarn is called a "forwards" loop because the loop lays on the right needle right arm forward, just like a regular untwisted stitch does. In other words, if you compare the right-leaning increase to the ordinary stitch sitting beside it you will see that both lay right arms forward.

click picture

(Above) The fabric in this picture is growing to the left because the increases are being made very near the fabric's left edge (one stitch in from the edge). The increases are left-leaning ones, which means that they lay smoothly and do not leave a bump on the fabric surface when used to make an increase by the left edge of a knitted fabric. This left leaning looped increase is made by twisting the standing yarn OVER the tail yarn (in this illustration, the tail yarn=yarn coming out of the immediately preceding stitch).

The loop which results from twisting the standing yarn over the tail yarn is called a "backwards" loop because the loop lays on the left needle "backwards," like a twisted stitch would. Compare the left-leaning increase to the regular stitch sitting beside it--the regular stitch is right arm forward, but the increase loop is left arm forward.

* * *

The easiest way to make both of these increases is to pinch the standing yarn between your left thumb and forefinger, twist it into the kind of loop you want (per illustrations above) and then place it onto the right needle.

* * *

Initially, you may find knitting (or purling) into looped increases awkward. Like all looped-on stitches, looped increases--whether left- or right-leaning--want to shrink and stretch and share yarn with the surrounding stitches. If you're really having a hard time skewering those loops with your right needle when you come to them in the next row, cheat a little, and knit (or in flat knitting, purl) into the back loop instead. I made two long samples--one flat knit and one circular knit, and could see only the most subtle difference between working into the front loops or working into the back loops, so do whatever you'd find easiest. With practice, knitting into these awkward little thingies will become one more of your "mad knitting skillz" (as the 8th graders like to say).


(You have been reading TECHknitting on: Left slanting and Right slanting increases in knitting)

Friday, March 16, 2007

Knitting seamless tubes & circles-part 2: the theory

The first post of this series tried to convince you of the wisdom of learning to make seamless tubes and circles. Today's post examines the theory What is the theory behind the voodoo of double pointed needles, as well as magic loop.

Future posts will get down to the actual (k)nitty-gritty--how to hold 4 (5?) needles with two hands, how to cast on, all that good stuff. But for today, we're not going to worry about how the stitches are cast on, or how they find their way from one needle to the next, or ladders, or any of that stuff. Today, we're just going to look at some stitches ALREADY ON the needles. Today, we're dealing with--

The THEORY of seamless tubes and circles 101

The traditional way of knitting small tubes or circles is with 4 or 5 double pointed needles (dpn's). But nobody has that many hands, and the thing looks horribly complicated. The alternate non-traditional method--using one very long circular needle--a method called "Magic loop"-- also looks complex.

Given how un-intuitive these methods seem, there must be a pretty good reason why they're so popular. So what is that reason? What's with all those needles, all those darn loops?


The deal is this: double pointed needles (dpn's) allow your knitting to choose its own natural diameter. This is true whether you are knitting a pass-through tube (sleeve) or a dead-end tube (hat, sock, mitten)--or any flat circle (lace shawl, hat top)--on dpn's these items all get to find their natural diameter without any stretching.

An example: per the illustration below, if you have a tube of 44 stitches, and you put that on four dpn's, you'll have 11 stitches on each of the four needles, right? Each SET of 11 stitches can just sit in the middle of its own personal needle, taking up exactly 11 stitches worth of needle-room. The stitches in each set never need to stretch their way down the length of the needle. Any unused lengths of needle just turn into naked needle ends sticking out PAST either end of the set. As a result, the tube gets to hang down from the needles in its natural shape--at its natural diameter.

Now, the thing is, the naked needle ends on the dpn's are free to overlap one another as much or as little as necessary. That's what makes the dpn system so very flexible. On the illustration below, if you were to increase one stitch per set--so you had 12 stitches on each of 4 needles, each needle would have less naked needle-end, and more of each needle would be taken up with stitches. In this way the tube would remain free to find its own diameter.

So it all boils down to this: stitches on dpn's don't have to stretch ALONG the needle--the excess needle just sticks out. That means there's no gap between the stitches of one set. But, how about the gap BETWEEN sets?
click picture
44 sts on dpn'sLet's look at the gap between stitch 11 and stitch 12 in the above illustration. It is true that two needle ends are sticking out of this gap. However, although there is a right angle bend between them, stitch 11 (the LAST stitch of one set) and stitch 12 (the FIRST stitch of the next set) aren't really any further apart from one another than if they were two stitches in the SAME set. In other words, they're just as close to one another as they would be if they were on the same needle. See: the knitted fabric is flexible, bends readily and easily accomodates the right turn between each set of 11 stitches, while the naked needle ends overlap as much (or little) as they need to, to keep adjoining stitches from different sets right next to each other.

Bottom line: with dpn's, there is no stretching between stitches in the same set, nor between stitches in adjoining sets. The dpn's let the tube you're knitting find its own diameter, and any excess length of needle just sticks out PAST the stitches.

Of course, the whole thing looks like a porcupine, with all those naked needle ends sticking out. And that is especially so when you're just starting a center-start garment with a very few stitches. However, within that ferocious-looking nest of needle ends, the tube or circle lays very nice and tidy and most of all it lays peacefully UNSTRETCHED.

The WHY of a too-long circular needle (called "Magic Loop")

We now pass on to the trick of knitting with a too-long circular needle. This trick was popularized in a booklet which named the technique "Magic loop" knitting. The booklet, available on the web, and probably at your LYS, came out around the same time as modern circular needles which feature a well-attached and flexible cable.  This technique is a needle-ruiner for the older type needles with stiff nylon cables, which will kink or break at the cable-needle joint.

Oh wait--one more thing before we jump in. I expect you are wondering why this trick even developed--after all, it seems sort of odd to create a small seamless tube with a too-long needle. Why not just use an itty-bitty teeny circular needle in the first place? Actually, there ARE tiny needles touted for making little tubes--needles 8 inches long and 12 inches long. However, for many knitters, a needle that short is hard to manipulate. The needle tips have to be very short or the cable wouldn't be long enough to wrap around the back, so you have to hold the needle tips with your finger tips.

OK, now we come to the theory of the technique.

The deal with a too-long circular needle is this: by popping two loops of cable out between two sets of adjacent stitches, the stitches separate into two sets in a flattened sort of tube. As with dpn's, disassociating the length of the needle from the amount of room each set of stitches takes up, allows the stitches in each set to sit unstretched, taking up exactly as much needle-room as they need.

In other words, in the same way that the naked needle-ends protrude past the ends of the stitch sets in dpn's, so unused part of the cable needle protrudes in loops past the ends of the stitch sets in this technique. Because the cable loops are free to stick out of the fabric as far or as little as necessary, this allows the tube you are knitting to find its natural diameter without stretching around the circumference of the circular needle.
click picture
Between stitches 22 and 23, in the illustration above, the first loop of excess cable has been popped loose of the fabric, and between stitches 44 and 1, the second loop of excess cable has been popped loose. (Notice that the front set of stitches lies on the left needle tip, but the back set of stitches isn't actually on the right needle tip--it is on the cable. The right needle has been drawn all the way around, and is positioned ready to knit the waiting stitches off the left needle.)

The cable loop which pokes out between sets is theoretically flexible enough so that stitches in adjoining sets are no further apart than stitches along the same needle in the same set, and the knitted fabric is theoretically flexible enough to take the 180 degree bend between the front and back set of stitches without distortion. In actual practice, you may find that there is distortion along the line between the front and the back sets of stitches.


Like every other aspect of knitting, personal preference trumps all.  For me, magic loop, with its flattened, doubled fabric, is a perfect match for creating objects which are used flat and doubled--classic ski hats, diamond-shaped potholders, christmas stockings. This is partly because magic loop tends to distort the fabric slightly along the fold line making it a good match for objects which will stay folded, and partly because with magic loop, it is so easy to visualize what the finished project will look like since you knit it in the same shape as it will be used.

Other than for folded, doubled objects, I don't use magic loop much because I find it slow to have to stop and re-arrange the needles twice on every round--that'd be every 30 or 40 stitches on a sock, for example. In my hands, double pointed needles are much faster.

However, as is evident in the comments, this is utterly a question of preference.  Some knitters find that magic loop is quite a bit faster than dpn's, and more convenient, too: easier for travel, less likely to lose needles, no need to own multiple sets of needles.

It's knitter's choice, and after a few iterations, you'll know which trick works better for you.

* * *

This is part two of a five part series. The other posts are:
Why knit seamless tubes (first post)
Theory of seamless tubes on dpns and magic loop (this post)
Ski hat magic loop tutorial (third post)
How to knit with dpn's (fourth post)
Avoiding ladders with dpn's (fifth post)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Knitting seamless tubes & circles-part 1: why to learn double pointed needle & magic-loop

too many needlesThere are two kinds of tubes in knitting: pass-through tubes (like sleeves) and dead-end tubes, like socks, mittens and hats. Often, patterns call for making these seamlessly using a special skill --using double pointed needles (dpn's) or by using an alternate method, such as using a too-long circular needle called "magic loop" (after a pioneering book--well worth owning!!--of this same name).

This special skill may be used for the whole garment (knitting a sweater in the round) or for part of a garment (the sleeves on double pointed needles). It may be modified into flat or flat-ish circle knitting for the dead-end part of a hat, sock, thumb; or for the center start--or end--of a hat, or flat shawl or blanket.

Now, the thing is, many knitters dread dpn's or magic loop to the point of avoiding them. Worse yet, some knitters avoid even thinking about learning how--it looks too complicated, too fussy, too much like something for an octopus with 8 hands, rather than a knitter with only 2.

This is the first in a series of posts--eventually this series is going to lead into 1) a how-to on operating dpn's, and 2) a how-to about knitting tubes and circles with magic-loop on one too-long circular needle. But there's no sense starting with the "how to" if you don't think the effort is worth it in the first place.

In the hopes of persuading the dpn-o-phobic, the seamless-tube-o-phobic, the "center-start"-o-phobic, the "magic-loop"-o-phobic to change their ways, here's a piece on why you might bother to learn in the first place.


You could make a tube by creating a piece of flat cloth, and then sewing it up. That's actually how most clothing IS made--the fine art of dressmaking involves taking flat cloth and forming it into tubes that (like Swift's fleas, ) have littler tubes upon 'em--a big pass-through tube for the body, smaller attached sleevish pass-through ones for the arms and legs, little dead-end tubes for the hands and feet , sometimes with littler dead-end tubes yet upon those--the fingers in gloves, the thumbs in mittens.

Folding flat rectangles into tubes isn't restricted to woven cloth--knitting can be done this way too--that's what all the recipes for sweaters in 5 pieces are about, and "two needle" mittens and hats--knitting a flat piece or panel of cloth to be sewn up along various specified edges into the tube of choice.

In dressmaking (as the sewers among you know) there are limitations to tube-creation. First and most obviously, people stretch, but woven cloth doesn't--or doesn't very well except along the bias, and even that is very limited. So in order to create wearable tubes, there are two possible approaches. First, the tubes can be made roomy enough to move around inside of (they have to have sufficient "ease"). An alternative approach is to create tubes fitted to the body (by gores, panels, sleeve caps or darts) so the excess cloth necessary for ease does not bind. These fitted garments have to be provided with openings to let the wearer climb inside them (plackets) and also be provided with a method for closing these openings (zippers, buttons).

Using stretchy fabric, like knitting, makes a lot of these problems go away. Because the knitted fabric IS so stretchy, less ease, less shaping and fewer openings have to be provided. And this is especially true for pass-through tubes. If your hand can pass through the sleeve and pop through the cuff, but the cuff stays small enough to snug around your wrist, you don't have to sew (and face) a slit cuff with a placket, button band and buttons. Less work all around, and more comfortable, too.

So, if you are knitting flat fabric and sewing it together into tubes, you're already got woven cloth garments beat all hollow for stretchy comfort. And perhaps, that is where you are inclined to stay--with seamed two-needle, pass-through-tube-garments, knitted flat. But, although seamed knitting is far superior in stretch and comfort to seamed woven fabric, there are problems with seaming even knitted fabric.

A seam of a sewn tube stops the stretchy knit fabric from stretching. Stopping stretchy-ness isn't much of a problem on a big pass-through tube, like a sweater body--it might even be a sag-stopping advantage. But on a small tube, like a sleeve, the situation is dicier.

When we turn to dead-end tubes, the problem only gets worse. On a tiny tube like a mitten thumb or glove finger, or even on a sock, lack of stretchy-ness IS a problem. When knitted socks and stockings were first invented, their stretchy properties were so astoundingly comfortable compared to the non-stretchy footwear they replaced, that they were considered precious objects--worth breaking and entering for, and listed in the inventories of rich folks' estates. Knitted stockings were presents considered fit for royalty.

And lack of stretchy-ness isn't the only problem raised by seaming knitted fabric. You see, the smaller the tube, the greater the proportion of the tube which is taken over by the (possibly unsightly, possibly bulky, possibly uncomfortable) seam. Trying to cram your actual finger AND a seam into a glove finger of proportionate size might be a trick. The seam in a sock could be painful to tread upon. Heads are harder than fingers and toes, but it still might be annoying to have the knot of a hat seam on your forehead, ear or the back of your neck.

OK, so in the best of all possible worlds, we'd all knit seamless tubes, right? Make ourselves a pair of socks fit for the queen of England? And maybe you'd be willing to read more about the idea behind all those double pointed needles? Or how it works to make a little tube with a big long circular needle twisted into a "magic loop?" Stay tuned until the next post--part 2 of knitting seamless tubes & circles.


You have been reading TECHknitting on: Knitting seamless tubes & circles part 1: why to learn double pointed needles and magic loop

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Felted mittens with non-felted cuffs

My LYS had a book about felting on display. The book had a section on children's mittens. It recommended casting on in cotton, knitting a few rounds, switching to wool, making the mittens, felting the mittens, removing the waste cotton and then knitting the cuff into the holes where the cotton had been.

Hmmm. would work, yes. You COULD do it that way. But...why? What a lot of work.

Try this instead:
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felted mittens, superwash cuffsDoes it work? You bet. Did it hold up? See for yourself. Here are the same mittens after two Wisconsin winters' worth of wear by a boy, now in second grade, who wears these mittens (and no others) through every snowball fight and sledding adventure, every day at recess, after school and every other time he goes outside--and here, we've still got a foot on the ground (although thankfully, it is melting fast). These mittens are getting too small for him now, the bright colors have yellowed and faded, but he's still wearing them.
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same mittens, 2 yrs laterBottom line: for ribbing on felted garments, put away that waste cotton & bring on the superwash wool.

PS: Make sure to use a non-fuzzy yarn for the shrinky-parts, or the fuzz will get into the non-shrinking cuffs and make a mess. For further information about this, go to  LIVNLETLRN,  an illustrated entry on her blog. 

PPS:  If you want to make these mittens, a pattern is available for sale ($3.25)
You can go to the pattern store on Ravelry
You can go to the pattern page on Ravelry or
you can 


(you have been reading TECHknitting on: Felted Mittens with Unfelted Cuffs)

Friday, March 9, 2007

Where the ribbing ends: improving the transition zone

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ribbing transition zonesincludes a how-to
The transition zone where the ribbing meets the sweater (hat, mitten) is the subject of today's post.
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Where the ribbing meets the sweater is often a weak spot in knitting. Along with the change of stitch pattern comes a distortion in the column of knit stitches, especially when switching from ribbing to stockinette fabric. Although this is no earth-shattering condition, it's so easy to improve that you might as well--for the cumulative effect of little improvements is greater than you might believe.

For various arcane reasons, the transition zone between ribbing and the body of the garment is actually more of a problem for top-down ribbing. Therefore, as the second photo below demonstrates, the improvement is correspondingly more dramatic for top-down knitting. However, the first photo shows that bottom-up ribbing also benefits from an improved transition zone.

Here is the how-to:


For the purposes of this discussion, I assume you are at the point where you are going to switch FROM ribbing TO stockinette or a patterned fabric.
  • On the LAST ribbing row, SLIP every knit stitch (slip them "open," also called purlwise"). Purl every purl stitch.
  • After this last row or round of ribbing, switch to the larger needle you'll use for the body size, and begin the body of the garment.
click picturetop down 1x1 ribbing
(Photo above) In bottom-up ribbing, the improvement is subtle, but still visible. The corrected knit columns bridge more directly from the ribbing to the body of the fabric (right arrow). Although it's hard to tell from this photo, the uncorrected transition zone (left arrow) features a bulkier transition from ribbing to the smoother stockinette fabric of the garment body.

For the purposes of this discussion, I assume you have worked your garment down to the point where you want your ribbing to start.
  • Using the needle size for the ribbing (usually a needle 2-3 sizes smaller than that with which you worked the body of the garment) work one last row or round in the body pattern (i.e.: the last row of stockinette, or whatever you were working).
  • On the next row or round (the first row of ribbing) SLIP every knit stitch (slip them "open," also called purlwise.") Purl every purl stitch.
  • After this first row or round, work the ribbing in the usual way to the desired length.
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top down 2x2 ribbing(Photo above) The corrected knit columns bridge more directly from the body of the fabric to the ribbing (right arrow). The unimproved transition zone (left arrow) features wandering, zig-zagging knit columns.
* * *

ribbing w/increasesMarjorie, a reader of this blog, asks the excellent question of how to reconcile the technique set forth in the post--slipping the knit stitches--with the advice often given in patterns to start bottom-up ribbing on fewer stitches, and then increase to the larger body number of sitches "evenly in the last row." Per the photo (left) if the fabric above the ribbing is to be stockinette, or a near-stockinette fabric, it would be my advice to do all increases on a purl using an increase, such as backwards loop, which leaves a "bump." This "bump" will blend into the purls. By not making increases on the knit columns you will have preserved the attractive transition where the knit columns of the ribbing segue into the knit columns of the stockinette fabric above it.

* * *
A final note: although 1X1 ribbing is demonstrated in bottom-up knitting, and 2X2 ribbing is demonstrated in top-down knitting, the directions given for bottom-up ribbing work for both 1X1 AND 2X2 ribbing worked from the bottom up.

Similarly, the directions given for top-down ribbing work for both 1X1 AND 2X2 ribbing worked from the top down.

If you want to work a 3X3 or larger, do a swatch to decide for yourself whether the slip-the-knit-stitches technique creates a noticible improvement over so wide a rib.


Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The TKIO--a tailored loop and a great way to start hats

includes a how-to It's the little details --like this little loop--which distinguish "home made" from "handmade." A tailored little knitted element, this loop is called a TKIO, pronounced "Tik-ee-o ( TK's I-cord "O.") TKIO is a great way begin a center-start hat, knitted ornament, egg cozy, potholder, or any other object made in the round. (Click pix for close-ups.) Really, you can make this little dingus any way you want to: at heart, it is nothing but a short length of I-cord, with live stitches at both ends, doubled over and the stitches distributed onto double pointed needles (dpn's). If you already have a favorite method for getting live stitches on both ends of something, just skip to the photos in steps 5 and 6 below to get the idea, and then do it your way. The rest of this post is about how I cast on TKIOs. If still with me, here's the--
Step 1
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step 1 TKIO(Above) Cast four stitches on a double pointed needle by the backwards loop method. DOUBLE TWIST the first stitch (the double twist holds it on better for what follows).
Step 2
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step 2 TKIO(Above) Slide the 4 stitches to the right tip of the CO needle, and bring the standing yarn behind the work. Insert a second needle into the space between the first 2 backwards loops and draw up a loop of the standing yarn (standing yarn=yarn coming from the ball). In other words, reach through the space between the first and second backwards loops, draw up a loop of standing yarn, and keep it on the second needle.
Step 3
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step 3 TKIO(Above) Repeat this loop-drawing up manuever between the 2nd and 3rd CO stitch, and again between the 3rd and 4th CO stitch. You will have 7 stitches on two needles--4 on the top needle, 3 on the bottom needle. Push the first stitch cast on--the double twisted one--off the right tip of the top needle. Now you will have 6 stitches--3 on top, 3 on the bottom.
Step 4
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step 4 TKIO(Above) Knit a short length of I-cord on the TOP set of stitches, as illustrated, leaving the lower stitches ON THE LOWER NEEDLE.(TIP: If your lower 3 stitches seem to be very loose --AS ILLUSTRATED IN PICTURE 5-- catch the tail end together with the standing yarn and knit them together for the first stitch of the I-cord. On the next row of the I-cord, don't be confused that there are 4 stitches on your needle--remember to knit these two overlapped stiches as if they were one. Snug up the tail end and the bottom three stitches will stay tight.)
Step 5
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(Left) The short I-cord on the needles. (See notes to step 4 regarding the loose stitches on the bottom needle.)
Step 6
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step 6 TKIO(Right) When the I-cord is as long as you want it, push the three top stitches to the left tip of the top needle. Hold the right tip of the bottom needle to the left of the 3 stitches on the top needle and join by knitting 2 of the bottom stitches off onto a third needle. The result: the TKIO's six stitches (3 from the I-cord top, and the 3 from the lower needle) will be distributed in pairs onto 3 double pointed needles (dpn's) ready to knit further in any center-started pattern which needs a cute little hanging loop. (Tip: when joining, keep the "inside in." I-cord has a beautiful side--the front--and a less-beautiful side--the back, which often features the ladder-ish gap which formed between stitches 3 and 1. Hide this gap on the inside of the loop when you double it over.)  

ADDENDUM October 2009: I went and knitted with a bunch of knitters in Utrecht, Holland, and they call these little loops "Teletubbies." 


Thursday, March 1, 2007

Mysteries of knitting part 1 - A tale of heads and arms, or: "why does stockinette curl but ribbing doesn't?"

Do you wonder why stockinette fabric curls and ribbing doesn't (and garter doesn't, and seed stitch doesn't)? Does it puzzle you why stockinette sometimes curls from side-to-side, and sometimes from end-to-end? Does it confuse you that garter stitch and reverse stockinette look so alike? Is it mysterious to you that "nothing but knit" makes stockinette if worked in the round, but makes garter stitch if worked flat?

These questions may seem random and unrelated, but they're not--the same explanation answers all.

If you're still interested, stick tight. It's a long post and there are going to be a few concepts juggled in the air, all at the same time. But, if you're willing to plow through three little experiments and a couple of explanations, let's go...

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naming the stitch
Naming the stitch
Knitting, as you know, consists of loops drawn through other loops. Now, a loop is a fluid little creature. It's hard to say where one loop begins and the next one ends (which is one reason that knitting is so nice and stretchy). But once we pin this down, once we name the parts, knitting gets a lot less mysterious.

I'm going to arbitrarily name some parts of a knitted stitch: I'm going to say that it has *a head* and *two arms.* In some writing about knitting, the arms are called "legs". (A knitted loop also has a tail, but that is for a different post. We are mostly ignoring the tail for right now.)

First little experiment
Aligning heads and arms

Cast on 10 stitches any way you like, and make a tiny bit of stockinette: a knit row, a purl row, another knit row and another purl row. Knit three more stitches on your next knit row (no magic here--those three stitches are just to get you away from the distractions of the edge) and, here we go ...

When we "knit," we draw the new loop through the old so as to HIDE THE HEAD and EXPOSE THE ARMS of the old stitch. In more technical terms, we are aligning all the heads on the back face of the fabric, and all the arms on the front face of the fabric.

Do it. Knit one stitch. Peer over the edge of your needle--see how you're popping the head of the old stitch to the BACK of the fabric? Look again at the side on which you are working--see how you're lining up the little arms in V's on the FRONT of the fabric? See how ALL the heads with their nubby little bumpy heads are lined up on the BACK of the fabric? See how ALL the arms with their pretty little V's are lined up on the FRONT of the fabric? See how I can't get off the SHIFT key? That's because all these things are IMPORTANT, people!

The result: Due to the way the knit stitch aligns the head and arms, stockinette fabric features all the arms on the "front" of the fabric, where they lay nice and smooth, while all the bumpy heads were popped to the back, where they lie mostly hidden on the other side of the fabric.
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stockinette fabricNow knit to the end of your row, watching the head-popping, arm-aligning miracle of each knit stitch and ... get ready to purl. Oooh. The excitement!

Purl three stitches (again, just to get away from the edge) and now watch what happens as you purl the fourth stitch. When we "purl," we do the exact opposite of knitting. This time we draw the new loop through so as to HIDE THE ARMS and EXPOSE THE HEAD of the old stitch. In more technical terms: just like with the knit stitch, we are again aligning all the heads on the one face of the fabric, and all the arms on the other face of the fabric. However, purl pops the head TOWARDS you, while knit pops it AWAY from you. Because you've turned the fabric around between your knit row and your purl row, purling the head TOWARDS you on the fabric back and knitting it AWAY from you on the fabric front creates that alignment I've been yammering about.

The result: All the heads are on the "front" of this reverse stockinette fabric, where they lay nice and nubbly, while all the smooth arms lie hidden on the back of the fabric.
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reverse stockinette fabric
Second little experiment
Why stockinette sometimes curls side-to-side,
and sometimes curls top-to-bottom

Purl to the end of the row, and let's look at the front of that little swatch one more time together.

click picturelong skinny curl
See all the little V's of the arms on the front of the fabric? Those little V's, being 2 pieces of vertical yarn laying side-by-side, are WIDER than the head, which is only 1 little piece of horizontal yarn. (OK, there's also the tail which we are ignoring for right now-but that's horizontal too.) In addition, all those vertically aligned arms laying side by side are jostling for position--they're pushing on each other side-to-side, repelling one another like incompatible magnets. The result is a fabric which is actually WIDER on the front than the back!

Because the front is wider, stockinette curls from side to side with the knit face out. And this is also why you can't block the curl out of a stockinette scarf --the curl is built right into the structure of the fabric.

But wait a minute--the little scrap on your needles--yes, it is curling from side to side a little bit, but what it's really doing is trying to curl top-to-bottom into a horizontal tube--what's with that?

Well, part of the answer is that your needle is pinning the fabric, stopping it from expressing its side-to-side roll. But the real truth is even stranger.

You see, just as stockinette fabric is wider on the front than the back, it is LONGER on the back than the front. The heads (and tails!) draw a great deal of horizontally aligned yarn onto the back, so there's more horizontal yarn on the back than the front. All those horizontal heads are jostling for space back there--they are pushing each other away, repelling one another, making the fabric curl over end-to-end (top-to-bottom).
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reverse stockinette knitted short and wideIf this is still confusing, here's one more run at it: If you put all the arms on ONE side of the fabric, then all the heads (and tails!) on the OTHER side, you get something surreal--something out of one of those melty Dali paintings--a fabric that's actually WIDER on the front than the back, and LONGER on the back than the front. In a long skinny piece of stockinette (a scarf) the side-to-side curl of the wider front fabric will predominate, in a short wide piece of stockinette (your 6 row swatch, a cast-off edge at a neckline or hat brim) the top-to-bottom curl of the longer back fabric will predominate.
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st, rv st fabric rollsIn a square, stockinette will curl on all 4 sides--from side-to-side AND from end-to-end. Here--I've done a bigger swatch for you so you can see without having to knit it yourself.
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st st swatch rolls
Third little experiment
Why stockinette curls and ribbing doesn't
(and garter doesn't, and seed stitch doesn't)

So--now that we've been splashing around in the concepts of head alignment and arm alignment, we're finally ready to answer the question about why stockinette curls, and ribbing doesn't.

Stockinette, as we've said, curls from side-to-side because it is wider on the front than the back, and curls from top-to-bottom because it is longer on the back than the front. Which kind of curl predominates depends on whether the fabric is short and wide, or long and skinny.

However, ribbing, garter, seed stitch don't curl at all--not top-to-bottom, not side-to-side. And this is because there is a roughly equal number of heads and arms on EACH face of the fabric.

Knit a couple of rows in a few of these stitches and you'll see for yourself that it doesn't even matter how the heads and arms are arranged, whether in alternating rows (garter stitch), alternating columns (ribbing) or some other pattern (seed stitch) (flat-knitted seed stitch, a.k.a. moss stitch=k1, p1 every row on an odd number of stitches). All that matters for non-curling is that there be a roughly equal number of heads and arms on each side of the fabric.

Once the numbers are equal, the fabric reverts to something more normal: it isn't wider on one side and longer on the other. Because they have an equal number of heads and arms on both sides, garter fabric, ribbing, seed stitch and other similar fabrics are equally wide on each side, and equally long on each side, so there's no curl. Long story short: Same number of arms and heads on each side of the fabric=no curl. That's all there is to it.

Why garter stitch and reverse stockinette look so alike.

Garter stitch is made by knitting every row back and forth. Now, as you know from the first little experiment, knitting pops the heads of the stitches out on the back of the fabric--away from you. If you make garter stitch by knitting back and forth--first one one side of the fabric, and then on the other--you're popping the heads out on ALTERNATE sides of the fabric, and the result is one row of heads is alternated by one row of arms. In other words, in garter stitch, you're not aligning all the heads on one side and all the arms on the other, as you do in stockinette--instead, as stated above, under the explanation of curling, you're aligning them in equal rows on both sides of the fabric.
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garter st fabricAs to why garter stitch looks a lot like reverse stockinette, it's because heads are a lot more assertive than arms. Stated otherwise: knitted arms lie in meek, flat, unassuming little V's. Heads stick up--they are bolder, more three dimensional. Garter stitch puts heads on both sides of the fabric. True, garter stitch also puts arms on both sides of the fabric, as you can see from the drawing above, BUT like assertive types everywhere, the 3-D heads predominate --they capture the eye, while the meek, flat arms retreat from notice.

In reverse stockinette ALL the heads are on the face of the fabric, in garter stitch, only HALF the heads are on each face of the fabric. But because of the presence of those assertive heads in both garter stitch and reverse stockinette, both fabrics look alike, although they are made differently. To distinguish garter stitch from reverse stockinette, just flip the fabric over and you'll never be mistaken. Garter stitch looks the same on both sides, while reverse stockinette features smooth stockinette fabric (the arms) on the other side.

"Nothing but knit" and circular stockinette

Now we're at the final question. All the stuff above about head and arm alignment makes it possible to explain why "nothing but knit," done in the round, turns into stockinette, while done back-and-forth it turns into garter stitch.

You won't be surprised to hear that the answer, again, lies in the alignment of the heads and the arms. If you knit there and purl back, you already know that you're aligning the all the heads on one surface of the fabric, and all the tails on the other surface of the fabric. In other words, knit stitch (done on the front of the fabric) pops the heads back and purl stitch (done on the back of the fabric) pops the heads forward, so all the heads always end up on the same side--the back.

In circular knitting, you never work on the back of the fabric--you're always going around and around on the FRONT of a fabric TUBE. In other words, you never "turn at the end of the row" because there IS no "end of the row." There is only a never-ending spiral tube. So, in order to make stockinette fabric--in order to align all the heads on the back and the arms on the front, all you have to do is knit. One more time: knit stitch pops the heads to the back. So, if you stay on the knit side--the front side of the fabric--all the heads will only be where you popped them: on the back of the fabric, the inside of the tube (reverse stockinette).

PS:  If you already HAVE a curling stockinette project--a scarf that looks like a jelly-roll, perhaps?--this can be corrected by various tricks.  Here are links to a 4-part series on tricks to "uncurl" stockinette

part 1--the problem and the solutions which don't work
part 2--the drop column method
part 3--transforming stockinette into ribbing
part 4--lining the scarf