Friday, April 13, 2007

How to avoid ladders on DPNs (double pointed needles)

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Ladders happen when the tension of knitted fabric consistently changes between the same two column of stitches. The usual place for ladders is where dpn's come together, although this same problem can arise between the front and back stitch sets in Magic loop knitting as well. Another popular place for ladders is along a line where stitch markers are inserted.

Here are three solutions:

TIP #1:
PROBLEM: The tension change issue is more dramatic, and the ladders more obvious, when you are working on 4 needles (3 holding needles and a fourth working needle). This is because the rigid triangle formed by the 3 "holding needles," and the steep angle of the work make it harder to knit the first and last few stitches. Anytime you have a few stitches which are harder to work than their neighbors, you get a tension-change (and maybe a tension headache?).

SOLUTION: Double pointed work is easier on 5 needles (4 holding needles and a fifth working needle). The shallower angle of work possible with 4 holding needles means it isn't as hard to knit the first and last few stitches. In other words, the first and last few stitches aren't notably any harder to knit than the middle stitches, so there is less reason for the tension to change, and fewer excuses for ladders to form.

TIP #2:
PROBLEM: When you first learn to knit on dpn's, it's to hard make ladders go away by changing your tension. Sometimes a ladder occurs because the tension at the change point is too LOOSE, sometimes because the tension is too TIGHT. Trying to compensate by pulling tighter, or knitting looser can make your ladders go from one kind to another without ever solving the problem -- frustrating!

SOLUTION: Practice makes perfect. At some point, maybe on your eighth (or twentieth) pair of socks, you'll look down and surprise!--your hands will be knitting along without creating ladders.
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In the meantime, though, try this trick--

Because ladders occur where tension changes are stacked up in the same column, it is possible to avoid ladders by un-stacking the tension changes.

Stated otherwise, if on every round, you move the point at which the tension changes -- the change point for the dpn's-- there simply cannot be any ladders.

There are two ways of shifting the change point: forward (leftward) switching and backwards (rightward) switching. The illustration shows forward switching which was created by carrying two stitches forward every round. Backwards switching would look very similar, but the dots would recede rightward on each new row, instead of proceeding leftwards, as shown.

Instructions for both kinds of switching (carrying) are below.

Forward (leftward) switching
(also called "carrying stitches forward")

If you'd like to keep track of where your round begins, place a stitch marker (see tip #3 for more about stitch markers). Next, follow these 8 steps:

1. Work until the next left needle in rotation (blue) pops free. (Illustration A.)

2. Leave the right needle (green) currently in your right hand just where it is--this now becomes the old right working needle.
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3. Lay the newly freed left needle (blue) down on the table, or maybe park it behind your ear, carpenter-style. (Illustration B). This parked needle was the old left needle, is now the empty needle and will soon become the new right working needle. (Your left hand is now free.)

4. With your free left hand, grasp the next dpn (holder-needle) to the left--this becomes the new left working needle (purple).

5. Knit another few stitches (orange) off the new left working needle with the old right working needle. (Illustration C.) (How many stitches you knit is up to you. The illustration shows 2 stitches carried forward, but you can carry forward some other number: 5 stitches? 7 stitches? 13 stitches?--amuse yourself by varying the number--it relieves some of the monotony of endlessly going around and around. The only real rule is to not let the stitches get wildly unbalanced between the needles for too long.)

6. When you've knitted the chosen number of stitches you want to carry forward, simply stop knitting with the old right needle. (Right hand is now free.)
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7. With your free right hand, take the empty needle from behind your ear, or from the table where you parked it. This needle now becomes the new right working needle. Using the new right working needle, work all the stitches off the left working needle, until the left needle is popped loose. (Illustration D).

8. Repeat steps 2-7.

As you "carry stitches forward," you've not only eliminated all possibility of ladders, but you've gained other advantages, too.

By freeing your left and right hands at different times, you maintain one hand on the work at all times. This maintains a better tension, is quicker than re-arranging both hands on two new needles at every needle change, and makes it easier to get back into rhythm at each switch--only one hand has to get re-organized at a time.

Backwards switching
also called ("carrying stitches backwards")

Backwards switching is the same idea as forwards switching, but instead of knitting additional stitches onto a needle, several already-knitted stitches are slipped backwards, onto an empty needle. The empty needle thus becomes the new right working needle, and the direction of slip moves the point where the dpn's come together rightwards by several stitches.

1. Use the right needle (green) to knit to the end of the left needle (blue) in the usual way. Illustration A.) The left needle is the empty needle and will soon become the new right working needle. (Illustration B.) Retain the empty needle in your left hand.
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2. The right needle is finished knitting and has now become a right holder needle, holding all the stitches you just finished knitting. Retain this holder needle in your right hand.

3.Holding the empty needle in your left hand, and the right holder needle in your right hand, use both hands together to slip the last 2 (or 3, or 4) stitches (orange) you knit PURLWISE (open--not twisted) from the right holder needle onto the left tip of the empty needle. (Illustration C.) By this act, the empty needle has become the new working right needle.
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4. Let go of the right holder needle, and switch the new working right needle into your right hand, then slide that needle rightwards so the newly slipped stitches are at the left tip and the new right needle is in position to knit further. (Illustration D.)

5. With your free left hand, grasp the next dpn (holder-needle) to the left--this becomes the new left working needle.

6. Repeat steps 1-5.

As you can see, backwards switching requires both hands to have to be re-arranged at every needle change. Also, the act of slipping the stitches from the right holder-needle to the new right working needle adds a step. For these two reasons, backwards switching is slower and less efficient than forwards switching. However, there are times you need to be able to switch backwards, such as for...
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Combination backwards and forwards switching
Sometimes you might find that progressive switching, either forward or backwards, would mess up the needle placement by interfering with shaping--such as at sock toes. In this illustration, the shaping stitches (in red circles) cannot be switched or the shaping will be hard to keep track of.

But what about the center stitches of the toe where 2 dpn's come together on a smooth piece of non-shaped fabric? (In this illustration, the center stitches are those inside the bracket.) It is not uncommon to see a big ladder running right down these toe center stitches.

In a case like this, you can use combination forwards and backwards switching on the center stitches. Combination switching lets you change where the dpn's come together at one end of the needles, but keeps the other end of the needles in the same place--so you don't mess up your shaping.

Here's how: Where the dpn's for the toe centers (front and back) come together, carry 2 stitches forward between these two dpn's for a few rounds, then on the next several rounds, carry 2 stitches backwards. If you keep alternating between forward and backwards switching on the center stitches you'll avoid ladders on the toe centers, but you won't disturb the shaping at the toe edges.
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TIP #3:
PROBLEM: A ladder develops where stitch markers are inserted.

SOLUTION: Use yarn scraps for stitch markers. Do not allow the marker yarn to become entangled in the fabric--keep it free. The tail between stitches does not have to stretch as far around a scrap of yarn as around a metal or plastic marker, so the tension does not change where the marker lies.

This is rather a sad solution, because there are many creative, beautiful jewel-like stitch markers on the market today, and it's more fun to use these pretty markers than to have your work bristling with odd scraps of yarn. However, perhaps you will consider the absence of ladders a consolation.

You have been reading TECHknitting on: Avoiding ladders on dpn's (double pointed needles).