Saturday, December 29, 2007

Zig-zag bands

includes 7 illustrations. Click any illustration to enlarge
Knitting better bands the TECHknitting way:
Way back in October, as this series on better bands and cuffs started, I told you that garter stitch does not curl. (Neither does seed stitch. Neither does ribbing.) Yet you know from experience garter stitch bands on a stockinette fabric DO curl. You see, it is the stockinette fabric to which the bands are attached which curls. (For more about WHY stockinette curls, click here.) The end result is that the bands on your scarf, sweater or afghan are prone to flipping AND curling.

So far in this series, many cures have been recommended: rolled edges, or seaming the garment or steam blocking and/or ironing. Today, yet another recommended cure: zig-zag bands.

The fact is, that bands want to curl along the edge where the bands meet the stockinette. If you break up the line, you'll have less curling. The same is true about flipping: If you break up the line where the band meets the stockinette fabric, you'll be less likely to have flipping.As you can see, the scarf in the photo above is a stockinette stitch scarf with a garter stitch border all around. Yet, the scarf does not curl, and the borders do not flip, and here is why:
  • The rolled stockinette edge along the bottom of the garter stitch horizontal (bottom) band adds stability--by curling up so markedly, the rolled edge counteracts the inward curl of the stockinette fabric in the middle of the scarf.
  • Zig-zag bands both vertical and horizontal, where the garter stitch meets the stockinette stitch. By interlacing areas of garter stitch and stockinette, the "fault line," for flipping/curling is eliminated
  • A slipped selvedge helps prevent future ruffling along the outside vertical edges of the garter stitch border. (Click here for more info about slipped selvedges.)
  • Also, the scarf has been steam blocked.
Due to these four tricks, the scarf photographed above does not curl very much, and nor does it flip. Below is a close up of the corner, showing details of the curled bottom edge knitted in stockinette which rolls up below the garter stitch part of the bottom band, a bit of the zig zag design in the garter stitch part of the bottom band and a bit of the the zig zag side edge.One more close-up for good measure:

* * *
Here are two diagrams showing how to make these non-curling bands. The diagrams show garter stitch, but you can readily adapt these for seed stitch.

* * *
One last note: The zig-zags have to be in proportion to the amount of stockinette stitch in order to provide a non-flipping edge. An empirical rule of thumb seems to be that ON A GARMENT WITH TWO EXPOSED EDGES (SCARF, AFGHAN) the peaks have to extend approximately 10-15% of the way into the stockinette along each edge you want to prevent from rolling, in order to prevent flipping. So, in a a 250 stitch afghan knit all in one piece, for example, that would be a side zig-zag which protruded 25 to 38 stitches into the stockinette at the tip of each peak, along both vertical edges. The bottom edges also have to have zig-zags with peaks just as high as the side zig-zags in order to prevent flipping. Obviously, the wider/higher you make the tip of the peaks, the less likely is flipping, but the minimum seems to be about a 10-15% protrusion. Of course, that means that you have to adapt the above two diagrams to the width of your garment.

FOR THE FRONT BANDS OF A CARDIGAN (one exposed edge), a rule of thumb seems to be that peaks extending about 1.5 or 2 inches into the stockinette will do the trick, and this is true regardless of gauge or yarn weight.

* * *
This is part 7 of a series. The other posts are:
How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 1: Opera and Soap Opera (November 1, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 2: Why cuffs and bands are wonky, and what to do about it (November 14, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 3: Hems and facings:(November 22, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 4: Knitting shut hems and facings (December 9, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 5: Sewing shut hems and facings (December 23, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 6: Your steam iron: a mighty weapon in the fight against curling and flipping (December 25, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 8: Provisional tail method of 1x1 tubular cast on (January 11, 2008)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 9: Tubular cast off for 1x1 ribbing (it's pretty) (January 15, 2008)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs: the wrap-up (January 23, 2008)

(You have been reading TECHknitting on: zig-zag bands)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Your steam iron: a mighty weapon in the fight against curling and flipping

Dear Reader:
Today TECHknitting has a Christmas present for you--a maybe new use for an electrical appliance you probably already own: your steam iron. The bulk of this post is about the uses of a steam iron in improving your knitting, and particularly in making hems and bands behave. But before we plunge into all that, I thought to take a brief look at the iron itself.

Steam irons, 101
Steam is vapor from boiled water. In order to make steam, your iron boils water inside a little chamber. Water generally contains minerals. Sometimes, the mineral load of the water will cause problems. If you always use the same pot or kettle to boil water, you already know whether your particular water has troublesome amounts of minerals by the presence or absence of mineral deposits. If your kettle stays clean regardless of how much water you boil in it, you have no worries. But if your kettle is mineral-encrusted, then so will the inside of your iron be.

Now, a new iron will not give you trouble, even if you put in high-mineral-content water. This is because when water turns to steam, it leaves behind its mineral load. But as the inside of the iron's heating chamber becomes coated with minerals, the steam channels get clogged, and the iron starts spitting bits and flakes. Where I live, the water is hard from dissolved limestone, and tap water in a steam iron = little bits of whitish powder spraying out with the steam. In other areas, more staining minerals might be in the tap water: iron (the metal) dissolved in water would cause your iron (the appliance) to stain your clothing in nasty gray or brown splotches. This might be OK on some old underwear but would be disaster on your handknits. (And let's get real, who irons underwear nowadays, anyway?)

Therefore, if you have an new steam iron, keep it new by topping it up only with distilled water--a gallon from the supermarket will last a LONG time in most households. If you are reading this post at 2 A.M. and are struck with a sudden yen to start steam ironing, boiled COOLED water is a near substitute. Boil the water, let it cool in the pot, and pour the cooled water off, leaving the minerals behind. DO NOT USE BOILING WATER--first of all, you will hurt yourself, second, you might wreck the plastic parts of the iron, and third, the water does not shed the minerals until it cools.

If your iron is old, you should also use distilled (or boiled, cooled) water. Fill the iron with fresh water and go steam-iron some old towels on the highest heat setting and the highest steam setting. Run at least three or four refills of water through the iron (this won't take that long--steam irons have tiny reservoirs). This will get the worst of the minerals out. If the iron seems to be getting clean, you might trust it on your woollies, but if you have any doubt, it would be prudent to use a pressing cloth or a flour-sack kitchen towel between the iron and the woollies. (This is also a good idea to prevent scorching, as discussed further, below.)

Another problem with irons is gooky sticky stuff melted onto their sole plates. This arises from ironing synthetics on a high setting: they melt. There are various commercial remedies, and these work well. The old fashioned remedy, as practiced by my grandmother was this: after every round of ironing, grandma would stand the iron on a old rag, and rub an old candle end on the sole plate. (She used white paraffin "household candles" of course, not colored candles or tapers.) The melting wax dissolved any sticky, ironed-on gook, and she'd clean the excess by ironing it off onto the old rag. However, she did this in front of an open window (it smokes) with the iron unplugged, and on a distinctly low-tech iron--no teflon plate or anything like that. Also, the sole plate of her iron covered the bottom of the iron--there was no offset between the sole plate and the heel of the iron for the wax to drip off onto. Nowadays, you are probably better off with the commercial remedies. If you do resort to candle ends for spot cleaning in a particularly tough case, do it CAREFULLY--hot wax is a BURN hazard. It is also a FIRE hazard as are old waxy rags. And of course, with any remedy, home made or commercial, be sure to iron all the residue off onto rags before you would dream of letting that iron near your precious knits.

Well, if you've got the iron in good shape, let's see what problem we want to fix with it...

GETTING THE CURL OUT (or at least taming it)
Stockinette curls. If you want to know more about why, click here. The very worst, the very most annoying curl of all comes when a flat object (scarf, afghan) is edged with a non-curling fabric--an edging which is SUPPOSED to stop the problem. Up flip the edges, or down they curl, or maybe both. The one thing they don't do is lay flat. Almost as annoying is the curl and flip of sweater hems, bands and cuffs.

Now, if you've been following along for the last several posts, you'll know that part of the secret of making non-curling knitwear is by improving your cuffs and bands. The big secret is moving the edge of the fabric away from the edge of the garment by doubling back your bands and cuffs, letting them roll, or hemming them, then knitting them shut or sewing them shut. However, most patterns today do not call for such bands and cuffs. Typically, a garment pattern will call for a band of a non-curling fabric to be knitted onto a stockinette fabric, garter stitch bands on a scarf, say.

The chain of logic behind non-curling stitch bands is this: the garment designer notices, correctly, that stockinette stitch curls like mad, but that garter stitch (seed stitch, ribbing etc.) does not curl or flip. "Ah ha!" says the designer, "I will put a garter stitch band on this stockinette item I am designing, and then the stockinette fabric will be tamed, and the garment edge will not flip or curl."

This is a logical conclusion, and, in fact, garment edge itself will not curl up. However, that does not mean that the GARMENT will not curl up. As disappointed knitters in knitting forums all over the internet can testify, the most likely result of a garter stitch band on a stockinette stitch garment is that the bands either flip up, or the whole garment continues to curl, taking the "non curling edge" right along with it.

"How can I block the curl out of my scarf?" has to be one of the most frequently asked questions on every knitting forum out there, followed by "how can I get the front bands of my cardigan to lay flat?" Of course, the fact that the bands are curling and flipping has as much (or more) to do with the stockinette fabric to which the garter stitch bands have been attached, than with the bands themselves. However, most knitters think of curling and flipping bands as a band problem, so that's why this issue is included as part of a series on bands and cuffs.

One last note before we plunge in: TODAY's post lays out a method for dealing with already existing curled edges, like the scarf or cardigan bands in the above example. The NEXT post will show how to knit edges which are less likely to want to curl in the first place.

Helpers in the fight against curling:

Although the idea of using these methods on one's hand knitting may seem beyond strange, chemicals, blocking and ironing are all actually very common knitwear treatments, albeit commercial knitwear. Think about it: don't you wonder why machine-made items of stockinette consent to lay flat, while hand knits want to curl so badly? The answer is partially because machine-made knits are generally knit from finer yarn than handknits, and so the thinner yarn from which they are made can exert less curling force. However, that is not the whole answer.

In fact, machine-made knits have the same tendencies to curl as hand knits, but industrial processes overcome this tendency. In other words, machine-knit fabrics have chemicals applied to relax them, or have the bejabbers stretched out of them or steam ironed out of them, or all three. Hand knitters faced with a wildly curling scarf, or brazenly flipping cardigan bands will be able to persuade these ill-behaved hooligans to better manners with a page out of the commercial knitter's playbook.

A good soaking spray with fabric relaxer is a good start. Fabric relaxer (or wrinkle remover) is a relatively benign substance sold under various trade names. Evidently the relaxer is essentially a wetter, which lets moisture into the fabric fibers, causing them to swell a bit, and de-kink.

Once damped with fabric relaxer, the item can be further wetted with a spray bottle of water, or even a quick trip to the sink for a brief soak, and this treatment can be followed by some serious wet-blocking. When I say "serious," I mean blocking to the edge of the capacity of your blocking board to hold the fabric outstetched, and to the edge of the capacity of your blocking pins or wires to hold without deforming.

Are you surprised by this advice? Many are. And yet, this sort of extreme blocking is not new. Hand production knitters of the past have traditionally employed extreme blocking. Those picturesque sweater forms in the old photos of the Shetland Islands had a very serious purpose, and couture knitting today also employs these techniques.

Of course, extreme blocking like this is going to make the fabric grow. Commercial knitwear factors this in, but unless you first blocked and stretched your swatch and then knit to the blocked dimensions, you probably have not--blocking and stretching swatches is not part of most hand-knitters' repertoire. For this reason, extreme blocking by hand knitters is best reserved for items where size is NOT important such as scarves and lap robes.

This brings us to the main alternative. For items where fit IS important, the steam iron is the most mighty weapon against curling bands, or against a garment which is curling and taking the band.

Now, a steam iron in the hand of a knitter is capable of producing three things:

  • steam,
  • heat, and
  • pressure.

Each of these factors has the capacity to alter hand knit fabric, sometimes fatally, so the first rule of using the steam iron on your woollies is BE CAREFUL. Increase these factors one by one, each in tiny baby steps. In other words, DON'T start with high steam, high heat and lots of force when you come to improve your knitting with the steam iron.

On wool and acrylic, the steam has as nearly as much effect as the pressing, so be sure that the STEAM setting on your iron is set on "high" right from the start. It may be that steam with hardly any pressure at all will do the trick. This is called steam blocking, and if it works, you lucky thing, then you need never actually iron at all. In other words, on acrylic and wool, the ideal is to start with a steaming, billowing iron held just above the fabric, and only if this does not work, would you next progress to light dabs, and only then to pressure.

If your item is silk, bamboo, cotton--anything but acrylic or wool--do NOT start with billowing steam. Instead, start with the absolutely lowest steam AND the lowest heat AND the least pressure. Increase the steam in the same manner as you increase the heat and the pressure: in tiny increments.
Heat is a powerful tool on fabrics. Most obviously, a too-high heat can burn your precious hand knits. Even at non-burning temperatures, Heat can "set" woolen fibers--kink them permanently. It can melt acrylics, and can change the very composition of these and other fibers. Therefore, be careful. If the garment is woolen, be careful of scorching--maybe use a pressing cloth or flour sack kitchen towel between the garment and the iron. If your item is acrylic (or another synthetic) use the cloth or towel PLUS be careful of melting--increase the heat by VERY slow degrees, and realize that non-wool, non-acrylic fibers are generally even less resistant to heat, so SLOW is the watchword for increasing the heat.

All knitting three-dimensional, so ironing has the capability if flattening it. When ironing on stockinette garment with garter stitch bands, remember that the garter stitch itself has no tendency to flip. It is the stockinette which presents the problem. Luckily, the stockinette is far flatter than the garter stitch, and less likely to show the effects of ironing. Keep the iron on the stockinette part of the fabric, and the greater the pressure you are exerting, the more careful you must be of this.
For wool and acrylic, start with a fully steaming iron. Progress in pressure and heat carefully. For other fabrics, start with the bare minimum of steam, and progress in steam pressure and heat carefully, increasing each in tiny baby steps. It MIGHT be that you have the stubbornest garment this side of China, and you MIGHT wind up pressing your stubborn garment with all your force at the highest heat. However, although this might be the place that you end, this is CERTAINLY NOT the place to start.

Steam ironing is a big gun--it certainly has the power to persuade curling stockinette to mend its ways. However, as with all things, there is a trade-off. Although steam ironing will certainly help with curling bands, the price is a rather listless fabric. I knew a production hand- and machine-knitter who HEAVILY ironed all her garments--and she made many, many garments over the years that I knew her. All those many garments did her bidding. They lay flat, yessiree, no question: never a curl, never a flip, no misbehavior at all, and the bands got up to no tricks. However, all those garments were oddly limp, with none of the spring normally associated with knit garments. Therefore, although steam ironing unquestionably works (especially when combined with fabric relaxer) this isn't a method to use if you can avoid it. Better, more elegant, would be to knit the garment with a band which doesn't want to curl or flip in the first place (or at least--doesn't want to curl and flip as much), which is the topic of the next post.

* * *
This post is part 6 of a series. The other posts are:
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 1: Opera and Soap Opera (November 1, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 2: Why cuffs and bands are wonky, and what to do about it (November 14, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 3: Hems and facings:(November 22, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 4: Knitting shut hems and facings (December 9, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 5: Sewing shut hems and facings (December 23, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 7: Zig-zag bands (December 29, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 8: Provisional tail method of 1x1 tubular cast on (January 11, 2008)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 9: Tubular cast off for 1x1 ribbing (it's pretty) (January 15, 2008)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs: the wrap-up (January 23, 2008)

(You have been reading TECHknitting on: "Steam iron your knitting.")

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sewing shut hems and facings (part 5 of better cuffs and bands).

includes 4 illustrations--click any illustration to enlarge
Today's post is about sewing shut a hem or facing: it is part 5 of the series "better cuffs and bands."

After the last post in this series (about knitting shut hems and facings) you may wonder why, if it is possible to KNIT shut a hem, a knitter would want to SEW shut a hem. Here are three reasons--reasons I believe are good enough to convince even knitters to hunt out a large-eyed, sharp-pointed sewing needle and get sewing.

First, and most obviously, it is not always possible to knit shut a hem. Knitting shut a hem only works for items started on the same edge as the hem (a bottom hem on a bottom-up sweater, a top hem on a top-down sock). Knitting shut a hem on the cast-OFF edge isn't very feasible. 

Second, you can't knit shut a hem facing made of a different color. If you are asking why you would WANT to knit a hem facing of a different color, here are two reasons:
  • A. plain old good looks. Have a look at the top of the man's sock in the photo below. From the outside, this is a practical black sock, suitable for business wear. But on the inside, it features a flaming red hem facing which makes its wearer smile when dressing.
  • B. Another reason why a hem facing might be a different color than the main body of the garment is when you reduce bulk by knitting the hem facing of a thinner yarn. The birthday sweater (click HERE) from the last post had a thinner hem facing than the outside of the hem, and so do the socks, above--the red of the hem facing is a thinner sock yarn than the black of the sock body. It would be unusual to find a perfect color match between a thinner yarn and a thicker one, so this bulk reduction trick is often going to land you with a hem facing of a different color.
If you are wondering WHY a hem of a different color cannot be knitted shut, I believe this illustration says it all.

This is a close-up of a knitted shut hem. At the black arrow, you will see that knitting shut a hem draws a little "collar" of the hem stitch (hem made in red) to the fabric surface (knitted in green). In the illustration, the red of the hem facing shows as a little collar around by each green stitch where the green and red come together in the blue "knit-together row." The knit-together row is illustrated in blue so you could see it easily, but even if the knit-together row were green, like the rest of the garment front, that little red collar of the red hem facing would still show around the base of every stitch in that row--not a nice look. Moral of the story: You cannot successfully knit shut a hem when the hem is knit in a different color than the garment.

The third reason you might want to sew shut a hem or facing instead of knitting it shut is the most important, imho. You see, a sewn hem is FAR LESS LIKELY TO FLIP than a knitted-shut one. This is a BIG consideration, as many garments suffer from hem, band, or cuff flip. Cardigans with flipping front bands, and sweaters with flipping bottom bands are one of the banes of the knitter's existence, yet a sewn shut band will not flip with anything approaching the abandon of a knitted shut band.

If I have convinced you of the virtues of a sewn band or hem facing, here is how to do it:

  • Begin the hem by casting on via the long-tail method.
  • Knit the hem. You may use the same yarn as you will use for the body of the garment, OR you may use a thinner yarn for bulk reduction. If using a thinner yarn, knit the facing loosely on the same number of stitches as you will knit the garment OR on a larger number of stitches with a smaller needle, with the plan to get rid of the extra stitches before you turn the hem.
  • If using the garment yarn for the hem facing, knit the hem as deep as you would like it, then purl one row. For a slight refinement, you may cast on and knit the hem on slightly fewer stitches (5% or so) than the garment, increasing to the necessary number of stitches TWO rows before the purl row.
  • If using thinner yarn for the hem facing, switch to the garment yarn when you are one or two rows shy of the ultimate depth you desire, work a row or two in the garment yarn, then purl one row. If you are using knitting the hem facing on MORE stitches, and a SMALLER needle than the garment, the row to get rid of all the extra stitches is the row where you switch to the garment yarn.
  • The reason to purl one row is to make a nice fold, as seen here.
  • After the purl row, you will be knitting the first row of the garment--that part which is on the FRONT of the hem. You may knit this portion in ribbing, as is traditional, OR you may knit it in stockinette--because you are going to sew the hem facing to the back of the garment, this will prevent rolling, regardless of which stitch pattern you use.

On the illustration below, the knitting has been finished. The hem (white) has been folded up over the back face of the garment fabric (purple). As you can see, the "knit" side of the hem shows, while the "purl" side of the garment fabric shows. Thread a sharp pointed needle with a thin yarn (in the picture, green). In real life, of course, you would not use a green yarn to sew up a white hem to a purple garment, you would use a sewing yarn as close as possible to the color of the garment face--the sewing thread is green in order that it shows in the illustration. In other words, if I were sewing this hem shut in real life, I would do it with a purple yarn. As far as that goes, I also would probably have made a purple hem to go with my purple garment, rather than a white hem, but in illustrations, a white hem is a lot easier to see than a purple hem facing sewn with purple yarn onto a purple garment.

As you can see on this illustration (above) the action of sewing is as follows: with the sewing needle, reach under one arm of the long tail casting-on at the very edge of the hem, then pierce (skim) through the top of a purl "bump" on the target row--the row TO which you are sewing the hem. Draw the needle through, and repeat this action, adjusting the tension of the green yarn as necessary. Be gentle in your adjustment, you want to avoid any puckering on the outside. As you can see, it isn't difficult!

The photo on the left side of the illustration below shows the back of a sewn hem "in the wool." The hem is made of the same yarn as the garment face, but sewn shut with dark yarn, so you can see the path of the sewing. The right photo of the illustration below shows the front of this same hem. As you can see, even though this swatch is stockinette, the sewn hem has tamed the dreaded "stockinette roll," as well as the feared "hem flip." You can also see that the sewing does not show on the outside--this is the front of the same swatch on which the hem is sewn shut in dark yarn.

One final point: Hems combat "hem flip" best when the hem facing is SLIGHTLY shorter than the outside of the hem AND when the hem is sewn shut very slightly (1 row) ABOVE any ribbing or garter stitch on the outside of the hem.

* * *
This post is part 5 of a series. The other posts are:

*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 1: Opera and Soap Opera (November 1, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 2: Why cuffs and bands are wonky, and what to do about it (November 14, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 3: Hems and facings:(November 22, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 4: Knitting shut hems and facings (December 9, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 6: Your steam iron: a mighty weapon in the fight against curling and flipping (December 25, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 7: Zig-zag bands (December 29, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 8: Provisional tail method of 1x1 tubular cast on (January 11, 2008)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 9: Tubular cast off for 1x1 ribbing (it's pretty) (January 15, 2008)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs: the wrap-up (January 23, 2008)

You have been reading TECHknitting on: "sewing shut hems."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Negative ease and positive ease

Two phrases much in the air on internet knitting discussions are "positive ease" and "negative ease." Do you wonder what these mean? You are not alone.

Ease is the amount of extra room built into a garment which allows the garment to slide over your skin as you move--it is the extra bit of room which stops your shirt from riding up as you lift your arm and stops your pants from tearing when you do something athletic. When the garment is larger than the person wearing it, the garment is said to have "POSITIVE" ease.

Logically, you would think that garments made from woven cloth need more ease than knitted garments, because woven cloth does not stretch as readily as knitted cloth does. This is true, but all ingenuity of the dressmaker's art is bent on narrowing the difference: darts, bust shaping, plackets, zippers, gores and slits are all devices which allow woven cloth to fit the body closely without tearing or ripping. Yet with all their tricks, the best that the dressmakers can do is create garments with NO ease: gowns so close-fitting that the wearer has to be sewn into them.

Knitters can go dressmakers one better, and make garments SMALLER than the person wearing them, garments with NEGATIVE ease. A knitted gown can be constructed which fits so tightly as to leave no anatomical feature unseen, and yet require no darts, slits or sewing to get into. (This is because knitting is stretchy, having a good deal of "reserve" yarn built into the fabric: for more info, click HERE.) When the garment is smaller than the person wearing it, the garment is said to have negative ease. You need not go as far as exotic gowns to use the concept of negative ease in knitting: hats are an every-day example of NEGATIVE ease: made SMALLER than heads, hats cling because they have to stretch to fit.

Despite the fact that knitting stretches, however, knitters are not restricted to garments with negative ease. The "boyfriend sweater" is a familiar example of POSITIVE ease: made BIGGER than the wearer, it should fit as if the wearer had borrowed the garment from a big fellow--her boyfriend. (Or maybe his boyfriend????)

It is not always the case that a garment with negative ease is better suited to flattering its wearer's anatomy than a garment with positive ease. A garment with positive ease is said to "drape" and this means that the excess fabric which creates the ease hangs in a potentially very flattering manner off the wearer's body. A shawl worn by a stately woman is a lovely example of a garment which flatters the figure perhaps better than a garment with negative ease could do. Garments with negative ease, of course, do not have any drape, they cling, rather than hang.

Knitted garments go in fads about ease, as do all other fashions. The "sweater girls" of the 1940's certainly wore garments with negative ease, and the fashion is now embraced as the most modern trend, spawning a raft of popular books. No doubt, the pendulum will swing back shortly, and close fitting garments will be considered SO last year, while baggy sweaters with lots of positive ease will be the most modern trend--indeed, the trend seems to have started already.

Ease and drape are not only about fashion, however, they are also concepts important to utility garments. Hats have already been mentioned, and hats with negative ease are indeed a familiar concept to knitters. Most socks are made with negative ease, and most cuffs, whether sweater cuffs or mitten cuffs, have negative ease.

For more information about ease and fashion (and the related concept of gauge) click HERE.

(You have been reading TECHknitting on "Negative ease and positive ease")

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Knitting shut hems and facings (part 4 of "knitting better bands")

There are two ways of tacking down a folded-over band. One way is easily done with knitting needles--today's post. The other way (cue scary music!) requires a sewing needle--that's the next post.

The knitting needle method of
knitting shut doubled-over
hems (and facings)

The knitting needle method of knitting shut hems is similar to a 3-needle bind off. The stitches in the first row of the hem or facing are knitted together with the stitches in the last row of the hem or facing.

Here's the TECHknitting method for this trick in 4 illustrated drawings:

1. (below) LOOSELY cast on the hem using the long tail method or the long tail method for LOTS of stitches (casting on is shown in red, below). Work the ribbing (shown in green, below) to TWICE the desired height. Arrange to finish your hem so that the long tail cast left over from the casting-on is on the left, and the running yarn (shown in blue, below) is on the right, as shown below.
2. (below) The live loops of the hem are on the purple needle. Pick up the right arm of each bottom loop onto a different needle, as shown in light blue, below. If the cast-on edge is a bit tight, use a smaller needle to catch these bottom loops. (Although this is illustrated on a ribbing hem, this also works on a stockinette hem, a seed stitch hem or any other stitch, and the action is the same--you pick up the same loop of the long tail cast on, and do everything else the same, too.)

3. (below) Hold the cast-on stitches on their light blue needle at the inside "behind" the live stitches on their purple needle. As you can see, the cast-on stitches on their light blue needle present LEFT arm forward when they are held inside-out behind the live stitches on the purple needle. Use a third needle (the golden needle in the illustration below) to knit together each live ribbing stitch with the cast on stitch held behind it, as shown below.
4. (below) The finished product: the "knitting together" row is shown in blue, the cast-on stitches which are caught into the back of the hem facing (the "inside" of the hem) are shown in red, the balance of the fabric in green. Of course, in real life, the row of live stitches in front and the cast row behind would be the same color, and the cast-on row would therefore not show on the front of the fabric, unlike the red cast-on stitches in the illustration below.

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The finished product "in the wool" is shown in the photo at right.

By knitting the top and bottom of each column of ribbing together in this manner, the hem is fastened down in a folded-over manner, and no sewing is required.

, as slick as it is, this "knitting needle method" of shutting hems and facings has a limitation.

This knitting-together method has an incurable tendency to FLIP, and this is true regardless of whether the band is in stockinette, ribbing (foldover ribbed band) or any other fabric. Therefore this trick is best on narrow tubes (socks, sleeves) where the shape of the garment counteracts the flipping. You can try this on a hat, too, but it works best with deeper, longer hats--you may get flipping on a shallow beanie-type hat. The long runs and loose shapes of a bottom band or a front band will allow a knit-shut band to get up to the kind of shenanigans it prefers: flipping straight over. (On these longer runs, the more successful method is the sewing method, the subject of the next post.)

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We'll end this post with a Q and A:

Q: Why do you use a long tail cast on, instead of a provisional cast on for this trick?
A: Many knitters (most knitters, probably) DO use a provisional cast on, as follows: Remove the provisional cast on and put the live loops on the second needle (the light blue needle in the above diagrams). Holding the live loops at the back of the hem, use a third needle (the golden needle in the above diagrams) to work together a stitch from the front of the fabric (on purple needle in above diagrams) with a live loop from the back of the fabric, using the same method as shown above for long tail.
NOW: despite the fact that most knitters DO use a provisional cast on for this trick, the reason I DON'T is that the live loops created by the provisional method have a nasty tendency to run out.
To explain further: Near the end of the row, the needles holding the stitches, especially the rear needle (light blue) want to slide out because there are very few stitches left to hold them in. When the inevitable happens, and the rear needle slides out with only a few stitches to go, I don't have to worry: because my rear stitches are secured by the long tail cast-on, when those rear stitches come off the needle, they can't run because (ta da!) they aren't live stitches.

sock top hemQ: What about the fold line? Are there any tricks for that?
A: Certainly there are: You can knit a simple fold-over hem as in the 4 opening drawings of this post. OR, you can knit a hem facing of stockinette, then create a single row of purl and then knit the outside of the hem--in a texture pattern if you like. The row of purl makes a lovely sharp edge for folding. The gray ladies' sock in the photo at left shows a stockinette hem facing, a purled edge row, and a ribbed outside of the hem. (For an additional image of a purl fold row, click here.)

elastic drawstringQ: Any other tricks with a hem?
A: You bet! A knitted hem is a tube--and you can run a drawstring or an elastic through it. Socks made with an elastic garter in the hem will simply not fall down--nearly all my socks are made this way--including the one in the previous illustration. Here is an entire post about elastic in socks.

Another trick: As shown on this commercially knitted sweater, right, you can run an elastic drawstring through the hem--a good idea for a heavy outdoor sweater to be used in sporting or working conditions--shown is a ski sweater.

Next post: SEWING down the hem on the inside.


PS:  Addendum October 2014: Since this post was written, some valuable comments have been left by readers...maybe take a look?
You have been reading TECHknitting on knitting shut hems.