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 bands (and why bands want to flip in the first place)

Today TECHknitting has a new use for an electrical appliance you probably already own: your steam iron. A stem iron is a mighty weapon against curling and flipping, so part of this post takes a detour into WHY bands want to flip in the first place. But before we plunge into all that, 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 contains minerals. Sometimes, the mineral load of the water is high enough to cause problems. If you always use the same pot or kettle to boil water, you already know whether boiling your water leaves behind 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. 

 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 leads to whitish powder spraying out with the steam. In other areas, more staining minerals might be in tap water: iron (the metal) dissolved in water would cause your iron (the appliance) to stain your clothing in gray or brown splotches. 

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 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, 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 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, prudence dictates a pressing cloth or a flour-sack kitchen towel between the iron and the woollies. (This is also a good idea to prevent scorching, more, below.) 

 Another problem with irons is gooey sticky stuff melted onto the sole plates. This arises from ironing plastic-y dust onto clothes, or ironing synthetics on a high setting: they melt. The cure is iron cleaner. The old fashioned remedy was to turn the iron off, then rub an old paraffin candle end on the sole plate. The melting wax dissolved any sticky, ironed-on goo, and the excess wax was ironed off onto an old rag. Nowadays, you are probably better off with the commercial remedies. If you do resort to candle ends, do it CAREFULLY--hot wax is a BURN hazard. It is also a FIRE hazard as are old waxy rags--make those single use. And of course, with any remedy, home made or commercial, be sure to iron all the residue off onto rags.

GETTING THE CURL OUT (or at least taming it)
Stockinette curls. Perhaps the most annoying curl of all comes when a stockinette item is edged with a non-curling fabric--an edging which is SUPPOSED to stop the problem. Up flip the sweater hems, bands and cuffs, or down they curl, or maybe both. The one thing they don't do is lay flat. 

A tangent on band flipping and curling

Typically, a garment pattern will call for a band of a non-curling fabric to be knitted onto a stockinette fabric. 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." 

Logical, yes. But still wrong. 

See, garment edge itself will not curl up. However, the whole garment continues to curl, taking the "non curling edge" right along with it. The fact that the bands are curling and flipping is due the stockinette fabric to which the non-curling stitch bands have been attached, rather than with the bands themselves. 

One last note before we plunge in: this post lays out the steam-iron method for dealing with already existing curled edges, like the sweater bands. This NEXT post shows how to knit edges less likely to want to curl in the first place.

Helpers in the fight against curling: CHEMICALS, BLOCKING and STEAM IRONING

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 like giant tentering (steaming/stretching) machines overcome this tendency. Machine-knit fabrics are also often relaxed with chemicals

Hand knitters faced with curling or flipping can take a page from commercial knitting's playbook. For chemical treatments, fabric relaxer is a good start.  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 wet-blocking or steam blocking. 

As far as mechanical processes, it is not just industrial knits which are stretched. Hand production knitters of the past have traditionally employed extreme blocking. Those picturesque sweater forms (wooly stretching boards) in the old photos of the Shetland Islands had a very serious purpose, and couture knitting also employs these techniques.  Of course, extreme blocking like this is not only going to tame curling and flipping, but it is going to make the fabric grow. Commercial knitwear factors this in, but knitting purposely small followed by serious stretching isn't part of the program for most hand knitters--lace shawls being the exception.

And, this is where the steam iron comes in. It is the most mighty weapon against curling and all the other tricks hand knitting gets up to. 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 and amp up the power gradually. 

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, as it does on kinked yarn .This is called steam blocking, and if it works, you're all set. 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.

Once your garment is nice and steamy, spread and smooth it with your hands (careful of the hot fabric though!) If needed, keep steaming and spreading, steaming and smoothing until the garment looks the way you want and the bands lie flat--or flatter, at any rate. Then, let it dry in the smoothed and stretched position. The dry time for steaming is far less than for wet blocking, but it still does need some time.

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 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. SLOW is the watchword for increasing the heat.

All knitting three-dimensional, so ironing has the capability if flattening it. When working on stockinette garment with garter or ribbed bands, remember that the bands have no tendency to flip. It is the stockinette which presents the problem. Luckily, the stockinette is far flatter than the garter stitch or ribbing, and less likely to show the effects of pressure. If you get as far as actually ironing the fabric, keep the iron dabbing lightly on the stockinette part of the fabric only, 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 factor, one at a time, in tiny steps. 

As to the interplay of heat and steam, most irons will give steam on the wool setting, but there are two higher settings, usually: cotton and linen. For hand knits, I can't think when you'd ever get above the wool setting for actually touching the fabric with the iron, even with a thick ironing cloth. However, you might get into the higher settings if you want to generate a lot of steam. So, if you're on the cotton or linen setting for the steam effect, turn the iron back down to wool setting and let a cool a little minute if you're going to actually touch the iron to the fabric.
 Steam ironing is a big gun--it certainly has the power to persuade curling stockinette to mend its ways, thus helping in the fight against flipping. But, there's a trade-off. The price for actually ironing at high heat, pressure and steam is a 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. 

* * * 
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) 



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 whyyou might want to sew shut a hem. Here are three reasons 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 feasible. 

Second, you can't knit shut a hem facing made of a different color. Why would you would want to knit a hem facing of a different color? 
  • 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.
  • Another reason why a hem facing might be a different color 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.

At the black arrow, you 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. Therefore, you cannot successfully knit shut a hem when the hem is knit in a different color than the garment. (Although, to be fair, you could get around this by knitting the top row of the hem in the original color!)

The third reason to sew shut a hem or facing instead of knitting it shut is that a sewn hem is less likely to flip.

 How to do it, bottom up

  • Begin the hem by casting on via the long-tail method. Alternatively, if you prefer to sew down live stitches, use a provisional cast on and plan to remove it before sewing up time, placing the live stitches back on a small gauge of circular needle.
  • Knit the hem. You may use the same yarn as you will use for the body of the garment, OR use a thinner yarn for bulk reduction (recommended). 
  •  If using thinner yarn, knit the facing loosely on the same number of stitches as you will knit the garment, using the same size needles with which you will knit the garment. The thinner yarn, knit loosely, should make a hem slightly narrower than the garment, which will help prevent flipping.
  • If using the garment yarn for the hem facing, knit the hem as deep as you would like it, then purl one row. If using the garment yarn for the hem facing, also consider casting on and knitting 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. Again, having the hem slightly narrower than the garment helps hold in the flip. 
  • If using thinner yarn for the hem facing, switch to the garment yarn when you are one or two rows shy of the ultimate hem depth. This helps prevent the hem from peeping out. Work a row or two in the garment yarn, then purl one row.
  • The reason to purl one row is to make a nice fold, shown here.
  • After the purl row, you will be knitting the first row of the garment--that part which is on the public side of the hem--the garment front. 
  • If knitting the bands in ribbing, the facing should have been knit in ribbing also, in opposite patterns, so that they nestle together when folded. However, ribbed bands aren't as often lined as stockinette ones. 
  • If knit it in stockinette, sewing the hem facing to the back of the garment will prevent stockinette rolling as well as hem flipping. 

If working top down, finish the garment, knit a fold line, then knit the hem, then bind it off (recommended) or just work on sewing the live stitches. Again, consider using fewer stitches or using thinner yarn and knitting the facing loosely. The facing should not bind, and should be bound off loosely, but the aim is to make it slightly narrower than the circumerence of the body, to help prevent flip.

Whether working top down or bottom up, the below illustration shows the situation if the hem was bound off. 

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). 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.

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.

If you are sewing down live stitches, the sewing action is the same, only you must take each stitch off the knitting needle on which it is held before sewing--a bit more tricky than sewing down a bound off edge. 

The photo on the left side of the illustration below shows the back of a sewn hem. The hem is made of the same yarn as the garment face, but sewn shut with dark yarn, to show the path of the sewing. The right photo of the illustration below shows the front of this same hem. Even though this swatch is stockinette, the sewn hem has tamed the both the stockinette roll and the 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 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 are 4 illustrations:

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.

* * *

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 allow a knit-shut band to get up to the kind of shenanigans it prefers: flipping straight over. Consider the sewing method to combat flip. 

* * *

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. However, if the hem seaming gives way, live loops will run out, whereas a bound off edge will not. 

sock top hemQ: What about the fold line? Are there any tricks for that?
A: Certainly. 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 gray ones above. Here is an entire post about elastic in socks.

Another trick: This commercially knit sweater shows you can run an elastic drawstring through the hem. This is a a good idea for a heavy outdoor sweater like this high-end Norwegian ski sweater. The elastic helps hold the hem down plus combats flipping. 

Next post: SEWING down the hem on the inside.


You have been reading TECHknitting on knitting shut hems.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hems and facings: part 3 of "better bands and cuffs"

Includes 9 illustrations
Q. Why do the edges of cuffs and bands want to stretch out?

A. In this series on improving wonky bands and cuffs, the first two posts have established that stretched out bands and cuffs are NOT YOUR FAULT--the edge of any knitted FABRIC wants to stretch out. Click here or here for more information about the whys and wherefores of stretched-out edges.

Q. If the fabric edge wants to stretch, how can I stop it?
A. Short answer: you can't. Because the stitches at the edge of the fabric are unsupported, the stretching is structural. Your best bet is to accept this property of knitting, and work with it: avoid putting the edge of the knitted FABRIC at the edge of your knitted GARMENT. (A note to perfectionists: This series will cover the tubular cast-off, which is something of an exception to this rule. But for now, the short answer is to separate the fabric edge from the garment edge. )

Q. The previous post showed a rolled stockinette edging. Is that always the best solution?
A. Although a rolled edging may be the easiest way to achieve separate the garment edge from the fabric edge, a rolled edge is not useful in every garment, or in every fiber, or at every edge.

Some knitters find the rolled edge too informal or too bulky. Some knitters just plain do not like it.

Also, a rolled edging may suffer from one structural defect of its own: In certain fibers, when used as a bottom edging of a long sweater, it MAY become squashed from sitting on it, so that the rolled edging in the back looks flatter that that in the front.Usually, this flattening is cured by washing and reblocking--stockinette's tendency to curl is simply one of the strongest forces in all of knitting. Yet, after constant wear in such "slippery" fibers as cotton, linen, or synthetics, a rolled edge on a hip-length garment may become permanently flattened around the seat.

Q. Is there another way to separate the fabric edge from the garment edge?
A. Yes. If a rolled edge will not work for you, the next easiest solution is HEMS AND FACINGS. With a hem or a facing, the edge of the FABRIC is held inside the garment--the cast on (or off) edge is the inside edge of the hem or facing, and knitting from several rows inside the fabric edge is folded over to make the garment edge.

Q. What is the difference between a hem and a facing?
A. In woven cloth, a hem is usually a self-facing (made from the same material as the garment, but folded over and tacked down) whereas a facing is usually, but not always, made from a different fabric sewn to the garment fabric at the fold-edge of the garment. In knitting, however, there is no real structural difference between a hem and a facing--they are both backings to bands of various sorts (bottom bands, cuffs, front bands). However, a hem is usually at the bottom edge of a garment (bottom hem, cuff hem) and usually CANNOT be seen while the garment is in normal wear. By contrast, a facing is usually at the front edge of a cardigan or sometimes at the neck (front band facing, button band facing, neck facing), and MAY be seen during normal wear.
Q. I thought that hems were always tacked (sewn) down, while facings sometimes are sewn down, but more often are left loose.
A. This is correct for woven garments, where front band facings typically are not attached along their long edges. In fact, this is even true for knitted garments with woven facings.
Below is a drawing showing an inside view of a famous-maker Norwegian sweater--a commercially knitted garment. This garment has a woven fabric facing for the neck and zipper. The neck facing IS tacked down, but the neck opening facing, around the zipper, is NOT tacked down, it is loose along both long edges, being tacked down only at the collar and the bottom of the zipper placket.
However, while a woven facing may not be tacked down, a knitted facing almost always is. (Actually, I've never seen a loose knitted facing, but as soon as I assert that ALL knitted facings are tacked down, someone will e-mail an example to the contrary!) Due to knitting's tendency to curl, a stockinette facing would curl up to become an rolled edging if it were not fastened down, while a non-curling facing (garter stitch, seed stitch) would prove too bulky for most situations. Bottom line: while woven facings may not be tacked down, knitted facings almost always are.

Q. Start at the beginning: what's the easiest kind of hem or facing?
A. The very easiest band backing (whether hem or facing) is a folded-over ribbing band. The ribbing is simply knitted twice as long as wanted, then folded over and tacked down on the inside of the garment. There is no fold mark at the halfway point--the band simply rolls over, presenting a broad, fat edge. Like the rolled stockinette edge, this broad fold-over edge can really take the abuse. Below is a photo of the cuffs and bottom bands of a little sweater jacket that's been through several kids, and is ready for more.
This kind of band is not restricted to ribbing--there are other fabrics well suited to "life on the edge," and these (seed, moss, garter) can be used for a doubled over band also (although ribbing works best, IMHO).

Q. A rolled over ribbing band seems awfully thick. Is there any way to reduce the bulk, but still have a ribbed band at the edge of my garment?
A. Yes. Instead of doubling the entire band, you can knit a few round of plain stockinette, then fold this little strip over and tack it down. After this short edging of doubled fabric, the rest of the ribbing is knit in a single thickness. The idea is very similar to a rolled stockinette edging, but instead of the rolled edging being left loose, it is tacked down. Below is a close-up of a mitten cuff made this way.
It also seems to me that this, or something like this, was a traditional method of starting fisherman sweaters. Below is a closeup (detail) of a photo found on page 21 of Gladys Thompson's masterwork "Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys & Arans (Dover Books, NY, 1971). The bands on this very old (1920's) sweater are doubled, perhaps by this method, or perhaps by simply using two yarns to cast on the edges, as was done with other guernseys pictured in the Thompson book.
The notes with the guernsey photo state that the garment was 40 years old when the photo was taken (1955) and that its owner wore the garment in the British Navy during WWII, when the garment would already have been over 20 years old! I believe that both of the above photos shows why it really pays to strengthen the edges of your bands.

Q. Are there other kinds of hems besides ribbed ones?
You bet here are, lots of them! Since hems are not a new idea, many traditional hems have developed--look in a good fabric dictionary book, and you'll see examples. Of the classics, a picot hem has to be one of the prettiest and daintiest. The method is simplicity itself: for bottom-up sweaters, cast on and knit the hem. After the inside of the hem is as long as you want it, on the"right" (knit) side of the fabric, work a row of *k2tog, yo." For top-down garments, reverse the procedure. A few rows or rounds of plain knitting past the yo row, you will see that the fabric wants to fold on the line of yo's, and the prettiest little lacy edging will show at the fold. (see photo below).
Another important kind of hem is the stockinette hem folded on a reverse stockinette (purl) fold-line. (addendum, February 2011: more about folds) This is a classic hem because it works like a dream--for various esoteric structural reasons, stockinette WANTS to flip right up and fold at a line of purling--it is a force of knitting as strong as the desire of stockinette to curl and stay curled. This classic stockinette hem takes advantage of this property, which looks very well (see photo below).
BTW: Here is a
TRICK to avoid a big "bump" at the end of the fold (purl) round in circular knitting. When you get to to end of the purl round, slip the first purl stitch which you created at the beginning of the round . That's right, simply slip that first purl stitch from your left needle to your right needle, without knitting it. Magic! The bump will never appear and the beginning of the round will not show.

This classic foldover stockinette hem is made by working a length of stockinette as long as you want the inside of the hem or facing to be, working a purl row on the face (knit side) of the fabric, and then continuing in plain stockinette. The short part of the fabric before the line of purl is the hem or facing, and is tacked down on the inside. A variation is to knit the inside portion of the hem in a thinner yarn than the outside (garment) yarn, and this reduces the bulk of the hem considerably. This very common in commercially made garments, but is a trick which can also be used by hand knitters (see photos below).
Q. You talk about "tacking down" the folded over hem or facing. How is that done?
A: Tune in for the next post--this one is getting W*A*Y too long.

PS: A BIG thanks to MARTHA in the comments--who caught a typo in the directions for the picot edge (now corrected).

* * *

This post is part 3 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 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 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: "hems and facings for knitted garments."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Why bands and cuffs are wonky, and what to do about it (part 2 of "knitting better bands")

Includes 7 illustrations
The previous installment of "knitting better bands" showed that stitches along the edges of garments, stitches such as Wanda and Lon, stretch out because they have a lack of family support. Instead of being supported by 8 adjacent stitches as are stitches in the middle of a fabric like Norm, edge stitches are supported by only 5 stitches. In other words, edge stitches have a completely exposed edge along which there are no stabilizing stitches.

Without stabilizing stitches, edge stitches want to S-T-R-E-T-C-H out, and this is true no matter what KIND of stitches these are--ribbing, garter, seed stitch--the edge stitches will stretch regardless. So, when the edge of the FABRIC is the edge of the GARMENT, the garment edges--bands, cuffs--will be wonky and stretched out. The good news is that this is a structural problem: it's NOT YOU! No! It's the structure of the fabric edge to WANT to stretch and wonk-ify, and this is an unavoidable, built-in characteristic.

Now this problem is nothing new to knitting, and there are two solutions. The first solution is the most common: This is the oft-repeated advice to carefully adjust the amount of yarn IN the edge stitches. In other words, this is the "Goldilocks" solution: cast on (or off) your edge stitches "just right," not too tight and not too loose.

The obvious problem with this approach is that it can take years of experience to find that happy medium. Expert knitters can do this, but beginning and even intermediate knitters often RUIN their otherwise lovely garments trying to follow this advice.

When the error is NOT ENOUGH yarn supplied to the edge stitches, the result is a TOO TIGHT band. Who has not seen a lovely sock, the cuff of which is biting painfully into the flesh of its proud creator? Who has not seen a lovingly hand knit sweater with a neck cast off so tight as to be a nose scraper when dressing or undressing?When the error is TOO MUCH yarn supplied to the edge stitches, the result is a TOO-LOOSE band. Who has not seen a cuff which flops over the wearer's hand, no matter how often the cuff is pushed up onto the forearm? Who has not seen socks with saggy bands which will not stay up?If the Goldilocks solution of getting the fabric edge "just right" tends to be a challenge for non-expert knitters, what is the second alternative? Well, if edge stitches are inherently objectionable, do not make the fabric edge the garment edge. That's right--if edge stitches are icky, just banish the nasty little creatures from your garment edges.

Edge stitches like Wanda and Lon, with their precarious 5-stitch support system, are a poor choice to locate at the edge of a garment. It would be far better to have the garment edges be the far superior kind of stitches with an 8-stitch support system, the kind of stitches normally found inside the fabric--a stitch like Norm, of the previous post in this series.

I will admit that the first time you hear this solution, it sounds like a magic trick. Knitted fabric has to start somewhere, right? So how can the edge of a garment not be the edge stitches? In actuality, this is no kind of trick at all--the knitted FABRIC will have an edge, but that edge will NOT be the edge of the GARMENT. The stitches at the edge of the garment will be 8-stitch supported (or some equivalent) and will therefore be far less likely to want to stretch, bag, roll or sag.

There are several variations on this theme, and today we will start with the simplest: the rolled edge. Additional alternatives will be covered in future posts.


A rolled edge is nothing other than a few rows or rounds of stockinette stitch at the very edge of a garment--there is a gallery of rolled edge photos at the end of this post. As you know if you have been knitting for any length of time at all, a wide piece of stockinette fabric will roll up lengthwise, showing the reverse stockinette side. (For the reasons this is so, click HERE.) This property of stockinette can be harnessed at the edge of a garment by knitting enough rows or rounds so that the casting on (or off) is completely hidden in the roll of the fabric. A loose cast on (or off) is desirable: it will never be seen, and, being loose, it cannot constrain the natural roll of the fabric. By this trick, the fabric edge is NOT the garment edge: The garment edge is an 8-stitch-supported rolled bit of stockinette.

If the stockinette fabric is not elastic enough to "hold in" the edge of the garment on its own, there is nothing to prevent you from adding a few rows or rounds of stockinette to border a very firm ribbing indeed. The ribbing will hold in the garment edge and the rolled edge of stockinette creates a border to the ribbing while eliminating all possibility of a too-tight or too-loose cast on (or off).

Three final points:
  • First, it is easy to modify any pattern whatsoever to begin and/or end with a stockinette roll. Simply cast on loosely and knit several rounds or rows (usually somewhere between 5 and 12) until you can tell for sure that the cast-on will be hidden in the roll of the fabric. Then, proceed to whatever instructions the pattern commences with--whether it be a band of ribbing, garter stitch, seed stitch, or whatever. At the cast-off edge, simply make the band as directed by the pattern, and then continue on with several rows or rounds of stockinette, casting off loosely after knitting a matching number rows/rounds to the cast on.
  • Second, a stockinette roll garment edge assures that the cast on edge will perfectly match the cast off edge, because it matters not at all whether the casting hidden in the fabric roll is a cast-on or a cast-off. This perfect match may be hard to obtain with other combinations of casts on and casts off.
  • Third, a rolled garment edge is extremely sturdy. Powerful forces make stockinette want to curl. As anyone who has tried to block the curl out of a stockinette fabric knows, that is an impossible task. By harnessing this powerful curl, you actually protect the fabric edge. The curl is relatively broad--far broader, at any rate, than the single row of stitches at a cast-on or -off edge. This relatively broad edge means that a slightly different part of the curled fabric presents each time the garment rubs against wrist or counter or coat or pants leg. Compare this broad rolled edge to an exposed cast-on or -off edge: the unsupported yarns in the cast edge stretch out and so wear away on one another. Also, the same part of the cuff is always exposed to being rubbed, which accounts for the relatively common sight of frayed and running cuffs and bands, particularly in children's clothing. By contrast, rolled edges will typically last the life of the garment, even for utility garments such as hand-me-down children's mittens.
Below is a little gallery of stockinette rolls "in person," showing how effective this simple little trick can be on garments ranging from classy garments knit in luxury fibers to utility garments like booties, mittens and hats.


1. (below) This simple silk garment is knit with rolled edges. As you can see, the edge of the garment is not the edge of the fabric--the stockinette roll meets the wrist and lower edge some rows in from the fabric edge, resulting in 8-stitch supported garment edge stitches. Strictly speaking, this garment does not have bands, the rolled edges take the place of bands. This garment is not a new one--it has been extensively worn, and the rolled edges have held up very well over time.
2. (below) This baby bootie has a rolled edge: very cute, very simple, very practical. There will be no struggle to insert floppy little baby feet into this generous cuff, and the rolled cuff has maintained its shape through countless washings. (Note the tie-lace--the stockinette roll is not sufficient to hold the bootie on, because it does not "draw in" like a ribbing does.)
3. (below) This hat band demonstrates a rolled edge as a border to ribbing. The hat is held on the wearer's head with an ordinary ribbing, yet the edge of the ribbing cannot be cast off too tightly due to the rolled edging. The wearer of this hat will not complain of ears feeling pinned to their head!
4. (below) These mitten cuffs also show a rolled edge as a border to ribbing. Snowballs, sled runners, zippers, velcro, mitten clips, teeth (used to pull on that second mitten) and all around little-boy tomfoolery would all spell doom for a simple cast-on (or off) edge: these wear out before the end of winter (at least around here--Wisconsin). By contrast, the broad curl of a rolled edge protects the lower cuff edge through many wearings (and wearers).
5. (below) "Fishsocks." The broad rolled borders makes the very edge of these socks stand out, and the ribbing draws them in again, giving this type of socks a "fishy" profile. They fit very well, however--the ribbing stretches to match the diameter of the rolled border when the socks are put on. Kids find these socks easy to draw on--the rolled border provides a handle. * * *
This post is part 2 of a series. The other parts 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 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 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: rolled cuff and band edges

Monday, November 5, 2007

TECHknitting is one year old

Hello readers--welcome to TECHknitting's first birthday party. This post will race through a grab-bag of oddities, starting with a prize drawing, and ending with an announcement of a free fix-it workshop.

First things first. At this birthday party, the birthday child is giving away the gift. Perhaps you will recall that one month ago, on October 5, there was a poll asking about some proposed future content of TECHknitting. In order to entice responses, a prize was offered, a $20.00 gift certificate from KNITPIKS. As promised, the winner has been selected on this blogiversary date. That winner--as chosen by a completely dis-interested (and notably un-interested) child--is:

Thanks to Ted and to ALL who responded. The comments were really very helpful. As a result of these comments, the proposed series on "lining knitting" and on a "WIP carrier system" have been revamped. The delay will add significant time until the lining and WIP posts come out--perhaps as much as 6 months. However, the result will no doubt be a better, more cohesive overall treatment. Thanks *SO* much for your feedback, readers.

Every birthday brings with it an obligatory musing from the celebrant about the passing of time. Fans of "The Lord of the Rings" by J.R.R. Tolkien may remember that Bilbo's eleventy-first birthday featured one. As Tolkien wrote:
[The audience] rather dreaded the after-dinner speech of their host (an inevitable item.)
Taking this warning to heart, here is the shortest, plainest musing possible: It seems hard to believe it's only been a year--it feels far longer since my office chair has become my second home. Some of you have become familiar presences--each comment adds to the last, and slowly a picture emerges of who you are and what interests you. Others of you do not comment, yet still perform that function so vital to any successful blog--you come to read. A big thank you to all, commenters and lurkers alike, for making it a really fun year. May good health, available free time, and continued interest enable us to travel through future years together, also.

One function of passing time is a brain which grows ever duller. (Announcement to young people: this will happen to you one day. Yes. Also, you WILL wear glasses one day. And be on a first name basis with your periodontist. Thank you. ) In my case, the aging brain has authored many typos, or inserted links which don't work, or "unvented" something already out there, or created illustrations of physical impossibilities, such as this-->

A special thanks goes out to all the readers who take time to send alerts in the comments, or by e-mail, or lately by Ravelry "messages." Without you "guest editors," TECHknitting would be a mess, but with your help and comments, this blog is turning into the kind of conversation hoped for a year ago. Sincere thanks.

As a special sort of a birthday treat, TECHknitting has been the subject of a very nice little interview, by a blogger who goes out of her way to do "investigative reporting" from the knitting blogisphere. If you are interested, you can read the interview here. Many thanks to Ardrienne for proposing and carrying through with this interview.

TECHknitting was also the recipient of a lovely award from a fellow blogger, Leigh. *THANK YOU* Leigh!

The terms of the award require passing it along to 7 others. Unfortunately, when I try to whittle the list of favorite reads down to just 7, that old brain just stalls out. To paraphrase Bilbo:
"I don't know half of you half as well as I should like to, and should like to know more of you as much as I deserve."

This little grab bag item didn't seem to fit in any post coming up, so I'm sticking it in here.
Our local clerk of courts has produced a pamphlet for prospective jurors. She states that idle time can be expected and so encourages folks to bring along something to do. Books are mentioned, as are magazines, but the paragraph concludes with the warning that "metal knitting needles will not be allowed." So there you have it, dear readers--a reason, if ever you needed one, to go shopping. You'll need least one pair of non-metal needles for future situations like this in your own life. Heck, get a couple of sets while you're out.
The series on knitting better bands which last posted here will continue on November 14. Sadly, work on hand requires me to turn away from blogging until then. See you in a couple of weeks!

We've now raced through all the birthday entries to this last item.

ATTENTION KNITTERS: Is your knitting being stubborn?
Acting out? Refusing to cooperate?

For readers near the Madison Wisconsin area, there will be a FREE "fix-it" workshop on SUNDAY, November 18, at the SOW's EAR in VERONA WI. from 11 AM to 1 PM, drop by any time. The kind folks at this fabulous yarn/coffee bar are setting up free hot drinks, and if you're hungry, you can buy a healthy light lunch there too. Hopefully, this'll be a win-win situation: I get to see what questions are out there in knitter-land, and so acquire fodder for future posts while you (hopefully) get the help you need to escape the maze into which your uncooperative knitting may have led you. I have no idea if anyone will turn out for this, and I can only hope to be equal to the puzzles to be presented if folks do show up, but I'll be there with bells on from 11 AM to 1 PM on SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 18.


Thursday, November 1, 2007

Opera & soap opera: how to knit better bands and cuffs, part 1

The house lights dim, the curtains rise. The crowd rustles, the orchestra strikes up. The figure in the spotlight opens his mouth. Out comes a stunning tone, washing over a thousand opera fans. The singer launches into the signature song of the handsome, lovesick young shepherd.

But...wait here just a minute! What's with THIS? That guy in the spotlight is no handsome lover! All the tricks of the make-up artist cannot disguise him. That "lovesick youth" is a barrel-chested, balding, middle aged tenor. Those audience members who are not true believers work hard to suppress a snort. But the opera lovers use their imaginations. In their minds, that ideal and fabulous voice convincingly transports the stubby middle aged guy into the young lover of the lead role.

This same thing sort of thing--the snort of those not true believers--may very well happen when a knitter shows up in a handmade creation.

Shown a handmade sweater, the knitters in the audience will zero in on the intricate cables, the luxurious fibers, the glowing colors. The marvelous fabric transports the garment into the realm of the ideal. But just as those who are not true believers in the opera audience want to snort at the idea of a middle aged youth, so those who are not true believers in hand knitting may focus what most knitters choose to overlook. Perhaps the beautiful fabric is framed by a sad saggy bottom band with a tendency to flip up. Perhaps the cuffs flare, perhaps the button band gapes, flips outward and sags. And perhaps the neck band flares out too.

Opera lovers have no choice about having good imaginations. Opera singers are years in the training and the massive lung power needed to thrill a thousand person hall is not typically housed in a frame which makes young maidens swoon. Opera buffs can see that the tenor is no Adonis, but choose not to. Opera appreciation requires a necessary self-delusion.

Knitting is not like opera. Or at least, it ought not to be. Unlike opera buffs, we are not required to wear blinders in order to experience full enjoyment of our chosen entertainment. To the contrary, we can and should take a clear eyed look at our garments--not just the lush fabric, but also the saggy bands. If we take the first step of seeing the deficiency, we can improve our sweaters in the real world to match the ideal sweater in our mind's eye.

And yet--a willingness to face reality--to actually SEE those sagging bands--is "necessary, but not sufficient" as logicians say. It is necessary to see the mess before you can fix it, but just seeing the problem is not a cure in and of itself. To find a cure, an understanding of the underlying structure is required. And, in fact, there are actual structural reasons why bands and cuffs are all-too-often saggy and gapping. In other words, there is a real reason why bands want to flip over and cuffs want to flare, and it's not because you are deficient as a knitter. No. The story of why bands sag is addressed in the next part of today's post, wherein we go from actual opera to soap opera.

The sad tale of NORM (who has the support of his family)
and WANDA and LON (who do not)

We pass now from actual opera to soap opera, and the sad tale of three apocryphal stitches named "Norm,"(normal) "Wanda,"(wander) and "Lon" (long).

Let's start with Norm. Norm is a nice normal stitch, a stockinette stitch, found in the middle of the fabric. Norm has two direct siblings (blue) with whom he can share yarn: the stitches to the east and the west. These sibs help stabilize WIDTH--they share yarn along the row. To the north and south are "first cousin" stitches (green); these are the stitches above and below which stretch Norm out the long way. These first cousins help stabilize LENGTH--they pin out Norm's head and tail strands. These four stitches help keep Norm in balance--stretched out smooth to left and right, above and below.
Norm also has four second cousins: those to the northeast, southeast, southwest, northwest. Norm can't share yarn directly with these cousins, but Norm's siblings and first cousins can. The result is that Norm is surrounded by 8 close relatives. Further, each of Norm's 8 adjacent relatives have 8 relatives of their own, and so on.

When a poking elbow stretches Norm all out of shape, his surrounding relatives come to his rescue--his sibling stitches on either side share yarn with him, and his cousins above and below help him stay balanced--they keep him stretched out vertically regardless of the stress. Each of Norm's relations in turn can transfer any strain to their connected stitches, and so on. When the poking elbow withdraws, Norm will return to his original shape. In short, Norm is well-adjusted, and will always be well-adjusted, because his family surrounds him, supports him, and relieves him on any undue stress.

Norm lives in the middle of an interconnected community. This interconnected web of stitches shifts and re-adjusts constantly, sharing stress all around and making for a smooth lovely fabric ... until ... (cue scary music) ... the strain reaches the border of the fabric. Out there on the lonely frontier are stitches which AREN'T connected all the way around. Out there on the frontier are the ... EDGE STITCHES ... (horns and drums blare, then fall silent.)

Unlike Norm, nestled in the midst of a supportive community, Wanda is a stitch out on the edge. Like many edge stitches, she happens to be a stitch in ribbing. But the ribbing pattern is no consolation or help to her when stress comes along. Wanda and her edgy, wandering relatives start off well-adjusted enough, but soon wander from their original shape and position. When a poking elbow or a stretching hand comes near Wanda, she has fewer resources than Norm, so she tends to stray into the forbidden lands of puckering, flaring, sagging and gaping.

Now the problem is not that Wanda is completely on her own. Wanda does have directly connected stitches, but she has only 3, not 4. For her, the southern first cousin is missing. Wanda is also missing 2 second cousins: southeast, southwest. Deprived of family support along the entire southern border, Wanda is literally a stitch on the edge. When stress and strain comes in her direction, she has a far more limited family of stitches to come to her rescue. Further, the 2 sibling stitches on either side are under the same strain as Wanda. Wanda's whole community, the entire row of edge stitches, may succumb to the strain and ... (lonely trumpet rings out) ... the entire edge row stretches, widthwise. In technical terms, Wanda's tail strands (the two stands on either side of the body of the stitch) will react to stress by stretching horizontally because there is no force preventing them from doing so--there is no stitch to the south to pin the trail strands vertically. Wanda lack of stability in LENGTH (due to the absence of her southern cousins) means she will spread out in WIDTH.

Wanda is a bottom band stitch, or perhaps a cuff band stitch--she has been knitted in the same direction as the body of the garment. Wanda's particular form of stress comes from being located at the end of a column. Again, like many stitches at column's edge of a cuff or bottom band, Wanda is a ribbing stitch. However as the illustration shows, the mere fact of being part of a ribbed community of stitches does not alter the level of support--Unlike Norm with his 8 relatives surrounding him, Wanda has only 5 stitches surrounding, and this is true whether she is a ribbed stitch or not. The fact of being part of ribbed community only means the stitches around her aren't curling up--it doesn't mean she, as an edge stitch, isn't being stretched out along her unsupported bottom edge.

Wanda's fraternal twin, Lon, is a stitch at the edge of a long piece of knitting, like a front band. In our saga, Lon has been knitted lengthwise--his side edge appears at the edge of the front band. Like many of his front-band ilk, Lon happens to be a garter stitch. Lon's sad story is that, like Wanda, he tends to stretch, but instead of stretching widthwise like Wanda, Lon stretches out in LENGTH.

Like Wanda, Lon has only 5 relatives surrounding and supporting him, rather than 8, like Norm. Although he has two first cousins to help him stay stretched out in LENGTH, he lacks a sibling to the side, to help him stay stretched out in WIDTH. In this illustration, Lon is not supported to the east.

While Wanda is a stitch at the end of a column, Lon is a stitch at the end of a row. But both Lon and Wanda share the problem of reduced support--in Wanda's case the lack of support is from below, in Lon's case, the lack of support is from the east. (Of course, the same problem happens if Lon is on the edge of a front band facing the other way: a band facing west.)

Again, like many stitches at the edge of a front band, Lon is a garter stitch. However as the illustration shows, the mere fact of being part of a garter stitch community of stitches does not alter the level of support Lon receives. Unlike Norm who has 8 stitches supporting him, Lon has only 5 stitches, and this is true whether Lon is a garter stitch or not. The fact of being part of garter stitch community only means the stitches around Lon aren't curling up--it doesn't mean he isn't being stretched out.

Unlike the actual opera which opened today's post, the sad tale of Wanda and Lon resembles a soap opera. These two edge stitches, so lovely when created, have gone astray. They have succumbed to stress. While Norm can weather any stress due to his secure family connections, Wanda and Lon's lack of family support have made these two formerly good edge stitches go bad. They have stretched out and wonky, saggy bands are the sad result. Our next episode (see note below) will focus on how Wanda and Lon can find the support they need to look and act more like Norm, and how their new-found support will eliminate wonky bands forever.

* * *
This post is the part 1 of a series on better cuffs and bands. The series continues:
*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 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 "knitting better bands, part 1: opera and soap opera")