Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How to make pom-poms

Includes 8 illustrations, click any illustration to enlarge
A couple of days ago, a knitter on a community board asked how to make pom-poms. Immediately, the little voices in my head led me to sit down and illustrate this subject.

1. (above) The traditional way to wind pom-poms: Cut two cardboard doughnuts of the same size. Sandwich a yarn (illustrated in red) in between the two layers.

2. (above) Wind yarn (illustrated in green) over the doughnut, around and around, working the yarn through the center hole on each pass.

3. On illustration 2, you can see that the center hole is small. As you can imagine, it is something of a pain to wind the yarn through that center hole again and again. When I was 10, I had to make dozens of pom-poms for a project. Being as lazy as the next 10-year old, I figured that, per illustration 3 (above), if one-quarter of the circle form is cut away, it is MUCH faster and easier to wind the yarn around the resulting three-quarter pom-pom form, and the pom-pom comes out just as well. As shown, with a three-quarter form, as with the original full circle form, you begin by laying a yarn in between the two layers.

4. (above) As with the full circle form, wind the yarn around and around whole length of the three-quarter form, making sure that the center yarn does not get lost inside the form. The more yarn you wrap around the form, the bushier your pom-pom will be.

5. (above) Lay the form on a table and press it down firmly. Insert a scissors between the two layers of the form and cut the strands of pom-pom yarn where they pass over the outer edge of the form.

6. (above) Working carefully, pull up the center yarn tightly, then remove the form and lay it aside. Tie the center yarn in a very tight knot--this knot is what holds your pom-pom together. Refinements are possible: for example, you can wind the center yarn several times around strands once they have been cut free, knotting with every re-wind, or knotting just once at the end.

7. (above) Fluff the finished pom-pom into a three-dimensional shape. Trim off any oddly long strands. Remember not to pull on any one strand, or it will pop loose of the pom-pom. The ends of the center yarn can be used to attach the pom-pom to the hat top (or whatever else you are decorating). In real life, of course, your center yarn would be the same color as the pom-pom, and it will therefore be invisible.

8. (above)
a. Some yarns want to unravel when cut. In a very bushy pom-pom, this will not be a problem, because the yarn has not the room to unravel, but in a sparse pom-pom, you may face this issue.
b.& c. You can solve this problem by tying a little overhand knot (granny knot) in the end of each strand of the pom-pom yarn. A sparse pom-pom of perhaps 10 or 30 strands with each strand topped with a knot is quite charming--the knots give the strand ends a little heft and they swing about charmingly when you move and look like a little fountain, or a spray of fireworks.

One final note: You do not need to use a continuous strand of yarn to make a pom-pom. After all, you are going to cut the yarn into lots and lots of little pieces in step 5. You can wind little scraps of yarn over the form just as well as longer pieces--even if the scrap goes around the form only a couple of times, you can still use it--simply anchor it in place by overlapping its end with the next scrap. A pom-pom made of lots of scraps may shed odd bits where the center yarn did not catch the tail end of the scrap, but that is no particular problem--just comb out the pom pom AFTER you tie the knot, and these uncaught bits will fall right out.

Related posts:
How to make a tassel
How to make an I-cord tassel

--TECHknitter (You have been reading TECHknitting on: "pom-pom how-to.")

Friday, May 9, 2008

The BEST way to attach lining fabric to knitting--the OVERCAST STITCH (part 5 of "hand sewing for hand knitters")

We come now to a stitch as useful to hand knitters as any stitch could well be--we come to the OVERCAST STITCH (also called the whip stitch).

This stitch has the fabulous ability to attach a LINING to KNIT FABRIC such that the lining doesn't rip out of the knit garment as soon as the knit garment is stretched.

TECHknitting has already given directions for lining a hat with a Polar fleece headband. which shows the overcast stitch in action, but this post shows the actual details of the stitch itself.

The illustration below shows a green lining being overcast stitched to a blue knitted fabric by a right handed sewer. (Click picture to enlarge.)
The close-up illustration below shows why this stitch works.(Click picture to enlarge.)

Attaching a lining to knitting is a challenge because lining is often made of WOVEN CLOTH, and woven cloth, as we know, does not stretch very much. Knitting, on the other hand, is extremely stretchy. The stitch chosen to attach such dissimilar fabrics has to--

1. hold the woven cloth in place, even when the underlying knitted fabric is stretching
2. not stop the knitted cloth from stretching
3. flexibly connect the woven cloth and the knitted fabric.

The overcast stitch gets a "A+" on all three factors. As stated in a previous post, the overcast stitch "tethers" the fabrics together rather than "nailing" them together. Look closely at the stitch in the close-up above and you'll see that the lining fabric is actually "hanging" from the knitted fabric.  In other words, the overcast stitch is acting as a little string from which the lining is "swinging." This "swing" allows the lining to adjust to the stretch of the fabric.

As the final illustration, below, shows, there is also quite a bit of thread reserve in the overcast stitch--the path of the thread resembles a coiled spring, and this coil of thread has the reserve to stretch when stressed.
And yet...although the overcast stitch works the best of all the hand sewing stitches for attaching a lining, the reserve of thread in this stitch might not be enough to stop the thread from breaking when the knitting is over-stretched.  You can mostly solve this problem by cutting the lining bigger than the garment, then sewing in the excess via little bite-sized bumps. This is called "easing in a lining." An example of easing in a lining is shown in the TECHknitting post mentioned earlier, about lining a hat, headband style, with polar fleece.

Good knitting--TK

This is part 5 of a 5 part series on hand sewing for knitters
Part 1: Starting off 
Part 2: Starting off with a doubled thread
part 3: the running stitch 
part 4: the back stitch
part 5: the overcast stitch (best way to attach lining fabric to knitting) (this post)

(You have been reading TECHknitting on: The over cast stitch--part 5 of "hand sewing for hand knitters.")

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Part 4 of hand sewing for hand knitters: THE BACK STITCH

We're at part 4 of the TECHknitting series on handsewing for handknitters. So far, we've gone over two ways to start your thread, and one way (not to) sew it. Now we come to a very useful stitch --the BACK STITCH. The back stitch isn't much use in attaching knitted fabric to itself, but it is very useful for
  • sewing up WOVEN cloth, or
  • ATTACHING woven cloth firmly TO knitted fabric--sewing in a zipper, for example.

Before machine sewing was invented, the back stitch was widely used for general seaming of all sorts (seaming=sewing cut pieces of cloth together). The back stitch was also widely used for hemming (hemming=sewing folded-over fabric shut so as to conceal a cut edge).

Today, most folks substitute machine-sewing for the long, straight lines of stitches at which back stitch excels. Yet, back stitch remains a very useful stitch to know--even if you have a machine and prefer it, you may find that setting up the machine, threading it, and maybe having to wind a bobbin, takes longer than sewing a simple seam by hand--sewing shut a narrow head-band lining of polar fleece, for example.

For those without access to a machine, or those who prefer to work by hand, the back stitch would be an excellent choice for many types of sewing which hand knitters are likely to do: sewing up a purse lining or a sweater lining, or attaching a zipper.

So, without further ado, here is...

THE BACK STITCH, illustrated
1. (above) After you have anchored your thread on the back of the fabric, stab upwards with your needle, pulling it to the fabric face. Next, re-insert your needle one stitch length behind the point where it emerged. By "behind," I mean that right handed knitters, who are working from right to left, should insert the needle one stitch length to the right of where the needle first emerged, while left-handed sewers would reverse course, and insert the needle one stitch length to the left. This step ends with the needle on the back of the fabric.

2a. (above) At the end of step 1, above, the needle was drawn to the back of the fabric. In this step, the needle will be returned to the fabric face by stabbing upwards, ahead of the previous stitch. The distance between where the needle was stabbed down in step 1, and where it is to be stabbed up in step 2 is called a "stitch length PLUS."

The "PLUS" refers to the fact that you must stab the needle upwards at a distance FROM the last stitch of one stitch length PLUS the "interruption length" between stitches.

2b. (above) The "interruption length" is simply a fancy name for the distance between the stitches. If you skip ahead to illustration 5, you can see a variation on the back stitch called the "continuous back stitch," in which the back stitch is created with no interruption length. With no interruption length, the stitches touch.
3. (above) To complete the second stitch, again re-insert the needle one stitch length behind where it emerged. The path of the thread under the fabric is shown by the dotted line.

4. (above) Repeating steps 2 and 3 yields a line of back stitches. As you can see, the (dotted) line of the thread under the fabric is looped. This means that the back stitch takes quite a bit of thread--like an iceberg showing on the ocean's surface, the thread showing at the surface of the fabric is only a small fraction of the total amount.

5. (above) The variation called the "continuous back stitch" is illustrated here. To make the chain of stitches continuous on the face of the fabric, the "interruption length" has been diminished to zero. In other words, a continuous line of stitches on the fabric face has been made by stabbing the needle up EXACTLY one stitch length AHEAD of the previous stitch (as illustrated) then stabbing it down IN THE SAME HOLE as the previous stitch came up.

There is no particular structural difference between the regular back stitch (WITH an interruption length) and the continuous back stitch (NO interruption length) but the look is different, and some folks prefer one look over another.

6. (above) As with the running stitch illustrated in the last post, the back stitch can also be created by a shortcut method. However, this shortcut method is best reserved for thin fabrics--bulky fabrics would pucker by this method, so bulky fabrics are best sewn by the stabbing method illustrated in steps 1-4.

7. (above) Unlike the running stitch, the back stitch does not look the same on both sides. The back of the fabric shows the loops where the thread was "brought back" before the stitch re-emerges on the fabric face. This loop of thread attending each stitch is one reason why the back stitch is superior to the running stitch: those thread loops form a little reserve of thread which can adjust (somewhat, at least) when the fabric is stressed. Also, the loops distribute the stress on any one stitch over a greater area of fabric, which helps prevent wear holes where the thread emerges from the fabric, and helps protect the thread from snapping when stressed.

And yet...

Regardless of how important the concept of thread reserve is to hand sewers, hand knitters should BEWARE not to be misled. To hand knitters--accustomed to the great stretch of knitted fabrics--the scale of the stretch allowed by the thread reserve of the back stitch is negligible. It is only in the context of the relative inflexibility of woven cloth that the thread reserve in back stitch is worth talking about. For use on stretchy fabric like hand knits, the back stitch should only be used where a firm attachment is wanted between a piece of woven cloth and the knit fabric--inserting a zipper or a grosgrain ribbon backing on a button band.

Bottom line: the back stitch is an excellent stitch--a real workhorse stitch--for
  • seaming woven fabric (attaching cut pieces of woven fabric together, permanently)
  • hemming woven fabric (attaching a folded-over piece of woven fabric to itself to hide a cut edge and prevent it from unraveling) and
  • attaching a woven fabric firmly to knitted fabric (hand-setting a zipper or a grosgrain ribbon, for example)

This is part 2 of a 5 part series on hand sewing for knitters
Part 1: Starting off
Part 2: Starting off with a doubled thread
part 3: the running stitch 
part 4: the back stitch (this post)
part 5: the overcast stitch (best way to attach lining fabric to knitting) 

--TECHknitter (You have been reading TECHknitting on: the back stitch: hand sewing for hand knitters, part 4.)

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Part 3--hand sewing for hand knitters--the running stitch

This third installment of the TECHknitting series on hand sewing for hand knitters is about the running stitch. The running stitch is iconic--say "hand sewing," and this stitch is what most folks think of first.

We'll get to the advantages and disadvantages of running stitch in a minute, but first, here are 4 illustrations showing the stitch itself.

1. (above) In thin fabric, the running stitch is often done by the "shortcut method," creating several stitches at once. For right handed sewers, it is easiest to sew FROM right to left, as shown. (Left handed sewers should reverse course.)
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2. (above) In the shortcut method, the needle is drawn through even "bites" on the fabric face, creating stitches of even length.
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3. (above) In bulky fabric, the shortcut method will cause bumps and puckers, and this is particularly true where several layers of fabric are being stitched together. To avoid puckers, "stab down" on each stitch from the face of the fabric to the back, then return the needle by "stabbing up" from the back of the fabric to the face. Accomplished hand sewers, such as hand quilters, keep one hand above the fabric and one below, rapidly stabbing the needle up and down with each hand, alternately. When first learning this two-handed method, it is VERY easy to prick yourself with the needle, so go slow.
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4. (above) Unlike some other hand sewing stitches, the running stitch looks the same on the front and the back.


Hand knitters generally meet the running stitch in two different situations. First, it is often used to attach lining fabric to hand knitted fabric. Second, the running stitch is often used to sew up the lining fabric itself. Sadly, the running stitch is NOT actually good at either task.

To sew lining fabric to itself (such as to close the end of the Polar fleece headband shown in the TECHknitting post of April 25, 2008) the back stitch is a far better choice, and a future post will be show more about the back stitch. To attach lining fabric to hand knitted fabric, such as attaching the Polar fleece headband to the hat in the headband post, the overcast stitch, is a far better choice, and a future post will show the overcast stitch in detail.

The running stitch is a poor choice for hand knitters because, as shown in illustrations 1-4, above, the running stitch "runs" straight through the fabric. Without any reserve "slack," when running stitch is stretched, it is likely to snap. As you can imagine, once the running thread is snapped, the running stitches would quickly unravel. Every time you put on or take off a knitted garment, these non-slack stitches stress, and will eventually break.

Running stitch is really best for only one thing--BASTING (temporarily tacking fabric together before the "real sewing" takes place). After the real sewing, the basting is removed. When used for basting, the weakness of running stitch (it comes out easily) is actually a strength (you WANT basting to come out easily).

Now, as you know, basting today is uncommon because it is time consuming. The modern trend is to skip basting and use pins instead: to pin fabrics together and then do the "real" sewing on the pinned-together fabrics. When you HAND-SEW fabrics together, pinning is a sensible, time saving substitution for basting--hand sewing goes slowly, so pins in the way can readily be re-positioned. However, for MACHINE SEWING, especially for machine sewing bulky hand knits, pinning is a poor substitute for basting.

An example: suppose that you wanted to machine-sew a grosgrain ribbon backing onto a button band. If you were to PIN the button band (green) to the ribbon (red), each pin would make a lump in the fabric, as shown in illustration 5, above. At each lump, your sewing machine foot must climb up, over, and then down the other side. Unless you are an expert machine-sewer, the result is likely to be a wandering line of stitches, with each stitch likely a different length.

However, if you were to BASTE the ribbon (red) behind the button band (green) before machine sewing, the ribbon and the overlying button band would lie smoothly together, as shown in illustration 6, above. Basting makes it more likely that your precious hand knits will emerge from the maw of your sewing machine without incident.

Another hand-knitting application for a running stitch basting is before you machine-stitch a steek. If you've ever stabilized a steek using a regular machine foot, you may have experienced the heart-stopping realization that the machine stitching is s-p-r-e-a-d-i-n-g the hand-knit fabric substantially. Although the subsequent knit stitches picked up along the steek edge counteract the stretch, a line of running stitch basting with a sturdy doubled thread BEFORE machine stitching will help prevent this scary tendency to stretch in the first place.

Bottom line: running stitch is best reserved for those occasions when hand knitters need to baste. Running stitch is not suitable for permanent sewing, and especially not on stretchy hand knits.

added on May 5, 2008: A BIG THANK YOU to Honnay, who noted that the direction of sewing in the original version of this post was confusing. Thanks to Honnay's comment, the drawings have now been reversed, and a note about sewing directions added.

This is part 3 of a 5 part series on hand sewing for knitters
Part 1: Starting off
Part 2: Starting off with a doubled thread
part 3: the running stitch (this post) 
part 4: the back stitch
part 5: the overcast stitch (best way to attach lining fabric to knitting) 

--TECHknitter (You have been reading TECHknitting on: "the running stitch--hand sewing for hand knitters")

Friday, May 2, 2008

Part 2: handsewing for handknitters: starting off with a DOUBLED thread

Yesterday's post (starting a single thread in fabric--first knot) was incomplete, as I realized after it went live. Here is the missing part--starting off with a DOUBLED thread--first knot.
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This is part 2 of a 5 part series on hand sewing for knitters
Part 1: Starting off
Part 2: Starting off with a doubled thread (this post)
part 3: the running stitch 
part 4: the back stitch
part 5: the overcast stitch (best way to attach lining fabric to knitting) 

--TECHknitter (You have been reading TECHknitting on: hand sewing for hand knitters: starting a doubled thread)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Hand sewing for hand knitters: Starting off

Before TECHknitting turns to the subject of fully lining hats with Polar fleece, there will be an intermission. After publishing the previous post (lining hats, headband style, with Polar fleece) various communications have revealed that there is a certain hesitance among knitters (you know who you are!) to get involved in projects which require hand sewing. Yet, I know from a previous TECHknitting poll, that there ARE lots of handknitters who would like to learn to line knitwear.

Bottom line: for the next several posts, TECHknitting will focus on BASIC HAND SEWING stitches and techniques useful to hand knitters.

Today, we'll start at the very beginning: how to start your thread. The other posts in this series will include the running stitch, the back stitch, the overcast (whip) stitch and how to end your sewing (how to make the final knot). Once these techniques are illustrated, further posts about lining knitting will make more sense, I think.

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The very beginning: anchoring your thread in the fabric (the first knot)* * *
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This is part 1 of a 5 part series on hand sewing for knitters
Part 1: Starting off (this post)
Part 2: Starting off with a doubled thread
part 3: the running stitch 
part 4: the back stitch
part 5: the overcast stitch (best way to attach lining fabric to knitting) 

--TECHknitter (you have been reading TECHknitting on "basic hand sewing: how to start your thread)