Thursday, November 26, 2009

Avoiding "nipple in the middle:" some tricks to improve hat tops, glove fingertips and motif centers

You may be knitting a pattern starts or ends in the middle, and you may find that the very center stitches are humping themselves up into an unattractive stitch-nipple, a "knipple" as Adri has cleverly named it in the comments. 

One common example is the top of a bottom-up hat. The instructions will often tell you to stop when 8 (10? 12?) stitches remain on your needles, then draw the running yarn though these last remaining stitches. Other common examples include the fingertips of gloves, the tops of mittens and the centers of knitted motifs knitted from the edge to the center. When you thread the running yarn onto a sewing needle and draw the yarn through the last round of stitches remaining, these last few stitches look sloppy--they form an elongated nipple of stitches. This is bad enough on a 3-d object like a hat top, but is a truly sad way to finish off a flat motif (hexagon, square, circle).

This same sort of nipple-in-the-middle can form when starting in the middle: a top-down hat, a hexagon or octagon motif for a patchwork blanket, or a shawl or blanket knitted in the round.

Below are several tricks to avoid this problem, worked both top-down and bottom-up. If you already HAVE this problem, this post ends a couple of tricks to get rid of the nipple, even after the project is finished.


Trick 1: Stop one round sooner
In this trick, instead of working to, say, 8 stitches on a hat top or motif center, you'd stop one round (and one set of decreases) sooner, when, say, 16 stitches remain. Drawing the running yarn up through the larger number of stitches helps prevent a nipple because the stitches have to stretch further to the middle, thus flattening them. However, if you draw the yarn through this final round too tightly, you may end up with the opposite problem: a pucker instead of a nipple. Therefore, adjust the tension with a mild hand.

Trick 2: Kitchener stitch (aka grafting)
Instead of drawing up the running yarn through the final few stitches, you can Kitchener stitch (graft) the last few stitches together. This makes a flat join instead of a rosette, and finishes a circularly-knit object with a pleasant oval center. This is the classic ending to sock toes, and one of the ideas behind the "truly flat hat top," but this idea also works with very well for glove fingers and mitten tops.

Trick 3: Smaller needles
Knit the last few rounds with a smaller needle, then finish off by drawing the tail end through the last few stitches. This trick simply puts less yarn in the middle, so there is less yarn to pouf up.

Trick 4: Do not wind the yarn around more than once to hide the tail
Recently, while experimenting with new tricks for gloves, it came to me that glove fingers need a different ending technique than that I had been using for hats. When ending hats it has been my habit to draw the yarn through the center stitches not just once, but to continue around the circle again maybe two or three more times, in order to hide the tail end. While this is a simple solution to hiding the tail, the downside is that all this extra yarn makes quite a hard knot: a knot which might look unattractively nipple-y and, when worked on gloves, is quite annoying to the sensitive fingertips. Even for hats, I believe I will avoid winding around in the future.

The simple fix is to go around with the tail once, plus ONE extra stitch to avoid any gap, and then to skim in the end elsewhere, so as NOT go around again and again through the center rosette of stitches. For glove fingers, this works particularly well when combined with working the entire fingertip on a smaller needle to yield smaller, firmer stitches: the resulting thinner fabric allows greater dexterity when wearing gloves.


Trick 1: The disappearing loop cast on
There are several ways to start from the center out. The famous "Emily Ocker's" cast-on, of which you may have heard, actually results in quite a bulky set of center stitches PLUS hard little knots. I prefer the knot-less disappearing loop cast on. Disappearing loop is particularly effective when combined with the previous trick of using smaller needles. In other words, if the disappearing loop cast-on, as well as the first few rounds of the knitting are all worked on smaller needles, the amount of yarn available for nippling-out out in the middle is markedly reduced.

Trick 2: The umbilical cord cast on
The umbilical cord cast on is a waste-yarn method. A small tube is knit in waste yarn and the item being knit is started at the bottom end of this tube. Working a waste-yarn umbilical cord means your first garment stitches are more likely to exhibit even tension, which helps eliminate the nippling effect--firm tight stitches are less likely to nipple up than loose or uneven ones. Like the disappearing loop cast on, the umbilical cord cast on can be started on smaller needles to reduce the amount of yarn in the middle of the work.

Trick 1: Unpick and draw through
A few years ago, after one of my kids lost a winter hat for the nth time, I was looking over some old hats to get through the rest of the winter, and found one I'd knit years ago. This old-timer featured nipple-in-the-middle. The kid refused to wear such an object, so the fix went like this: In the first round of this top-down hat, I snipped a single stitch, unpicked and unraveled the yarn and caught the live loops on a thin set of dpn's. Once the live loops were securely caught onto the dpn's, I re-finished the center as if the hat had been knit from the edge-in. In other words, the fix was to run the unpicked and unraveled end through the live stitches. In principle, this is the same idea as snipping a stitch and unpicking a row to get live loops on the needle, on the way to changing the length of a garment. Another, slightly different way of conceptualizing this trick is that you are treating the first round as a waste-yarn provisional cast on.

Variations: Now, it may happen than when you snip and unpick, the resulting tail is simply not long enough to draw through the live loops. This is most likely to happen when the end has been worked in and snipped off before discovering the nipple problem. It would, of course, be difficult to firmly splice in additional yarn so close to the end. Luckily, however, there are three good solutions to this problem.

First, the classic solution of hand-sewers when faced with a too-short end is to insert the needle into the fabric most of the way and THEN thread it with the too-short end.This trick can be adapted to the top of a hat: insert the needle into perhaps three or four of the top (ending) stitches, until only the eye of the needle remains exposed, and then thread the exposed eye with the short end. As the needle is drawn through, the short end, will, of course, pop loose of the needle, but not before it has been worked through the few stitches into which the needle was inserted before threading. The needle is then re-inserted through the next several stitches, then re-threaded and the process repeated until the short end has been worked through all the live stitches PLUS one (to avoid a gap). The needle is then skimmed in through some stitches on the inside of the garment, the tail threaded on one last time, and the needle drawn through, losing the end of the short tail in the woolly loops in the back of the fabric and thus skimming it in.

The second solution to a too-short end is unravel enough extra stitches so that the tail IS long enough to thread onto a needle, and then draw the tail through these stitches, adjusting the tension so that a small attractive hole is created in the center of the work. In other words, when you unpick/unravel enough stitches so that the tail is long enough to thread onto a needle and draw through, you may find that you have so many live stitches that it would create a pucker if you were to draw the tail through tightly. Therefore, instead of drawing the tail through tightly, adjust the tension so that the tail draws the live stitches together into a neat rosette framing a small hole.

While a small hole looks very well in the middle of flat-knitted motifs such as blanket squares, it may not look so well in the middle of a hat. You can, obviously, cover the hole with a pom-pom or a tassel of one sort or another, but a third, more structural alternative is to unravel even more stitches, until your end is long enough to Kitchener-stitch with, and then Kitchener stitch shut the opening, making a fine oval ending to the formerly nipple-y hat. Alternatively, once you've ripped back far enough to yield enough yarn for a splice, you could do a Russian join or a back join (or a felted join or an overcast join or an overlap join) then proceed as though ending a hat instead of starting one.

Trick 2: Draw through without even bothering to unpick
A different situation with nipple-in-the-middle happened when I knit a cotton bag. Although started with the usually-reliable disappearing loop cast on, the stiff cotton did not squish together as wool would have, and the result was a nasty bump. As it happened, this bag was to be lined, so the inside of the bag would be my secret alone. Being fairly lazy, my fix was to simply thread a needle with a strand of the cotton yarn, locate the third round in, then draw the yarn through those stitches from the inside. Below is a photo of the outside, after the fix.

In other words, the stitches of the third row in were simply drawn up with a single strand of cotton yarn without even bothering to unpick them. This trick pooched up the nipple to the inside where it would never show (photo below) while tightening up the outside into true respectability (photo above).

This trick would obviously not work on a glove finger, but for utility knitting such as a cotton bag, it was an effective solution with no snipping involved, and an elapsed time of perhaps 30 seconds.

Photo credits: Barry Toranto.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

You have been reading TECHknitting "eliminating nipple in the middle from knitwear: get rid of the bump"

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Drawstrings and baby caps

A knitter wrote to me today asking about how to make a drawstring for a baby cap.
I believe that the best sort of drawstring is no string at all--drawstrings have the horrible potential to come loose and strangle the baby.

Illustration 1: If drawstrings absolutely must be used--as in a family heirloom christening cap for example--their danger can be lessened (but not eliminated!) by sewing the drawstring to the cap while leaving the extending ends to be used as ties, but keeping these ties as short as possible.

Illustration 2: If the cap will be too large for the baby's head unless the drawstring snugs the cap up, then sew the drawstring to the cap in the already snugged-up position.

Illustration 3: I believe that a safer modification for a drawstring cap is to thread the drawstring through the eyelets, sew it down, and then work the protruding ends into a frog and frog-closure.

At heart, a frog is nothing but a knot, and a frog-closure is simply the little loop which slips around this knot, acting as a loop-buttonhole would. I think that frogs are safer than buttons, as they cannot be pulled (or bitten!) loose by a teething baby. Frogs come undone from their closures easily, it is true, but this is actually an advantage: you WANT the frog to pop loose with very moderate pressure, for safety's sake.

Addendum 11-18-09: I forgot to say: the illustration shows a single knot. However, if that is coming out too small, consider making the protruding end a bit longer, then folding the end back on itself, and THEN tie the knot in the doubled-back end. Also, make the frog-closure loop smaller than you think: it'll stretch out through use.

--TK You have been reading TECHknitting on drawstrings and baby hats.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Two bits of knitting theory: the "work-to-glory" ratio and "product-plus-process"

Today's post is also available as an mp3 file: click here to hear TECHknitter on "Two bits of knitting theory--the podcast."
* * *
I’m working a project now which I simply love—love far more than an ordinary knitting project.

This scarf is a simple lace rectangle, worked in the very easy "sea foam pattern" and made from Kauni Effectgarn lace yarn. But it isn't really the pattern or the yarn which are the subjects of this post. This scarf is merely a springboard. Thinking about why this particular project should be so special has dredged up two bits of knitting theory, and (fair warning!) I mean to inflict them on you today.

Theory 1: The "work-to-glory ratio"

This bit of knitting theory comes from my friend Carol (Rududu on Ravelry, where she is a Bobby Award Winner and a member of the Hall of Fame).

A quick-to-knit item which turns out beautifully is the ideal subject for hand knitting, it has a good work-to-glory ratio. Conversely, a hard-to-knit item which does not ultimately inspire has a bad work-to-glory ratio. Naturally, there are also items which are hard to work but result in a great deal of glory. Knitters must decide for themselves where the balance between work and glory ought best to lie to give the maximum possible results, the biggest "bang" for your knitting labor.

The scarf which inspired today's post has the best work-to glory ratio of any project I have ever worked. The gorgeous yarn of which it is knit transforms the simple lace into a simply gorgeous fabric. Even if you're not as excited about this project as I am, it's an unmistakable illustration of the concept. This all-garter stitch lace can be made by any beginner, but the use of a beautifully-spun, long-repeat, well-dyed yarn substantially ups the glory quotient with no additional work on my part whatever.

Yarn: Kauni Effectgarn lace yarn
Lace Pattern: Sea Foam, with several rows of garter stitch worked as a foundation, and 3 extra garter stitches on each side edge, modified by working 1, 2 and 3 yo's, rather than the more usual 2, 3 and 4 yo's. (This would also finish with several rows of garter stitch at the end before the bind off.)

Theory 2: Product Plus Process

When non-knitters look at hand-knit goods, most tend to focus on the result, on the product. "Why spend 42 hours making a pair of socks? Wal-Mart sells 'em for a buck a pair" is their attitude, their tolerably obvious attitude. Confirmed sock knitters, however, find that mass-made socks cannot be compared to hand-made--the custom fit, the warmth, the exact colors of a hand made sock cannot be duplicated. This excellence is sometimes the very heart of a successful knitting project--the seamless toe, the beautiful work, the perfect fit, the non-binding sock on the achy foot. Knitting as product (and, as a very superior product which you simply couldn't buy anywhere!)

Often, however, hand-knitted objects add another dimension, a process dimension. See your kid standing near the door in hand-made socks, ready to pull on shoes and head out? Those socks are loving that child--the kid is wearing a hug on each foot, and the knitter and the kid both know it. This is process and product combined: knitted object as connection between people.

Further, the knitter also remembers where the sock was knit--sitting on the sofa at home, perhaps, or on a splendid vacation, or maybe at the sick-bed of a beloved relative. Each stitch captures the tick of the clock while the curtains stirred the breeze, the vista of mountains unscrolling through the train window, the love and concern for the person in the bed. Process and product combine again: the knitted object as connection to personal history.

The same half-started lace scarf which inspired today's reverie about the work-to-glory ratio also carries a great many strands of this sort of connection. The Kauni lace yarn from which this scarf is being knit was bought in Zurich Switzerland, a city which I had the great good fortune to visit on vacation. Eva Grimmer, the owner of the Vilfil yarn shop there, had this ball of yarn as a display on her counter. It was the last Kauni lace yarn in stock, and she very kindly agreed to sell this display ball to me.

From its appearance, I assumed that the ball was machine-wound and came from the factory like that,. However, after allowing me to buy her display, Eva let drop that she had wound it herself, by hand while watching TV. "It wasn't difficult" she said "because I studied mathematics at University." As I knit on this yarn, Zurich, Eva, her shop, her astonishing mathematical winding and her generosity in selling me the hand-wound ball are all present before me, many strands of connection.

Excellence of fit, that is product. Object as connection to person and to history, that is combination of product and process. The more I knit, though, the more I think that there's even yet another quality of hand-knitting, a pure process aspect perhaps not much discussed, and that is the ephemeral joy of the knitting itself.

All hand-knits carry the invisible story of their own knitting--not just where they were knit, but also how--the color and texture of the needles which slid through the yarn, what the stitch markers looked like, how the yarn first looked on the shelf, how the project looked when first cast on and when half-finished, how the skeins of yarn then looked half-collapsed in the knitting basket. The older I get, the more foreground are these ephemeral joys.

Beyond the good work-to-glory ratio, beyond my connection to Zurich, my half-started Kauni scarf offers a great deal of this sort of joy, too.

Watching the yarn unwind from the smooth, even layers Eva put there is is a pure process joy. In fact, watching those smooth layers come undone with each tug on the running yarn is as much of a joy as the actual knitting itself. More joy comes because the yarn is dyed in long repeats. As I knit, the color of the ball keeps changing--first it was a green ball of yarn with colored innards, but now it is an orange ball. When the scarf is finished, its secret mother--the changing color yarn ball--will have been used up, but the pleasure of the changing color ball will stay with me until the scarf itself is lost and fades from memory.

This sort of ephemeral joy is sometimes so strong, it may result in unfinished garments. I think many knitters have a half-finished project somewhere--a project never to be disposed yet never to be finished. Sometimes, the pure process pleasure of the project underway outweighs any pleasure the finished product could bring. For many years I had a project like this too, a mohair hat. As a finished product, it would have been another hat, one of many, but as a project, the sharp golden lace needles against the green mohair with the hot-pink stitch markers was an experience in itself. In pure process knits, the knitter takes the project out every few months just to add a few stitches and savor, or even just to pat the yarn.

--TK YYou have been reading TECHknitting on two bits of knitting theory: the "work-to-glory ratio" and "product-plus-process."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Short rows: method

Today TECHknitting shows short row how-to: basic, wrap-and-turn, Japanese and so on.

VARIATION 1: Basic short rows
(category: no-wrap, no-lift)

As stated in the last post (theory of short rows) short rows are made by sneaking little short rows into the middle of the work--rows which don't go from edge to edge. Illustration 1a is a schematic of these in their most basic form.

  • Rows 1 and 2 (black) ordinary rows, each goes from edge to edge
  • Row 3 (yellow) ordinary row, goes from edge to edge, colored yellow for reference
  • Row 4 (dark blue) partial short row--starts on the right edge like an ordinary row, but is stopped short of the left edge when the work is turned at the bright blue turn-point (also called a "turn-loop"). This is a partial short row because it touches one edge (right edge) but not the other.
  • Row "Sh" (red) a fully short row--starts at the bright blue turn-point, is worked towards the right edge but is stopped short when the work is again turned at the pink turn-point. This is a fully short row--it reaches neither the right edge nor the left edge.
  • Row 5 (green) partial short row--starts at the pink turn-point and is worked all the way through to the left edge. It is a partial row because it touches only one edge (left edge) but not the other. As it travels past the left edge of the red row (dotted green line) it must be worked into the underlying yellow row (dotted yellow line)
  • Row 6 (purple) ordinary row, goes from edge to edge. Where it travels past the left edge of the red row (dotted purple line) it must be worked into the underlying partial dark blue row (dark blue dotted line)
  • Row 7 (black) ordinary row, goes from edge to edge.

Illustration 1b shows this same schematic, a bit simplified, translated into actual knit stitches.

Of the greatest interest to us are the turn-loops--the bright blue and pink bits at either edge of the fully short red row. As you can see, when you simply work to the turn-points of a short row, then turn and work back, the turn loops at the short row edges aren't connected to the stitches alongside. In other words, the red row is only connected at the top (to the green row) and the bottom (to the dark blue row) BUT ISN'T CONNECTED AT THE LEFT (the bright-blue turn-loop does not touch the yellow stitch alongside) NOR AT THE RIGHT (the pink turn-loop does not touch the dark-blue stitch alongside). Instead, the fabric has two HOLES at these turn-points.

A very great deal of human ingenuity has been devoted to closing these holes, and different techniques have arisen. The most common techniques involve extending the turn-loops so that they are "wrapped" around the stitches alongside them. As explained in greater detail below, the wraps can either be left in place or be further operated upon by being "lifted" (also called "being unwrapped"). In fact, many different short row techniques can be categorized by the exact combination of "wraps" and "lifts" employed. As you can see, at their turn-points, the most basic short rows shown in illustration 1b have had their turn-loops neither "wrapped" nor "lifted," and so these basic, rather primitive short rows we've just been looking at are categorized as "no-wrap, no-lift."

VARIATION 2--"Wrap and turn" basic short rows
(category: wrap, no-lift)
These are the first, simplest variation on short rows. Here's the how-to in a stockinette fabric, supposing you are working from the smooth (knit) side.

Illustration 2a Knit to the spot where you wish to turn. This means to knit into the very last stitch of your short row. In the illustration, five dark blue stitches have been knit and the fifth stitch is the last stitch knitted before step 2b.

Illustration 2b: Slip the next stitch on the tip of the left needle (yellow) to the right needle and bring the running yarn (bright blue in this illustration) AROUND the slipped stitch. In other words, bring the yarn from the back to the front (towards you) between the yellow stitch and its neighbor to the left.

Illustration 2c: Replace the slipped stitch onto the left needle. Steps 2b and c together are the "wrap" part of this maneuver--you have wrapped the bright blue turn-loop around the neck of its neighbor to the left--the yellow stitch.

Illustration 2d: Turn the work. "Turning" means
  • turn the work back-to-front so you are now looking at the purl side of the fabric,
  • the darker-colored needle formerly in your right hand is now in your left hand while the lighter-colored needle formerly in your left hand is now in your right hand, and that
  • in the ordinary direction of work, you will now be purling back towards the same edge you set out from in illustration 2a.
In addition to turning the work, you must also switch the running yarn (red in this illustration) forward into position for purling.

Illustration 2e: The running yarn has been brought forward (towards you) and one purl stitch has been created. Now that the work has been turned and one purl stitch worked, you can better see how the bright blue turn-loop is wrapped around the neck of the yellow stitch.

When all the stitches required by the pattern to be purled have been worked, the short row is ended. In this illustration, a 4-stitch short row (red) has been worked. On the next stitch to the left (dark blue) repeat the wrap steps (same as steps 2b and c) but this time, working from the purl side.

Illustration 2f shows the final result after the blue stitch has been slipped, wrapped with the running yarn (pink in this illustration) and replaced on the left needle.

Illustration 2g: Turn the work again, and knit the bright green row. Now you can better see that the pink turn-loop is wrapped around the neck of the dark blue stitch alongside.

(Just a little preview of what is to come: the very next variation on short rows in this post is exactly the same as this one right through the end of this step, 2-g.)

Illustration 2h: In this simplified variation of wrap-and-turn, the knitting simply continues. As you can see, this means that the bright blue turn-loop remains in where it now is, wrapped around the neck of the yellow stitch, and the knitting simply goes on without any fuss or fanfare on through to the end of the row.

On the next row, simply purl all the way back. As with step 2h, the turn-loop (pink in this case) simply remains in place, wrapped around the neck of the dark blue stitch as the work goes on in the usual way. Illustration 2i shows the finished fabric.

If you compare illustration 2i to illustration 1b, you'll see that they're the same with one exception: in illustration 1b, the bright blue and the pink turn-loops are not connected to the stitches alongside of them, while in illustration 2i, they are.

This variation of short rows is created by "wrapping" the turn-loops around the necks of the stitches alongside. Once the wraps are created, they remain in the fabric--per illustration 2h, you simply knit or purl into the top of the stitch with the wrap around its neck. Because the wrap is left undisturbed and never "unwrapped" or "lifted" off the necks of the underlying stitches, these sorts of short rows are categorized as "wrap-no-lift" or "wrap-unlifted."

For many kinds of knitting, wrap-no-lift short rows are just fine--for one example, many knitters use these for sock heels where the stacked diagonal line of the unlifted wraps make a pleasant pattern. For another example, when working in garter stitch or reverse stockinette, these wrap-no-lift short rows are actually are the best kind to use. The wrap creates a sturdy attachment, while the little bump created by the wrap remains hidden because the turn-loops are indistinguishable in the midst of the naturally bumpy fabric.

However, as you can see in illustration 2i, in a stockinette fabric, these unlifted wraps (bright blue and pink) show on the surface of the fabric. So, of course, some clever knitter of long ago said to herself "I bet I could get rid of those little bumps there," and she did, by inventing...

VARIATION 3: Wrap and Turn and Unwrap short rows
(category: wrap-and-lift)

The point of "lifting" the wraps (also called "unwrapping") is to hide them so they don't show on the smooth face of a stockinette fabric. This is done by lifting the wraps off the necks of the underlying stitches. Once lifted, the turn-loop becomes a loose loop sticking out of the side of the fabric, and this loose loop can be hidden by knitting (k2tog) or purling (ssp) it together with its neighboring stitch (that being the stitch around whose neck it was formerly wrapped). The k2tog or ssp preserves the attachment between the short rows ends and the fabric, while getting rid of the bump.

As stated earlier, unlifted and lifted wraps are identical up through illustration 2g, above. Illustration 2g shows the bright-blue wrapped yellow stitch about to be knit. In making lifted wraps, we stop there and don't go on to step 2h. Instead we "lift" the blue wrap off the yellow stitch. Specifically, the right needle is inserted under the bright blue turn-loop and used to pry ("lift") it up off of the yellow stitch. The result will be as shown in illustration 3a, below: the bright blue turn-loop now protrudes from the side of the short rows.

Normally, of course, we wouldn't abandon the bright-blue turn-loop just waving around in the air like that. Illustration 3a is just for ... well... just for illustration purposes! Really, what we do is lift the wrap off and deposit it straight away onto the left needle, where it should come to rest with its right arm forward (untwisted) as shown in illustration 3b, below.

As further shown by the purple arrow, the lifted loop (bright blue) and its left-hand neighbor (the yellow stitch it used to be wrapped around) are now to be knitted together.

Illustration 3c shows the actual knitting together--this is an ordinary k2tog (scroll link for description).

After the bright blue turn-loop has been k2tog'ed with the yellow stitch, the work proceeds to the end of the row, and then the work is turned. Per illustration 3c, in our illustration fabric that would mean that after the k2tog, only 1 more stitch remains to be knit before the work is turned to the purl side.

On the reverse fabric face, purl back to the (dark blue) wrapped stitch. Now comes an awkward series of maneuvers to disengage the pink wrap from the blue stitch. You will find that you aren't really lifting the pink wrap off the blue stitch, but rather are slipping the wrapped stitch off of both needles and, while this assembly hangs in the air, using both needle tips to wiggle the blue stitch out of the pink wrap's embrace.

Once the blue stitch and the pink wrap are disengaged, they are placed onto the left needle in the order shown shown by illustration 3d, below. Specifically, the blue stitch goes on first, and it's very important that it be placed LEFT ARM FORWARD. The pink wrap goes onto the left needle next, and it is also placed LEFT ARM FORWARD. (FYI: laying these two stitches left arm forward is the same re-orientation maneuver as the first step of slip-slip-purl--ssp--a left-leaning decrease made from the purl side--more on this just below.)

Following the purple arrow, you will now purl the stitches together, working through the BLUE stitch first. The reason to purl them together in this position is to force the blue stitch to the fabric surface in an untwisted manner, while forcing the pink turn-loop behind, where it cannot be seen.

Are you having trouble purling these together from this position? It is admittedly awkward, so if you need further help, please click on this link, and scroll to the part about "Left-leaning purl decreases" also called "slip-slip-purl" (ssp). This identical situation of purling two stitches together from the left-arm-forward, second-stitch-first position is covered in great detail at the link.

After ssp'ing together the blue stitch with the pink wrap, work to the end of the row, and turn again. The fabric is now worked further in the usual manner. As shown in illustration 3e, unwrapping the turn-loops by lifting them off the necks of their neighbors, then k2tog'ing/ssp'ing them together with these neighbors makes a beautiful fabric.

In illustration 3e, all the distracting coloring has been removed, leaving only the pink and the blue wrap still colored. As shown, it is nearly impossible to determine where the short rows are located, and the wraps are well hidden.

VARIATION 4. Digging or Pinning
(category: lift, no-wrap)

The trick of this variation is to avoid wrapping but retain the lifting. The rationale is twofold: avoiding the extra yarn inserted at the "wrap" stage, as well as avoiding the extra manhandling of stitches which accompanies the wrapping and lifting (unwrapping). Nevertheless, the short rows must be attached, and the end result of lifting--where the turn-loop is k2tog'ed or ssp'ed together with its left-hand neighbor--looks very well indeed. So how about the best of both worlds--not wrapping but still lifting? There are two ways to lift without wrapping.

If you go back to illustration 1b, you'll notice that the unwrapped turn-loops, both bright-blue and pink, are laying between the edges of the short rows and the stitches alongside. It would be possible to simply dig these turn-loops out of the fabric, lift them onto the left needle and either knit (bright blue) or purl (pink) these stitches together with their neighbors. Once lifted out of the fabric, these turn-loops would be treated just as are the turn-loops in illustrations 3b and 3d.

Digging the turn-loops out of the fabric can be challenging because they're hard to see. Here's a trick to make it easier using a pin--either a coil-less safety pin or a bobby-pin.

As shown in illustration 4a, as each turn-point (bright blue and pink) is reached, then instead of wrapping the turn-loops around the neighboring stitch as in variations 2 and 3 of this post, the turn loop is instead caught on a pin. If using a safety pin as shown, simply fasten it shut around--not through--the turn loop before turning the work and knitting or purling back. If using a bobby pin, simply slide it onto the turn loop and leave it there, hanging--same idea as a J-shaped cable needle, only smaller.

As shown in illustration 4b, when the time comes to lift the turn-loop onto the left needle, the turn-loop can be grabbed very readily by simply grasping the pin and pulling the loop onto the left needle that way.

After the turn-loop is safely on the left needle and oriented whichever arm forward is required, the pin is removed and the work goes forward as shown in illustrations 3b (knit side) and 3d (purl side). The turn-loops, not having been wrapped or otherwise manhandled, are shorter and tidier.

VARIATION 5: Japanese Short Rows
(category: slip, lift, no-wrap)
Japanese short rows combine the no-wrap/pin variation of part 4 with one more trick: slipping stitches. Slipping a stitch means there is even less yarn to stretch out, making Japanese short rows the tightest and tidiest (as seen from the knit side) of any short rows. Shown below is how the work would proceed if you were starting on the smooth (knit) side of a stockinette fabric.

On the knit side, knit all the stitches right up to the turning point. Attach a pin (safety pin or bobby pin, makes absolutely no difference) around the running yarn, in the same manner as in illustration 4a. Turn the work. Now on the purl side, SLIP the first stitch from the left needle to the right needle without working it.

Illustration 5a shows the purl side of the fabric. The pin has been set, the first stitch (red with blue dots) slipped and the next stitch (red) purled.

A quick note about color and orientation: in illustration 5a, the slipped stitch is colored red with blue dots. The red is to indicate that this slipped stitch is now part of the fully-short (red) row, the blue dots are to indicate that this stitch started off life as a stitch from the partial row BELOW the red row--the dark-blue row. By slipping, this stitch has been stretched up into a bridge position: it is now a member of the dark-blue row AND of the red row. Note that this dotted stitch has been slipped "purlwise" which means it was slipped open (untwisted) and right arm forward, as shown.

Purl until you reach the purl turn-point. Again set a pin around the running yarn, turn the work and and again slip the first stitch from the left needle to the right needle purlwise. Next, knit to the end of the short row, finishing by knitting into the top of the stitch you first slipped. Illustration 5b shows the end result: the purl side pin has been set and all the knit stitches of the red fully-short row worked back, ending with a knit into the top of the slipped stitch.

Another quick note about color and orientation: the stitch slipped in the purl turn has been colored red with green dots. The red is to indicate that the stitch started life as a member of the red fully-short row, while the green dots are to indicate that, by slipping, this stitch has been stretched up into a bridge position between the red and green rows.: the stitch is now a member of the red row AND the green row. Again, this dotted stitch has been slipped purlwise.

Doesn't Illustration 5b look familiar? In fact, except for the fancy dotted slipped stitches, the situation is exactly the same as the classic wrap-and-turns showed in variations 3 and, especially, 4. If you tug the blue turn loop onto your left needle with the attached pin and then remove the pin, you'll have the same set-up as in illustration 3b, and you continue the same as shown there. In other words, the turn-loop on the pin is pulled up onto the left needle right arm first, the pin is removed, then a k2tog is performed to work the turn-loop together with its left-hand neighbor. The fabric is then worked to the end of the row and turned onto the purl side.

In the next row, when you have worked through to the purl turning point, you purl the stitch previously slipped. Next, using the right needle, you re-orient the next stitch on the left needle so it lays left arm forward, then, grasping the pin, pull the turning loop onto the left needle, also left arm forward. You will now have two loops on your left needle which should be laying the same as illustration 3d. These two loops are now purled together from this position, as per the instructions accompanying illustration 3d.

Illustration 5c shows the finished product from the back. You will note that the turn-loops have been pulled into "bars" across the back of the fabric. This is because they had to be pulled across the back of the dotted slipped stitches in order to be k2tog'ed or ssp'ed.

Illustration 5d shows the Japanese short rows from the front. The turn loops are colored but the rest of the fabric is not. If you compare this illustration to illustration 3e, you'll see that the fabrics are pretty nearly the same, but the Japanese short rows have fewer stitches. Having fewer stitches would translate to a tighter, tidier fabric, at least from the knit side.

Variation 1 are the the most basic kind of short row a basic short row, unwrapped and unlifted--a no-wrap-no-lift short row.The problem, of course, is that not wrapping and not lifting leaves end stitches of the short row unattached to the fabric stitches alongside of them, resulting in holes at the turning point.

Variation 2 are the basic wrapped short rows, where the wrap is simply left in the fabric, a wrap-no-lift short row. By wrapping the running yarn around the neck of the fabric stitch alongside before turning the work, the short row ends are connected to the fabric, eliminating the holes. When the wrapped stitches are again encountered, the wraps are left in place unlifted--the stitches with the wraps around their little necks are simply knitted or purled as if nothing was different about them. This works well on a bumpy fabric, such as garter stitch or reverse stockinette stitch, but on a smooth stockinette fabric, the wraps show as bumps.

Variation 3 are wrap-and-turn short rows with the refinement of unwrapping the wraps when you encounter them again. These wrap-and-lift short rows smooth the stockinette front face of the fabric by lifted the bumpy wraps and hiding them on the fabric back via a k2tog (knit side) or ssp (purl side).

Variation 4, digging or pinning the turn-loops results in lift, no-wrap short rows and digging/pinning is a further refinement to part 3. Instead of adding extra yarn to the turn-loops by wrapping them around the necks of their neighbors, the turn-loops are kept tight and afterwards either dug out of the fabric or pulled up by means of their attached safety or bobby pins. Not-wrapping not only keeps excess yarn out the fabric, but it also means the stitches are manhandled less--less flicking about of stitches and running yarn. The structure of the resulting fabric looks exactly like the finished fabric of part 3 (shown in illustration 3e) just tighter and tidier.

Variation 5, Japanese (slip, lift, no-wrap) short rows, represent the ultimate refinement. Not only is the turn-loop kept tight by wrapping it around a saftey pin instead the neck of its neighboring fabric stitch, but the first stitch after the turning-point is kept tight also, by slipping it (same idea as a slipped-stitch selvedge). When the turn-loop is reached, it must be pulled by the pin out of the fabric and worked together with its left hand neighbor, and this pulling tightens the fabric even further.

Which method to use?
The wrapped-and-lifted method (variation 3) is probably the default. It has ease of execution on its side (no digging, no pins to be set and unset) and it looks reasonably well on the smooth knit side of a stockinette fabric. However, in a very bulky yarn, or a very slippery yarn, keeping the short row ends as tight as possible is a worthy goal, and for this purpose, the lift-no-wrap short rows (variation 4) probably have the advantage. However, you must balance this advantage against the cost--either the turn-loops have to be dug out, or pins have to be set and then unset, either of which is quite a bit slower than wrapping/unwrapping.

Japanese short rows (variation 5) are the ultimate in tight, good-looking wraps on the knit face but have a disadvantage on the purl side of a bar along the fabric back. I personally don't use Japanese short rows for this reason, but take this with a grain of salt. I'm lazy, and don't use the dig or pin variation either (variation 4) despite thinking that this looks better than ordinary wrap-and-turn (variation 3). Notwithstanding my laziness and aversion to the bar, however, I suspect that in a couture knit--perhaps in a silk ribbon for an ultimately-to-be-lined business suit, the ultra-refined Japanese short row would be the best of all.

Bottom line: as in all things knitting, different techniques have different strengths and weaknesses, and different knitters have different (and frequently strong) opinions. You must select for yourself from the smorgasbord of short rows, of which 5 different kinds are here presented.
Further variations exist also:
  • Yarn over short rows: instead of wrapping/unwrapping, a turn-loop can be made into a yarn over (yo) and this yo is then worked together with the neighboring left hand stitch from the fabric proper when the fabric has been worked to the yo location. This works especially well as an alternative to the dig variation -- variation 4. A yo can also be substituted for the pin in Japanese short rows, with the yo made after the slipped stitch.
  • M1 short rows: the turn loop can be ignored, ie: the work can be left as in illustration 1b, with the edges of the short rows--the turn-loops--left unattached. Then, the last stitch of the short row can be k2tog'ed or ssp'ed together with the neighboring stitch out of the fabric. Lastly, the stitch count is brought back to the original number by lifting a new stitch, m1 fashion, out of the tail of the stitch just to the left of the new k2tog or ssp.
I have no doubt that yet further variations exist, and confidently anticipate hearing of them in the comments, because, let's face it--knitting ingenuity is boundless!

(Whew. Most illustrations in a TECHknitting post yet...)

You have been reading TECHknitting blog on short row methods--basic short rows, wrap and turn short rows, Japanese short rows.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Short rows: theory

include 11 illustrations--click any illustration to enlarge
TECHknitting blog now turns to short rows. Today's post shows the theory. Click here for the how-to (basic short rows, Japanese short rows, wrap and turn, plus other variations).


Short rows come in two main types: Short rows worked to create shaping in the MIDDLE of an otherwise ordinary fabric (fabrics knit back-and-forth as well as knit circular) and fabric MADE of short rows.

Variations on these two main themes abound also, such as short rows made along a fabric edge and hybrids of the two main types: fabric knit of short rows which has further short rows inserted. In fact, there are newer and more imaginative combinations of short row technique all the time--garments made in wedges and starbursts, beautiful modular fabrics made of bits knitted together in truly innovative ways, even mind-bending mathematical models can be knit with short rows. However, the basis of short row technique lays in these two main types. Once these are understood, all else follows.

Short rows in the middle of a piece of fabric
The idea of this trick is to add rows to your knitting which don't go all the way from side to side: little short rows, snuck into the middle of the work.

Illustration 1 shows ordinary knitted fabric where each row is worked all the way to the edge. The very last row of this ordinary fabric has been colored yellow, just for reference. The fabric in this schematic has been knit flat, as shown by the direction of the arrows.

Illustration 2: The blue row is not knit all the way to the end. Instead, at the red dot, the work is turned and the red row is worked. ("Turned"=right needle becomes left needle, left needle becomes right needle. You are now looking at the other face of your fabric, and you go off knitting--or purling--in the direction opposite to the way you were working before you "turned.") As shown, the red row does not go all the way to the end either. Instead, the red row is short, too--it stops at the purple dot.

Illustration 3. After the red row has been worked to the purple dot, the work is again turned. This time, the next row (green) IS worked all the way to the end. However, as you can see, something interesting is going to happen. The last bit of the green row (indicated with a dashed line) isn't going to contact the red row at all, it's going to have to be knit into the yellow row--specifically, that part of the yellow row indicated by a dashed line.

As is evident, adding short rows is going to distort the fabric. This distortion comes in two types: bulging and differential lengthening.Used alone or in combination, these two short-row effects create shaping.

Inserting short rows makes fabric bulge outwards where the short rows are. As per illustration 4, when the last bit (dashed line) of the green row is knitted into the bit of the yellow row below it (dashed line), this distorts the right side of the fabric: it pulls the green row down and the the yellow row up while also forcing the blue, red and green rows to bulge outwards.

The same along the left side: the purple row is the first regular (long) row above the blue, red and green short rows. The last bit (dashed line) of the purple row must be knit into the underlying bit of the blue row (dashed line). This snugs up the left side to match the right, while bowing the short rows outwards from the left, also.

The schematic above shows only three short rows inserted--the blue partial short row (short on the right) the red fully short row (short on both sides) and the green partial short row (short on the left). A single full short row causes a mild outward bulge.

Illustration 5: A much more definite bulge can be obtained by further stacking short rows together. This is the basis for short row heels, for example. The heel shown below is a variation on a short row heel. The work begins and ends at the colored dots. As you see, ever-decreasing short rows are followed by ever-increasing short rows, and this self-contained unit of stacked short rows deforms the fabric into a bulge suitable for a heel.

Bulging is not the only trick we can do with short rows. Differential lengthening is also possible. Differential lengthening is when a fabric is worked to be longer in the middle, without affecting the length of the fabric at the edges. An example is improving the fit of a sweater back by adding ease via short rows in the middle of the fabric.

Specifically, adding a bit more length up the middle of a sweater back helps prevent the back from riding up. Illustration 6 shows a sweater back lengthened in this way. The short rows do not go all the way to the edge so the edges aren't any longer--a good thing at seam sewing time. Because the back is longer only where the short rows are (gray arrow) the back is said to be "differentially longer" or "differentially lengthened."

Bulging and differential lengthening differ only in degree. Both are made using short rows. Which result you get depends on how many short rows you stack in proportion to the surrounding fabric. The more short rows packed in, the greater the bulge. Conversely, fewer, longer rows yield a gentle undetectable differential lengthening. Hybrids exist also: short row bust shaping, for example, creates both bulge and differential lengthening.


Before turning away from shaping, Illustration 7 shows short rows in circular knitting.

Circular knitting is composed not of discrete circles, but rather of an endless stack of spiral rounds. Rounds 1, 2, 3, and 4 (black) are ordinary knitted rounds in such a stack. Round 5 is also an ordinary knitted round--the last one before the short rows. It has been colored yellow for reference. On Round 6, the knitting stops at the red dot. The work is then turned and worked back to the purple dot. This makes the red short row, labeled "S." At the purple dot, the work is again turned, and this time an entire round is knit--round 7, shown in green.

As shown, when round 7 has been worked past the last stitch of the red short row, it must be worked into the underlying round. Because round 6 is a short round, this means round 7 is worked into round 5, the yellow round. After round 7, the short row sequence ends. Round 8 (purple) is a full round. Because round 7 was a short round, this means that as round 8 approaches the area of the short row, it is worked into round 6, the blue round. As round 8 climbs over the area of the short row, it goes from being worked into round 6 (blue) to being worked into round 7 (green). Rounds 9 and 10 (black) are again ordinary full rounds.

Inserting the partial short round 6 (blue), the full short row "S" (red) and the partial short round 7 (green) distort the fabric just as it did in a fabric knit back-and-forth (illustration 4). To the right of the short rows (where round 8 meets round 6) and to the left of the short rows (where round 7 meets round 5) the fabric is pinched together. The short round/rows themselves (6, "S," and 7) are forced to bulge outward. Even the ordinary black (full) rounds some distance from the short rows are distorted.

Like short rows in flat knitting, whether short rows yield bulge or differential lengthening (or both!) depends on how you stack and pack the short rows into your circular-knit fabric.

Fabric made of short rows
Shaping portions of an otherwise normally-knit fabric (whether worked back-and-forth or circular) is not the only use knitters have for short rows. It is actually possible to create an entire fabric exclusively of short rows. Here is an example of a seven-sided shape made this way: a baby blanket, perhaps, or a hat.

Illustration 1. The first row is teal, the second row, pink. The pink row is shorter than the teal -- it is a short row.

Illustration 2. If we continue along making each row shorter than the last, a triangle results. The "bottom" of the triangle is the first row cast on, called the "base." The remaining sides are made of the edges of the short rows: we'll call one the "inside edge" and the other the "outside edge."

Illustration 3: The outside edge, represented by the gray line, will become one of the seven outside edges of the final item. On the inside edge, represented by the brown line, we'll pick up a row of stitches. This new line of picked up stitches will be the baseline for a new triangle.

Keeping to this pattern yields an interconnected series of triangles. In this case, 7 total wedges have been worked, with the last sewn inside edge to the base of the original cast on (the original teal row cast on back in illustration 1).

A wedge-knit short row flat shape like a baby blanket, for example, might require quite a few short rows to make each wedge, and each row might be only slightly shorter than the one before. To get a 3-d wedge-knit short row item like a hat would requite fewer total rows, with each short row possibly considerably shorter than the one before. Also, the short rows might not be symmetrical: a hat made of short-row wedges typically has only a very few rows which go all the way through to the center, while the edge of the hat has a great many rows. In other words, just like in shaping using short rows in the middle of a fabric, so here too: how you stack and pack the short rows will determine whether a short-row knit fabric lays flat (baby blanket) or bulges (hat).

If you're ready for the how-to, click here to be taken to the follow-up post. 

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Purl decreases: p2tog, p2tbl, ssp

The same way there are two versions of knit decreases, there are also two versions of purl decreases: the right-leaning and the left-leaning.

*A purled decrease which slants RIGHT as seen from the front side of a stockinette fabric is not usually called a "right leaning purled decrease." Instead, the decrease is named by its method of creation. In other words, these right leaning decreases are usually called "purl 2 together" (usually abbreviated "p2tog") because that's what you do to get them.

*A purled decrease which slants LEFT as seen from the front is called various things, but hardly ever simply "left leaning purled decreases." Instead, like the right-leaners, these left-leaners are also usually named for their method of making. So, just to confuse the heck out of you, these left-leaners are sometimes also called "p2tog," just like the right leaning ones. Other, more common names include "slip, slip, purl" ("ssp") or "purl 2 together through the back loops" (usually abbreviated "p2tbl" but sometimes "p2togtbl.")

RIGHT LEANING (as seen from the front)

This is a simple one step process: Instead of sticking your right needle into the first (green) stitch at the tip of the left needle and purling it, you instead stick your right needle into the first two stitches (green and blue) and purl them together, as shown below.

The result, as seen from the front, is shown below.

Do you see what you've done? By first inserting your right needle into the first stitch on the tip of the left needle (the green stitch) and next into the second stitch on the left needle (the blue) you have forced the green stitch in front of the blue stitch, as seen from the front (knit side) of the fabric. The green stitch has "eaten" the blue stitch to its right thus pulling the green stitch rightwards ---> over the blue stitch, and this is what forces the decrease to slant right. The slant is not purely rightwards, however, but "up and to the right" because the base of the stitches remains separated--it is only the heads which you've merged. As stated earlier, these right leaning decreases are usually called "p2tog."

LEFT LEANING (as seen from the front)

This is a three step process

Step 1: Slip the first (green) stitch on the tip of the left needle onto the right needle KNITWISE. This means to insert the needle into the stitch as if you were going to knit it. When the right needle is inserted this way and then the stitch slipped off, the stitch turns away from its usual right-arm-forward orientation. Now, the left arm of the stitch is forward (towards you) and the right arm is back (away from you.) Note that you do not pass a yarn through this loop, you just slip it from the left needle onto the right one, changing its orientation along the way.

Repeat this process with the next (blue) stitch on the tip of the left needle. You will wind up with both the blue and the green stitches on your right needle, and both should be laying left arm forward as shown by the red arrows.

Step 2: Return the blue and green stitches to the left needle without disturbing their orientation. The end result of all this slipping and sliding should be the blue and the green stitch laying on the tip of the left needle, oriented left arms forward, right arms back.

Once these stitches are parked on the left needle, you will insert the tip of the right needle into the right (back) arms of both of these stitches as shown by the red arrow. Note that the right needle is to insert from the back, first under the right arm of the BLUE stitch, and then under the right arm of the green stitch. This is admittedly a bit awkward, but persevere.

Step 3: Again: once your right needle has followed the path of the red arrow, it will have been inserted first through the right (back) arm of the second stitch on the left needle (the blue stitch) and next through the right (back) arm of the first stitch on the left needle (the green stitch) as shown. Note also that the running yarn has been brought to the front before the right needle is inserted, in order to make it possible to purl.

Once you draw the running yarn through these two loops, the result, as seen from the front, is as below.

The loop through which the needle was first inserted, here the blue one, has been forced to the front. This blue stitch has "eaten" the green one to its left, which pulls the blue stitch <---- leftwards over the green stitch, so the decrease slants to the left. The slant is not purely leftwards, but rather "up and to the left" because with this decrease, as with the previous one, the base of the two stitches remain separated, it's only the heads which you've merged.

As stated earlier, this left leaning decrease is sometimes called "p2tog" just like the right leaning decrease is. However, it is more commonly called "slip, slip, purl" (ssp) or sometimes "purl 2 together through the back loops," (p2togtbl or p2tbl).

You can straighten out any confusion about the messy naming situation of purled decreases by simply ignoring the names given in your pattern. Instead, look to see which way the decrease OUGHT to lean for best looks, and do that. Remember the rule:

*if you first insert your right needle through the FIRST (green) stitch on the left needle tip and then through the second (blue) stitch, the green will be pulled rightwards ----> over its neighbor and the resulting decrease will slant right as seen from the front of a stockinette fabric

*after the re-orientation steps (in other words, when you get to step 3) then if you first insert your right needle through the SECOND (blue) stitch on the left needle tip and then through the first (green) stitch, the blue will be pulled <---- leftwards over its neighbor and the resulting decrease will slant left as seen from the front of a stockinette fabric.

Two last notes:
1. Some instructions for a left leaning purled decrease ignore the re-orientation steps (steps 1 and 2) and instead jump directly to purling through the back loops (step 3). The result is a twisted loop on the front surface of the fabric--not so pretty.

2. If your decreases are to be viewed from the purled side of a stockinette fabric (reverse stockinette side) then it really makes absolutely no difference how you make them, so make the one-step right leaning decreases because they are easier and quicker. The reason it makes no difference is because in the purled and bumpy landscape of a reverse stockinette fabric, the orientation of the loops will simply not show. As long as you're making the purled decreases where you ought to be (on the side of the marker as specified by your pattern) you'll get the result envisioned by the designer. It's only when viewed from the persnickety and smooth front (knit) side of a stockinette fabric that the direction of lean is important.


Addendum, added 10-13-09. In the comments, Rachmouse asks for a photo of these purl decreases from the purl side. Here you go Rachmouse!

But...just one thing, first. Also in the comments, Cheryl S. discusses the danger of confusion inherent in naming the slants based on how they look from the front. Cheryl is 100% correct, and if I could think of a better way to name these, I totally would. The photo that Rachmouse asked for perfectly illustrates Cheryl's point: As you can see the decrease which WILL be LEFT facing from the front is part of a line of RIGHT SLANTING decreases from the back. Similarly, the decrease which WILL be RIGHT facing from the front is part of a line of LEFT SLANTING decreases from the back. So, be warned -- look at the front frequently to be sure that your purled decreases slant the way you want them to, and don't put too much stock in what these purled decreases are called. And now, here's the photo Rachmouse requested:

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