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."
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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."