Thursday, November 24, 2011

Handy knitting links

Here are some great links I've been saving up. Thanksgiving seemed the right time to share these.

Happy turkey day!


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thinking about thinking about knitting / Two old sweaters stage a cedar closet jail break

Two different strands wind through today's post, but never fear, they come together at the end.

1. Thinking about thinking about knitting

When I knit, my thoughts sometimes wander to knitting to the past. Then I think about the long-ago knitters and what they were thinking about, a sort of recursive trip down memory lane

As they knit along, those old time knitters knew for sure they were making something valuable. Long ago people thought about their clothes much differently. In that society, people listed clothes in their estate inventories, or made made them part of their will. A nice pair of hand-knit stockings were worthy of being passed along as a special bequest for usefulness and remembrance. That attitude lasted a long time, too.  When asked why she kept old clothes which no longer fit, my grandmother (born in Austria in 1902) used to reply with a German proverb that "clothes outlive their people."

Today, clothes don't have that resonance.  Clothes are not really considered valuable.  That, too, is something I think about when knitting: after all, it takes a certain thickness of skin to be a confirmed hand-knitter in the day of cheap ready-made sweaters and expensive yarn. However difficult life was for the old-time knitters, the usefulness of their craft was never at issue.  So, while we think about knitting's value while we knit, that's one thing with which the old-time knitters never had to concern themselves: clothes in that day were valuable and scarce.

2. Two old sweaters stage a cedar closet jail break 

Another by-product of clothes not being considered valuable nowadays is that, when people pass on, it seems a bit creepy, almost, to keep their old clothes around.  The old way of passing your clothes on to others hardly exists: those clothes are more likely to end up in the goodwill store than being worn around. And yet, hand-knitting, at least around here, recently broke this trend.

two old sweaters

Here are a couple of sweaters I knit a long time ago for my father (brown sweater) and my stepfather (green vest).  When both men passed on, I got the garments back.  For years and years they sat in the cedar closet.

Meanwhile, my son was born, and grew and grew. Last year, at 12, he outgrew the sweater he'd been wearing as a sort of a dress-uniform for semi-formal occasions.  He told me he needed a new one.  I almost cast on then and there, but something passing though my mind sent me upstairs to the cedar closet instead. Down came the brown sweater. To my surprise, it fit him.  For the past year, this old sweater has become his new dress-uniform. A few weeks ago, I was up in the closet again, looking for an old project to photograph for the blog. There sat the green vest.  That turned out to fit, also, so now he has a sort of a uniform-rotation. (And who says the knitter's children have no sweaters?  That kid has two!)

I almost didn't bring the sweaters out of the closet, because I thought it would be kind of unsettling. Instead, the sight of those old sweaters given a new life turns out to be a sort of relief.  I feel like I can think about their original owners again without  the first thought being "oh! they're both dead now." For one thing, I have to remember just how small both my father and stepfather really were, when I see the kid running around in their old sweaters.

sitting on the shelf with the everyday clothes

When these two old sweaters escaped from the cedar closet to sit on the shelf with the every-day clothes, they turned out to be something valuable, like something made by the old-time knitters: a glimpse of my family's past as well a glimpse of the textile-past, both brought to life.

Further, I now know something about the old time knitters and their thoughts which I didn't know before.  When we knit, we think a lot about the person we are knitting for.  But when they knit, the long ago knitters were making making a garment independent, in a certain way, of the person for whom it was knit.  I mean, I'm sure they thought about the sweater-recipient, but they also expected that the garment would be passed along when the recipient had no further need of it; not gotten rid of, or stuck in a cedar-closet jail of remembrance.
* * *
Something new to think about while I knit, I guess.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Picture Frame" your color knitting to eliminate the jog on discontinuous rounds

Color knitting in the round forms a spiral. Therefore, the end of each round is 1 stitch above the beginning of that same round, forming an unattractive "jog." 

When knitting is worked in CONTINUOUS stripes, there are two really nifty tricks to mitigate that jog:

However, both the jogless stripe trick and the helix stripe trick have their limitations. Specifically, where the colors are one round or more rounds high, but AREN'T CONTINUOUS, neither jogless nor helix will work.

[ADDENDUM as of 2016, I have thought of a way of knitting perfect non-jogging one-round-high stripes. So, while picture framing (this post) continues to be valuable, also check out this 2016 post--SMOOTHED CIRCLES.]

The most common example of non-continuous, one-stitch-high stripes in different colors is Fair-Isle knitting. Each stripe typically contains at least some single-stitch-high color changing rounds.

Traditionally in Fair Isle-type knitting, the color jog wasn't hidden, but was placed far out of sight, under the left arm. A different traditional treatment was to center the color change dab smack in the middle of the sweater front, and then cut the sweater (called "steeking")  up the discontinuity. Putting the color change at the steek separates the offset by the width of the afterwards-applied front bands (cardigan style) making it disappear.

A third trick, not much known, is called "picture framing." By this trick, the patterns forming color-stripes are purposely kept apart by a few columns of either an added color, or a few background-colored stitches, illustrated below.

Any Fair-Isle (or any other kind of colorwork) sweater can be adapted by picture-framing: you just add a few columns (stitches) to the pattern and always knit those stitches in the frame-color.

Here is a real life example of picture-framing on the side seam of a Fair-Isle inspired garment. This frame is more complicated than the simple background-colored vertical stripe shown above, but is the same idea.

As for the how to, you can carry the yarn frame color along, up the columns by winding it into a small butterfly or bobbin and keep that hanging on-site (don't carry it around the round). When you get to the frame, draw the running yarn from the bobbin back to the starting point and knit the frame columns with it. The other colors are simply stranded behind the picture frame columns, every time you come to them. Alternatively, if the same colors are always used in the frame as in the main body of the work, as in the photo above, you can just knit the frame as part of the ordinary colorwork.

If you make a very wide frame, this will make something of a welt (raised ridge) at the frame, because the stranding yarn behind the frame-columns will "draw up." However, over a short span (2 or 3 or even 4 stitches) loose tension helps avoid the welting problem.

Here is a pair of socks where picture framing avoids the jog. Also, have a look at this Faroese sweater where picture framing at the sides is carried right up the underarm: an unbroken frame from waist-band to sleeve cuff. Beautiful.

Good knitting, TK
You have been reading TECHknitting on "how to avoid a jog in Fair-Isle knitting"

Monday, November 7, 2011

A felting primer for hand knits (wet felting)

Felting knitting, or "what's in a name?"
Some call it fulling, and that's probably the most technically correct. Some call it "boiled wool," and you can certainly boil it, but you don't have to. I think most people call it felting, so I will too.

So, what IS felting?
This post is about wet felting.  Wet felting happens when wool is subjected to three factors simultaneously.  First, there must be WETTING; second, TEMPERATURE CHANGE and third, AGITATION.  When all three of these things happen at once, woolen fabric will shrink substantially, becoming both thicker and smaller. (There is another kind of felting done dry which is worked with barbed needles.  This is called needle felting, but it is not covered in today's post.)

Why felt?
Felting has two sides to its nature: the utility aspect, and beauty inherent in such a dense fabric.
Felt is as close to a miracle fiber as you can make outside of a lab.  It is somewhat rain-proof, somewhat wind-proof, immensely warm and very hard-wearing--nomads in some of the world's coldest places live in felt huts, dress themselves in felted hats and boots and use felt to ride their horses. Closer to home, my kids have worn felted mittens here in Wisconsin for years: here is the same pair as shown in the opening illustration after they were worn for two years by a little boy for snowball fights, sledding and all-around tom-foolery.  An unfelted mitten would never have survived, but these are tucked away safe, waiting for another little kid who needs bomb-proof mittens.

< threadjack >
If you want to make the mittens illustrated in this post, they are available in a couple of ways:
For recipe (free)  click here
For the pattern ($3.25, child's XS-XL) you can
*Click through to the pattern page
*Click through to the project page 
*or buy the pattern now

<  / threadjack >
beauty of the fabric
However, utility knits aren't the only reason to felt.  Felting is inherent beautiful with a soft, lush look.  The stitches lose definition and meld together, the surface becomes matte. Here is a peek at the fabric of a felted cushion.  The density of the fabric not only makes it wear hard, but makes it almost luminous--the depth of the fabric reacts with light differently than a thinner or smoother or shinier fabric would, the colors seem more saturated.  Of all the cushions we have in the house, this is the one that people find themselves holding and carrying around from place to place.

Felting is irreversible
Felting is an irreversible process.  Once felted, a hand knit garment cannot be unraveled. The yarn has stuck to itself and congealed into a solid mass. This irreversibility has both downside and upside.
  • On the downside, that beautiful hand knit which went into the washing machine by accident has been ruined, yes.  Nothing--not vinegar, not yogurt, not shampoo, not conditioner--can bring it back to its pre-felted state.  
  • On the upside, it is the very irreversibility of the process that makes felted items so hard-wearing. Felted knitting can be cut, sewn and shaped. It will not unravel, so a felted sweater can have a long and lovely second act cut up and sewn into cozy mittens and slippers. 

Felting is unpredictable
Besides being irreversible, felting is also unpredictable.  Sometimes, felting occurs gradually and evenly across an entire garment.  More often, the process occurs suddenly and unevenly. Accordingly, felting garments to fit is something of a gamble. It is true that felted garments are commercially available--"boiled wool" jackets are a famous example. However, these garments are made from sheets of knitting which has been felted and then cut and sewn.  The jackets are not "boiled," the fabric is. For this reason, most knit-and-felt patterns are for bags, or mittens, or slippers: items where the fit isn't super-important.

Four ways to felt
The two main ways to felt are by hand, or using a washing machine.  Two other methods are by using a (clean!) toilet-plunger or by using a dryer. Whichever way you choose, however, consider turning the item inside out first, because the exposed side can get a bit roughed up by the process.

With hand-felting, you have more control over the project.  The mittens in the photo above were stopped from felting further at just the right time by having a paper pattern handy, against which the mittens were frequently compared as the size got nearer and nearer.

For larger projects, or for projects where fit is not so much of an issue, felting in the washing machine is a good choice.  Felting a large project by hand makes you realize the immense strength that the old washer-women must have had, to wrestle wet and heavy fabrics by hand.

hand felting
The basis of felting is that you knead and rub with the aid of dish-washing detergent—the suds act as a lubricant, making the rubbing easier.  (That's hand dishwashing detergent, not machine detergent!)

First, prepare a basin with cold water, and another with hot water, as hot as you can stand.  (Hint: wearing dishwashing gloves lets you use far hotter water than you could stand without them.) Wet the item to be felted in the hot water, then lift it out of the water and rub and knead a drop or two of dish detergent through it.  Hold one part of the item in one hand and the other part in the other hand, and rub the item on itself, changing your grip frequently to bring new parts into the process. Rubbing evenly all over gets the best all-over felting. 

Dunk the item into the hot water again, and begin to wash the detergent out, then abruptly dunk the item in the cold water and continue kneading and rubbing.  Again lift the item out of the water, add a drop or two of detergent, then agitate and rub for a while. Continue in the manner, alternating sudsy kneading under hot and cold shocks until the item is the size you want. The felting and shrinking usually occurs when the cold water shocks the wool, although it sometimes occurs on a hot-water shock.

Sometimes glove fingers or mitten thumbs fingers might try and felt shut.  Keep a wooden-spoon handle or chopstick handy to poke apart unwanted interior felting.

If you want to try boiling, dunk the project into a pot of boiling water , stir it with a wooden spoon, dunk it back in the cold water and do the soap and agitation cold.  Repeat. One thing about boiling is that dyes used on woolens aren't always benign. Be sure to wash the pot very thoroughly afterwards, and use only a stainless steel pot to avoid unwanted interaction of the pot-metal with the dyes. 

However you do it, this process sometimes takes a LOT longer than you think, and you might have to replace the hot water with fresh if it gets too cool.  Depending on the color and type of wool, it has taken me as long as 20 minutes of constant agitation and temperature shocks to felt one measly mitten.  Other times, however, the process takes place so fast you can hardly see it happening.  If it is taking a while, take heart: although you may doubt it while you are wrestling away, as long as the item was knit with ordinary wool (NOT SUPERWASH!!!) it will eventually shrink. 

When the item is the size you want, stop rubbing.  Let the item come to room temperature, then gently rinse out the suds in fresh lukewarm water, then lay flat to dry out of the sun. 

washing machine felting: 
top loaders vs. front loaders
The easiest machine for felting in an old-fashioned top loader you can stop in mid cycle. This lets you haul out the wet item to test the size as the process progresses.  These old top-loaders also let you re-position stuff--sometimes items to be felted get folded on themselves during the spin cycle, and the marks left behind can be hard to get rid of. Another advantage is that, on most top-loaders, you can change the cycle with the twist of a dial, easily switching from wash to rinse to spin. Yet another advantage is that you can keep cleaning the lint screen if your project sheds. Top loaders do have one important downside, though: believe it or not, a washing machine agitator can break your arm. Be sure the machine is turned OFF before you reach in. 

Felting can also be done with a front-loader.  These machines lock and it is often difficult to change the pre-set program once its started, so to get around this, choose the shortest cycle. This lets you keep checking the size after each run-through.

machine how-to
The principles of felting are the same whether by hand or machine: lots of temperature changes, lots of agitation. Each machine has different settings, so look for a heavy-duty cycle (lots of agitation) with abrupt temperature changes (hot wash followed by cold rinse, or vice versa).  Unless the item is massive, it probably makes more sense to toss your felting in with a compatible load (or loads!) you were planning to run anyway. 

Some people prefer to run the item through the washer in a mesh bag or a pillow case. This does help catch the fibers from the wool, but has the downside that the fibers may be re-deposited on the surface of the item. Nevertheless, if your machine is elderly or likely to get clogged from a particularly wooly project, a bag is probably a good idea. 

If you are using a method where you can't get at the item during the felting process (the item is in a pillow case or a mesh bag, or if you are using a front loader which can't be stopped) you might want to consider stuffing the project loosely with a small rag.  This helps keep the item from folding over on itself inside the bag or during the spin cycle: folding can leave crease marks. For small items, a loose stuffing can also help prevent the item from starting to felt to itself.

Yet another trick: a toilet plunger
A toilet plunger offers yet another way to felt.  Yes, this sounds d.i.s.g.u.s.t.i.n.g, and so it would be if you used the same plunger for felting as for your toilet.  Yuk.  Don't do that. Buy a brand new toilet plunger and hide it away when you're not felting.

Fill the tub with hot water, and the bathroom sink with cold water and have at it with the plunger. This is more work that machine felting but less work than hand-felting.  Plus, unlike front-loader felting, with a toilet plunger, you can stop at any time to check the project. 

A final trick: dryer felting
You can also felt hand knits, sort of, in a dryer.  You put in the wet item (turn it inside out) and the dryer does the temperature change and agitation part.  The upside of this is that you can stop the dryer at any time and have a look, the downside is that it often takes multiple wetting/drying cycles to get a moderate amount of felting:  the temperature change is gradual, and the agitation less than if the item were in water. This will eventually work, but it's slow, and even slower if you put it into a bag or pillow case. 

Washing felted items
Just because something is felted doesn't mean it won't shrink if you wash it again.  The upside is that if the item is still too big, you can re-felt it.  But if you'd like the felted item to retain its size, wash it the same way you would wash all woolens: cool water, no agitation, no temperature shocks, and no dryer. On the other hand, felt doesn't really seem to get very dirty--to my recollection, I've never actually had to wash a pair of felted mittens.

There is something about felted wool which pairs well with embroidery.  Below are some "alien eyeball" mittens (also much worn) which were embroidered after felting with a sharp needle and woolen (called "tapestry") yarn.  Although there are firmly-knit exceptions, like Swedish embroidered twined knitting, knitting generally doesn't play well with embroidery because the embroidery sinks into the stitches.  However, felted knitting has no such problem. 

(These are child's size large from the kid-mitt pattern, just somewhat misshapen, you know, from long wear.)

--Good knitting, TK
You have been reading TECHknitting on "felting knitting." 

Friday, November 4, 2011

The stretchiest (and easiest) cast on and bind off

There are many elegant and stretchy ways to start and end knitting, and particularly, ribbing. Among these are:

Tubular cast on
Tubular bind off
Elizabeth Zimmerman's sewn bind off
JSSCO (cast on)
JSSBO (bind off)
Reverse stockinette cast on
The "miraculous" stretchy bind off

Every single one of these is a great invention, a monument to human ingenuity.

Yet, when I go to cast on or bind off, the technique I use more than any other is the simple rolled edge.
simple rolled edge on 1x1 ribbing

This edge can take it--hats and mittens go through three kids and the edge still looks good.  Socks last until the heels wear out. The main thing, though, is that it Could.Not.Be.Easier.

  • Step 1: cast on any way you like: long-tail, cable cast on, literally any method at all. The only thing is make it LOOSE.  Much looser than you think.  Use larger needles if you need to. 
  • Step 2: switch to the needles you'll use for the ribbing and make the rolled edge by working several rows or rounds of stockinette. 
  • Step 3: start your ribbing.

That's it.

For bind off, reverse: work several rows or rounds of stockinette, then bind off any way you like.  Just make it LOOSE. Bonus points: bind off and cast on match.

The stockinette rolls over, hides the edge, wears like iron, never binds. 

(If you want to know the technical details of why this should be so, here's a series about knitted fabric edges.)