Friday, October 26, 2012

Skimming in ends with a knitpicker

Are you looking at an almost-finished project and dreading working in all those dangling ends?
Dangling ends waiting to be worked in
on the back of a stockinette fabric.
Look familiar?

You COULD have worked your ends in as-you-go, you know! Then you wouldn't face the problem of how to work them in at the end of the project. But if you didn't work them in as you made them, and you're now staring at a lot ends waiting to be worked in, here's a whole new, much easier way than anything I've come across previously.

But before we get to the new way, let's look at the old ways of dealing with the problem--I believe that will best show when to use the new way.

There are two main methods for working in dangling tails of yarn: weaving-in and skimming-in. Weaving-in is a fine old method, very well adapted to projects with both sides showing (scarves, for example.)  Weaving-in is brilliant: just fine as it is.

It is the other old method--the skimming-in method--which is the subject of today's update.

Unlike weaving-in, skimming-in shows.  Therefore, it is used for garments with an inside and an outside. To skim in, the dangling tail is threaded onto a sharp needle. Starting near the root of the tail, the needle is pushed through the back face of the fabric, piercing through the stitches along the way, thus drawing the tail behind it. When the needle is withdrawn, the excess tail is snipped off and the part you've parked is buried, hopefully forever, in the thickness of the fabric-back. Adding a zig-zag (a change of direction) as shown, helps the tail stay buried even when the fabric is stretched and stressed.
The old way: Skimming the end (red) into the back 
of a stockinette fabric along a zig-zag path, 
using a sharp needle

Today's post is about a new way to do skimming-in.  The great thing about this new method is that it does not involve threading a needle. Instead a "knit-picker" is used to do the job faster, better and easier. And did I mention? Faster. Also? Better.

A knit-picker is a teeny-weenie latch hook.  Its original purpose in life is pulling snags in  commercial knitwear to the fabric back, there to hide: a knit-picker has saved many a snagged polo shirt to live another day. But knit-pickers can do so much more.
Extreme close-up of the knit-picker showing the hook and latch.
In real life, the hook and latch assembly of a knit-picker are
very small
Knit-pickers, you see, exist to draw loops of yarn through fabric.  Since hand-knitting is nothing but an endless series of loops, the knit-picker's ability to put loops where you want them opens worlds. In the immediately previous post, TECHknitting blog showed how to pull loops through a zipper tape using a knit-picker, thus studding the tape with loops.  Loops lined up in a row can then be treated just like any other row of live stitches, so a loop-studded zipper can be KNITTED into a garment, rather than sewn in. For this ability alone, every hand-knitter ought to have a knit-picker in their tool kit.

But adding loops to zippers is not the only trick a knit-picker can do. The knit-picker's ability to draw loops through fabric also lets it substitute for a needle when skimming-in ends. Yup--we now have skimming-in ends without the hassle of finding, threading, and handling, a very sharp needle.  Snow White's mother can prick her fingers all she wants: with a knit-picker, those days are over!

This loaded and locked knit-picker is ready to pull the tail
through the fabric

  • Working from the fabric back, and holding the knit-picker's little latch-gate open with your thumbnail, insert the knit-picker into the fabric, pointing towards the dangling tail.  
  • Wiggle the knit-picker through the thickness of the fabric back, splitting right through the yarn of each stitch you come to.  Once the knit-picker gets moving through the fabric, the little latch will stay open all by itself, so you can let go of it. 
  • To prevent the tail from showing on the front, as you wiggle along splitting through plies, keep the knit-picker pretty close to the surface of the fabric back. 
  • When you've wiggled the knit-picker's little head to a spot very near where the tail emerges from the fabric-back, shove it forward so that the hook and the latch assembly pop out of the fabric, thus exposing the hook and freeing the latch.
  • Catch the tail under the hook, then latch the hook shut with your fingernail. 
The illustration above shows the knit-picker at this stage: wiggled through the split plies of the yarn, then shoved forward until the hook and latch both popped free, then the yarn caught under the hook. Amazingly, even though the hook is extremely tiny, most hand-knitting yarn is lofty enough to compress under the hook--it's like a magic trick, really. Once the tail-yarn is caught, the latch is closed around the yarn tail. The closed latch prevents the yarn from escaping or shredding as the hook pulls the yarn through the fabric. This knit-picker is loaded and locked.
  • Gently withdraw the loaded hook, thus drawing the tail-end through the thickness of the fabric-back. Keep tugging until the tail-end pops free. (See "geek notes" below for more info.)
Knit-pickers have a relatively short stretch of insert-able handle, meaning you can't work in a very long stretch in any one draw-through. Therefore, after the first draw-through, you probably ought to repeat the operation to draw though an additional stretch of tail.

I usually draw through two or three times, each time in a different direction, with the idea of really burying the tail and making it much harder for a stretch from any one direction to pop the tail loose. This is called "zig-zagging the tail." (The illustration of needle-skimming, above, shows an example of this change of direction.)

Not having to thread a needle makes skimming in both faster and easier. But where the knit-picker really shines is when it comes to burying the tails of slick yarns (acrylic, linen, cotton) or thick yarns (worsted-weight or heavier).

Work plies in separately--spiderwebbing a tail
The fibers of slick yarns (acrylic, cotton) don't want to stay parked in the fabric.  The fiber is so slippery that the friction between the tail and the surrounding fabric is simply too low to hold the tail firmly.  Every time the garment stretches, the end slides.  Eventually it pops free in the most annoying way. Zig-zagging slows this process.  Yet in a really slick fiber, even zig-zagging may merely delay the inevitable.

With a knit-picker, you can go one better. Not only can you zig and zag in a different direction with each quick pull-through, but you easily separate the strands or plies of the tail, then work each individual strand along its own zig-zag. The overall effect is like a spiderweb of ends in the fabric.
Spiderwebbing with a knit-picker

By spiderwebbing the split tail into your work, the chances of the tail popping loose is less (although some fibers--I'm looking at you, Caron Simply Soft--want to pop loose no matter what). True, you COULD spiderweb the split ends with a sewing needle, but then you'd have to thread the dratted thing three or four times.  The knit-picker is so much faster that you'd be more likely (or at least, I'd be more likely) to actually do it.

In thick yarn, too, you can spiderweb the tail.  The advantage in thick yarn is bulk-reduction: rather than one thick tail, you have several thinner strands radiating away from one another, all neatly buried with a knit-picker.

Easily work in too-short tails
One final trick where the knit-picker shines:  if your tail is too short to thread onto a needle, the old way was to use the dressmaker's trick for threading, shown in a previous TECHknitting post.  But with a knit-picker, you can work in any length of tail, even the shortest, no awkward maneuvers required.


1) After each zig, adjust the tension of the tail in the fabric before setting off on the next zag.  Zig-zagging or spiderwebbing makes it harder for the tail to pop loose, but it also makes it harder to adjust the tension at the end--best to adjust as-you-go to avoid puckering.

2) The illustration of a knit-picker skimming shows the knit-picker catching the tail close to its root, where it protrudes from the fabric.  In fact, it's easier to pull the loaded and locked knit-picker back out of the fabric if you catch the tail closer to the other end--the cut-end, tensioning the loop between the knit-picker and the root of the stitch with your fingers. The illustration shows catching the root because that makes the most visual sense, but in practice, catching the tail further along reduces friction because the tail-yarn doesn't have to slide through the "eye" of the closed latch as you withdraw the knit-picker: all that has to be dragged is the (gradually shrinking) loop of yarn you are tensioning. 

Good knitting --TK

Monday, October 22, 2012

Zippers in knitwear, the no-sewing way

UPDATE 2016: there's a new Dritz/Lo-Ran zipper which is DESIGNED for knitting into garments.  Somebody over at Dritz was really thinking smart!  It's a little bit hard to find, but the article numbers are: Oatmeal 20" 40067, Oatmeal 10" 40065, Black 20" 40068, Black 10" 40066.  I'm not associated with the manufacturer in any way, nor do I get anything from the sale of these zippers.  I do think they are a smart specialty item directed at hand-knitters, and therefore want to support the concept. These zippers have a loose-woven section which makes knitting into them easier.  However, as per my original article, below, you really can turn ANY zipper into a knitable object, so if you can't find these specialty zippers, or you need a zipper in a different color, read on...

* * *

This article about installing zippers was featured in the winter 2010 issue of Interweave Knits.  TECHknitting blog has had a few posts which refer to this technique, but the details have never been actually published to the internet. The copyright has now reverted to me, and TECHknitting blog is publishing all the details for the first time, complete with illustrations.  There is also an accompanying video in which Knits' editor, Eunny Jang, demo's the how-to.

* * *

Do you avoid making zippered knitwear because of the sewing involved? Here's a way to install zippers with no sewing at all. Instead, you literally KNIT the zipper in. To prep the zipper to perform this magic trick, we'll borrow a tool used in rug-making and machine knitting--the latch hook.

Latch hooks come in many sizes, but the one for us is a miniature version called a "knit-picker" or "snag-fixer." Available in fabric stores for a couple of bucks, these are meant for pulling snags to the inner surface of industrial knits such as polyester polo shirts. We, however, are going to use this mini-latch hook for our own hand-knitting purposes: to pull yarn loops through the fabric tape of the zipper--perfectly spaced loops which can then be picked up and knitted (or bound off). 

In essence, a latch hook is nothing more than a foolproof crochet hook--foolproof because the little latch can swing open to catch the yarn, then swung shut, trapping the yarn under the hook.  Once the yarn is safely caught under the hook and the gate latched shut, the loaded hook can be drawn through even the tightest hole without any danger of the yarn fraying or splitting, because the latch locks the yarn in.

Close-up of knit-picker, with latch open (L) and shut (R)

Specifically, in our use, the latch is going to be swung open, then the hook is going to be poked through the zipper tape at a pre-marked spot, shown by red dots on the illustrations below. Next, the latch will be closed to lock the yarn onto the hook. The locked, loaded hook is then drawn through the zipper tape. Once drawn through, the latch opens and the hook is removed, depositing the yarn loop neatly on the front of the zipper tape.

As you know, any two pieces of knitting COULD be attached by sewing, but there are also NON-SEWING ways of attaching knitting together. For example, if two pieces of knitting have open (live) loops, the three needle bind-off can be used to seam them together.  To seam together a line of open loops to a line of closed loops, or to seam together two lines of closed loops (closed loops=bind off edge, or cast-on edge, or side selvedge) you can use slip-stitching.

By using the knit-picker to insert loops (open OR closed) onto the surface of the zipper tape, you're turning the zipper tape into a knit-able object.  Once the zipper is knit-able, it can be seamed or attached to a piece of knitting just as easily as any other two pieces of knitting could be, with no sewing necessary.

There are two basic methods for inserting loops into a zipper tape--open (live) loops or a chain of closed loops. For open loops, you can simply pick up loops as you draw them through to the top surface of the zipper tape, then deposit them onto a knitting needle, as shown below.

Creating open (live) loops

In order to get a line of closed loops (a chain of loops on the surface of the tape) you pull loops up, each through the previous loop, leaving a chain of slipped stitches on the top surface of the zipper tape. These chain stitches provide the anchor for further manipulation.  As indicated above, the open-loop method is analogous to a line of live loops, while the chain method is more like a bound-off or cast-on edge, or a side selvedge.  Choose the method of drawing through loops depending on what your planned method of attachment will be.

Creating closed (chained) loops

NOTE: In the illustrations above, the latch hook is not to scale: in real life the hook and latch assembly is FAR, FAR SMALLER than shown. The head of a real knit-picker is tiny!

In both the open-loop and the closed-loop illustrations above,
  • "a" indicates the position of the latch hook--open to insert, closed to withdraw; 
  • "b" indicates the loops pulled through: looped over a knitting needle for the live-loop method, or chained onto the face of the zipper tape for the closed-loop method; 
  • "c" indicates the method of inserting the latch hook--directly through the zipper tape, then lifted onto a knitting needle for the live loop method; or through the previous loop and the zipper tape for the closed-loop chain method. 
In both illustrations, the green dotted line indicates the path of the yarn running under the zipper tape--both methods yield what looks like a neat row of running stitches on the back of the zipper tape

With the loops pulled through the zipper tape via the
live-loop method, this closed-bottom zipper is ready to be installed,
perhaps in the top of a purse, for example

Once you determine the finished zipper length needed (more on zipper length below) you count the number of rows or stitches along the garment edge where you will install the zipper. Mark off dots, one for each loop wanted, evenly spaced. 

Keeping the marks in a straight line is easy. Zipper tapes are usually woven with sewing guide lines right on them--a sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious pattern running lengthwise up the tape, shown as light gray dotted lines in the illustrations.

In the open (live) loop method, each loop will necessarily be the same size because they are caught around the barrel of a knitting needle. In the closed loop (chain) method, however, it is a bit more difficult. Because the barrel of the latch hook is tiny, drawing up each loop snug around the hook's barrel would over-tighten the loops. You can proceed freehand--drawing up each loop just so, as shown in the illustration, or for a more sure thing, you can temporarily insert a dpn of appropriate size into each loop as you make it, then snug up the loop over the needle barrel, then remove the dpn.  This makes each loop the same size, as long as you're careful to not over-tighten the slack away as you draw up the next loop. 

Zippers rarely come in the exact length wanted. To shorten a non-separating (closed bottom) zipper --the kind you'd install in a purse-top, for example--shorten it by working from the bottom, as shown:  First, sew a new stop.  Then, snip to length.  The snipped end is hidden inside the purse.

Sew a new stop (top picture) then cut 
(bottom picture) to shorten a closed-bottom
(non-separating) zipper

For a separating zipper--the kind you would use for a sweater front, for example--you can sew a new stop at each top in a similar manner, then snip away the excess zipper tape. Alternatively, if there's only an inch or so of excess at the top, simply fold the excess zipper out of the way at a 90 degree angle to the top of the garment, then sew the excess along the garment edge with the teeth pointing down. If you cut a nylon or polyester zipper tape, consider lightly heat-sealing the edge with a match: for safety, work over a sink with the water running, just in case the tape flares.


*Latch hooks take some getting used to. To control the latch's tendency to poke and tangle, use your thumb to flip and hold it it down (open) for insertion and again for yarn-catching, then snap it shut once it's loaded with yarn and before withdrawing through the zipper tape.

*Because of its stiff and inflexible nature, nylon or polyester zipper tape will fold over on itself along the line of the pick-up. With use and wear, the tape will eventually soften.  Washing first might soften an excessively stiff zipper tape.

*Although tiny, the latch hook can pull along yarns up to and including most chunky-weights. However, the thicker the yarn pulled through the tape, the more zipper-buckling you will get. To reduce buckling, create the loops on the zipper tape using a thinner color-matched yarn: sock yarn is perfect because it is both thin and strong. Alternatively, you can catch one loop through the zipper tape for each TWO stitches wanted. This reduced buckling by halving the amount of yarn inserted into the zipper tape. With this two-for-one trick, you must double the stitch count in the next row, perhaps by inserting a backwards (or forward) loop increase alternate with each loop on the tape, or working each loop as a kfb

*Whether you are working with a closed-bottom (non-separating) zipper or a separating one, it's best to pick up stitches with the zipper opened or separated: makes the work go easier.

*Poking the latch hook through a tightly-woven zipper tape goes quicker if you've used a large sharp sewing needle or small awl to pre-poke the holes. 

ADDENDUM, March 2021:  Here's a little trick I just discovered. If you get to a spot where the zipper tape seems thick or hard to poke through, simply hook the knit picker through the eye of the crewel needle (crewel needle = sharp tip, large eye) and draw the needle through, dragging the knit picker behind it.  More on this little project at Ravelry.

*An INGENUOUS method of poking holes and getting perfect spacing at the same time involves using a sewing machine--but not to sew the zipper in.  Instead, you run the sewing machine blank (no thread) adjusting the stitch length to the gauge you want, and thus punching a line of perfectly-spaced holes in a straight line down the tape.  Putting a huge (like for sewing leather) needle into the machine makes the punched hole bigger and easier to see.  Thanks to reader Valsew for this tip.
* * *
Related post: Knit-pickers aren't just for adding zippers.  They can be used to work in ends, also.  

Keep knitting!
-- TK

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Stuffed Mittens

Today's post is just showing off a little: as promised last summer, TECHknitting has a new pattern published in a nationally distributed magazine. Specifically, Interweave Knits Holiday Issue contains a TECHknitting pattern for stuffed mittens, made a new way.

These stuffed mittens are loosely knit in the main color, using worsted weight yarn.  Once the mittens are finished being knit, they are turned inside out for stuffing.  Although these look like thrummed mittens (which have the tufts knitted in) adding the tufts afterwards makes it easier to add more of them: unlike when they're knit-in, tufts added afterwards don't interrupt the knit fabric's structure. Made extra large to accommodate all that stuffing, they are offered in sizes C,W,M (child's small and medium, as well as women's and men's).

inside and outside of the stuffed mittens
(inside out--at right--they look handy for dusting, don't they?)

The child's medium mittens featured here and in the magazine are knit from Brown Sheep yarns: the main color is Lamb's Pride worsted Mulberry M162, the contrast color tufts are Lamb's Pride bulky Prairie Goldenrod M240.

The fuzzy mitt to the right in the bottom picture is inside out, to show what the tufts look like once they've been fastened into place.  As you can see, stuffed mittens are massively insulated.  For kids, they would be perfect for a snowball fight.  For adults, these would be handy to keep in the car for when you have to scrape the windshield or touch the freezing metal of the gas pump--good for yourself and a great gift for anyone who drives in the cold.

Interweave Holiday Gifts magazine is currently on sale nationally until December 10, 2012, and is also available in a digital version. The copyright will revert to me by next year, at which time TECHknitting will publish the pattern (all four sizes).  However, if you don't want to wait that long, you might like to check your local newsstand or library for the instructions.

Here is the Ravelry link to see other photos of these mittens.

 * * *

Coming up next post, more in an Interweave Knits theme.  In the winter of 2010, Interweave Knits published an TECHknitting article on installing zippers in knitwear, a new non-sewing way. Although this blog has referenced that article and the accompanying video, the full text has not been reprinted until now.  The copyright has reverted to me, and the very next post will have the full text and illustrations of that method.  Free on the web at last.

Until next time, happy knitting! --TK

Monday, October 15, 2012

A museum of knitting and crocheting

Welcome to the 7th season of TECHknitting blog!  Summer's over, the garden has been put to bed and the knitting season has begun. This year's installment of the blog begins with an important public service announcement about a possible museum in the works.  Read on...

* * *

If you could wave a magic wand and set up a museum of knitting and crocheting, what would you include?  Fair Isle or yarn bombingBohus or math knitting? Irish lace or hyperbolic crochet? How would you organize it--profit-based or non-profit?  Would it include a conference center? Classrooms? A yarn shop?  Or would it be part of another museum, a historical museum, say?

Or how about something new? What would you think of an on-line museum?  A searchable digitized data base of knitting and crocheting through the ages? How about a K/C swat team of experts trolling through garment collections languishing in museums all over the world, sorting through, then putting knit and crocheted garments on-line with high resolution images of the front and back?

A flight of fancy, yes, but it might not be...someday.

The idea of a knitting museum, real or virtual, is the brainchild of a knitter named (in a delightful bit of nominative determinism) Karen Kendrick-Hands.

Karen is thinking about these issues and more, and she's put together a symposium, taking place in Madison WI November 8-10, 2012, and open to anyone who has an opinion or an interest (and can come up with the registration fee, or is willing to volunteer in lieu of fee).  Karen's ideas have been found worthy of support by TNNA, which gave her a grant to run this symposium and by the Wisconsin Historical Society, which is a co-host and site-provider.  Some VIPs from the world of knitting and textiles have also been attracted to the idea--Trisha Malcolm (Vogue Knitting) as well as Jack Blumenthal (Lion Brand Yarn) will be part of the panel discussion, along with with museum and textile experts.  A keynote speaker will be Susan Strawn (author, Knitting America).

Are you interested?  Here's the link for further info, and thanks to Karen for taking the lead on this exciting project.  Maybe one day knitting and crocheting will have their own museum.  And maybe it's not so fanciful after all: if the quilters can do it, why can't we?

PS:  If interested, hurry.  Registration closes soon.