Thursday, October 30, 2014

Fake Latvian Braid, deco bind-off version, perfect for scrap projects

Fake Latvian Braid: Why a bind-off version?
The previous post introduced Fake Latvian Braid (FLB). Today's TECHknitting shows "deco bind-off FLB." Although they look the same, they're worked differently, and are good for different things.  Regular FLB is perfect for adding color afterwards, while deco bind-off FLB turns out to be very good for unifying and protecting scrap projects knit as-you-go. Those horizontal beige lines on this tam?  Those are today's trick worked on a scrap project.

Lazy Knitter's Scrap Tam.  The horizontal beige lines dividing the stripes, which give the tam its distinctive look, are made with deco bind-off FLB
(This tam is one of my go-to FLB bind-off scrap projects, works for men and women.  The recipe will appear in the next post--it is called the "Lazy Knitter's Scrap Tam.")

This tam was knit over the course of more than a year. Each stripe was added as the scrap yarn became available, then bound off, waiting for the next stripe.  To my mind, this approach has advantages over the usual kind of scrap knitting. 
  • The strong horizontal feature added by bind-off FLB separates stripes of different colors (and even different yarns) while at the same time unifying the project by repetition of the horizontal element. Scrap projects look less "afterthought-y."
  • Because each stage of the project rests in bound-off condition, no needles are parked in the work, out of commission. 
  •  No loops are left trembling at the edge, getting shopworn on a stitch holder or yarn while waiting to be transferred back to a needle.  The project is neat, tidy and secure, ready for the next stage.  
  • IMHO, knitting up what you have, then binding off to await more scraps is a big improvement over having scrap yarn laying all over the place, waiting for "some day." It makes a great take-along for traveling (grab any bag with a partly-knit project, waiting to go) and a good hiatus between larger projects. 
Do you wonder why this trick has "deco" in its name? That's short for "decorative." Even though this IS a bind off, today's trick is a kind of a bind-off meant to wind up in the middle of the fabric. Stated otherwise, today's trick is a bind-off applied to decorate the fabric surface, not to form the edge of a garment. Garment-ending FLB requires a sturdier edge and more all-around finished look, and therefore has to be worked differently. Garment-ending FLB bind-off (and its sister--garment-starting FLB cast-on) will be the subjects of a future post.*

Deco Bind-off FLB: the technique
Deco bind-off FLB is a nothing more than a chain bind-off, followed immediately by a method of stitch pick-up through the chain which forces both arms of the chain to the fabric surface.  In other words, it is a decorative contrasting color bind-off in the middle of a fabric, followed by picking the stitches up again. This bind-off/pick up combo creates the decorative horizontal Fake Latvian Braid in the fabric, and it looks like regular FLB because a knitted chain bind off and a crocheted slip stitch are identical on their business ends.

Unlike regular FLB, which is an afterthought process, deco bind-off FLB interrupts the structure of the fabric.  This means you cannot drop a column through the FLB to correct errors below.  Therefore, have a good look at your fabric and fix all errors before you work this trick.  (Of course, real Latvian Braid isn't anything you'd want to drop a column through either.)

Single contrasting color (cc) bind off FLB
A contrasting color deco bind-off FLB is worked over 2 rows or rounds, each with its own step. Both steps are usually worked using the same color, but it there are alternatives for step 2, pick up, which are discussed more thoroughly below, under two-color FLB.

Step 1, bind-off:
Work a chain bind off. The result is as below.

Step 1 of deco bind-off FLB: chain bind-off worked in a contrasting color

Pro-tip 1--circular knitting
In circular knitting, the different rounds are actually coils of a spiral. Therefore, a bind-off ends one row higher than it begins. In order to avoid that gap where the end of the bind-off meets its beginning, you have to bridge over by using one of the tricks shown in this 2009 TECHknitting post.)

Step 2, pick up:
Create live loops above the bind-off FLB by picking up stitches through the bind off, this is usually done in the same color yarn as was used for the bind off, but, again, there are more alternatives given below.  The reason to use the same color yarn is so that the bottom portion of the picked-up stitches don't show through the bind off as contrasting color icky dots. I have highlighted with bright red dots on one stitch, the bottom portion which might show.  I made the pick up stitches a slightly darker blue so you could SEE them--you are free to imagine them to be the same color or different.

Step 2 of deco bind-off FLB: live stitches picked up through the chain bind-off

This bears emphasizing: because the arms of the chain are going to be the decorative element, both arms of the chain must be forced to the surface of the fabric.  Therefore, the stitch pick up is done under BOTH arms of the chain bind off, as illustrated above.

Pro tip 2--more direct pick up
In the above illustration, the crochet hook is shown picking up the stitches through the bind off, and then the stitches are placed on the knitting needle, and this is a good reliable method. However, for the impatient, it is actually faster to pick up the stitches directly with the knitting needle, if you have one with a sharp-enough point. This kind of knitting-needle pick up is easier if you hold the knitting needle on the inside of the fabric and draw the stitches through the fabric towards you.

After step 2, you switch to the color for the next stripe. To prevent a jog where the color changes, work this first row/round of the new colored stripe as a jogless join.

As to stitch count:
  • in circular knitting, assuming you bridged over the gap, you wind up with the same number of stitches as you started with. 
  • in flat knitting, you wind up with one stitch less and therefore have to fudge in an extra stitch somewhere to correct the stitch count. 
Pro-tip 3--offset your tails
As shown in the above illustrations, the yarn is held IN BACK for the bind-off, and in FRONT for the pick up. For flat work you can use a continuous running yarn for both, no problem because the cross-over from front to back can take place at fabric-edge, there to be hidden in a seam. Using the same yarn for both reduces the number of tails to work in.   

By contrast, on circular work, you cannot invisibly cross over from back to front, but must cut the yarn after the bind off, leaving those tails to the inside.  You then begin the pick up on the outside, and afterwards draw the pick up tails to the fabric back, and work them in there.  This creates 4 individual tails which have to be worked in.  If you ended your first stripe, and begin your second stripe in this area, too, you will have those tails too--a total of 6 tails to work into the same small area.  

However, help is at hand. If you followed the hint in Pro-tip 1, your bind-off is a complete circle, not a coil on a spiral, as most circular knitting is. The pick-up round  is also a closed circle, and for the same reason. Therefore,  it is possible to offset the tails by simply beginning the bind-off a few stitches over--either way--from where the stripe ended.  Similarly, you can offset the pick-up from the bind off, and the start of the new stripe from the pick-up.  All these offsets gives more room on the fabric back for tail work-in. 

For the actual working in of the tails, I suggest the skimming method, either with a sharp sewing needle, or with a knitpicker.

Two-color bind-off FLB
Step 1, bind-off:
As with single color bind-off FLB,  work a chain bind off. However, like two-color regular FLB, you have to alternate the two colors by holding both colors on the fabric back, then drawing from each, alternately. The result is as below.

Two-color deco bind-off FLB

Step 2, pick up:
As with one-color deco bind-off FLB, pick up the stitches through the chain bind off. However, now the question is: in which color shall you pick up?
  1. It is possible to pick up in two colors. Upside: icky dots tamed. Downside: this adds bulk, because the yarn color not in use is stranded behind the already-bulky two color bind off.
  2. Pick one of the colors of the bind off for the pick-up. Upside: no icky dots on at least 1 color. Downside: you may have icky dots on the other color
  3.  Pick up using the color of the stripe below. Upside: no icky dots. Downside: possible show through on the other side of the deco bind-off FLB, in other words, the first row of new stripe.
  4. Pick up using the color of the new stripe. Upside: no show-through above the FLB. Downside: possible show through (icky dots) all along the bottom of the FLB.
Pro-tip 4--minimize the bottom loop
For choices 3 and 4,  two tricks can minimize the downside risks. First, if you use a thin small needle to make the pick-up loops quite small, the wrong-color stitches of the pick-up may hide behind the larger loops of the FLB.  Second, working the FLB quite large and loose, or in a bulkier or even doubled yarn further increases the chance of hiding the icky dots.
* * *
Besides the Lazy Knitter tam, this trick is great for scrap projects or all kinds--afghans, scarves.  As stated above, it's neater, too: instead of accumulating scraps of yarn all over, you knit them up as far as you can, then bind them off, waiting for more scraps to accumulate. Your project thus sits, nicely bound off while it waits. And again, this trick also brings unity to scrap projects:  if you always use the same color to separate the stripes, the project looks more unified, as with the tam in the opening photo.

Children's sweaters are a special case of bind-off FLB: bind-off FLB offers an easy way plan ahead for "growing" (lengthening) children's sweaters.  Because kids tend to grow longer before they grow wider, adding length can add years (or at least months!) of wear to children's sweaters.

To plan ahead in this way, either start bottom-up sweaters and sleeves provisionally, then bind them off in a contrasting, decorative color OR work the garment top-down and work a chain bind off in the cc. The point is that, with both of these tricks, you wind up with a chain bind off at the bottom of the garment.

Next, pick up your ribbing stitches through the FLB. For now, you work the ribbing on these picked-up stitches, then bind off the ribbing off any way you like. Below is a schematic of a child's sweater with an FLB bind off (heavy bar above the ribbing).  The schematic also suggests that the entire sweater can be made as a deco bind off FLB scrap project (lighter gray bars).

When the kid outgrows the sweater, snip and unravel the bottom band/cuff ribbing. In my experience, this yarn is so worn it gets tossed, so pull out all the ribbing, or nearly all: you could choose to leave the first round, where the stitches were originally picked up through the FLB. If you do choose to leave the first round, I suggest tinking quickly, and remounting the stitches via the trick shown in this video. Otherwise, just pull the entire ribbing out and do a new pick-up.

Switch to your new color (or more of the same color if you saved some) and work a new stripe to length. Again bind off with FLB, pick up for the second ribbing as you did for the first, and you'll have a longer sweater (and one waiting for you to work this trick maybe one more time). The new stripe and ribbing are shown in red, below.

Pro-tip 5--tame puckering where FLB is followed by ribbing
Work the first round or so past the pick-up in stockinette, then switch to ribbing.  A row (or even more) of stockinette before the ribbing begins helps protect the FLB from the puckering which would otherwise propagate upwards from the ribbing's corrugations.

 The advantage of using bind-off FLB over snip-lengthening is that the horizontal line of the bind off disguises the worn fabric from the new fabric to be added, and adds a decorative element to the lengthening which makes it look like less of an afterthought--especially an issue if you use a different color or even a different yarn.  It also makes reworking of a sweater for a younger sib a whole lot easier.

Naturally, ANY striped garment--adult sweaters, for example, can also be made via this trick.  You work away at them interspersed with other projects, until the scraps are used up and the garment finished, sometimes over the course of years.

* * *
As promised, the very next installment of TECHknitting blog will feature a recipe for my go-to deco bind-off FLB scrap project, the Lazy Knitter's Scrap Tam.

Not only does this tam feature the bind-off FLB, but there is a minimum of stitch counting and even less measuring, which is why its first name is "Lazy."

Until then, good knitting