Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Afterthought reversible cable-ette border

afterthought cable-ette border as seen from the knit side
Afterthought cable-ette border
--knit side
What if you could knit a straight-up blob of of stockinette when you're tired and in need of comfort, but then, when you are peppy and in need of a challenge, you could tinker around to convert your dull blob into exciting texture knitting?

Well, you can. Today's TECHknitting post shows how to put an afterthought cable-ette border onto a straight stretch of stockinette.  This swatch was knit plain, and the border put on afterwards.

As a special bonus, the default of this trick is reversible, creating cable-ette borders on both fabric faces, perfect for scarves or afghan panels, also for hats or socks with a turn-up-turn-down brim or cuff.  However, this trick can also be modified for cable-ettes on one fabric face only, better for non-reversible items such as sweaters.

reversible afterthought cable-etteborder
In truth, reversible afterthought cable-ettes are merely a variation on the trick TECHknitting blog has already shown: the trick of converting a stockinette fabric into a ribbed fabric.  However, cable-ette borders are WAAAAAY cuter than ribbing, also more impressive for presents and the like. And even if you have never worked a cable in your life, I promise you can work this trick.

Step 1: (Creates the stockinette fabric you'll tinker with with afterward.) CO however many stitches you desire and knit a fabric blank in stockinette.  Reversible cable-ette borders take up 7 stitches on each fabric edge, and span over 6 rows (+ a couple extra top and bottom so the cable-ettes are centered in the fabric), so plan your stockinette fabric accordingly.  For comparison purposes, the little swatch knit for this post was worked over 27 stitches in worsted-weight yarn at a stitch gauge of 5 st/in. Every stitch in every row was worked (there was not a slipped selvedge).  If you do have a slipped selvedge, it won't look bad, but it will not look like this swatch.

Straight-up stockinette is excellent TV knitting.  For the impatient, a knitting machine very quickly creates reams of stockinette. (In fact, knitting machine owners might find inserting afterthought texture patterns easier than hunching over the machine to create texture patterns as-you-go: just saying, all you machine knitters!)(And hellooo all you loom knitters, too!)

Step 2: (Creates column 1-B) Place all the stitches at the top of the fabric on a stitch holder. With the nubbly reverse-stockinette (purl) fabric face towards you, release the third stitch from the L selvedge off the stitch holder, then drop down this column all the way to within 1 stitch of the fabric-bottom.  Next, latch up the resulting ladder as a knit rib, by which I mean a column of knit stitches on a reverse stockinette (purl) background. A seed stitcher tool is excellent for this, a crochet hook is just fine.  Replace the top stitch of the column on the stitch holder. We call this first column made "column 1-B," because it is the first column made on the back face of the fabric.

Step 3: (Creates column 2-B, being the second column created on the back) With the nubbly reverse-stockinette (purl) fabric face towards you, drop down the fifth column from the left hand side. Latch up 5 stitches as a knit rib.  In the photo-essay below, this stitch is shown in blue.  Do not yet latch up the sixth ladder-rung (shown in green, below) Instead work this next rung as a "pinch stitch."

Here is a photo essay on how to do the pinch stitch (click each illustration to enlarge).  Note that there is no reason you'd need to mark the sixth stitch in the neighboring column with a pin, I just did it that way so you could easily see what was going on.

Step 1: set up

Step 2: ready to pull through the ladder

Step 3: final result

If the photos didn't do it for you, here is a little a mini-video of performing the pinch-stitch. Although the video isn't color-coded, it does show the actual motion of inserting through the two arms of the neighboring stitch and drawing the sixth ladder through to "pinch off" a cable-ette.

(If the video won't load for you, here is the URL:

Step 4: Latch up five additional ladders in the normal manner.  When you get to the sixth ladder-rung, work a pinch stitch as you did in step 3. Continue latching and pinch-stitching your way to the top of the column, then replace the stitch on the stitch holder. Column 2-B is now complete, and you have created the back cable-ette.

Step 5:  (Naming column 1-F) When you now flip the fabric over so the smooth knit fabric face is towards you, you will see that a new column has magically appeared: the column of stitches between columns 1-B and 2-B now appears on the front fabric face as a knit column between two purl columns.  (You don't actually do anything in this step, it's just listed as a step in order to give this already-created column a name.) This magically appearing column is named "1-F" because it is the first column on the front fabric face.

Step 6: (Creates column 2-F, the second column on the fabric front) With the smooth front fabric face towards you, release the sixth stitch from the RIGHT selvedge, then drop this column down to within 10 stitches of the fabric bottom.

(Note: unlike the two back columns, which were latched up as knit stitches on a purl background, this column is going to be latched up as a knit column on a knit background)

Insert the crochet hook into the loop heading up the column--this would be equal to the 10th stitch up from the bottom.  Maintain this loop on the crochet hook. Work our old friend the pinch-stitch by inserting sideways under the two arms of the corresponding stitch of column 1-F (that's the column which magically appeared).  As on the back, the direction to insert the crochet hook is from the selvedge side towards the fabric center.

Step 7: Latch up five additional ladder-rungs in the normal manner, then repeat the sideways insertion of the pinch-stitch on the sixth ladder-rung.  Repeat this sequence, latching and pinch-stitching until the top of the column is reached.  Return the stitch at the top of column 2-F to the stitch holder.  You'll now have a vertical chain of cable-ettes on the front fabric face and another chain of cable-ettes on the back fabric face.  The final step is to create a border to these reversible cable-ettes which is step 8.

Step 8: (Creates column 3-B, the third column on the fabric back) With the reverse-stockinette (purl)  fabric face towards you, release 7th stitch from the left selvedge and ladder it down to within 1 stitch of the fabric bottom.  Latch up this column all the way to the top as a knit rib--a knit column on a purl background.

To create a matching reversible cable-ette border on the other edge of your fabric, reverse the words right and left in the directions.  If this gets confusing, remember that you start by making a knit rib on the purl fabric face by dropping the third stitch in from the selvedge while holding the fabric with the purl side facing you.  Once this first column is in, it gets much easier to figure out how to reverse the instructions.

Geek notes:
  • Uses: You can use the basic technique to create a fabric with additional strips of cable-ettes running between the borders--messing around will reveal a lot about spacing, stitch count* and the like!  All-over fabric (looks like smocking) is possible also.**
  • Row repeats: There is nothing sacred about the row repeat given here.  Just make sure that the pinch stitch forming the bottom of the cable-ette on one fabric face is worked on the row which forms the middle of the cable-ette ring on the other fabric face, so the pinch-stitches don't distort the fabric on the same row on both fabric faces. 
  • Start short, end short: you'll get cable-ettes better centered on the bottom edge if you actually work your first cable-ette short: make the first back pinch stitch on the 5th st up from the bottom (which is the fourth ladder--remember, you don't drop all the way to the bottom on the back columns, you drop to within 1 stitch of the bottom!) and then work your first front pinch stitch 8 sts up from the bottom.  I didn't write the pattern that way because I wanted the photo-essay to work for every repeat, but there is nothing stopping you from modifying the first row repeat in this way. Naturally, you'd stop in a similar position at the top. 
  • Reversible/one sided: There is no reason you'd have to make cable-ettes on both fabric faces: if you don't need reversible fabric (like for a sweater) just make cable-ettes on one fabric face by not working the pinch-stitch on the second column of the side which will not be on display (the inside of the sweater, for example).
  • Or, take the reversible/non-reversible idea one step further: on the brim of a hat or the top cuff of a sock, make the cable-ettes reversible a bit further than you think the deepest fold-over will ever go.  Past that, revert to non-reversible cable-ettes. 
  • Garter stitch: It is possible to work afterthought cable-ettes on garter stitch, but the result isn't all that great. Cable-ettes are essentially ribbing, which, although narrower than stockinette works up at the same length. Therefore--like all stockinette-length fabrics, cable-ettes will wind up longer than garter stitch. This leads to fabric-distortion.
  • Dress up the middle: Looking for a way to dress up the blank middle of the stockinette?  How about pinstripes? (Another afterthought technique!)
Have fun with this!--TK

*Super-geek note on stitch count:
--As an edging-border, the first knit rib is created on the third stitch from the selvedge. This allows for two fabric-edge stitches to act as the outermost edge of the pattern.  Yet, this is a special case because the curl of stockinette combined with the mechanics of a knit edge stitch means these two edge stitches look and act like one. Worked away from the fabric-edge, there is no such curl, and therefore, no need to allow two border stitches.  Depending on your fabric design, however, you may have to add a rib to take the place of the two-stitch curl. Or, you might need to take out a column (Column 3B) if you're not planning to border the cable-ettes. Stated otherwise, away from the edge, the repeat for a strip of cable-ettes changes because your actual repeat is going to depend on whether you space out the cable-ette strips with plain stitches (and if so, how many) or border then with plain columns (and if so, how many).

** Super-duper geek note on all-over fabric:
You can make an all-over fabric as follows: Rather than being latched up plain, column 3-B would pinch off the middle of each cable-ette of column 2B.  You would then would add a column 3-F and have that pinch off in the middle of the cable-ette in column 2F.  You'd then add 4-B, pinching off 3B, then 4-F pinching off 3-F, etc.  

This sort of all-over fabric is a species of smocking, and a sort of cousin to a different afterthought technique for smocking shown a on TECHknitting a few years ago. Smocking draws in (makes fabric narrower) and either of these tricks would be a nifty fix for a garment too loose in the shoulder, around the waist, etc.  Afterthought smocking of any kind is an easy way to add shaping (and rescue too-loose garments!) after the fact.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Duplicate Stitching via Netting (part 2 of a series).

FO of today's trick:
duplicate st on netting
Today's trick, duplicate stitch on netting, sets out to solve a major problem with classic duplicate stitch. So, what is that problem? Well, classic duplicate stitch is where you sew (embroider) a whole new "stitch" duplicating (following exactly) the path of a stitch in the underlying fabric.

What you're doing is cramming TWO yarns in where one yarn was before.  As a repair on a thinning elbow or sock heel, 2-into-1 is no problem--you WANT to thicken the fabric.  But if you're doing it for decorative purposes, like the color-progression band on this sample hat, this 2-into-1 trick yields a tendency to stiff, thick fabric.

There ARE tricks to minimize this thickness, such as using a thinner yarn, doubled to improve coverage, and those tricks were described in the the last post. But, although these tricks certainly improve the situation, they can't solve the fundamental problem that two yarns are being crammed in where one was before.

A few years ago, I got to thinking. You know how needlepoint is worked over an open-mesh canvas? And how, despite starting off as a thin, bare canvas, a finished needlepoint project covers the canvas completely? Well, what if you could knit a sort of open-work fabric, very thin, and then afterwords work the duplicate stitch over this thinner fabric, a sort of "needlepoint-izing" trick for duplicate stitch?

It struck me that if the guide-fabric was knit thin enough, the finished duplicate stitch would be nearly the same thickness as the surrounding "real" knitting.   Well, it took a while and a bunch of experiments, but I have worked out this needlepoint-inspired trick, which  I call "duplicate stitching on netting."

One picture is worth a thousand words.  So, here is that picture, a close-up of the sample hat in progress.

At the left of the photo, labled "netting," you're looking at the still-uncovered part of a stripe which was knit of very thin yarn just above the ribbing of the sample hat in a 5-row-high band.  Netting is simply stockinette fabric knit in a very thin, very tough yarn called sock-reinforcement yarn. Although the netting yarn is far thinner than the main fabric, it is worked on the same needles at the same gauge as the main fabric.

The sample hat was an ordinary tam sort of pattern.  To set up the work, I knit the ribbing, then two rows of black, then five rows of netting, then two more rows of black, then the rest of the hat according to the pattern (which, to be frank, I made up as I went along).  At the end, I duplicate stitched squares in a color progression all the way around the hat covering the netting. Each duplicate-stitched color-block is separated from the next by a duplicate-stitched 1-column-wide black border.

 At the right of the photo, you can see a black-bordered orange square of duplicate stitch. If you look back at the left side of the photo, you'll note the black border being worked in duplicate stitch using a sewing needle and a cut length of yarn: this is the set up for a new color-block which will be duplicate stitched right next to the orange block.

The color-blocks go all the way around the hat, there are 16 of them.  Sixteen different colors-blocks on each of five rows, each block separated from the next with 1-column-wide black border--this would be a nightmare of tangled yarn if knit using bobbins (intarsia-work) and could not be knit stranded.  Duplicate stitch is the only real choice of method here.

Advantages and disadvantages
The main advantages are looks and feel.  As applied to this project, working the duplicate stitch on netting made the hat a lot more wearable than it would have been via classic duplicate stitching.

Above are two additional photos of the hat, showing how it looks on the head. With these photos, I think you can see that the colored band acts (flexes) and looks pretty close to the main fabric. 

Yet, as with all things, there is a trade off.

*Fussy: You do get a much nicer fabric with netting than with the classical method but the end result is a more fussy, delicate fabric.  My color-progression hat was lined before wearing to protect the rather delicate netting, you can see the blue lining in the photo below.  The lining also hides the not-very-lovely insides.  This photo also shows another advantage to working on netting, which is that the result is thin enough to BE lined! If a classic duplicate-stitched hat were lined, it might (it would!) end up to too stiff to even wear. 

The inside of the color progression-hat is lined to protect the netting (and frankly, to hide the back of the duplicate stitching)

*For casual projects, a short and wide insert is best: Netting might better be restricted to a short, wide area, such as the five-row high band which runs all the way across the width of the sample hat. In this way, the insert is as wide as the fabric. In other words, you knit a stripe of netting, bounded top and bottom by the main fabric, but without any borders at left or right.   

*Larger projects are far more complex: In a larger project, such as the sample cushion-top project below, the whole project becomes more complicated in both the knitting AND the duplicate stitch.  Knitting the netting as an insert with side-borders of main fabric is more challenging than knitting an unbordered stripe PLUS you have to be willing to seriously tackle the duplicate stitching as a "real" embroidery project. (There is more on these issues below.)

*Works best on non-superwash wool:  Superwash wool gets stringy when you wash it, and is intended to be machine-dried to fluff it back up again.  Machine drying is fairly tough on fabrics, and duplicate stitching on netting is too delicate for such rough treatment. Further, non-woolen fabric are much slicker than wool, lacking the built-in "velcro action" of wool's microscopic scales.  The slicker the fabric, the less successful the duplicate stitching. The best result is plain old wool-on-wool.

*Stretching: when you s-t-r-e-t-c-h duplicate work knit on netting you are pretty much going to see the netting, and the greater the number of discrete blobs of color you embroider in, the more this is true. There ARE tricks to minimize having the netting show when stretched (more below) but you can never totally eliminate this issue. (And yes, stretching is an issue with classic duplicate stitching, too!)

*Not like "real knitting:" No matter how you do duplicate stitch, whether on netting or in the classic method, it is never going to look and feel exactly like "real knit fabric," no, never--and this is especially so on the back of the fabric. It's just that with netting, the result is MORE like "real knit fabric" than with classic duplicate stitching.
Well, if I haven't scared you off with all these caveats--if you're still interested--let's go...

"Sheinman's law" (use the right tools)
Many years ago, a brilliant carpenter by the last name of Sheinman told me "if the work is too hard, you're using the wrong tool." This seemingly simple precept has guided me over the years: when things get too hard in knitting, there must be another tool out there to make it easier. As I have worked out the details of duplicate stitch on netting, below are the tools which pass the test of Sheinman's law.

Sock reinforcement yarn comes in lots of colors beyond white
Sock reinforcement yarn
*To knit the netting, you need a thinner yarn, and I've already told you that the yarn I recommend is called sock reinforcement yarn.  This is thin, quite strong and quite tough--it has a high nylon content.  Its German name is "Beilaufgarn," literally: "running-alongside yarn."  It might be a bit hard to find, especially in the US, but definitely worth hunting out. Naturally, if your duplicate stitching is to be mainly in a certain color, you could knit the netting in that color, also: the sock reinforcement yarn comes in lots of colors.

* On netting, work the duplicate stitch using the same weight of yarn as you used to knit the main fabric. (This is different than with classic duplicate stitch, where a thin yarn, doubled, works better.) For the hat above and sample pillow top, below, the main fabric was knit in worsted weight wool in a cream color.  On the hat, I used several strands of Paternayan Persian Wool, and on the pillow top, the embroidery was done with scraps of worsted weight wool.  One exception: if the yarn from which the main fabric is knit is a light, fluffy, delicate yarn--a 4-ply Merino, for example--substitute a stiffer yarn of the same weight for the duplicate-stitch embroidery. This is because light and fluffy yarns do not stand up to being threaded through the eye of a needle and dragged through the fabric time and time again, as happens with sewing.

*To apply the duplicate stitch, use a yarn needle with a blunt point and a large eye.  A thick, straight, blunt-nosed needle like this avoids yarn-splitting, yielding a fabric which looks more like a knit one. Try to avoid yarn needles with a flared eye, these distort the fabric. Plastic yarn needles work in a pinch, metal are better.

*Although it LOOKS like knitting, duplicate stitching is actually a form of decorative SEWING.  As with all decorative sewing (quilting, embroidery, cross-stitch, needlepoint) the larger the area you want to complete, the harder it is to work in your lap. This is especially so with today's trick because the netting will collapse if the top yarn is pulled at all tight.  Unless you ** really like needlework ** such as cross-stitch or needlepoint, I'd recommend keeping the netting to a few rows high only. Otherwise, you have got yourself a serious embroidery project requiring serious embroidery tools.  The 5-row high band of netting on sample hat was small enough to easily work the duplicate embroidery in my lap, no problem (in fact, I did the duplicate stitching on a long flight). By contrast, for the sample pillow, heavy artillery was required. I tacked (tacking=rough and temporary stitches) the pillow-top into an embroidery frame--a left-over from my needlepointing days. (Don't use a hoop frame, however: that would ruin the fabric!) Below is a photo of the pillow-top tacked into the embroidery frame.

Planning the work, knitting the netting
Spontaneity is out. You have to knit your netting where you later plan to duplicate stitch.  Easiest is the way that is done in the sample hat: five rows are worked in netting, and the duplicate stitch goes all the way across the entire bottom of the hat above the ribbing, in a band.  The hat was knit flat, eliminating the problem of a "jog" at the beginning and end of the duplicate stitch band. In the planning stage, an extra stitch was put in on each side of the fabric, to allow one stitch from each side to be consumed in the seam. The hat was seamed up before the duplicate stitching began, and one of the duplicate-stitch boxes of color was planned to go right over the seam in the netting, thus holding it together better and disguising the seam.

Complex project-example of a pillow top
If you're willing to engage in serious embroidery-scale duplicate work, like this sample cushion-top, you have to work the netting as an insert, as shown below at left.

Here's the recipe for the sample pillow-top, which measures 61 stitches wide X 84 rows high, with a 17 stitch wide x 24 stitch high duplicate-stitch insert centered in the middle.

* Step 1: Prepare and set aside a smaller ball of the main yarn
*Step 2: CO 61 stitches and knit the bottom part of the fabric in stockinette stitch with a single strand of worsted weight yarn at a gauge of 5 sts/inch and 7 rows/inch.
*Step 3: On row 30,  place markers 22 stitches in from each edge.
*Step 4: Continuing in stockinette, on row 31...
  • Work the 22 stitches to the first marker from the main ball of yarn, remove marker.
  • Work the next 17 sts to the next marker worked with sock reinforcement yarn, worked at the same gauge as the main yarn. Remove marker.
  • Work the last 22 sts of the row using the previously-prepared smaller ball of main yarn.  
Step 4 is repeated for 24 rows. In other words, the edge 22 sts on both sides are worked in main yarn--each from a separate ball--while the center 17 sts were worked in sock-reinforcement yarn.  For the last 23 rows of the insert, the sock reinforcement yarn must be twisted over its neighboring main yarn before you set off working with it, whether you are knitting or purling.  The row-starting twist is how the insert remains attached to the stitches on both sides. Here is a photo where these twists are circled.  I have colorized red the actual twists for visibility. When you come to work the duplicate stitch, you ignore the twists, they are not stitches.

Where the insert meets the main fabric--close-up
*Step 5: After the 24 rows of the insert, yarn from the smaller ball and the insert-yarn are broken off and the following 30 rows are worked in the main yarn from the larger ball.  In this particular case, I converted pair of purl columns on both sides of the insert as a set-up for pinstripes which I planned to add afterward, along with the duplicate stitching. The pillow-top was then cast off.

Geek notes:

  • You need not insert a square.  If you wanted to insert a shape--a heart for example--you could knit a heart-shaped insert. 
  • For an insert in a circular garment (e.g. sweater knit in-the-round) you would work the netting insert via the trick called "intarsia in the round." When (if?) TECHknitting blog gets to that subject, I'll insert a link here.  Until then, google is your friend. 
Be gentle!
The actual duplicate stitching itself is done in the identical manner to classic duplicate stitching: it is the underlying fabric which changes, not the duplicate stitching itself.  The how-to was covered in the last post, the tools and techniques for success on netting are set forth above.

The important difference is that the netting is thin and so you cannot tug your stitches to achieve an even tension as you could on the thicker fabric of the classic method.  Instead, you must adjust the stitches gently.

duplicate stitch on netting--work in progress
And, even though I already said this when talking about tools, I'm going to repeat myself. Either keep the netting to a relatively small area: an area small enough to keep spread out with your non-dominant hand like the five-row high stripe on the hat OR, with a large insert, honor the craft for what it is--embroidery--and work it as such.  In other words, for a larger insert, best is to tack your project into an embroidery frame.

The work tacked into an embroidery frame with a few duplicate stitches worked in the main color at the bottom corners. 

The frame holds the fabric stretched out for you, preventing collapse.  Further, since your hands aren't holding the fabric, this lets you adjust the duplicate-stitch tension with both hands: one above and one below the fabric (same way as embroidery has been done for centuries) (and how hand-quilting is done today.)

Whether your project is a few rows high or a larger insert, in your finishing work you have to deal with several problems.
  • duplicate stitching is not really knitted fabric. At the edge where one color meets another, there is no real connection between the rows and columns.  Result: when you stretch the garment, the netting shows between the colors.
  • sometimes, the netting stubbornly wants to show, just like the background fabric does in classic duplicate stitching.  You'd think careful overstitching would hide the netting, but sometimes it has a mind of its own.
  • many, many tails to work in (this is a problem with all sorts of duplicate stitching, heck, any sort of embroidery at all)

Fortunately, you can solve these problems with a little fudging around on the fabric back, turning the disadvantage of many tails into an advantage.  You do this by employing your tails two ways.

*Work the ends UNDER the netting.  This shoves the netting towards the fabric-back and helps prevent it from showing on the front. Here is a close-up photo showing the several stages of working in a tail under the netting.  (This illustration shows using a knit-picker to skim in ends, but the same result can be obtained by skimming-in with a sewing needle.)

With the knit-picker, the set up was to open the latch of the knit-picker, then insert the knit-picker up into the fabric back, always working UNDER the arms of the netting and THROUGH a ply or two of the yarn used for the duplicate-stitching.  After the set-up, the situation was as pictured below.

Once your knit picker is in position, step 1 is to wind the tail you've working in UNDER the hook of the knit-picker, the tail is shown by the circle, winding it under the hook is shown by the arrow.  Step 2 is to swing shut (up) the little latch of the knit-picker (colorized red) locking in the end.  Step 3 is to withdraw the loaded and locked knit-picker downwards, thus drawing the end under the netting and through some bits of the duplicate-stitching.  Because the tails are worked in under the netting, this lessens the chance that the netting will show on the front side. 

*The second good thing to do is to work the tails in over the borders between colors. This cross-column, cross-color weaving solidifies the fabric.  (This is very similar to the trick of stabilizing the braid-back in Fake Latvian Braid (FLB).) However, don't go overboard and weave your ends in too enthusiastically all around, or you will weave yourself right back to a stiff, unpleasant fabric, undoing the advantage of having worked on netting.

*You'll also note that I sewed beads onto the project. (Click photo to enlarge) My taste isn't usually THIS gaudy, but I wanted to demo that there is another way of solidifying the fabric back, and that is with ordinary polyester sewing thread worked along the back face of the fabric.  Because the sewing-thread trick is really hard to photograph, I thought I better throw some beads on the thread so you could see that it had been done. (Then, once I got started with the beads, my inner 6-year old said "wheeee" and took over the color-design, adding tufts plus more, more, more beads all over the place!)

Fudging around on the back helps solidify the fabric, yes, but isn't very pretty, and neither is the netting itself.  The hat was lined, but even with the best will in the world, the inside of the pillow-top is messy, as you see.

Therefore, with a sweater,  consider saving the trick for a pull-over, rather than a cardigan, so that the mess will never show.  For an afghan, line it or use it as a wall-hanging.

One final trick: if the netting simply insists on showing up as a little white dot here and there on the fabric-front, a fabric-marker makes the white dot disappear.  Just make sure you've got a PERMANENT marker in a matching color to your duplicate stitching.

Have fun with this (but first try it out on a small sample to see if you like it!)

PS:  I made Ravelry project pages for the color-progression hat and the pillow-top.  Those have a bit more detail as to each project. The pillow-top page has the chart I used and some notes about attaching the insert to the main fabric at the sides. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Duplicate stitching on knitting--basic how-to + tricks for better results (part 1 of a series)

Duplicate stitch is a form of embroidery worked on a stockinette fabric. It gets its name because the path of the embroidery yarn exactly follows--duplicates--the path of the underlying knitting. Today's post, first of a series, shows the how-to, as well as a few little tricks to overcome some common problems.

Duplicate stitch, part 1
    starting by self anchoring
    step by step
Direction of work
             embroidered chain stitch (chaining down)
             crocheted slip stitch (chaining up)
    Stitches pointing down vs. pointing up
Starting the second yarn
Partial stitches (smoothing a curve)
Duplicate stitch in the wild

Duplicate stitching has two uses: utility and decoration. In its utility guise (also called "Swiss darning") duplicate stitching is used for "invisible mending." With this trick, a worn fabric--an elderly sock-heel, perhaps--can be fortified by exactly following (duplicating) the path of the underlying knitting with strand of yarn threaded on a dull-tipped sewing needle. If the color-match is good, the fix is undetectable. (So undetectable, in fact, that I'm not posting my before-and-afters of a mending project. You can feel the fix, but I couldn't get the photos to show.)

The second use is when a perfectly sound fabric has duplicate stitch on top to add color-decoration. You have certainly seen this use, the little hat below was worked in classic duplicate stitch.

Classic duplicate stitch embroidery on a little girl's hat

Naturally, the uses overlap. A colorful flower worked over a thinning elbow, or a little heart over a moth-hole in an old glove combine utility with decoration.
...a little heart over a moth-hole in an old glove...


As you might-imagine, working another strand of yarn into each underlying stitch thickens and stiffens the fabric. For utility use, this isn't much of a problem. When mending a thinning heel, restoring thickness is actually the aim. Similarly, stiff reinforcement improves little kid sweater-elbows. Further, since mending is done "invisibly" (in a matching color yarn) there is no issue about appearance.
For decorative purposes, the situation is different. When working a secret message into the lining of a hat or a flower motif on a sweater front, thick, stiff fabric is not going to be popular.

Using a contrasting-color yarn causes appearance problems, too. For one thing, putting a different color yarn on top gives the bottom yarn a chance to misbehave by peeping through.
That's not how knitting works
Tim Horton!*
For another thing, you can't just put designs wherever you want them (although some graphic designer at Tim Horton's thought you could!) In fact, duplicate stitch is constrained by the underlying fabric, each stitch must lie exactly over a stitch in the knit fabric. This means duplicate stitch has a "pixelated" or stair-step look, especially on curves or diagonal lines (have a look at the leaves on the little hat, above.)

In short, thick fabric, peep-through and pixelation combine to give color duplicate stitching a bad rep as clunky and stiff. However, there are TECH-tricks which can help (somewhat) with these problems. Today's post starts with the how-to for basic duplicate stitch, then features some tricks


Classically, duplicate stitching is worked with a yarn of the same weight as the underlying garment and this is fine for utility use. But for decorative use, the best results come with using a thin yarn, doubled. Laying two strands side-by side increases width without increasing thickness, reducing both peep-through and bulk.

I recommend high-wool content sock-heel reinforcement yarn--it is thin and tough, and comes in many colors. If you can't find a display of this stuff in your LYS, a thin and woolly sock yarn is a pretty good substitute. A further choice is Persian embroidery wool, stripped to a single strand, then doubled. (Embroidery wool shrinks if laundered incorrectly, so it is best reserved for a classic wool requiring the same washing regime.)

Self Anchoring

Using a thin doubled strand also lets you fastening the strand to itself at the start, a trick called "self-anchoring,"or "loop-anchoring." Self-anchoring means you only have to work in the tails on the end, rather than on both ends because the beginning is a tiny loop with no bulk at all.

Draw out a length of embroidery wool twice as long as you can comfortably work, then fold it in half. Thread the two cut ends of the yarn through a dull-pointed large-eyed needle. The self-loop--created by the thread doubling back on itself--is at the end away from the needle, as the illustration below shows (red asterisk).  Naturally, the yarn in the below illustration is too short to use in real life, and you would use a much longer one.  It's just shown that way for, well, illustration purposes. 

As the illustration below shows, hold the the smooth side of the stockinette fabric facing you. Insert the needle from back to front just where the arms of the target stitch (red) emerge from the stitch below.

Peek at the fabric back be sure a small bit of the self-loop remains open, as shown on the photo below.

(By the way: the blue yarn being used in the photos to work the duplicate stitch is Paternayan Persian embroidery wool, and the underlying green fabric is Patton's classic worsted-weight wool.) 

In the photo below, the target stitch has been colorized red.  Working from the front fabric face, insert the needle sideways through both arms of the stitch above the target.  In other words, the needle follows the path of the top loop of the target stitch. Right handed knitters will find it easiest to insert from R to L as shown, left handed knitters, the opposite.

The needle next goes down onto the fabric back in the exact same spot it came up, having traced the entire outline of the target stitch through the fabric.

On the fabric back, draw the needle through the waiting self-loop, gently snug up.    The final result is shown below: a self-anchored strand waiting for the next stitch, no ends to work in.

Sometimes, the self-loop wants to work itself around onto the fabric front.  If this happens, split a nearby stitch-back with your sewing needle and draw the yarn through. This locks the yarn of the duplicate stitch onto the fabric back

As shown below, the final result on the front face of the fabric is a duplicate stitch.

You can see the two strands of the blue yarn spreading out to lay side-by side. 

Keep working new duplicate stitches in the same way as above. Specifically:
  • draw up the needle from the back face of the fabric t the front face,just at the bottom point of the target stitch--where the arms of the target stitch emerge from the fabric 
  • with the needle, follow the path of the target-stitch's loop-top through the arms of the stitch above
  • insert the needle in the same spot from which the needle emerged and draw to the fabric back
Be very gentle snugging up each duplicate stitch. You want to leave plenty of yarn on the fabric surface to reduce peep-through of the underlying color, and to avoid the problem of collapsing the fabric with tight stitches.

As to how to get from one stitch to the next, the rule is always: take the shortest route. This is completely opposite to most needle arts (especially needlepoint) so ignore any prior training you may have. Taking the shortest direction through the fabric back reduces bulk.
Direction of work
You can work duplicate stitch row-wise or column-wise. You can also decide which way the stitches should point--up or down. 

The most perfect duplication of the underlying stitches comes when you work the duplicate stitch row-wise, meaning, from R to L or L to R (or both, when working a larger area).  This is because you are actually following the direction in which the stitches were knit.  When we come to repairing fabric via the duplicate stitch (it will be the third post in this series) it will be important to work row-wise for this reason. 

working row-wise

If you choose to work in columns, you have two choices.  First, you can work each individual stitch step-by-step as set forth above. Or, you have another choice,  a "sort-of" duplicate stitch--a trick called "chain-duplicate stitch" or "chaining." 

Chaining actually lies more on top of the fabric than true duplicate stitch.  Specifically, the bottom of each stitch goes through to the fabric-back, but the top part of each chain lies on the surface, passing only through the arms of the duplicate stitch (but not the underlying knit stitch) above it in the column. This somewhat reduces bulk and makes for a more flexible fabric, but at a price: peep-through is higher.  

Chaining over a large area is actually quite odd, being a combination of two techniques which, at first glance, seem quite different.  You see, chain duplicate stitch is structurally identical to both  the embroidery stitch called "chain stitch" AND the crocheted slip stitch.  In a stroke of serendipity, the embroidered chain stitch is most easily worked "down" a column, from top to bottom, while the crocheted chain stitch can only be worked "up," from bottom to top.   Add these together, and you can work adjoining columns with the same yarn, working DOWN with a sewing needle via the embroidery chain stitch, then UP the neighboring column with a crochet hook via the crocheted slip stitch--two different techniques, but the same end result. Chaining works particularly well for long and relatively skinny designs, such as Xmas trees, initials and the like

 Chaining down: working from top to bottom via the embroidered chain stitch 
Let's take the down direction with a threaded needle first--the embroidered chain stitch.  If working with a thin yarn doubled (recommended) you would begin at the top of the column via self-anchoring, as described earlier in this post and as shown on the top stitch of the illustration below.

starting the embroidered chain stitch (working down a column)
For the next lower stitch in the same column, you bring the threaded needle out of the fabric from back to front in the bottom point of the target stitch, in the same manner as for working individual duplicate stitches. However, the next step is to insert the sewing needle from right to left under the arms of the duplicate stitch only, rather than under the arms of the underlying knit stitch, as illustrated above.

After drawing the threaded yarn through the arms of the duplicate stitch above, the needle is returned to the same place it emerged, and is drawn to the fabric back.  These steps are repeated to form a chain which goes through to the fabric back at the bottom point of each underlying knit stitch, but which at the top, only passes through the arms of the chain stitch at the surface of the knit fabric,  as illustrated below.

several stitches competed of the embroidered chain stitch
(working down a column)

Working up (from bottom to top) via the crocheted slip stitch 
The crocheted slip stitch is simply a variation of our old friend the pinstripe (subject of the past several posts). However, rather than working the slip stitch into a purl column as for a "real" pinstripe, here, we work the identical maneuver into a knit column. Here is a link to the first pinstriping post.  It contains a you-tube, showing the crocheted slip stitch in a purl column.  Again, the chain stitch is performed exactly the same way as shown in that post, only you work it over a knit column, rather than a purl one.

As you approach the top of a slip-stitched column, stop one stitch early. Rethread the yarn on the back onto the dull-eyed sewing needle you were using for the embroidered chain stitch and work the last stitch as a regular duplicate stitch.  This fastens down the loose loop and leaves the yarn at the fabric-back when done.  You are now in position to work the next neighboring column down again, via the embroidered chain stitch.

Below are front and back photos of a little square worked via chaining, the "down" stitches worked via the embroidered chain stitch, the "up" stitches worked via the crocheted slip stitch.  As you can see, the columns are identical, both front and back.

(As you can also see from the above photos, peep-through is more of an issue with chaining, compare the coverage of the blue over the green background to the coverage in the heart photo which was duplicate-stitched row-wise with the same yarn on the same knit fabric).

 Pointing down (V) vs. pointing up (^)--which way should your stitches point? 
Duplicate stitch is worked on stockinette fabric. Looked at one way, each individual stitch in a stockinette fabric is made up of a downward pointing "V."  However, if you look at the same fabric offset by 1/2 a column, now the fabric appears to be made of upward pointing stitches like this: ^. Therefore, decide whether your design would look better embroidered in downward duplicate stitches (V) or in upward pointing stitches (^) and plan your work accordingly.  (FWIW: upward-pointing eyes generally look jolly, downward pointing eyes sometimes look sad, or even menacing. Also, pointy items like pine trees look better pointing up, hearts such as the one shown lower in this post, look better pointing down)

Ending one strand and starting the next 
At the end of each length of yarn, work in the remaining ends by taking off the dull-pointed needle, then rethread onto a sharp-pointed needle.  Skim in the ends.  Once you've got some duplicate stitches on the front, here's another trick you can use to reduce bulk (assuming you're working with a thin yarn, doubled).  Anchor every strand after the first by threading a single strand of wool through the needle eye, then draw this single strand under a nearby duplicate stitch to the half-way point, then fold up the yarn to make a loop-bottom (colorized red on the below photo).  Finally, thread the second strand through the needle eye, so that two cut-ends of the strand are though the needle-eye, as previously.   Easy-peasy and no bulk.

The trick of partial stitches--smoothing a curve 
Here's a duplicate-stitch trick which is not well-known.  Just as in cross-stitch embroidery where you can have a partial stitch (one leg of the cross) so in duplicate stitch, you can have a partial stitch, too (one arm or another of the "v").

This little trick helps smooths out the curves, reducing the pixelated stair-step appearance of duplicate stitch, and this is true even when the half-stitch leans away from the direction of the curve.  On the below chart of a duplicate stitch heart, the shape of the stockinette v's is shown in red.  Partial stitches which lean away from the direction of the curve are shown in blue, partial stitches which lean in the same direction of the curve, in yellow. 

 I think the finished heart in the wool shows the smoothing action regardless of which way the half-stitch leans.  To my eye at least, the little heart is a lot rounder and plumper than it would be without the half-stitches.

This trick means you can go one better with duplicate stitch than with knit-in color patterns.  In other words, it's not possible to knit a half-stitch, but you can duplicate-stitch a half-stitch.  

So, even if you dislike duplicate stitch because of the heavy and stiff fabric it produces, or because it isn't "real" color knitting, the perfectionist in you may want to consider using duplicate stitch just a little to reduce the pixelation effect caused by the the stair-steps of whole-stitches in "real" color knitting like intarsia or stranded knitting.

 Duplicate stitch in the wild 
If you search Ravelry for duplicate-stitch projects, you can see quite a range, from masterpiece florals in graduated colors echoing cross-stitch or needlepoint, to children's cartoon characters.

Another place in particular where duplicate stitching shows up is argyle knitting. Although the diamonds are knit-in using the intarsia method, the diagonal dividers are often added afterward, via duplicate stitch, rather than running a separate bobbin for each.  

Even die-hard knitters may find this a worthwhile dodge, to say nothing of lazy knitters such as myself.  In fact, even commercial argyles, knit on giant computerized knitting machines, sometimes use this trick, as you can see above. Next time you're in a men's and boy's department, look inside one of the argyles on display, and you’ll probably see something like the right top photo, knots and all.
Another perfectly fair use of duplicate stitch is to mitigate very long carries.  Have a look at this Ravelry Page for a lovely sweater pattern called "Pixelated Pullover."  If I were going to knit this, I'd modify the pattern to eliminate the very long carries on some of the outlying "pixels."  Instead, I'd create these as part of the finishing process by working duplicate stitch on the inside in a irregular "V" pattern, from the lowest to the highest, then down again, all around the sweater in a band.    In other words, on the rows where the "pixelation" is crowded together, I'd work that row in two-color knitting (one yarn in each hand).  But for the outlying stitches, I'd go over the sweater with duplicate stitching after the fact.
* * *

The next post in this series show a new and different approach to duplicate stitch.  Maybe check it out before you commit to a duplicate-stitch project?

*Original source for the Tim Horton's picture. Photo and caption re-used by permission. Thank you BeeCDN.