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.