Friday, November 18, 2016

Long floats in color knitting: modifying STUART ladderback jacquard for rough-use situations

The STUART long-float method, which I recently introduced, showed how to tame long floats in color knitting.  That was followed by a gallery-post--a photo essay showing the STUART method used to knit a long float hat. Today's post extends the STUART theme by showing modifications for making the ladderback tighter, as well as for tacking it onto the fabric-back.

Why would you want to tighten the ladderback, or tack it down? Well, the ladderbacks of a ladderback jacquard are almost like a separate layer of fabric, loosely lining the inside of the garment.  In a hat, this loose arrangement is generally no problem: heads are covered with slippery hair.

However, the situation is quite different where a ladderback item is designed to fit tightly or where it could get caught on a sharp angle or a protrusion--a finger in a child's sweater, the spout of a tea-pot in a tea cosy, for example.  Or--today's example--a hot water bottle cover.

Hot water bottle cover, outside and inside--note the tight ladderbacks

I knit the above sample because hot water bottles are the ultimate in hard-to-dress items. They are made of a grabby, almost sticky rubber; they have two-sharpish edges; they feature a small flange on the bottom--in other words, they feature lots of stuff for floats to get caught on.   Aaaaaand, to make dressing the hot water bottle even harder, I designed this cover with two large snowflake motifs, widely separated--one on the front and one on the back.  This means the floats don't touch down anywhere between the snowflakes, but instead have to go a lo-o-o-ng way, around a 180 degree bend, to get from place to place.   This design features 11 rows of 26-stitch-long floats.   I think that if you can get a knitted cover--featuring super long floats which go around a corner--onto a hot water bottle, you can pretty much be assured these floats can handle anything.

The opening photos shows the cover relaxed, but this one below shows it in action.

even when stretched, the floats do not show through on the front...

...and the floats do not show through on the side-panel, either

I deliberately over-exposed the side-panel photo so you can really see every stitch of every row and column: see for yourself that with STUART, the floats simply do not show through at all, even when the cover is stretched.

But going beyond the invisibility of the floats, you can see that this cover is laying smoothly over the grabby hot water bottle.  STUART by itself would not assure this result: it is the modifications shown in today's post which help this cover to lay as smooth and flat as it does.

Herewith, the two tricks of today's post: 1) anchoring the ladderback with a twist, 2) pinstripe-tacking the long floats into place alongside the catchment column.

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This trick assumes that you are at the point in the STUART process where you are getting ready to hook the ladderback up along the back of the fabric.  In this trick, rather than simply catch the second strand loosely under the first--as is normal with STUART,  I instead put a backwards twist into the bottom rung of the ladderback, then drew every subsequent float through, sequentially.  The red circle indicates the back-twisted stitch.

The red circle highlights the twisted anchor stitch at the bottom of the ladderback. This twisted stitch forces the rest of the ladderback into a narrow, tight column. 

Also notice that I used a short float from the row below the ladderback to anchor the initial twist.  Anchoring the column of the ladderback by starting the first float with a twist creates a tight single-column ladder, rather than the loose triangle typical of STUART ladderback construction.

In some situations, a twist-anchored ladderback might be enough in itself to tighten the floats down--perhaps at the left and right edges of a circular-knit sweater.  However, where the float has to actually wrap around a sticky corner, such as in this hot-water bottle cover, the twist-start column is best used in partnership with the next trick--a trick which actually tacks the ladderback, row-by-row, onto the fabric back.


The point of this next trick is to fasten the ladderback, row-by-row, onto the back face of the fabric. In this way, the ladderback is no longer a loose inside layer which can slide around as you put the garment or item off and on.  Instead, the ladderback becomes one with the fabric. This prevents the sliding ladderback from distorting the stitches in the fabric which they would otherwise pull on, every time the ladderback itself was pulled up or down.

The basis of this trick is really quite simple: I used my pinstriping trick to tack the ladderback onto the fabric-back, row-by row.   Here are several photos of the result.

The black chain of stitches represents the running yarn from the pinstripe on the fabric surface.  If you look closely, you will see that I messed up in several places, catching the floats in the wrong order.  No big deal, however. 

This close up shows the details: the black chain stays to the same side of the tight ladderback and never crosses it. Therefore, the ladderback was worked slightly off center

Here's the step-by step:

  • I used the STUART method to slip the floats.  
  • Continuing in the STUART method, when it came to release the catchment column, I released an entire column of the black knitted fabric to the level of the first float. 
  • However, rather than hooking this black fabric up as a knit column, I hooked it up again as a purl column instead, as shown in the pinstriping post.   
  • Next, I hooked the ladderback up--the white floats, I mean--starting with a twist, as shown in the first trick of this post.
  • Then, working from the fabric-front, I worked a black-on-black pinstripe over the purl column.  
    • As I worked each slip stitch of this pinstripe, I carefully peeked to the back with each stitch, and caught the corresponding float behind the running yarn.  
    • In other words: I used the running yarn of the black pinstripe slip-stitch to tack each white float onto the fabric back, working stitch by stitch (row by row).  

The upside of pinstripe-tacking is that you can now knit with floats as long as the Nile: the floats will be at the correct tension AND they will never catch, either.

However, as we know, there is no free lunch in knitting--there are some downsides: first, this is fussy. It would be particularly fussy if you were trying to work inside of a long narrow tube like a sock, because you have to keep peeking from the front to the back of the fabric with every single slip stitch of the pinstripe column.  (Maybe design your socks so the ladderback is on an accessible portion of the garment: the foot on a toe-up sock, or the top of the leg on a top-down knit sock, then work the tricks before you knit the rest of the sock.) Second, you can kind of see the pinstripe if you really look hard: scroll back up to the previous photo of the side-panel close-up, the pinstripe does reveal itself as a (rather  minor) irregularity in the column-tension. Finally, you can also feel the pinstripe--the fabric is double thick at that point because the pinstripe adds a layer over the purl column.

In my analysis, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. These long floats have been turned into a ladderback securely fasted onto the fabric back on every single row--this ladderback is going nowhere, no matter how roughly it is treated and no matter how long the float is. Long floats can no longer be caught by accident so they distort the fabric.

And speaking of float-length, let me point out that although I tacked the ladderback onto the fabric back only along the "side seam,"  I did actually create more slips and ladderbacks.  Here is a photo of the cover's inside, showing that I ran STUART slipped catchment columns alongside the snowflakes, and between the top and bottom parts, also. If you want to see more what I mean, scroll up to the opening photo and examine the right panel--you'll see three ladderbacks, but only the middle one (the one along the "side seam") is actually tacked down with a pinstripe.

The catchment columns around the giant snowflake motifs (not tacked down) 

* * *

Conclusion: armed with STUART and today's modifications, I believe we may celebrate the downfall of another knitting rule.  STUART (or any ladderback jacquard technique, actually) lets you knit floats as looooooong as you like.  Today's tricks let you adapt ladderback jacquard to rough service items like hot-water-bottle covers, blankets, children's sweaters, and any other item where you thought a long float or a loose ladderback might catch on something.