February 2011

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The outset

Cast-ons really get knitters worked up. Some of us are convinced that the only proper way is how we learned as children, or that other people’s ways must be better. The toes of some of us curl in glee when we learn a new one (happily, there’s always a new one to learn).

In this post we thought we’d discuss a few common ones and their advantages and disadvantages. None of them is the perfect one for everything, and knowing several for different circumstances is a useful skill for your toolkit. You’ll find videos of all of them at this link. Where it matters, there’s separate Continental and English videos. So why not grab some needles and some yarn and do a bit of experimentation along with us? You might find your toes gleefully curling.

First of all, there’s cast ons that are worked with two needles, where the cast-on tail and the working yarn start the first row at opposite ends of the row.

Most Irish school-taught knitters seem to have learned the knitted cast on (knittinghelp calls it knitting-on). It’s got the advantage of using exactly the same movements as a knit stitch, so you don’t need to learn a separate action. It’s got another property, though: it’s loose. When you knit the first row normally, you get a slack floppy edge, which may not be what you want.

One remedy for this is to knit the entire first row through the back loop. This works. In fact, it works too well: you get a very firm, inelastic edge, and in a hat or the top of a sock, this isn’t what you want. The picture below shows the right hand half of the stitches knitted normally and the left hand half knitted through the back loop, so this picture is one row into the work.

But the looseness of this cast on isn’t always a disadvantage. It’s an excellent cast on for lace, because the floppiness gives you plenty of room to block hard with little risk of your cast on tearing (yes, it can happen; no, we don’t want to talk about it).

A variant of the knitted cast on is the cable cast on. It gives you a very neat corded edge, it avoids the floppiness of its relative, and because it uses a little more yarn, it’s more elastic.

If you want an all-purpose cast on that will give you a flexible hat or sock edge and a pretty edge, this is a good one. It’s the one that we teach most often in classes at This Is Knit.

The long tail and the twisted German cast ons are worked with one needle, and they both need to start some distance into the ball of yarn. They both involve putting the loops onto the needle and knitting the first row at the same time, so they’re neat and elastic.

The long tail cast on is the preferred method of one of our heroes, TECHknitter. She’s got a post about the long-tail at this link which is long but well worth reading, especially for its advice to start your cast on without a slip knot. (Knots are nasty little things. Shun them.)

Since you work both long tail and twisted German towards the cut end of the yarn, it can be tricky to estimate how much tail you’ll need. A good rule of thumb is at least three times the length of your finished cast on. There is nothing more miserable than running out of tail as you cast on the 197th of a 200 stitch cast on, so if you’re facing into a long cast on, here’s a useful trick: tie the ends of two balls together loosely and use both to cast on with. When you’ve knitted the first row, snip off the ball you’re not knitting with and untie the knot (knots: nasty). It’s pretty much impossible to run out on the cast on if you do it this way.

The twisted German is a slightly more involved sort of long tail. The extra involvement gives you an even more elastic edge, and this one makes a lovely edge for things that need to stretch lots like hats and socks. There’s a comparison shot of the two below.

The twisted German on the left is thicker and more substantial than the long tail on the right, and it’s rather obvious how it gives you a row already knitted. If you don’t want a purl ridge along the bottom of your stocking stitch, purl the first row after a twisted German cast on.

The meatiness of the twisted German has another advantage. You know how patterns worked in the round tell you to join without twisting, and somehow we manage to twist anyway, only realising it several heartbreaking rounds later? Twisted German to the rescue!

See how obvious the underneath of the stitches is below the needles? If you can see your cast-on edge that clearly, it’s much easier to spot when your cast on is twisted, and much easier to avoid the twist in the first place.

One final tip for working off a cast off when you’re knitting in the round. If you knit the first five or six stitches with both the tail and the working yarn, you’ll help avoid a gap at the join, and you won’t have to weave in the tail separately later on. Just snip it close after a few rows, and you’re done with it. You can weave in like this when you’re working flat, too, of course, but only if the two ends are together at the start of the first row (with long tail or twisted German, that is).

So what’s your favourite cast on? Why do you prefer it? Leave us a comment to tell us!

That’s us. Yarn goes out of the shop in big quantities and small, in balls, in hanks, in bags. Seeing what it becomes makes us happier than you can imagine.

Sometimes we get to see finished articles in solid form. The yarn comes back to visit us in the shop, all grown up into jumpers and socks and all manner of things. More often, though, we get to see it online. In a way that’s even better, because whether on a personal blog or on Ravelry, the entire world can admire what our customers do with what we sell.

There’s a bi-monthly thread in the This Is Knit Ravelry group called the FO Parade. You’ll find it at the top of the threads, and it is packed with pictures of lovely things. We’ve got a few from recent months to show you here, all photographed by their makers, but there’s lots more over there.

First, there’s this beauty, knitted by deimne in Hedgehog Fibres Cashmere Lace. You can read more about this shawl both in her Ravelry page and on her blog here (it’s worth a visit for the photography, too!).

The pattern is Elizabeth Freeman’s Aeolian, a free pattern from Knitty a few issues back. It comes in a number of sizes and either with or without beads, and it’s surprisingly easy to knit if you have any lace experience at all.

Continuing a recent baby trend, here’s a beautiful blanket knitted by clareblove from a Debbie Bliss pattern. Each square has a little motif inside: hearts and boats and rocking horses and chicks. It’s adorable. Made from Eco Cotton, it’s also practical.

Another satisfied customer recently posted several pairs of Susie’s Reading Mitts, including these, which she photographed with an original copy of Soundings (how the memories flood back…).

You’ll find a link to the free pattern at this Ravelry link. It’s designed for DK but is easily modded for other weights of yarn.

Finally, under the “all manner of things” mentioned above, we recently made the acquaintance of Louis the Gargoyle.

From the camera, it would appear that he’s taking after his creator, Julie, whose breathtaking blog you can see here. She found the pattern on Ravelry at this page and he took less than a ball of Debbie Bliss Cashmerino DK.

There’s lots more inspiration in the FO parade threads, so why not take a look? We have a favour to ask you, though: would you post pictures of your own lovely projects there so we can all admire them? Nothing makes us prouder than seeing what happens next. And there’s prizes. Did we mention prizes?

Vicugna pacos

May we introduce José? Dixie’s sister found him on a visit to SunCrest Orchard Alpacas in Colorado and sent him over (they’ll sell you a breeding complete herd, too, but we don’t really have the room). Dixie decided that he might prefer to hang out with some sheep in This Is Knit, so that is where he spends most of his time now.

Alpacas are wonderful animals. They’ve been domesticated for thousands of years, to the extent that wild ones don’t exist. They’re South American members of the camel family, along with llamas and vicuñas. Like the latter, their attraction has always been their fibre, unlike llamas which are traditionally beasts of burden. Just as with sheep, different varieties of alpaca produce different qualities of fleece: the crimp of huacaya is most often used for knitting yarn and suri, which has less crimp, is the type most often woven.

Alpaca fibre was once regarded in Europe as unusable. In the 1830s, Titus Salt, who was to become one of the great Victorian benevolent industrialists, found some discarded fleece in a warehouse and experimented on different spinning and weaving techniques. The resulting fine fabric was the basis of an enormous fortune, tremendous humanitarian activities, the model village and mill at Saltaire near Bradford in West Yorkshire and a baronetcy.

That’s him, with a beard almost as impressive as the seven kilograms of fleece an alpaca can yield.

Alpaca fibre has no lanolin, which means that many people who are allergic to wool can wear it – and knit and crochet with it too. It repels water naturally, and the fibres contain air pockets which make it extremely warm and cosy.

If you fancy trying some out, we have a number of lovely pure alpaca and blend yarns at the moment. There’s a Dublin Dye Company pure alpaca laceweight in the shop at the moment, and both Debbie Bliss Andes and Blue Sky Alpaca offer alpaca blended with silk. If you’d like something really chunky, the generous percentage of alpaca in Debbie Bliss Glen gives the yarn luxury and softness. (If you’re looking for pure alpaca in a heavier weight, you might want to check back here regularly, since there could be an interesting announcement soon. That’s all we’re at liberty to say just now.)

So if you’re in the shop, make sure to seek José out. He’ll be thrilled. And if you’re in West Yorkshire, Saltaire, now a World Heritage Site, is well worth a visit too.

Finally, we have a prizewinner for our recent newsletter competition! Fiona, from Dublin, has won a free class of her choice. She’s on Ravelry as fiffles and she writes a beautiful blog called Green Waves. Congratulations, Fiona – we’re looking forward to seeing your new skills in action!

Help!

It happens to all of us. We start a new project, full of enthusiasm, and then find the lurking problem: the baffling instruction, the unencountered skill, the numbers that won’t add up.

Sometimes, though, chocolate isn’t enough. This is where we come in. When the shop’s quiet, we’re delighted to answer quick questions, but some problems need time and concentration. So we have dedicated Project Help sessions in the class schedule for exactly that: an hour and a half of attention on whatever you want. If you need to find out how to work a cable or if the lace shawl has gone off road, we’re sure to be able to help.

While we’re talking about the new class schedule, many of our most popular classes are back in March/April. Two-colour brioche knitting is a relatively new topic, but it’s proved very popular. How would it not, when it enables you to produce gorgeous fabric like this?

The class project can either be a scarf or mitts – here’s the former, knitted in a mixture of Noro Kochoran and Black Sheep Worsted.

The full class schedule for March/April is here – in addition to knitting and crochet, we’re offering spinning and finishing classes, so have a look to see how we can help.

Heart

St Valentine’s Day is nearly here. There’s hearts and flowers all over the place, and we’re enjoying it wholeheartedly, so it’s a good time to share some things that we love.

There’s a shop beside us called Article which sells beautifully designed, clever and witty things. They always have eye-catching window displays, and when we saw a string of tiny heart-shaped fairy lights, well, you don’t expect we’d resist, do you?

That’s Debbie Bliss Andes in Red, a luscious mix of silk and merino.

We have a lovely natural laceweight from the Dublin Dye Company in stock at the moment. It would be lovely as a wedding stole or a christening shawl. It also looks lovely garlanded with hearts:

And we’re still excited about the recent delivery of pure cashmere, sock weight and lace weight from Hedgehog Fibres. We heart it.

A hint of spring

In the last few days, it’s been feeling as if spring is at least possible. It’s still chilly, but maybe we can look forward to warmer times.

All winter, we’ve been wearing thick mittens and gloves, but now it seems that less covering might be needed. This is when fingerless mitts shine: they provide warmth and cosiness, but your fingers are unimpeded. (Of course, if it’s seriously cold, then they layer over full-fingered gloves in the warmest way.)

These are Kathleen’s Mitts, a crochet pattern which is entirely customisable: you choose the yarn, the length, the trim. The stitch pattern makes them conform to any hand, and they’re simple enough to be a first crochet project. If you have basic crochet skills (chain, double, treble), you can learn to make them in a class on Sunday 23rd February.

The mitts in the picture are knitted with Malabrigo Sock, and the model is holding more of it in the “Lettuce” colourway. And because we love it, here’s another picture with hints, perhaps, of things to come.

Prompted by the arrival of a very new member of the extended This Is Knit family, we’ve been thinking about knitted things for babies.

As it turns out, we have plenty to think about. For a brand new person, what could be better than a cozy cabled blanket?

This is the Cuddles and Cables blanket, a This Is Knit original, which takes just six balls of Debbie Bliss Cashmerino DK, and the pattern’s free when you purchase the yarn. It’s just the right size to fit a pram, and the knitting’s straightforward: with no shaping at all and regular repeats of a simple cable, it would make a very good first cable project. It’s practical too, because the yarn is machine washable.

We have a number of possibilities for keeping wee feet warm. First, there’s Saartje’s Bootees, a free pattern on Ravelry. These are knitted in Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino.

The original version is knitted flat and seamed, but if you want to avoid the seaming, you’ll find a link here to a version knitted in the round.

A couple of entries back, we got all excited about using Baby Cashmerino together with Debbie Bliss Angel. Well, we’ve been at it again!

These are Mary Jane Booties. They’re knitted flat too, though Lisa adapted the pattern for working in the round. Pink, fluffy, with pearl buttons from our neighbours downstairs at A Rubanesque – we couldn’t pack any more dotiness in there if we tried.

Last Sunday, there was a spinning double in these parts – our first ever wheel spinning workshop and the first Dublin Sunday Spin In of 2011.

The workshop had two wheels, both Ashford Travellers, available for trying out new skills:

Spinning Wheels

Aoibhe directed the class with the help of her own wheel, a Baynes Single Treadle:

As well as spinning yarn, we got to try out Navajo plying:

The event was a great success and we hope to have similar workshops in the future, so keep an eye out in the newsletter for details.

Meanwhile, there was even more spinning elsewhere in the Centre. On the last Sunday of every month, there is a spinners’ gathering on the first floor balcony. There’s usually a mixture of techniques in evidence, and this month there was drop spindling:

There was also this attractive item:

It’s much more than a pretty bowl, though. This is a serious piece of kit: it’s part of a Russian lace spindle, and it’s being demonstrated here:

If you’re interested in spinning, why not to drop by the Powerscourt Centre balcony on the last Sunday of each month to see some in action?