Ingenious i-cord

I-cord is one of the handiest things you can learn to make, but to judge from the questions that we’re asked, a lot of people think it’s hard. It’s not. In fact, it’s just a trick, and what’s more, it’s a very easy one.

You need either a circular needle or two double-pointed needles. (There’s information at the bottom of this post about using single-points, but the other options are much, much easier.)

The first thing is to cast on four stitches. Four is a good number, though you may see three or five.

Knit across your four stitches once.

At the end of that first row, you’ll have the working yarn at the left hand side of the work, coming out of the leftmost stitch. Don’t turn the work!

Without turning the work, hoosh the stitches back to the right, all the way down to the other end of the needle.

You still have the yarn coming out of the leftmost stitch on the needle. This is entirely right and proper, though it may feel a bit odd the first time.

With the yarn still coming of the leftmost stitch and without turning the work, knit the first stitch on the needle in your left hand (this is the rightmost stitch of the four). The yarn will be pulled across the back from the leftmost stitch to the rightmost, and that’s what’s supposed to happen.

Repeat these steps: knit a row, don’t turn, hoosh the stitches rightwards, knit a row, over and over again. At the beginning, it will look a bit flat and peculiar, but give it an inch or so…

It’s not impossible to make icord with single-pointed needles, but it’s a wee bit fiddlier. You need to slip the stitches back to the needle in your left hand without turning each time. Hooshing is much quicker, so even if you don’t use double-points or circulars much, it’s worth investing in some for icord.

Four is an optimal number to cast on – above that, the distance across the back of the work is a little too far and you risk getting a ladder up the back. But this has a use too. If you’re making gloves, you can work the fingers as i-cord, working one stitch fewer in the round than instructed by the pattern. You’ll get a substantial ladder at the back, but you can then use a crochet hook to take the bottommost rung and work it up through the rungs above as if you were working up a dropped stitch.

You can work i-cord as part of a cast on or a cast off, and you can apply it to the edges of a piece of knitting after the fact. We’ll talk about these techniques in the future, but they’re really just variations on this basic theme.

In taking the pictures for this post (and a number of others that are coming up), we were greatly helped by Niamh, who came to This Is Knit on work experience a couple of weeks ago. She’s very talented not only at knitting but at all sorts of other creative pursuits as well, as you’ll see from her blog at bluesewncat – there’s so much that’s interesting and delightful over there. Thank you, Niamh, and stay in touch!

Suddenly colour

Look, it just happened, ok? First, there was a blog post on our trio of Color Affections and then it exploded.

Before we knew it, there’s a sudden Knit-Along happening. All over the place, people are gleefully choosing yarns, burrowing into stash, mixing colours. We’ve got a thread over in the This Is Knit group on Ravelry to discuss plans and progress, and there’s a lot of chatter on twitter (you’re following @ThisIsKnit, yes?).

So why not leap in and join us? You’ll need yarn in three colours – most people are using fingering weight, but you don’t need enormous amounts of any of them. A quick browse through existing projects reveals that 275m of colour 1, 250m of colour 2 and 275m of colour 3 should do it. Over in the KAL thread, January 28th is the suggested start date, with February 25th as a finish line.

There’s a couple of relevant groups that are goldmines of information on Ravelry: Wingspan, Color Affection and More KAL, which started as a KAL group but which has continued on afterwards and Stripes Galore KAL, another former KAL thread devoted to Veera Välimäki’s lovely clever striped designs.

Three colours, toning or contrasting, and lots and lots of soothing garter stitch. What could be nicer? The only question is: can we stop at just one?

Colour relation

Every so often, a pattern appears which is just so worth making – for its cleverness, for the pleasure of working it, for the loveliness of the final object. Veera Välimäki’s Color Affection is one of them.

We’re simply entranced by this shawl. It’s so easy to knit and the finished object has to be seen to be believed. There’s currently three of them on display in the shop, not including two that were given as Christmas presents, and there’s several more planned.

The entire thing is made in garter stitch, so it’s perfect TV or travel knitting. The shape which fits so comfortably on your shoulders is made by cunning use of short rows, and the colour changes (ours are all made from Malabrigo Sock) come alive in your hands as you work.

So if you’re looking for a simple, satisfying project, 7,305 knitters can’t be wrong. That’s the number of Color Affection projects in the Ravelry database as of the time of writing (there’ll probably be more when you read this!).

And in the last day or so, we’ve been dreaming of a long line of these, photographed in the lovely light of the Powerscourt Centre. Could we make this happen? How many could we all make between us?

All buttoned up

Nothing finishes off a garment so nicely as the right buttons, neatly and securely sewn on. At this time of the year, there’s a lot of snug cardigans and jackets under way, so a post on sewing on buttons is timely.

First of all, not all buttons are alike. In the picture above, you can see the two basic kinds: on the left, buttons with holes that go right through the face of the button, on the right, buttons with shanks. Buttonshanks aren’t just decorative: they serve a useful purpose in holding the button up proud of the fabric it’s attached to avoid puckering when you attach it, with plenty of room for the extra layer of fabric that holds the buttonhole. Here’s another view of a shanked button:

In what follows, we’ll be focussing mostly on unshanked buttons, because they need a little bit of extra care and attention.

All you need to attach a button securely to your fabric is the button itself, yarn or thread for sewing it on, a needle and a match. A match? We’ll explain. But first, tie a knot in the end of the thread and skim that end through the fabric on the wrong side (for more on weaving in on the wrong side, check out this blog post). We’re using a contrasting colour here for expository purposes, but most of the time leftover yarn from the garment will work splendidly.

Bring the needle and thread out to the right side, just where you want your button to sit, and hold the button in place, with the match between the button and the fabric. If you don’t have a match, a cable needle will work, or a toothpick or anything of similar size and thickness. The match puts a little distance between the fabric and the back of the button, and that’s what you’re aiming for.

Now sew your button in place, working around the match by stitching forward to the right side on one side of it, through the buttonholes and back to the wrong side on the other side of it.

Four or five passes through the buttonholes should be enough to hold the button firmly in place.

When you’re at that stage, bring the needle back to the right side, between the button and the fabric, and pull the match out.

You’ll find that the button is now attached to the fabric by a little stalk of thread. Because the match determined the length of the stalk, it’ll be all neat and uniform.

Now wind the thread around the stalk three or four times – in effect, you’re making a little customised buttonshank from the thread:

The result will be a better-sitting button, a neater closure and less wear and tear to your finished garment.

The second last step is to bring the thread back to the wrong side and weave it in neatly:

And the very last step is to snip off the wee knot that you used to hold the thread in place right at the very beginning:

And there you are: a handsome button securely sewn on to your cardigan, with your little shank leaving comfy room for the other layer of knitting or crochet when you’ve buttoned up against the cold.

If your chosen buttons already have a shank, then there’s even less to do: weave the thread in at the beginning, sew the button on with four or five turns through the hole in the shank, bring the thread to the wrong side and weave in again.

And what if your buttons aren’t functional? What if they’re just for decoration, like the eyes in Kate Davies’ Owls? Then you might want to consider the button technique we talked about in this post.

The weather’s forecast to get cold and stay cold for a while, so button up well and stay warm out there.

All wound up

A lot of the yarn that we sell comes in hanks like this, and it sometimes makes people curious. So we thought we’d answer some frequently asked questions about the matter here.

Like most of us, yarn likes to be relaxed. Winding it up tight will stretch it. Then you crochet or knit with it, and it’s still stretched when you work it. The trouble starts when it relaxes, and most particularly when you wash the finished object: as the strands unstretch, your perfectly fitting object shrinks.

This is why yarn is sold either wound very loosely or not wound at all. Machine-wound balls like this Debbie Bliss Cashmerino DK are wound with a generous hole in the centre, allowing the yarn to relax into the gap.

But when you get a yarn like Debbie Bliss Paloma or Malabrigo Sock, both of which come in hanks to keep it in tiptop condition, it needs to be wound before you use it. It’s really, really not a good idea to try to work straight from the hank – you will end up in a horrid tangled mess and a foul humour.

When you buy one of these hanked yarns from us, winding is free and part of the service. It only takes a couple of minutes, because we have a ball winder and swift permanently set up upstairs.

The swift holds the hank open, and adjusts to accommodate smaller or larger hanks. This sort is called an umbrella swift because its adjustment mechanism is just like an umbrella’s.

As the handle of the ball winder turns, it pulls the strand of yarn from the swift, though things proceed much more smoothly if you guide the yarn through your hand.

The whole process is fast, and results in lovely squared-off centre-pull cakes of yarn like this:

If you’ve bought a lot of yarn we might ask you to drop back a little while later to pick up your wound-up goodies – the few minutes each hank takes will add up and you can probably use your time better elsewhere. Alternatively, you could wind it up yourself at home.

The time-honoured stratagem of getting a family member to hold the hank on outstretched arms will serve you well at home, or you can replace those arms with the back of an upright chair or two. If you regularly find yourself winding a lot of yarn, then your own swift and ball winder might be a worthwhile investment. If you’re working on a large project, it’s a good idea to wind up your yarn as it’s needed. This ensures that it all stays in perfect relaxed condition until just before you use it, and it also means that excess is in returnable condition, since we can’t take back yarn that’s been wound up.

When you’re winding up your own yarn by hand, make sure to wind it nice and loosely – you can substitute a cardboard kitchen roll holder as a nostepinne, which will give you the same relaxed centre as the squat little column of the ball winder.

In other words, relaxed yarn means relaxed crocheters and knitters, and that’s always a good thing.

In short

Knitting can be a little square. Working rows and rows one above the other tends to give you a two-dimensional fabric, and sometimes it would be nice to have a bit of a curve. That’s where short rows come in.

Short rowing is what makes the lovely curve on Carol Feller’s Maenad shawl in the picture above. It means that your knitting can be curved or three dimensional, and it’s a technique that’s useful in so many places.

The reason we’re thinking about short rows is that Carol is coming to give us a workshop on them on February 2nd, and we can’t wait. She’s bringing a brand new mini cardigan pattern for the class, so here’s a chance to learn a cool skill with a new pattern from an internationally renowned designer. As well as Maenad, you can see the magic she works with short rows in Ravi – such clever and interesting shaping.

So where else does short rowing come in useful? In short row heel and toe socks, for one, or when you want to add bust shaping to a jumper, or raise the neckline of a cardigan a touch at the nape of the neck…. Once you start putting them in, you’ll be using them everywhere.

Here’s a couple of examples: the terrifically popular Color Affection shawl uses them to give beautiful swoops of colour and texture – we’ve been making quite a few of these recently (we’ll talk about them in an upcoming post) but here’s a quick preview of Lisa’s. The rows meet each other at unexpected and delightful angles, as you can see:

And where you want to get a smoother fitting cardigan or shrug, reach for the short rows. Lisa did in her Winterberry Shrug, where the lower back curves around the ribcage in the most flattering way:

You’ll find the booking page for Carol’s class at this link. It could be the best thing you do for your knitting this year.

Finishing touches

There’s something rather nice about the very final stages of a project – the last few ends to weave in, the buttons to sew on, a waft of the steam iron, and then it’s done, ready to take its place beside the other finished objects. Years are like that: the planning, the execution, the modification on the fly, and then the accomplishment after.

So before we get started on a fresh and shiny 2013, let’s have a look at what we’ve just finished. You might, as with the best projects, want to sit down with a cup of something while we look back.

The big news early in the year was the launch of the new online shop. This involved a lot of lists and a lot of pictures of yarn and a lot of computer code, and the result was a huge improvement on what it replaced. So we have happy memories of shooting beautiful yarn (that’s definitely Noro in the foreground, and isn’t that Studio Donegal Soft Merino ready for its close up?).

Judging from what you’ve been saying, you like it too (and we still want your feedback if we can make it better for you).

But really soon, it was spring, and our thoughts turned to garments that would be useful right through the summer. The Spring Knit Along kicked off in February, with a choice of two cardigans – it was enormous fun, with new skills learned and new yarn tried out and a wonderful supportive Ravelry thread. The result, in Lisa’s case, was this: a Fan Jacket that’s pretty and vibrant:

So keep an eye out for our next KAL – and spring can’t be far away now.

Over the course of the year we had the privilege of welcoming a lot of illustrious visitors to teach at This Is Knit, some old friends and some new. Carol Feller gave an excellent workshop on seamless garment construction, and one result of that was several of Carol’s pattern centenary cardigan, Ravi.

Kate Davies came back to This Is Knit in April and gave us the world premiere of her Steek Sandwich workshop. There was a lot of trepidation, and then a lot of triumph, as the steeks were cut and the stitches behaved:

We love Kate. We hope she comes back soon.

We were also very proud to host Aoibhe Ní to give a number of her clever Tunisian Lace crochet workshops – it’s been an amazing year for her, and we can’t wait to see what she does next.

Woolly Wormhead came to give a fabulous class on making the perfect hat in August, and goodness, there were so many to be inspired by: an entire table covered with clever, flattering headwear:

In September, we took over the theatre upstairs in the Powerscourt Centre for the annual Yarn Tasting. It was a lovely night, and Ysolda Teague and Carol Feller were our special guests for the evening.

There were exciting garments to try on…

…there were piles and piles of samples to rummage gleefully through…

and there was tempting new yarn to go home with. What more could you want as the evenings drew in?

Carol’s coming back in February to give us some more workshops, this time on short rows and on cables and charts – you’ll find details here.

In fact, that’s something else that was new in 2012: we started using a new booking system, the one that we blogged about back in April. It makes finding out what’s coming up and then seizing your place very convenient. A word of advice, though: events can book out very fast indeed when they’re announced (Woolly Wormhead and Ysolda’s workshops were full in a day or so), so the sooner you hear about them the better. The best way to keep up to date is to follow us on twitter – we’re @Thisisknit, and we announce sales, events and all sorts of things there, so keep an eye on our feed.

Indeed, if you were following us back in October, you’ll have found us live tweeting from the Blog Awards – we’re very happy to have been finalists, and we’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who nominated us, as well as a big Congratulations! to the winners. It was a fabulous night, and thank you to everyone who worked so hard to organise it.

Right in the middle of the year, we had the worldwide spectacle of the Ravellenic Games, with Team This Is Knit marching proudly into the stadium behind a small but appealing alpaca. Impressive feats of skill and daring were on display, new techniques mastered, new patterns deciphered, and in one case, a cardigan finished and then entirely frogged during the Olympic Closing Ceremony (it didn’t fit, and both the knitter and the yarn are much happier with something else). To everyone who took part, or cheered, or provided tea, salutation, and to our tireless Team Captains Jacqui and Nadia, thank you!

We’ve said many times that our favourite thing ever is when the yarn comes back into the shop, all made up into your finished object, so we can admire both it and your skill. This was a particularly good year for us, then.

Back in May, Clare, who’s clareblove on Ravelry, brought in her outrageously lovely steeked Latvian Garden Baby Blanket. Knitted in the round and then cut open before being backed with cotton fabric, this is a knitting tour de force.

It’s still on display in the shop, and not a day goes by without someone exclaiming over it in wonder. It’s all of that and more. Come see it.

Sometimes we get to see beautiful things that aren’t knitted, too. Late in the year, we made two new friends, Catherine and Annabel, who are visiting Dublin from Mauritius. It turns out that although knitting isn’t that big there (one can easily imagine why not!), other crafts certainly are. One day, Catherine brought in some of her ribbon embroidery to show us, and we gasped:

That’s the house where Catherine grew up. Such three-dimensional beauty, with the flowers spilling out of the frame, and every one of those flowers a little yellow ribbon French knot. And there’s more.

This one’s still in the embroidery frame, and it’s a riot of exuberant flowers in all the colours. We were simply charmed by it – thank you, Katherine, for showing us your lovely, inspiring work.

For all-round knitted delight, though, one event stood out this year. In April, Jenny, one of our customers, married Rossa. The wedding was one of the most beautiful and original we’ve ever encountered – a lavender theme, hand-made stationary, a wee knitted bride and groom on the top of the cake, and the loveliest Echo Beach shawl, all alight with Swarowski crystals.

The wedding photographer was Julie Matkin of halfadreamaway.com, and a very good friend of ours. All of these wedding pictures are her work (used with permission, of course), and if you want to see more, then go over there and look through the gallery, or click through to onefabday, which this week featured Jenny and Rossa’s day as one of their highlights of the year.

A lavender theme, you see! There’s more, much more, on the crafting of this delightful and touching wedding on Jenny’s own blog Crafty Tails. Go have a look – you’ll be glad you did. Jenny and Rossa, our very best wishes for a long and happy life together!

Finally, there was yarn! Boxes and boxes of it arriving through the door and leaving in smart paper bags – new brands, new ranges, new colours to show you. This year we added Coolree Yarns to the mix, hand-dyed in County Wexford by the very talented Alex McLeod:

And if you want to see it knitted up, here’s a shawl of Jacqui’s (looking back over these pages, she made a staggering number of shawls this year, including the Cladonia right at the top of this post) – doesn’t the colour work beautifully with the stitch pattern?

Also new this year were Jamieson and Smith Shetland wool in jumperweight and laceweight (we’re avidly awaiting Kate Davies’ new book), lovely soft Aran merino by Rico, MillaMia sportweight in those lovely bright shades and soft and colourful yarns from Katia. So much to crochet and knit, so much to plan….

Well, we’ve come to the end of the year – that’s the last end woven in, the last blocking wire removed. Time to fold up that project and cast on a new one. Knitting? Crochet? Spinning? Earthy cabled Aran or delicate lace (from the Irish Indie Dyers’ Lace Club, perhaps)? Oh, why choose – let’s do all of it!

Happy new year!