Techniques

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We’ve talked about blocking techniques before, and about how magically it transforms your hunched and lumpy work into something smooth and beautifully professional, with practically no effort at all.

That neat and orderly finish is what you want for knitted and crocheted gifts, and since time is getting on and a lot of hats are being made for Christmas, we thought it would be a good idea to talk about how to block them.

The trouble with hats, put simply, is that they’re very rarely flat. You can’t pin just them out like a scarf or a shawl. But help’s at hand, and the picture below shows all you need.

After you’ve soaked your hat well and blotted out most of the moisture in a towel, take a moment to consider: is it flat, like a beret or a tam, or is it round like a beanie? If it’s flat, like this wonderful Neep Heid by Kate Davies, simply pop a plate inside it, one large enough to smooth out the knitting. Since our Neep Heid is adult-sized, we used a dinner plate, but smaller hats would need smaller plates. Let the hat dry, and slip the plate out.

If your hat is curved, like our own Thistle pattern, then you need the balloon. Soak your hat and blot it as before, and then blow up the balloon to the size you need (smaller for a child, larger for an adult. Crown it with the uniformly damp hat.

Wait for it to dry completely and remove the balloon (it can then find a deserving home!).

Ta da! Perfectly blocked hats, with even stitches, smooth fabric and impressed recipients. And another thing crossed off the To Do list!

That’s Jacqui’s latest lace shawl, Loren by Gudrun Johnston. It’s made from Malabrigo Baby Silkpaca laceweight in Teal Feather, and as you’d expect from the designer, it’s constructed using traditional Shetland techniques.

Hand-dyed yarns such as Malabrigo can vary quite a bit from dyelot to dyelot, so it’s even more vital than usual to make sure you’ve got enough to finish your project. But it happens to all of us: half a ball of one dyelot and two thirds of a second, languishing in the stash wondering if they’ll ever get another chance to shine. This was Jacqui’s dilemma. Or maybe there’s only ten balls of one dyelot left in stock and you need twelve. What to do?

Just working till one dyelot runs out and then switching to the other risks putting the colour change bang in the middle of your work, across your tummy or halfway up your arm. With a bit of cunning, though, it’s possible to place the switch so it looks entirely planned, or even to make it invisible.

The trick is to put the switch over at a point where there’s another change going on. In Jacqui’s Loren, you notice the pattern difference between the border and the centre section: both the direction of the work and the stitch pattern vary. So the variation in colour looks entirely planned, as indeed it was.

If you want to hide the changeover, then welts and cuffs of jumpers, or the ribbing sections of hats, and borders of all sorts work well. And no-one need ever know. The observer’s eye will be fooled by the difference in stitch pattern and hardly register the colour change at all.

Of course another reason to talk about this beautiful pattern is our excitement about the upcoming weekend: Gudrun Johnston’s lace workshop is on Saturday morning, with Mary Jane Mucklestone’s colourwork one in the afternoon. We can’t wait!

Helpful

Last Tuesday, we showed you Lisa’s Watershed (it’s on display in the shop, and it’s getting a lot of attention, probably because it’s simply ideal for this lovely weather). Lisa made a number of modifications which are detailed on her project page, so it’s perfect for showing you one of Ravelry’s very best features: how to find helpful projects. This will save you more time and money than you can imagine!

We’ll start out at the pattern page (this one here), which shows that there are currently 624 Watershed projects. You can view them all by clicking on the “projects” tab, where the big pink arrow is pointing:

That’s quite a number to sift through looking for the useful ones, but the good news is that it’s easy to find them.

This time, the big pink arrow is showing you where you’ll find a drop down menu at the top left hand corner of the pattern page. Clicking on it brings up a number of choices.

That “helpful notes (164 projects)” is the option we’re interested in. It’s the set of projects with notes that other people have found useful. When you choose that option, you’re brought to a page with only those projects, which you can investigate at your leisure. So instead of reading through all 624 projects, you can select only the ones most likely to be useful. That’s where the time saving comes in.

And when you’ve found a set of project notes useful, you’ve got the chance to improve the selection even more. Right down at the bottom of the notes, you’ll find a little button to press, beside the question “are these notes helpful?”. Click that button if you’ve been helped, and Ravelry’s service will get a little better!

There’s also a visual symbol of helpfulness, and the arrow’s pointing at it here:

That little lifebuoy signals a “helpful” vote, and when you’re browsing project pages, it’s a handy thing to watch out for.

There’s another sort of very useful information that you can glean from a pattern page: for a given pattern, how many completed projects a pattern it has. If you look back at the third screenshot above, you’ll see that “finished” is one of the choices in the dropdown menu.

A large proportion of finished projects is a sure sign of a successful pattern, and the reverse is also true. If you come across a pattern with lots and lots of started projects but very few successfully completed ones, then maybe it’s a good one to steer clear of. And between the cost of the pattern and the cost of the yarn, that can save you a lot of money – not to mention both irritation and chocolate!

What a snug little centre that crochet circle has! It’s far tighter than you could ever get by making the familiar few chain and slipstitching to the first of them, and sometimes you want the gap in the middle of your circle or square just to disappear. It’s called a Magic Circle, and here’s how you do it.

As well as beginning squares and circles, it’s also used as the very beginning of some of AoibheNí‘s beautiful Tunisian lace shawls, like Bel and Venus, so it’s a very versatile technique.

So, to start, just wind a loop of yarn around your finger…

…and slip the hook in under the loop, between the yarn and your finger.

Wrap the yarn around the hook, and bring the ensuing loop back towards you out of the loop.

Wrap the yarn around the hook once more, and pull a second loop through the first.

Once you’ve made this stitch, you’re ready to work whatever your pattern tells you for your first round, using the long end of the yarn (the one that goes to the ball). You’ll notice that the original loop that you wound round your finger is still all loose and floppy; this is entirely as intended, and it’s what you work your first round into.

This picture shows the work a little later – we’ve worked a series of double crochet stitches into the loop, which is still all floppy. You can see its single strand just below and to the left of the live stitch.

Now the Magic happens. Take a firm hold of the short end of the yarn in one hand, and hold the live stitch that’s on the hook with the other. And pull…!

Because you made your stitches around the strand of yarn, it’ll pull up through them, turning your loose association of stitches into a firm little circle!

And the result is what you can see in the top picture. Until you finish off the yarn, the circle might try to relax, but just give it a wee tug and it’ll smarten up promptly if needed.

Speaking of AoibheNí’s amazing work, we’re delighted to announce another date for her inspiring Tunisian lace workshop, on Saturday September 21st. This full-day workshop is bound to fill up as fast as ever, so you can book online at this link.

Today’s the first day of summer, so may we wish you a happy, sunny, craft-filled one!

In pattern

“Cast off in pattern.” It’s a fairly common instruction, but one that often causes confusion, so we thought a tutorial would be useful.

First of all, the reason why. Different stitch patterns have different properties – stocking stitch is flat, moss stitch ripples gently from one stitch to another, rib pulls in. If your cast off mimics the stitch pattern that’s gone before, you end up with a cast-off edge with matching properties. If you don’t, then it won’t, and you may end up with a cast-off edge that pulls in more than the rest of the fabric, or splays out more.

In what follows, we’re using the example of 2×2 rib. In our wee swatch, there’s 20 stitches, which is a multiple of 4 (two knits and two purls), so it’s easy to know what we’re up to: every row begins with two knits.

In order to stay in pattern, the first two stitches need to be worked knitwise, so here we are knitting the first of them. And the second one gets worked knitwise too:

And then the first gets hopped over the second as usual to cast it off:

To stay in pattern, the next two stitches need to be worked purlwise – you can see the bump on the front of the first stitch on the left hand needle here:

So the yarn needs to come to the front of the work, and that stitch is purled. When it comes time to hop the previous stitch over this purled one, the yarn’s at the front.

You may find it quite comfortable to do the hop-over with the yarn at the front (it’ll need to be there for the next stitch, because that’s going to be purled too). On the other hand, a lot of people find it less cumbersome to bring the yarn to the back out of the way before the hop-over. Try them both out, and see which you prefer.

If you do choose to slip the yarn backwards, just remember to bring it back to the front for the next purled stitch:

That’s the procedure for this whole cast off – each time, check how the pattern would want the stitch to be worked if you weren’t casting off but working a normal row in pattern, and then do it that way.

For our wee rib sample the result is a cast off edge which pulls in the same amount as the fabric below it – you can see it in the picture at the top of the post. When you look at the top edge, you can see the stitches waving happily from side to side, following the rib and giving you snug elasticity.

On a different note, our Color Affection Knit-Along is coming to a triumphant end, and there’s a gorgeous Coolree Yarns prize up for grabs. So if you knitted one (or two, or many!), make sure you post a Finished Object picture in the Ravelry thread! And the best of luck!

A while ago, we blogged about SSK and K2tog, decreases which turn two stitches into one. We promised to get back to you with double decreases, the ones that turn three stitches into one.

Because they involve two stitches, SSK and K2tog can point in two different ways: leftwards and rightwards respectively. Once you toss another stitch in there, you get a third possibility. So we have three double decreases to show you, a leftwards one, a rightwards one, and one that points straight up.

Let’s look at the leftwards one first. Its name, SSSK, gives a big clue to how it’s done – just like SSK, but more so. To work it, put the tip of your right hand needle into the first stitch on your left as if you were going to knit it:

Instead of knitting it, just slip it over to the right hand needle. Then do exactly the same thing with the next stitch – slip it knitwise.

And then slip a third stitch knitwise as well in the same way.

At this point, you have three unworked stitches on your right hand needle, and all of them have turned to face the other way to their companions. This orientation is what the knitwise slipping achieves, and it’s important for the finished result, as we’ll see.

Now poke the tip of the left hand needle through the fronts of the three stitches, as in the following picture, and knit all three together through their back legs:

When you’ve done this, you’ll see that you’ve reduced the three stitches to one, and that the rightmost of the three is lying on top of the other two, so that the entire edifice leans over to the left. What’s more, the legs of the three stitches aren’t twisted, because the knitwise slipping reoriented them. That’s SSSK.

K3tog, our next demonstration, is also just like its k2tog relation. It’s even simpler than SSSK: just put your right hand needle through three stitches at the same time:

Then you just wrap the yarn exactly as you would with any other knit stitch, and pull the new stitch through:

When you look at the result, you’ll see that you’ve reduced your three stitches to one again, but this time the leftmost stitch is the one lying on top of the others, and the decrease is pointing over to the right.

The last of our three double decreases is the one that points neither to left nor to right, but straight up like a little knitted arrow. It’s a wee bit more fiddly to work, but it’s well worth it. We’ll call it CDD here, for centred double decrease.

The first step is to slip two stitches knitwise from the left to the right needle. Put the tip of your right needle through the first two stitches, working from the left:

Nothing happens to the third of the three stitches at this point, and to be honest the two that you’ve slipped look a little odd. Bear with this for a moment.

Moving right along, though, you now just knit the third stitch.

Then put the tip of the left hand needle through the fronts of the two stitches that you slipped…

…and hoosh them up and over the stitch you just knitted. The motion’s rather as if you were working a cast off, except that you’re manipulating two stitches over one.

And that’s your CDD done. When you look at the result, you’ll see that the middle stitch of the three is lying on top of the other two, pointing straight up.

When you compare all three of them side by side, the differences are obvious: K3tog on the left, CDD in the middle, and SSSK on the right:

And when you combine all three directional double decreases, you can work wondrous things like the flowers in the shawl at the top of this post (we blogged about this gorgeous thing here). They’re fun and they’re easy, and the finished results are ever so satisfying.

French knots are a very simple way of adding detail to your crocheted and knitted things. And what would Elijah do without his appealing wee eyes?

So here’s how to do a French knot in pictures. To start with, thread a tapestry or crewel needle with your chosen contrasty yarn or thread, and weave it in on the wrong side of your work (in fact, the start is exactly like the start in this button post). Then bring it through to the right side just where you want your French knot to be.

With the tip of the needle, take a tiny little nibble of yarn:

Don’t quite pull the needle all the way out from under the nibble yet:

Now, holding the end that’s closest to the fabric (rather than the end that’s through the needle), wrap the yarn a few times round the needle.

How many wraps you give it depends on how plump you want your French knot to be, so you’ll need to experiment a little here. We went for a buxom result, so we used six or seven wraps.

Holding the wraps against the needle with finger and thumb, start to pull the needle out through them with the other hand…

…and hold them in place until you’ve got the yarn pulled away to its full extent. The wraps will tighten up around the strand, making a knot that sits against the surface of your fabric.

Now all you have to do is anchor your little knot in place by bringing the yarn back through to the wrong side of the work right at the root of the knot:

Weave in your end neatly on the wrong side, and that’s it. For inspiration, you can see Lisa’s darling little Elijah peeping out at the world here. Awww.

Loosening up

Over the weekend, we had a query in the shop about how to loosen up a cast on. While sometimes you want a nice tight edge, more often you want your cast on to stretch at least as much as the rest of the knitting, and we all have memories of the hat with the overtight brim or the blanket squares with rigid unhappy seams.

There’s many different ways to cast on, of course, and you may very well find that a different one may be just the ticket. But we’ve one surefire way of getting a relaxed supple edge which always works, regardless of method.

Very simply, you cast on over two needles held together – and here’s how. In this demonstration, we’re using the cable cast on, but if your favourite is different, then by all means use that.

Take two needles (here, we’re using two of the same size, but you could go smaller or larger for the second one if needed) and hold them together. Your initial loop goes around both:

Then work your cast on as normal, with your new stitches accumulating on your doubled needles. It’s always the destination needle that determines the size of the stitch, whether you’re casting on, working a row or casting off.

Continue until all your required stitches are cast on. We’re demonstrating with just eight here.

Then you simply slip the additional needle out of the stitches…

…and as the picture at the top of this post shows, you’re left with even, generous stitches which will stand up to any amount of stretching, and which you just knit as normal. And you didn’t even have to learn a new cast on method to get them!

Our impromptu Color Affection Knit-Along has been going on for a while now, and there’s fantastic finished objects popping up all over the place. As with every knitted or crocheted item, they all look even prettier if they’re blocked.

And so we were faced with a bit of a dilemma. Blocking wires work beautifully for straight lines, as we showed you in this post. Scalloped points can be enhanced by pinning them out singly as we did here. But if you want to block a curve without scalloping, then you need an awful lot of pins, each very close to each other and each taking up time.

Convinced that there was a better way and that we probably already had materials to hand, we thought laterally. And we came up with this:

That’s an ordinary Knitpro cable threaded through the edge of a Color Affection.

The original shawl was worked on 4.00mm needles, but to minimise stretching of the edge, we used a 3.00mm tip to weave the cable through the edge. We worked through every stitch of the last row before the cast off, but every second or third stitch would probably work just as well.

When the cable had been worked all the way along the curve, we took the needle tip off and replaced it with a cable cap. One of these at each end makes a handy anchor point for the pinning later on. Now the knitted item is ready for a good soaking with the cable in place (it’s easier to do things in this order than to thread the cable through a damp piece of work).

Pinning out the item is then very easy indeed – you’re pinning the cable, not the edge of the knitting itself, so there’s no risk of pulled stitches, and since the cable holds the curve, you need a much smaller number of pins. Fewer pins also means much less time!

Color Affection is quite a long shawl, and the longest cable we stock is 150cm. That’s not a problem, though, because one cable can be connected to another to make a single very long one with cable connectors (there’s three in a pack so you’ve got scope for quite some distance).

We can’t wait to try this technique on other curves – any circular or semi-circular shawl will be a candidate, as well as the tops of set-in sleeves, or the swooping short-rowed curve of Carol Feller’s Ravi. We’re sure you can think of other applications – do let us know in the comments.

In the picture at the top of this post, you’ll see what we’re convinced is the Littlest Color Affection. It’s a scaled down version to fit a very stylish two year old. It’s the dotiest thing ever, and you can admire it whenever you drop in to the shop.

So you’ve got to the stage of a bottom-up cardigan or jumper where you’re going to cast off the shoulders. Later on, of course, you’ll need to join the shoulders together. Two jobs to do. Wouldn’t it be useful to be able to do both of them at the same time?

It’s useful, and it’s also a very good idea, because joining the two pieces as you cast off gives a firm, pleasing and very stable connection – ideal to bear the weight that the whole garment will place on the seam.

The technique in question is called a three needle cast off, and here’s how you do it. You need the live stitches for both parts of the “seam”, so put the last row of your front on a stitch holder while you complete the back or vice versa. The two final rows must have the same number of stitches. And you’ll also need a third needle, the same size as the ones you used to knit the pieces, or maybe a size larger if you tend to cast off tightly.

Put the needles that hold your two pieces parallel, with the right sides of the knitting facing each other. Then insert your third needle into the first stitch on each needle, so you’re poking it through two stitches at the same time. Wrap the yarn around your right hand needle, and knit the two stitches together.

Then repeat this knitting two together, so that you have two stitches on the needle in your right hand.

The next step is exactly the same as a standard cast off – using the tip of the left hand needle (either of them!), leapfrog the rightmost stitch over its neighbour to its left. One stitch cast off!

Then knit two more stitches together, one from each needle, just as at the start, and repeat the leapfrogging. That’s all there is to it!

When you’ve done a few, stop and admire your handiwork: a neat little seam which has accomplished your goal of casting off and making your seam in one easy step. Turn the work to the right side, and you’ll see the seam we showed you at the top of this post.

And then you’ll find all sorts of other places to use this cast off – may we suggest our very own Toasty Hot Water Bottle Cosy?

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