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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?

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!

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.

We’ve been hit by a sudden dusting of snowflakes here! They’re all over the place, and they’re the simplest and most festive things.

It’s all because of this excellent book, which we’ve just got back into stock in time for Christmas. It’s called 100 Snowflakes to Crochet, by Caitlin Sainio, and it’s just that: a hundred pretty, easy to crochet and versatile patterns for six-pointed charm.

The patterns are both charted and written, and they use the UK terminology that most Irish crocheters are familiar with (though if the UK/US distinction needs any clarification, we talked about it last year in this post).

The book includes many ideas for using your snowflakes – in mobiles, appliquéed to accessories or as home décor, joined together to make stunning lacy scarves. There’s also seasonal uses on gift tags or greeting cards.

But we’ve got a wee trick to show you: how to make one of these beauties into a very simple decoration that would look splendid on the Christmas tree, or make a sweet last-minute gift.

All you need is your small crocheted snowflake, a simple wire bangle (we got ten for €1.50 in a chain store), plain white sewing thread and a sewing needle. For our flakes, we used Petra No. 5 crochet cotton in pure white, but they’d be so pretty in bright colours too.)

Thread the needle and run the thread through one of the points of the flake, and then round the outside of the bangle:

Continue like this, lashing the snowflake to the bangle. We found that twelve attachments to the bangle worked better than six, but this probably depends on which snowflake you’ve chosen.

When you’ve attached your snowflake, pull the thread tight enough to hold the flake firmly in the centre of the circle and fasten it off. And there you are: the small start of a blizzard.

Actually, we mean this last part. It’s really, really hard to make just one. And then it’s hard to make just ten. They’re fast and they’re easy and we just don’t want to stop!

But here’s some important news to finish: we’ll be closing at 6.00pm on Sunday next, December 23rd, and re-opening at 12 noon on Wednesday January 2nd, all ready for another year of crafty and fibery fun! So make that list and check it twice….

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