Techniques

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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….

End to end

One of the questions that we get asked most is “what’s the best way to join in a new ball of yarn?” Well, as with many questions, it depends. It depends on the yarn, mostly, and on the project. So we thought it might be a good idea to talk about it here.

Today, we’re looking at splicing non-superwash wool. Given particular circumstances, it will felt, and you can exploit this to give a completely knotless join with no ends to weave in. Those circumstances are moisture, agitation and heat.

The three are usually deliberately applied to knitting to felt (or more properly, full) the fabric, but here we’re going to show you how to apply them all just to the ends of your yarn. All you need is a little water (we borrowed a very pretty saucer for ours from our friends at The Pepper Pot).

To avoid unnecessary bulk in your join, reduce each end by a few plies (we’re using Soft Donegal here, which is a 2-ply construction, so we just halved the ends). You’re aiming for three inches or so of halved plies that will overlap later to give you full thickness.

Immerse both ends in your water and poke them around well to get them nice and wet.

Remove them, and squeeze out excess water. Then lay them across your hands so that the damp ends overlap.

Then rub your hands together briskly as if you were trying to warm them up – in fact, you are: you’re providing the heat part of the equation.

After a few moments, test the yarn. When it’s done, you’ll be able to tug on it and the join will hold.

Then you can just continue crocheting or knitting with your yarn. The join will be completely invisible, there’ll be no ends to weave in, and you don’t even need to place the join in an inconspicuous place.

This technique won’t work on yarn that isn’t (mostly) wool, and superwash wool has been treated to ensure it won’t felt. So for these other fibres, it’s better to choose a different technique – we’ll talk about them in the future.

This is the end

One of the commonest technique questions in the shop is how to finish off the ends on a piece of crocheted or knitted work. So we thought it would be useful to provide a tutorial for this (all those carefully worked Christmas presents deserve it!).

A neat and careful finishing-off starts right at the very beginning of the work. Leaving nice long ends – about 15cm or so – makes the process much more comfortable (though if you haven’t done so, you’ll find a hack for dealing with short ends at this link). Generally speaking, putting your weavings-in along seams or edges works best, so plan to have your ends there.

The best tool for the job is a yarn needle with a blunt tip, such as the Chibi being used here. Sharper needles can catch unpleasantly on the yarn.

Rather than going over and under stitches, it’s a good idea to go through them. In other words, use the needle to skim the end right through the centre of the yarn that makes up the knitted or crocheted fabric.

This has two purposes. First, it makes the weaving in invisible from the other side of the work. Second, it means that subsequent stretching, washing and wearing of the finished object will hug the end ever tighter within the stitches, holding it firmly and stopping it from escaping.

Continue weaving in through the stitches until you’ve gone about 4 centimetres. At this point, one might be tempted to declare the job done, but why not take a moment to make the finish even more secure? You see, there’s some chance that the pesky end might wiggle its way back out along its path, but we can circumvent that.

Turn the work, and skim again for 4 centimetres (or so) in another direction. This could be perpendicular, diagonal or parallel to the first pass – here, we’ve opted for parallel.

The pesky end is most unlikely to wiggle its way back out along its path, turn a corner, and then wiggle its way back right to the start, and that makes for neat secure ends.

When you’re done, it’s time to snip off the end up close to the work…

…and admire the neatness of the finished result – pretty as a picture even on the wrong side:

And on the right side, the finishing off is completely invisible:

And that’s how you can treat all your ends – the cast on, the cast off, all your joins from new balls of yarn, all your ends from sewing your garment together. What’s more, if you ever need to undo one, they’re easy to find and easy to unpick.

There and back again

You know when you’re knitting away happily, only to look down and see, several rows below, a stitch that should have done differently. A purl bump interrupting your smooth expanse of stocking stitch, for example, like in the picture up above.

There’s a few ways to deal with this. You could use an afterthought lifeline to rip back down, or you could tink back down all the intervening rows stitch by stitch. (You could also put the entire project in a plastic bag and stuff it at the back of the wardrobe, but let’s assume that’s not an option, shall we?)

If you only have to fix a single stitch, though, probably the best option is to drop down just at that place, fix it and then work back up. This involves dropping the stitch and making a ladder, and this sometimes makes knitters nervous, but here’s how to do it with confidence.

The only tool you need is a crochet hook. (You can also do this fix without one, but even if you’re not a crocheter, a hook makes a very useful addition to your knitting bag.)

Work across to the stitch that you need to drop…

…and just let it pop off the needle. Don’t worry about it dropping – after all, that’s what you want it to do. You might need to encourage it to head downwards if your yarn is at all sticky…

…and let it ladder down until it’s reached the place you want to fix. (There’s something rather liberating about this!)

Now pop your crochet hook though the loop of the stitch. We’re ready to effect the repair.

Find the lowest rung of the ladder made by the dropping stitch – that’s the strand of yarn that makes your corrected stitch. Pull it through the loop, from the back of the work to the front, without twisting it. That’s the repair done, and now you only need to get back up to where you started.

To go back up, find the rest of the rungs of the ladder, and starting with the lowest, make new stitches back up, with each rung becoming a loop, which gets a rung through it, becoming a loop, all the way up.

When you’ve reached the level of the row you started on, all you have to do is pop the remade stitch back onto your needle, and continue as if nothing had happened.

See? There’s nothing to indicate that this piece of knitting was ever any different, and if you don’t tell, we won’t either.

Completing a repair like this imparts a wonderful sense of warm smugness. You realise that, in Elizabeth Zimmermann’s words, you are the boss of your knitting. And that feels very good indeed.

Throw me a lifeline

That’s a picture of some contented knitting which knows that whatever goes wrong later, it won’t need to be ripped out. You see, it’s got a lifeline through it.

We’ve talked about lifelines before – how grateful we are to the clever knitter who worked out how to save your work as you go. That line of non-sticky yarn lying quietly through your stitches makes you a more relaxed knitter, even if you never have to rip back to your lifeline.

But there’s more than one way of lifelining your work. As well as using a yarn needle, as we showed you last year, you can use your Knitpro interchangeable needle to do all the work as you knit with it. You see, the needle tips have a little hole in them so you can tighten the join (there’s details in this post). All you have to do is thread your lifeline strand through that wee hole in the needle you’re going to knit onto…

…and then start to knit your row. As you work your way along it, your righthand needle will effortlessly pull the lifeline through every stitch. After a few stitches, you can stop if you like and admire what’s going on:

If you’re using stitch markers, then the lifeline will get threaded through them as you go. They’ll be fixed in place till you take the lifeline out, but that’s not a bad thing at all. Just insert another set of markers on your next row and then, should you need to retrieve the stitches from the lifeline, your rescued row will have its stitch markers still in place and ready to go.

When your knitting is finished, your lifelines will pull out as if they’d never been there (if they’re holding stitch markers, remember when you pull, so you can catch them!). That knitter who invented lifelines did us all an enormous favour, don’t you think?

If you’re curious about what’s being knitted in these pictures, it’s the early stages of Pogona, a lovely Stephen West pattern in Louisa Harding Amitola. We’ll be sure to show you the finished article – it looks like it will be a lovely combination of yarn and design.

One last thing: we got two much anticipated deliveries into the shop today. First there was lots and lots of amazing new Coolree hand-dyed yarn, including a chunky-weight pure alpaca and a superbly sheeny silk/baby camel laceweight. Then there was a large box from Knitpro with plenty of new tips and cables and such, but also a very special limited-edition Dreamz set in a presentation case (if you know someone who deserves a very special present, then…).

We’ve been tweeting about these from @ThisIsKnit, as you would imagine, so you can see pictures here and here and here. They look even nicer in person, though….

Most of the time, stocking stitch is worn with the smooth, unbumpy side out – the side that you can see facing you in the picture above.

The picture shows the construction of a wee baby sock. The smooth side is intended to be the right side, and that’s the side that’s facing the knitter.

Very often, though, your little tube of knitting can flip itself inside out. When it does, you’ll notice that the bumpy “purl” side of the work is facing outwards. In the picture below, you can see how the bumps are on the outside.

At this point, it’s easy to think you’ve done something wrong. You haven’t. All that’s happened is that the tube’s turned itself the other way out. You’re still doing it right, and you don’t even have to change anything. Just keep knitting! You’ll notice that your hands are now working on the other side of the tube – in other words, the tube is now between your face and your hands.

All you have to do to get the smooth side facing outwards – at any point – is turn the work the other way out. If you want to wait until you’ve completed your sock or hat or sleeve, that’s grand.

If you want to turn it while you’re still working on it, that’s grand too – and when you do, you’ll notice that your hands are now working on the near side of the tube. In other words, your hands are between your face and the tube. Just keep knitting!

Most knitters choose one way or the other simply because it’s the way they learned, or it’s what comes most naturally. There’s one circumstance in which it’s a very good idea to choose, though. If you’re working stranded colourwork in the round, it’s very easy to pull your strands a little too tight. A good way of avoiding this is to knit with the bumpy side out (hands on the far side of the tube). This puts your stranding on the outside of the work and forces the strands to be a little longer and a little looser, which helps to stop your work from puckering. More proof, if we needed any, that everything in knitting has a useful purpose!

Finally, we had such a good time at the Blog Awards on Saturday night. The evening was very well organised, and our hosts at the Osprey Hotel in Naas provided lovely food in impressive surroundings. A very big thank you from us to everyone who organised the awards, and a very big cheer for Molly Moo, who not only won the Best Craft Blog category, but also the awards for Best Designed Blog and Best Personal Blog too. It’s definitely one for the desktop feed! We were honoured to be in such company.

You know that part of a pattern where you’re instructed to “put the next (however many) stitches on waste yarn”, putting them aside to be worked later? The part where you have to put down the knitting and find the yarn needle, only to find it’s disappeared down the sofa cushions? Well, we’ve come across a way to simplify the process, and here’s how.

This technique works if you’re using Knitpro interchangeable needles, which have the little tightening hole in the metal join. (It’s the hole that you use the little allen key in – see our blog post here for details). You’ll also need some fairly fine waste yarn; crochet cotton or dental floss will work beautifully.

First, thread your waste yarn through the little hole.

Then just work the stitches that you’re told to put aside in a completely unremarkable fashion.

When you reach the end of the waste-yarn stitches, your work will look rather like this:

Slip the stitches you’ve just worked back onto the cable a little and pull the waste yarn free on the left hand side of the work. At this point, it’s going right through the stitches you just worked, running alongside the cable.

Unthread the waste yarn from the wee hole in the needle, leaving the stitches sitting happily on the cable and the waste yarn.

Now just slip the needle rightwards out of the stitches, leaving the waste yarn behind.

For safety’s sake, tie the two ends of the waste yarn together so it can’t try to work out of the stitches later.

And that’s it! That’s your stitches on waste yarn without a yarn needle. If you have more stitches to put aside for later, then repeat the process.

The knitting being worked on here is a Garter Yoke Baby Cardigan, a terribly doty pattern which is free on Ravelry, and the yarn is Debbie Bliss Rialto DK – machine washable and cosy. The recipient isn’t born yet, but there’s a knitted snuggle waiting for him.

Last week on Twitter, we got talking about how common household objects can help with crochet and knitting. We were delighted at the ingenuity of the suggestions. So we thought that it would be a good idea to mention some of them here.

It all started with trying to measure without a ruler. It turns out that we all carry a ruler with us all the time: the top of your thumb from knuckle to tip. Yes, the length of this varies from person to person, but once you know that yours is an inch or three centimetres or whatever, you’ll never be stuck for a way to measure again (thanks to Sweensie for this).

You know how one of the best things about crochet is how there’s really only one live stitch to worry about? Well, the image at the top of the page shows how to keep that stitch safe from unravelling: use a hair clip! The springiness holds the stitch secure, and when you’re not wearing it, you can park it in your hair! (This is what AoibheNí uses, and she should know.)

Then there’s paper clips. They’re terrific little multitaskers, as wyvernfriend pointed out. You can use them as stitch markers, or as emergency cable needles, or as a quick substitute for the little Allen key tightener that comes with Knitpro interchangeables. You can also use toothpicks as cable needles, or even as knitting needles themselves!

Then there’s cork (from bottles, not from Munster). You can use a bit of cork on the end of a needle as a point protector while your work’s at rest, and you can turn a pair of double-pointed needles into short straights in similar fashion. Instantly, you remove the risk of the stitches slithering off the far end of the needle. Rubber bands wrapped round your needles work very well for both of these uses too.

There were lots of other suggestions – dental floss as a lifeline and using the ruler in Word for measuring. We’re absolutely certain, though, that you have other favourite tricks and hacks, and we’d love if you shared them with us in the comments below. If you’re on Twitter, we’re @ThisIsKnit, so keep an eye out for us there too.

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