Archive for the ‘tutorial’ Category

Knitting from your stash: making the most of your yarn!

While most people spend the first few weeks of January thinking about diet- and exercise-related resolutions for the new year, we knitters have all resolved to buy less yarn and to knit only from our stashes. Am I right? You did, didn’t you? Of course, like all resolutions, these intentions will be abandoned by March 1; however, while we dig around in and rediscover our lovely stashes, I thought I would put together a quick tutorial on how to use up every last bit of sock yarn, for the stashbusting inclined.

I love to knit from my stash, and not because it’s a great haul. I do not own many highly coveted yarns; rather, my stash is full of prickly, workhorse, go-to yarns like Berroco Ultra Alpaca, Brown Sheep Nature Spun Sport, and Harrisville Designs New England Shetland. In the last five years, I have all but eliminated sock yarn from my stash. Why? Because I got over knitting socks a few years ago. Plus, since I never fell for shawls, I didn’t really need stashed fingering-weight yarn. I may knit a pair of socks here and there, but when the urge strikes, I buy yarn. There’s no sense in me keeping it around when stash space is at a premium. In fact, just this fall, I knitted my way down to the very last bits and bobs of the bunch. Allow me to show you how you can do the same, if your stashbusting hearts so desire.

Getting Started

This tutorial will have you knitting a basic, single-pattern, top-down sock with a traditional heel flap, square heel, and wedge (triangle) toe knitted in a contrasting color. Tinker with the math, knit them differently, and make them your own if my way of knitting socks drives you to drink. My calculations slightly overestimate the yarn requirement for the heel turn and the toe – let’s say that’s to leave some extra for darning later, shall we?

This endeavor will require a kitchen scale, a calculator, a pencil & paper, and some math. The math will not be hard, and I promise to hold your hand all the way through, but you will need to crunch some numbers.

First, you need to know how many yards it generally takes to make you a pair of socks on your favorite tiny needles with your favorite sock yarn. I believe the average woman needs about 400 yards on US 1-2 needles, but it ranges between 325 and 550 yards, so plan accordingly.

Next, you’ll need to know how many stitches you will have in one round. This is a roundabout way of getting your gauge. I neither know my sock gauge nor the size of my ankle, but I know I make 60-stitch socks on US 1.5 with most fingering weight yarns. You may make 54-stitch ones or 72-stitch ones, but know your number ahead of time. You should have a strong sense of this from your previous sock-knitting experiences. If not, go practice by knitting yourself a couple of pairs of socks because this is not a beginner pattern – ripping socks is such a drag because you’ve sunk so many stitches into them.

Data Collection

I use Excel for every last bit of knitting planning; feel free use my stash busting sock pattern template to follow along. I put my formulas into the spreadsheet, so if you’re careful and only replace my data with yours, you might not have to do any work!

Collect your scraps. They should be of similar weight and fiber content. How do you know how many yards you have of each? First, determine how many yards and grams were in a full skein. If you no longer have a label, look up the information on Ravelry.

Weigh your samples. How many grams do you have of each?

\left(\tfrac{A\: yds\: per\: skein}{B\: g\; per\; skein}\right)\times C\: g\; remaining=D\; yds\; remaining

Do you have enough yards for a sock? Do you need to throw in more scraps? Build a pile of leftovers until you reach the yardage required to make your socks. Keep track of the total number of yards you have, as this information will help determine the striping pattern.

Contrast Cuffs, Heels, & Toes

I often have far more of one color than any of the others, so using it for the trimmings is efficient. This basic pattern assumes you will knit the cuffs, heels, and toes of your socks in a contrasting color. We will be slightly underestimating the yardage needed for the heel, but don’t worry, we’ll overestimate at the toe by a little bit more. Finally, I’m assuming that your gauge is somewhere between 7 and 9 stitches per inch, so let’s end this toe with 16 stitches, shall we? That should give us about an inch of width at the tip.

How many rounds of cuff will you knit?

How many rows will you knit for the heel flap?

How many rounds will you knit for the toe? Use the following formula to calculate toe rounds:

\frac{\left(E\; stitches\; per\; round-16\right)}{2}=toe\; rounds

Now, you will need to determine how much of your contrast yarn will go into the cuff, heel, and toe.

Total\;=\; cuff\; rounds+\frac{heel\; rows}{2}+toe\; rounds

Tired of Math? Start Knitting!

I’m not kidding, we need to find out how many yards are required to knit a round so we can finish up these calculations. Take care to note your starting weight of contrast yarn, then pick up your needles. Cast on for your desired number of stitches and knit your desired number of rounds for the sock cuff. Weigh the yarn again to see how many grams you used in the cuff.

\left(\frac{Starting\; weight-finishing\; weight}{cuff\; rounds}\right)=H\;\tfrac{g}{round}

Now, you have all the information you need to identify precisely how many yards of contrast color needed for the cuff, heel, and toe:

\left(H\;\frac{g}{round}\times cuff\; rounds\right)\times\frac{A\; yards}{B\; grams}per\; skein\; of\; contrast\; yarn

Double the contrast yardage to account for having to knit two socks, and subtract this from your total yardage to identify how much you have left. This is an important step in determining how to stripe the remains:

starting\; yards-\left(contrast\; yards\times2\right)=remaining\; yards

The Striping Pattern

Collect all of the scraps you intend to use in the body and leg of the foot. Prepare a table like this by dividing the yardage of each scrap sample by the total yards remaining in your scrap pool, multiply by 100%:
\frac{sample\; yards}{(remaining\; yards}\times100\%

This will tell you the proportion of each yarn needed to knit the body. For my sample socks, I need about 5% Gems, 65% Koigu, 20% Socks that Rock, and 10% Neighborhood Fiber Co. I rounded! How dare I? I made you do all that math, only to fudge my own numbers! Recall that my scraps add up to more yards than I need to make myself a pair of socks; this is the advantage of starting with slightly more than I need: I’ll be OK rounding up or down a little. Where does that leave us? In 25 rounds, I would have 1 round Gems, 16 rounds Koigu, 5 rounds Socks that Rock, and 3 rounds Neighborhood Fiber Co. How you order them is entirely up to you!

Notes

Try not to let your striping repeat get too large. I used 25 rounds, which is about as long as I feel comfortable going. In other words, don’t knit the first 5% of the body in blue, then the next 65% in green, etc. This risks running out of particular colors of yarn at the gusset. While you may knit 5% of the body rounds in blue, keep in mind that not all rounds will be the same size; those of the gusset will be larger.

Happy destashing!

How To Wash Your Woolens

Recently, several knitters – that is to say, people who should know better – noted to me the unnecessary hardship of asking a new mom (it’s always mom), and especially a non-knitter, to handwash woolens. This is such bunk. You know that, right? I have never found it much of a chore, but I knit, I like wool, and I use (and wash) cloth diapers; it’s quite possible my tolerance of laundering is high. However, upon further discussion with the let’s call them Begrudgingly Acrylic Knitters, I discovered they have no idea how quick and easy it is to wash a wool garment. I thought I would put together a brief tutorial on how to do it quickly and effectively. I promise that it is at least as easy as, and I think easier than, regular laundry.

First, always keep your dirty woolens in their own basket. This ensures they remain separate from the regular wash and protects them from accidental felting.

Wool laundry basket

I wash my woolens either when I run out of socks or when my wool basket gets too full. I did a wash today because Odysseus is low on sweaters and he spit up all over his bunting this morning. He is a very leaky child. I will return to this point later (I know, you can’t wait).

Dirty woolens

Prepare your washing machine (yes) for a small load and allow it to fill with cold water. Add a capful of wool soap – not too much, just a small capful. I use Eucalan, but SOAK is nice too. Do not use Woolite – your knits deserve better. Stop the machine before the agitation cycle begins.

ETA: Without access to a washer, smaller items can be washed in this manner with a salad spinner. For that large, cabled, tunic-length sweater? You’re on your own!

Wool soap

Toss in your knits. Trust me, I won’t felt your woolens.

Load the washer

Load the washer

Load the washer

Your sweaters and socks will float on top of the water. The wool will eventually take up water and sink, but it is incredibly resilient. Help it out: push down your items to submerge them.

Full washing machine

This is the variable stage. I often set this up before bed so they can soak overnight. Some people only soak an hour. I have been known to forget about wool washes and leave them for 36 hours. Don’t do that, but soak them for as long as you find convenient.

Be sure to tell everyone in the household that there is wool in the washing machine. Deliver this information in the same way you would share that the iron is hot, the gas burner is lit, or the car is running. Impress upon your cohabitants that under no circumstances are they permitted to so much as enter the laundry room. Oh wait, that’s the rule in my house… I encourage you to be as bossy as you like.

Spin Only Cycle

Done stewing? Turn the washing machine dial to spin-only. This is the end of the washing cycle in which the water is spun out of the clothes. I assure you, your washing machine has a spin-only cycle. Mine does, and it is the cheapest, most worthless machine money can buy (it has two cycles: on and off). Ask me about how we bought appliance insurance then cloth diapered now two children in an attempt to kill it. The stupid machine runs like a champ.

Right. You don’t care about my piece-of-junk washing machine. Sorry. Let the spin-only cycle go to completion. When you open the washing machine, you will find damp but by no means soaking wet woolens. If you find them too wet, run the spin cycle again.

Drying on a towel

Lay out garments on towels. Sometimes, I spread out a couple of towels on a bed. If I’m washing lots of socks, I string a clothesline and pin the socks to dry. That’s a lot of work. Do as you see fit, but know that depending on the fiber content, your garments will be dry in anywhere between a few hours and a day. If they take longer to dry, you did not spin out enough water.

Drying on a towel

I feel I need to make one final point about babies and wool. Babies leak. Odysseus has never met a surface he deemed unworthy of spit up. He is the messiest baby I have ever known. Yet, he wears the woolly bunting Sally made him every day and today is the first time it has been washed. And no, it hasn’t been gross and covered in baby goo all this time. Careful use of bibs (or in his case, large cloth diapers as bibs) has kept it plenty clean.

Don’t ever feel like you have to sacrifice quality for ease of use! Teach people how to wash woolens. It will prove useful long after their babies leave the house – after all, who survives without wool socks??? Babies can wear wool. New, sleep-deprived moms can wash wool. And you know what? Dads can too.

Fair Isle-Style Steeking:The Quick and Dirty Tutorial

In the last few weeks, I have received more than a dozen emails about steeking, the technique of cutting one’s knitting. I always refer people to Eunny Jang’s Steeking Chronicles, because they provide a wonderful overview of why and how knitted articles are cut. Eunny’s tutorial covers how to plan for steeks and offers an overview of hand sewn steeks, crocheted steeks, and a bit about machine sewn steeks. I would encourage anyone interested in steeking to read the entire series because it is well worth the time.

However, for those who just want to know what they need to do to secure their knitting before a cut, I thought I would put together a really quick tutorial to cover the absolute basics of crocheted and machine-sewn steeking.

Why cut your knitting?

Why not? Would you rather purl back every other row? Or worse, purl back in a stranded color pattern? It’s easier and faster to work in the round with the right side facing you the entire time. Although it sounds terrifying and difficult, cutting your knitting is shockingly easy to do. Really, it ought to be harder.

The key to success is to support the edges alongside the cut to ensure they do not unravel. This support can come in several forms: grippy, feltable wool stitch fibers holding themselves and each other in place, or feltable crochet chains, machine sewn lines, or hand sewn lines running down either side of the cut site. If the garment is made using multiple colors of non-superwash wool at a very fine gauge, it may not even be necessary to add extra support; the wool itself will provide enough, felting together at the steeks over time. Indeed, many traditional Fair Isle steeks were not supported with crochet or sewing at all.

This tutorial applies to Fair Isle-style steeking, in which extra stitches are cast on specifically for the steek. It should be noted that in Scandinavian-style steeking, the garment is worked in the round with no extra stitches; the cut is made directly into the garment pattern itself. Most steeks in contemporary patterns are done in the Fair Isle style. Given the choice, I would prefer to use crochet chains over a sewing machine any day. I am clumsy with a sewing machine and I do not trust myself not to make a dumb, difficult to reverse mistake. Experiment with both methods to determine what works best for you.

In the examples below, I will demonstrate the cut being made down the center of a column of stitches (as shown here, in Eunny’s steeking tutorial), although it can certainly be done between two columns of stitches. For my swatch and waste yarn, I used multiple colors of Harrisville Designs New England Shetland. I knitted the swatch in stripes to make it easier for you to see exactly what I was doing. For a more detailed look at the pictures, click on any image to access higher resolution versions.

The Crocheted Steek

Advantages: It’s fast, easy, and does not require sewing (or a sewing machine).
Disadvantages: I would say it is not as secure as a machine-sewn reinforcement; however, given the proper yarn choice, it will be strong enough.
Requirements: WOOL. Feltable animal fiber. Just say no to superwash wools, plant-based materials, and acrylics. This is not negotiable: the yarn must be able to felt and felt well. You will also need to have some feltable wool scrap yarn, a crochet hook several sizes smaller than the needles used for the garment, and be able to crochet a simple chain. Phenomenal crochet skills are not necessary: I learned to crochet only for this purpose, am barely able to produce more than a chain stitch, and have never had a steek fail because of my meager crochet skills.

1. ) With the garment upright, turn the work 90 degrees so that the bottom edge of the steek stitches is on the right. Identify one column of stitches as the steek column, the location of the cut. With a crochet hook, pick up the right half of the stitch to the left of the steek column stitch and the left half of the steek column stitch.
Since I casted my swatch with the white yarn, you will notice that the half stitches I picked up in this foundation row were both white. For every other row, the left one will be white and the right one will be blue, based on the striping of the swatch.
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

2.) With feltable scrap yarn, make a loop on the crochet hook and pull it through.
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

3.) Loop the yarn over the crochet hook once more.
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

4.) Pull through the first loop. There will be only one stitch on the hook.
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

5.) Here, you will see the beginning of a single crochet chain. Continuing up the stitch columns, pick up the right half of the left stitch (white) and the left half of the steek column stitch (blue).
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

6.) Loop the yarn over the crochet hook again and pull through. There will be two stitches on the hook.
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

7.) Loop the yarn over the crochet hook and pull through both stitches. There will be one stitch on the hook.
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

Continue in this manner following steps 5-7 until the last stitches at the top of the column have been worked. Break the yarn and thread it through the last remaining loop to secure the chain. The chain will look like this:
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

Now, turn the work 180 degrees.
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

Repeat steps 1-7 outlined above, picking up the right half of the steek column stitch (blue) and the left half of the right stitch (white).
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

Return the work to the upright position so that the chains run vertically down the steek stitch block.
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

Notice how the crocheted chains splay out to the sides. You will be cutting between the two chains, taking care not to snip ANY of the yarn used for the chain. Starting at the bottom of the work with small, sharp scissors, carefully cut up the middle of the steek column.
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

View of the steek from the right side:
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

View of the steek from the wrong side:
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

View of the edge:
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

The Machine-Sewn Steek

Advantages: It’s fast, provides a very sturdy reinforcement, and can be used with any kind of yarn.
Disadvantages: Running the knitted fabric through the sewing machine risks catching floats on the sewing machine plate and distorting the fabric a bit. A line of tiny stitches will also prove difficult (I would say impossible) to rip out if you make a mistake.
Requirements: A sewing machine (duh) and a small stitch setting. This can be done with fibers that do not felt as well as with those that do.

1) Identify one column of stitches as the steek column, the location of the cut (in my example, it is a blue column). You will be sewing straight lines down the center of the stitch columns on either side of the steek column (shown in white below). Take care not to catch any of the floats on the sewing machine plate and try not to pull the fabric through, as this will distort the edge.
Machine sewn steek reinforcement

2.) Beginning at the top of the work, lower the sewing machine needle into the center of the first stitch to the left of the steek column. Before you sew down the entire column, it is best to backstitch a little bit to ensure the stitching will not unravel. With a small stitch, sew a straight line down this column of stitches, backstitching again at the bottom.
Machine sewn steek reinforcement

Machine sewn steek reinforcement

Repeat this process with the column of stitches to the right of the steek column.
Machine sewn steek reinforcement

Starting at the bottom with small, sharp scissors, carefully cut up the middle of the steek column.
Machine sewn steek reinforcement

Machine sewn steek reinforcement

OK, I cut it, what now?

Now that you have a lovely, secured cut edge, you may be wondering what to do next. Chances are, the pattern will call for you to pick up stitches near the cut edge for button/buttonhole or armhole bands. Identify from where exactly (relative to the cut edge) those stitches will be picked up.

Here is an example of picking up stitches near a cut edge:
Picking up stitches for the ribbing

Once you pick up and knit these band stitches as directed, the stitches remaining closer to the cut edge will form a facing that can easily be tacked down to the inside of the garment. Here are some examples:
Blanket stitching the facings down

Facings tacked down with blanket stitch

The guts

Now, go forth and cut away!