Monday, 24 May 2010

I'm so excited...

I am so excited, I started to design my own pattern shawl!

I did some stash-busting - with yarn I had lying around for 20+ years, because I like the colour so much (royal blue), and couldn't bear chucking it.  I finished the shawl and now I know why I could never before bring myself to knit with this 100% Dralon yarn showing an obscure brand name: Lady Joy. Sounds dodgy, doesn't it!

It's not actually that bad, - if you like acrylic. For the longest time I thought that I don't mind it. It's cheap, serviceable, washes well and what more do you want? Ah... lots more.

Acrylic (or dralon by another name!) does not wear terribly well. I'm particularly sensitive around my neck and feel that the yarn sticks to my skin like glue. Not very pleasant at all. It's even a bit suffocating to be honest.

So anyway. Did some stash-busting (I want and need another shawl/kerchief style neckwarmer, in another colour than the pink one I wear all the time) and was going to do a garter stitch interior with something 'lacey' around that as an edging. Or just an edging, wasn't sure.

Then I remembered that I hate garter stitch: knitting Continental style means that the right needle keeps slipping past the purl bump in the row below when I try to pick up the stitches on the left needle. I don't know if English knitters have the same problem. It drives me nuts! I very quickly decided that I wasn't going to get stressed by my knitting: it is meant to be an enjoyable, relaxing past time! So I changed the stitch that fills the inner triangle to something very manageable, comforting to knit and still with a bit of interest too. You'll see if you can wait to look at the pattern (once available).

The pattern still needs to be written up - once that's done I would like to upload it to Ravelry, as a free pattern. It is such a simple shawl, besides being my first own design, that I wouldn't want to go big-headed. A free pattern will be very nice for dipping a toe in on this designing things malarkey, thanks very much...

The nicest element of the shawl is the lace edge. I may change this a little bit for my second version. Having realised that I won't enjoy wearing the Dralon shawl, I am now re-knitting this in a silk/merino mix yarn which is wonderfully soft to the touch and lovely to look at. Can't wait to finish it and blog about it!

Here's a picture of my trial version:

PS: I already picked a name for this design and researched it to make sure it isn't being used for someone else's design. That would be seriously embarrassing, so I'm glad I thought of it!

Have you ever designed anything, - and how did you find the process?

Friday, 21 May 2010

Utter madness - splitting matters

I really shouldn't be blogging about this top just yet, being nowhere near finished - but I am so excited! There is still so much to be done before it's presentable, but I thought I'd write about my progress so far.

I kept walking past a Debbie Bliss Prima yarn in this gorgeous bright green colour, with a hint of blue! Just my cup of tea. Still, I've got way too much yarn at home, so of course I won't indulge in -yet- another stash-multiplying amount of more yarn! Hm, I lasted all of four visits to the same store, then I just had to buy it after all.

The trouble with holding back until I can't restrain myself from splurging on more yarn is that when I invariably fail (just can't seem to help myself) then it's so much worse. Did I leave it at four balls of this yarn and find a pattern I could use this for?

No, course not. Instead I started off blithely and unconcerned: cast on with the long tail cast-on method, knitted about 4-5 inches, did a bit of a fitted waist every couple of inches until I started to increase for the bust, split into front and back piece, did the shaping for the front and back neckline, and grafted the shoulders together. Unfortunately I ran out of yarn before I reached those shoulders. I knew, deep down, that 200g of yarn just wouldn't cut it, but I didn't want to know. Because it does mean you have to get some more - which involves this splurging out business again.

The store didn't have this colour on the shelf anymore, but a crafts shop in East London had. I did my sums (for once): travelling there by public transport would cost me a little more than if I ordered it online and paid for postage. Saving money! Great. So that was another 100g. Then I ran out again! The shop still didn't have it on the shelf but this time I asked, and lo and behold: some more was retrieved from their stock room. Should have thought of that.

The top was meant to remain sleeveless but have some details at the sides up and around the shoulders. Couldn't decide on what, just garter stitch or something lacey? I kept on going in stockinette stitch before I'd really made my mind up what I wanted to do - it seemed the thing to do.

I grafted the live stitches in Kitchener stitch at the shoulders (note to self: not such a good idea when using inelastic yarn and shoulder decreases: you can see tiny holes) and then wondered what to do next.

A bit of a lace element as a neckband, the top just cried out for it. No problem.

And then I just had to add something equally lacey in place of sleeves - these are sort of wing sleeves, attached at the top but not the bottom so don't go round all the way. They were meant to end in a curved line but the pattern doesn't lend itself to that.

I wanted an edge that's not too straight and tight so I invented a frilly picot edging that I am very happy with. I'll blog about it at some point.

But the really crazy thing about all of this is that I avoided buying the yarn because I wanted to knit in 4 ply and this Prima yarn is more chunky. The thread contains six strands, and I just couldn't help myself: I had to split it into three strands each using my yarn swift and several rolled up bits of newspaper so I could use this in the weight I wanted. I must be completely mad.

Then I topped it - this yarn also comes in a very lovely shade of bright pink (I can never resist a lively shade of fuchsia or magenta!) so I bought that too. And split it.
Then I saw the navy blue on offer online somewhere and bought that too (see what I mean when I said that I go over the top whenever I try to restrain myself? It is just so not a good idea I've decided, ahem) but I haven't split it. I'm thinking it would be nice, just as an experiment, to use it as it comes. Revolutionary!

So there you have it: I've gone completely doolally. Splitting yarn! Honestly, what am I like?

PS: The pink top is coming along rather nicely too! But I think I'll keep that one sleeveless and add perhaps a couple of straps at the top... uses up less yarn...

Monday, 10 May 2010

Continental Knitting - how to

Do you knit the English way, wrapping the thread around the needle with your right hand, and would like to try out Continental Knitting? The way of knitting where the thread runs through your left hand and the working needle picks it up. Continental knitting is said to be faster.

Here's a short how-to:
1. Pick up your knitting (a practice piece with at least a few rows, to avoid having to knit off the more rigid cast on row) and put the working thread any which way through the fingers of your left hand so that the thread comes over your left index finger towards your knitting.

2. Allow for an approximate one to two inches in length of this thread between your knitting and your index finger - make sure that the thread does not go slack. This is important.

3. Assuming you wish to knit (K1): put your right needle through the stitch to knit (from left to right) - as the tip of the needle comes up near the yarn, make a grab for it: from the top downwards or right to left: going from the right behind the thread towards the left/downwards depending on how you look at it.

4. This is my special tip: place the tip of your right index finger lightly on top of the thread wrapped round your right needle to help it through while you start to pull the yarn on the right needle back through the stitch on the left needle.

5. Continue the same motion (the motion of pulling the thread through the needle) into pulling the knitted stitch off the left needle.
With a bit of practice it can all become one motion: in, out, up, around, down, through and off the needle. I really like the fluidity of Continental knitting.

English knitting differs from Continental knitting in the number of steps needed: knitting the Continental way seems a little smoother to me because, as mentioned above, the motion of putting your working needle through the stitch goes straight up and into making a grab at the yarn and continues the same motion into pulling the yarn through the stitch as well as pulling it off the left needle.

In English knitting you place the right needle some way into and through the stitch, then the right hand wraps the yarn around the needle (unless you let go of your knitting, move your hand to pick up the thread, wrap it round your needle) before you go back to holding the right needle and prepare to pull the yarn through the stitch. I think of this as three steps (needle through, wrap thread, pull thread through) as opposed to the two steps of Continental knitting: put needle through and grab the yarn, second step: help the thread through the stitch (that tip of the finger does come in exceedingly handy! It's not strictly necessary though) and pull the knitted stitch off the left needle in one motion.

That's why it is meant to be quicker. It may also be more gentle on your hands because the movements of your hands are smaller.

You may try this and find it very difficult. One of the reasons I can think of is to do with how far you push the right needle through the stitch. I have seen some novice knitters hold the right needle clamped in their hand about half way down the shaft and push it about a quarter of its length through the stitch. I must admit that this gives a lot of room to play for wrapping your thread round the needle - but it also means that you have a helluva job on your hands to manoeuvre the needle back through the stitch without losing your yarn in the process. I would find this very fiddly and would therefore suggest that the needle tip has been poked through way too far.

Instead of thinking of your knitting needles as a set of two spears, try thinking of them as pens. You only use the tip of a pen to write with, in knitting you don't need all that much more of your needle than perhaps as much as two thirds of an inch - but this depends on the chunkiness of your yarn: If you're using rope give it a good inch, using 4 ply or even laceweight: make it half an inch. Use as little of the right needle as you can while still being able to wrap the needle round the working yarn and pull it through the stitch on the left needle. Using the tip of your finger to hold the yarn in place (around your right needle) really comes into its own when you try to use only the tip of your needle - this can become quite automatic very quickly and won't feel as fiddly as it sounds!

Helping a stitch through when purling:
I've also got a bit of a trick when purling: the tip of your left index finger won't be any help here, but what I noticed when I took a good look at what I do is that the nail on my right thumb comes up and touches the working yarn wrapped around your needle! Well, either the nail itself or otherwise the very tip of my thumb. It works wonders too.

The angle at which you hold your two needles to each other can also make a difference: don't put them at too steep an angle: 90 degrees or perpendicular is too much, but you don't want them aligned in one line either: there should be enough of an angle to allow you to easily poke the tip of your right needle through the stitch but not so steep as to make it difficult to pull the yarn through that same stitch. Experiment with a few different angles! See what works best for you. I suspect that this may be quite different for different knitters.

When purling you may start with the needles almost aligned in one line: much easier to poke your right needle through that way! When your thumb comes up to help keep the grabbed thread in place it also moves your needle into a different position and angle. Again: experiment with what works for you and what's the most comfortable.

There is another thing that I do that I never realised until I made myself watch how I actually knit: I have a funny little wobble going with my left hand. I move the thread on my hand a bit closer using a circular motion out of the wrist and rotating towards me while I grab the yarn with the right needle - the wobble is a bit different between knit and purl stitches but somewhat similar (if that makes any sense!). Isn't it funny what you get used to once you get into a rhythm? I guess that's also the secret of success with trying a different way of knitting: - once you have a rhythm going you know what you're doing and you can see how this may speed up your knitting and reduce the wear on your joints (maybe not, but I like to think so!).

The most important thing for successful Continental knitting is to not let the working thread between your knitting and your left index finger go slack. Many novice knitters are focussed on the right needle and the stitch and fish around for the yarn that's suddenly not in the space it's meant to be in. Your left index finger will have descended towards the left needle. Elizabeth Zimmermann writes about being self-taught (love that story!) and that she had the thread running over her index finger while it touched the left needle. Being naturally curious, I've tried to see how it would work: I cannot figure out how to make it work! Perhaps the thread ran across another finger, I don't know. My advice is to check your left index finger every so often to see if it's still in the right place. This wobble I was talking about above does happen to move your index finger quite a bit - there's the sort of action going on that your sideways overlocker/serger needles get into: not the up and down ones but those on the sides that go across the seam. It's not much of a twitch but it does seem to speed up my knitting a bit without me quite realising. At least I'm told that I am quite quick.

Holding your left index finger upright, which in turn stops the working thread from going slack, can have another advantage: if you knit quite loosely on a specific stitch (say knitting two stitches together), then your left index finger can help to pull the thread a little tighter. You want to avoid yanking the thread too much with every stitch because your tension will end up rather too tight. Allow your right needle to dictate the stitch size rather than pulling the thread so tight with every stitch that you have problems knitting those stitches off in the following row. If your stitches come out too loose, then pick a smaller needle size rather than tightening up your hands: it'll only give you cramps and will spoil your enjoyment of knitting.

I find that occasionally my tension goes a bit too loose on just a few stitches. It's a good idea to put the working thread through the fingers of your left hand so that it winds through twice. I start at the back of the little finger, put the thread between the little and the ring finger, let it go past both the ring and the middle finger, put it between middle and index finger so that it comes across the top of the index finger. At times I wrap the thread a second time around my index finger (forming one loop) - some yarns are so slippery that this might be advisable for the entire project. Other wool may be as clingy as a vine creeper that you want to avoid wrapping it round your index finger like the plague! If the thread slides through your finger at a manageable rate: you're doing absolutely fine!

As you try knitting in a way that you have never practiced before: your hands will start to clench quite a bit because you are trying to remember all the different bits at the same time. My tip is to let go every fifth stitch or so: it allows you to smooth out the stitches on your right needle that you just knitted and to move up those on the left needle ready to have a go at them. This will even out your tension across the row and avoid bunched up loose tension problems of too long runs before allowing stitches to move on the needles.

Don't be afraid of re-threading your left hand: you will want to experiment about how high up you want the thread to run through your fingers: too low down right at the bottom of your fingers and your yarn will not slide through your fingers and make the whole exercise very frustrating. Too high up and you run into the danger of losing your grip on the thread completely.

Readjusting your hands and also the thread on your left hand every so often also has another advantage: moving your fingers and hands a little bit will limber them up a bit and this will stop the very annoying 'this is not working very well so let's clench every single finger up' from happening. Because chances are that you are already holding your hands and fingers in a very stiff way and adding tension makes a not so effective circumstance only worse.

The other thing to look out for is how close the stitches on your left needle have pushed up towards the tip of the left needle: too close (meaning there are too many of them crowding towards tipping right off) and you can't keep up with knitting them off quickly enough, result: you drop some stitches. Too far down the needle means that you will pull the stitch open too much with your right needle and the tension of your knitted fabric is shot to pieces even if you work everything else really evenly. The stitches you just knitted off that are now sitting on your right needle: don't allow too many of them to gather there, sitting bunched up in front of and under the fingers holding the right needle - you want enough room to be able to use the tips of your right index finger or thumb without having to worry about dropping some stitches on that side.

I can only recommend that you let loose every so often, readjust your hands, check your index finger is holding the working thread straight (not slack) and looking back at the piece you knitted. You can check for tension problem (if you want to) and make sure you're not making life very much more difficult by knitting as if you're trying to produce a grid of knots. I've been there: when I started to knit my knitting needles would sometimes start to squeak! (I'm not lying: literally!) because I was trying to push them through stitches that were sitting way too tightly on the needles.

On second thoughts: seeing as you are only practising this other way of knitting: how about inserting a thinner needle into your knitted piece to use as your left hand needle, the one you're knitting from. The size of your left needle does not affect your stitches (the right needle does that) and you will find it much easier to knit the stitches off. Once you progress to knitting a 'proper' item in the Continental way (assuming that you liked the experience and want to take it a little further) then you may find that your practice has shown you how to knit loosely enough to make it an enjoyable experience. If you don't like the tension of the knitted fabric you could go down half a needle size - as long as you can knit as loosely as before. I can see the advantage in knitted fabric that is more tight: it won't distort as much as loose knitting, but I completely fail to see the advantage in tight, very tensed up knitting. I find it extremely frustrating, slow and perspiration inducing: which in turn serves to make things even worse! If your needles start making noises, then I would suggest you try to loosen up. It is very much worth it.

I am sorry that I have not included any pictures yet. I am not sure if I will manage any. I hope my descriptions are good enough to explain what I am trying to say, and not too wordy so as to become useless due to being annoying. I tried to stay somewhere between the two extremes.
If anything is not clear, then please ask in the comments - I will try to clarify. I also have some tips for how to make sure that your tension while purling is not a lot looser, but will leave this for another blog entry.
If you are interested in trying Continental knitting: do you find this blog post useful?

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Knit & Crochet blog week - a useful tool

I had so much fun posting during Knit & Crochet Blog week last week that I decided to do the wild card topic as well, even though I couldn't think of a knitting tool to recommend when I first thought about it!

My favourite knitting tool is a circular needle. Heck, even two at the same time!

I like knitting garments in the round, because you can motor on through endless stockinette stitch without having to worry that your purl rows are too loose and will distort the fabric. I love doing stockinette stitch: it is so relaxing and soothing, and the perfect thing for going to a knitting group with!

Circulars are great for doing colourwork, particularly in the round. You don't get the ends of a straight needle tangled up in cascades of threads.

You can use a longer needle by leaving a loop out somewhere and pulling the needle through when you get to the loop.

They can also be used for back and forth knitting - there is no rule book that says that you can't turn your work when using circular needles.  The reason why I love circulars for back and forth and any other kind of knitting is that you can't lose "the other needle", or leave it at home by mistake: there is only one and chances are that if you've got your knitting with you, you'll have your knitting needle too.

I love that they're light, easy to handle because they are manoeuvrable and don't have ends to could catch on anything - you don't accidentally poke into someone sitting next to you (and will therefore not get dirty looks) - and best of all: the weight of your ever growing garment won't slip down towards the end of your straight needle which would make it necessary to do a bit of weight-lifting while you are knitting. That's the second biggest advantage in my book. Your fabric will slide towards the middle: into the loop of the circular neede's cable and might just sit quite comfortably on your knees.

You can get them in standard metal, but there are also lots around in other materials: I like bamboo because it is wonderfully light - but I also love my rather expensive Knit Picks circs because the cable/wire (in a lovely purple!) is very bendy and does not go out of shape. They are fantastic! I might get another one in 4 mm but I haven't seen any recently.

In the past I have used circular needles that were very annoying: the joint between needle and the cable (or is it called a wire?) wasn't well made at all, I had yarn snagging on it all the time - it drove me to distraction! Today's circulars are much better in that respect, much!

Using circulars (particularly if you feed a second circular through half of your stitches) is also very good for trying something on before you get way too far to even think about ripping back and trying again.  You can try for size as you go along and will be much happier with the result. Just try the same with your knitting on straight needles! That's a complete nightmare.

I have also found circular needles very good when it comes to steeking: if you wish to do your sewn lines (by sewing machine) before you cast off (say you want to cut the armhole open before grafting the shoulders together), then you can sew much closer to the needle (the cable part of the circular) than you could if the stitches were still sitting on straight needles.  It might be a good idea though to avoid putting the machine's needle through the plastic of the cable!

I think I've come up with quite a few good points, quite a few more than I was expecting before starting this post! I am also attempting to come up with a few negative points, just to be balanced, but I can't think of anything.

There is even a method for knitting socks on a circular needle (two circular needles to be precise: half the stitches on each) even though the circular needle is much longer than the circumference of the socks, but that needs to be the subject for another post.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Knitting & Crochet Blog Week - Sunday: What a Yarn

I really like Colinette Jitterbug. It is a sock yarn weight that I have used for a kerchief style shawlette in a candlelight pattern and will be using for socks too.

This is Jitterbug in Rio, a very nice bright fuchsia. The colour is almost solid, the pink is slightly lighter and more vibrant in places and a little darker in others: very nice and subtle! There are also some very small bits of red and orange in it, just enough for about a single stitch - it does create a lot of interest and variation in the overall colour appearance. I love this colourway!

I also bought several further shades in this yarn - almost all directly from Colinette because it is more affordable than bidding for it on ebay: the price invariably rises beyond what you pay directly. People seem to go a little crazy when they start bidding for any of this yarn.

These are colourways Fruit Coulis on the top, and Dark Umber below. I also bought Cherry which is very similar to but without the darker pink/purple of the Fruit Coulis.

I also have some Frangi Pani and I just realised that I need to take pictures of that shade too!

Since then I also bought a skein of Colinette in Magenta, the colours are more pink than the photo shows, and it's absolutely gorgeous!

I also used a Knitwitches silk that I love: 100% silk single ply Indian silk in colourway Lucerne. This is the most gorgeous yarn that's absolutely wonderful to knit with! Unfortunately the lady running Knitwitches is sold out on all the colourways (Lucerne, a lovely mix of aqua blue and a gorgeous mid grey, isn't even listed although the banner graphic shows this colourway), though the undyed variety can be ordered. I had started the Balmoral Thistle design doily in the Kinzel Modern Lace book but it turns out that I haven't got nearly enough yarn. I may frog this and make something else with it, the yarn is so gorgeous that it really deserves a proper project and not a half finished one:

I liked it so much, I bought more in the turquoise colour way, I just couldn't resist:

I haven't decided yet if I could carry on the doily with the turquoise colour or if I still have too little. I want to use these two skeins for something very gorgeous!

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Knitting & Crochet Blog Week - Saturday: Revisit a past Finished Object

This is the first post of the Knit & Crochet Blog Week that I had not prepared in advance, because I couldn't decide what to write about.  There is no one single FO that immediately sprang to mind.  Checking my Ravelry page I find that there are a few completed projects: it isn't so much which one to pick but more a case of what to write.

I tend to go into way too much detail in my blog posts. I suppose it's the German in me: we just love to be thorough! It's dreadful: why would you want to go on and on and on about something as if you wanted to make sure to lose your reader's attention? I don't like that about myself and - still - I keep doing it! Oh, to be a bit more concise! Just a slightly more flippant approach in brushing past at least a couple out of the dozens of details! That'd be the ticket.
It wouldn't be me as much but I would really like to find the golden middle.

Back to the subject: for some strange reason I picked my Blue short-sleeved raglan top.  It is a pretty simple design so I was a little surprised at myself for deciding on this. When I get an impulse, I like to go with it.

It is a modification of the striped raglan tee off the Lion Wool website.  I already described that I changed how I decreased at the shoulders: After three repeats I changed the decrease row from every forth row to every third row. After six of those, it was five times every second row and then even every row because I wasn't getting a good shoulder shaping otherwise.  The reason for this change is my yarn: it has a lot less give in it than the suggested Lion brand wool.  Because it is less elastic the garment just wouldn't shape itself to my shoulders like wool would.  If I had followed the instructions as given, then the neckline wouldn't have sat properly and the rest of the garment from the shoulders down would have hung like a sack of wet potatoes.  The picture of the Lion tee does show that the shoulders look quite straight and the neckline is a slightly odd opening at the top.

I think I did pretty well with my adapted shoulder shaping: it sits and hangs well, and I lucked into a good neckline.

The hem was turned with a purl row for the ridge line, continued knitting for the same number of rows as from the provisional cast-on and then one stitch from the cast-on was knit together with one stitch on the needle.

The top is slightly fitted by a few decreases every ten rows and then increases towards the arm holes.

I learnt a lot from making this top. I was very pleased that I was able to adapt the shoulders to make the yarn work and to achieve a pretty good fit.  I have not worn it much yet but that's mainly because it wasn't warm enough for short sleeves yet.

I am looking forward to better weather for a few more reasons than before I started knitting again!