Do your palms start to sweat when you catch a glimpse of an elaborate lace chart? Do you want to make that beautiful scarf but are scared away by the endless hieroglyphics in the pattern? You are not alone in these knitting trepidations, but you do not need to be afraid of lace charts. Once the mystery of lace charts is unraveled, you might just fall in love with those yarn over, k2tog combinations. I will admit, however, any project is much easier when you are able to read the instructions- so that's where we will start.
Sometimes a pattern that involves lace will provide both a chart and written instructions. Often, though, this is not the case. Many books and magazines are tight on space and therefore use only the chart to illustrate what stitches are needed in a lace pattern. All charts have keys, and that is a good place to look first. You will notice there are knitting symbols that seem to be universal, but it is still important to study the key carefully. There are some symbols that mean one thing on the right side of your knitting that mean something totally different on the wrong side. (For example, an empty square in a chart might mean knit on the right side but purl on the wrong side.) There may even be special symbols present that represent a unique, uncommon stitch. Below is a key taken from the Craft Yarn Council website that shows many of the common symbols. This chart is by no means exhaustive, nor is it the end all be all list for how things can be written, but it is a good list.
Once you have looked at the key and taken note of any stitches you may need to find a YouTube video to figure out, you can turn your attention to the actual chart. Now, here is where things can get really murky. Traditionally, lace charts are read from the right to the left for right side rows and from the left to the right for wrong side rows. In the made up chart below, the right side rows start with the number 1. You know this because the 1 is on the right-hand side. The next row of the chart is a wrong side row and the number 2 is therefore on the left-hand side.
However, perhaps even more common, is the lace chart that only shows the right side rows. If you look at the numbering on a chart that only shows right side rows, you will see that the numbers are listed on the right-hand side and skip count, including only odd numbers. You would read this chart from right to left, following the pattern. However, when you turn your work to complete a wrong side row, you purl a row. This wrong-side row of purl stitches is implied by the absence of even numbered rows in the chart. Sometimes the pattern will remind you of this fact, often times it will not. Excluding every other row in the chart saves space and makes the structure you are knitting more obvious in the chart. Also, it feels redundant in a chart to have every other row full of blank squares, don't you think?
Shown below are two iterations of the same lace pattern. One includes the wrong-side purl rows and the other does not. Something to note, which I included on purpose, I promise- lace charts typically start on right side rows. In the chart on the left, however, the chart actually starts on a wrong side row. This does happen and you know that it is a wrong side row because the number of the row is on the left-hand side. This means you would read the chart from the left to the right. In the chart on the right, the lace pattern is the same, but the chart starts on a right side row because ONLY right side rows are shown. You know this because the number for the row is on the right-hand side.
The next thing to talk about are repeats within a chart. Repeats are illustrated by a box of a contrasting color or perhaps just a bold line outlining only a portion of a chart. This is used to denote the section of a lace pattern that should be repeated. For example, if you are making a triangular lace shawl, the area of lace gets larger from the point to the base of the triangle. This means that as you knit, you will be adding repeats of the lace pattern to fill the space. It is often the case that an entire row should not be repeated, only a small section of it. It would not be practical for a designer to chart out every repeat of the lace motif as the shawl grew...and it is likely your paper wold not be big enough. Another example of in-chart repeats would be if you are making a scarf that has three repeats of the same lace motif. Instead of making a super large chart to include the same lace pattern repeated three times across the scarf, in addition to whatever border the scarf has, the designer might opt to chart out only the border and one iteration of the lace motif, instructing the knitter to repeat the lace motif three times. An example of an in-chart repeat is shown below in a made up lace chart. The area outlined in bold black would be the "repeat" section of the chart.
Also, if you are exploring lace charts as a designer, a lace pattern will tell you how many stitches you will need to complete the motif. This could look something like "8 sts +5 sts". This would translate to mean you need a multiple of 8 stitches, for each lace motif will be 8 stitches, and you will need to add five to this multiple of 8 for the finishing edge stitches. This sounds confusing, so let's use real numbers. I want to make a scarf with a lace motif I like. I want the scarf to have the motif repeated 4 times. Using the information that I need "8 sts + 5 sts," I would multiply 8 times 4 (because that would give me enough stitches for the 4 motif repeats that I want). Eight times four is 32. I now need to add five stitches to 32 to have the appropriate number of stitches for my final count, giving me the final stitch count of 37. To make the scarf with the four repeats of the lace pattern, I would need to cast on 37 stitches.
Finally, some charts are meant to be repeated in their entirety a certain number of times. This is usually denoted in the written instructions as something like "Repeat Chart A 6x." This means you would repeat Chart A six times. It is often the case with lace shawls that there is more than one lace motif, meaning there is more than one chart. It is important to read through an entire pattern before you start so you have a clear idea of what charts need to be used when.
As always, read an entire pattern before you begin. This includes charts. Look up any symbols you don't know before you pick up your needles. I hope this was a helpful launching point for reading lace charts, please share your experiences if you feel so inclined. Also, explore other types of charts, too! There are colorwork charts and cabling charts...knitting is amazing.
There is, as is often the case, more than one way to tackle this knitting project. The yarn pompom finds its way on top of hats, dangling on accessories, and part of little pompom snowmen the world over. In stores, they sell plastic pompom makers, which work well and make quick word of pompoms. However, if you're like me, you may not want to make a trip out to the store to buy an obscure crafting device. You've finished your winter hat and you want to make a pompom NOW! I'm here to help. This is a step-by-step tutorial to help you create a marvelous pompom using things you likely have laying around your house. It is quick and easy, start to finish taking less than an hour, and the results look as good as any pompom created on a store-bought apparatus.
Circular object or Compass
1. The first step is to find some nice, pliable cardboard. I used an empty cereal box. I would stay away from corrugated cardboard as it might be more difficult to work with, but if it is all you have, it will work just fine.
2. Once you have tracked down your piece of cardboard, find a circular object that you can trace that is roughly the circumference of the pompom you would like to create. I found a mug in my cabinet that was the size I wanted. This is a great time to say- the pompom apparatus you create does not need to be perfect. This project is so low stress, nothing has to be worked in exactness. However, I do know some people find it less stressful to work things in exactness, so I will try to be inclusive of everyone. If you would like to make a measured size pompom, you can use a compass for this step, or even a pin and a measured piece of string to make your arc. In my efforts to demonstrate to you, gentle reader, that a lovely pompom can be created with a less than perfect pompom maker, these photographs show the less exact approach.
Using a marker, trace around half of your circular object, making an arc on your cardboard.
3. This next step can be worked freehand. (If you are the compass wielding sort, you can use your compass for this step as well.) Using your marker, you will want to give your arc some width. Draw a second arc at least a thumb width away from your first arc, but make sure you leave space between the ends of your arch. Then, draw tabs at the base of the arch you have created. These tabs will be rectangles that are slightly wider than the arch itself. There should be at least a finger width of space in the inside edge of these tabs, as well. If this is confusing, please refer to the photograph below. Your end result should look something like a rainbow sitting on bricks. As you can clearly see in the photograph, nothing in this step needs to be perfect.
4. You can cut out this arch and use it as a template, tracing three more of the shape on your cardboard. (Or you can repeat Step 3 three more times. Whichever is easier for you.) Cut out all of your shapes. You should have four funny little rainbows. Fold the tabs outward so that they are perpendicular to your arch. After all of your tabs are folded, take two of your pieces and put them together with the arches lined up and the tabs, still perpendicular, pointing away from each other. Using a small piece of tape, you can secure the ends as shown in the picture. Repeat this for the remaining two arches. You should be left with two freestanding arches.
5. Take one of your new arches in hand along with your yarn. Starting on the left side, begin winding your yarn around the arch. Work from the left to the right side of the arch, and then work back to where you started. Repeat this back and forth winding until your inner arch nearly disappears. I wanted a two-colored freckled pompom for my project, so I held two contrasting strands of yarn together as I wound my pompom. As you see how the mechanics of this pompom maker works, you can have a lot of fun with colors and make some awesome, customized pompoms that meet your specific needs.
6. Once you have completed one arch, move on to the second arch. You should now have two arches wound with your yarn.
7. Put the tabs of your two wound arches together so that your half circles come together to make a full circle. Using small pieces of tape, fasten the outer left and right edges of your tabs together, as shown in the photograph below.
8. Orient your circle of yarn so you are looking down its spine. With the opening that is created between your two arches, slide your scissors in and begin cutting around the spine. Your scissors will be cutting between the arches you secured in Step 4. You will need to snip through the tape that held these arches together-that's okay. Also, you may end up cutting some of the cardboard as you wiggle and cut your way around the circle. That's fine, too.
9. As you cut all the way around the spine of your circle, you will be able to see your pompom take life.
10. Orient your pompom so that the arches are pointing side-to-side and the diamond shaped opening is facing you. With a scrap piece of yarn, approximately a foot long, secure your pompom. You will accomplish this by sliding this yarn around the "waist" of your pompom, sliding it between your arches and all the way around your creation. You can double wrap around the pompom to make it more secure. You will feel the pompom become more structurally sound as your tighten this yarn. Secure the yarn with a double knot.
11. It is now safe to remove the cardboard! Clip any lingering pieces of tape that might still be holding things together. Now the pieces of cardboard should slide right out of your pompom. If your cardboard is in good shape, you can save them and use them for a future pompom. However, the beauty of this project is that if you snipped or bent your cardboard in the creation of your pompom, you can just throw them away and not be sad about it.
12. Once all of the cardboard is removed, you have a perfect pompom. At least it is almost perfect. Your pompom should be spherical in shape, but it might look a little wonky. You will need to give your pompom a haircut, trimming around the pompom to tidy up the shape. Like those shrubs in your front yard, your pompom will look wonderful after a good trim. Congratulations, you are now the proud owner of a custom and utterly awesome pompom!
Right now I am working on a project that requires a wrap and turn, abbreviated as w&t (in some patterns it can also be W/T). This is a technique used to create what are called "short rows" that allow for shaping in a piece of knitwork. Really, it allows a designer to only be limited by their imagination- the handy wrap and turn shows up in shawls, sweaters, hats, socks...you name it, there is a pattern out there with a short row for it. It can seem intimidating, but as with many things, it is not as scary as you initially think. I feel like any technique that gets it's own special name or symbol tends to frighten the novice knitter, but go forth with confidence...you can do this!
A wrap and turn is exactly what it sounds like; you wrap a stitch and then turn your work and knit in the opposite direction. For example, if a piece has 20 stitches across your needle, a pattern may want you to wrap and turn at the half way point. This means you would knit 10 stitches, wrap the 11th stitch, turn your work around then head back to where you came from. In a pattern, it may look something like this:
That is why a wrap and turn creates what is called a short row. The row you knit is shorter than the full set of of stitches on your needle. The wrap and turn eliminates the small holes that would appear if you simply turned your work and went the other way without wrapping a stitch. It works as an anchor, of sorts, to create seamless, hole-less shaping. Now that you have a basic idea of what a wrap and turn is, let's dig deeper into how to achieve it.
I will say at the beginning of this tutorial that the wrap and turn is often a two-step process, though some patterns do not require the second step, so make sure you read through completely. The second step would be in a row worked after your wrap and turn. As you knit the row above your wrap and turn, patterns will often ask you to pick up and knit the wrap with the stitch that it is wrapped around. To achieve this, simply treat the wrap yarn as its own stitch and complete a k2tog (knit two together) with the wrap yarn and the stitch it wraps. If you forget this step, it is not the end of the world. It simply serves to make the short rows you are creating even more seamless. However, wrapped stitches are not obvious themselves, so please do not unravel a project if you forget the second step. In fact, as I mentioned, some patterns do not even ask it of you.
This picture tutorial takes you through the process of the wrap and turn for both a knit stitch and a purl stitch.
A Knit Wrap and Turn
The first step is to knit to where you need to execute the wrap and turn. Keeping with our example, in a k10, w&t scenario, you would knit ten stitches. Then, on the eleventh stitch, with your working yarn in back, you would insert your right needle into the first stitch on your left needle as if to purl. Slip the stitch from the left needle to the right needle.
Your working yarn was in back when you slipped the stitch. Now, bring that working yarn forward.
With that yarn still in front, slip the last stitch on your right needle back on to your left needle. (This is the stitch that you slipped in the first step.) Your working yarn should now be "wrapped" around this slipped stitch, coming forward between the first and second stitch of your left needle.
Last, you turn your work. Now your working yarn is in the back of your knitting and between the first and second stitch on your right needle. Use the working yarn and simply knit back the way your came. You have achieved a wrapped stitch.
A Purl Wrap and Turn
Working a wrap and turn for a purl stitch is essentially the same as the knit wrap and turn, with a few subtle differences in where you hold your working yarn.
Work your piece to where you need to wrap and turn. Then, with your working yarn in front, insert your right needle purlwise into the first stitch on your left needle. Slip this stitch from the left needle to the right needle.
Move your working yarn to the back. You have now wrapped that slipped stitch and need to return it to your left hand needle. Simply slip the first stitch from the right needle on to the left needle, making sure to keep holding your working yarn in back.
After slipping the stitch, turn your work. Your working yarn should be in the front, coming forward between the first and second stitches on the right needle. Now purl back the way you came, you have successfully completed a wrap and turn!
Sometimes when you pick up that beautiful skein of yarn at the store, it can be a little overwhelming trying to decipher what the label is really telling you. It can feel like it is written in another language. In a way, it is. It is written in the language of fiber craft. I thought perhaps it would be helpful to deconstruct a common yarn label step-by-step. There is a wealth of information that can help you be more successful in your fiber adventures. Once you know what to look for, you can successfully choose a yarn for a project with confidence.
1. The brand of yarn is usually on the front of your label. This is fairly self-explanitory but useful information if you want to buy the yarn in the future. Even if you are unable to remember specifics, if you can remember the brand you can often times find your way back to a yarn. Also, the fiber content is easy to see and useful to remember. Cotton, wool or acrylic are worlds apart when it comes to uses, care, drape and feel. Usually the fiber is broken down into percentages. The examples shown here are 100% of their respective fibers, but you can have combinations. For example, something can be 70% Alpaca and 30% Rayon.
2. Beyond the brand and fiber content, things start to look a little scary. Another important tidbit would be the weight of the yarn. (Tutorial on yarn weights coming soon.) Most of the time, this information will be communicated in the form of a number, 0-7. It can often be found in a cute illustration of a yarn ball. This numbering system follows the Craft Council of America's standard system for yarn weight. The link I have provided will take you to a useful chart of numberings, yarn types and other information about yarn weight. The labels pictured here show a number 4. This means it is a medium weight yarn which includes your worsted, afghan and aran weight yarns. While one of the labels does not explicitly state the type of weight yarn it is, the other includes the information "Worsted Weight."
3. Once you know the weight of your yarn, you can start to think about the needle size you will need to obtain the gauge you want. This information is crucial if you are substituting a yarn in a pattern or you wish to draft your own pattern. Sometimes you will see a graphic of a little square that will tell you the stitch count on a single size needle for a four inch square. For example, it could say on size 8 needles, you should get 20 stitches and 24 rows in a 4x4 inch square. The labels shown here do not include that square, but the information is still there! The labels here, which I see a lot, show you how many stitches to expect in one inch. They also include a range of appropriate needle sizes. This is because every knitter is different, and your stitches may be tighter or looser than a knitter sitting next to you. So, where one knitter needs size 7 needles, another may need size 8. This is also why it is so important to swatch before you start a project where size matters.
4. Dye Lot is another important piece of this puzzle, especially if you are working on a project that requires multiple skeins of yarn (like a sweater). You can see, the color often is associated with a number, like "157W Boysenberry." Think of this as a catalogue number; Brown Sheep Company, Inc. makes this particular color, along with many others. However, within this 157W Boysenberry color, the yarns are died in batches. Makes sense, right? It would be unreasonable to think they can anticipate and dye all the yarn they will ever need in a given color at the same time. Dying yarn in batches introduces the possibility of different variables playing a role in the ultimate color of the yarn. This can lead to slight variations in the color from one batch, or dye lot, to another. This means you will want, when possible, to get all of the yarn for your project from the same dye lot to minimize the chances the yarn will be different from one skein to the next. The dye lot shown in the example above is 033. It would be awful to have half a sweater done, and then the next skein be a slightly different shade of Boysenberry. Where you wanted one cohesive piece, you may end up with a two-toned garment.
5. The last bit of information we will discuss here is the garment care. This is directly related to the type of fiber your yarn is made from. The care instructions, however, are possibly the most confusing of all the symbols you might see, since there are quite a few different ones. To help you, I found a general chart of care symbols you can reference, here. This site provides a key for all of those triangles, squares and circles that make up the hieroglyphics of yarn care. However, one of the most important things to notice is whether you need to hand wash the fiber, which is often depicted by a hand dipping in to a basin of water. If you are able to machine wash the fiber, this is depicted by a wash basin without the hand. If there are lines underneath the basin, as there are in one of the labels featured here, it means you need to use a gentle cycle. Lastly, how do you dry the fiber? If it needs to be air dried, you will see a square with either one horizontal line or three vertical lines inside. The horizontal line means to dry flat whereas the vertical lines mean to drip dry. If the square has a circle in it, like the cotton label above, you are in luck! You can throw that sucker in the dryer. Once again, if there are lines underneath it, you should use a gentle cycle.
Without muddling the issue more, I hope this was a helpful tutorial. The labels of your yarn really provide invaluable information for the success of your project. Choosing the right yarn really makes all the difference. If you are going to put the hours of sweat and tears into a project, it would be discouraging to be tripped up with the wrong yarn choice. So, walk in to a yarn store with confidence, you now speak the language of yarn labels!
Don't you love when you discover that something that looks complicated turns out to be easy? That's how I feel about the knitted mitered square. It's a fun pattern that looks unique and a touch more complicated than it really is. And once you master this tiny square, there is a lot of creative freedom to go wild with colors and square configurations. (There is a tutorial post about joining mitered squares as you go if you are interested. Very useful if you are working on a large project.)
This tutorial will walk you through a simple pattern for a mitered square. Through my knitting journey on the topic, I have uncovered various methods to accomplish the same marvelous mitered masterpiece, but every pattern has a double decrease in the center. It is the center double decrease (CDD) that gives the signature zippered diagonal of the mitered square. The method outlined below is one I found to be straightforward and easy.
1. The first step is to cast on the correct number of stitches. This takes a little thought. If you want your finished square to be a certain size, you must double that count and add one. Stick with me here, I promise it will make sense. If you want a finished square with 10 stitches along each side, you will need to cast on 10+10+1 or rather 21 stitches. To make this an equation that is universally applicable to any desired project, let's make it algebraic. If you want a square with Z number of stitches along each edge, you will need to cast on 2Z+1 stitches. Just for clarity's sake, let's do one more real stitch example. If you want a square with 24 stitches on each side, you would cast on 2(24)+1, which is 49 stitches.
2. The next step is to place your marker. While holding your needles with the stitches cast on in your right hand, count stitches starting on the right side. You will count over Z+1 stitches and then place your marker. Using the example above, you will count over 24+1 stitches, or rather 25 stitches. This gives 25 stitches on the right side of the marker and 24 on the left side.
3. Knit one row sliding the marker as you go.
4. Now it is time to work your first "zipper" row. Knit across until two stitches before the marker. Slip those two stitches knitwise onto your righthand needle. Remove the marker. (Don't slip the marker, it will get in your way. You actually need to remove it.) Knit one stitch. Now, pass the two slipped stitches over the one knit stitch. You will have decreased your number of stitches by 2. Replace your marker. Knit to the end.
5. Knit one row slipping the marker as you go.
6. With your knitting in your left hand, you can take a moment to make sure things are going as planned. Count the number of stitches on the right side of the marker. Then count the number on the left side. The right side should have one more stitch than the left. Using our example, we started with 25 stitches on the right side and 24 on the left. We have completed one zipper row, which is my way of saying we did a CDD. Now there should be 24 stitches on the right side and 23 on the left. You can do this counting check at any point when making your square. With the needle in your left hand after working the knit row, you should always have one more stitch on the right side than the left.
7. Work another "zipper" row. (Repeat step 4). You can start to see the corner of your square forming early in the process. It is like magic, each zipper row brings you closer to a neat little square.
8. Continue to work a knit row then a zipper row until you only have three stitches left. You will work these three stitches in the same fashion, slipping two, knitting one then passing the slipped stitches over. This will leave one knit stitch on your needle. Tie off your work and you have your mitered square.