I'm sure this happens to more people than just me- you look at your stash of yarn, complete with this mushy, half-used balls wound into an enticing menagerie of color and wonder what in the world to do with it all. I compulsively buy a little extra when I have a project in mind that I would like to knit, that way I'm ensured to have enough. However, once the project is done, there are the leftovers. And just like with food, it can be money saving, fun, and sometimes surprisingly tasty to use leftovers. Other times it can be lack luster, disappointing, and/or a little disgusting. I think my biggest fear of using one of those squishy, half-used balls of yarn in my stash is the mystery of whether or not I will have enough to complete my goal. Nobody wants to spend the hours knitting a project just to be short a few meters at the end. What if the yarn is discontinued and there is no hope of getting more?! With food, I often resort to the sniff test when questioning whether or not a leftover should be used. What's the sniff test for yarn?
Well, it turns out the answer to that is much more scientific (or rather, mathematic) than sniffing. I guess I should preface this with the statement that you should ALWAYS keep your ball band. (The ball band is the little bit of paper that you get on a ball or skein of yarn that has all that important information on it- like length, weight, needle suggestion, gauge, etc.) I love to shove the ball band in the middle of my yarn cakes so it stays put even when I move my yarn stash about. Even if you have a great memory, I doubt there are many people who can boast a memory great enough to keep track of the yards per grams for all of their yarn. Not saying it's impossible, just saying it is probably outside most of our spheres. There is still hope if your leftovers are lacking in ball bands. Please see note at the end of post.
All you need to get started in unraveling the mystery of how much yarn is left is a scale (any small kitchen scale will do), your yarn, a calculator or pencil and paper, and your yarn's ball band.
Once you turn your scale on, many kitchen scales boast a feature of being able to switch from ounces to grams. You will want to reference your ball band and see exactly how your length per weight is reported. If it is recorded in yards per grams, you will want to make sure your scale is set to grams. Likewise, if you have yards per ounces you will want the scale set to ounces. Whether your yarn is measure in meters or yards does not matter for this step, but is important to know for pattern reading purposes. (If you are not using a digital scale, you still need to pay attention to whether you are measuring in ounces or grams. There was life before digital things and you can even use a triple beam balance for this if you feel so inclined. I will not get into that here, but if you have a triple beam balance, I will assume you know how to use it.)
Make sure your scale is zeroed (For digital scales, the screen should not have any numbers but 0 on the readout. If your scale is reading out some numbers to you, you can zero your scale by pressing the "zero" button.) Then, place your yarn on the scale. If your yarn is in a higgilty piggilty mess, you can always place a bowl on the scale, zero your scale, then place the yarn in the bowl. (Or record the weight of your bowl when empty, add your yarn, record the value of the yarn and the bowl then subtract the weight of the bowl from the total, leaving only the weight of your yarn.) Read the number on your scale.
In my example, my yarn weighed 95 grams. I had used a small portion of this ball of yarn to knit a sample and ended up choosing a different yarn for the project. The critical question in my head was whether there was still enough yarn left in this ball to knit a pair of socks. The next thing I did was look at the ball band and find where my length per weight was recorded.
In this particular case, for this particular yarn, there are 462 yards/ 100 grams. Now it's time for a little algebra.
I know there are 462 yards per every 100 grams of this yarn, but I want to know how many yards I have left after my sampling. After measuring my current ball of yarn, I know I have 95 grams of my yarn left; how does that translate to yards?
Dividing 462 yards by 100 grams simplifies down to 4.62 yards per 1 gram. (I simply put 462 in my calculator and divided that number by 100.) I have 95 grams. I can now multiply my 95 grams by 4.62 yards/gram. (Again, I used my calculator. I typed 95 and multiplied it by 4.62.) The units of grams cancel and I am left with 438.9 yards. This lets me know that I have roughly 439 yards of my yarn leftover and can plan my project accordingly.
Here is an equation you can use if perhaps my example was a little confusing or not quite close enough to your numbers to be helpful. It should work for you whether your yarn is measured in meters or yards, grams or ounces.
length of leftover yarn= (length/weight recorded on ball band of yarn) x (measured weight of leftover yarn)
I hope this helps clear up some of those leftovers off your shelf and leads to some beautiful projects!
***For those leftovers lacking a ball band: It's a little trickier, but you can figure out the length per weight on your own. Using your scale and starting with the end of your yarn, make a little pile of the yarn on the scale until you get 1 gram or ounce. Mark your yarn where this occurs or use some scissors to snip the yarn. Measure the length of this piece of yarn. You should now have the desired length/weight to multiply by the measured weight of your leftovers. It's not perfect, but it'll get you pretty darn close.
I think many of us who have delved into the world of rigid heddles are very familiar with the direct warping method. Using a peg and measuring from your back beam to some chair or stool or odd object you can clamp that peg to, you walk back and forth and feed your thread in loops through the slots of your heddle. Then, you wind that bad boy up, clip the ends, distribute your threads to the holes as well as slots, tie on the front apron rod, work on your tension and call it a day. However, this is not always the most practical way to warp your rigid heddle. Don't get me wrong, it is a great method, but sometimes having a line of yarn strewn across your kitchen just isn't going to work. Or sometimes you have time to measure out warp threads but you don't have time for all the threading. Whatever the reason, you can use your warping board for your rigid heddle loom and pre-measure and prepare your warp threads. I have a tutorial on using a warping board, so if the concept is new for you, please take a look here.
In this tutorial, there are two colors that have been pre-measured and braided for this project.
The next step is to wrap these braids onto the front beam of your loom. This yarn is the warp for a cowl. It is a bulky yarn and the braids are not very long. If I tried to wrap the braid around the front beam, it just wouldn't stay. In cases such as these, it is okay to unbraid your warp thread and wrap them around your beam that way. If you have measured a very long warp or used a fine thread and your braids are long, it may keep things tidier to just leave them in the braids when you wrap on your front beam. VERY IMPORTANT: Your cross should be free from the braid with enough slack to reach your heddle in the neutral position, plus a few extra inches so when you thread your warp through the heddle, it will stay put and not try to fall out back toward the front of your loom and undo all of your hard work. I am warping two colors in this project, and both colors could be wrapped comfortably on the front beam without overlapping. If you find things are getting crowded or confusing, just wrap one braid at a time. Note that the cross is draped comfortably over the heddle.
Make sure you have all your supplies within reach. To warp your heddle you will need scissors and your heddle/reed hook to sley your reed.
Next, pick up the cross from a braid and thread your fingers through the loops where you have your choke ties. You will be undoing those ties, so you want to make sure your fingers will preserve the cross even after these ties are gone. I have taken a photograph to show how I place my fingers comfortably through the cross. You will want at a finger between the top to ties above the cross and a finger between the bottom two ties below the cross. If you are right-handed, as I am, I hold the cross in my left hand. I am not left-handed, but I would imagine things might be easier if the left-handed crowd holds their cross in their right hand. Really, you should do what is most comfortable for you. Whichever hand is left free from the cross is the one that will be threading the reed and manipulating the reed hook.
With your cross secure on your fingers, take your scissors in your free hand and cut the top loop (highlighted in the photograph my finger- please note that I am not preserving the cross here, merely showing which loop you should cut). Then, while still holding your cross secure, untie or cut your choke ties.
Notice that once the choke ties are gone, you can still see the alternating ups and downs of your cross. At this point, you are ready to start sleying your reed. Starting with the outermost warp thread on your finger, use your free hand to remove it from the group (without disturbing your other threads). I like to sley my reed from right to left, but I do not think it matters what side you choose to start on, as long as you have measured out where your project is centered in your reed. I am sleying my entire reed, so I could start on the edge. If your project is smaller than your full reed, you may want to mark the slot with a piece of tape where the edge of your project should be. That way, you will easily find it when you go to warp and will not have to count or measure, which is hard to do when you have a bunch of loose threads in your hand.
Taking the outermost thread on my cross, I use my hook and thread it through my read. Unlike the indirect method, you will need to thread slots and holes as you go, not just the slots. Passing your hook from the backside to the frontside (through a slot or a hole) of your reed, grab your thread and pull it through the reed. I like to hold my hook pointing down, I find it easier to grab my warp thread this way and pull it down and away on the backside of the reed. This is a personal preference, you should find what is comfortable for you.
Now, my pattern required that I warp my reed in a 2x2 pattern. So, after threading two teal threads, I needed to leave space for two white threads. You warp all of one color first and then go back and warp the second color. (This would apply to three or more colors, as well.) Really, you want to warp all the threads in your braid, because the cross is what is keeping your threads organized. If you put your threads down, it is very hard to maintain the cross. This also means you should plan ahead. Either allow yourself enough time to warp all the threads in a larger braid or make yourself smaller braid bundles...even if you do more than one braid in the same color. Having smaller braids will give you more opportunities to take breaks when your warping your loom without having to worry about tangling threads.
Leaving spaces can make your eyes cross, so make sure you check regularly that you have left the appropriate number of slots and holes. It is much easier to fix a mistake when it happens than to have the majority of your reed threaded only to find out you need to shift everything over a slot. As you can see in the pictures, two threads mean one slot and one hole. So between every teal pair, I needed to leave one slot and one hole for my white warp. I made sure to stop and check my work every few pairs.
Once I have warped all of my teal threads, it is time to warp the white threads. I repeat the same exact process, threading the white warp through the slots and holes I left for them. If you are using more than two colors, it may be useful to keep a diagram and mark with painters tape the slots and holes for your second color before you pick up the cross and begin sleying.
Once you have warped all your threads, looking at your loom from the backside, you will see your beautiful warp threads dangling through your reed. It is time to tie them onto your back apron rod. Make sure you grab bundles of yarn that are only about an inch. I know its a lot of tying, but it will give you more balanced tension. I like to use a square knot and a bow when tying on to the apron rods. I know my mom likes to use a surgical knot. Whatever you use, make sure it is secure under tension but adjustable if needed. (I would never recommend a double knot.)
I think this is the point where there are more stylistic differences when warping. I will share with you what I like to do, especially if I do not have a helper. Sitting in front of your loom, grab all of your warp threads in one hand. You use this hand to pull the threads for even tension. Make sure you have paper or sticks ready so you can wind them in as you pull your threads over the back beam. (If you are unfamiliar with this, putting paper in between the layers as you wind your warp helps maintain more even tension. It prevents your threads for sinking into previous layers or catching.) Then, slowly, begin winding. Use your free hand to move your crank as you hold the warp threads with even tension. The threads should pull out of your braid evenly and remain orderly. If you need to stop cranking and gently comb some threads, do so, but remember your reed will act as a comb, as well. Continue this process until you have wound nearly all of your warp to the back of your loom. You will want about 15 inches of warp thread on the front side of your reed so you can comfortably tie on to your front apron rod. You will notice that the ends of your warp are looped, you will have to cut these before you tie onto your front apron rod. I do not recommend cutting them before you are ready to tie on- they are a bit of a security check, your threads cannot pull through your reed when they are looped.
You're nearly finished! Tie on to your front rod starting in the middle and alternating from there to the left and right sides. You want to tie your warp with as even tension as you can manage. This means once you have everything tied on, you may have to go back and tighten your threads again. With this in mind, tie your square knot first and once the tension is even go back through and make your bows or surgical knots. Then, believe it or not, you're ready to weave. I was a dodo and completely forgot to take a picture of the finished warp- but here is the project that I started weaving. Proof it does work!
7. In my example, I wanted the medallions to be across my entire project. (I worked out ahead of time what size medallion would allow me to achieve this without being left with a less-than-full-sized medallion at the end of my row. Word to the wise, plan your medallion sizes according to the number of warp strings in your project.) For the last medallion, I snuck my crochet hook up through the fifth and sixth warp threads in the medallion instead of after the sixth warp thread. This way, I could create the loop, even at the end on my selvage.
8. If you wish to stack medallions, after you have completed your first row of medallions, change sheds, and pass the contrasting color shuttle through, end to end, to create a new bottom medallion border. Then, change your shed again, and pass your main body color through for the number of picks you wish to include in your medallions. Proceed as shown above to create a new row of medallions.
You can have a lot of fun with these medallions and they are surprisingly simple for how complicated they can look. Try using a larger weft thread for your medallion borders, play with your medallion sizes, stack them all over your weaving or just keep it simple for a nice border. Playing with colors can be fun, too. Go crazy! It is a really nice hand-manipulated weaving technique that can add some spice to an otherwise plain weave.
I try to avoid plastic grocery bags like the plague. However, no matter how hard I try, they seem to find their way into my home. Just last week, my kids got a care package from their grandmother packed full of goodies- and as a great way of recycling her plastic bags, she cushioned the contents of the box with about 500 grocery bags. It was seriously like a magic trick, they just kept coming out of that box. While I am very glad she found a use for her stash of annoying plastic bags, I now have an overabundance of them and need to do something about it.
That is why I am posting this tutorial on how to make plarn (the accepted term for plastic bags made into yarn, it would seem). While I could just save the bags and pay them forward as packing material for my Christmas packages that need to go out soon, I want to do something a little more permanent and perhaps a little more useful. My plan for my stash of plastic obscenity is to make durable, reusable shopping bags out of them. My great grandmother used to this, and the bags you can knit from "yarn" made from plastic bags are very durable and super functional. I have also seen people make little house shoes, shower mats, coasters...I think you are only limited by your imagination on this one. And perhaps heat. Don't make a pot holder out of plarn, please.
1. Collect plastic grocery bags. About 30 is a good number if you want to make a reusable shopping tote. But it all depends on the size of your plastic bags and their condition as well as the size of the tote you wish to make. Please still use the bags with holes in them, usually you can get a lot out of those bags even though they are damaged. You will see why as we go along. (You will also need a pair of scissors.)
2. Choose one of your bags and flatten it on your work surface as I have shown in the picture. Orient the bag so the handles are pointing away from you and then fold the bag in half vertically.
3. Next, turn the bag so that the folded edge is nearest to you. Think of it as putting your bag in a "landscape" orientation opposed to "portrait." Then, you will remove the handles and bottom of your bag by taking your scissors and cutting the left and right sides of your folded bag. When cutting the side with the handles, you want to make sure you cut far enough down that none of the handle loop remains on your bag. You should have a nice, solid rectangle. (Keep it folded.)
4. With the folded edge still closest to you, cut the remainder of the bag into approximately 1 inch vertical strips. You do not need to stress yourself on making each strip exactly the same size- as long as they are about the same width, you will never know the difference.
5. Take these strips you have made and open them up; they should be loops.
6. Now, all you need to do is join these loops together. Take two of the loops you have created. Close one of the loops and thread it through the opening of the other loop. Do not thread it all the way through, but stop once you have about 1/4 to 1/2 of the closed loop through the open loop. Put your hand through the portion of loop you have just threaded and then pick up the "tail" of that same loop that you left behind. Draw your hand backward, with the tail still grasped, so that you feed the tail through the threaded loop. Pull both plastic loops in opposite directions to secure the not. Don't pull so tight that you rip your plastic.
7. You will now repeat step 6, only use the last bag in your already created chain as the "open loop" for the next chain. Continue doing this until you have the length of plarn needed for your project. I like to ball mine up as I go so I don't feel like I'm drowning in plastic loops. If you run out of loops and need more plarn, just cut more plastic bags. If you have different color bags, with a little planning you can make color runs in your plarn...or even self-striping plarn. Sometimes if you have a ton of bags from the same store that are all the same color, the result can look a little like a speckled plarn. Once you have enough, though, pick up those needles or hook and have some fun.
There are only so many toys and gadgets I can justify buying for my fiber crafts before I start to feel guilty. Of course I can rationalize any purchase...I need everything I have, right? Well, as my weaving has grown and become a little more involved, I have enjoyed using boat shuttles over stick shuttles for some projects. With boat shuttles come bobbins. With bobbins comes the need to wind them. Now, if you are using a thick yarn or thread, this is no big deal to do by hand. However, if you are using a fine yarn or thread, this can be a laborious process by hand. The need for a bobbin winder starts to grow. However, I can save the expense of a bobbin winder for another gadget, because if you have a drill or hand-held electric mixer, you have a bobbin winder.
(I use a drill, so for this post I will detail how to use one as a bobbin winder. I hope, should you be lacking in the drill department but flush in the hand-held electric mixer department, you will easily be able to translate the idea.)
Double Pointed Knitting Needle (a wooden pencil works, too)
*Notes: Your drill battery will run out fairly fast. Drills are not really intended for high-speed continuous use, I don't think. To remedy this issue, it is handy to have a second battery for your drill charged and ready to go...just in case. Also, it does not really matter if you use the drill set to forward or reverse, but whichever direction you choose, you should keep it the same for the whole bobbin. (Otherwise you will start to unwind your wound bobbin, and that is not at all what we want.) Lastly, do not use a double pointed needle that is particularly expensive or very special to you, your drill may leave little marks on it. It will still be functional as a needle, but I would hate for something you care about to be damaged in this process. Pencils really do work fine.
I am excited, this is my first weaving tutorial! And it is about using a warping board, which is something that intimidated me for a long time. When I first got my rigid heddle loom, I was quite happy to wait until the kids went to sleep and use the warping peg to measure my lengths of warp. (This is a direct warping method, unlike the use of a warping board, which is an indirect method. Indirect methods allow you to prepare your warp threads and then warp your loom at a later time.) However, after my husband made my four-shaft loom for me and I started in on some more elaborate weaving, it did not seem practical to rely only on my little peg to get me through. 300+ ends is a lot for a peg. So, my darling husband made me a warping board and we mounted it on the wall in the family room so I would have easy access while still hanging out with my kiddos. It's a strange feature for the wall, I am sure guests do not understand what it is- either some modern art or a strange torture device. Tell them it's a "warping board," their doubtful looks do not improve.
Now, you do not need a large warping board nor do you need an "official" construction. I've seen people use chairs flipped over, pegs on a bookcase, really anything where you can make a cross and find a pre-measured path (we will talk about these things in a moment). I will say that having a warping board is nice, though. Ideally, it is a yard (or meter) from one peg across to another peg. Mine is not. My sweet husband got so focused on making nice joins, he didn't think about the practicality of maintaining exactly a yard between pegs until it was too late. But it matters not! I love my warping board- as long as you can find a path, you do not need exactly a yard or meter between pegs.
Anyway, long story short, a warping board is super easy to use and it was silly that I avoided it for so long. I warp my loom from front to back, so I can only say with confidence that this method is full proof for preparing warp for that method. So, let's get going.
1. Figure out how long your warp needs to be in addition to how many ends will be in your project. This information is readily available in weaving patterns and there are equations you can use if you are creating your own project. Once you have established this information, you are ready to get started. Measure out a piece of scrap yarn that is your prescribed warp length. (I like to use a bold color so it's easy to see. You can even label these guide threads for later use- especially for the common length warps.) You will be making loops on either end of the thread, so make sure you give yourself an extra couple of inches before you cut. Secure one end of the thread to a peg on your warping board, it doesn't really matter which one. Once this is done, you might have to play around a little bit to find where to secure the other end. Wind the thread around the pegs on your board until you get to the end of your measured thread and that end is at a peg. Also, do not double back or cross over any part of the thread that is already on the board. When you find a path that works, tie the the end of the guide thread to the peg that it lands on by making another loop. (This is where a board that is 1/2 yard or 1 yard across from peg to peg comes in handy. Let's say you need three yards of warp. Your path would be obvious. You would simply work from one peg to the one across the board three times. For fractions of warp length- like three and three quarters yard- or if your warping board is not a yard across, you might have a more unique looking path and that's okay.)
2. I like to establish where my cross will be right from the start. With this in mind, wherever I tie on as my starting peg I make sure to go under the neighboring peg and then back over top the third peg. This is illustrated in the photograph below. If you follow my red path, you can see it starts on the peg all the way on the right, travels under the middle peg, then goes over top the third peg on the left. This will act as a reminder for you as you measure out your warp. Some people like to make their cross at the end of the guide thread. That's fine, too. It just needs to be on one end or the other- don't try to make it in the middle.
3. You're now ready to start with your warp thread. Tie your warp thread onto the first peg. Then, follow your guide thread with your warp thread. Notice below that I make sure to follow the guide thread under the second peg and then back over the third thread (just as we did with the guide thread in step 2).
5. I have referenced the "cross" an number of times in this tutorial. What is it? Well, it is the crux of this warping method. The cross serves to keep your warp threads neat and untangled as you sley your reed. Especially with a large number of ends, without this cross, your threads would get hopelessly jumbled. What the cross does is order your threads one over another so you can peel them off in the proper order. So, to make your cross, think of a figure eight. Remember that one peg we went under on the way down the warping board? Well, on the way back, you will need to go over that peg then under your starting peg. Go around your starting peg, and just as you did the first time you journey forth from this peg, follow your guide thread under the second peg. Every time you leave your starting peg you will go from the top of the peg to under the second peg, every journey toward your starting peg you will go from the top of the second-to-last peg to under your starting peg. This is illustrated in the photographs, but if you keep the number eight in mind, it will help. (If you put your cross at the end of your path, you would make these same motions on the second-to-last peg and the last peg of your path.)
8. Find some scrap yarn that is a contrasting color to your warp thread. You want to make sure you can clearly see what is a tie and what is a warp thread...it is a sad day when you accidentally snip a warp thread.
9. You will make a total of five choke ties on your cross to maintain its integrity. First, you make a horizontal tie around the X of your tie, as shown below. You want to make it snug, but not too snug that you cannot snip it away. If you know no curious little finger will mess with your ties, you can tie secure bows so that you do not need to worry with scissors. Once this horizontal tie is made, you will want to secure all the legs of the X with four additional ties. These five ties are best explained in the photographs below.
10. Next, it is helpful to make choke ties at least every yard (or meter) along your warp length. I like to make little bundles in these ties- like the kind you see in hanks of yarn. This isn't really necessary, you can just tie the great big bundle together, but I feel it keeps things a little tidier for me.
11. Your now ready to take your warp threads off the warping board. It might be a bit snug, but wiggle the end without the cross off the peg. Tie this end loop in a simple overhand knot while keeping the rest of your warp on the board.
12. From this end that you have pulled off the board, you will make a loop and then begin a chain of your warp threads through this loop as you pull the warp from the warping board. If you are familiar with crochet, you are really crocheting your warp threads using your hand. So, you make your initial loop, as shown in the picture on the far left below. Hold this loop in your left hand. With your right hand, reach through this loop toward the unchained warp thread, as shown in the middle photograph below. Grab the warp threads and pull them through the previous loop to create a new loop, as shown in the photograph on the far right. Repeat this process until you have chained all of your warp.
Tadah! You now have a warp chain. If you think you will suffer numerous interruptions when you are warping your loom, keep your warp threads to small bundles. For example, if you need to measure 300 ends but have two toddlers, you can make six bundles of 50 warp ends. This would give you six warp chains, all with their own crosses. Also, each color for your warp would be its own bundle. So, if your project has three colors, you should have at least three warp chains. These warp chains can be easily stored without worrying about destroying your hard work. I like to use my warping board to store mine, I simply drape them over some free pegs. You can measure out warps for more than one project, too...though if you do this, I would recommend you come up with a reliable labeling system. The next step from here is to actually warp your loom, which is beyond the scope of this post. But you can be confident that with these chains, you are ready for some warping action.
When you use all capital letters when you are writing it is often read as shouting. A simple "hello" comes across as much more alarming when it is written "HELLO." With that in mind, I will say this post is about making a knit SWATCH. I do not mean to shout at you, but every time I read the word swatch, I read it as though one of the knit gods is shouting at me to, well, swatch.
Making a swatch has a bad reputation, I think, because it takes some time to do it well and the end product is nothing exciting. You've picked a pattern, you've purchased the yarn, why the hell do you want to spend an hour or two making a swatch? You want to dive right in to your project, of course. You want to skim right over that pesky little phrase that pops up in nearly every pattern to use a particular size needle "or size to obtain guage." Why not just go ahead and use the same size needles the designer did and call it a day?
With some patterns you can plunge blindly forward with the prescribed needle size (don't forget to check the weight of your yarn). Sometimes a pattern even states it does not matter too much, especially with shawls, scarves or cowls that can be knit in different weights or sizes with the same pattern. I've even seen a few hat patterns that are written to accommodate our seemingly inherent and visceral dislike of swatching. I would highly recommend you treat yourself to a pattern like this every once in a while. But, and this is a big ugly but, never become complacent about swatching. There are many good reasons to do it, and while we are all good at making excuses not to, at the end of the day swatches actually save time. Gasp.
Gauge is given in a pattern so you know how many stitches there are within a set of inches or centimeters. This matters because it is how the designer made their calculations to obtain the size of their finished product. It wouldn't really be crazy to think that if you use the same yarn and the same needles as the designer you should get the same results. And you very well might. However, you might not. Every knitter is different. We all have our own special way of knitting. I do not mean this in a technical sense, I mean it more in a personal sense. As you knit, you develop a relationship with the fiber you are using. This might sound like crazy hippie lady talk, but it's not. Your relationship with the fiber is uniquely yours and this may lead your stitches to be slightly tighter or slightly looser than the designer's stitches. The only way to know is to make a swatch.
Especially if you are making something where the size matters (*ahem*), you want to make sure your gauge is correct. And "close enough" is not enough. If, for example, when you knit four inches and you have one less stitch than the designer, you would be fine in the short term. One stitch off? Who cares? But imagine you are making a sweater that has a 32 inch circumference. That one stitch has suddenly become 8 stitches by the end of your round. That could seriously effect the way your garment fits or drapes. And that is just a little difference. Imagine if you are four or more stitches off from the designer. I shudder to think. And no, people will not believe you that "that's the way it's supposed to look." There is only so much shrinking or stretching a good blocking can do- don't test the knitting gods that way, it's not worth it.
So, let's say you make a swatch and you do discover, whether because you are using a different yarn or you have slightly different stitch-tension from the designer, that your stitch count is not the same as theirs. What do you do? Well, that is where that phrase comes in..."or needle size to obtain gauge." You simply need to find the needle size that gets you on track with the designer. Typically, you only will need to move up or down one needle size. There are exceptions, though, so be patient and make sure you do your due diligence when making a needle size adjustment.
Making a swatch is not only important for gauge. It also helps you to see if a yarn selection is a good one for a given project. When you make a swatch, you can see if the stitch definition, color, and drape are what you were looking for. It's much easier to take an hour to make a swatch and change your mind about a yarn than it is to finish a whole project and realize you don't like it or the it's not quite right.
A hint, though...keep your swatches if you can. (Sometimes you may be desperate for that last little bit of yarn to finish a project and have to sacrifice a swatch, and that's okay, too.) Label each swatch with the yarn you used and the needle size. If you are using a fancy stitch in your swatch, keep track of that, too. The more you knit, you will begin to build a reference library for yourself. It will help you make smarter decisions about yarn for your projects, fiber and color choices will become easier, and you will begin to feel like your swatches really are good for something and a bit more satisfying to make.
It is a pain, there is no doubt about it. But taking the time to make a swatch can save you a whole lot of grief, my friend. Take it from a knitter who has tried to get around it and learned the hard way how important it is to do a little prep work. And that is why every time I see the word "swatch" I read it as "SWATCH." Heed the shouting.
You can knit a whole host of things with the simple knit and purl stitches. However, when you move past scarves and pot holders, you may find you need to use some shaping. Shaping can be intimidating. There are numerous types of stitches that can increase or decrease your stitch count to help shape a project, whether it be a sweater, a shawl or a pair of socks. And different designers have different favorites to achieve the same end. While you can get into some fancier or more complicated decreases, I thought it might be nice to have a tutorial on what I feel is the most basic decrease. Now, I say "most basic" but that does not mean it is inferior. This is a hard working stitch you will come across in countless patterns. The fundamentals of knitting, the knit and purl stitch being the most fundamental, are never inferior. What I feel is the fundamental decrease is the "knit two together" stitch which is abbreviated k2tog in most patterns that use it. I rather love the name of that stitch, too. Knit two together just sounds so cozy and loving to me. It's silly, I know, but since I feel knitting is creating and creating is part of loving, knit two together just sounds right.
The tools I referenced above are mental ones, but you also need a physical tool for cable work. There are a variety of commercial cable needles available and it is really your personal preference that dictates which is the best one. Also, if money is tight or your urge to cable is immediate, you can use a pencil or extra double pointed needle to accomplish a twist or any other cable work. My own preference has led me to the straight, notched cable needle. I find I can manipulate it with greater ease than the hooked variety and the notches really secure my stitches from falling off.
The next thing is to learn what a twisted cable looks like in a charted pattern. As I have mentioned before, it is crucial to study the key of your pattern prior to digging into the knitting. There can be custom symbols for cables, but the ones I have come across tend to follow the same basic notation. For a symmetric twist, the symbol typically looks like the photograph below. These photographs are from an actual pattern. (The paper got a little crinkled because my toddler decided it was page that just had to have some crumpling.) There is both a left and a right twist, so the two you see are representative of each of those and I will include steps for accomplishing both.
In the charts below, the actual twist is illustrated in row one. The subsequent rows have no cabling but are essential to allow the development of your twist. Trying to achieve twisted cables without allowing some spacing between the actual twists would not yield a pleasing result. Always give your twisted cables some room to grow.
Once you get to the cable in your pattern, you will slide the prescribed number of stitches onto your cable needle from the lefthand needle (the stitches in your working row that have not yet been knitted). In my example of three, I slipped three stitches from my left hand needle onto my cable needle, shown in the photo above. I like to hold my working yarn with normal knitting tension and keep it back, out of the way when I do this. It takes a little practice, but gets easier the more you do. The end result will be that your working yarn is still on your righthand needle, the next three stitches will be on your cable needle, and the rest of your unknitted row will remain on your lefthand needle.
For the left twist, you then hold your cable needle in front of your work, meaning it should be between you and your knitting. You then proceed to knit from your lefthand needle like the cable needle is not there. If you find your cable needle getting in your way, just gently hold it still with a free finger as you knit. It is important to be mindful here, though, you do not want any stitches slipping off of your cable needle. It can also feel a little awkward because you will have a little bit of a stretch to make when knitting behind your cable needle since you have essentially skipped stitches that used to be there. In my example, you should knit three stitches from your lefthand needle, the same number of stitches that are being held on the cable needle.
Once you have knit from your lefthand needle, you will pick up your cable needle and, using your righthand needle and working yarn, knit the three stitches off of your cable needle. You simply hold your cable needle in your left hand and treat it like your lefthand knitting needle. Depending what type of cable needle you are using, you might have to manipulate your stitches a little to get them to the point where you can knit them with ease. Obviously, if you are using a hooked needle, you will have to shimmy your stitches out of the u-bend. With notched needles, you will need to free your stitches from the notches so you can knit them on to your righthand needle. Make sure you do not twist your cable needle around. You use to left side of the cable needle to slip the stitches, but you must move the stitches to the right side of the needle before knitting from your cable needle.
I've tried to capture the negative space in the photograph below. Notice how it looks like it is behind the twist? That is the three dimensional affect you want.
Now, as promised, let's look at a right twist. A right twist cable spirals upward from the left to the right, the opposite of the left twist. There is only one crucial difference in the steps to make a right instead of a left twist. Once you slip your stitches onto your cable needle, in our case three stitches, you hold it in the back of your knitting before knitting from your left hand needle This means your knitted fabric and your working yarn will all be in front of your cable needle.
Below, you can see a completed right twist cable. The pattern I am working on frames in the cables nicely with two knitted columns and purled negative space that allows everything to pop forward. The true trick with cables is to take your time and pay attention. Make sure you are careful with the stitches on your cable needle, they will want to wiggle free because they think you are knitting them in the wrong order, the little boogers. Cables are not inherently difficult, but the do take patience. Now go forth and do the twist.
Have you ever been knitting needles deep in a project and realized there was some tool you didn't have (or couldn't find)? Sometimes it is not practical to drop your project and run out to a knitting store. Sometimes it isn't even necessary. There are some tools that you can make yourself, on the fly, McGyver style. Here are a few little notions that I make fairly often.
1. Stitch Marker
This is one of my favorites, because oh my goodness, do I have trouble keeping track of stitch markers. Those pesky little plastic doodads are elusive. And of course I find twenty of them when I don't need any and none when I just need one. A quick fix to a lack of stitch markers is a paper clip. You could also use a safety pin. You simply take your paper clip or closed safety pin and slide it on your needle in place of a traditional stitch marker. As you knit, the paper clip can be slipped in the same fashion as any traditional stitch marker.
2. Stitch Holder
Many patterns suggest this one- if you do not have a manufactured stitch holder, just grab your tapestry needle and some waste yarn and thread your live stitches onto the waste yarn. You can tie your waste yarn in a loop once the stitches are on board so that nothing slips away.
3. Cable Needle
I love my cable needle. I'm a fan of the small, straight cable needle with the little grooves so my stitches do not easily slip away. They also manufacture hook shaped cable needles. However, if you find yourself short a cable needle and you're in a pinch, you can use a pencil. If a pencil is too fat, you can use a spare double pointed needle. I will caution you when using a knitting needle as a cable needle; the knitting needle is designed to let stitches slip around easily, which means keeping your cable stitches on your needle can be a little wily and might need extra attention lest they fall away.
4. Storing Project on Needles
If you need to take a break from a project or, like me, you have fifty project going at the same time, there exist little rubber stoppers for the ends of your knitting needles that prevent your work from falling off. These little stoppers can save you from a lot of grief. There is no worse feeling when knitting than pulling a project out of a project bag to discover half of it quietly unraveled while you were away. However, if you do not have these handy little rubber stoppers for your needles but you do happen to have a wine cork, you have the next best thing. Simply push the wine cork on the end of your needle and you eliminate worry that your project will slip away. If you only have one cork, you can cut it in half and still have an adequate stopper for both of your needles.
As with many things, you are only limited by your imagination when it comes to knitting. If you have any McGyver styled knitting solutions of your own, I would love to hear what they are.