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.
Goodness, even in knitting there are weight issues! Is there no escape? The answer is a resounding "no." But fear not, yarn does not judge or discriminate...all weights are beautiful. You just need to know what weight is appropriate at what time. As you can clearly see in the photograph below, that skinny minnie lace weight yarn is no good for your warm cuddly scarf and that super bulky yarn would never work for an intricate pair of socks. Shown side by side, there is a clear difference in the yarns, even if they are the same color and fiber content.
Yarn weight is important for the success of your project. What it really comes down to is the gauge you are attempting to achieve, which is why swatching is so important. Any good knitting pattern will tell you what gauge was used to complete the project, which is simply stating how many stitches there are per a prescribed measurement. Often in the United States you see it as stitches per inch or perhaps stitches per four inches. I will do a more detailed tutorial on swatching, but here is a nutshell summary. If you use the needle size and yarn a pattern calls for and have more stitches than outlined, you should move up a needle size. If you have fewer stitches, move down a needle size. If you have the same number, you're good to go. There are a number of reasons gauge can be off, one of which is your yarn weight.
One of the important tidbits of information a pattern gives you in achieving the appropriate gauge is what yarn was used to knit the project. You can use the same exact yarn, or you can substitute in your own choice...which is where the yarn weight begins to matter a lot. If you're a newbie at this, you should probably stick with a yarn that is as similar to the yarn in the pattern as you can get. To do this, you need to know what weight, or thickness, you are dealing with. There are thicknesses that are assigned a number, 0-7, zero being the thinest. Just because having one designation is not enough, there are names associated with thickness, as well. These names start at "lace weight" and continue to "super bulky." An excellent chart of these designations is found on www.yarnstandards.com and has been copied below for your convenience.
But these designations, whether numbers or names, include a small range of sizes. Of course two lace weight yarns, spun by two different companies, will be a little different. (Again, that is why swatching is so important. Even if you sub in a lace weight for another lace weight, you may gain or loose a stitch and need to adjust your needle size.) The most scientific way to discern exact yarn weight is to, you guessed it, weigh it. Oddly enough, however, the weight we have been discussing is different from the weight listed on your yarn label. (Stick with me.) The weight designations that tell you if you are woking with a DK or a bulky yarn would probably be more accurately called a "thickness" designation. But the actual weight of your yarn can be useful, too.
When you look at most yarn labels, you will see both the yardage and the weight listed. For easy comparison, you can do a little math to get the yard (or meter) per oz (or gram). Using the photographed label below, let's try it out. The label says there are 220 yards in this particular hank of yarn. It weighs 100 grams. Take 220 yards divided by 100 grams to yield that there are 2.2 yds/g. This is a good, quick way to compare yarns with the same fiber content. (They must be the same fiber content for this comparison because different fibers have different densities. Makes sense, right? But that means two equal thickness yarns of different fiber content can have very different weights.)
Why does this matter? Well, let's pretend the pattern I have calls for the beautiful Cloudborn Fiber featured above, but I do not want to use this yarn. I was browsing my yarn shop and fell in love the Malabrigo prussia blue yarn and want to use it instead. Both yarns are a superwash merino wool, so are the weights close enough for substitution? I look for a number on the Malabrigo, but it does not have a standard designation or symbol, but I do not panic. Using the label, I whip out my phone and check the numbers. 335 yards divided by 100 grams is 3.35 yards/gram. This is a little different from the 2.2 yds/g of the Cloudborn. While I could adjust my needle size enough to make up the difference, it may change the pattern too much for my comfort level. There is a full yard more per gram of the Malabrigo over the Cloudborn, meaning the Malabrigo is more a light worsted weight yarn than a worsted weight ( a #3 opposed to a #4). The answer: I keep shopping.
Okay, that Malabrigo was not a good substitution, so what now? Further browsing and I stumble upon a beautiful wool KnitPicks yarn. Using the label, let's see if this yarn would be a good weight. It has 110 yards per 50 grams, which is 2.2 yds/g. That is an exact match for weight! Hooray! Also, a quick look at the label reveals both yarns are a #4 worsted weight. Perfect. (You don't have to give up a substitution if one yarn is a #3 and one is a #4 weight. It could happen that the #3 is at the top end of the light worsted weight range and the #4 is at the low end of the worsted weight range and that the substitution can, in fact, easily be made.)
It can be fun to knit with different weights and once you get comfortable, you can start making more daring substitutions. You will find that different weights give you different affects and can really make a striking difference in the look of a project. When you are following a pattern, if you stray too far from the prescribed weight you may have to make adjustments to the pattern itself, which may or may not work out depending on stitch counts. In the example I gave earlier, it would never work out to substitute a bulky weight for a lace weight. While an extreme example, it illustrates that need to pay attention to gauge, which is directly affected by weight.
Obviously, thicker yarns knit on larger needles tend to be much faster projects than lighter weight yarns knit on small needles. This brings me to my last point- needle size. In the chart earlier, you can see different weights call for different needle sizes. Of course there are exceptions, like how lace is often knit on larger needles. But, as with my outrageous suggestion of using a super bulky yarn for a delicate sock pattern, it just would not make sense. You could never use a size 1 needle on a super bulky yarn. Staying within the recommended needle size for your yarn yields the most attractive stitches. Someone else figured it all out so you don't have to. It's worth paying attention to their suggestion.
It is fun to explore the yarn attribute of weight and I hope that you do.
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.