Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Beginner Projects

I wanted to put a little post up front here before the list of tutorial links below to recommend a few nice 'first time' Fair Isle knitting projects. The easiest pattern to begin with is a ski headband like the one to the left (Never Knit Your Man a Sweater Until You've Got the Ring). Using a variegated yarn for the background color gives the illusion that you've used more than two colors. You can also buy a kit that includes a pattern and yarn from Bea Ellis. I've also recently discovered a nice pillow pattern book from Dale of Norway (book 119) which is based on knitting in the round, no steeks, no shaping, and very easy pattern repeats that should make it very fun for the beginner. And when you are ready to work on double pointed needles, Nancy Bush has a wonderful mitten pattern for beginners, Meida's Mittens, from her book Folk Knitting in Estonia. Only the cuff is done in two colors so you don't have to worry about any shaping in pattern.

Monday, March 12, 2007

How to Get Started: Tutorials

This article was written for knitters out in the wilderness, who don't have access to a local yarn store or a group of knitters in your area who you can learn from. The wonderful thing about this technique is that it looks complex, but it is very easy to do once you master the basics, which are not difficult if you have knowledge, and knowledge is key - finding it is another story, that is the true challenge of 2 color knitting. Information on technique seems to come and go as each new book is published and then goes out of print. It is miraculously kept alive through online chat forums, blog sites, and knitting groups, camps and conferences. But knowing where and how to access this information can feel like a great mystery when you are first getting started.

After sifting through alot of this information as someone new to 2 color knitting, I put together a list of all the teaching resources that I found to be the most helpful in my case, but keep in mind, your experiences and needs might be different:

Best Teaching Resources for a Beginner

The Essential Guide to Color Knitting Techniques by Margaret Radcliffe. Just released in Dec. of 2008, a fantastic new teaching resource. (In addition to Fair Isle knitting, it also includes instruction on double knitting, entrelac, and intarsia.) There are several beginner patterns in the book including hats, mittens and handbags.

Alice Starmore's Book of Fair Isle Knitting
This book is now back in print (see more information here). (Or you can borrow a library copy through a local library (check out worldcat.org) or through inter-library loan.) Another resource is Ann Feitelstein's Art of Fair Isle Knitting.

A Nice Place to Get Started With Two Color Knitting in the Round for Beginners:
Knitting Workshop DVD, Schoolhouse Press
(Secrets to Successful Norwegian knitting/2 color stranded knitting)
Wonderful inspiration, good sound advice on technique, a great foundation course!

Cardigan Details DVD, Schoolhouse Press
For when you are ready to cast and on get serious about steeks. The DVD takes you through an entire sweater (Lupine Cardigan from Meg Swansen's Knitting - knits up fast!).

Meg Swansen's Fair Isle Vest DVD, Schoolhouse Press
(A great tutorial for a "V-Neck" Fair Isle vest with armhole and neck steeks)

Eunny Jang's "The Ivy League Vest" DVD from Interweave Knits

After you Master the Basics and Want to Study All Construction Strategies:
Knitting in the Old Way

When you are ready to select your own colorwork charts for a project, these two classics will provide a wide range of options to select from: Traditional Fair Isle Knitting by Sheila McGregor, and Traditional Scandinavian Knitting by the same author.

Photo Tutorials for Knitting with Steeks

Since many valuable books have gone out of print and can be very costly to buy, some experienced knitters have developed online tutorials to help fill in the gaps. I found these free tutorials online to be very helpful, particularly for their photos:

Eunny Jang's Steek Chronicles
http://www.eunnyjang.com/knit/2006/01/steeking_chronicles_the_should.html

Wendy Johnson's Article on Steeks at Knitty.com
http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEspring03/FEATsteeks.html

Steek Photos by Wendy Johnson for a Dale of Norway Norwegian Sweater:

http://www.wendyjohnson.net/dale/steek.htm
http://www.wendyjohnson.net/knit/dale_steeks.htm

Steek Photos by Wendy Johnson for a Fair Isle Sweater:

http://wendyjohnson.net/lusk/luskie_neckband.htm
http://wendyjohnson.net/fairisle/steek.htm

Crochet Steeks (nice photos!):
http://bowerbirdknits.blogspot.com/2006_05_01_archive.html

2 Color Knitting Video Tutorials Online

Video Tutorial at the Philosopher's Wool Website on 2-Color Stranded Knitting:

http://www.philosopherswool.com/Pages/Streamingvideo.htm

Video Tutorial on 2-Color Stranded Knitting at Knittinghelp.com:

http://www.knittinghelp.com/knitting/advanced_techniques/

Continental Knit and Purl Stitch Video Tutorial at Knittinghelp.com:

http://www.knittinghelp.com/knitting/basic_techniques/knit.php
http://www.knittinghelp.com/knitting/basic_techniques/purl.php

Two Handed Two Color Knitting on Double Pointed Needles:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lthgPvmkbkQ

Purling in Two Colors
(Extremely useful if you will not be knitting in the round.)

Other good reference resources:

Knitting in Color Blog:
http://www.knittingincolor.blogspot.com/
(Scroll down to see the link list on the right for other great tutorials online.)

Class Projects

Many knitting teachers offer class projects that are mini size sweaters that help you learn the basics without investing alot of time. This teddy bear project is perfect if you've already mastered two color knitting and want to try out your first steeks on something little:

Norwegian Pullover Teddy Bear Sweater from Knitty Gritty
http://www.diynetwork.com/diy/na_knitting/article/0,2025,DIY_14141_5172004,00.html

One final word of advice: knitters can be very opinionated, because we all have different experiences that lead us to successful mastery of these techniques and different preferences for how to accomplish what we want to achieve. So don't just take my word, be sure to ask around and get opinions from people you trust. There are probably as many ways to knit a sweater as there are people who knit and you will most likely develop your own unique style as well. Perhaps one day you will invent a technique that will be named after you! I hope one day you will share what you learned and pass it on!

Advice on Shopping for Supplies

I hope to pass along a few pearls of wisdom gained from experience in the hopes that this will help knitters who are new to 2 color knitting learn some of the unique peculiarities of this craft.

What Yarn Do I Use?
This may seem incredibly obvious, just use the yarn called for in a pattern, right! Well, chances are, if your pattern is a few years old, the yarn called for might not be available any longer. You might also mistakenly assume that as long as your gauge is the same, any yarn can be substituted. Even if the gauge of the yarn is correct, the fiber you choose is also key. If you are knitting in the round and your pattern calls for cutting stitches (steeks) the safe choice when first getting started is to use a yarn that is traditional to 2 color stranded knitting. These yarns will perform better in 2 color knitting for a variety of reasons:
  • Yarns commonly used in 2 color knitting patterns are chosen for their wide range of colors which allow you to shade your colors in a graduated fashion for a traditional Fair Isle look.
  • If your pattern calls for steeks, 'sticky' wool (such as Shetland wood) will perform better with steeks, as opposed to slippery yarn (ie. Alpaca, silk etc.) which might unravel after cutting even with a secured stitching line. (If in doubt, test first!)
  • I believe yarn with a firmer rather than a looser twist performs better in two color knitting. The stitches lay together nicely, helping you to achieve an 'even' fabric.
To see a list of sheep wool/yarn brands that are commonly used in traditional folk knitting based on knitting on circular needles in the round with stranded color work, here is a wonderful list to help you begin to explore all the choices available:

List of Wool Used in Traditional Folk Knitting

Some brands of wool not on the list include:

Alice Starmore's Hebrides 2 and 3 ply (virtualyarns.com)
Icelandic Wool (I prefer the 'unspun' variety from Schoolhouse Press, see also Reynolds Lopi).
Satakieli Wool from Finland (available from the Wooly West and Schoolhouse Press)
Harrisville Yarns (New England Shetland/fingering weight, New England Highland/worsted weight)

Noro Kureyon, Noro Garden Lite
Koigu (see examples here.)


Sample of Yarns and Patterns for Knitting in Two Colors on Straight Needles:

If you enjoy knitting with soft yarns, you can still create beautiful Fair Isle garments, by knitting in flat rows and using traditional seams rather than steeks. Knitting Fair Isle in flat rows as compared to knitting on circular needles in the round requires you to learn how to pearl in two colors. It might sound intimidating but there a few video tutorials that provides a great demonstration and once you catch the hang of it, it does start to feel natural. Here is a video tutorial that demonstrates how to purl in two colors holding both yarns in the right hand. The way it was explained to me by a fan of this technique, "I enjoy it and see it as another challenge and opportunity to grow as a knitter." Here are a list of patterns using a variety of soft yarns that softly caress the skin based on Fair Isle and Norwegian designs:

The Mirasol Collection: Book One by Jane Ellison
Miski Yarn by Mirasol (100% baby llama)

Updated Old Classic Pullover by Wendy Bernard in Custom Knits
Elann Collection Peruvian Pure Alpaca

Bogolanfini Pullover by Fiona Ellis in Folk Style
Blue Sky Alpaca's Alpaca Silk

Land Girl and Bessie Sweater in Rialto Family 2008 by Debbie Bliss
Debbie Bliss Rialto 4 Ply (100% Extra Fine Merino)

Patricia Cardigan in the Cashmerino Collection by Debbie Bliss
Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino


Finding a Fiber you Love
All of these brands of yarn offer tremendous pattern support, and if I may be so bold as to say, rather than fall in love with a pattern and then go with the recommended yarn, you might want to consider falling in love with the yarn first and then finding a pattern suitable for that yarn. I mistakenly did the former and realized, it was like making a long term committment on the first date before I really knew what I was getting into. Every fiber offers unique qualities, and I came to learn that its important to 'sample' and try out a variety of fibers before settling on The One that you will be knitting with for a very long time.

That being said, when you are exploring various yarns, its also a good time to think about the shape of the sweater that fits your body type best when you are planning your first sweater. Norwegian and Fair Isle sweaters offer a few simple shapes, generally either a pullover or a cardigan or sleeveless sweater/vest, but arm and neck treatments differ, ie. yoke vs. raglan etc. Also keep in mind that pattern makers don't always design sweater dimensions according to a standard size chart, so carefully look at the 'finished' dimensions of the sweater when you select your size. Also, I can't mention enough how important gauge is here in getting your finished sweater to come out the right size. Being off by just one needle size can change your finished sweater by at least one size.

Invest in Shade Cards

After you've researched all the available yarns out there, I highly recommend buying a shade card for all of the brands you think you might want to test. Or conversely, if you see a pattern and it is love at first site, still take the time to invest in a shade card first before you place your order for specific yarn shades/colors. The reason being that photos of finished sweater designs can only ever be a "color guide" for Fair Isle knitters in particular for the following reasons:
  • 1) The shades you see online are different from the shades you see on the shade cards, which are different from the shades you see in a photograph of a finished sweater.
  • 2.) Shades not only change slightly between dye lots, they can also shift in hue and value over time, and if your pattern was published 5 or more years ago, chances are, the colors could have shifted quite a bit and you may not be able to create the same design if you blindly follow the colors listed on the pattern by name or number.
  • A current shade card can provide you with a 'reality check' to make sure the colors of your finished sweater feel right to you, especially if you are using an older pattern.
  • Its a safe rule of thumb to always view the photo of a finished sweater and the recommended colors in the pattern as a 'guide' only.
  • I find it safest to develop a list of colors from the shade card that match the design as close as possible based on the photo, order one of each, create a test swatch in pattern, and if all goes well, place a full order, or keep experimenting with colors until I feel confident the colors feel right to me.
  • Unfortunately, most yarn stores don't carry all the colors you'll probably need so alot of us have to order blindly online, and sometimes it can be a trial and error experience.
  • Before you order any yarn, make sure it is 'returnable' if unused and in original condition because there will be times when the colors are just not right. Some of the major yarn retailers in this category don't have return policies on their website, so if in doubt, call to check.

To summarize, fair Isle sweater designs from pattern books in particular are unique one of a kind garments which can never be made twice exactly in the same colors because yarn colors are never a constant. They don't "disclose" this in books or on yarn sites but a yarn store owner familiar with Fair Isle knitting can be your friend for life if they help you understand this extremely important point and support you in helping you to find shades that might be a close match. Its so important to swatch first to make sure things are working together and here is one great example of how cool this process can be:

http://athenadreams.typepad.com/my_weblog/2007/01/index.html

Order a Few Sample Skeins to Test Color AND Performance of Yarns

I have also found through trial and error that each brand of yarn has different qualities that you cannot detect from just looking at a 2" sample. Because the qualities of each yarn are different, your experience knitting with them in stranded knitting will also be slightly different. Since you will be spending a long time knitting with the yarn you invest in, you might want to order a few sample skeins, not only to test the color, but to actually test how they perform in two color knitting, to see if you are happy with the results.
I don't want to make any recommendations or describe the qualities of each yarn because I think each knitter has their own unique preferences and budget and the yarn you choose that feels right for you will probably be different for the next person. The important thing is to explore those unique qualities and in comparing them you will discover what your personal favorite is and which one will give you the most enjoyment as you spend alot of time knitting with it. Here are just a few characteristics to think about: weight/gauge, depth of color, tonal range, loft, softness, drape, ply, spin, elasticity, and textural consistency.
(Note: I have found that some of the traditional wool used in color knitting, especially fingering weight wool, can be texturally inconsistent, going from thick to thin. In my case, I felt it did have an impact on the final look of my knitting, so to compensate for this, I either cut out the sections of the yarn that have thinned out or I will knit using the thinning areas with two strands held together. When seeking out advice, I was told that this thinning out problem was a non issue since it would all "bloom" in the wash but I never felt that it did. Sometimes with one brand of yarn, only particular colors seem to be affected, or particular dye lots so its good to check with the manufacturer or your retailer to check on a possible refund. I've never had this problem with Dale of Norway, Harrisville, Rowan or Alice Starmore/Virtual Yarns, so if in doubt, these are safe bets, based on my experiences.)


Two Yarn Weights to Choose From

I'll wrap up this secton on yarn weight since I think its important for anyone struggling with pain in their hands and wrists when knitting. When I first started knitting, I had aches and pains from muscles I had never used before. I was stiff for weeks in different parts of my arms, neck, and back. I eventually figured out what pillows to put where, what chairs were best to sit on etc. And the muscles began to get stronger and finally the soreness went away. Part of this process included learning about what weights of yarn I felt I could be the most successful with since I am prone to wrist soreness. 2 color knitting designs tend to call for either a fine gauge yarn (US size 2, 3 needles), mostly the case with Fair Isle knitting, and heavier weight yarns (size 4 - 6 needles), mostly found in Norwegian patterns (although there are many Norwegian patterns written for fine gauge yarns as well). I found that the heavier weight yarn was more challenging for me. Others might find it easier than the finer guage yarn. Everyone has a unique physiology, in terms of hand size, length of fingers, history of arthritis or repetitive motion injury, etc., so its important to discover what combination of needle and yarn works best for you.

How to Choose a Charted Design for a Beginner?
Once you have decided on a brand of yarn you love, how do you select a pattern with a charted design that is just right for a beginner? When I asked this question I was given replies from experienced knitters that complained about boredom from choosing a design that was too easy. The repetition became monotonous for them. On the other hand, I have heard experienced knitters complaining of being overwhelmed from designs that were complex. From my point of view, all charted designs can be very simple to follow if you take three steps to simplify the process:
  • 1.) use a fine tip felt pen with black ink and use a ruler to darken the grid line on your chart after every 10 stitches. Some patterns already do this for you. It makes it enormously easy for the eye to look at groups of 10. Even if your pattern repeat is 30 or more stitches, you are only dealing with 10 at a time.
  • 2.) place markers (small little circular rings or even waist yarn) after each repeat. This is enormously helpful in giving you a 'reality check' to see if you are starting and stopping on the right color, if the design is building in the right sequence as it grows, one repeat after the other.
  • 3.) enlarge your charted design with a copier machine, large enough for you to see from a distance, so you can relax in your favorite chair and easily see the design. This saves on eye strain and makes it very easy to glance up and see with the eye and knit from, without having to write down the color sequence (ie. 2 reds, 3 yellows....). Don't be intimidated by more complex designs, choose something that is aesthetically pleasing to you, more than anything else, color wise and design wise.
Good, Better, Great Designs!
There is one thing that I wish those experienced knitters mentioned to me when looking for my first pattern. That is, how to check for quality of design, based on what I might call structural integrity. Brocade knitting has become very popular in contemporary 2 color knitting designs, ie. recreating those designs from a jaquard loom that you see in those lovely silk brocade prints found in luxury textiles with ornamental design motifs. These patterns sometimes violate the simple rule of changing color within 5 stitches that is traditional in 2 color knitting (See: Alice Starmore's Book of Fair Isle Knitting, and Elizabeth Zimmerman, Knitting Workshop DVD). In that case, you end up stranding the second color in the back of your knitting for long stretches at a time (10 or more stitches).

Two little problems can occur in this case. If your design has alot of one color sections, they have a tendency to become wavy and ripple, because your one color knitting sections will be of a different gauge than your two color knitting areas. In Fair Isle knitting, this usually isn't a problem because 'peerie' patterns (small in-between designs) are included to fill in those gaps. (If you see the need for a peerie, you can add them to the design you are working on.)  

The other thing you need to watch out for is where you catch the second yarn in the back when you are stranding across large sections of one color. If you keep trapping the unused color in the back at the same spot over multiple rows, a funny little tension line will begin to show in the front. (See Sally Mellville's book, Knitting: Color, Book 3). The way to avoid this is to trap the second color in the back at different spots on each row.

Another option to consider would be to knit the pattern using the "intarsia" knitting technique.

Look for 'Errata' Corrections First or Join a KAL (Knit Along) for Support
The last bit of advice I'd like to offer on choosing a pattern is to make sure that you read through the entire pattern before you commit to buying all the yarn, to make sure you understand the instructions and have acquired all the knowledge you need to complete it. You might also want to check for corrections on an 'errata' page from the publisher and or stick to known designers that have a good reputation for error free patterns. (Interweave Knits offers a very large errata page and you would be surprised at the large number of errors for many color work patterns. I was told that I should be thankful that they publish these as most publishers do not!) Finally, you might be able to find a KAL (Knit Along) or create one to join other knitters following the same pattern to network with others that might be having the same problems if you come across one in your pattern.


The Two Great Knitting Camps:
As you read through various patterns you'll soon begin to realize that some are very structured (Eunny Jang, Ann Fetelstein) and others are very unstructured (Meg Swansen/Elizabeth Zimmerman) and each comes with their own advantages. The unstructured approach assumes that you have the foundation knowledge to proceed without alot of detailed information (ie. the pattern might say, proceed to add a mitered border but not mention how this should be done). The structured approach, on the other hand, will provide a high level of detail (ie. add a mitered border as follows:.....with step by step details, stitch counts etc.). The unstructured approach offers the advantage of putting you in control of all major decisions and how to carry them out, however, on the other hand, you may find yourself needing to buy other books or spend time with a teacher figuring out how to get through the steps. Because of this, beginners might feel safer using a pattern with a structured approach. The main disadvantage of following a structured approach is that you become dependent on the pattern so much that if there is an error, you will have never developed the ability to "think" like a designer and pattern maker, which can help you knit your way through the error to the next step. This is what the unstructured camp refers to as 'blind knitters'. You'll recognize members from both camps in your knitting circles, and this is my advice for any beginner:
Each camp offers a different way, and I say to each his own, whichever way offers you a pathway into knitting, you take it, and don't worry about what others say. I think ultimately, this was the great message of empowerment that Elizabeth Zimmerman wanted to leave as her legacy. Feeling safe and in control sometimes means more structure for some people and less structure for others. Whats important is to honor what feels best for you.


Find a Pattern Maker/Designer that Fits Your Style
You might want to spend alot of time reading through patterns just to study technique and to analyze the different approaches that various patterns take. You'll soon begin to develop a fluency in the language of these patterns and begin to see in your mind with the help of some photos and diagrams how the sweater develops in the round with these techniques. After investing in this research phase, I settled on patterns from books written by Alice Starmore. For me, they offered just the right amount of structure that I needed, and it was easy to follow her patterns after reading her technique book on Fair Isle knitting (I am also finding this to be the same with her Aran knitting book and patterns). I also really like the pattern for the Fair Isle yoke pullover by Ann Fetelstein in her Art of Fair Isle Knitting. The design was developed from research done on the Shetland Islands, and I found her method to be my favorite after studying a half dozen or more patterns for this sweater style which is my favorite Fair Isle sweater type. As a new knitter it can be tremendously helpful to find a pattern that you love such as this one and use it over and over again, changing only the color work pattern each time you make a new sweater, similiar to the way you find your favorite brand of designer jeans and buy them over and over again, because you love the fit and it makes you feel great!
Whatever pattern you select, keep in mind that you'll begin with confidence if you've studied through the techniques you'll need to complete the sweater. You could also take a big leap into the unknown and stop in the middle when you get to a section that is unclear, however, if you are in the wilderness, without access to alot of resources like classes or knowledgeable friends or instructors, a safer choice might be to stick with a design that isn't overly complicated. For your first project, you'll want to boost your confidence and complete it with success. Being armored with all the technique knowledge you need first will give you peace of mind that you can finish on your own without the fear of getting stuck, or worse yet, abandoning your sweater in disappointment.

Should I Buy a Yarn Kit?
Yarn kits seem like a great way to save money, all that yarn bundled up in just the right amount, and it seems like a great way to go. Just a few words of advice on yarn kits. Ask about return policies before you make your purchase, if you are ordering online. You'll want to make sure it is returnable before you commit because it is very difficult to make a choice about something you haven't had the opportunity to see in real life. Its always a good idea to ask the seller what shades come in the kit, and then check the shade colors from your shade card first, to make sure you will be happy with it. You might even want to take the added step of ordering a few sample skeins of the colors used in the greatest quantities for the sweater, and knit up a sample swatch to make sure it is what you wanted first. Even though you are spending $10-20 for this, and it does take more time, think about working on a sweater for weeks and months only to find out, you don't like what you are seeing. When you buy a yarn kit online, you don't have the benefit of being able to see the finished sweater, chances are you will only see a photograph of it. So your results with your test skeins will give you 100% confidence that you are making the choice that is best for you. But as an added measure, also make sure a kit is returnable if unused, if the colors arrive and it doesn't work out for you.


Caveat Emptor: Internet Mail Order

I also thought I would mention a few words of advice on ordering through internet mail order since alot of your supplies will have to probably be purchased in this way (I was never a big customer of online mail order with the exception of Amazon.com until I became a knitter and discovered there was "alot" to learn here as well!):

1.) Check with the seller to see if the inventory on the site is 'real time' before you purchase an item. They may be out of stock and still charge your credit card, forcing you to wait for weeks or months for delivery.

2.) Make sure the seller ships your items with a tracking number so you can track a package that might get lost through no fault of your own. Otherwise, it becomes "your word vs. theirs," and this can turn into an unpleasant situation.

3.) Don't ever give away your private information on a website unless the URL address begins with "https" - the "s" after the usual "http" means that the information you send is encrypted through secure socket layer (SSL), which is currently the safest way to send private information over the internet.

Seeing is Everything!
If you are struggling to get your 2 color knitting to knit nice and flat, without puckers, or are trying to resolve some of the other common problems that crop up when you are first learning this technique, don't spend a year like I did with the wrong yarn, and limited to a written explanation with diagrams that don't really disclose how to knit in this way. Watching someone knit with 2 colors gives the eye something to follow and imitate. You will improve dramatically when watching and imitating. My favorite teaching resources on DVD or video are Knitting Workshop DVD by Elizabeth Zimmerman from Schoolhouse Press, and the Philosopher's Wool video on their website. (I also understand that there is a VHS video of Alice Starmore that comes up for sale from time to time on eBay which I have heard is excellent.) There are also many good teachers that travel across the country and if they come to a class offered nearby, count your lucky stars and jump at the chance if you can afford it. We owe alot to these women (and men!) for carrying the torch for others to follow.

Practice Design and Construction With A Miniature Sweater
You might also want to try practicing construction technique such as designing a pattern, knitting in 2 colors, knitting in the round, centering a pattern, picking up stitches, knitting and cutting a steek etc. on a smale scale sweater, something that would fit a child size teddy bear. Here is photo of an excellent example, posted by Beth Walker O'Brien on her website, Knits Illustrated. If you have seen the DVD Knitting Workshop by Elizabeth Zimmerman, you'll acquire all the knowledge you need to do this. The wonderful thing about this starter project is that you get to practice and discover how knitted fabric behaves when using these techniques. There is always theory, and then there is practice, and this small little project will help you make the transition from one to the other. A pattern maybe written 'assuming' you have the knowledge to make a decision about which type of cast on to use and may only say cast on x number of stitches....so by working through all the steps on a small scale sweater, you'll be able to develop your own body of knowledge and know how to make good choices when assumed knowledge is left out of the instructions.
One last little note here on getting started. Eunny Jang is working on developing 2 color knitting patterns that offer enormous guidance for knitters that are new to this technique. Most of the books I have seen have "technique sections" and then "patterns" and when you are doing your first sweater, it is sometimes difficult to make the connection between the two. Eunny Jang's Venezia sweater offers alot of 'way finding' techniques (expressions borrowed from web site usability) to help keep you on the right track.
Once you master technique, you'll look back and see that it wasn't so difficult after all, after you found the information you needed to learn. It is enormously satisfying to paint with the fingers, as each drop of color falls into place and you bear witness to an emerging work of art that is as unique as you are. At the same time, you become part of something larger than yourself, a tradition that goes back centuries, out of the need to provide warmth and decoration. It is at once both loving and expressive, an enormously satisfying combination.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

What You Didn't Know You Needed to Know

After you've read through a few tutorials and books and selected your first pattern and are ready to begin, here are a few tips that I'd like to pass along which I hope you'll get the chance to read before knitting your first sweater. These are tips I've picked up from helpful knitters that were answers to questions I had that arose while I knit my first two color sweater. I mention these as tips because many of them are not documented in pattern books or they are scattered here and there and difficult to find all in one place for the beginner. If you find these helpful to read before you begin your first sweater, I hope you'll pass these along to the next knitter you meet who might just be getting started.

Tip #1: Jogless 2 Color Knitting
This is an all important little trick to pick up which helps make color changes look seamless when knitting in the round. I first discovered this when knitting a Christmas stocking in the round, with stripes, alternating between two colors. As you knit up any item in the round with circular needles (body of sweater, sleeve, etc.), you'll notice that if you change colors at the beginning of a new round the color &/or color pattern tends to fall out of alignment at the seam (where you begin and end your round). That is because when you knit in the round you are knitting a spiral, so the beginning and end of a round never perfectly meet. The way to correct for this was passed on to me by another fellow knitter however I believe the source is from Meg Swansen's Knitting:

Start your new color, knit one complete round, then on the first stitch of the second round of the new color, lift the stitch in the row below, put it on the left needle and knit two together.


Tip #2: Increasing in Pattern
Here is another nifty little trick passed along to me by another very helpful knitter. In many Norwegian patterns, the pattern will instruct you to make increases or decreases "in pattern." However, the pattern will rarely offer a charted design showing the increase/decrease stitches in pattern. (I have found a few rare exceptions, most notably, the book Norsk Strikkdesign.) You could chart out the body of your sweater, or the sleeve, with the pattern repeat, to create a colorized stitch chart, showing what colors to add or eliminate as you knit rows calling for increases/decreases. In other words, you would take your pattern repeat and use it to chart out the entire pattern of your sweater for the body and the sleeves row by row with knitting graph paper or on a computer.

Or you can use magnets placed vertically and horizontally on your charted design and proceed as follows:

When you are at the beginning of a round, work the increase in the color that comes before the first one that is on your needles.

At the end of the round, work the increase in whatever color would come next in the pattern.

.......4 3 2 1 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 10 9 8 7......

(Increase stitches in bold)

However, here is a faster shortcut:

Take your charted design and make multiple copies with the use of a color copy machine (or copy and paste on your computer). Cut and paste them together as many times as needed, and then draw a line with a fine tip black marker at the edge of each row based on the correct stitch count for the item you are working on (ie. sweater body, sleeve, etc.).

Tip #3: Working a Steek with a Sewing Machine
Alot of books will instruct you to sew down one side of a column of stitches, cross over, and sew up the other side, somewhat akin to a buttonhole stitch. Here are a few more details which were passed along to me that I had not read before in a book:

  • If you are a quilter and already own a walking foot for your machine, this little gadget can come in handy to use when reinforcing your cutting line for your steeks.
  • Set your stitch length to the smallest length possible.
  • Sew directly on the side of the stitch (one half of the "v") rather than between stitches.
  • Sew two lines for extra insurance.
  • Always test your yarn with a test steek if it is not 100% wool.
  • You can also develop your skills at steeking with an old sweater that you can practice with.
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Tip #4: Working a Crocheted Steek:

"Single Crochet (SC) through half of two adjacent stitches on either side of where you will cut.  In the drawing to the left, the cutting line is the center of the middle stitch.  No machine stitching is necessary and the steek folds to the inside making a nice edge. "
Source: Beth Brown Reinsel Newsletter, August, 2010  

                                    
                              |              |              |
                                SC here       SC here

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Tip #5: Knitted Steeks
                          
The first two garments were purchased by BBR which were knitted on Fair Isle; the third is from her pattern, Chelsea's Fair Isle Vest.  "The first photo shows a vest where the columned steek is turned under and sewn down with Blanket Stitch.  (Also note that the many yarns used in the piece under the armhole are tied together and trimmed short, rather than laboriously sewn in .)  The second photo shows a cardigan's steek which is also turned under and discreetly sewn down with a hem stitch.  The third photo shows my vest where I followed Alice Starmore's approach, where the steek is trimmed to 2 stitches and sewn down with "X's"."  
Source: Beth Brown Reinsel Newsletter, October, 2010 

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Tip #6: Working a Scandinavian Steek
According to Beth Brown Reinsel, Scandinavian Steeks are typically made of one to three stitches, although sometimes no extra stitches are used at all.  She recommends using three stitches for her Scandinavian steeks (purl, knit, purl), "because the outer purl stitches  create little valleys that are easy to sew on the machine."  The rationale for "knitting" the center stitch is because it is easier to cut up the center of a knit stitch.   "Two lines of sewing must be made on each side of the cutting line to be certain the fabric is stabilized and won't ravel."  She also recommends to backstitch at the beginning and end of each line of sewing.
Source: Beth Brown Reinsel Newsletter, November, 2010 

Tip #7: Purling in Two Colors:
If you are working on Fair Isle corrugated ribbing where you need to knit and purl on the same row while knitting in the round, it will be very helpful to learn how to purl in two colors. The technique is fairly straightforward - you purl in two colors the same way that you knit in two colors, with one exception: you must return the pattern color to the back of your work after completing your purl stitches before proceeding with the next color in the knit stitch.

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If you knit in two colors with one strand in each hand, there are two common techniques for purling with the left hand.  You can purl with the yarn in your left hand using the continental method and purl with your right hand using the English method. There is a great video tutorial for continental purling at knittinghelp.com. (When you first learn how to do this, your purl stitches may be on the loose side, which can cause your ribbing to become wavy so its good to practice first.)  The second method is to use the "Portuguese purl" for your left hand and the English purl on your right hand.. Here is a great video tutorial here.

Learning how to purl in two colors is also very important to learn if you are creating a stranded/two color project that is knit in flat rows. (Many two color knitting patterns from the UK are not knit in the round.)

Tip #8: What Method of Cast on to Use?
This tip comes from Meg Swansen of Schoolhouse Press. In order to counteract the tendency of corrugated ribbing from curling upwards, she recommends avoiding the 'long tail' method of cast on, and instead advises using the German Twisted cast on method. There is an "awesome" demonstration of this on the DVD, Fair Isle Vest, available through http://www.schoolhousepress.com/ If you've already cast on and have noticed curling, there are two ways I have come across to fix it, either sew in a very thin piece of elastic or a decorative piece of ribbon along the lower bottom edge of the ribbing on the private side of the sweater.


Tip #9: When to Change Needle Sizes when Knitting in 2 Colors
If you are working on a Norwegian style sweater that calls for straight stocking stitch in one color over a large section before beginning your two color knitting design, it is a good idea to change to the next needle size up, when you begin your color work (and vice versa). This will help you keep your tension the same across both sections. This is especially important for yoke sweater patterns. Two color knitting has a tendency to have a tighter gauge as compared to one color knitting, so if you don't change needle sizes, your one color section may become wavy underneath a two color section. Moving up a needle size when you begin your pattern, and then switching back to the needle size you began with when you return to one color knitting after your color work is complete is a good rule of thumb. Some patterns will tell you this, and some don't, assuming that you already know to do this. If you don't like the results you achieved, don't be afraid to rip back and try again to get it just right. If changing the needle size doesn't work, try to regulate your gauge by changing your tension (how tight or loose you are holding the strand of yarn as you knit).
You can also try another approach offered in Sweaters from Camp; knit your single color section with one strand of the same color in each hand, the same as if you were doing stranded knitting with two colors. In this case, you would continue to use the same needle size as the one you used for your two color section.

Tip #10: Buying One Brand of Needles for Your Entire Project
As you can imagine, the number of needles to buy for one project begins to add up fast. One for the ribbing, 1-2 for the body, 3-4 for the sleeves (1 dpn for ribbing, 1 dpn for bottom of sleeve, 1 circular for top half, another circular if adding colorwork or switching to plain one color knitting), and 1 more for cardigan and neck ribbing. That's a possible total of 8 different size needles. You can begin to see, the cost can add up quickly, especially if you have never purchased needles before. I started out with 2 Addi Turbo needles to begin, and thought I could save myself some money buy switching to a cheaper brand for the other sizes, only to find out that the sizes are not comparable from one brand to another. So another lesson learned, try to begin with one brand, and acquire all the needle sizes you need from the same brand, because even the slightest difference in size can cause a change in your tension. Its also a great idea to try the brand out before you invest in several pair to make sure you like it. One option for knitters are interchangable needles which can save on the cost of buying many different wire lengths.

Tip #11: Lesson on Yarn Dominance
This tip comes from Pine Cone Lodge which is such an important piece of knowledge to have in hand for two color knitting when you begin your first project. To help get a very even, smooth knitted fabric, and to help show off the design so it is very neet and crisp, it is very important to hold the "pattern color" and the "background color" in the same hand consistently, not only across a single row, but throughout every row in the sweater. In this case a picture communicates a thousand words so please visit Pine Cone Lodge and see for yourself and enjoy the beautiful designs! For more research, check out the article, "Working with Two Yarns" by Beth Brown Reinsel in Interweave Knits, Summer 2004 edition.

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Here is some advice on yarn dominance from Beth Brown Reinsel's March 2010 newsletter:
"Whenever knitting is done with two or more yarns, yarn dominance comes into play.  When a background color and a pattern color are worked in the same row, the stitches of one color will appear larger, more dominant, than the stitches of the other color.  More specifically, it is the yarn which strands under the other yarn which will show up more.  The yarn that strands over the other yarn will be less noticeable, or non-dominant.  In the photos here, the left photo shows fabric where the red yarn was held in the dominant position.  The photo on the right shows an example of the black yarn help in the dominant position.  The same yarns, needles, and motif were used and both samples were knitted by the same knitter.  The only variable was how the yarns were held in relation to each other.  It is essential to hold the yarns in a consistent manner when working with two or more yarns.  I suggest writing on your pattern which yarn you have chosen to be in dominant so you aren't wondering later!"

To read a much longer article and see photos, visit Beth's post on the topic here.


Tip #12: Color Swatching 101
Many times a Fair Isle or Norwegian pattern will call for yarn that is no longer available, or dye lots change and the same colors used by the original designer are just not the same and you may feel disatisfied with the difference, and or you might like a design but you don't like the colors and would like to rework the pattern with your own color scheme. Here is some advice from Deborah Newton's book Designing Knitwear. Start out knitting a swatch of your motif in just two colors that work well together which you like. Create the motif a second time adding a second pair of colors, making sure that one of the two is similiar to the first two. Then add another two, gradually increasing the number of colors in the design until you achieve the effect you are after.

It can seem like a great expense ordering a test batch of yarn skeins for swatching purposes. But I think its well worth it, especially if your pattern is older and you can't be assured that the colors called for in the pattern are still available or the colors have shifted quite a bit over time due to dye lot variation (which can be considerable).  If you do purchase test skeins, it might not be possible to use them in the final project if the color shade didn't work out for you, but you can always put them to good use making small projects in the future such as ski headbands, hats, mittens, felted tote bags, knitted toys, doll clothes etc.

The Art of Color Shading in Fair Isle Knitting
This last tip on color swatching for Fair Isle knitters comes from a personal observation of Alice Starmore designs. She has a very clever way of setting up color changes in her designs. She never drops both background and foreground colors on the same row when making a transition to new colors in the design. She'll drop only one color at a time so that the 'other' color is always dropped on the next row. Additionally, she will also use 'graduated' colors as she moves from one color to the next. The overall effect of these two techniques is that you never get an abrupt color change so the transition in color is always subtle and when the yarn is heathered the effect is even more subtle, very mesmerizing and magical.

Tip #13: Two Color Knitting, One Color at a Time
If you are having difficulty knitting with two colors at the same time, here is a method that I had not heard of before, nor have I tried, but came across in this book, which offers an alternative method to traditional two color stranded knitting. If you really love the look of two color knitting but just can't get the hang of knitting with two colors per row, this is an alternative that might be an option for you.
  • Knit all of color A stitches and slip all of color B stitches on row 1.
  • Slip all of color A stitches and knit all of color B stitches on two 2.
Tip #14: Knitting Back Backwards in Color Pattern
If you have chosen to knit something based on a two color charted design that is not knit in the round, and requires you to knit in flat rows, such as a potholder, afghan squares, or a pillow cover, you can purl your way across the purl rows, purling in two colors (see Tip #4) -OR- you can knit back backwards in two colors, avoiding purling all together. To see a video of the technique using one strand of yarn, click here. It is also discussed in Sweaters from Camp by Schoolhouse Press and The Knitting Experience: Book 3 - Knitting in Color by Sally Melville. Neither book provides a lengthy, detailed description with a step by step photo tutorial, but you can see Meg Swansen knitting back backwards on several of her DVD's including this one.


Tip#15: How to Finish Cardigan Edges with "Attached I-Cord"
Sometimes a stranded color sweater pattern will call for finishing the edges with attached I-cord. This is the best written description I've come across so far from KnittingHelp.com:

Knit all of the i-cord stitches in the row, except the last stitch. Slip the last stitch. Knit a stitch from the garment (or pick up a stich along edge, if no live stitches). Passed slipped stitch over garment stitch. Prepare to work the next row, by sliding stitches to the other end of right needle (on a DPN or cable needle), or slipping all stitches from right needle onto left needle. Repeat from *.
To see a video on how to knit I-Cord, click here and scroll down to the middle of the page.

Tip #16: Knitting patterns that have alternating single color and two color rows 
Sometimes designers will create patterns that alternate between a section of two color pattern rows and one color rows.  This can create a bit of a problem with tension, especially if there is a large section of one color rows.  In order to avoid an outcome where your one color rows will have a looser gauge than your two color rows, therefore creating an uneven fabric, there are several solutions for this.  First, you can knit your one color rows with the next needle size down.  Another option is to knit your one color rows close to the tips of your needle where your gauge will be tighter. Finally, you can also knit your one color rows like you would for your two colors rows, however, in this case, you would use the same color for each yarn.  Each knitter is different so the best option is to swatch and see what works best for you.



Tip #17: Knitting with two colors on double pointed needles
If you are knitting something in the round with two colors that has a small circumference like mittens or socks, you might find it a little awkward the first time you make a needle change when using DPN's.  Here are some things that I have found useful after much trial and error on my own:

a) try to always end with a purl stitch on your working needle so you can begin with a knit stitch when you start with your next needle. Its a little easier to manage the float (the second unused color that you are holding in the back of your work).

b) In order to prevent the last stitch on your left needle from stretching out, try to make the last at the very tip of the needle (imagine the left and right hand needle joined with the new working needle like the tip of a teepee.

c) If you do end up stretching the last stitch on the needle, you are still ok.  Just turn to the back of the work and give a little tug on the float behind the stitch in the same color as the stitch and it should shrink back to a normal size.



d) When you start to knit on the new needle, on the very first stitch that you change colors, give a little tug on the yarn after you complete the stitch, or knit more firmly than usual, to make sure that the float in the back that goes across the needle join has the right tension.  Don't pull to hard however, otherwise your work will pucker.  After a little practice, it becomes very intuitive.  Try practicing on a wrist warmer to get comfortable before you get started on mittens or socks.

e.) When I knit on dpn's in two colors on small circumferences, I like to use dpn's that are made out of soft wood with pointy needles (think Addi turbo lace needle points) when knitting with fingering weight yarn.  The soft wood bends ever so slightly with your hands which allows you to knit without a lot of resistance from the needle. This keeps your hands from getting stiff and sore.  Lantern Moon ebony "sox sticks" offers the softest wooden needles I have found.  The sharpest points I have used are the "stiletto" tips from Signature Needle Arts.  The other thing you need to think about is the level of friction between your yarn and needle.  If you are using sticky Shetland wool, you want a smooth surface so the yarn glides effortlessly off the needles to help you keep your tension even.  The needles that I have found that work the best with Shetland wool are Addi Natura and Holtz and Stein Ebony dpn's.  (Here is a good review of various ebony needles.
Holtz and Stein needles are very difficult to come by in the US but if you have a friend living in Germany.....Sometimes you can find them at Velona's Needle Arts.  Its worth giving them a call if you are interested.  They ship anywhere in the world. (Even though their website looks a bit shabby, they have been around for decades, the owners are German, and they seem to have good connections with the H&S company. They sell their Holtz and Stein ebony dpn's for the same price as the Lantern Moon ebony dpn's, which is also very close to the price of Signature Needle Arts stiletto dpn's. 



Tip #18: Why doesn't my 2 color knitted fabric look smooth and flat?
When you are knitting in the round with two colors, several things are happening that effect the flatness of the knitted fabric:

a) If you are pulling your floats too tight, your work will pucker and nothing you can do will change that except to rip back and begin again.

b) If your float is too loose, the very next stitch you knit with the color you are carrying in the back could become loose and look stretched out. You can fix this by pulling it back to the right size with a tack stitch using needle and thread at the end of your project.

c) Sometimes knitters knit more loosely with the yarn in their left hand.  If you are knitting with two colors using two hands, you need to try and maintain the same tension with the yarn in both your right and left hands.

d) It is my personal opinion but I think firmly twisted yarn is easier to knit with a consistent tension than loosely spun yarn.  Most traditional yarns used in two color knitting are firmly spun, ie. Shetland wool.  These yarns help your stitches sit next to each other nicely.

e) The yarn you hold and knit with in your left hand can look a little more raised than the yarn on your right hand.  That is why some people prefer to hold the background color in the right hand, where it will recede ever so slightly behind the pattern color held in the left hand.


f) Even if your tension with your stitches is consistent and your float tension is "just right" (not too tight, not too loose), two color knitting can have an 'uneven' look to the fabric.  Washing and blocking the fabric using a wooly board will resolve that problem.  You will be amazed at how stretching wool fabric while it is wet until it drys makes the final finished fabric flat and even. EZ also advises that the more you wash and wear your garment the more those stitches look nice and neat sitting next to one another.  You still might have a few areas that are not perfectly flat.  As Kaffe Fasset advocates, celebrate this as a sign of the work of your very own hands.  Perfection is for machines and who wants that?