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.

Updated!
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?






4 comments:

Nozomi said...

Hi, my aunt is on her 4th Fair Isle sweater and would love to find other Fair Isle knitters to talk to. Anyone out there?

DreamWoven said...

Does #2 work when you are knitting in fair isle flat (not in the round)?

i am having a bear of a time determining what colour the increase stitches should be :(

Any help would be appreciated.

Rachel

Stone Hill Ranch said...

Thx *so* much for tip #1. I'm a newbie fair isle knitter and have been struggling with this issue. I resorted to using straight needles and seaming up the work (YUK). I'll give this a try and pass on the info :-)

Linda said...

Hello,

I have some used Fairisle & Nordic knitting patterns here:

http://www.oldlancaster.co.uk/knitting/pages/fairisle.html

http://www.oldlancaster.co.uk/knitting/pages/nordic.html