A Love Knit Up

Friday, July 29, 2005

The Pain of Needles

I started a new project today: a lace shawl. (Ok, I know that I've been starting a lot of projects lately, but many of mine are currently on hold due to lack of materials --- some things I ordered over the internet have not arrived yet.) The shawl is square, knitted from the center outwards. Now, I have nothing against this (I thought it would be interesting to try it) but I have discovered several things while starting the project.

First, the project starts on 4 double-pointed needles with 2 stitches per needle. Double pointed needles are a pain regardless of the pattern: you have points jutting at all angles in the project, making holding it problematic, and in addition the stitches between the needles stretch! The two solutions to this ( (1) make the first stitch on a needle really tight and (2) knit one stitch from the next needle when you finish one, so that the stretched stitches go around the knitting) are not really adequate. So I tend to try and use circulars as much as possible in my projects.

But with circular needles come their own problems. The first of these is kinks forming in the connection between the needles. This can be solved the hard way (soak the thread in warm water and stretch it out) or the easy way (buy Addi turbos, which have plastic which doesn't kink, and which also have the property that stitches sliding around the needles don't snag, as they do on cheaper needles); I prefer the easy way. However, with the current project there came a whole new problem: not having anything to hold on to.

Since the shawl is knitted from the inside out, and I shifted from double points to circulars as soon as I could, I ended up with a circular needle whose center was completely filled with a small circle of fabric. This meant that I could not loop my fingers around the needles that I was holding: the fabric was too tight. So I had to hold on to the knitting with just my fingertips, which made for a very painful experience. The lesson? Don't shift to circulars until there is enough fabric to be loose while on the needles.

Sometimes I wonder why I go through all this pain, and think fondly back to my garter-stitch scarf days...

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Thinking as you knit

Historically, in many countries, knitting has been a way of providing quality clothing for your family. If there are no well-fitted and well-made clothes available the only way to get good clothing is to make it. For this purpose, simple patterns that one can work on without thinking about it are necessary, and patterns should be written so that they can be followed as mindlessly as possible. Today, however, most knitters knit for fun, not because they have to; it is often more expensive to knit something than to buy it in a store. Thus patterns have become more intricate and involved, requiring more attention and counting. However, patterns are still written to be followed as mindlessly as possible, and this leads to a problem.

A pattern should give the knitter an impression of what the finished garment is supposed to look like, and enable the knitter to create the garment. For this, row-by-row and charted patterns are very useful: even an inexperienced knitter can follow these, and they make it possible to follow a pattern even if you have no idea what is going on or why certain stitches are made. But this is not as useful for more experienced knitters! For a more experienced knitter, it is more important for a pattern to give a general overview of what is to be created than row-by-row instructions. Charts are very useful for this: they show approximately which stitches will be knit in which other stitches, and give an impression of what the fabric will look like when it is finished. But because of the variability in symbols and notation in charts, looking at a chart does not always make it clear what is happening in the fabric.

What would be even more helpful than a chart or row-by-row instructions would be a short paragraph explaining what is happening in the pattern. For instance, for seed stitch an example of such an explanation would be "knit in every purl bump, purl in every knit V." For 2x3 ribbing it could be something like "knit stockinette columns facing opposite directions with widths 2 and 3." These explanations could not replace charts or row-by-row, but they would make following a pattern much easier. The benefit of this would be that a knitter could look at the knitting and see whether they are knitting correctly or not. It would also make it easier for people to understand the mistakes they have made while knitting: if a knitter recognizes what certain stitches look like they are much more likely to be able to catch mistakes that they made earlier.

A couple of examples of patterns where these would help. In the winter 2004 issue of Knitty a scarf called Wavy appeared. This scarf was knitted in 3x3 rib, but instead of making the ribbing straight it shifted over by one stitch every 4 rows, so that the scarf seemed to wave back and forth. The scarf is very easy to knit, but the pattern is difficult to read: instead of a short explanation like "shift the ribbing one stitch to the left every 4 rows 6 times, knit straight for 8 rows, then shift the ribbing one stitch to the right every 4 rows 6 times", which would have made the row-by-rows easy to understand and implement, the pattern features only row-by-row instructions for 51 rows. After staring at the instructions for a while it is possible to understand what is required, but unless you want to use a row counter (and since I always forget to increment the counter I've never managed to use one properly) you have to squint at the pattern and draw a chart to figure out what is going on.

Another example is the "Backyard Leaves" pattern featured in Scarf Style. This is a beatiful scarf with leaves twining down the scarf on each side. It has a very difficult selvedge stitching and some intricate shaping around the leaves. Luckily, the pattern is not presented as row-by-row instructions (there are 20 rows to the basic pattern), but with a chart. However, the chart is incredibly complicated and difficult to read (fitting for such a complicated scarf), which largely turns out to be unnecessary: there are many recurring patterns in the scarf. The first of these is the selvedge: it is 5 stitches wide, and looks very complicated. However, after the establishing row it is actually a very simple pattern: you always slip the stitches that look like purl bumps(with the yarn towards the wrong side of the scarf), and knit the other ones. Similarly, the lacework on the leaves looks very complicated until you notice that the holes on the leaves need to be lined up properly, and that the background that the leaves are on is garter stitch. After this realization all that is necessary is to learn the shapes of the leaves, and the rest of the knitting is much simpler. However, instead of providing this explanation, the book simply prints the chart, leaving the thinking to the knitter.

Although I usually approve of measures that make people think, I think that such omission detracts heavily from the quality of the pattern. It makes the knitting unnecessarily difficult for beginners, and it requires either a lot of experience in chart reading or a few hours of painstaking knitting before the pattern is understood. The designer of the pattern should try and make duplication of the pattern as easy as possible (since that is, after all, the point of the pattern); thus they should make sure that patterns that they probably used while designing the pattern are at least pointed out to the knitter.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

So I finished up my TKGA projects yesterday: I blocked the swatches and wrote up the answers and prepared everything for shipping. The hardest part was figuing out how to block the swatches, since they are acrylic. Many places say that acrylic does not need to be blocked; the ones that do say that it should only be blocked with cool water, as it could melt. However, one place I found suggested blocking acrylic with a steam iron: holding the iron slightly above the knitting and using just the steam to heat up the piece.

Now, I don't have a steam iron, and I wasn't going to buy one just to block some swatches (I dislike knitting with acrylic anyway, so I wouldn't have the need much of the time). Instead, I heated a pot of water (covered with a lid with a few holes in it). I held the swatches in the steam above the water until they were warm and slightly damp (getting my hands cooked a little, too; it would have been easier if I had tongs) and then quickly pinned them out into shape. This worked pretty well: the swatches unculed nicely, an dI was able to shape the ones that I wanted to reshape. It's best if the surface for the blocking is right next to the pot, so that the swatches don't cool down significantly before they are laid out flat. One of the benefits of this method was that the blocking went very quickly: the pieces dried in less than half an hour.

On a completely different note, I started a new project yesterday: the twisty scarf from Scarf Style, out of a "celery" skein of Cascade yarn (I had to make the needles size 7 instead of 6, as in the pattern, but it is turning out well). We'll see how that goes. One of the benefits of the pattern is that it ends up looking very complex and pretty, but the knitting is just a repetition of 4 rows, which makes it very easy to remember. Another benefit is that it is a simple pattern to read (from the piece): if you forget where you are in the pattern it is easy to start up again simply by looking at what you have already done.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

I am starting a knitting blog for three reasons:
1) I am procrastinating on doing real work
2) I have a lot of thoughts about knitting that I would like to organize
3) reading other people's knitting blogs has helped me a lot in thinking about some projects, and I think I ought to return the favor.

This blog will contain entries about projects that I have started, projects that I am actively working on, and projects that I am thinking about doing. In the interest of saving time and space, I will not post about cool patterns that I see, since then the blog will grow completely out of proportion to its importance.

The project lists:
Projects that I have started but are not currently moving forward:
  1. Tie-one-on (from Knitty Spring 2005), the drop-stitch version, with a slight modification: instead of dropping the stitches every row (which made the surrounding rub very uneven) I drop them once for every drop-stitch ladder. This makes the yarn stick together more and fail to drop as well as it might otherwise, but it makes everything look much more even, so I think it is worth it.
  2. Falling leaves socks (from Knitnet). I'm experimenting with making both socks at once, on a very long circular needle. It's an interesting method, but one that makes for rather annoying knitting, since a lot of time is spent on pushing stitches around the needles, and not on actually knitting.
Projects that I am actively working on:
  1. The Knitting Guild of America Master Hand Knitter program, level one. This is my first priority at the moment; I have 14 of the 16 necessary swatches knitted (although not blocked or finished up).
  2. A scarf I am knitting for a friend who is moving to Chicago. The scarf has ribbing up the sides, and in the middle is a standard diamond-cable; in the center of each diamond I am knitting in a letter. Which is interesting, and I'm halfway finished; some of the letters are not that recognizable, however. I am making them in knit stitches on a purl background, and what happens is that on the vertical parts the knitting puffs out, and on the horizontal it puffs in, so often only part of the letter can be seen.
Projects I am thinking about starting:
  1. Falling Leaves sweater featured in Interweave Knits (summer 2005). The recommended yarn for it is Filtes King Van Dyck, but I have ordered Cascade Chunky 128 instead (hopefully it will knit up to something like the right gauge and texture). I have read that the Van Dyck is rather rough (which is why I substituted for it); I also wanted to change the color of the sweater. The sweater is knitting in green on the pattern, which always makes me look rather ill. I looked for a nice dark orange but I couldn't find one to my liking, so I am making the sweater in brown (hopefully, it will work out).
  2. Turtleneck Shrug from Scarf Style. I plan to make it in Classic Elite Miracle yarn, which should make for a soft and warm shrug.