Fair Isle: Goodbye Long Floats

I absolutely adore stranded colourwork. Fair Isle and Scandanavian knitting patterns are beautiful and satisfying to create. Managing floats (the yarn that is carried in the back of the work while you are working the other colour) can be a challenge. Handled poorly, they can result in puckered work, long finger or toe traps, or contrasting yarn showing out of place on the front. Let’s dive into this topic today.

I have posted in the past about Fair Isle techniques.

In that blog, I linked to videos that show different ways that people do this as well as how people trap floats.

It’s quite common to do colour work by using Continental (picking) to manage one colour and English (throwing) to manage the other colour. (Typically patterns only use two colours per round.) You can get pretty quick using this method and it does make it easier to keep the working yarns from tangling around each other. It’s easy to keep track of which colour yarn is dominant, since you carry each colour with left or right hand respectively and consistently. To me, trapping floats in this context feels awkward, especially with the right hand yarn.

Typically it is suggested to trap floats every 3 to 5 stitches. And if you are using fine yarn that’s great. Five stitches isn’t that long of a stretch for lace or sock weight yarn. But the thicker the yarn, the longer those three to five stitch floats become. In a sleeve knit from chunky or bulky yarn, you now have finger traps to drive you crazy every time you wear the sweater.

Puckering occurs when your floats are too tight.

As you catch the floats, it’s really important to make sure that they don’t squeeze the stitches together in your project. You want to observe as you go, always striving for consistency. I have heard of people working their project inside-out as one way of helping to manage the tension on their floats. By having the floats on the outside of the arc of the work, it naturally keeps them from getting too tight. I’ve tried doing that on socks and I found that I would always revert back to right-side-out. Hats off to you if you can do it.

Little by little I have been working on managing both colours in my left hand using continental method.

I would wrap the yarns around my pinky to tension them. I would have to stop frequently to refresh my tensioning because the second yarn would ride up the first yarn. So I would start out all on one hand and revert to using two. (In the video I have linked below, they also tension both over the pinky.) It bothered me enough that I started experimenting to find a way that was easier for me. What I found was that I could tension one yarn on my ring finger and one on my pinky. This almost eliminated the riding up and twisting of the two yarns as I worked. Getting my hand set up was a little confusing to start with but the more I did it the easier it became.

As I knit, I then focused on weaving the floats as I went along (as shown in the video I’ve linked to). I struggled to manipulate the strands of yarn with a finger on my right hand as they do. I found that I really had to use the middle finger of my left hand for this. After fighting with it for a while, I discovered that for me, the key was to focus on the fact that I was knitting the working yarn alternately one stitch with the other yarn in front of it and one stitch with it behind. Obviously the the float sits behind the stitch. When I shifted to thinking about it that way, it was easier to keep from becoming confused. I would chant, “yarn in front, yarn behind” as I knit long stretches of the same colour trapping the other yarn in this way, as I went along.

The project I’m making is definitely not perfect.

But I specifically left it like this because I want to be able to show what to watch for. When using two highly contrasting yarns, no matter what you do, there will be a shadow of the darker one behind the lighter one. You’ll see hints of it between the stitches. That’s absolutely normal. What I don’t like is when you end up with a solid vertical line of the float yarn sitting between two stitches. This seems (from my experimentation) to be a result of the tension being too soft in the float yarn. It takes a bit to get the tension of the floats consistent.

Find the Ravelry pattern here

I found that in order to minimize any trapped contrasting yarn showing through to the front of the work my tension needed to be tighter than I expected. The big downside of this is that you are left with little to no stretch in the finished project. As long as you plan for this, it doesn’t need to be a big deal. Practicing on small projects is a good way to figure out what works for you. All that said, if the contrast between my colours isn’t as extreme as in this project, I would err on the side of softer tension to allow a bit more stretch.

I like how tidy this way of catching floats is. Clearly, it’s up to you to decide, project by project, how frequently you trap the floats. I suspect that weaving them in this way is going to result in a stiffer fabric by nature. If you are only trapping on every second or third stitch it would allow you to leave the floats just a bit looser. I did find that I got a more consistent result on my high contrast project by following the method in the linked video.

Every project is a learning opportunity.

Happy Knitting!

Knitting Machine Shenanigans (or: Being a Newbie Can Kinda Suck)

In my last blog I talked about some of my first (fumbling) experiences with my antique knitting machine. Since then, I made a baby sweater on it. Today, I want to talk about what I learned in making that baby sweater.

Even more, I want to talk about how hard it can be to be an adult Newbie.

If you’ve followed my blog long enough, you’ll have a pretty good idea that I was raised in a household that valued productivity and efficiency above all else. I live with the pros and cons of that childhood environment for good or bad or both. Typically, I like to see results, yesterday!

Starting any new hobby (or skill, really), you do actually have to give yourself permission to be a beginner. Well, that is, if you don’t want to feel like an abject failure before you even know what you’re doing. It requires an appropriate mindset. I have to deliberately remind myself that I don’t know WTF I’m doing yet… and that it’s okay.

I run a small business so, I have plenty to do. And any sort of hobby I spend time on tends to be a bit sporadic since I don’t always have the mental energy to focus on something new in the evenings. I’m pretty stoked to become proficient using my knitting machine, but yeah. There’s only so much energy to go around. I’m determined to be gentler with myself. There are days when my inner newbie wants to forge ahead but my “it’s been a long day” self says, “uh, yeah, not right now”. I take a lot of long deep breaths to exorcise that productivity gnome that natters on, in the back of my mind. Mostly it’s shaming me for not feeling up to doing this new thing in that moment. (I imagine I’m not the only person that experiences this.)

That’s been the biggest battle in all of this, to be honest.

The way I’m trying to approach this (and maybe set up a new habit in regard to learning new things), is to be really deliberate about my mindset. I take a few deep breaths just to settle myself in. I close my eyes and I focus on the feeling of “child-like wonder”. I sit with that feeling and I name it for what it is. When I am filled up with that sense of wonder and any remnants of hurry, impatience or mind chatter have been set to the side, I begin. Over the course of the project, I’ll notice those things creeping back in. When they do, I close my eyes and bring my focus back to that sense of wonder and curiosity. It’s really helping to make the learning process a zillion times more fun and relaxing.

As for the baby sweater. I took a basic cardigan pattern in the smallest size and adapted it as I went along. This was an exercise in how to think about existing hand-knitting patterns and transferring them to be used on the machine.

Here’s what I learned

DK yarn needs more room than sock yarn. You only cast on every other needle. The tension has to be set softer. On this machine that means a higher number on the dial. When it knits, the cross threads spanning the knit stitches make it look weird. After you finish knitting, you pull it and stretch it and all those cross threads become incorporated into the stitches and disappear. The knitting looks normal.

The needles on a knitting machine are actually latch hooks. If you’ve never seen a knitting machine up close, it really is pretty cool. Once set up, the existing stitches sit just behind the latch of the open hook. You lay the yarn across the open hooks and draw the cam across the hooks. The cam’s job is to move those hooks so that the latch closes over the new yarn, pulls it through the existing stitch and places it back in the ready position with the stitch behind the open latch. If you feel resistance in the cam, you need to check the needles. Make sure that all those stitches are behind the latches and that none have dropped. The end stitches on the right and left are more likely to have issues than any of the others. If you’re doing a pattern, then anywhere the pattern transitions should be checked on each row.

You can knit multiple pieces at the same time. I did the fronts and the sleeves together respectively. What I learned here is that the tension dial on the cam isn’t the only thing that determines the actual tension of the stitches. When you draw the cam across the needles, you are holding the working yarn in the other hand. It takes a bit of practice to get a feel for how firmly to hold the yarn. Even though you are knitting two pieces (using two yarn sources, obviously), the tension can end up different on each if you vary how you hold the yarn. Consistency is key.

I am still unhappy with my machine bind off. I took to simply removing the pieces and binding them off by hand to control how tight or loose that bind off is.

Last but not least, I think it’s time for me to concede that it’s better to finish knitted garments with yarn by hand. I would likely still seam mittens on the sewing machine. But this little sweater, as cute as it is, is pretty much unwearable because the seams are too rigid. It’s time for me to put some energy into becoming proficient at hand seaming my garments with yarn. Stay tuned for that!

I haven’t done the neck and button band on this little sweater yet. It’s just going to be a display piece for on the wall. Still, I’m happy with what this little sweater taught me about my knitting machine and more so, about myself.

Happy Crafting!

Knitting Machine: Baby Steps!

I grew up watching my mom knit on her collection of eight knitting machines. I often thought I would have liked to play with them and explore their possibilities. I never got that opportunity. A while back, a customer popped in the store, set an old knitting machine on my counter and said, “If you want this, it’s all yours. We’re downsizing.” I happily accepted and until about two weeks ago, it sat waiting for me to be ready to play.

When I resolved that it was time, I opened the case and carefully removed it. There were envelopes in the bottom of the case. The newsletters in them were dated 1958 from “Knit King”. I grabbed a coffee and curled up on the recliner and began to read. Each newsletter contained short info-bites about clubs that were popping up all over Canada for the knitting machine enthusiasts who wanted to share their excitement with others. I could feel the passion!

Each newsletter contained a pattern. Very few had photographs or sketches. The instructions were precise as to what yarn to use, and economically written. I was fascinated. In the rare edition that had photos the styles were definitely of another era. One in particular was a matching vest for father and son, reminiscent of Bing Crosby’s wardrobe. The ladies’ tops were decidedly vintage. It was a fun glance into another time.

I came across one with “kids’ mittens” hand written across the front. I was baffled as to how you would even do that on a flat bed knitting machine.

I was game; but first, I had to get the basics down.

This particular machine can only work yarn up to DK weight. I pulled out the manual and carefully worked out how to cast on. I unsuccessfully experimented with some DK yarn and then switched to sock weight. That was better. After a number of false starts, I made a piece of fabric out of leftover sock yarn and decided that I could turn it into a little purse for one of the grand kids. I took it off the machine and bound the edge off. That was fun! And it went fast. So I thought I’d try out that mitten pattern next.

It required three colours. They suggested 3-ply yarn which is a little thinner than sock yarn but I figured it would give me an idea and I could adjust the pattern later if the size was off.

It was quite interesting. Moving needles in and out of holding positions as directed in the pattern, I had no idea what to expect.

I watched stitches collect on the holding needles. When the holding needles went back into action, the yarn was pulled through all that accumulated yarn and the pattern began to form. I felt a little bit like a kid opening gifts on Christmas morning. I ended up with some dropped stitches. Because I didn’t yet comprehend how the machine was actually making the pattern, I had no idea how to fix them yet. I hoped I could eventually anticipate what issues might happen so I could prevent or fix dropped stitches as I went along.

As the mitten started to take shape, I began to see how making everything flat requires a different mindset. What a paradigm shift for someone whose preference is to knit everything in one piece and avoid any seaming at all!

When I felt confident I chose some leftover yarns and cast on. That first “for real” mitten had a lot of starts and stops. I would notice a dropped stitch and realize that I had gone too far in the colour work to wrap my brain around how to fix it. I frogged it back and started over. In the process, I began to notice the nuances of what led to the issues. As I became better able to anticipate what might go wrong, I checked each row and sometimes manually worked the hooks to make sure all the stitches were right.

Then the pattern said, “turn as for heel”. Ummmm… thankfully there was another envelope with a set of tutorials. One of them was for sock knitting. I read that and quickly turned the top of the mitten. I was delighted to watch the little thumb appear as I faithfully followed the instructions. It would need to be seamed later, but with its own little “heel turn” at the top, it was a quick and slick way to get the job done.

This machine only does knit stitches.

The ribbing was made by leaving out every third hook and the cross threads spanning between the adjacent knit stitches gave the impression of ribbing. When it was all done, I really hated the way the ribbing looked. Especially once seamed. So, I frogged it off, picked up the stitches and knitted the cuff by hand.

Took some doing, but when the first mitten was done, man, I felt like I had learned a lot. The second mitten worked up more easily. I was able to prevent and repair the issues as they came up. I didn’t bother with the rib, just did that by hand afterward.

I stitched up the first one with yarn like a good girl. But remember, this is the president of the “I hate stitching my knitting together” club talking. I don’t like doing it, and so I never really put a lot of energy into getting good at it. I was unhappy with my results. After stitching one side of the second mitten in this way, I decided to sew the thumb and the other side on the sewing machine. Hey, if Arne and Carlos can sew their Norwegian sweaters together on sewing machines, I’m in good company here!

I’m very happy with the result and I’m feeling inspired to continue to play! Whatever your creative passion, I wish you joy in pursuing it!

Happy Crafting!

Fixing Knitting Mistakes

I don’t know anyone who can knit a project without making a single mistake. Sometimes, it’s simply not worth fixing them. Sometimes they stand out like a neon sign — mercilessly. And sometimes they just make the whole project wrong. Today I want to focus on these situations and offer suggestions to deal with them.

Types of Mistakes

The misplaced purl: If you got a stitch wrong and quickly realize it, it doesn’t have to be a big deal. But consider fixing it as soon as you realize it’s there. The more rows or rounds you knit past the mistake, the more work it takes to fix it. Mark it if you plan to fix it in the next row.

Off to the races: I am often guilty of not reading far enough ahead in my pattern. I’ll happily carry on knitting a predictable section and then realize that I’m not sure what comes next. I discover that I completely missed a vital transition. Definitely a time to frog back to that transition and rework it from there.

Dropped stitches: As soon as you see a dropped stitch, lock it with a stitch marker or safety pin so it can’t unravel any further. If it happened many rows/rounds back, you’ll have to decide how you want to deal with it.

Oops, missed one: In projects like socks with an increase or decrease at the beginning and end of a row or needle, it’s easy to do the one at the beginning and forget the one at the end. Often, you can fudge this by doing that increase/decrease in the next row/round, or by simply dropping down to the row below, making the stitch and carrying on; provided you notice right away. Sometimes, it just isn’t worth the bother and it’s easier to just sneak an extra stitch in, or out, in a spot where it won’t show.

Whatever the mistake, you’ll need to make an assessment about whether it’s worth fixing or not.

Stepping Back

If the mistake doesn’t change your stitch count, the configuration of a pattern repeat or mess up the size or fit of what you are knitting, if it isn’t glaringly obvious, you don’t necessarily need to do anything about it.

First things first. Take a step back. Set your knitting down and walk away. Leave it for a while; come back when you are feeling calmer. Without zoning in on the mistake, lay out your project with the mistake facing. Step back a pace, and glance at it with a general gaze. No seeking it out allowed! If the mistake screams at you under this circumstance then fix it. If not (and it won’t mess up your pattern) carry on.

Note to raging perfectionists: just rip it apart and fix it already. LOL If it bugs you, you won’t be happy with the end result. We want our projects to be a source of joy and satisfaction. So, do what you need to do to that end.

Repair Methods

Tinking is what we call the process of backing off your stitches one at a time to get to the mistake. Do this when your mistake is in the current row/round and within a reasonable distance. The technique is simple. Insert the tip of the left needle into the stitch below the stitch you want to remove, release the stitch off the right needle and pull the yarn out of the stitch you are eliminating. Continue in this fashion until you make your way to the mistake. Undo the mistake, fix it and carry on. Just be careful not to twist any stitches in the process.

Laddering down refers do undoing just the stitches above where the affected stitches are.

Frogging refers to the act of removing your needles from your knitting project and ripping back to where the mistake is. (“Rip it, rip it,” like a frog croaking.) There are times when this is truly the best approach.

There are a couple important things to keep in mind before frogging.

Careful not to lose important marker information: If you have placed markers to indicate important aspects of the project, it’s important to place new locking stitch markers in the row/round that you’ll be going to. I would encourage you to put a marker through the two stitches on either side of where the marker would sit on the needle. Determining placement can be a little tricky depending on the complexity of what you are building. Do the best you can and then check against the pattern after you finish frogging.

I encourage you to use a very fine knitting needle to pick up the stitches in the row/round you want to rip to. It’s tedious but better than ripping too far, or dropping stitches as you rip it back. (It’s easy to get the odd stitch from the row above or below when picking them up.) Once the destination row is safely picked up, pull out the original needle and begin ripping out the unwanted stitches. As you approach the needle, slow down so you can prevent any stitches dropping. Put a stitch marker or holder into any stitches that are suspect to keep them from dropping as you go. Once the stitches are all securely back on your needle, replace them on the original needle, adjusting stitch orientation as necessary and positioning any stitch markers as needed.

A note about lace

Lace comes in varying degrees of complexity. For novices who are testing the waters and have not yet experience the trauma of lace gone wrong I encourage you to lay a “life-line” in your work. Thread yarn on a needle and pull it through the actual stitches of an entire row/round (ideally a “no-brainer” row) so that if you need to frog, you don’t have to start the entire project over. In a complex lace pattern it can be overwhelming to discern how to repair a mistake. Place a life line as often as you want to, to reduce the amount you need to frog should you have a dropped stitch or a mistake you can’t recover from. If you don’t absolutely have to fix a mistake in lace, don’t.

Picking back up

If you choose to simply frog back (or accidentally pulled your needle out of your work) without securing your destination stitches on a needle first, handle the work very gently. Know where the working yarn is and make sure that you are not pulling on it in any way. I recommend using a very thin knitting needle to pick up your stitches, especially if you knit tight. Take your time and be ever so careful that you catch all the stitches. If you find that some of the stitches have dropped below the row, just pick them up where they sit. Don’t try and repair them until you have all the stitches on the needle.

Carefully transfer the stitches back onto the original needle(s), being careful to check the orientation of each stitch and repairing any dropped stitches as you go. Once you are done, you’ll need to get your stitch markers back to where they belong, between the marked stitches. Once you have completed that, you can begin reworking your project again.

I hope you have found this helpful. Kudos to the You Tubers who created the videos I’ve linked to here.

Happy Knitting!

Summer Projects: Crochet Market Bags

I don’t know what the weather is like anywhere else, but here in Revelstoke, BC, it’s been a very wet season so far. After a record snowfall this winter, I suppose I can be thankful that you don’t have to shovel rain. Whether you are at the lake or in your living room, this is a great time of year to work on light and airy projects. How about some shopping bags, now that we are allowed to bring them to the store again.

If you follow this blog, you’ll know that my first love is knitting. I’m very aware that there are a lot of folks for whom crochet takes that place of priority. So today’s blog is primarily for you beautiful crochet-lovers. 

I love that our little community cares deeply for this world and works hard to do all those little things that add up to make a difference. Having your own reusable shopping bags is just one way that we can do that.

I have two kits available in the store. The first is a Katia product from Spain. The beautiful Jasmine B of Ocean Peak Designs was kind enough to crochet up a sample of this kit for the store. It’s available in a number of colours and it comes complete with everything you need to make it, including the handles and the crochet hook!

The other kit uses jute. It’s a simple crocheted bag, no fancy stitches or designs, just straight to the point. I like that. Of course, jute is very durable so this bag will be very serviceable.

If you want to have the option of doing multiple styles, how about a book with multiple patterns to choose from? We have this fantastic book from Annie’s available. It has eight different crochet patterns for bags. From simple to stylish.

If you’re using a book or you already have a pattern, you’ll want some durable yarn for it. I have a few yarns to tell you about that would be excellent contenders for this type of project.

Ricco Creative Natur

This yarn is a 100% hemp, DK weight yarn. Although it has a limited colour palette hemp is a strong fibre that will give you a sturdy and beautiful bag.

Nako Fiore

This is a blend of Cotton, Linen and Bamboo. It is much softer than the hemp yarn and both the linen and the bamboo give it considerable strength. We have a pretty good colour selection and a decent amount of stock. Once this yarn is gone though, we won’t be able to bring any more in.

Kilim

This blend of Jute and Acrylic yarn is put up in 100g skeins with about 65m. This appears to be in the neighbourhood of chunky weight, so it will definitely work up quickly. This will definitely give you a sturdy bag that you can load up.

Cobasi Hikoo

This is a sock weight yarn that is a combination of Cotton, Bamboo and Silk. It has a little bit of nylon in it as well that gives it some bounce-back. Both bamboo and silk are strong fibres that will give the cotton that little extra boost. We have a huge colour selection of this one. They are put up in 50g skeins with typical sock weight yardage.

Wollmeise Twin

This super strong, super soft sock yarn is hand dyed using only plants and foods. The skeins are huge with about 150g in them so they go a long way. It washes up beautifully and it is exceptionally strong for a wool and polyamid blend. You don’t want to try and break this yarn with your hands, you’d likely damage your tendons!

Sudz Cotton

This worsted weight cotton yarn is our staple for making dishcloths. If you’re looking for a good quality, well priced cotton yarn, this is the one. We have a plethora of colours available and we keep this one stocked up all the time.

I’m waiting on a new product from Estelle Yarns that will fit the bill. Watch for Colourbraid soon. 😀

Whether you’re making bags for yourself or for a gift, or whether you are inclined to make other projects entirely, my wish is that you find joy in your creative expression through yarns and fibres.

Happy Crocheting!

4 Fantastic Sewing Box Must Haves

I like a good gadget as well as the next person. But I have to be honest, I really have to be able to anticipate that it’s going to save me time, effort or money before I’m likely to nibble. I tend to be a bit skeptical of trendy things in favour of the tried and true, old-school stuff. But I have to be honest there are some really amazing products out there that are well worth considering for your sewing tool box.

Wonder Clips

I have seen these in my suppliers’ catalogues for a long time. Honestly, I thought they were a bit gimicky. After all, I’ve been using pins to baste things together for over 40 years now and they work just fine. Well, except when you are sewing leather, or vinyl, or heavy coated nylon fabrics…

A couple of customers specifically asked me to bring in some of these clips for them. I brought in some extra packages thinking that someone else would likely want them. Then I took on a sewing job that was exclusively heavy industrial grade waterproof fabrics that you couldn’t stick a pin through if you tried… (and you shouldn’t use pins on them anyway). I remembered the Wonder Clips and thought they’d be easier to handle than the bulldog clips I generally use for such jobs. I was skeptical that they would be strong enough for what I was working on but figured it would be a good test.

They surprised me. I used the regular sized ones. There were some places that I had to use basting tape because you simply couldn’t put the clips on those areas, but on anything else, they held strong. I came away feeling like I could truly get behind this product. I put the box in my drawer and there they sat for about a month. I started to wonder whether I really needed them after all. Then in the last week two jobs came in that once again were made of fabrics that you really can’t pin. I was really happy to be able to pull out my box of Wonder Clips to baste those projects. Even if I don’t use them all the time, Wonder Clips have earned their spot in my toolbox. Here’s Clover’s “Tool School” video link for Wonder Clips.

Clover Hot Ruler

The next product I want to talk about is Clover’s Hot Ruler. Again, I brought this product in as a special order for one of my customers. This is a ruler made of nylon fibre board. It’s thin, and measures 2-1/2″ x 10″. It has a grid marked on it with 1/2″ increments. Along the edges it breaks down to 1/8″ markings. There are a lot of different rulers on the market. I have a collection of quilting rulers for cutting and use with my grid mats. This is different.

This hot ruler is designed to be used with an iron. Let’s say you want to turn a nice even 3/8″ hem around a piece of fabric. You can place the ruler onto the fabric, fold the fabric up to the 3/8″ marks and press the fabric with the ruler still in the folded edge. Because the ruler remains between the fabric and the turned edge, you can confidently press that edge without having to constantly re-check the measurement. You can see it clearly at a glance. This also allows you to easily press mitered edges. The ruler has marks at 45 degrees from two of the corners to allow you to press your miter in place with ease. Even when you just had a hot iron on it, it will be warm to the touch, but not hot. It doesn’t slip and slide on the fabric, but it also doesn’t grab it.

Clover also makes a similar product called the Hot Hemmer. It has a curve (and a cut out to help measure button placement) as well as straight edges to accommodate many pressing applications.

These two hot pressing products are truly handy. Especially for some of those fiddly pressing jobs where you really want a nice crisp edge without a fight. I’m quite impressed with them.

Here’s Clover’s Tool School video covering these two products.

Precision Tools Wool Pressing Mat

Yet again, I bow to the wisdom of my customers. I recently brought these into the store. I have a few customers who rave about them. I haven’t had a chance to try one out yet but since I am on the topic of pressing, I thought I’d include this demonstration video so you can see how it works. Looks impressive!

Gotta say, it feels good to be doing a blog post again. Times have been pretty strange lately. I sincerely hope that you and the ones you love are doing well and staying safe and healthy. We’re hanging in there. I have reduced the hours that the store is open to the public in order to strive for better balance. I have a drop-off & pick up station in the entry way. This area is open Mondays through Fridays from 9am to 5pm and Saturdays from 11am to 5pm. The store itself is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 11am to 5pm. Tuesdays are reserved for fittings and are by appointment only.

It’s been lovely to be able to sit outside in the morning with my coffee and my knitting. I’m grateful for the warmer weather and the lush plant-life with all its colour and scent.

Happy Crafting!

Steeking: Bottoms Up!

A few blog posts ago I told you about my first encounter with steeking. That was a top down cardigan based on the recipes in Tin Can Knits’ Strange Brew book. In Strange Brew, they offer instructions for both top down and bottom up sweater knitting. Today I will tell you about the bottom up cardigan I made.

Gotta say, it feels a little weird writing this with everything that’s going on. I’m really trying to find ways to do things that feel “normal” in this very far from normal circumstance. I decided that this might be a good place to do that.

It was really fun to make the two little cardigans. When I started on the second sweater, things were just starting to get weird with the whole Covid-19 thing. As such, I didn’t take photos as I was knitting it. So unfortunately, I only have one lonely WIP photo to share. Sorry about that.

Bottoms up:

You start off knitting the sleeves up to the armpit. I knitted the sleeves on the short little circular needles that I usually use to knit socks. That worked really well although it was a little bit tight for the cast on and the first four or so rounds of ribbing. I just took my time and persevered and it was fine. The increases for the sleeve are done a little differently compared to the top down sweater. I assume that’s because if you choose to change the length of the sleeve overall, it would get too complicated to work around those changes. Simple is good. Because I was knitting for toddlers, I didn’t want to do any colourwork in the lower portion of the sleeves. It’s too easy for them to catch their little fingers in the floats when they put it on. That’s no fun for them. So I kept it really simple. Once the sleeves are knitted up to the armpit, you set them aside.

Next you start at the hem of the body of the sweater. I found that for some reason, the body ended up longer on the second sweater. Maybe the measurement is more accurate when you are knitting bottom up. Maybe I just measured wrong. There is definitely no doubt about where to start and stop your measurement when doing it from the bottom up. On the top down sweater, it can be tricky to determine where to measure from. I was sure that I measured the same amount for each. It’s possible that my tension was a little softer in the second one. That could account for it. I didn’t count rounds to determine how long to make the body; I used a tape measure.

Once the body is long enough, you join the sleeves to the body. You do a little shaping so that the back of the neck opening sits higher than the front. Next you begin the colour work and the decreases for the yoke. I took advantage of the orientation of the knit stitches to make a pattern with hearts in it on this one.

The yoke was straightforward until I got to the bind off.

I tried binding it off using three different methods. Because I make a lot of socks, it’s my default setting to do a stretchy bind-off. Don’t do that here. I ended up doing the least stretchy bind-off I know in order for the neckline to lay nicely.

I applied what I learned from the first project to doing the steek and it went very smoothly. The zipper went in easily and I’m very happy with the result.

The only thing I would do differently is to make the sleeves longer than suggested. The sweaters fit well. (The body lengths ended up being perfect for each grandchild respectively. YAY!) The sleeves could have been a little longer to allow for a some growth.

I had so much fun making these cardigans.

I’m glad that I started with small sizes. I still want to make one for myself out of sock weight yarn, eventually. I really want to be thoughtful about the colour choices and the pattern. I don’t want to rush into it. Especially if I’m going to use sock weight yarn for it! That’s a lot of knitting time to invest.

Moving forward, I have a couple of WIPs that I want to complete before I decide what large project I want to start next. I have a few ideas in mind. I have a couple more sweater technique books that I recently brought in to sell in the store and I might try one of those projects to see how I like those books. It’s always good for me to have a solid understanding of this type of book so I know whether they are worth the money and so I can offer support to customers who invest in them. They can be quite an investment. I ordered one that retails for around $100. I only brought in one to see whether it’s worth it. It’s a completely new all-in-one construction method that looks really exciting. The more carefully I read it, the more I think it will be worth every penny. I look forward to trying out one of the patterns to see how it goes. I’ll keep you posted.

On a side note: Ricasso — our shop cat — says “helloooooowwwwww”. With the physical distancing rules in place, it’s kinda lonely for him. (I’m sure y’all can relate!) The other night, we had to actually get him from the store (he has a cat door between the store and home so he can come and go as he pleases) and bring him home after 10pm because he was patiently waiting for customers to come and cuddle him.

Ricasso will be fine. LOL We’ll all get through this together, at a distance.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy and stay creative!

Happy Knitting!

An Update

During these unprecedented times, it’s so important that we look out for each other and do our utmost and best to be responsible. Here’s an update on what we’re doing at Judy’s Designs to do our part.

First off, I want to thank my amazing customers who have all been courteous, careful and respectful across the board. Thank you so much for that. Thank you for continuing to support my business through these uncertain times. Thank you to those of you who are calling ahead and allowing me to gather what you need, take your payment by E-transfer and offer you a non-contact purchase option. It is my preference to use this option as much as possible.

Here’s What You Need to Know:

Social Distancing

Thanks to the expansion of the store, we have lots of room for customers to shop and easily maintain a distance of 6 feet around them. We have lots of yarn and supplies inventory on hand. To keep everyone safe, we are limiting the number of customers in the store to 3 at a time. So far, we have not needed to keep anyone waiting (to enforce this) but I ask that you respect this protocol should we need to ask you to wait.

If you have any concerns, call me. 250-837-2870

Sanitization

I am keeping the store clean. I am disinfecting counters and the debit machine after each transaction. I am wiping down the doors and door handles regularly. All customers will be expected to use hand sanitizer before touching anything in the store. (there’s a bottle on a table in the entryway and one on each counter at the front of the store).

Contactless Transactions

If you want, need or are able to employ a non-contact transaction, please call me and we’ll figure out a solution that will give you what you need. At this time, I need payments for these to be done as Interac E-Transfers.

If you are housebound and want supplies for projects, call me. I can send you photos of the yarn or other supplies you are interested in so you can choose what you want, and we can sort out a safe way to get your purchases to you. Then, at least you can have something enjoyable to do while in isolation.

Completed Sewing Work

If you have sewing work to pick up I’d appreciate it if you are able to send an E-transfer to make payment. Call me to get your balance and make arrangements for pickup.

New Sewing Work

If you would like to drop off sewing work that does not require fittings, I have a station available in the entryway for these jobs to be deposited in. Instructions are posted. Bags, forms and pens are available. Please use the hand sanitizer before you fill in the paperwork. (When I’m ready to work on your order, I’ll call you and check in regarding specifics.) ALL SEWING JOBS WILL BE PLACED IN ISOLATION FOR A MINIMUM OF 3 DAYS BEFORE AND AFTER WE WILL HANDLE THEM. This policy will be in place until further notice.

Store hours

I have not changed our posted hours at this time. I live above the store and the business phone rings at home. I’m not going anywhere. When you want to come down, please call ahead. I’m happy to be flexible within reason.

These are very difficult times. All of us are doing what we can to stay afloat while remaining safe and cautious. Each and every one of us is experiencing some degree of impact. No matter how unsettling things may be, we want to continue to extend kindness and good service to everyone we connect with.

Stay well, friends. We’ll get through this together.

Judy

Covid-19 Stuff

Hey folks; strange and challenging times right now, eh? I want to connect with you about what is happening here and how I’m responding to the current situation in regard to Covid-19 and the current British Columbia state of emergency.

Yes, the store is open. For the time being, I will do my best to have the store open regular hours, however, I may shorten my days to allow myself time for the extra cleaning and disinfecting that I will be doing and to be sure that I am able to get enough rest. I will post any temporary changes to our schedule on my website judysdesigns.ca, as well as on Google and Facebook. I’ll also put a sign up on the shop window.

What I need from my customers:

As recommended by the Minister of Health, I ask that anyone coming into the store during this time allow appropriate space between them and others. …Sorry, no hugs until further notice. (You know who you are! And you know that we love you!)

I have hand sanitizer at both counters; please use it when you enter the store to protect yourself and to protect me and Irene. I have an autoimmune disease that does put me in a higher risk category and Irene is over 80 years old. I need to be able to keep my store open and stay healthy. I appreciate your cooperation in this regard.

If you have symptoms that look anything like a respiratory issue, I respectfully ask that you not come into the store. If you need something, call me. I can put your order together for you, take your payment by e-transfer or credit card and you can have someone pick it up for you. If you don’t have anyone to pick it up for you, we can figure something out.

If you are one of the people who will have to return to your home country in the next ten days and there is sewing work here for you, call me. If it isn’t done yet, I can get it done for you right away so you can have it in time for your flight home.

What I will be doing:

I will be disinfecting the doors, counters, debit machine and other surfaces typically touched by people frequently throughout the day.

The virus only lasts for a few days on soft surfaces. Because of my backlog of work, by the time I work on garments or gear, even if they were contaminated when dropped off, any risk to me will be gone.

I will continue to sanitize my hands and the counter after handling each new job that comes in. Those will be stored away from any areas the public can access long enough that they will not present any risk. I will be using hand sanitizer between each sewing job, just to be safe.

If you need a fitting, I would like to do this by appointment only until further notice. Please call ahead. Also, if you feel ill in any way, please postpone your appointment. I will be sanitizing my hands before and after each fitting.

We are doing our best to keep a positive attitude and outlook. However we also want to do our part to reduce the spread of Covid-19. If you are sick, please stay home. These are trying times. We need to look out for each other.

Judy

Adventures in Steeking!

I have been looking forward to learning how to steek. Steeking is a knitting technique in which you knit a sweater in the round, and then turn it into a cardigan. Yes, you have to cut your knitting to do it; yes that sounds terrifying; yes it’s pretty cool! My first dabble in this new endeavour is well underway and I’m excited to share what I learned so far.

My interest in steeking led me to a book by Canadian design company, Tin Can Knits. They put together a “recipe book” that breaks down sizes for top down and bottom up seamless yoked sweaters. Their charts include sizes from new born up to big-man sizes. But that’s not all! They give you stitch counts for Sock weight, DK and Aran yarns. Talk about an incredible value. It’s a gorgeous book in full colour. I purchased the book to try it out and I have them in my store now.

I started with a child sized cardigan in Aran weight.

I reasoned that if I missed things or misread things or straight up just messed up, it wouldn’t be such a big deal to frog it back and fix it. I decided to do one from the top down and one from the bottom up. I am not all that far along on the bottom up one so I’ll leave that off for today’s blog and catch up with you next time around. The long term goal is to make myself a couple cardigans, first one in DK and then one in Sock weight once I feel really comfortable with the method.

Now, the book gives very clear instructions on how to knit the sweater. Of course in my enthusiasm, I didn’t read very carefully and missed a few things. I ended up knitting to the point of preparing for the sleeves when I realized that I was short a whole bunch of stitches; I had looked at a smaller size for one of the increase rounds by mistake. Instead of immediately frogging it back, I just increased at the point where you divide to add the sleeves… yeah, don’t do that. It’s really important that you increase exactly as they lay it out in the pattern. I almost finished the sweater and realized that because my increase was below shoulder level, the slope of the shoulder would not comfortably fit a human. (I was blissfully in denial up until then… sigh.) I did frog it right back to where I had made that initial mistake and reworked it.

I used a variety of needles in this endeavour.

I cast on the neck onto a 40cm fixed circular. (I used Knitter’s Pride Dreamz for the whole project.) I switched to an interchangeable with a 60cm cord when it started to feel really squishy on the 40cm. I started the sleeves on 40cm’s and then switched to 25cm fixed circulars once the decreases made it so the stitches were being stretched on the 40. This worked very well for me.

Strange Brew doesn’t give a lot of information on the specifics of steeking. They suggest some online videos as reference. They talk about holding stitches sacred at the centre front of the sweater as you knit, to preserve them for the steek. I had stitch markers on either side of those stitches. I did find that there were times when I struggled to wrap my head around how to do the increases and still keep those 5 stitches sacred between my markers. It was worth the time and effort to carefully plot out how to do that. Keeping those stitches isolated means a straightforward process once you actually do the steek. The benefit is that you can hide all sorts of things in that steek column. Starting a new ball of yarn? Add it in the middle of the steek. I started my new rounds in the middle of the steek to avoid having a jog in the colourwork.

Sadly, I was impatient. I had watched some steeking videos a couple years back and relied on my memory. Again, being impatient, I just flew at it. I stitched up on either side of the steeked stitches with my sewing machine… rather recklessly began cutting and then realized that I was cutting a stitch width too far to one side. Oops! I repaired that and did another row of machine stitching closer to the centre where I needed to cut. I cut it the rest of the way and that went well.

Then, I figured I’d use my serger to finish the edges. Bad idea. It stretched the edge so far out of shape that I had a whole new challenge to work with. I continued my “bull in a china shop” approach and threw a zipper in it, sat back and immediately felt disgusted with myself. After a few days of timeout, I picked it out and started over.

I cut 2 pieces of wide bias binding to about an inch longer than the finished size of my zipper. I stitched the ends inside out to create clean finished ends. I then carefully aligned it to the edge of the vertical column of stitches on either side of the opening (with the bias open; but stitching at the folded outer edge of it). Once that was done, I carefully contained the edge stitches inside the bias and pinned it on the inside of the cardigan. I stitched that with the sewing machine. Once I had the first side complete, I aligned the second piece of binding on the other front. Being careful to align the colourwork pattern to match the completed side, I pinned it and stitched it in place finishing it as I did on the first side.

I aligned the zipper with the knitted stitches beside the bias binding and installed it using the sewing machine. I then hand stitched the binding to the inside of the cardigan. Although my colourwork didn’t line up exactly, it was close enough that I came away feeling proud of my first steeking attempt.

I encourage you to tackle a new technique that kinda scares you. It feels so good!

Happy knitting!