Technique: Let’s Talk Lace

For many novice knitters, the thought of knitting lace can be daunting. Intricate lace patterns create images of mandalas, flower petals, paisley or leaves simply by combining basic stitches in clever ways. It can look like magic! But take heart, with a little bit of patience and perseverance, you too can learn to knit lace. Here’s an overview to take a little bit of the mystery out of it all. If you can knit, purl, increase and decrease, you can learn to knit lace.

There are a few things that you do need to understand about knitting lace.

Working off a chart:

You will definitely be working from a chart to knit lace.

And trust me, you want to be working from a chart. A chart is a graph of what stitches make up the pattern. It’s a visual representation of what you will be knitting. As much as it can be nice to have written instructions, (and many patterns will have both) once you get accustomed to following a chart, you will likely come to prefer it over written out instructions. A chart allows you to see what went before and what is to come in the pattern, all in a glance. It removes the step of translating words into instructions and then into an image in your mind.

As you work your way through the chart it is imperative that you mark, in some way, to show where you are.

I use a pattern holder for my charts. These come in a couple sizes. They are usually a folder of sorts with a metal sheet inside so a magnet will grab onto it. This allows you to use a long skinny magnet to keep track of where you are in your pattern. I prefer to place the magnet directly above the row that I am working on. This way I can see the stitches I have already done below the current row I am working. What I see on the chart matches what I see when I look at my knitting. I also use a pencil to place a tally or a check mark beside each row as I complete it.

Working flat versus working in the round will impact how you read the chart.

Charts usually show you how the right side of the fabric is going to look. Therefore, if you are knitting flat and turning your work; alternating right side and wrong side, the wrong side rows will be read as such. Usually the legend will say what a symbol represents on the right side and what that same symbol represents on the wrong side. Generally with lace, any increasing, decreasing or other fancy work is usually done on the right side of the fabric with the wrong side simply knits and purls. I have knitted patterns in which the wrong side is always simply purled. On those charts they only showed the right side rows of the pattern on the chart because once you know to just purl the wrong side, you don’t need a chart to tell you that. If you are knitting in the round, each symbol on the chart will only have one meaning as you will only be working the right side of the fabric.

Feeling a little confused? That’s okay.

Like with most things, you really have to try it out to be able to wrap your brain around it. Hang in there. This info will settle into the back of your mind, and when you do try out some lace knitting, it will come back to you.

Lace is made up of repeating patterns.

We refer to these as, you guessed it, “pattern repeats”. When you are first learning to knit lace, I recommend that you start with a very simple pattern. I also recommend that you place a very thin stitch marker at the end of each pattern repeat in your knitting. Knitting lace does require focus, but as you work through the pattern repeats, you will start to get a sense of what needs to happen in what order. The more repeats you complete, the more you’ll begin to anticipate what comes next. By having strategically placed stitch markers, if you miss a stitch or do a wrong stitch in one section, it’s easier to figure out what you did wrong and fix it.

It is very important to take your time and double check your work as you go.

Minimize distractions as much as possible and when you start to tire mentally, set it aside and give yourself a break. When you take a break, mark your pattern clearly and carefully to indicate where you left off.

Tinking (undoing stitches one at a time to back track and fix a mistake) can be tricky when you work with lace, especially when there are a lot of yarn-overs in the pattern. Depending on what happens, it is possible to end up with an unrecoverable mistake. For instance, if you drop a stitch and it runs down through a section that was built on a stack of decreases you can end up with a big mess that you simply won’t know what to do with. Therefore, it’s a really good idea to run regular “lifelines” as you go. Using a darning needle, you run some smooth heavy thread or light yarn through your stitches and tie it off so that it can’t fall out. Do this at regular intervals so that if you make a mistake or drop a stitch you will minimize any potential trauma. If you do drop stitches, they can only go back as far as your lifeline. Make a note on your chart to indicate where that lifeline sits. Then, if you do need to go back, you will know where to start knitting. I encourage you to always place your lifelines in the same pattern row.

I’ll be offering in-house beginner lace workshops this fall. Let me know if you are interested in participating and I’ll put you on the list!

Happy Knitting!

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Technique: Knitting Decreases

Knitting is such an amazing process. Learning new techniques can feel like learning to do magic. There are so many individual techniques that knitters may never encounter unless they challenge themselves to tackle advanced patterns. I love watching knitter’s expressions when they learn a new technique! Last week I discussed the variety of methods for creating increase stitches in knitting. This week, it’s all about decreasing. So here goes!

K2Tog / P2Tog

The most basic way to decrease is to simply knit two stitches together as if they are one stitch. (K2Tog) You can also purl two stitches together. (P2Tog) When you knit two together the resulting stitch will lean toward the right. This may also show up in a pattern with the specification that you are to knit them through the back loop. That would be K2TogTBL or something similar.

SSK

Knowing that K2Tog is a decrease that leans right, clearly, we must have a decrease that leans left. That is what you will see in patterns as SSK, or “slip, slip, knit”. SSK requires that you slip two stitches as if you were going to knit them. Once you have slipped them, slip them back onto the left needle and knit them both together through the back loop.

PSSO

Another common form of decrease is the PSSO and its variants. PSSO stands for “pass slipped stitch over”. I have also seen this abbreviated as PSO on occasion. This can be used to decrease one or more stitches within one “stitch”. It can also be used to create a decorative effect as you decrease. Start by slipping a stitch purlwise onto the right needle. Then you will knit the next stitch(es), or knit two together as indicated in the pattern. You then use the left needle to pass the slipped stitch over what you just knitted. Most commonly, you would slip one, knit one and then pass the slip stitch over that one knitted stitch. However, it is not uncommon to slip one, K2Tog then pass the slipped stitch over. It is also possible to slip one and knit multiple stitches before passing the slipped stitch over those multiple stitches. If you are passing it over more than two stitches it can get a little tight, though. This results in a left leaning decrease.

CDD

This next one is very cool. It allows you to decrease by two stitches, without any lean. It’s called a Central Double Decrease (CDD); I have also seen it refered to as a Centred Double Decrease. You begin by slipping two stitches together knitwise onto the right needle. Knit one stitch, and then pass both slipped stitches over the knitted stitch.

SCD

The last one I want to show you is an advanced decrease technique. It is a Single Central Decrease (SCD). It requires you to decrease using a SSK, then do a temporary increase and follow it with a K2Tog. This would be used at the top of gusset, for instance. This next video demonstrates this technique very clearly. It starts with the DCC first and you will find the SCD at 3:52.

One of the reasons I like to participate in events like Tour de Sock, and this year as a cheerleader in Sock Madness, is that it pushes me to stretch my knitting skill set. There is always some new technique or some interesting way of combining techniques that allows me to grow as a knitter. In the process, I find approaches that I really like as well as ones that I don’t care for. Of course, I wouldn’t have known either without stepping outside my comfort zone to try something new.

I hope you find this information helpful. This information will be covered in my Technique Building Series of workshops this fall. As always, I encourage you to check out the YouTube channels of the folks that I have linked to in this blog. My hat goes off to them for the work they do. We are so fortunate to have this amazing tool at our fingertips.

Happy Knitting!

Technique: Knitting Increases

Recently I have had a number of novice knitters come in for help on their projects. Each of them were working on a pattern that was stretching their skill levels. I thought it may be helpful to do a few posts with specific information regarding knitting technique. Today, I’ll focus increases.

Increases are used in most shaped knitted items: tops, hats, socks, mittens, pretty much anything that is more than just a rectangle. Yet, there are several methods of increasing. For anyone who is new to “more than just a rectangle” knitting, it can be confusing to be faced with a pattern that assumes you know what to do and how to do it. I hope to take the mystery out of it for you today.

The first thing to mention is that not all knitting terminology is fully standardized. Although it is mostly standardized, you will still see variations within patterns. This often comes down to the country where the pattern originates and/or whether the pattern has been translated from another language. Sometimes, a self-taught knitter/designer will use the terms differently than expected as well. You will always be wise to check the legend and any overview the pattern designer has given to see whether they specify how they interpret the specific terms.

Make One Increases

The “make one” increase is typically abbreviated M1, M1L or M1R. This is a very common form of increase. You will make a stitch out of the horizontal yarn between two stitches from the previous row or round (the running yarn).

If you were to simply reach your needle below that running yarn and pick up your working yarn to make a stitch, you would end up with a hole in your knitting. We generally don’t want holes in our knitting unless we are making lace. Typically, if they simply ask for an M1 stitch, they actually want an M1L stitch.

In order to make one stitch without creating a hole, essentially you want to twist that running yarn and pull your working yarn through the resulting loop. You lift the running yarn onto the left needle first. Whether you are doing an M1L or an M1R is determined by whether you pick up that running yarn with the left needle from the front or the back. One will lean toward the left and the other will lean toward the right. Thus: M1L and M1R.

To complete an M1L: direct the tip of the left needle under the running yarn from the front to the back. Knit through the resulting back loop. This will result in a left leaning bar at the base of the stitch.

To complete an M1R: direct the tip of the left needle under the running yarn from the back to the front. Knit through the front loop, as you normally would. It’s a bit awkward. It results in a right leaning bar at the base of the stitch.

Yarn Over or Yarn in Front

This increase is intended to create a hole in the work and is typically used in lace. This requires you to grab the working yarn with the right needle as if you were going to pull it through a knit stitch. It is unstable until you complete the stitch next to it.

Lifted Increases

Abbreviated as LLI and RLI, These work an additional loop into an existing stitch on the left or right side of the stitch respectively. One leans left, the other leans right.

To make an RLI, (right lifted increase) using the right needle, pick up the right leg of the stitch immediately below the stitch on the left needle. Place that leg onto the left needle, without changing its orientation. Knit it and then knit through the original stitch separately.

To make an LLI, (left lifted increase) you will be increasing into the stitch on the right needle, adding a loop to it. Knit the stitch you will be increasing into as normal. Using the left needle, pick up the left leg of the stitch a row below that last stitch on the right needle. Using the right needle, knit through the back loop of the stitch you just picked up. Make sure that you are picking up from a full row below or you will end up with a yarn over instead of a proper increase.

Here is a video that demonstrates Purled Lifted Increases.

Knit Front and Back or Purl Front and Back

The names of these describe exactly what you do to make them. For a KFB, you knit into the front of the stitch, leave it on the left needle and then knit into the back loop of the stitch, thus increasing by one stitch.

To PFB or purl front and back, you purl as you normally would, but leave the stitch on the left needle. Then purl into the back loop as well to complete the stitch.

Finally, the backward loop is yet another form of increase. It’s very easy to do. Here’s a video to show this in both Continental and English methods.

These are the most commonly used increases. As you can see, each one has its own look and “personality”. Being able to identify them and comfortably knit them makes following advanced patterns much easier.

I hope this was helpful and that it will give you the courage to take on a pattern that you might otherwise have been intimidated by. I will be offering 2 hour evening workshops and 4 hour weekend workshops beginning this fall to provide in-person technique instruction. Increases will be one of the evening workshops. I hope to have a calendar mapped out by the third week of August, 2019.

Happy Knitting!

Macrame, Anyone?

If you feel like doing something knotty, you may just fall in love with Macrame. And how in the heck do you say that? MA-crah-may, where the MA is like you would say in mast or macaroni. This textile art can be traced back to the 13th century when Arab weavers are said to have used macrame knotting techniques to finish the edges of their textiles.

It was a big thing back in the 1970’s. Plant hangers, wall hangings, bracelets and many other items were constructed or adorned with these knotting techniques. It’s a fun and easy-to-learn activity. The aesthetic is returning, and interest in macrame is on the rise.

I recently brought in Katia “Scuby Cotton” yarn for the folks showing an interest in Macrame. I’m in the process of putting together a workshop to teach the basic knots used in Macrame and this yarn will be featured. I thought I’d offer up some links to videos that teach macrame knots to give you a taste of how it works. At first you might find it a little confusing. Like anything, watching someone do it and getting your hands on it are two different things.

There are really only a few basic knots to learn in macrame. They include the Lark’s Head; the square knot; the open square knot; the picot knot; the twisting or spiral knot; and the half hitch. That may seem like a lot, but they are all pretty simple once you’ve done them a few times. No tricky stuff here.

As with so many fibre arts, seeing how it is done on a video is truly helpful and offers the opportunity to rewatch segments repeatedly as needed. Sometimes, our perception of what we watch can turn a simple thing inside-out and no matter how many times we watch that video, we just don’t quite get what it is that we’re missing. That’s where it’s really helpful to take a workshop in person, or even book a one-on-one session with a teacher to work through those things that confuse you. A teacher can watch what you’re doing and spot that one thing that has you bumping into a wall of frustration.

We are so fortunate to live in this technological era. To have instructional videos available at our fingertips is something we have come to take for granted. When I started my search for videos regarding macrame, I was delighted to see how many there are. Here are a few links for you to check out.

This video is a demonstration of the basic macrame knots:

Here is a nice basic plant hanger tutorial:

I included this next link to show some nice variations in plant hangers:

Here’s a lovely example of a macrame wall hanging. (I love this girl! Chelsea is such a hoot to watch…)

There are so many different applications for these knotting techniques. I encourage you to dive down the YouTube “rabbit-hole” and check it out. Some folks are even making jewelry using macrame knots (wrapping semi-precious stones; making beaded bracelets).

In case you’re interested, here’s a link to a history of Macrame.

And there you have it, a little taste of what you can do with macrame. I’ll have a sign up sheet in the store for anyone interested in an introductory macrame workshop. I’m imagining something simple that can be done in a single evening. If you are interested in a full on “let’s make a plant hanger” workshop; it only takes one ball of Scuby Cotton yarn to make a simple plant hanger. I would be happy to do a Sunday afternoon class for locals.

Happy Crafting!

Mysteries of Gauge

There are a number of things that affect the gauge of our knit and crochet projects. Subtle things to consider that can help you to understand how your particular nuances can affect your gauge.

The Gauge Swatch

In terms of knit and crochet, gauge translates to how many stitches across by how many rows high fit in a 10cm x 10cm (4″ x 4″) square. Typically, the expectation is that you will knit or crochet a gauge swatch to identify each yarn’s suitability to a project. You may have seen memes that declare something to the effect that swatches are for sissies. Be aware that most of the people making these declarations are highly experienced. In all fairness, they already know how those different yarns will behave in their hands on their favourite hook or needles. There are times when it’s definitely in your best interest to take the time to work up a gauge swatch. Especially if you are making a fitted garment! Making a blanket or scarf? Gauge won’t be that critical.

So here’s the thing. Each one of us handles our tools similarly, but with subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) differences. These differences ultimately result in variations in tension on our working yarn. That difference in tension subsequently affects the outcome of our gauge.

Breaking it down: Hands & Confidence

Some people have very relaxed hands and will knit with a very “soft” or “gentle” tension. On the other end of the spectrum, some work with an iron grip and stretch the yarn aggressively as they work. Their tension will be “hard” or “tight”. As you can imagine, someone with soft tension will end up with larger, softer stitches than someone with hard tension. I prefer to use the words “hard” and “soft”. Some say tight and loose. The terminology I use relates to how your resulting fabric will feel as well. Soft tension gives you soft fabric, hard tension gives you harder, denser fabric. Obviously, there is a range reflected here. Each of us is somewhere on that spectrum. Add to this that some people are naturally very coordinated and others are not. You can love to crochet or knit and not necessarily be a naturally coordinated person. If that’s you, then you will probably always work with a slightly harder/tighter tension.

It is very common for beginners to have hard tension as they develop the coordination required for either knitting or crochet. The tendency is to have a lot of physical tension in your hands (and shoulders) as you are learning. Your mind will also be working overtime. As you gain experience, most people will gradually become more relaxed both mentally and physically. As confidence grows, the mind, shoulders and hands are able to relax and tension naturally softens. Some folks will still keep a harder tension, even when they are relaxed. None of this is either good or bad, it is just information. What is important is to determine where you are on that scale and how it relates to the resulting tension on your yarn; this relates directly to the gauge you will produce. Hard tension will result in a finer gauge than suggested on a yarn label. If you know that, you can go up a needle/hook size or two to accommodate your tension and get the result that the pattern and yarn identify.

Breaking it Down: Needles & Hooks

Nowadays, you could write an encyclopedia about knitting needles and crochet hooks. You can purchase them made of a very wide range of materials. Each material has its own particular qualities. Talk to anyone who knits and crochets a lot and they will have their favourites. My go-to is generally wood. There are many brands out there. I like Knitter’s Pride Dreamz needles for most things. They are finished wood (as opposed to being raw unfinished wood). I refer to needles on a scale that has “grabby” on one end and “slick” on the other end. I refer to the difference as a range of “smoothness”. Again, that’s my own personal way of describing it. For some yarns I prefer Knitter’s Pride Nova Platina needles. These are what I would refer to as slick. Some people really like a grabby needle that will hold the yarn firmly until they decide to move it. Other people like a very slick needle that will allow the yarn to slide with no effort whatsoever. The different materials used to make the various lines of needles allow you to choose what degree of smoothness you want to work with. When I say needles, I really mean both crochet hooks and knitting needles. It truly applies to both.

In regard to needles, another thing to bear in mind is that different fibres also have varying degrees of grabbiness. This refers to the texture of the yarn and the degree to which the fibres cling to the needle material as you work the yarn. I like to use a variety of needles relative to the project and the yarn I’m using. I’ll choose a smoother needle to work with grabbier yarn, and a grabbier needle to work with smoother yarn. The smoothness of the needles can affect how much tension you hold in your body as you knit. This can subtly affect your gauge as well. You may knit tighter with chrome plated needles than you do with bamboo needles.

How it all Relates:

Each yarn will indicate the gauge you can expect, with suggested needle sizes. The more comfortable and relaxed you are, the closer to the suggested gauge you will work.

Over the next few months I’ll be setting up a permanent “yarn and needle tasting” station in the store. I’ll have a number of baskets, each with a different style of needle and yarn so you can sit down and try them out to see what feels good to you. Stay tuned for updates!

I sincerely hope this information is helpful to you.

Happy Knitting and Crocheting!

Wow! Too Easy! More Gift Ideas

Anyone who crafts or sews will likely own a rotary cutter. These handy tools come in a few different sizes ranging from 28mm to 60mm. The size I find most popular is 45mm. The round blades are razor sharp and allow for nice clean cutting of fabrics and other craft materials. The newest style of blade opens up a whole vista of crafting possibilities.

The regular rotary cutter blade is simply a razor sharp disc that makes a solid clean and straight cut. You can also purchase wave blades that give a gently zig-zagged edge, like you would expect from pinking shears.

What I am excited to tell you about is the new skip cut blade. The skip cut blade has gaps around the cutting edge of the disc. It has many short cutting edges with equal spaces between them. When you use this blade, it gives you small cuts at regular intervals. For the creative individual, the possibilities for this blade are exciting. I just want to talk about two applications.

Quick and Easy Fleece Blanket with a Crochet Border

You start with a piece of Nordic/Polar Fleece fabric. With the edges cleanly cut, corners rounded off and the selvedges removed, use a ruler and rotary cutter fitted with the skip blade and cut an inch in from the outside edge all around the piece of fabric. It’s important to do this in one pass. Press firmly so that you are sure you are cutting all the way through. You now have a series of holes evenly spaced an inch in from the edge of the fabric. This gives you a place to easily crochet into so you can create a crocheted border all around your blanket. The edge folds in half, so you have a double layer of fabric contained within the first round of your crochet edge. I found two different links that show how to do this. Both are relatively long, however they give the necessary information well. The second one is more thorough a demonstration than the first.

 

Fleece Lined Blanket

The next project I want to share with you is a fleece lined blanket.

You can start with either a crocheted or a knitted blanket that you have already completed. You can either measure your blanket and use those measurements as a guide, or you can lay the blanket on the fleece to mark its size instead. Either way, you want to end up with a full inch all the way around the blanket. In other words, if your blanket is 45″ x 60″, you will want to cut a piece of fleece that is 47″ x 62″. As with the example above, you will use the skip cut rotary blade to make your nice tidy row of holes around the edge. You will have to take some liberties with how you align what you are crocheting with the existing stitches in the crocheted or knitted blanket. I would personally pin the edge profusely before beginning the process of crocheting the fleece to the edge of the blanket. Below is a link to a video in which this technique is demonstrated. This video is very thorough and assumes that you are a beginner.

I was introduced to skip cut blades by a customer who was traveling through Revelstoke. She stopped in my yarn shop and asked whether I carried them. I had never heard of them. While we chatted, I looked it up online through my supplier and found them. I brought them in for her and mailed them to her when they arrived. At the time, I brought in the packs of 5 as they are more cost effective than the individual blades. I have a couple packs still in stock. My next notions order will include some singles, so that if people want to try one out without committing to 5 of them, they have that option. I have a variety of solid colours of fleece in stock and many options for yarn that could be combined with it to make it special. What a great, easy gift to make someone’s life just a little more cozy.

As always, if you like the videos I have linked to and you want to see more from the folks who took the time, effort and care to create them, show them some love. Give them your likes, share the link or subscribe to their channel. Let’s support those amazing creative people in our world. 🙂

Happy Crocheting!

Starting it Pretty: Decorative Cast ons

One of the things that I love about participating in Tour-de-Sock is that each pattern is a surprise. Perhaps for the veterans, it’s all old hat, but for me every stage seems to have one technique that I have never tried before.

The current stage included a decorative cast-on. That got me thinking: how many different decorative cast ons are there? Well I have no intention of tracking down EVERY decorative cast on for my blog. But I thought I’d do a search and see what comes up and then share with you what I find.

In Adrienne Fong’s Plan A Sock pattern (stage 1) we did a twisted cast on. I tried to find a video to support this but couldn’t find one in English. You have to do this one flat. If you want to use it in the round, join it up after the twisting process is complete. Essentially, you begin with a cast on, knit a few rows in garter stitch, depending on how pronounced you want the twists to be. In the next row, you knit a determined number of stitches and then twist the work before knitting the determined number of stitches again; twist the work and repeat. You keep doing that to the end of the row. It is very important that you use a stretchy cast on for this if you are doing something like socks; it has a tendency to bind if you don’t. I think this would be cute at the bottom edge of a sweater.

Guernsey Cast On

This cast on gives an interesting eyelet edge. I wouldn’t use this on socks. However it would be great on sweaters or other garments.

 

Channel Island Cast on

This cast on gives a subtle picot-like edge.

Frilled “Cast on”

This is more of a border than a true cast on. But it creates a pretty ruffle. This would be marvelous on wee little girl dresses, or at the bottom of a little cardigan.

Shell Cast on

I would call this a scallop cast on. I have seen this done a few different ways. I really like Elizzza’s method. This could work nicely at the top of a sock cuff.

Old Norwegian Scallop Cast on

This one is a little more labour intensive, but it is so beautiful that it would be worth the time and effort. It is a more sophisticated version of the Shell border above.

Picot Cast on

Picots add a nice delicate touch to a border or a hem. (The German name for them translates to “mouse-teeth”. The cartoon narrative in my brain makes that very cute to me.)

Picot hem

This is really a border or hem as opposed to a true cast on. However it falls in the same category, giving a decorative beginning edge. This is commonly seen in socks and can easily be knitted in the round. You could alternatively start with a provisional cast on to make it really easy to knit the stitches together as you fold it to create the picots.

Beaded Picot Cast on

This takes the picot and elevates it. So pretty! Along the hem of a lace cardigan? Oh yeah!

I’m sure that there are many other ways to elevate a cast-on into a beautiful border. These were the ones that really stood out for me. I’m looking forward to incorporating some of them into designs that are rolling around in my head.

I hope that these will inspire you too.

Happy Knitting!