Using up Stash Yarns

Sometimes you just want to grab a ball of yarn out of your stash and make up a hat or something else that’s quick. But, hey, don’t you hate it when you get 3/4 done and you realize that the little ball that is left is not going to make it to the end of the pattern? Try using this new trend to make a switch to an unexpected contrast yarn look intentional.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of patterns that use a speckled colourwork pattern as a way to transition from one colour to another without solid stripes. They’re calling this effect “ombre”.

So let’s say you realize that you definitely won’t have enough yarn, but you don’t want to scrap the project. What to do?

Start with choosing your new contrasting yarn:

  • Look for something with as close to the same weight as possible.
  • If you can at least mostly match the fibre content, that would be best.
  • Find a colour that looks good with what you’ve started.
  • I’d check the colours in daylight if at all possible.
  • Do they feel similar? For some projects that may be less important than others.

Create a plan of attack:

  • You’ll want to have an idea of how many rounds you can still get out of colour #1.
  • You’ll be carrying colour #1 for those rows, even when you have switched predominantly to colour #2.
  • Decide how many rows you want to work the transition over.
  • Find a pattern that has a transition chart already worked out… or…
  • Map something out on some graph paper if you feel comfortable doing so.
  • The more random the pattern of speckles, the better it looks.

Make it happen:

– Attach your second colour and start your random-ish speckly transition pattern.

Once you’re all done, no one will ever know that you hadn’t planned it all along!

Here are a couple links to patterns on Ravelry that show the effect I mean. I encourage you to do a search on ombre patterns to see what else comes up. Now, a lot of ombre patterns actually have you work with two strands of yarn at a time, and then you switch out one of the strands with a different colour for a while, and then switch one out a little later on and so on, to get a cool, very gradual stripey effect. That’s not the type I’m referring to. You’ll want to look at the ones that start out with a few contrasting speckles and then shift so that the contrasting colour takes over from the main colour. 🙂

  1. Speckled Hat
  2. Quick Ombre Hat
  3. Pandamonium

Happy Knitting!

 

Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash

Advertisements

Projects: Keeping Track

I love being challenged to become a better knitter; it’s exciting and incredibly satisfying. One side effect of knitting challenging patterns is that suddenly it really matters that I am able to keep track of where I am in the pattern I’m working.

My life is very full and busy. This means that I often only knit for short amounts of time. I’ll sneak in 20 minutes here, an hour there, sometimes all I’ll manage is 10 minutes. Often I don’t finish a full pattern repeat, and occasionally I don’t even manage to complete the row or round I start. Some evenings I’m so exhausted by the time I sit down that I simply don’t have the energy to even work on a “vanilla” project. This means that it can be several days from when I left that mid-row project. And when I do pick it up, I don’t want to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what I did before I set it down.

These factors wreak havoc on my ability to keep track of where I am in a pattern. I have come up with a few useful tricks that help me to be know where I left off the last time I worked on my project.

1. Staying Organized

Sometimes the pattern requires that you have your “toolbox” handy.

  • Stitch markers,
  • measuring device,
  • pencil for marking up the pattern,
  • crochet hook for beading,
  • stitch holders
  • or cable needles

all may need to be close at hand for when you need them. I have a small clear zippered pouch that I use to keep all those little tools together. It’s small enough that I can easily tuck it in with my knitting when I need to be mobile. Keeping projects contained in their own project bag really helps too. The “toolbox” can easily be picked up and popped in with whatever project I want to work on.

2. Digital Pattern Management

These days, it’s very common to purchase patterns online to download as PDF files. As an avid Ravelry user, I make sure that I keep my digital patterns (whenever possible) in my Ravelry library. It means that I have access to them on my mobile devices as well as on my computer. I also make a point to download and save them onto my computer. Otherwise, heaven help me if I lose my print out.

I use a free app called “Knit Companion”. This app allows you to open up PDF files and save them as knitting projects. Once you have saved them, you can use the row markers and counters to help keep track of where you are. I really like this app. It’s easy to learn and great when you are on the go. The downside of this is that if you are trying to use it on your phone, the screen is so small that following large charts just isn’t practical. It’s not so bad on a tablet, mind you. If you only need to keep track of a small chart, it’s very handy (especially if you are traveling) because you are pretty certain to take your phone with you where you go.

I also use a free Android row-counter app called “Bee Counter”. You can set up a project and have multiple count sections. Each section allows you to make notes. When I am designing, I like to use this app along with some graph paper to keep track of any pattern work I’m doing.

3. Managing Paper Patterns

When I buy a book or a leaflet pattern, I like to photocopy the pages I need for my project so that I can scribble on them without ruining my original copy.  I have a pattern holder that fits letter size pages and keeps them in place with magnets. Whatever patterns I’m using go into the pattern holder. The only downside to this is that when I’m moving from place to place to knit, it can be a little cumbersome. The long magnets allow me to identify where I am in the pattern, or on a chart. Of course, when my cat comes along he makes it his mission to move my magnets just enough to make my place unclear.

4. Keeping Track of Pattern Repeats

Since my dear fluffy friend, Ricasso, insists on playing with my pattern holder, I have found it very important to add one more fail-safe to my system of keeping track. When I come to a section that requires repeats, I draw little charts in the margins of my patterns next to the relative instruction. Let’s say that I’m increasing for a thumb gusset on a pair of mittens and I have to do one increase row and 2 knit rows repeated a total of 5 times. I would make up a little chart that has 3 columns and 5 rows. At the top, I would put “I” for increase above the first column and a “K”  for knit above each of the other two columns. As I complete each round, I then put a check mark in the appropriate box so I know where I am. Until that round is complete, it doesn’t get checked. So if I stop mid-round, I can look at my little chart and I know just where I am. If I’m working a chart and it needs to be repeated multiple times, I will usually put a small check mark to the right of the row on the chart once I complete it. As I begin the chart again, I add check marks accordingly next to the previous ones. When I’m working a very complicated pattern I keep track of it on the paper pattern and in Bee Count and/or Knit Companion as well. Even with all of this, I still occasionally mess up the pattern. But usually this works well for me.

Being able to read the actual knitting is very important as well, but that is  a whole other blog post.

Happy Knitting

 

No More Painfully Tight Cuffs!

Ribbed cuffs are nice and stretchy. They snug up around your shins or your wrists and give a perfect fit. Unfortunately, that lovely stretch can be undermined by the type of cast on you use. If you are new to making socks, mittens, leg warmers or gauntlets and you are finding that the cast on of your cuffs tend to bind on the leg or arm, I have a couple easy tips for you. I am assuming that you are knitting “cuff down”.

Because socks, mittens and related garments have a relatively small circumference,

it makes a big difference how you cast them on.

The traditional long tail cast on tends to give a strong stable foundation for your knitting. For many things this is excellent. On larger garments like toques (hats or beanies) or on sweaters there are usually enough stitches that using this method works well. It stabilizes the edge and helps to keep it from stretching out. Putting the garment on and off is not an issue for the most part, because the size of the opening is not restrictive.

We want our socks and mittens to fit snugly around our legs and arms. I don’t know about you, but slouchy socks drive me bananas, and loose mittens fall off me. We usually incorporate a folded cuff or a ribbed cuff that allows the foot or hand to easily fit through, while still allowing it to hug the wrist or shin. That long tail cast on, (and other traditional cast ons) with its lovely sturdy structure works against the need to maximize the stretch of the ribbing.

The Twisted German Cast On puts an extra twist into each stitch you cast on. It takes a wee bit of practice until you get used to it. I found that I had to refer to a video for the first three or four projects I used it on before I could remember it consistently.

Be aware that just using the Twisted German may not be enough.

If you are knitting for someone who has large calves or feet, forearms or hands this may still bind. There is one extra step that I suggest. When you cast on, take the time to either cast on over two needles of the size you’ll be using for your main project, or use a needle that is double the girth of the size you’ll use for the main project. When I say your main project, here’s what I mean. Often, patterns recommend using a smaller gauge needle to knit ribbing. This insures that the ribbing will have a nice “grab-ability” (also called negative ease) and will keep from stretching out. Then, once the ribbing is knit, the pattern will have you switch to a larger needle for the project. So what I’m recommending is that you use a needle that is double the larger size to cast on your Twisted German. Then switch to your ribbing size needle to knit.

When you first start you may think, “What? Judy, you are completely loopy! this is a loosey goosey mess!” Trust me on this. It’s only for the cast on. The person who normally struggles to squeeze their foot past the cast on; or gets nasty lines pressed into their calf from a rigid cast on will thank you.

If the recipient of your knitted masterpiece has average calves and forearms, then use double the ribbing needles’ size rather than double the project needles’ size.

The only thing about doing this method that you’ll want to be aware of is that when you start knitting the first row of ribbing, it’s really important that you knit those stitches as you normally would. Keep the tension nice and firm (without being overly tight). Focus on the right hand needle for the first row you knit and take time to keep the knitting very even and consistent. You may find a tendency to want to compensate for the looseness of the cast on by knitting that first row either tighter or looser than you normally would. Resist the urge. Once you get a few rows into the ribbing you will notice that the edge will tend to look a bit wobbly. That’s okay. Once the recipient wears them, that will give a nice soft edge that will allow their hands or feet to easily pass through, and won’t dig into their body. The ribbing will do the job of holding up the sock or keeping the mitten in place.

Here is a video that I really like that demonstrates the Twisted German Cast On:

 

Happy knitting!

Technique for Perfect Binding

The holiday season is approaching. Those of us that make gifts for friends and family are always looking for things to make that are relatively quick, simple and cost effective. Using bias binding to finish place mats, “mug-rugs”, table runners or other sewn items can make the process much quicker. If you have struggled to get really nice corners on these projects, fear not! Today I’ll walk you through an easy method to do just that.

Double fold bias binding is a continuous strip of fabric, cut on the bias (diagonal to the grain of the woven fabric), folded and pressed so that the seam allowance is already worked out for you.Double fold bias binding tape is available in many colours. You can easily coordinate it with most fabrics. I have yet to meet a sewing shop that did not sell bias tape, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it. Because it is cut on the bias, it easily navigates around curved edges, too.

bias tape makerIf you are making something with only straight sides, you don’t actually need your binding to be cut on the bias. You can make your own binding using the same fabric as your project. You can cut the strips across the grain of your fabric to accommodate the width of binding you want to use. There is a tool called a “bias tape maker” that allows you to fold and press your own binding easily. They are available in a number of different sizes.

For all those rectangular projects that you might want to bind like place mats, mug rugs, table runners, quilts, blankets or wall hangings you can use either straight or bias binding. I threw something together just so I could have photographs of the demonstration. In hindsight, the colour was probably not the best choice to show up. Hopefully you can see it alright.

Measure the perimeter of the outside edge of your project and be sure that you purchase (or make) enough binding to accommodate that measurement plus a little more, just in case. You need minimally enough to allow for attaching it together. Binding is inexpensive so don’t cheap out and end up short.

Begin by opening up the folded binding and aligning the edge with the edge of your project, right sides together.

20171109_115612

Leave a tail of at around 3 inches before you begin your seam. Back tack at the beginning of your stitching and sew in the ditch of the fold closest to your fabric edge. Before you get to the end, measure the width of the seam allowance. Measure from the end in the same distance as the seam allowance (it’s likely to be 1/4″). Put a dot there. Stitch to the dot and leave the needle down in the fabric.

Lift your presser foot and turn the work 45 degrees so that your presser foot is facing directly toward the corner. Stitch to the corner. Remove the work from the machine and clip your threads.

Pull the binding back against that little corner that you just sewed. Then fold the binding tape to align with the top and side. Carefully align your needle at the edge of where the corner of that little seam sits. You will be lined up in the ditch next to where that dot was facing down the next side of the project. Back tack and continue to sew.

Repeat these steps until all the corners are done. Stop stitching just after the last corner and allow a few inches to where you will have to join this end of the binding to your starting edge of the binding.

Make sure that the beginning edge of the binding is cut square. Lay it flat and mark a line 1/4″ from the edge.

Lay the other end of the bias over the top. Trace the line onto this layer of bias. This is your stitching line. Make sure that you cut past the line (the binding must be longer than where this line is marked). This is very important!

With right sides together, stitch the ends together. Clip the corners to reduce bulk. Align the binding to the edge of the fabric and finish stitching the section.

Turn the work and arrange the binding so it wraps around the edge and lays flat. You can see the stitching line on the fabric. What you want to really pay attention to here is that the binding is just barely covering that stitching. Now align your row of top-stitching so that it will sit just a little further onto the binding than the original line of stitching. I suggest testing out with a long stitch before you do it “for real”. The idea is that you want your top-stitching to land up going through both layers of binding. So when you do your test, stitch a few inches and then look at the underside to make sure that your stitches are not landing on the fabric beside the binding. Adjust the alignment of your top-stitching accordingly and away you go.

wonder clipThere is a product called “Wonder Clips” that you can use to hold the binding in place. The edge of the clip can be aligned so that the binding is positioned perfectly front and back. Some people love these. I find them bulky and cumbersome, personally. I do a lot of top-stitching, though. If you don’t, then the clips might be just the thing to help you match up the edges.

When you get to a corner, fold the bulk in the opposite direction of what you did on the opposite side. This will give a neater finish.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Continue in this way until you have made your way around the whole project. And there you have it. YAY!

 

3 Simple Sewing Technique Alternatives

With pretty much everything, there is more than one way to do it. And, sometimes just changing one small method, can help make a process easier, and quite possibly more enjoyable.

1. Basting

a. Matching Thread Colour and leaving it in

For many people, it might just seem instinctive to use the same colour of thread as your fabric when you baste a sewing project. After all, you’ll have it on hand since that’s the thread you chose for the project. If the colour matches the fabric perfectly, there’s a good chance you can leave the basting thread in and no one would know. Then once you know that you’ve got everything placed as you want it to be, you can simply stitch again, over the basting thread with a finer stitch length to finish.

Pros
• Already have the thread colour on hand
• No need to spend time pulling out the basting thread

Cons
• If you look closely you can see the basting thread
• If your thread isn’t a perfect match, it can look sloppy

b. Contrasting Thread Colour and pulling it out

If you plan to pull out the basting thread when your final stitching is complete, having a contrasting colour is the way to go. It’s a lot easier to see a high contrast thread colour against the fabric. No need to squint! (Well, maybe you’ll still squint if your eyes are anything like mine, but at least the thread will be more obvious.) This is a great technique to use, especially, if you can’t quite get the thread colour to match perfectly, or if you know the stitches will be obvious on the outside. Removing the basting threads can really help to give a polished finish to the garment.

Pros
• Easier to remove
• Looks cleaner

Cons
• Extra steps
• If you do end up accidentally missing some thread, it will be more noticeable

2. Hand Stitching

a. Single thread

When you ask someone to thread their needle for the first time, it’s just the logical choice to cut the thread, and put one end through the eye of the needle and then to knot the other end. It’s simple, and uses minimal materials. It might not create the strongest stitches, and that initial knot can just be frustrating on sleepy days or downright ugly to look at. But, it is nice to only worry about getting that one thickness of thread through the eye of your needle. (I swear that they keep making the eyes smaller and smaller!)

Pros
• Thread only one thickness
• Uses minimal materials

Cons
• Fiddly to tie initial knot
• Weaker initial knot and seam

b. Double thread

Cut the thread double the length you need, and then bring the two cut ends together, threading them both through the eye of your hand sewing needle. “What?!” you say? “What is the benefit of this?” When you do your first stitch, pick up a tiny bit (a thread or two) of the fabric with the needle; pull the thread through the fabric until just a wee little loop remains. Then direct the needle through that loop and pull until it locks the loop. No knot necessary! This makes for a sturdy starting point to your work. While stitching, the doubled up thread gives you a stronger seam. It does take more materials, and can it be frustrating to thread the needle with two thicknesses of thread though. Personally this is my “go-to” method.

Pros
• No need for knot
• No worry that the knot might not hold
• Stronger first knot
• Stronger stitches (due to each stitch being two threads instead of one)

Cons
• Uses more thread
• Must thread two ends instead of just one

3. Cutting

a. Scissors

Scissors are nice and simple. They take up very little space, and most of us have been using them for a long time; we generally all have scissors around somewhere. And, good quality sewing shears glide through fabric. However, a lot of the time, you still need to do multiple strokes to cut your pattern piece, which can make it tedious to get a perfect edge. With each stroke of the scissors you run the risk of putting a wobble or jags in the cut. With enough patience and, it doesn’t need to be an issue. You can minimize any jaggedness in the cutting line by making long smooth strokes with the scissors. Scissors excel in cutting fussy shapes with inside corners.

Pros
• Space efficient
• Easy to use
• can use tips of scissor blades to cut inside corners and odd shapes easily

Cons
• Can be difficult to cut a smooth edge
• Might need to sharpen or replace

b. Rotary Cutter

Rotary cutters can take a bit to get used to, but their wheel-like blade means less lifting of the blade, helping to create a more seamless edge. When it gets dull though, the blade really needs to be replaced, or else it can do more damage than good. You also do have to have a cutting mat, as to not wreck a surface, or dull the blade faster. Rotary cutters are great for long straight or curved cuts. They are not as easy to use when making tight complicated cuts.

Pros
• Cleaner edges
• Less motions

fast

Cons
• Must replace the blade relatively often
• Need a cutting mat
• not as user friendly when cutting tight complex shapes

With sewing, like anything, there are many different methods you can use to get a job done. Hopefully one of these will be worth a try for you. I always encourage people to experiment and find the way that appeals to them the best.

Are there any particular tools or methods you love to use? Or something you like doing a little differently than most, depending on the project? I’d love to hear from you.

Happy Sewing 🙂

Sewing Mitered Corners

Mitered corners look tidy and fancy. Most things we see (tea towels, table cloths, place mats and so on) have quickly finished edges. Many of them are simply a twice-turned (sometimes called “rolled”) hem, or a serged edge that has been turned and stitched. I call this a “serge and turn” if you can still see the serged stitches and a “serge and roll” if you can’t. If you are looking for a way to take a simple project up a notch.

Try making it with a wide hem with mitered corners.

Before I get started, I want to acknowledge that this may end up looking like a whole lot of words. Please take the time to read and then compare to the photos. This process is a wee bit counter-intuitive. I have sincerely tried to be as clear as I know how to be.

First off, you need to plan your project accordingly. I like to allow 1.25 inches for my hem when doing a mitered corner. This gives me a quarter inch to tuck under and one inch of fabric that shows off the miter. So I will add 2.5 inches to my desired finished width and length. For instance, if I want my table runner to be 12″ x 18″ when finished, I would cut out my fabric to measure 14.5″ x 20.5″.

Tips:

Experienced sewers may be able to eyeball a quarter inch edge.

If you can do that, all the power to you! If you don’t think you would be able to do that evenly, or it would take you a long time to do so, I have a couple tips for you: If you have a serger, you can serge around the outside edge of the fabric. This gives you a quarter inch seam allowance that you can easily see and turn under. I encourage you to choose a thread colour that blends in with your fabric. This will hide any imperfections when you tuck the edge under and stitch it in place. If you don’t have a serger, you can run a row of stitching a quarter inch from the edge as a guide for turning your seam allowance. Use a thread colour that looks good with your fabric, that you can see, but that won’t look ugly if it shows a little after you are done. Both of these tips are optional, but they will make doing the corners much easier. There are presser feet that are designed to align a quarter inch from the edge of the fabric. If you don’t have one, they are a handy addition to your tool box.

You will need to mark your fabric in some way.

You will be marking on the right side of the fabric. You can use dressmaker’s chalk, a Pilot Frixion pen or other fabric marking pen.  If using a pen, please, please, PLEASE take the time to test it on your fabric before you use it. Frixion pens react to heat and marks should disappear when you press your project. But, I have had a few times when it didn’t completely disappear. I’m not sure whether it is an issue of fibre content or ink colour that causes this. Some fabric marking pens are water soluble and the ink washes away. I don’t have a lot of personal experience using the water soluble pens; both Dritz and Prym make these. I have many customers who swear by them. I usually use DM chalk or Frixion pens.

Marking the outer turn line:

Measure and mark your turn line 1.25 inches from each of your edges respectively. Do this on the right side of the fabric. You will end up with squares drawn on each corner.

Marking for the mitered corners:

Turn your fabric so you can work on the wrong side now. What you need here, is to mark the corners to prepare for the miters. If you have a grid ruler* use it to mark the 1.25″ lines at the corners; measure from the outer edge the way you did on the last step. Notice on my photograph that I marked the 1.25″ turn line about 2″ further than the corners of the squares. This is important. (*I highly recommend having at least a 4″x4″ grid ruler in your tool box. A 3″x18″ and a 6″x24″ are the other sizes I couldn’t live without. Olfa, Omnigrid and Fiskars all make very good grid rulers.)

Next, mark another set of lines 1 inch in from the lines you just made. Notice that this has created two more squares beside the corner square? These are important.

If you didn’t serge the edge, or stitch a quarter inch guideline, then take the time to mark where that quarter inch edge is now. You will thank me later.

Take a moment to notice what you have created. You should have 4 one inch squares drawn in the corner, with a quarter inch edge at the edge of the fabric. Think of that edge as being separate from your squares.

Now using a ruler (do not eyeball this) draw a line. Start at the point where the square meets the outer line at the edge of the fabric (2.25″ from the corner) through both squares and end at the outer line. You did not mark in the outer quarter inch. This creates a triangle with the corner of the fabric; it should bisect two squares. Your line should go through the point where the four squares meet in the middle. This is very important. This is your stitching line.

tablerunner-07

If you are doing this for the first time, I recommend that you just mark one corner to begin with. Once you have sewn it and you understand what it is you have to do, then mark the other three. That way, if you misunderstood the instructions on the first one, you don’t have to undo anything before you can proceed.

Creating the Mitre:

Fold your fabric at the corner with right sides together. You are creating a triangle here. You will be able to see your corner markings. Be careful to align all the edges accurately. You may find it helpful to pin the edges in place so they don’t shift while you are working. Line your work up so that the quarter inch edge is toward the back of the presser foot. Align the needle and presser foot with your stitching line. Your needle should be placed at the point where the stitching line meets the quarter inch seam allowance. DO NOT SEW OVER THE SEAM ALLOWANCE.

Secure the stitching by back tacking (sew forward and back a couple times) and stitch to the end of the stitching line. Secure the stitching again.

Trim the extra fabric away. Looking at the raw edge that you just trimmed, one end is the original edge of the fabric, the other is where the fabric was folded. Clip the fold from the edge to the stitching line.

Turn the corner right side out. Don’t press it yet because that would erase your markings. Use your finger or a point turner (another tool I couldn’t live without) arrange the seam allowance open. In other words, you want there to be seam allowance laying on both sides of the seam you created, inside the corner.

Once you have all four corners mitered, carefully line them up with the markings so they lay nice and flat. Press the corners. I recommend that you now press along the turn line all the way around the project. Take your time with this so that you get a nice smooth edge. If you chose a loose fabric, you should probably pin that edge in place at this point. Now you can easily turn that quarter inch edge under and top stitch as close to the edge as you can manage.

Ta-Dah! You just made a mitered table mat. Congratulations!