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!

6 Gift-Making Tips

Many knitters and crocheters, sewing enthusiasts and other crafters use their creative skills to fashion gifts for their friends and family.

Whatever the project, crafters put their hearts into every step that goes into making those gifts. From choosing just the right yarn or other materials and the pattern, to all the hours carefully constructing the project stitch by stitch. If you are lucky enough to be considered knit, crochet or craft worthy, know that you are loved. I have some tips to offer Makers when they are planning out the gifts they want to create.

Depending on what your focus is, your priorities for each project can change.

Focus on Budget – Time:

When we think about a budget, we usually think about money. The reality is that we have a budget of time every bit as much as we have a financial budget. As someone who knits gifts, I’m always looking for projects that won’t become centennial jobs. There are all sorts of things I’d love to make for the people I care about. But there’s only so much time to do it. If I had unlimited hours to knit, I would be making lace shawls and 4-ply cardigans and other elaborate things for the people I love. But I don’t have unlimited time. Gosh, that’s such an understatement! I am a pretty quick knitter, but there’s a limit to what I can make in the precious time I have available.

Focus on Budget – Money:

It can be easy to let the cost of projects get away from us when we want to make something particularly wonderful for someone dear to us. Most of us have to work within a budget. Most of us also make gifts for multiple people. Even if you are not a “planner”, it’s good to be methodical about all the bits and pieces that you’ll have to buy, with money, for the projects you plan to make. And you know as well as I do, that those materials can really add up. Most crafters of all shape and size have a stash of supplies for their favourite making discipline. If money is tight, dig into that stash and see what you can use.

Focus on the Materials:

You can focus on the yarn or other materials and choose something absolutely scrumptious. There are so many gorgeous yarns (fabrics etc.) out there. Make the project a showcase for the materials by keeping your pattern selection simple. Put a little more resources into the purchase of the yarn or fabric and less into the work of the project. You might use silk embroidery thread instead of cotton. Of course there is a caveat with this. If it requires special care, you want to be sure that the recipient will apply that special care and not throw it in the washer and dryer with their jeans or towels… SHUDDER! If you think they will treat it right, but just need to know how to look after it, you could always include a travel size bottle of a “Delicates No-rinse Wash” like Eucalan with their gift. Pop in a card with the url to a demo of the product and brief, hand written care instructions.

Focus on an Artful Pattern:

There are many knitting and crochet designs that feature beautiful patterned stitches. There are sewing patterns that are true and complex works of art. When you choose one of these patterns, it’s best to back off with the materials and keep them simple. You don’t want to set up a competition between the yarn or fabric and the intricate pattern you create with it. This sort of design takes more focus to make. The more focus you need, the more time you need to allow. You may not be able to do a lot in a sitting. And you really don’t want to leave a project like this to the last minute. In my experience, that’s when you make silly mistakes that sit there like neon signs, screaming to be picked out and rebuilt.

Focus on the Practical:

There are many practical items that you can make as gifts. The nice thing about practical hand-made gifts is that you can be pretty certain that they are going to get some use. My family members love to receive hand-knit socks, for instance.

Focus on the Special:

You know that person who really likes things to be fancy? This is when you pull out those projects that you couldn’t resist pinning. Beaded projects, projects with felted accents or embroidered touches, personalized projects… add that little something extra that says “Oh yeah!”

Keep a record:

It’s easy to forget what you did for whom and when. I encourage you to keep a notebook. I love those small binders that hold paper that is basically a letter sized sheet cut in half. You can either buy the pages punched and ready to go or you can take normal paper and cut it in half and hole punch it. You can create sections; you can move the pages around. This is great for organizing what you have made for people. I tried keeping track on my phone; it was too frustrating. Between phones that die, upgrades and apps that don’t allow you to effectively back up your data when you do get a new phone… ugh! Well, “old school” works. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You can staple the label from the yarn or a snip of the fabric onto the page, write down the name of the pattern and whether you modified it at all. If you ran into any trouble with the pattern, you could make a note of what it was and how you resolved it as well. You don’t have to worry about running out of pages, because it’s a binder! The main thing is that you want to jot down just enough so that you don’t accidentally make them the same thing twice… or for that matter so that if someone else sees it and wants one, that you can remember what you did.

And there you go. However you choose to focus on the gift projects you have on your making list, I hope you have fun with them.

Happy Making!

 

Tour-de-Sock: We’re half way there!

Tour-de-sock is well underway. Stage three of six is about to close and mark the half way point of this sock knitting competition. As I have mentioned before, this competition is a fundraiser for Doctors Without Borders. It’s a great opportunity to knit some gorgeous patterns that you might not have otherwise knit. And for me the part I love is that each round usually gives you something new to learn.

As was the case last year, we started the tour with a warm up sock. This year’s warm up sock was Miriam by Eeva Kesäkuu.

Miriam

 

I personally love to knit stranded colourwork. This pattern was a treat. The unusual heel and gusset made it interesting to knit… in a good way. At first when I saw how the sock looked, I questioned whether the fit was going to be any good. But when I put them on, I was pleasantly surprised. They hug my feet beautifully. I used OnLine Supersocke Graffiti yarn with Cascade Heritage Sock yarn for these. Here are mine:

 

Next on the Tour we knit Adrienne Fong’s Plan A socks.

Fong’s Plan A Socks

I don’t usually bother to knit a test swatch for gauge when I knit socks, since most socks knit up great with any old sock yarn. This pattern recommends a “light fingering” yarn. Note to self: yes, there is a difference between fingering and light fingering. I used Admiral Cat yarn for this one. I wanted a bright and happy yarn to knit. If I had really paid attention, I would have knit the ribbing as I did and then switched to finer needles for the leg. Mine came out quite large and slouchy. They fit around my feet well, so after I submitted my completed sock, I frogged them back by two pattern repeats, reknit the toes and “Ta dah!” they fit me now. These were a fun and relatively quick knit. I enjoyed them very much. Here are mine:

 

 

Stage two was a gorgeous cabled pattern called Odensjön by Suzanne Sjögren.

Odensjön

 

Having learned my lesson about light fingering yarn in stage one, I chose my yarn carefully for this round. I used CoBaSi Hikoo, a light fingering yarn that I wrote about a few weeks ago. First of all, I’m in love with this yarn. The results are just so pretty… what can I say? I’m hooked. This pattern was a perfect blend of interest and memorize-ability of the pattern repeat. It still took some focus, don’t get me wrong. The resulting sock is impressive without it feeling like I gave birth to it. (Hey, if you knit enough different sock patterns, you’ll stumble on one that will make you understand what I mean!) I enjoyed this pattern enough that I can see myself knitting it again and again. That’s saying something. After all, there are enough gorgeous sock patterns out there that I could knit a different pair every week, never knit one twice and yet never run out of new patterns for the rest of my life! Here are my completed ones:

And then there was Stage Three! I talked about these last week. Heidi Nick’s Bicycle Race.

Bicycle Race

These ones felt like they took me forever to knit. However in all fairness, my work  schedule really did get in the way of my knitting time for these. That having been said, I was able to work on all of the previous socks and still be social or pick them up and put them down mid round without it being a problem. Knitting these ones demands your full attention. They are absolutely stunning. I think as finished socks go, these may be my very favourite socks I’ve ever knitted (other than the Bintje knee socks I gave my daughter). I absolutely love them. I won’t knit a second pair of them, but I will wear them with pride and delight for as long as I can. Here are mine:

 

And now, I find myself anticipating the next pattern drop. I love not knowing what we will be doing until the stage officially begins. Three more stages to go… On the forums there can be a lot of chatter in anticipation of each new round. Photo hints are given, yet they really don’t tell you anything until you see the pattern itself. It can be fun to read people’s guesses about what we might be doing next. I don’t get too caught up in that, because it’s too easy to get worked up over what technique might come up that I know nothing about. I would rather just take it as it comes and figure out what I need to when I need to. I’m excited to see what will be next!

Are you excited to knit some socks yet?

Happy Knitting!

Toe-Up Socks Overview

There are two main approaches to knitting socks:

  1. Top-Down (also called Cuff-down) and
  2. Toe-Up

Today I want to focus on Toe-Up methods.

Whether you have knit a few pairs of socks or would simply like to learn how, toe-up is a great way to make socks. If you’ve never done it, I’ll give you an overview here with links to some good You-Tube videos to help you move forward.

There are a couple advantages to making toe-up socks.

  • It’s easy to check the sizing of the sock as you go.
  • There is no need to graft the toe closed when you finish knitting as it will already be closed right from the start.
  • Also, if you divide your ball of yarn into two equal balls at the start, by working toe-up, you will easily be able to see how long you can make the leg of the sock without worrying about running out of yarn. Typically, we can get 3 average socks out of a 100g ball of sock yarn.
  • If you like a tall sock, starting at the toe (ideally you would knit both socks in tandem, though it isn’t critical) you won’t have to guess how tall you can go. You’ll be able to see very clearly by what is left on the ball. And finally, using the short row heel method means you don’t have to pick up stitches along a heel flap.

Let me break it down a bit.

The very first step in any knitting project is going to be your cast-on. The toes of our socks are closed. When you start with the toe, your cast-on will have to take this fact into account. There are a number of different ways to cast on to create this closed end of the toe. Once you cast on your desired number of stitches, you will knit them in the round and increase to create the toe. I like to start with either 10 or 12 stitches on each needle. Some people like to start with as few as 6 per needle. It’s all about what you like. No matter which method you use, the process of making the sock is the same.

The most common closed cast-on methods include:

Turkish Cast-on

 

Judy’s Magic Cast-on (a different Judy, not me; this is her video)

 

Figure-8 Cast-on

 

Once you have cast on your toe, you will knit in the round.

You will need to increase your stitches to gradually get up to the size around your foot.

I usually increase 4 stitches every other row until I have 60 stitches. (I usually knit 1, m1, knit until there is 1 stitch left on needle #1, m1 and knit the last stitch. I then repeat this on needle #2.) What’s great about the toe up method is that you can easily try on the sock and adjust to the size you need as you go. Once it fits, stop increasing. The only thing to consider here is that if you want to do a ribbing when you get to the cuff or if you want to include a knitted pattern you will want your final number of stitches to divide evenly in a way that will work for your ribbing or pattern. For instance if you are doing a 2×2 rib, be sure that your total number of stitches divides by 4. If your pattern repeat is 8, be sure your number of stitches will divide by 8; so you may go with 56 or 64 or 72. If you have thick ankles, go a little larger.

Side note:

If you are making your socks one at a time, be sure to keep notes about what you do as you go so that you can be sure to match the second sock to the first. If you are inclined to knit two at a time, there are a couple ways to go about that. First and foremost, divide your yarn into two equal balls. Use a scale for this. Cast on the socks completely separately. Then, once they are cast on, you have the option of knitting the two socks on one needle side by side using a magic loop; on two circulars (needle 1 and needle 2); or in tandem on two separate sets of DPN’s, two magic loops or two sets of two circulars. These days, I’m using magic loop and knitting them side by side unless I’m doing complicated colour-work; then I do 2 separate magic loops.

Instep (the section of the sock that the main part of your foot goes in)

Once you have your toe completed, simply knit in the round until the sock is about 1.5 inches shorter than the length of your foot. If  you want to incorporate a pattern, decide which needle is #1 and which is #2. I like to keep #1 for the heel. So #1 gets knitted in stockinette (it will be on the sole of the foot) and #2 gets the pattern. You can think of it the other way around if you want, this is just what I do. Knit away in this manner until there is about 1.5″ left to the end of your heel. At this point, you’ll begin constructing your heel.

Heel

In this method, we use what is known as a “short row heel”. We knit needle #1 stitches back and forth at this time. You progressively knit fewer and fewer of the stitches on your needle while leaving the un-knit stitches resting on the same needle at either end as you go. You are building up a kind-of wedge like shape and then filling it in afterward. There are a few different ways of doing this. It will make more sense once you watch these videos.

 

German Short Row Heel

 

Japanese Short Row Heel

 

Short Row Heel with Shadow Wraps

 

Short Row Heel with Wrap and Turn

 

Once you complete the short row heel of your choosing, you simply continue knitting in the round to make the calf or leg of the sock. If you knitted a pattern on the instep of the sock, you will now knit that pattern all the way around the sock (instead of just on needle #2) until you get to where you want to start your ribbing. Knit your ribbing and then bind off with a stretchy bind-off.

Stretchy Bind Off

 

And there you go! I hope that this was helpful. As always, hat’s off to those fabulous people who created the videos that I have linked to. If you find you really like them, I encourage you to subscribe to their channels.

Happy Knitting!