Friday, August 31, 2012

I had lots of time this week to knit which is always a good thing.  I got a good head start on a project, plenty of time to read and caught up on tv series I had recorded.  I feel like it was the calm before a storm.  I remembered to contact Redfish, Baah, Briar Rose and Miss Babs to see if they would like to donate some yarn to give as door prizes at the Masters Day in Reno.  The good news is all said yes.

By the way, I just heard that there is still room in two of my classes.  One is the Shoulders and Seams class.  It is mostly finishing but we do short rows.  The other is my Gauge class.  This is the last time I will teach it.  (Sniff) 

I got lots of new course orders this week, many due to Sue from IN who finished up the course a few weeks ago.  It makes me very happy that she feels the class was so beneficial that she recommended it to friends.

Here is one of those topics, like tension,  that gives the reviewers in the Masters Program the reputation as the "Knitting Police"...BLOCKING.  If you are doing swatches for the Masters Program (or for my Basics class) all of the swatches must be blocked before they are submitted.  To be properly blocked, the edges should not be curled, the corners should be squared off, and the sides should be the same length.  This is part of "finishing" for the swatch.   It demonstrates your best work.   Tip of the Week

Several factors impact blocking. First of all, you have to use a fiber which can be blocked.  It is next to impossible to adequately block some fibers.  For example, it is next to impossible to block acrylics.  Try knitting a small stockinette swatch.  Photograph it.  Block it properly.  Compare the before photo to the swatch.  There will be almost no difference.  The sides and the top and bottom will be curled.  Yes, you can try steam blocking acrylics but be careful, the fabric might melt.  Part of becoming a Master Knitter is understanding what fiber to select for projects.  If the fiber cannot be blocked, it should not be used for swatches.

The stitch pattern is also a consideration.  Stitch patterns, like stockinette, which produce curled edges should be blocked.  Some knitters don't block stockinette if the edges will be seamed.  Keep in mind it is easier to finish edges which have been blocked.  Some stitch patterns, like lace, MUST be blocked.  If you don't, it won't look like lace.  Trick Question:  Should acrylics ever be used for lace?  See above.  Textured stitch patterns, like cable and ribbing, must be blocked very carefully.  Always consider how you want them to look in the final product.  For example, I would block the pieces for a Aran sweater very differently than I blocked the Medusa Coat (see below) where I wanted the cables to appear like embossed motifs.  Don't stretch ribbing or cables unless you want to completely flatten them.

The blocking method depends upon the fiber and the final results.  For most projects, wet blocking works.  Why?  Think about how you are going to launder the final fabric.  The one thing that I am not going to discuss in this blog is the mechanics of blocking.  Leslie Gonzalez, one of the co-chairs of the Master Hand Knitting Committee has an EXCELLENT video on how to block.  Here is the link:  Leslie's Blocking Video

If you ask most knitters to name three things they don't like to do their answers will include knitting gauge swatches, blocking and finishing.  (I think many knitters dislike doing these things since they aren't sure how to do them properly.)  Unfortunately it is these three things that make knitted garments fit and look hand made rather than home made.  What most knitters like to do is knit.  Their excuse is that these things take too long.  Yes, they do add time to the project but if you put it in perspective how long you hope to have the garment, it may not see that long after all. 

A gauge swatch is what you should do BEFORE knitting the project and blocking and proper finishing are what you do after knitting the project.

I've had knitters complain to me that, yes, they did knit a gauge swatch but the garment still didn't fit.  When I ask them if they blocked the gauge swatch, they look at me as if I have asked a completely ridiculous question.  How on earth are you supposed to know what the final fabric will look like unless you block your gauge swatch?  How can you get an accurate measurement?  Blocking the gauge swatch is essential. 

There is blocking for the Masters Program and then there is blocking in real life.  What do I recommend?  You will always find knitters who say they rarely block.  Good for them.  In some projects you can get by without blocking.  If you are knitting a stockinette baby sweater using acrylic yarn, why bother?  It wouldn't make a bit of difference.

I recently read The Ravell'd Sleeve:The Journal of the Couture Knitting Workshop  by Catherine Lowe (thanks for the recommend Suzanne) and I discovered that I have the same approach to knitting.  I like my garments to have a polished look and proper blocking contributes to that look.  I always wet block.  A friend of mine who is a dyer told me that to properly wet the fabric, it needs to completely absorb the water so I fill a basin with water and I place the fabric on top of the water.  Sometimes it takes minutes, sometimes it takes all night.  I always block my gauge swatches (even garter stitch).  I block the pieces before finishing and I sometimes block again after finishing. 

How you block or whether you block at all is up to you and how you want your final project to look is up to you.  One word of VERY careful if you use a steam iron.  During my time on the Masters Committee I reviewed thousands of swatches and the worst ones I ever saw were over blocked by steaming.  The stitch patterns were flattened and the fabric was sometimes scorched.  It was enough to make me put my steam iron away forever. 

Salon will be on Saturday this weekend.  Generally in the fall I try to have Salon on Sunday so as not to interfere with the football schedule.  Sad to say, even my friends who were fanatical about going in the past are not going this year.  Doesn't bode well for the Cats.

I did finish up my Medusa coat and I am pleased.  Too bad it isn't cold enough to wear it yet.  I should be able to wear it in Reno.  By the way, I blocked this fabric very firmly.  As I said above, I wanted the snakes to appear embossed on a background of reverse stockinette. 


I finished up the second Leaves of Spring sock but I didn't bother to photograph it.
I got started on the side-to-side garter stitch skirt.  It is such a pleasant change from Medusa's Coat where I really had to pay attention.  I can read while working on it.  I used a provisional cast on and the skirt is shaped by short rows.  I selected Kauni Effekts as the color changes work well with the short rows.  I pinned it to the dress form.  Even thought it is garter stitch, am I going to block it? Of course.



Friday, August 24, 2012

It has been a very uneventful week which is fine by me.  The weather here has been absolutely beautiful but I am sorry to say that ragweed is pollinating which has made me a sneezing mess.

If you sign up for one of my correspondence courses and you don't hear from me within 2 days or so, assume something is wrong and contact me or TKGA.  I send out links to the materials as soon as I hear from the TKGA office.  There are four emails with the files.  If you don't get all four, let me know as soon as possible.  I prefer to send links as sending the actual files can take a really long time due to the graphics.   

When you send me a lesson, I review it the day I get it and put it in the next day's mail.  Depending on where you live, you should have it back in a day or two.  I indicate here or on Ravelry when I will be out of town.  A neighbor takes in my mail and so far (knock on wood) only one lesson has been lost.

There are many reasons for uneven tension and I've discussed ways to approach the problems in the past two weeks but those aren't the only reasons or solutions.  It is a very complicated issue and there is not a "one size fits all" way to fix it.

Some yarns contribute to tension issues.  Another thing to consider is the needles you are using.

I have been knitting for a long time and I have used pretty much every type of needle and I have discovered that I have a preference for uncoated metal needles with very pointy tips.  This is my preference and I would not ever make the suggestion that my preference would work for everyone.  When I first started knitting I was at a yarn store and a fellow knitter seeing my Boye needles sneered and said, "Serious knitters only use bamboo needles."  If you ever meet a needle snob like this one, run in the opposite direction.  What works for one knitter may not work for another.  By the way, I rarely use bamboo as they tend to slow me down (which has a detrimental effect on my tension) and they aren't pointy enough.  (I also tend to snap the smaller sizes). 
Carolyn, one of the co-chairs of the Master Hand Knitting Committee shared a story with me that when she got back her Level 3, she was dinged for tension issues at the selvedges.  She had used plastic needles instead of the ones she had used for Levels 1 and 2.  She switched back and the problem was solved.
Figuring out which needles you like best and which gives you the best results might take some experimentation.  This can get expensive.  If you are lucky enough to be in a knitting group, consider borrowing different types for a test drive.   
Keep in mind that you may want to use different types of needles for different yarns and stitch patterns.  If I am knitting with really slippery yarn, I use needles with more drag (like bamboo).  If I am knitting lace or cables, I want the pointiest needles I have which are the Signature Stilettos.
One thing we frequently see in the Masters Program is that some knitters will use much smaller needles than recommended for the yarn. Yes, this does improve tension for most knitters but the resulting fabric could be used for roofing tiles. This doesn't fool anyone. In the photograph above are two gauge swatches I worked for a pillow project. I wanted the fabric for the back of the pillow to be more like upholstery fabric to reduce the stretch. I used needles 4 sizes smaller. I would never use needles that size for that yarn if I were knitting a sweater. The fabric would be too stiff.
Knitters who use patterns don't need to worry all that much about this.  The pattern will suggest the needle size to get the desired drape and as long as you use a yarn of the recommended weight you should be fine.   In the Basics class and the Masters program, knitters aren't told what needle size to use but rather an "appropriate" size for worsted weight.  You will know it is an appropriate size if the resulting fabric has a nice drape or hand.  If it looks like lace, you are using needles too large.  If the swatch will stand on its own, you are using needles too small. 
Salon will be on Saturday from 2-5pm. 

I only have about 1" to go until the sleeves are finished for my Medusa sweater.  I thought it would take much longer.  I should be able to block them today and sew them in tomorrow.  I have sewed the fronts to the back and finished the neckband.  One of the great things about this yarn is that there is 800 yds in each skein.  That really reduces the number of yarn tails to weave in.  It is going to take me a while to cut out all of the dental elastics I used to mark the decreases. 

I've received the yarn I am going to use for the skirts in the next issue of Cast On.  I was hoping someone on the committee would want to do the Fashion Framework article on skirts.  No such luck.  Since skirts require so much knitting (particularly for tall models!) I am getting a jump on the project.   The purple blue Briar Rose will be for the skirt in the lesson.  The Kauni will be for a side-to-side garter stitch skirt that uses short rows for shaping.  I should be able to get started by the end of the week.  I want to finish the second sock for the pair I started weeks ago.


Friday, August 17, 2012

I started the week off at the Kentucky State Fair to judge the knitting entries.  This year we started a new procedure where we provide comments for the knitters.  I hope they find it helpful!

I went from the fair to Granville, OH for the photo shoot for the Winter issue of Cast On.  We had a wonderful site.  The light was excellent.  Here's a photo I took of my pleated sweater.  The model was adorable and so sweet.

I only took a photo of my garment as I don't want to ruin the surprise.  The Stitch Anatomy lesson is on pleats and the Fashion Framework is felted purses.

It was a slow week.  I only had three lessons to review.  I do have quite a few new students.  I've never had a student from Peru before.  I look forward to working with them all.  

Last week I discussed general tension problems in stockinette.  Many knitters (including me) have problems at selvedges.  When you begin and end rows with different tension the first few stitches at the beginning or end of rows are overlarge.  Generally after the first few stitches you get into a rhythm.  The photos show oversized stitches at both edges.  Most knitters only have a problem at one side or the other.

Why is this a problem?  Think about how this edge would look in a seam or at the side of a button band.  It just looks awful. 

To solve this problem you first have to figure out where you are looser.  In most cases if the tension issue is at the right, the knit stitches are large.  If it is at the left, the purl stitches are large.  To make sure, cast on 12-20 stitches and work a few rows.  On a knit row, put a safety pin in one of the stitches.  Continue to work a few more rows and you can see where the problem is. 

There are many different solutions you can try.  Avoid the temptation of really pulling the working yarn tight when you work the the first two or three stitches.  Yes, it will make those stitches some what smaller but what it also does is pull the yarn from the end of the last row making those stitches even smaller.  After you've knit the first two or three stitches, you can try pulling the yarn tight.  This sometimes works to make those stitches a bit tighter. 

What works for me is to use combination knitting for the first stitches in a row.  Wrap the the first few stitches in the row the wrong way (over the needle for knit stitches and under the needle for purl stitches).  If you do this, remember you have to work those stitches through the back.  

Some knitters can solve this by just paying attention as they begin rows.   Yarn can be a contributing factor.  I always have tension issues when I use high twist yarn like Debbie Bliss Rialto. 

When you are trying to solve a tension problem, don't try different solutions on the same swatch.  Make one for each attempt.  This way you can analyze and compare the swatches. 

If you only the stitch next to the selvedge is the problem Maggie Righetti has a solution.  Work the selvedge stitch but don't take it off the needle.  Insert the needle into the second stitch and give the working yarn a bit of a tug.  This not only neatens up the selvedge stitch but also the stitch next to the selvedge. 

I show several solutions in my video for this week:  Tension issues at Selvedges.  Lana Grossa Yarns also has a solution which many have found helpful: Lana Grossa

By the way, blocking cannot solve tension problems.  If you are doing the Masters Program, this is something you must solve.  For other projects, just be careful about the yarn you select.  To me, the most difficult thing in the world to knit is a project in stockinette stitch with white cotton yarn!

Salon this week will be on Saturday.  Summer is pretty much over here.  The schools started on Wednesday and UK starts next week. 

I did finish the back of my sweater and have blocked it.  I am about half way finished with the fronts.  I'd like to finish them this week and tackle the sleeves.  The free form cables are supposed to be snakes.

 I am going to use this same yarn (Briar Rose Sea Pearl) for a skirt. The drape is fabulous. Since it will be in the Spring issue, I'd like a lighter weight skirt for the lesson. I'm going to do another skirt in Kauni Effekts which will be heavier.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Before I left on my trip I FINALLY took the time to do a complete index for the Tip of the Week.  I hope this makes it easier to find past posts.  If you have any suggestions for improvements or additional topics, let me know. 

It is nice to be home although the trip was fun.  Since I hadn't received my copy of the new issue of Cast On before I left and I wanted to give one to my Dad and sister so they could see the Decoration Day sweater I design in honor of my Mom, I had to find a store in Colorado that carries the magazine.   The ladies at Shuttles, Spindles and Skeins in Boulder were nice enough to help me.  It is a lovely store.  If you are in Boulder, you should definitely visit.  I felt bad that I missed Laura Farson who had been teaching there just a few days before.  I met Laura at the conference in NH.  She has a pattern in Cast On for felted slippers which I am anxious to try.  She will be teaching at the conference in Reno.

One highlight was a pilgrimage to Doc Holliday's grave in Glenwood Springs, CO. Family history has it that he is a relative (and my mom was a genealogist). I didn't take a photo of the grave but of a tavern instead.  I have always loved this sign.  When it is on there are red sparks coming from the end of the gun.  The spellings of "Holliday" weren't formalized for quite awhile.  You see it spelled a variety of ways in the family records.  You wouldn't believe the number of ways to spell it.  I answer to pretty much any version.  It is easier that way.

I came home to quite a few lessons to review but I managed to get them all out the day after I got home. 

I sent in a proposal for a new correspondence course on gauge.  The primary focus of the course will be how to use gauge to adapt patterns and to design but it will have to cover how to calculate gauge as well.  I am waiting to hear if it is approved by the TKGA Advisory Committee.  Since many of them are at Stitches Midwest I don't expect to hear anything immediately.  I would have liked to have gone to Stitches but I just couldn't face getting back in the car again so soon.

I approach the topic of this week's tip with trepidation.  Achieving even tension in stockinette can be very daunting.  Even tension means that the stitches are the same size from row to row.  There isn't a magic solution since there are so many reasons for uneven tension.  Most knitters don't even know they have a problem.  I have learned that while most knitters look very carefully at the stitches on their needle, they don't look at the stitches once they are off the needle.  You can't fix the problem unless you know there is one.  How do you know if you have uneven tension in stockinette?  

If you look closely at this photograph of the RS of the work,  you can see that the size of the stitches changes from row to row.  This gives it a corrugated appearance.  You may not even realize you have a tension problem unless you are working with a light colored yarn.  Dark colored, heathered, tweedy yarn disguises tension issues.  (That is why the Basics Class and Masters Program requires light colored yarn.)

If you look closely at this photograph of the WS of the work, you can see that there are gutters between the rows.  This is particularly noticeable in cable patterns where reverse stockinette separates the cables.

Before you can fix the problem you have to diagnosis why you have a problem.  Many knitters are not aware that the yarn they are using contributes to the problem.  It is very difficult to maintain even tension with inelastic yarns like cotton, linen, and acrylic fibers to name a few.  I would avoid using light colored yarns of these types for a stockinette project.  Even some 100% wools can be difficult.  High twist yarns like Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino highlight tension issues.  If you are doing swatches for the Basics Class or the Masters Program you will find worsted weight wool like Lion Brand Fisherman Wool, Cascade 220 and many others will give you better results.  Once you have eliminated the yarn you are using as the cause, you can explore other reasons.   

The most common reason for uneven tension is that you purl more loosely than you knit.  This happens more frequently to continental knitters since making the knit stitch is easier than the purl stitch and many knitters simply cannot get into a rhythm for the purl rows.  I am not a continental knitter but when I do stranded work I do use both hands and I prefer to do stranded work flat.  Suzanne Bryan on the Masters Committee directed me to a video that I found very helpful.  It is from a Craft Sanity podcast.  It really helped me with yarn management.  Continental Knitting Demonstration

Although the video just addresses continental knitting it can apply to right hand throwers as well.  If you have tensioned the yarn around your hand so tightly that it requires constantly resetting the yarn, you may want to experiment with different ways of holding the yarn. 

For many knitters just knowing there is a problem is the solution.  If you pay attention while you knit you can solve this problem.  If that isn't enough there are two other things you can try which I demonstrate in the video for this week.  Tension Issues 

The "standard" way to purl is to wrap the yarn OVER the needle but another way you can form the purl stitch is to wrap it UNDER the needle.  Try this and you can see that is uses less yarn to form the stitch which makes the resulting stitch smaller.  The problem with this method is that it alters the position of the stitch on the next row.  If you knit the stitch through the front the resulting stitch is twisted.  You must knit the stitch through the back.  This is called Combination Knitting.  Many have found it a solution to tension issues.

Another thing you can try is to use a smaller needle for purl rows.  This requires some trial and error testing.  Be careful not to mix up the needles as this will make the tension issues even worse.

When you are trying to fix a tension issue, use a systematic approach. Don't just try 20 fixes on one swatch.  Cast on 20 or so stitches and try a fix.  Bind off and LABEL the swatch.  Then try another solution.  This way you can clearly see what works or not.

Next week's tip will be about tension issues at selvedges.

Salon this week will be on Saturday.  Quite a few people are out of town.   It will be nice to see everyone.  It seems like I was gone for ages but it was only a week. 

I really didn't knit all that much on my trip.  The Medusa sweater really requires that I pay attention.  I'm not using a pattern but am making up the cables as I go along and the cables are mirrored on either side of the back.  

This photograph really doesn't give you much of an idea of what this will look like when it is done.  It really requires blocking.  I'm still deciding how long it will be.  How much yarn I have will determine that.  The original I did was a coat but this will be much shorter.  I'm hoping to have the back finished this week.  I'd love to be able to wear this at the Reno meeting.

For airplane knitting I worked on the socks.  I managed to finish one.  I LOVE this pattern.