Monday, June 25, 2007

Aye-aye, sir

My daughter Matisse is a British naval buff. She loves to read about British naval history in the time of Admiral Nelson. She also loves naval fiction of the era, particularly Horatio Hornblower. She often wears a lieutenant's hat that her sister made for her. She also wears a bo'sun's whistle around her neck and pipes visiting dignitaries (and her own parents) aboard.

So, naturally, she wanted a lieutenant's jacket to complete her ensemble.

You can purchase reproduction Napoleonic-era British naval jackets for about 1400 pounds. This struck me as a tad pricy, so I suggested I knit her one instead.

Matisse's Captain Jacket

I prefer to knit top-down. I like the look and shoulder stability of a a cabled shoulder strap so I knit a nice naval cable long enough for both shoulder straps and the back neck. Next, I picked up one edge of the cable for the back of the sweater. I knit a couple of inches on that, then picked up along the fronts of the cable for the left and right fronts. I worked cables down the front edges and began v-neck shaping.

After an inch of the fronts, I picked up along the edges of the fronts and back for the sleeves, liberated the live shoulder strap stitches, and began knitting the whole yoke from the top down.

Everything went swimmingly for a while. I worked the yoke without incident, divided the arms from the body, and got through the bust dart short rows cleanly.

Then it came time for the bottom shaping. A naval lieutenant's coat cuts away in the front and extends in the back to two long tails.

I tried something like that. The yarn didn't cooperate, massing into these things that curled up instead of hanging, torqued instead of flowing.

I ripped back to the waist and started again with a different approach.

After three different attempts, I finally hit on something that looked good.

Back hem of the captain's jacket

The hem was curved in the back and corners with short rows, giving the cut-away feeling and the sense of tails. The cable across the bottom was knit sideways and into the live stitches of the sweater body, then grafted together at the center back.

Time to move onto the sleeves.

I had plenty of time to think while knitting the sleeves around and around and around. After three tries at tails, I knew that cable pattern pretty well. I conceived of the idea of splitting the cable above the wrist and having the split cable evolve into a whole cable to finish the wrist in the same way the front cable finishes the body of the sweater.

Captain's Jacket Sleeve

I get lots of compliments on this sleeve edge. I didn't totally plan the cables reforming after the split. I just went with the flow and things came out right.

When I started wanting a jacket for myself, I went with the same basic idea. Sort of. I wanted the sleeves knit in a different pattern than the body, so I chose baby cable rib for the sleeves. I chose a top-down set-in sleeve shape. Instead of shoulder straps, I knit a cable for the back neck. The live stitches became the front edges and the back neck was picked up along the cable. The rest of the back was cast on using a removable cast on, and the front edges grew from the same cast-on edge.

My Cable Jacket, modeled by Matisse

I had to do the shoulders twice to get a good fit.

This sweater had a couple of different bust dart experiments. First, I tried vertical darts, but I couldn't get them to work after a couple of tries and went back to my tried-and-true short row darts. Then I tried working the short rows across the fronts but not across the cabled bands. I'm fairly happy with how that worked out.

I was going to add something fancy for the bottom edge, but I tried a few different things and settled on a crisp, cropped jacket with a hem.

Back of the jacket

I often think that the back of a jacket is as handsome as the front.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Short Rows Without Fear

Short rows are one of the most useful techniques in knitting. I use them all the time for bust darts, curved edges, and general fabric shaping. Done well, they make knitwear fit and flow beautifully. Done badly (and I've certainly done them badly), they leave a glaring line across the work.

Short rows move back and forth across a subset of the stitches being worked. There's a discontinuity between the short row fabric and the main fabric. The goal of a short row technique is to bridge this discontinuity without leaving either a hole or an unsightly bump.

Everyone has their own short row method. There's the common wrap method, which works well enough in its place, but is difficult to work invisibly. There are a bunch of no-wrap techniques. Most of them accomplish the same thing, but they do them in different ways.

I started doing short rows with wraps, soon came to hate working the wraps passionately, and then tried every no-wrap technique I could find before settling on the one I use. I unvented this technique myself, but it's so obvious that I'm sure other knitters unvented it before me. I like it because it works well with every pattern stitch I've tried and because it makes my short rows almost completely invisible.

Finished Short Rows

If you look closely, you can see the pick-ups in the fabric.

A Single Short-Row Pick-Up Stitch

Short rows are always worked on either increasing or decreasing numbers of stitches. If they always ended at the same place, you'd have a huge gap that you'd never be able to bridge. The desired shape of the fabric usually dictates whether you need to do increasing or decreasing short rows, but there are times (like with bust darts) where you can choose whichever you prefer to work.

If you're doing increasing short rows, you do the pick-ups as you work past the turnaround stitches the next time you encounter them. If you're doing decreasing short rows, you work all the pick-ups after you've finished working the short rows.

Short rows increase length over the section they're worked. So, to figure how many short rows you need, you need to know how many extra rows you need to get the extra length you need.

In my method, knitting the short row is easy: I work all stitches including the turnaround stitch, then turn around, slip the turnaround stitch, and continue.

On the pick-up, I go to the spot between the turnaround stitch and the main garment and do either a left or right make-one. If I'm working before the turnaround stitch, I scoop the make-one from behind. If I'm working beyond the turnaround stitch, I scoop the make-one from the front.

Scooping the Make-One, left edge of short rows

Scooping the Make-One, right edge of short rows

Note that I scoop the make-ones with the right needle and then slip them, twisted, onto the left needle. Since the make-ones will be worked together with the turnaround stitch, this works better for me than scooping them with the left needle and twisting them when I work them.

Twisting the Make-One, left edge of short rows

Twisting the Make-One, right edge of short rows

Then I decrease the make-one with the turnaround stitch in the way that puts the turnaround stitch on top and angles it towards the short rows. On knit rows, this will be either a k2-tog or a ssk. On purl rows, this will be either a p2-tog or a p2-tog-tbl variation.

Working an SSK Decrease, left side

Working a K2-tog Decrease, right side

Both of these examples show me picking up the turnarounds from the right side of the fabric. This is one of the luxuries with working stockinette in the round with decreasing short rows: you never have to pick anything up from the wrong side.

The type of make-one used in closing up the short rows is not nearly as important as doing the right decrease. Unfortunately, the decrease changes depending on whether you're working it from the right or wrong side of the fabric, and whether the turnaround stitch is before or after the make-one. I had to fiddle with this for a long time before I figured it out. It's not that hard to figure out if you remember these three things:
  • From the right side, the turnaround stitch needs to sit on top of the make-one. If you look at ssk and k2-tog, you'll notice that one puts the first stitch on top and the other puts the second stitch on top. Use the one that puts the turnaround on top.

  • The turnaround stitch needs to be knit straight, not twisted.

  • The right side needs to be a knit or purl according to the stitch pattern.

If I'm working from the wrong side, I usually turn my work around and work the pick-up from the right side so I can see what I'm doing.

Finished Pick-Up, left edge of short rows

Finished Pick-Up, right edge of short rows

There's a simpler way to do the decreases, but it involves passing the turnaround stitch over the knitted or purled make-on, so I don't think it looks quite as smooth.

Before you knit the turnaround stitch on the pick-up row, scoop the make-one. Slip the turnaround stitch first if necessary (with the yarn on the wrong side) to get it out of the way. Knit or purl the make-one in pattern, then slip it to the needle with the turnaround stitch, and pass the turnaround stitch over it.

Instead of figuring out which kind of decrease to do here, you've separated the decreases into two steps: knitting or purling the wrap or make-one and passing the turnaround stitch over that stitch. The only thing that you need to do is to make sure that the turnaround stitch is oriented the right way on the needle so it won't twist.

If you look at the item from the front, the turnaround stitches on the right-hand side (your right hand) will be oriented normally. The leading leg of the stitch will be on the front side of the needle. On the left-hand side, the stitches will need to be slipped knitwise so that the leading leg of the stitch is behind the needle.

You can examine each stitch after you pass it over the wrap or make-one. If it's twisted, pick it back up right then, untwist it, and redo it so it won't twist.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Smokestack Lightning Scarf

I bought the yarn for this scarf on a whim. I had go to a party I didn't want to attend, and so I stopped by the yarn store to fortify myself for the event. The colors in this yarn so entranced me that I failed to ask myself what I was going to do with 4 skeins of the Great Adirondack Yarn Company's Silky Sock yarn in Bahama Mama. I have never yet knit a sock that fit my foot, and this yarn is finer than your typical sock yarn.

The colors were beautiful, though, so I took it home and began swatching. It hated being worked as lace and plain stockinette, and was obviously too fancy for most pattern stitches. It was also too fine for me to contemplate using it for socks, seeing as how it knitted up too loose for socks even on size 0 (2.0mm) needles.

Smokestack Lightning Scarf

At Christmas time, I made two fancy scarves for my mother and grandmother, one with diagonal stripes and another with chevrons. I especially liked the chevron scarf, so I decided to swatch the beautiful sock yarn and see how it liked chevrons.

Smokestack Lightning the Long Way

Chevrons made a lovely zigzag pattern, and the yarn graciously accepted i-cord for the tassels. Over the course of several weeks, I knit 26 little i-cord tassels, slipping the open stitches onto a safety pin as I finished each tassel. When all the tassels had been knit, I arranged them in a pleasing pattern on size 1 (2.50mm) needles. I then knit across 13 tassels (k2-tog, k1, p1 * p1, k2, p1 * p1, k1, ssk), switched to a different ball of yarn, and knit across the next 13 tassels in the same pattern.

I worked both ends of my scarf at the same time. I created downward-point chevrons by increasing just inside the edge ribs and decreasing on either side of the center rib. I maintained the 2x2 rib throughout, doing some extra purl decreases towards the center to avoid having more the 4 knit stitches together on the right side.

Smokestack Lightning Tassels

I continued in this fashion for five months. The stitches were slippery and the gauge was fine, so I needed good light and concentration to work on it. I found that I could work about 8 rows across both ends before my eyes started complaining, so I put in a few 8-row stints a week.

About a month ago, I realized that the scarf was getting to be a respectable length and that I was approaching the ends of the first two balls. I needed to stop early enough that I could knit the short rows to fill in the tops of the chevrons and still have enough yarn to graft the two ends of the scarf together.

I checked after every 8-row stint, but it always looked like I had plenty of yarn left. I was convinced that I would continue to knit this scarf for the rest of my life.

Short row detail

Finally, on Sunday, one of my balls was running quite low. I worked 12 short rows across each end to fill in the chevrons, then continued working flat until I had just over one repeat of yarn. One ball ran out much faster than the other, so I put that end of the scarf on another needle and continued for several inches on the other end.

Back Center, showing short rows and graft

Finally, on Tuesday afternoon, I sat down to to the grafting. I'm always a little nervous when I'm grafting. This fine, slippery yarn made me concentrate even more than usual. I certainly didn't want to have to undo the graft and pick up all those tiny stitches.


My younger daughter has told me that she intends to steal my Smokestack Lightning. When I roll my eyes, she saucily informs me that I have enough yarn to knit another one for myself.

As if I would ever knit exactly the same thing twice.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Needling Along

Jumping to the Head of the Pack: Isaac's Rugby Stripe Warm-Up Jacket.

On the Yarn Harlot's blog, I saw the Tulip Baby Cardigan from Dream in Color. It's just a multi-striped raglan cardigan, but it answers the siren song of all the little odds and ends of yarn I have sitting around. Some dear friends of mine who have struggled with infertility for years are going to be adopting a baby boy this week, and his homecoming warrants a hand-knit sweater. I decided to replace the silly yarn tie with a zipper. Ever since I plucked up the courage to try
putting a zipper into a cardigan, I've wanted to use them everywhere.

I'm not sure that I got the stripe transition exactly the same as the Tulip Baby Cardigan, but I like the effect of knitting the first (wrong side) row of each stripe. Very jaunty.

This was my first application of Garment Designer to a sweater. The sleeves seem much too wide at the base of the raglan, and the sweater looks like it's sized for a 2-year-old instead of a 1-year-old. Perhaps I'll have to knit a smaller one for Isaac and find another small child for this one. Anyone out there know a deserving toddler?

Rugby Stripe Baby Sweater

On the Needles: A zippered sweatshirt for my eldest in a dark purple Peace Fleece and a light lavender Peace Fleece.

The top part is a raglan rotated 90 degrees to make the yoke more striking. I think the effect would have been crisper if I'd filled in with short rows, but, for reasons that seemed good at the time, I didn't.

There are plait cables starting at the neck, going down the shoulders, and continuing down the sleeves. Patterning in the sleeves keeps me from going mad as I'm going around and around and around and around....

I tried doing the waist shaping with ribbing (knit on needles 3 sizes smaller than the main sweater, which was a pain in the wazoo). I do and don't love the results. I think it looks a little bold, but it does fit her nicely.

The rolled hem and neck ribbing are in place and sewn down. I left a space at the edges so I can sew the zipper inside the hem and collar.

The front edge is knit-in i-cord. I tossed in an extra row of i-cord every 8-12 rows to make the front edge long enough.

Zippered Sweatshirt

Off the Needles: A scarf knit of a space-dyed wool/silk sock yarn on size 0 needles. The yarn is all the shades of a peacock's tail. I knitted two downward-pointing chevrons towards the middle of the scarf. This makes the colors zigzag across the fabric instead of making plain old ordinary stripes.

Smokestack Lightning in progress

On the Drawing Board: A boldly patterned sweater of Vine Lace and Embossed Twining Vine Leaf in a gray-green Peace Fleece for my younger daughter. Some of the design elements are recalcitrant, so I'm going to let it simmer while I do some mindless knitting.

The basic idea is to have a center panel of Embossed Twining Vine Leaf (center pattern in gauge swatch, below) in a body of Vine Lace (lowest pattern in gauge swatch below). The sleeves might or might not be knit in Flying Wings (upper pattern stitch).

Gauge Swatch

I need to do more swatching.

Someone Else's Innovative Idea that I Just Have to Try: Nona's Sidewinder Socks

Even though I Don't Knit Socks, I'm going to try these. The process will no doubt keep me amused.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Two Very Different Scarves

Festive Christmas Scarf

One of a pair of Christmas scarves that I knit for my mother and grandmother. The other one had angled candy cane stripes. This one had chevrons. The red and green yarn had sparkly plastic blobs in it, as well as a strand of wool and a strand of glittery nylon.

The trickiest thing about this chevron Christmas scarf was getting both ends to point down. I worked short rows across the back of the neck to reverse the chevron and then reversed the color order on the way back so the chevrons would alternate on the two sides.

I'm knitting a similar style scarf in a space-dyed sock yarn on size 0 needles right now. With this scarf, I started with the fringe, and am knitting both ends at once before doing the short rows. I'll end by grafting the two sides together at the back of the neck.

Flower Garden Scarf

My friend Leoma is modeling the Flower Garden Scarf, knit out of a wide gauzy wool ribbon yarn. Each stitch catches the edge of the ribbon for a ruffly "potato chip" effect.

I had the barest of instructions on starting this scarf. It took a lot of trial and error to get the ruffles and the width just so. Once I had established what I liked, it went very quickly. Fun and sensuous to knit.

Leoma in love

Friday, June 1, 2007

The Joy of Zippers

I've never been a seamstress. My mother-in-law gave me a sewing machine shortly after I married her son in 1984. I've used it about once a year since then, mostly for Halloween costumes. We've developed an uneasy truce, the sewing machine and I. I keep it maintained and it does basic seams and gathers for me.

For most of my knitting career, the idea of putting zippers in knits has kept me knitting pullovers and button bands. I also like to knit saucy cut-away jackets with a single clasp. With my nonexistent sewing skills, however, zippers seemed beyond me.

This sweatshirt was my first attempt at a zipper.

This sweater taught me how to work with Brioche and related slip stitch patterns. Brioche stitch is worked the same way every row (* yo, sl 1 wyib, k2 tog *) when it is worked flat. It's closely related to Shaker rib, which is worked with a knit-below. I had to figure out how to knit Brioche in the round for the sleeves, how to work increases and decreases without leaving big holes, and how to work short rows without holes or lumps. I did a lot of ripping early on until I figured out the following:

  • Elizabeth Zimmerman once wrote that Brioche stitch could not be worked in the round, but I've found that alternating a round of *yo, sl 1 wyib, k2tog* with a round of *p2tog, sl1 wyif, yo* does the trick.

  • To do increases and decreases, I've found that I need to do them in pairs and over two rows.

  • For decreases, I work the stitches to be decreased (k1, p1, k1, p1) or (p1, k1, p1, k1) on the row before the decrease. I then work (k2tog, yo, p2tog) or (p2tog, k2tog, yo) for the decrease round.

  • For increases, I skip the yarnovers, and work a knit-below and a purl-below decrease in two adjacent stitches on one row. On the next row, I restore the yarnovers.

  • To fix Brioche stitch, what I do is grab the last completed stitch with a crochet hook, then turn the work so the knit side is facing me. The next strand goes on the hook with the stitch, then the following strand goes through both the stitch and the strand. Repeat until you've consumed the loose strands, re-seating the final yarnover if necessary.

Putting in the zipper was another adventure.

I first tried pinning in the zipper, but it looked awful after it was basted, so I ripped out the basting and went with my friend Betsey's advice to baste the front of the sweater together, tape the zipper in, baste each side of the zipper, remove the front basting, unzip the zipper, and then carefully stitch along the zipper and on the inside edge of the zipper tape. It took me about 8 hours total to get the darned zipper in, but it was worth it. It looks very professional, and not at all like the work of someone who has never put in a zipper before.

Before I put the zipper in, the front edges dangled unattractively. The zipper helped stabilize the front edge, which surprised me a bit. Still, the front corners droop when the sweater's unzipped, and I've been thinking a lot about cardigan construction as a result.

I think the front band is longer than I'd like because of the short rows I put in for my bust. I'm not as long at my center as I am over "the girls." When the sweater is zipped, it hangs right, but I'd like to figure out how to work short rows for a cardigan that is usually worn open. I'm thinking
that maybe they just ought to be worked over the full part and not over the whole front for a cardigan that will be worn open.

I wore the zippered sweatshirt (over my scoop-neck t-shirt) on the plane to Arizona. While I was standing in line to board, the lady in front of me asked if I'd knit the sweaters that I and my children were wearing. I said yes, and it turns out that she'd just started knitting. We talked knitting all through the flight. She turned out to be a fellow engineer as well as a knitter, and was interested to learn that I design the sweaters I knit. I gave her a few book references.

As we were getting off the plane, she said, "I'm going to have to learn to design my own sweaters. The ones you make fit you so well, and I'd like my sweaters to fit like that."

What a great thing to hear when you've been fussing over the not-quite-right details on a sweater!