About Woolly Wits

I am a hand-knitting designer and teacher. See and purchase my published designs on Ravelry.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Meet My Best Buddies, Stitch Markers

I am here today to speak of my affection for stitch markers.  This urge came upon me at the Sun Valley Fibers retreat this weekend when Amy of the Stockinette Zombies asked me why I had over a dozen stitch markers in a column down the edge of my knitting.  Not only was she correct to ask for the reason behind this goofy behavior, but I also realized that I was using four colors of stitch markers for four different applications.  And, only one of them was called for in the pattern.

First, I thought I'd share with you my favorite type of stitch marker.  Yep.  The cheapo plastic locking stitch markers.  Many knitters enjoy assembling a collection of gorgeous stitch markers.  Some are so beautiful that the knitters actually wear them as jewelry.  But not many of these beauties meet my criteria for versatile stitch markers:  colorful and locking.  Color coding my stitch markers by their function makes them easier to use and prompt an all-too-busy brain.

The hot pink stitch marker in the photo above is the only one actually called for in the pattern.  (And the pattern is my Ardyth by Coco Knits.  Its function is to denote the break between the front and the back, since it is knitted all in one piece.  The orange markers are my own addition and mark each increase.  They are not written into the pattern, because the directions call for you to increase until you reach a certain stitch count.  But, for me, the markers are a clear visual and tactile reminder that I need to increase.  And this is important when one might be distracted by table chatter at a retreat or guild meeting, or a particularly dramatic moment of Downton Abbey.  It's also faster to count markers to know how many times you have increased than it is to count the stitches on the needle.

This photo demonstrates the purpose of the other two colors of stitch markers on my work.  The lime green marker is indicating the break between the stockinette fabric and the ribbed edging.  Without it I would purl all the way to the edge on virtually every wrong side row.  The last marker in play, the blue one hanging off the edge, is marking my buttonhole.  Again, it is a visual reminder that I need to be making holes in my knitting every few inches.

Other uses for my little buddies:

- Cast on counting.  When casting on a lot of stitches, I will add a stitch marker to my needle every fifty stitches.  Then I don't have to re-count from the beginning when I want to check that I have enough stitches.  And it is so easy to lose track when your count is up into the hundreds.

- Marking the right side of your knitting.  This is a useful tip for beginners or reversible projects.  After casting on, I will place a stitch marker on the lower right corner of my right side.  Then a quick glance tells me if I am working the right or wrong side of my knitting.  When working a long piece, such as a scarf, I will move the marker up as I go so it is always in my visual field.

- Marking the location of a centered decrease.  When working a column of double decrease, such as k3tog or p3tog or their many variations, if your marker is on the needle immediately before the decrease stitch of the last row, it has to be taken off the needle and replaced with every decrease.  If, instead, you place it on the stitch, and move it up every few rows, you can follow the column with your eyes to know where to center the decrease (or increase).

So, basically what this comes to is the recognition that my brain needs prompting, and that I would rather take the time to add extra stitch markers to my needles or my work than to have to rip back when I have forgotten to work an increase/decrease, change pattern, make a buttonhole, etc.  It's a trade off, but these days I'd rather have well known podcasters ask me the reasons for my goofy behavior than have to tear out minutes or hours of knitting.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Fun With Indigo Dyeing

On the last warm day of fall, I made some time for play.  And by play, I mean dyeing!  Over the summer I had purchased an indigo dye kit and this was my last opportunity to use it, since this didn't seem like an activity that my husband would appreciate taking place in his man cave.

The kit I bought was a tie dye kit from Jacquard which contained everything I needed.  I only tie dyed a few of my items, so the next time (and there will be a next time), I will just buy the dye.  But, the kit was inexpensive, and I did use the wooden resist pieces and rubber bands, although my postal carrier keeps us well supplied in the latter.

My main purpose in dyeing was to color the yarn.  It is a coopworth wool & suri alpaca mix which I had purchased in its natural shade, a creamy white.  Since it is more flattering to my figure to wear darker colors on top, the sweater's quantity of yarn needed a dunk in a dye pot, and I was excited to keep it natural with the indigo.  The resulting shade was a little lighter than I would have liked, although I did give it a little extra time in the bucket.  But, it will be a new sweater in the near future.

The drape front jersey top is one I never wear, most likely because it violates my rule of dressing given above.  I love the way it turned out in the rich dark color, and with the lighter tones in the shadows of the folds.  No tie dyeing or special treatment, just a dunk in the bucket.  I expect this top will be in heavy rotation next summer.

My orange tea towels were quite old and stained, so I threw them into the pot just to see if they could be salvaged.  I was so surprised to see them turn the rich green color, and expect they will see quite a bit more use.

The dye bucket
The sacrifices to my tie dyeing experiment were the men's t-shirts and the pillowcase.  All had seen better days, and, again, were going to be no great loss if the experiment was a failure.  The first step to all the tie dyeing was to give the items a thorough soak, They were not wrung out or dried in any way before being prepared for the dye bucket.

The wooden plates from the kit were used on the pillowcase.  First it was accordian-pleated into a small bundle, and then a wooden square placed on each broad side.  Rubber bands were used to hold the plates in place.  The result is that only the edges are exposed to the dye, creating a piece of cloth that is still mostly white.  Tie dyeing is truly an art, and one where I still have a lot to learn.  But, playing as you learn is a gift to yourself.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Savoye: Simple Windowpane Plaid

Savoye Pullover by Theresa Schabes
from Knitscene Spring 2016

While working on my series of posts on knitted plaid techniques, I had a new plaid design published.  My first design to appear in Knitscene is Savoye, a windowpane plaid pullover.  Windowpane is a style of plaid where contrasting thin lines are worked over a solid background.  This pattern is quite simple to achieve with the applied crochet chain technique.  The horizontal stripes are knit in as you go while at the same time working vertical columns of purl stitches.  When the sweater pieces are finished, crochet chain stitched is worked into the purl columns in the contrasting yarn.  In Savoye I worked double lines of contrast for more presence on the light background.  Knitscene-spring-2016-130_small2
With a funnel neck and dropped shoulder sleeves, this is a simple shape to knit.  Just be careful to use an elastic bind off, such as Jeny's surprisingly stretchy bind off, or the neck opening will be too tight to put your head through!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Mad for Plaid: Combined Techniques

Picture Perfect Plaid by Theresa Schabes
from 60 Quick Baby Blankets
I love combining two different techniques for creating knitted plaid fabric into my designs because the resulting design has so much complexity.

The simplest example is by baby blanket at left.  The main body is simple intarsia.  While intarsia may not always be described as simple, in plaid designs it is simplified by being worked in a regular geometric shape.  As a result, the pattern is easily memorized and there's no staring at a chart for the entire knit.

The horizontal stripes are knitted into the base fabric, and where the vertical stripes will be placed a column of purl stitches is worked.  After the base fabric is completed, the purl columns are an easy guide for placement of a crochet chain.  
Cuthaig Plaid Mitts
by Theresa Schabes

My favorite combination is two-stranded intarsia and applied crochet chain.  The intarsia patterning gives you a blurred base fabric that closely simulates weaving, while the vertical crochet chain and horizontal stripes give you a sharp, crisp line of color.  This is certainly an advanced knitting technique, but my Cuthaig mitt pattern is an opportunity to try it in a small dose.  If you enjoy the challenge and appreciate the gorgeous fabric, you can move on to my Gait's Haire wrap/cowl or one of the plaid sweaters I have designed for Vogue Knitting/Sixth & Spring books.  
Gait's Haire by Theresa Schabes
#27 Tartan Pulloverfrom Vogue Knitting Winter 2014/15
I hope you've enjoyed my series on plaids.  Next up:  a couple new designs which have just been published and adventures in indigo dyeing.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Mad for Plaid: Knit-Weave

The very last individual technique for creating a plaid-look fabric with knitting is knit-weave.  This falls into the category of embellishing because the fabric is first knitted and then yarn is woven across the surface to create the plaid.  

#26 Cloche with Plaid Band by Franklin Habit
from Vogue Knitting Winter 2014/15

The most popular base fabric for this technique is garter stitch.  The purl bumps of the garter ridges are easy to follow for your weaving pattern.  Also, by knitting horizontal stripes into the knitting, the weaving need only occur in the vertical direction.

Elementary Vest by Melissa Wehrle
from Interweave Knits Fall 2010

Close up of Elementary Vest 

Stockinette stitch makes a poor base for this technique.  The problem is that while the horizontal strands will lay nicely across the stitches, the vertical stripes want to sink down into it.  In the Elementary Vest, the crossing lines in the center of the boxes always have the vertical stripe on top of the horizontal to keep it up off the surface.  However, if you look hard at the close up of the knitted fabric, you will see that some of the vertical stripes connecting boxes have disappeared.

With multiple layers of yarn, especially when worked on a garter base, knit-weave creates a very thick fabric.  This makes it a poor choice for most garments, unless it is worked very, very loosely.  One of my favorite vintage plaid designs, gets around this by working in mohair.  The fabric is knit at a loose gauge with the fuzz of the mohair fiber filling in the gaps.

In the last of our plaid series we'll look at combinations of techniques.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Mad for Plaid: Duplicate Stitch

#6 (no designer credit)
Vogue Knitting Winter Special 1989-90
Duplicate stitch, also historically know as Swiss darning, is another means to create plaid patterning on the surface of a finished piece of knitting.  Yarn is threaded onto a tapestry needle, and sewn onto the surface to duplicate the shape of a knit stitch.  The most popular YouTube video on the process is here, but there are plenty of others form which to choose.  

#13 (no designer credit)
Vogue Knitting Winter Special 1989-90
The only examples of this technique being used to create a plaid fabric were used in combination with another technique.  As you might imagine, duplicate stitch allover patterning would be tedious and time-consuming, so it makes sense to use it sparingly.  In these examples is it primarily used to create the vertical lines.  Duplicate stitch does work well in this application because it is easy to skip over stitches which simulates the weaving on a plaid fabric.  

(My apologies for the quality of these photos, but I had to reach deep into the archives for documentation of the technique.  Most of these appear to be scans of pattern pages.  I suppose the age of these designs speaks to the current lack of interest in the technique.)
Striven by Jennie Atkinson
Rowan #42, August 2007

The first two examples, modeled by guys, are a combination of stranded knitting and duplicate stitch.  The third pattern, a Rowan design, is slip stitch and duplicate stitch.  

I have personally only used duplicate stitch to fix mistakes (stitch over the wrong color in a stranded knitting design) or to monogram a sweater (a long-ago Harry Potter sweater for my book-loving daughter).  

Next up in our series:  knit-weave.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Mad for Plaid: Applied Crochet Chain aka Surface Chain

Falkirk by Theresa Schabes
from Twist Collective, Fall 2014

Plaid Tam by Theresa Schabes
Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Hat Book
At last!  We are five posts into this series on knitted techniques to create plaid fabric, and we've finally come to my favorite, applied crochet chain.  Why do I love it?  Crocheting onto a finished piece of knitting give you easily done, crisp, even, single stitch wide vertical lines.  If you've knitted single row stripes into your fabric, then combined you get a grid, which is the basis of a plaid.

If you've handled a crochet hook before, you can conquer this technique.  Heck, you can do it even if you've never seen a crochet hook.  All you are doing is making a crochet chain - which is just pulling a loop through a loop.  Here you're doing it through the spaces of a knitted fabric.  In my plaid designs I create a column of purl stitches so there is a nice groove to show you where to put that crochet chain.  And, the recess of the purl column allows the crochet chain to sink to the level of the stockinette stitch fabric around it.

Plaid Fingerless Mitts by Laura Lamers
from The NorthCoast Knittery

If you've never worked an applied crochet chain, I've got a tutorial on my blog here.  Webs has a video tutorial here.  They refer to the technique as surface crochet.

Plaid Dog Sweater by Tara Schreyer

Applied crochet chain can be a simple but bold grid when worked in a single color on a solid background.  Increase the number of colors, either in the crochet or the background and you get a more sophisticated fabric.  I love to combine surface crochet with two-stranded intarsia, but I'll talk more about that in a later blog post covering combined techniques.

Next up:  duplicate stitch or Swiss darning.