About Woolly Wits

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

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.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Mad for Plaid: Double-Stranded Intarsia

An unpublished design by Theresa Schabes.
Yarn: Rowan Kid Silk Haze
While I am not a fan of intarsia knitting to make plaid fabric, I am a big fan of two-stranded intarsia.  In this variation, two strands of yarn are held together and the plaid is created by dropping one of the strands and continuing on with a strand of a different color.  By both changing color across a row and by swapping out the non-changing color every few rows, you end up with a fabric that most closely simulates a finely woven plaid fabric.

#18 Checkerboard Hat by Theresa Schabes
from 60 More Quick Knits
Two-stranded intarsia works especially well with mohair or mohair blend yarns because the haze allows better blending of the colors.  Thinner yarns are recommended for this technique because you are using a doubled strand.  Put these two recommendations together, and you'll understand that Rowan Kid Silk Haze, or its equivalents from other manufacturers, is my favorite yarn for this technique.

For me, the biggest challenge to two-stranded knitting is working with the many strands of yarn, since there is a yarn for each vertical column of color.  While many knitters use bobbins (small plastic clips with yarn would around them), I prefer to cut long pieces and frequently join ends.  While both bobbins and long ends will tangle as they are wound around each other (required by the technique), at least the long ends can be pulled loose.  And, although I am often joining ends, mohair blend yarns respond very well to my favorite joining technique, spit-splicing.

To make two-stranded intarsia a more visually sophisticated fabric, I like to combine it with the applied crochet technique.  Looking closely at the shawl design at left, the gray and white background is worked as double-stranded intarsia, while the contrasting orange stripes are horizontal stripes and vertical applied crochet chain.  In the next post we'll cover applied crochet chain, which is such a great technique for creating plaid.

Gait's Hair Shawl by Theresa Schabes

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Mad for Plaid: Intarsia

Natalya by Grace Melville
from Rowan Magazine #48
The third of our techniques for creating a knitted plaid fabric is intarsia.  In intarsia knitting, multiple colors are used in a row, but each patch of color is worked from its own ball/bobbin/dangling end.  When switching from one color to the next, the yarns must be wrapped around each other to prevent a hole.  So, as you may imagine, it is slow, fussy and often a tangled mess.

The one benefit of intarsia plaid in contrast to pictorial intarsia designs, is that the pattern is composed of regular geometric shapes.  One the pattern is laid out in the few row or two, the knitter is not generally glued to the chart.
#24 Plaid Pullover by Norah Gaughan
from Vogue Knitting Winter 2014/15

When I think of intarsia plaid, I always think of Rowan.  Being a British company, they celebrate the traditional fabrics of the isles, and always have at least one plaid sweater in their fall/winter magazine.  And they do them so well; they are always gorgeous.

But I will never knit one.

Ailish by Brandon Mably
from Rowan Magazine #56
A complex and sophisticated plaid pattern invariably has one or two stitch wide vertical stripes.  And to make a one stitch vertical intarsia stripe is very slow and very fussy, and it is nearly impossible to work evenly sized stitches.  Ugh.

Narrow vertical stripes can be made easily and cleanly with a crochet hook after the knitting is complete.  This technique, applied crochet chain, will be covered later in our series.

Next up:  two-stranded intarsia.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Mad For Plaid: Stranded Knitting

Emerson by Kate Gagnon Osborn
from Kelbourne Woolens
Another knitting technique to create a plaid patterned fabric is stranded knitting.  Two (or more) colors of yarn are carried across the row as they are alternately worked.  This technique is often referred to as 'Fair Isle' knitting, but true Fair Isle is a subset of stranded knitting with more specific rules about how the yarn is handled, as well as distinctive patterning.  Since that historical Fair Isle patterning does not include plaid, we'll stick to the term stranded knitting.

Our first example of stranded plaid knitting, Emerson, is a pretty cardigan with a basic pattern in two colors.  If you look back to the first plaid post, you'll see this is the same pattern as the slipped stitch Dhurrie from Rowan.  The difference is Dhurrie's slip stitch technique resulted in puffy solid squares which created dimension in the fabric.  With Emerson's stranded knitting, the result is a smooth surface.

(Of course, a smooth surface of stranded knitting is only achieved with blocking and good technique. If the floats of carried yarn across the back of the work are pulled too tight, stranded knitting will also be puckered.)

Aunt Fred by Pamela Wynnefrom The Rhinebeck Sweater
One of the best applications for stranded knitting is creating a diagonal plaid pattern.  For most other plaid techniques, a diagonal patterning can only be achieved by working each piece on the diagonal.  This is shown to great effect with Aunt Fred which combines a solid white yarn with a hand-dyed gold yarn with a great deal of variation within its tonal range.

One of the potential drawbacks of stranded knitting is its warmth.  With two strands of yarn used to create every row, a stranded sweater is both extra warm and extra heavy.  And when a heavier yarn is used, the sweater is often too warm to be worn indoors.  Of course, that might be just what you want in an accessory such as a hat or mittens.

Gingham Neck Warmer in Double Knit
by Gabriella Kartz
Here a cowl is worked in a stranded plaid pattern that is also double knit, resulting in a very warm reversible fabric.

Next up:  one-stranded intarsia.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Mad For Plaid: Slip Stitch

Plaid knitting in a combination of techniques
from Vogue Knitting Winter 2014/2015
design by Theresa Schabes
One of my most popular classes is Mad for Plaid, where we cover several of the different techniques used by knitters to create the look of a woven plaid fabric.  Generally, the methods by which to create a knitted plaid are:

  • Slip Stitch
  • Fair Isle/Stranded Knitting
  • Intarsia
    • one-stranded
    • two-stranded
  • Embellishment
    • crochet chain
    • duplicate stitch/Swiss darning
  • knit-weave
  • Plus combinations and a few odd-ball techniques

In class we are sometimes too busy knitting to view my slideshow covering examples of all the techniques, so I want to share it here.  As well, I'll share my unsolicited opinions of the merits and drawbacks of each.
Fade to Gray by E.J. Slayton 
from Knitter's Magazine #93

Let's start with slip stitch plaids.  Just as with regular slip stitch patterns, the plaid is created by regularly moving stitches from one needle to the other without knitting them.  This is not a commonly used technique to achieve plaid for reasons I'll expand upon, but here are a few examples.  


Plaid Halter by Gryphon Corpus
from Interweave Knits, Summer 2008
Checked Cowl by Julie Weisenberger
Pattern available from cocoknits
Dhurrie by Lisa Richardson
from Rowan Magazine #54
The advantages to slip stitch plaid knitting are that they are usually a strong graphic pattern, especially when strongly contrasting colors are used.  They are also a relatively simple pattern work, since you never have more than one color in a row.  

The biggest disadvantage to slip stitch plaids is that they are limited in scale.  In the first two examples, the slipped stitches create the vertical lines of the plaid.  If the plaid were larger, the floats would necessarily be longer.  And, the longer the float, the more likely that the yarn will catch and snag as the garment is worn.  The pattern can be scaled up by increasing the weight of the yarn used, such as in Dhurrie which is worked in an Aran yarn.  However, in the photo you can see the puffiness of the plain tan boxes in contrast to the denser fabric of the mixed brown-and-tan slip stitch plaid boxes.

Within their limitations, I do like slip stitch plaids for smaller scale projects, such as accessories and kidswear.  My first slip stitch plaid design is soon-to-be-published.  (I'll keep you updated.)

Up next is stranded plaid knitting.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Cast On Comparison Challenge

In preparation for teaching at the Madison Knitters Guild Knit-In next March, the organizers asked me for photos for my classes.  I realized that not only did I not have a photo for my Cast On Conundrum class, but I have no idea how to illustrate it.  Eventually I came up with the idea of lining up several different cast ons, and the photo above is the result.

OK, experienced knitters:  how many of these cast on techniques can you identify?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

From top to bottom, the answers are: 
German twisted, aka old Norwegian sock
long tail
e-wrap, aka backwards loop

How did you do?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Pick Your Perfect Sweater Pattern Notes

Last night I had a great time giving my 'Pick Your Perfect Pattern' program to the Milwaukee Knitting Guild.  Fabulous ladies (plus one gentleman), insightful questions and free yarn.  What more could you possibly ask for?  

My next perfect pattern:
Ardyth from cocoknits
In order for the knitters to continue working through the program, I let them know that my notes for the program are on this blog - but now are easier to find.  Under the 'Labels' header on the right-hand column, click on 'pattern selection'.  The notes appear under three posts:  the guides for identifying design lines which will make you look longer and leaner, hints to address specific body issues, and how to snoop shop.

I hope this helps make your next sweater project 'practically perfect in every way'.

P.S.  The guild will be offering free yarn for the next few meeting as they help an older knitter clean out her stash.  I see this as an excellent reason for knitters in southeastern Wisconsin to join - NOW!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

You Know You Have A Knitting Problem When . . . #213

. . . when you know you should be finishing your lovely Woodfords cardigan in Madeline Tosh Merino Light, but you are soooo sick of it,
and so you won't allow yourself to cast on another project (although you really, really want to start Ardyth in beautiful gray Shibui Baby Alpaca), so instead you work on small charity knitting projects
and soon you are building a mountain of them . . .  

Monday, August 10, 2015

Yes, I Teach, Too!

Recently I've had several inquiries for the classes I teach.  Here's the current roster (updated 9/23/16):

Cast On Conundrum
Rumor has it that there are over 50 different cast-on methods! We'll learn a few of the most practical and versatile – including long-tail, cable, crochet & provisional - and the merits and drawbacks of each. This is an invaluable class that will change the way you start every new project.
Time:  3 hours
Class Limit: 10 students
Homework:  No homework.

NEW! Color Made Easy: Working with Long Color-Changing and Gradient Yarns
Description:  How are long color-changing and gradient yarns easy?  The hard work of choosing colors has been done for you.  The challenge is in selecting stitch patterns and project shapes that show them at their best.   We will play with stripes, slip stitches, stranded color work and modular knitting.  With over a dozen published designs using these yarns, Theresa has plenty of tips and tricks to share to lead you to color success. 
Time:  3 hours.
Class Limit: 25 students.
Skills Required: Intermediate. 
Homework:  No homework.
Class materials:  A long color-changing yarn, such as Noro, and/or gradient yarn (ball or set), a coordinating solid of the same weight, 24" circular needle appropriately sized for your yarn. 

Class Materials Fee:  None.

A Means to an End 
Description:  A class in joining yarns.  To knot or not to knot, that is the question.  Usually the answer is ‘not to knot’, so we’ll cover methods of hidden joins such as spit-splicing and the Russian join, and which method works best in each fiber type.  If you must knot, we’ll discuss how to secure knots and invisibly weave in ends. 
Time:  3 hours
Homework:  No homework.

Intro to Entrelac
Description:  Learn how simple it is to create the complex knitted effect of woven basketry.  Entrelac is a fun technique that breaks out of the box of long, horizontal knitted rows.  This class will get you started on an entrelac scarf or washcloth.  The skill of knitting back backwards will also be covered. 
Time:  3 hours
Homework:  No homework.

 Mad for Plaid
Description:  Plaids are a traditional woven fabric pattern which can be replicated in knitting via several techniques: slip stitches, two-stranded intarsia, applied crochet chain and surface weaving. We’ll learn a few, including some where the pattern is worked as you knit, and some where the color work is added after the knitting is completed.  A highlight is applied crochet chains, a neat trick to create plaids or embellish any knitted garment. 
Time: 3 hours

Craft Your Own Spaghetti Yarn
Description:  Learn how to create cotton 'spaghetti' yarn from your old t-shirts, plastic bags and felted sweaters. This technique also creates yarn from old jeans fine gauge commercial sweaters.  We'll cover the tricks for continuous spiral cutting, and use the yarn we create for a quick knit or crochet project.  We'll also have fun combining our spaghetti yarns to make colorful and fun necklaces.
Time:  3 hours
Homework:  None.

The Thrifty Knitter
Discover how recycling can be the frugal knitter or crocheter's best kept secret.  Learn where and how to spot good sweaters for re-use.  Discover the tricks as we unraveling yarn from existing garments, plus how to use that yarn in new projects.  The cheapest (and greenest!) way to fill your stash with cashmere!
Time: 3 hours.
Homework:  None.

Using Ravelry to Find Your Perfect Pattern
With the growth of Ravelry, knitters and crocheters now have tens of thousands of sweater patterns from which to choose.  Where do you begin?  Not with ‘Hot Right Now’!  Start with an overview of the design details which will help you appear taller and slimmer, as well as the guides to flatter your specific figure.  Then go snoop shopping to test those rules on your body.  Finally, learn how to use the Ravelry search features to narrow down those pattern options for a sweater that will look great on you.  
Time:  3 hours
Homework:  None.

60- to 90- Minute Classes

In addition to being standalone classes, these can be combined into a 3-hour class format. 

End to End
Description:  A class in joining yarns.  To knot or not to knot, that is the question.  Usually the answer is ‘not to knot’, so we’ll cover methods of hidden joins such as spit-splicing and the Russian join, and which method works best in each fiber type.  If you must knot, we’ll discuss how to secure knots.
Time:  90 minutes.
Class Limit: 25 students.
Skills Required: None.
Homework:  No homework.
Class materials:  Scrap yarn in various fibers, tapestry needle, scissors. 
Class Materials Fee:  None.

NEW! Finishing School: Binding Off
Most knitters only ever use one bind off, but there are many more from which to use.  They may be more elastic, sturdier, or prettier than the traditional bind off.  Come and give yourself some better options for your next project.
Time:  60 minutes.
Class Limit:  12 students.
Skills Required: Beginner.
Homework:  Using worsted or dk weight yarn, cast on 24 stitches and work in garter stitch (knit every row) for 48 rows/24 ridges.  Do not bind off. 
Class materials:  Your homework on the needles, plus two more colors of yarn in the same weight. 
Class Materials Fee:  None.

Finishing School: Blocking
Knit projects don't come off the needles in perfect shape.  The stitches need to be put in their place.  Learn the tips and tricks to expert blocking and bring out the beauty in your next project. 
Time:  60 minutes.
Class Limit: 25 students.
Skills Required: Beginner.
Homework:  No homework.
Class materials: None.  Optional: Bring along a project for which you'd like blocking advice.
Class Materials Fee:  None.

Finishing School: Weaving in Ends
Every knit or crochet project begins and ends with a tail of yarn - and often we have many more loose ends in between.  Learn how to best secure and hide those ends either by working them in as you go, or weaving them in when done. 
Time:  60 minutes.
Class Limit: 25 students.
Skills Required: Beginner.
Homework:  No homework.
Class materials:  Scrap yarn, tapestry needle, scissors.  A project on the needles to practice weaving as you go.  A piece of hand knitting to practice weaving in ends. 

Class Materials Fee:  None.

If you would like more information or to book any of these classes, contact me via Ravelry or at ttschabes@sbcglobal.net.  I also offer a group talk based on my 'Using Ravelry to Find Your Perfect Pattern' class which has more focus on the guidelines for appearing taller and slimmer.  

Monday, July 13, 2015

Ready For Autumn?

Knit Simple Fall 2015,
photo by Jack Deutsch

This past week I had a new pattern make its debut, and an old pattern make its first appearance on Ravelry.

My newest pattern appears in the Fall 2015 issue of Knit Simple, and it really speaks to fall.   It's also a blast from my past.  I created this pattern years ago for the class I taught at Knitche in Downer's Grove, IL.  The class was based on Ann Norling's classic baby fruit hat pattern.  While there are strawberries, raspberries, grapes, lemons, etc., there was no pumpkin.  So, not only did I offer it to the class, I made it a part of my own toddler's Halloween costume.  
My hat is different than some of the others out there in that the pumpkin's ribs start above the rolled band, and the stem is carries up and tied into a knot.  The stem does not begin until the top of the hat, a variation you might also want to make for a grape, apple or peach hat.  Knit Simple provided me with green yarn for the stem, but a tan color might be more realistic.  That said, in the original modeled by my daughter at left, the stem is green and I added some green leaves as accent.  If you are similarly inspired, there are many leaf patterns available.  I recommended Nicky Epstein's books as a reference.
Knitter's Magazine #88, Fall 2007
Photo credit: XRX
The second pattern to make a debut last week was Earthy from the Fall 2007 issue of Knitter's Magazine (#88).  Somehow when the magazine was loaded on Ravelry, my design was omitted.  A kind knitter pointed this out to me, and with a little help from the Rav staff, we got it fixed.   Issue #88 is out of print, but you can probably find a knitter willing to de-stash their copy.  Earthy is a simple men's pullover.  The saddle sleeves are plain stockinette and the front and back are a simple knit-purl stitch combination using the solid and a coordination variegated yarn.  The design is classic, and still as wearable today as when it was published nine years ago.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How Knitting Skills Save You Money: Retail Edition

A natural consequence of a growing interest in knitting is an ever-increasing stack of receipts from your yarn shop.  Yesterday, however, I was able to use those knitting skills and save money.

I had to make a quick trip to Chicagoland, and just had time to make my favorite detour to the Eileen Fisher Company Store in Schaumberg (home of Stitches Midwest).  On the damaged goods rack I found a beautiful navy blue lace and stockinette stitch pullover that I had admired on the mannequin in the front of the shop.  And marked down to only $29 from an original $158!  The damage tag clearly stated 'small hole', but neither I nor the sales clerk could find it, so I confidently strode off to the dressing room.

Well, in putting on the sweater, I did my usual 'horizontal stretch'.  This is a maneuver I learned from Trinny and Susanna, of the originally British What Not to Wear tv show.  Whenever I put on a knit top, I use my lower arms to pull it horizontally.  This fights gravity to create a little extra width, allowing the top to flow over my wobbly midsection, rather than cling to - and highlight - its excess.  Once the sweater was on, I found that my maneuver had revealed the hole and made the stitch drop down a couple inches.

No panic!  I carefully removed the sweater and examined the damage.  The run was fortunately in the stockinette section.  Had it been in the lace section I would not be telling this story.  The run began at the shoulder seam and ran down the arm, so I knew it was an easy fix.  I asked the sales clerk for a safety pin to secure the last intact loop of the dropped stitch.  If she'd not had one handy, I would have used a paper clip, or even some string.  Then I made my purchase.

Arriving home, I pulled out a tiny steel crochet hook and threaded a sewing needle with navy blue yarn.  Small hooks are not too hard to find, for although not many crocheters work with thread these days, may knitters use them for attaching beads.  I removed the safety pin and with the right side facing, inserted the crochet hook through the stitch from front to back.  *I grabbed the ladder from the next row up, and pulled it through the loop on the hook; repeat from * to top.  Take your time, work in a well lit space and lay out your piece so that you make sure you pick up the ladders in order.  

When you reach the top, use your sewing needle and matching thread to sew the last live loop to the seam.  My seam has enough bulk to provide a secure anchor and hide the funny business.

The completed fix was not in any way invisible.  Against the plain stockinette stitches, it was decidedly wonky.

I gave it a little steam and tugged the surrounding stitches first horizontally and then vertically.  This improved the appearance of the fix somewhat, but a few wearings and a trip through the laundry and I predict it will be invisible.

Here's a shot of the repaired sweater.  Ten minutes of my time saved  $129 off the retail price.  Who says knitting doesn't pay?

(And for those of you who say that I wasn't actually saving money because I spent $29 - well, I say everyone occasionally needs a little retail therapy.)