Fat Knitting Superhero, disguised as Mild Mannered Yarn Shop Employee.

Archive for the ‘knitting’ Category

Top-Down Socks – Needles

What needles to use for your sock-knitting needs is very personal.  It depends on how tightly or loosely you knit and what materials feel good in your hands.  Basically, though, you need to make 3 decisions:  needle size, needle material, and needle configuration.

Needle Size: Many people just go with the recommendation on the ball band of the yarn they’ve chosen, which usually suggests a US size 2 (2.75mm) needle.  With apologies to all the sock yarn manufacturers, that’s just too darn big.  Socks need to be knitted tightly if they’re going to last.  That means that if you use fingering weight yarn, you need to get a gauge of at least 7 stitches per inch (unless you like holes in the toes).  8 or 9 sts/in is even better!  Unless you’re a SUPER TIGHT knitter, you won’t be able to get that small of a gauge with a size 2 (2.75mm) needle.  I generally use a US size 0 (2mm) needle, sometimes a US size 1 (2.25mm) if the yarn is on the thick side.  In order to find YOUR sock needle size, I’m afraid you’re going to have to swatch.  I’ll have swatching instructions later in the series.

Needle Material: Wood?  Steel?  Bamboo?  Plastic (oh please no)?  Bronze?  I’ve seen and used them all.  This is mostly a personal preference issue.  I, personally, hate plastic needles for socks.  They’re not strong enough and they suck.  All of the others are quite nice!  I usually suggest that sock beginners start with wood or bamboo.  Wood/bamboo needles aren’t as slick nor as heavy as metal needles, making them less likely to slip out of the stitches on their own and thus making sock-newbies less nervous.  Once you gain confidence, do experiment with metal needles.  They can be delightful!  Metal needles are also better for both very tight knitters and very loose knitters.  Tight knitters like them because they let the stitches slip better and very loose knitters need them, because the slippery metal forces them to tighten up.  Moderately tight to moderately loose knitters can choose whatever needle they like!

Needle Configuration:  There are four ways to make small diameter knitted tubes (like socks).  I’ll address each one briefly, but they really each need their own post.  Even though almost all sock knitters (including me!) have one definite preference, I really suggest that you try each of the three “good” ways.  You don’t know which you’ll like until you try them all (like ice cream – you have to try all the flavors before you know your “favorite,” right?), so I hope you won’t let my own preference influence you too much!  And I welcome comments about your favorite method!

  1. 9″-long circular needles.  Don’t use them.  Period.  I know some people like them, but they have some problems.  First, the “needle” section is far too short – usually only just over 1″ long, which is just plain awkward to work with.  Second, most socks are less than 9″ in circumference, which means that they’ll have to be stretched HARD around the needle, which will make the knitter unconsciously knit them too loosely.  They just suck and they’re not worth it.
  2. 2 medium-length circular needles.  This works extremely well for working 2 socks at a time, since there’s usually plenty of room for both socks.   It’s a little tricky to learn, but once you understand the process, it’s fairly straightforward.   For some knitters, using 2-circs helps prevent loose stitches (ladders) where you change from one needle to the other, though, to be honest, for some knitters, they make the ladders worse.  Basically, the idea is that you knit half the stitches with the two ends of one needle and the other half with the other needle.  For looser knitters, this is often a fairly easy method, though tighter knitters may become frustrated with pushing the stitches up from the narrower cable section of the needle up to the bigger needle tip section.  Others will find the “flying spaghetti monster” aspect of all the dangling needles annoying.
  3. 1 long circular needle – Magic Loop.  I find Magic Loop easier to teach than 2-circs, but the two methods are very similar.  Choosing between them is purely a matter of personal preference.  With the Magic Loop, the entire sock is on one needle, but a loop of cable is pulled out between the two halves and that loop maintained throughout the sock knitting process, essentially making the one circular needle function as two.  Magic Loop has all the other pluses and minuses of 2-circs, but has two advantages.  One is cost.  Buying one needle is cheaper than buying two, obviously!  The other is that with Magic Loop it’s a little easier for beginners to see where they are.  The other is that there is no dangling “spaghetti monster.”
  4. The Old Classic – Double-Pointed Needles (DPNs).  These are classic for a reason.  It’s the easiest method to teach, the easiest to learn, and favored by the majority of sock knitters (about 60%, in my experience).  They come in different lengths, and I find the 6″ length best for socks (and mittens).  Tighter knitters prefer them because they don’t have to push stitches over the “bump” between cable and needle tip as on circular needles. Show-offy knitters like them because they look much harder to use than they are.   They’re simple and basic.  They’re also my favorite, so I’m a bit biased, and that’s what I’ll be using in the upcoming posts!

So?  Want to know my favorite needles for socks?  Mostly I use wood or bamboo DPNs.  My current sock-in-progress is on size 1 Knitpicks DPNs.  I also frequently use KA bamboo DPNs and HiyaHiya steel DPNs (available in sizes down to 000000).  I also use KA and HiyaHiya circs occasionally.  (KA and HiyaHiya needles are available through Yarnivore.)  My husband (yes, he knits, too, and makes all his own socks) has a drool-worthy set of hot-forged bronze DPNs from Celtic Swan Forge and I’m hoping for a sterling silver set from them one day.

Tomorrow: Swatching!

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We interrupt this message to bring you…

…the following awesome afghan!

I know I was supposed to talk about socks today, but then Kay dropped by the store today to show me her finished afghan.  It’s from the Six-Month-Become-a-Better-Knitter class (aka SiMonBeBeK).  Isn’t it beautiful!  Kay (with support and help in class) designed and knit each square based on the techniques taught in class.  I think my favorite is the intarsia square – the daisy in the corner.

Since each knitter in the class designs her own squares, they’re all very different and it’s so exciting for me to see the finished pieces.  It’s even better when I see them all sewn together!

I love how the "K" looks in this view!

As seen from the top!

A Sweater Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a lovely lady named Stacie (Hi, Stacie!). Stacie’s very charming husband gave her a very nice Christmas present – a class from me on knitting raglan sweaters from the top down (my absolute FAVORITE way to make sweaters). Stacie took her new knowledge and, completely on her own, made this absolutely delightful sweater for her own little Princess. Isn’t it the absolute cutest thing you’ve ever seen?

Isn't it the cutest thing?

Stacie used what she learned in class, plus neck shaping from Barbara Walker’s book Knitting From the Top, the class textbook, and added her own touches.  My favorite part is the adorable line of elephants marching around the bottom!  You can see Stacie’s notes and a photo of the young Princess wearing it on Ravelry.com by clicking the photo above.

Good work, Stacie!  (I feel a bit like a proud granny – I hope that’s okay!)

Positively Negative

I’m always so sad when a knitter brings in a beautifully made sweater that doesn’t fit or flatter them.  More often than not, it’s because the sweater is too big.  A too-big sweater can easily give one that bulky kid-in-a-snowsuit look.  The counter-intuitive secret to well-fitting sweaters?  Negative ease!

Ease is often poorly understood.  It means “the difference between body measurements and garment measurements.”  In garments made from woven fabrics you must have positive ease, meaning that the garment is bigger than the body, because woven fabrics generally have little or no stretch.  We have no such restriction in knitting, because knitting stretches beautifully!  Negative ease means that the garment is actually smaller than the body measurements and must stretch a bit when worn.  Socks are a great example.  A sock has to be narrower than the foot or it will feel baggy and uncomfortable.

Another rule of ease?  The lighter and more drapey the fabric, the more ease (looser) the garment can be.  Think of a really lightweight rayon or silk blouse.  It needs lots of extra fabric in order to take advantage of the fluidity of the material, but it doesn’t add visual bulk to the body.  Heavier fabrics, like suiting, denim, and most handknitting, need to be fitted more closely.  They don’t drape well, so they tend to stand away from the body, creating bulky silhouettes that don’t flatter anyone.

Many knitters, not understanding that less ease will look better, choose patterns by picking the one that is the same as or a couple inches more than their own chest/bust measurement, even when working with thick wool yarns.  This usually creates a sweater that will stay in the drawer and never be worn.  Instead, choose your size with ease in mind.  Very drapey, fine-gauged yarns like rayons and silks and some linens and cottons can be made with a small amount of positive ease.  All others should be made with negative ease.

Knitting Daily made a great video illustrating this concept and I hope you’ll watch it, and learn the positive side of negative ease!

Nice Tidy Edges – a Superhero Knitting Tip

One of the most common questions I’m asked is, “How do I make my edges look nicer?”  Many knitters have heard that they should slip the first or last stitch of each row, or that they should pull the first stitch tight, but none of those methods really does the job.  I have a better way and it’s really easy!

Knit or purl the first stitch of the row as usual, without worrying about tension.  Stick the needle into the next stitch, but before you wrap it, give the working yarn a hard sharp tug, then go ahead and wrap and complete the stitch as normal.

This is a variation on tightening the first stitch, but it works much better than just tugging that first stitch tight.  When you just tighten the first stitch, it will just loosen up again as you move the needle to stick it into the second stitch.  With the needle already in the second stitch, the first one will stay nice and tight.

Christmas in July – Stockings!

We had a lot of fun in this class!  The ladies learned to read color charts, and knit with two colors – one in each hand!  Look at the beautiful results!

Fair Isle Christmas Stocking

Get Gauge!

I’m slowly adding helpful pages of helpful superhero knitting tips.  The first one is on making a gauge swatch, which is the question I’m probably asked most often at the yarn store.

I know that gauge swatching isn’t as fun as just diving in and making something, but you know what’s even less fun?  Making a whole sweater and finding out that it is big enough to use as a circus tent – or small enough for a chihuahua.  Don’t let that happen to you!

Instead, make swatching fun!  Get a nice beverage and call it a “getting to know your yarn” session.  A first date, so to speak!  Get cozy with your yarn and start asking it what needles it prefers, or if it has ideas on the pattern you’re planning to knit.  Find out if your yarn and your hands get along.  THEN and ONLY THEN are you ready for the long-term commitment of a garment.

ps. Please Please PLEASE wash your swatch!  They can lie to you if they’re not washed.  They’ll sweet talk ya and whisper sweet nothings in your ear and promise that they have the right gauge, but a good swish in warm water is like truth serum for a gauge swatch, so always SWATCH & SWISH!

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