Monday, February 19, 2018

Russian join (a tutorial)

Do you like weaving ends when your knitting is finished, blocked, and seemed?
Do you enjoy dealing with all the ugly endings protruding at the places where two balls of yarn were connected?
Doesn’t it bother you that sometimes you need to leave quite a bit of yarn unknit in order not to join a new ball in the middle of a row?
Well, to avoid all aforementioned unpleasant experiences you can use the Russian join method. Have you heard about it?
To be honest, I learned how to do it properly only last year here, in Florida, from my American friend and an amazing knitter. And I’ve been using it and enjoying the Russian join ever since. Now, I’m going to share it with all my readers so you can use and enjoy it as well (thank you again, Karol!).
You will need:
1) a yarn needle (with as sharp point as possible);
2) a new ball of yarn;
3) the end of the previous ball (at least 3” long, but it can be longer).

Step 1:
Thread the needle with the strand of the yarn from the new ball leaving 1.5 – 2” tail.

Step 2:
Pierce the strand of the yarn from the previous ball about 2” from its end with the needle. Now you’ve got two ends joined.

Step 3:
Thread one of the ends (doesn’t matter which one, but in my example it was the new ball’s) through the needle.

Step 4:
Weave the needle through the yarn strand as long as the end of the new yarn would go.

Step 5:
Do the same with the other end: thread it through the needle and weave the needle through the yarn from another ball.

Step 6:
Continue knitting.

The actual join is almost invisible and hardly palpable (especially if your yarn is not too thick). Sometimes there can be little ends that you can cut or weave in at the end of the work, but most of the times you won’t have to do anything about the join.
The same process works for all types of yarn. Just pick your needle carefully – it must be pointy enough and a little thinner than the yarn. For fingering yarns I recommend using sewing needles.
Any questions? What is your favorite method to join two balls?

Friday, February 16, 2018

Disrupting the Order of the Garter

For many years I’d been avoiding top down seamless patterns like a plague till I made Birkin. I liked the finished result so much that it made me reconsider my knitting pattern policies and I started paying attention to other seamless top downs: after all, it wasn’t that difficult to rework a seamless into a “seamfull”. 
The best part of knitting a top down for me is that you can stop whenever you ran out of yarn. In the last couple of months my running out of yarn episodes became quite regular and annoying. The garter stitch cardigan from Kim Hargreaves book Grey wasn’t finished for this reason.
To make it I used Rowan Kidsilk haze in pewter grey and ColourMart 3/20NM cashmere 4ply in pewter. The last one I bought on clearance sale with only 800 meters on a cone. After my initial fiasco I started looking for another pattern of a garter stitch cardigan (because I really liked how these two yarns looked in garter stitch and because a little garter stitch cardigan like a little black dress must be in every woman’s wardrobe) and found the Order of theGarter by Annamária Ötvös. I’ve never made any patterns by this designer before which is understandable since she produces mostly seamless top downs. Yet, I decided that this was exactly what I was looking for: garter stitch cardigan with some positive ease, short and a bit boxy, with an I-cord finish and set-in sleeves. In my head set-in sleeves in a top down seemed more palatable than raglan sleeves because they have at least something to prevent them from stretching, some sort of “seam-like thingy” around an armhole. Yet, I’ve never done set-in top down sleeves before.

From the beginning I knew that I was going to make this cardigan with seems. Garter stitch is exceptionally stretchy (that is why it was initially used to make garters, hence its name) and needs as many boundaries as possible to prevent from stretching. The I-cord edge is a stroke of genius – it pulls everything together and gives this pattern a nice polished look. I don’t remember when I used an I-cord finishing before and, seriously, I don’t understand why. Half of Kim Hargreaves’ patterns would definitely benefit from an I-cord edging.

I had some doubts before choosing what size to make. I usually pick the smallest one and I didn’t have too much yarn to begin with, but the smallest size for this pattern is calculated for 28” bust. I am not busty but still 34” is my minimum. Eventually I picked size M1 (36”) for positive ease.
My gauge - 20 sts and 38 rows in 4”x4” – was different from the pattern gauge 20 sts and 28 rows in 4”x4”. As far as I figured out, a lot of Ravelers who made this cardigan before me had the same problem of totally different row gauge. And it is extremely important for this particular pattern because in many occasions you are just told how many rows to knit before the next step, not how many cm or inches. If you are a new knitter and didn’t pay attention to you gauge you can easily be making something that won’t fit you (or anyone else). In a situation like this you’ve got two choices (actually, there is a third one – find another pattern, but this one is for quitters): you either change your yarn and/or needles trying to get the same gauge as in the pattern, or you just use your common sense and knit as many rows as you need to have a garment of your size.
And that was what I did – used my common sense – and began knitting the Order of the Garter from the back. After shaping shoulders and neckline with short rows I was supposed to make 30 rows to the armhole shaping but I knit 50 instead to get my regular 19-20 cm for the armhole. After all armhole increases were finished I picked up 6 sts on each side and continued with the back for 110 more rows and only then put all sts on a holder. I made both fronts in similar way, then stitched all of the parts together and knit an I-cord edge around them. Bingo! I had a sleeveless thing seamed and finished, even with buttonholes.

Next step – set in sleeves. I got a bit lost reading directions in the pattern. To understand the process better I looked up a couple of tutorials for set-in top down sleeves on YouTube that left me still unsatisfied because I didn’t like the finished sleeves knit this way. When in doubt, ask Google (an old Russian folk saying). I kept digging and found a book by Elizabeth Doherty Top Down:Reimagining Set-in Sleeve Design that I promptly purchased and downloaded.

Now, that was an incredibly enlightening read! The whole set-in sleeve construction is explained in words, charts, and drawings in minute details. My main take from the book was the pick-up stitch ratio: 1) 85-90 % for the upper cap – 14 sts in my case; 2) 50 % for the middle and lower cap – 24 sts in my case; 3) 100 % for the underarm cast on – 10 sts in my case. 72 sts altogether or exactly the amount of stitches required by the pattern for my size. Bingo again! Bonus – now I have a lovely book with several cute top down set-in sleeve patterns that I might even make one day.

One of the Ravelers who had knit the Order of the Garter called it “a short rows love fest”. Indeed, the pattern includes an unusually high amount of short rows. At the end of the instructions there are links to the video tutorials for techniques recommended by the designer. I dutifully clicked on a link for wrap and turn short rows when I noticed on the same page another link to a video for Japanese short rows. I’ve never done Japanese short rows before and never even tried to find out how they are done because I was pretty pleased with the way my short rows looked. After watching this video and a couple more I was totally converted. All the short rows in this cardigan were done using this method and from now one this is the only right way of making short rows for me.

Everything, even numerous short rows, comes to an end, and eventually I had two pretty and neat sleeve cups on my needles. I weighed all the yarn that I had left, divided it as evenly as possible in 2 parts and knit the sleeves (again, not in the round but straight) till I ran out of yarn. They are not as long as I wanted them to be but maybe they’ll grow after washing.

My take from this experience:
1) Japanese short rows rock!
2) Top-down patterns with set in sleeves could be done with seems.
3) There is always the right pattern for your yarn somewhere. Just keep looking.

I finished this cardigan a while ago but it turned out to be difficult to photograph. The color is dark grey and mousy but pretty in real life. Plus it is a simple and straightforward design without any particular embellishments. And my photographer was extremely busy lately. I tried to take pictures myself and we did a couple of photoshoots together. I hope you can see the garment well. The only thing that I don’t like about it (and I don’t really “don’t like” rather am “a little bit annoyed with”) is the sliding shoulder/sleeve area. It doesn’t stay in place. The yarn is stretchy, and so is the garter stitch. Regular seems would have kept it in place better, but we have what we have. All the specs for this pattern are on my Ravelry page as usual.

The cardigan looks good with absolutely everything in my wardrobe. I am so glad that I didn’t quit on the yarn and finished the pattern, accidently teaching myself a few new techniques. Actually, this is the only way it makes sense to me to learn new techniques in knitting – while doing it for a pattern. If I don’t need it I don’t feel sufficiently motivated to change my old ways of doing things.

What now? I started a big and cumbersome project that I have to finish quickly. While we were in NYC my daughter asked me for a warm cardigan with pockets and cables. And I am trying to make it before her birthday and before winter/early spring is over so she can actually wear it for a while. 

Talk to you soon,


Sunday, February 4, 2018

Mine clearing

The main difference between a process knitter and a finished project knitter is their goal. For process knitters it is enough to have something in their hands – preferably warm, soft, and beautiful yarn – but for some any yarn would suffice as long as they are making something, anything from it. The first obvious choice of a project for this kind of knitters is a blanket: no particular shape, no decreases/increases, and almost no finishing. Pure mindless knitting. And if it is done for a good cause (charity, gift for a new born, or any gift for that matter) it makes the whole process much more meaningful and gives you moral satisfaction, a considerable bonus to your previous mindless knitting.
The other group of knitters’ main goal is to make something that could be worn by a human being therefore it must have a particular shape and fit the aforementioned human. This path is thorny, full of traps, and ambushes. Sometimes it reminds me of a minefield where a knitter, a de-mining specialist, a bomb diffuser, slowly and painfully gets to the end. I am not surprised anymore by the high level of anxiety and fretfulness exhibited by many knitters that I know – after all they put a lot of time, effort, and a good deal of money (we all love expensive yarns, don’t we?) into a project that might turn out a complete disaster.
Over the years I’ve been a process knitter and a finished project knitter depending of the circumstances of my life and I definitely can see the appeal of both ways. Yet, I don’t think that the process knitters would be interested in my ramblings here. Today I am sharing some of my “knit-hacks” that can prevent disappointments and help with “troubleshooting” in case you pick the same patterns as I did in January.

My first finished project of the new year was Silver from Kim Hargreaves’ book Grey.
I bought the yarn - Rowan wool cotton – years ago because of its color. It was the time when I was knitting mostly to feel something in my hands and when seamless projects just started popping up in knitting magazines. I picked this cardigan by Carrie Bostick Hoge from Classic Elite pamphlet # 9096 and made it in no time. It was worn only once because the fit was horrible. It made me look like a hunchback and a dwarf without legs. Everything was wrong – the length, the width, the flopping and awkward fronts that I was never able to close or at least to straighten (they kept curling like on the Ravelry pattern picture). The whole cardigan was a mess but the color was still great. It was obvious that this yarn with its wonderful stitch definition should become something completely different, with shape and form. So I unraveled, washed, and balled it, and then started looking for a perfect project for it. Finally, last summer, when Grey by Kim Hargreaves was first published, I decided that Silver – a fitted cabled jumper from this book – could be the right choice. 

Being a knitter with many years of experience I could tell right away that this pattern was tricky. Why? Because of the cables, of course. They are beautiful and not too difficult to make, but they add bulk to the garment. And this one is supposed to be fitted. So it would cling to your tummy and the beautiful cables would give it more volume than you need. No matter how fit and trim you are, this kind of jumper will give you a bumpier belly than a plain one. Plus its length was a real problem for me. If I want to wear something fitted and accentuate the waste area the garment must be no longer than 36 cm/14.5” otherwise I look like a tiny sausage with short legs (I am 5”2’). I came to this formula after many unfortunate knits that I had to get rid of for only one reason – they looked awful on me.
The obvious solution in this particular case was to make the sweater shorter and a size or two bigger. Yet, I had only 10 balls (1240 yards) for my initial garment, now even less after unraveling (don’t forget that this yarn is discontinued) and Silver requires 10 balls of Rowan Alpaca Soft DK (=1370 yards) for the smallest size. I didn’t want to make the smallest size but making a bigger size I could run out of yarn.
In a way it was a gamble and my level of anxiety went through the roof. I was weighing each finished part and the leftovers of the yarn all the way till the end. It made me work faster because I wanted to be sure that I’ll have enough yarn to finish the garment.

Thankfully, all went well and now it is finished, stitched together, and washed. I call it Bronze because… it cannot be called Silver in this color, right?
What would I change if I knit it again? First, the armholes. I don’t think they are deep enough. And there are 4 weird remnant stitches from the rice stitch border that have no business of being there. If you make this pattern, decrease them while shaping armholes. The sleeves would look better when you put them in.
One more thing. My yarn is exceedingly soft and stretchy (it’s 50% cotton). Yes, the cables give it some shape and keep it in place but still. Use wool, or something stiffer, not too stretchy.
And make it one or even two sizes bigger (with sleeves your normal size) and 2-3” shorter (if you are, like me, not tall).

My second January project was Ivory by Helga Isager. I decided to make it the minute I saw it for the first time – it looks, as Kim Hargreaves usually describes it, elegant, classy, and understated. Moreover, the possibilities of wearing this little jumper seem to be endless. It would look great with everything – a skirt or a pair of pants, under a cardigan or without it.

While in London, I bought some yarn specifically for this project – Debbie Bliss Fine Donegal. Yes, I’ve had many problems with Debbie Bliss yarn before, but I decided to give it a try one more time. The yarn looked practically edible – tweedy and silky, the color of oatmeal with little brown and black specks. Perfection!

I wanted to make Ivory and this cardigan (that was never finished because I ran out of yarn) ready for our trip to New York. But, as it frequently happens with plans, a lot of things went wrong. First, as I already said, the cardigan wasn’t finished. And instead of unraveling the finished parts and starting over with another pattern I decided to knit Silver. Because… well, who wouldn’t? And I felt cheated of my perfect cardigan and angry at my own stupidity, so, yes, I just tried to push this major blunder out of my conscience.
Then, I started Ivory since it seemed to be such a simple straightforward pattern. Wrong again! If you are looking for something mindless to make this is not a project for you. True, up to the armholes there is only reverse stockinett, but as soon as armhole decreases start the directions get more and more obscure.

Actually, I don’t mind complex patterns. The best patterns are usually not that easy. What bothers me though it’s when a pattern is not explained well and you as a knitter have to decipher directions like an ancient papyrus. One of the knitters who also had problems making Ivory thinks that it was translator’s fault. She may be right and some things were lost in translation, but the layout of the pattern is determined by a tech editor. And there was a major trouble with the pattern’s layout. Things that are supposed to happen “AT THE SAME TIME” are explained on different pages and it was rather an acrobatic trick to actually follow directions and knit AT THE SAME TIME. The front has eyelets at neck opening and shoulders. Plus you make decreases for armholes and a neck opening. Everything is explained and the math is there but it is given in four separate chunks on different pages and thus gets confusing.
To solve this problem I calculated all four sets of rows and made myself 4 lists with numbers. I decided to put them here but it can be helpful only if you, like me, are making the smallest size and your row gauge is the same as in the original pattern (or you can just use the same system for another size):
1) armholes decreases - rows 115, 117, 119, 128 + 8 = 136;
2) neck opening  eyelets from row 133 (= Row 1(RS) on page 43) till row 141 (= Row 9 on page 43 where you separate the front in the middle of the row), then, while working two parts separately rows 145, 151, 157, 163;
3) neckline shaping  decreases – rows 167, 169, 171 – 3 sts, 173 – 2 sts, 175 – 2 sts, 177 – 1 st, 179 – 1 st, 181 – 1 st;
4) eyelets on the right shoulder from row 135 (=Row 1 (RS) on page 44) till row 141 (= Row 7 on page 44), then continue with eyelets from row 142 (=Row 8 on page 44) till row 165 (= Row 14 on page 44 second column).
Mirroring the eyelets for the left shoulder wasn’t easy as well, so it took me a while to get through this unexpected hurdle. Plus I got sick with flu and wasn’t knitting as much as I usually do. Anyway, I managed to finish only the front and back before our New York trip. Actually, instead of finishing a sleeve I decided to put the pieces together and deal with the neck edge instead.

In the original pattern the neck opening is worked up with a crochet hook. From the beginning I knew that I needed to find another solution. I don’t like crochet finishes on knitted garments except in folk costumes. In my opinion, they look too much like arts and crafts, an easy way out when you want to cut corners and cannot really bother with finishing. So I spent several hours experimenting with different finishes till I found the one that I liked the best  - picked up stitches around the neck opening + 6 additional sts for the buttonhole and made 4 rows in reverse stockinett. I sewed down my pearly button the wrong side up – this way it blended better with the fabric. I was determined to get to the point where I really liked my neck opening and am proud to tell you that I did.

Since I spent so much time on the neck edge I didn’t finish Ivory before our trip. Sleeves were knit while we were traveling and in New York. I made them long because 1) I had enough yarn left; 2) I thought that I’ll have more use of a wool jumper with long sleeves than of one with short sleeves. For each sleeve I picked up 57 sts and made increases in every 14th row 8 times = 73 sts total, as per pattern.
When we came back and I finally washed the sleeves they looked too narrow to me so I blocked them rather aggressively. Big mistake! They stretched too much and stitching them together was a nightmare. Plus they became too long and wide for my liking. Unravelling and knitting them again wasn’t an option so I put both sleeves under hot water for a while, shaped them as best I could and let them dry. You can see on the pictures that they are still a little too loose at the top but otherwise fit me well.

Some knitters noted on Ravelry that there are too many things going on at the front of Ivory. I disagree. In my opinion, everything that is going on there has a right to be there. This top is feminine and versatile and can be a staple in any wardrobe. I might even knit it again. Next time with short sleeves and in a brighter color. Just for fun.

Overall, I am pleased with my January projects and I hope to wear them for many years. If you are interested in needle sizes and yarn requirements, you can find all the specs for both projects on Ravelry. I described the process of making them in such details so you can avoid my mistakes and be totally zen while knitting these patterns.
Meanwhile I figured out how to remake the ill-fated garter stitch cardigan (the one that couldn’t be finished) and have been working on it for a while now. For the first time I literally deconstructed a pattern because I wanted a top down (to make sure that I have enough yarn) but at the same time it had to have seams (because garter stitch is extremely stretchable and I don’t want a cardigan to lose its shape after its first washing). I’ll post its pictures as soon as it is finished. Stay tunedJ