Thursday, July 19, 2007

So I've got knit and purl down...

Being a newly minted knitter, I thought I would put together an initiation post of sorts, a guide to making the transition from "Okay, so knit is when I stick the needle in back and for purl, it's in the front" to "So, I'm knitting this sweater, but I'm changing it to 3/4 sleeves and a v-neck instead of crew and I stuck in some short-row shaping, and, oh, I also added a little lace around the hem." I found it a bit daunting, once I'd knit scarves for everyone I knew, to branch out into less rectilinear shapes. Or, you know, anything that required me to read a pattern.

Pattern reading was, for me, actually the biggest hurdle. I could gather that "k" and "p" stood for "knit" and "purl" but after that, I floundered. The pattern would say "inc" and I would think, okay, but how do I increase? How do I decrease? What, for the love of wool, is a yarnover?

I learned how to knit in 2004, knit furiously for eight months and then stopped completely. I was bored with scarves, I didn't know how to make anything else, and every time I tried to read a pattern, it ended in frustration. I finally met a woman who took the time to explain these transitory mysteries of knitting to me, and I've been gaily altering my way through patterns ever since. So here, after that long-winded introduction, is my primer on learning to read a pattern, explanations of knitting terminology and links to various sites that I found helpful when just beginning this whole knitting business.

For the sake of your scroll bar, I've broken this post into several, so just click on the links below to take you to the post with that topic.

--> Please note that these posts are under construction and so some links don't yet exist - once I've wrestled this into some kind of shape, I'll remove this disclaimer.



Yarn! (A Guide thereof)

Please do let me know if anything here is unclear, wrong, should be cut/expanded/whatever. I'd like to make this as helpful as possible, and I always welcome constructive criticism.

Techniques (So I've got knit and purl, cont'd)


I realized this post was a bit too ambitious when it took me ... a long time to write even the finishing section. So I've linked to some really good, comprehensive websites that have excellently written and illustrated articles on techniques for just about anything. Following this is my own take on, and links to specific articles, regarding finishing techniques.

Learn How to Knit : This is a really phenomenal site, based in the UK, that explains the basics of knitting better than I ever could. This is the site I wish I had known about when I was starting. Also explains the basics of crochet, which is useful for the knitter as a finishing technique. This online knitting magazine has tons of great, free patterns, but it also has a number of technique articles. The archive, unfortunately, lists out only patterns, but you can retrieve an article from Google pretty easily, if you know it's there. But if you haven't come across Knitty yet, I'd recommend browsing each back issue directly - there's a treasure trove of information in the articles, and they are uniformly well-written and well-illustrated.

The Knitting Room: This is a corner of KnitPicks' site. Though they are primarily a yarn company, KnitPicks has been branching out into technique instructions, both in their catalogues and online. They've actually done a phenomenal job with this, and The Knitting Room is becoming my go-to site when I need to brush up on a technique.

I think the most frustrating part for me, learning to read a pattern and branch out into more complicated knitting, was the finishing instructions. Many techniques are actually explicitly spelled out in a pattern, but not finishing techniques. A typical sweater pattern can go on for pages, and then, once you're left with sweater bits, merely states: "Weave in ends, block pieces to size, and sew seams." Sounds simple, but how? Here I've assembled some good online articles about all these techniques.

"Weave in ends."
Here I will refer you to KnitPicks' article on this subject, which illustrates how to do this better than I could. They begin by saying there is no one way to weave in ends, which is true, but there are definitely wrong ways. A perfect example of this is my first sweater :).

"Block work to size."
Blocking is, in essence, getting your work wet and slightly stretching it, then pinning it down and letting it dry. Knitty has a good article on blocking. I find blocking kind of tedious, but it really does help and is, in some cases (like lace), indispensible to the final character of your knitting. For a good article on "Why suffer the pain of blocking?", see the Yarn Harlot's entry entitled "Be the Pin".

"Sew seams."
This injuction drove me crazy as a beginning knitter. After a few attempts at just, um, randomly threading yarn between pieces, I realized there had to a good way to do this. There is. It's called mattress (or ladder) stitch, and it's actually kind of magical how well it works. has a good article on mattress stitch, as does Learn2Knit (scroll down).

"Graft or Kitchener stitch together."
True confessions: I actually kind of love grafting. This may be because I first learned how to graft here. This site is an amazing sock-knitting tutorial, and my first pair of socks, knit sitting in front of my laptop, following along with Terri Lee's instructions, were the most polished piece of knitting I had ever constructed at that (very early) point in my knitting career. The link is to page 6 of the tutorial, where she explains Kitchener stitch, but do read the rest - I would never have tried sock knitting without this website. All the reference sites listed above have good articles on grafting as well, but this is my favorite.

If you prefer a hard copy reference guide to knitting techniques, the following are books I've found useful. There are many, many books out there and I haven't read anywhere near to all of them, but these were helpful for me.

Vogue Knitting: A solid, all-around reference book for everything from knit and purl to designing your own sweater. I hope to own this one day, but am now just checking it out unreasonably often from the libary.

Finishing Techniques for Hand Knitters: Just what the title says. I don't love the tone of this book - it's a little condescending - but the techniques are useful and well-explained.

Definitions (So I've got knit and purl, cont'd)


Because I'm an incurable academic, let's start off with some words, and their knitterly definitions. These definitions will probably be updated as I think of new things, or as suggestions come in for words I've missed. Additionally, this may serve well as a lexicon for those among us who love a knitter, but who (inexplicably) do not love to knit.

Bind off: the act of tacking down loops of yarn left when your knitting is complete, so they can be freed from your needles and not unravel into a big mess. Often abbreviated BO, and, to my knowledge, synonymous with "cast off."

Blocking: the act of shaping your knitting so that it looks its best. Blocking is accomplished by getting your knitting wet (but not sopping wet - damp is usually fine) and pinning it into place stretched to dimensions specificed in your pattern on a surface like a bed or a clean rug. One then very patiently lets the knitting dry completely, then unpins it from the surface. This is a crucial step for lace, which can and does look like a scraggly bunch of crap until it's blocked. It is also important for other projects, but lace is where blocking has the most magical effect. You can also steam block your knitting, which is supposed to be a pretty fabulous way to block, but I don't have a steam iron, so I can't tell you any more about that.

Cast off: see "Bind off."

Cast on: the act of putting loops of yarn on the needles so you have something to knit. There are a number of ways to do this, but I confess that I only know one, and it's served me well so far. Often abbreviated CO.

Circular knitting: the best way to knit ever! No, seriously, circular knitting is just like regular knitting, except using differently shaped needles that form a circle. Instead of flipping your work back and forth, you knit continuously in a spiral, always working the "right side" of your knitting. If you're knitting anything tubular (socks, sweater, even double-thickness scarves), this way avoids sewing seams. Also known as knitting in the round.

Decrease: to subtract a stitch (or stitches) from a row of knitting. There are a number of ways to decrease, each of which slant in a different direction, or have a different appearance. I have found the proper selection of a decrease stitch to be more important to the final appearance of your knitting than the selection of an increase method.

DPNs (double pointed needles): just what they sound like: needles that have points on both ends. Usually shorter than regular straight needles, and often used, in sets of 4 or 5, for knitting circularly.

Dropped stitch: what happens when a loop of yarn fall off your needle, and that column of stitches unravels. May be purposeful or accidental, but in the latter case, is easily fixed with a crochet hook. Don't sweat it.

Felting/fulling: the act of washing your wool knitting in hot water with agitation, so it shrinks and the fibers pull together. Felted knitting is very sturdy and can even be cut as one would cut any other fabric. Often used to make bags like this, since felted knitting doesn't stretch or pull out of shape, but also a useful technique to make housewares (pillows, coasters, placemats, etc).

Finishing: a term encompassing all the non-knitting stuff required to turn your knitting from a big heap of knitted fabric into a Finished Object. Includes sewing seams, crocheting edges, weaving in ends, attaching buttons, etc.

Increase: to add a stitch (or stitches) to a row of knitting. Can be performed by the "make 1" method, casting on extra stitch(es), knitting into the front and back of a stitch, or making a yarnover. Each method has its pros and cons. Sometimes the method used is not particularly crucial, and other times it's integral to the character of your knitting.

Knitting: the act of pulling loops of yarn through other loops of yarn, using needles or other stick-shaped objects. (This definition is paraphrased from the incomparable Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.) While kind of obvious, this does bear remembering, especially when trying to fix mistakes (see "Dropped stitch").

Knitting in the round: see Circular knitting.

Lace: knitting formed by a series of increases (usually a yarnover) and decreases, yielding a fabric with lots of holes in it. Often, the increases and decreases are balanced, so while you're subtracting and adding stitches, the number of stitches per row stays constant by the time you've finished the row. Additional terms you might see are lace knitting and knitted lace. These are generally taken to mean that, for the former, you makes these increases and decreases on one side of the fabric only (that is, every other row), while for the latter, you're increasing and decreasing every row.

Side (as in, right side or wrong side): often abbreviated RS or WS, this denotes the side of the fabric you're knitting. For something like a sweater, there is a definite right and wrong side. For a scarf or afghan, the pattern may be more reversible. Important both for constructing multi-piece Finished Objects (like a sweater) and for following the pattern, which will often say something like, "On the next RS row, dec 1 st at beg of row." You are "on" the right side when, as you hold your needles ready to knit, the right side is facing you.

Stitch: one loop of yarn pulled through another. There's really just knit, purl, and variations on that theme. Often abbreviated "st" and, plural, "sts."

Weave in ends: a phrase, explicit or implied, at the end of every knitting pattern in existence. Seemingly a simple imperative, I found out there are many unattractive ways to do this. The right way involves a darning needle and "sewing" your ends into your knitting so that the end follows the path of an already-knitted piece of yarn. See my "Techniques" post for links to some guides on how to do this well.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Under Construction

This blog is currently under construction, but will have a more detailed intro post soon. Happy knitting!