5 Posts From My Archives Every Knitter Should Read

It’s All About The Yarn

The following 5 blog posts (one is the e-book It’s All About The Yarn) include critical information that every knitter should read. The contents of these posts discuss yarn types and purchasing yarn, choosing the right needles, pattern stitch categories, gauge swatch, and blocking. This information will help enhance the quality of your projects, and help you become a better knitter. You may have read these posts; if not, I hope you will take the time to read them.

It’s All About The Yarn

What Needles Can Do For You

What All Knitters Know: Knit Fabrics Have The Market Cornered In Pattern Stitch Variety

The Dreaded Gauge Swatch (plus What is a Test Swatch?)

Blocking Is Magic!

“Stranding” and “Weaving” are Fair Isle Knitting’s Best Friends

Prince of Wales 1903 – Fair Isle Jumper

Modern Fair Isle – Dublin Pullover from Interweave Knits Winter 2017

The August 2017 issue of In Style magazine includes Fair Isle sweaters as one of the Fall 2017 trends. What is Fair Isle? Off the northerly coast of Scotland in a group of islands known as Shetland, Fair Isle is the most southerly member, 3 miles long by 2 miles wide. This tiny island is the origin of Fair Isle Knitting, a circular, stranded form of color knitting. Since the 1920s, when the Prince of Wales sported a Fair Isle jumper, Fair Isle knitting has enjoyed commercial success.

If you’ve never tried this method of knitting with colored yarns, I’m showing you two important techniques, “stranding” and “weaving”, for successful Fair Isle knitting. For more information on the Fair Isle tradition, Alice Starmore’s Book of Fair Isle Knitting is a great resource.

Fair Isle knitting involves changing colors every few stitches in one row. Traditionally, Fair Isle was worked on circular needles so all the pattern rounds are knit, making the yarn easier and faster to manipulate (you can use straight needles to knit Fair Isle patterns). When 2 colors are interchanged often in the same row, it is practical to carry each color not in use across the back of the work. One method for doing this is stranding. The colored yarns are picked up alternately over and under one another as you work across the row. Stranding is suitable for color changes over 1 to 5 stitches, and the result is “strands” or “floats” across the back or wrong side of the knitting. For color changes more than 5 stitch repeats, weaving is the preferable method, otherwise the floats are too long.

It is essential to keep an even tension when stranding. If the yarns are stranded too tight, the work will pucker, and alternatively if the yarns are stranded too loose, the fabric will gape. Note: Carrying yarn creates a thick fabric.

To neaten the work, the joining yarns should be woven in as you knit, or there will be many yarn ends to weave in when finished knitting. Both stranding and weaving are often used together in a project. Note: The gauge for Fair Isle knitting will be different than just working a stockinette stitch sample without color changes. Remember to always check your gauge.

Stranding can be accomplished with one or two hands. With two hands you must know how to knit in the Continental style. (See bonus how-to below).

One Handed Method

  • When working a knit row, yarns are carried across the back of the work or the wrong side. Knit a few stitches with the old color (working yarn) and then drop it in the back. Pick up the new color under the dropped yarn and knit next few stitches. Continue alternating colors this way, carrying unused yarn loosely across the back. It takes practice to get the tension even.
  • On a purl row, work in a similar fashion, but pick up the new color over top the dropped yarn, keeping the “floats” in front of the work.

Stranding yarn on knit and purl rows

What stranding should look like on back side

Weaving in Joined Yarn Ends or Large Color Repeats (more than 5 stitches)

  • Hold the working yarn in the right hand and the yarn to be woven in the left hand. *To weave yarn above a knit stitch, bring it over the right needle. Knit next stitch with the working yarn, bringing it under woven yarn. When you knit the next stitch the woven yarn is already under the stitch. Repeat from * across the row. When weaving in yarn ends, work as above across 7-10 stitches. This alleviates weaving in many yarn ends with a tapestry needle when the knitting is completed.
  • To weave yarn above a purl stitch bring the yarn over the right needle and purl the next stitch with the working yarn, bringing it under the woven yarn. Purl the next stitch with the working yarn by bringing it over the woven yarn. Repeat these steps across the row.

Weaving yarn ends on a knit row

Weaving yarn ends on a purl row

Fair Isle knitting is challenging at first, but after practicing and getting the tension even, it’s a rewarding experience. Non-knitters will wonder how you ever worked something so “complicated”.

Bonus How-To:

Stranding yarn – Continental style of knitting


What Comprises The Best Pattern Instructions?

There are many sources for pattern instructions: fashion magazines, yarn manufacturers pattern books, designer books, social knitting groups, yarn stores, and the internet. Just as there are many well written patterns available; there are many poorly written pattern instructions, particularly the online sources. The problem is that  anyone can place instructions online, but often these patterns aren’t edited. As a beginner, when you don’t enough practice reading patterns, poorly written ones can be very frustrating. A knitting pattern needs to contain all the information required for someone to reproduce the design – meaning the knitter can understand and successfully follow the instructions.

Great Instructions Need to Include the Following Sections of Information:

  • Name of the Pattern
  • Photographs – Garments should be shown on an appropriately sized model to give an idea of the fit. Multiple views are helpful to show close-ups of stitch patterns or other details. Lace shawls look best with a photo of someone wearing it, and one of the shawl lying flat to reveal the pattern. Most knitters prefer to see an image of the entire item.
  • A Brief Description – This could give an overview of construction, inspiration, or what’s interesting about the design.
  • Level of Difficulty and Skills – Some pattern writers use a “difficulty level rating” (beginner, intermediate, advanced), or some writers prefer to address the challenge level. However, it is most helpful to the knitter to describe the required skills. For example, mentioning that a pattern requires knitting in the round, able to read a lace chart, grafting with kitchener stitch, or how to knit with beads.
  • Materials List – includes the yarn manufacturer and name of yarn, fiber content, yardage and meterage (plus ounces/grams) per ball/skein, and required number of balls or hanks for each size. Note: *yardage and meterage is most important when substituting yarn. The color codes used for the design, and some form of yarn guidance is useful to aid with substitution, such as the yarn weight category, whether yarn is self-striping and variegated, or non-superwash wool for felting. Needle sizes and type (straight, circular, double pointed needles), and accessories required including notions (buttons, zipper).
  • Gauge – is the most important section of the pattern. To knit the appropriate sized project, requires that the knitter obtain the gauge in the instructions. Gauge is written as the number of stitches and rows over a 4 inch square in pattern stitch with the needles given in the materials section. It is best to write the gauge for the pattern stitch(es) used. Some pattern instructions only show the stockinette stitch gauge, even if the item is knit in a different pattern stitch. For a design with different pattern stitches, gauge should be given for each pattern stitch. For ease in substituting yarn, indicating the yarn weight category or writing “using yarn that knits to gauge” is helpful. As well, mentioning the stockinette stitch gauge may help with substitution, since yarn ball bands show gauge in stockinette stitch.
  • Sizes and Finished Measurements – Instructions should provide two sets of information. One set includes the sizes reflecting actual body measurements, given in inches and centimeters. Sizes are an indication of whom or how the item fits (eg. 34(36, 38)in [86.5(91.5, 96.5)cm]. The second set is the finished measurements or dimensions of the item. This information should be used to choose the size, rather than the relative size. Finished measurements are typically given after blocking. Note: Indicating what size a model is wearing, shows how the garment is worn and the amount of ease.
  • Schematics – A schematic is a line drawing of the pieces, showing finished measurements, and what the pieces look like. I think a schematic is extremely helpful in understanding the shaping and construction of garments. The best instructions include schematics.
  • Abbreviations/Pattern Stitch Instructions/Special Notes and Techniques – Abbreviations are the shorthand of knitting. Pattern magazines often have a section devoted to abbreviations, and a glossary. Usually in this section of the pattern, terms, techniques such as cables, or special notes important to the design are explained. What type of increases and decreases are helpful in this section; often patterns forget to include this information. The more information to help the knitter, the better, particularly with complex instructions. The writer shouldn’t be vague or assume the information is known.
  • The rest of the instructions are devoted to knitting the pieces, written in text and abbreviations with any charts. Finally, there should be instructions on finishing and assembly. Many patterns forget to include a section on blocking and the assembly steps.

I don’t think you can have too much information in pattern instructions. A major problem by pattern writers is the assumption that a knitter understands what you mean when information is eliminated, or that a knitter already knows how to work a technique. As with any instructions, it’s all in the details, and the reader’s ability to interpret this information to reproduce a project successfully. Pattern instructions should include most of the above information to make your knitting easier.

Confusing Terms Found On Yarn Labels

Typical Information on Ball Band

Yarns are packaged with paper ball bands containing information to help you choose the most appropriate yarn for your projects. I outline this information in my e-book “It’s All About The Yarn”. The following are “confusing terms” you may find on yarn labels.

  • Yarn Weight – Typically you won’t see the weight category (thickness of yarn strand) printed on the ball band, but some manufacturers will denote the yarn’s weight category by its number (0 – 7), term (lace – jumbo), or both.
  • Yarn Length – This is the yardage and meterage (amount in yards and metres) for one ball, skein, or hank. This is the actual length, not to be confused with weight in ounces and grams. Two different 50g balls of yarn will have different lengths. For example, a 50g ball of lace weight yarn may be 420m in length, whereas a 50g ball of sock yarn may only have 175m in length. Yardage and meterage is what is used to calculate the amount of substitute yarn.
  • The meaning of the following yarn types is unclear: fingering, sock, sport, baby, and 4 ply yarn. Historically, these yarn types were used as “names” of the yarn. Plies were often used to describe weight, because they were fairly uniform. Today, a single ply yarn can be a very fine lace or a bulky Icelandic wool. Regardless of the weight, all types can be a single or consist of many plies. The following chart is helpful, and notice that in UK, Australia, and New Zealand (not all yarn manufacturers) plies have remained as yarn weights, even though the meaning is no longer clear. Note: The differences between Fingering, Sock, Baby and Sport are small – it’s most important to rely on your gauge when choosing the appropriate yarn for your project.

Australian Yarn Label – 4ply yarn

Yarn Weights for US, UK, and Australia

  • DK, Worsted, Aran – These terms are also yarn weights, commonly found on labels, particularly DK, which stands for “double knitting”. DK is a “light (3) weight” yarn and is popular. Worsted and aran are classified as “medium (4) weight”. “Aran” is slightly thicker than worsted.
  • Color Codes/Dye Lots – Color codes are the manufacturer’s number for a particular color. Dye lots refer to the dye batch number, or the batch the yarn was dyed in. Because yarn is dyed in batches, it’s not uncommon for the same color to vary from one dye lot to another. For this reason, it is important to buy yarn in one dye lot for your project.
  • Some labels, particularly yarns manufactured in Europe may show a rough guide as to how much yarn is required for different garments in average sizes for men, women, and children.
  • You may also find a crochet gauge in single crochet (sc) and hook size for a 4 inch square, along with the stockinette stitch gauge.
  • Care instructions will be in text, symbols, or both. For symbol reference, check out this chart.
  • Flax/Linen – Flax is a food and fiber crop cultivated in cooler regions of the world. Textiles made from flax are known as “linen”. You will often see the term “linen” used on a yarn label, rather than “flax”. The collective term “linens” is generically used to describe bed and kitchen textiles, even those not made from flax.
  • Mercerized Cotton – Mercerization is a chemical finish used on cotton that adds luster, and improves its dyeing properties. Mercerized cotton is stronger than regular cotton, and less prone to shrinkage.
  • Superwash Wool – Superwash is a finishing process that alters the scale structure of wool, so that wool doesn’t shrink when machine washed. For felting projects, do not use superwash wool. Since the “felting” process shrinks wool to make a dense fabric, superwash wool won’t felt.
  • Bamboo Sourced Viscose – Bamboo fibers come from the pulp of bamboo grass. Bamboo yarn is manufactured by two different methods. In one of these methods, bamboo is processed in the same manner as rayon (viscose) fiber, with chemicals and equipment used to make synthetic fibers. Manufacturers are now required to label these “rayon like” yarns with terminology such as “bamboo sourced viscose”.

I hope in defining these “confusing terms”, that this information will help you shop for the best yarn for your projects.

A Quick Way To Finish Knit Projects – Reverse Or Corded Single Crochet

Swatch with reverse single crochet edge in contrast color

My favorite crochet edging is reverse single crochet (rev sc), a decorative and quick option for finishing edges of a knit garment. It consists of working single crochet (sc) stitches in the “wrong direction”, working from left to right rather than right to left.

For those not familiar with single crochet, below are the steps for making an sc edge, followed by rev sc. As with knitting, space the crochet stitches evenly along an edge. Too many stitches will cause the piece to flare and too few will cause it to pull in. When going around corners, work more than one crochet stitch into the corner stitch, so the piece lies flat.

Steps for Single Crochet and Reverse Single Crochet Edging on a Knit Fabric:

Single and reverse crochet edging – Vogue Knitting Handbook

I hope you’ll try reverse single crochet. You’ll find it adds stability, flattens curling edges, and adds a simple, decorative edge to finish your project.

An Attractive Cast On Method – The Tubular Cast On

I’m not terribly adventurous when trying different cast on methods. I use the double or long tail cast on most often, and the cable cast on when I need to add stitches within the body of a piece. 

Tubular cast ons are common in machine knitting, and not used often in hand knitting. A tubular cast on produces an attractive, elastic, and stable edge for a knit one, purl one rib (k1, p1). The cast on edge is rounded like a tube (hence “tubular”), and has the appearance of a double fabric. I like using the tubular cast on for a dress or skirt made with a fine or light weight yarn. The tubular cast on method is not recommended for bulky yarns, as the edge may flare.

There are several versions of a tubular cast on. The following two versions are the most basic of the tubular methods for k1, p1 rib, and both look similar.

Version 1:

  1. With a contrasting waste yarn, cast on half the required number of stitches (plus one extra stitch) using a single cast on. The single cast on is simple but not the neatest method. However, it’s perfect to use with the tubular method. How to make a single cast on: 1. place a slip knot on right needle, leaving a short tail; 2. wrap yarn from ball around left thumb or index finger from front to back and secure it in your palm with your other fingers; 3. insert needle through this strand on your thumb, slipping the loop onto the needle, and pulling the yarn to tighten it; repeat steps 2 and 3 until all stitches are cast on.
  2. Cut contrast yarn. With the main color yarn at the back of work, k1, *with yarn in front, k1; repeat from * to end of row.
  3. *k1, yarn front, slip next stitch purlwise, yarn back, repeat from *; end k1.
  4. yarn front, *slip 1, yarn back, k1, yarn front, repeat from * to last stitch, slip last stitch.
  5. Work last 2 rows once more. Begin working in k1, p1 rib. Work a few rows in rib, then remove waste yarn.

Version 2: (folded method)

This version produces a similar look to Version 1. However, I find the edge to look more even and not as loose as Version 1.

Completed Version 2 Tubular Cast On (for k1, p1 rib)

  1. With contrasting yarn, cast on one half the number of stitches required using the single cast on described above. Cut yarn.
  2. With main color, purl 1 row, knit 1 row. Repeat these 2 rows once more.
  3. *p 1, insert the tip of the left needle into the first main color loop – the loop sitting between the first 2 contrasting loops. Slip this loop onto left needle and with yarn back, knit it through back loop. Repeat from * to last stitch.
  4. Purl last stitch, pick up the 1/2 loop of the main color at the very edge, and knit it through the back loop.
  5. Remove the waste yarn.

Version 2 – Tubular cast on how-to

Give the tubular cast on a try, and I think you will like the end result.

A Simple Edging Instead of the Usual Rib Border

My favorite mercerized cotton summer top with simple armhole edging.

Close up of edging along armhole edge.

I don’t know of a simpler applied edging than the one I’m sharing with you in this post. This edging is a great alternative to a ribbed border. It neatly finishes off an armhole or neckline edge. I like adding this edging to a vest or tank armhole.

Steps to making this edging:

  • Seam both shoulders.
  • Choose a smaller needle, 1/2 to 1mm smaller than the one used for the body of the garment.
  • Pick up stitches evenly along the front and back armhole edge. For an armhole edge you want to pick up the same number of stitches for both sides of the armhole, the front and back. The shoulder seam is the dividing line. For a neckline edge, the shaped sides of front neck should each have the same number of stitches. Tip: Picking up stitches is simply using a knitting needle to add yarn by “knitting on” new stitches to the knit fabric, forming the foundation row for a collar, button band, or edging. With the right side of the knitting facing you, insert needle into the space between two stitches of a row, one stitch in from the edge for a straight side edge or selvedge. Wrap the yarn knitwise around the needle and draw the yarn loop through as if to knit, forming a new stitch on the needle. For curved edges of knitting, insert needle inside the shaped edge, through the stitch below the shaping to avoid large gaps and to hide the jagged selvedge. Pull the yarn loop to form new stitch.

Picking up stitches – selvedge and shaped edge – Vogue Knitting

  • Simply bind off all stitches loosely for first row.

What could be simpler; pick up stitches, then bind them off. The edge rolls in on itself – you have neatly finished an edge.