Winding Yarn Into Balls By Hand

Because of the popularity of hand dyeing, much yarn is produced in a hank format. A hank is a loosely wound coil of yarn tied in at least one place to keep it from tangling. Before using a hank it must be wound into a ball. A ball winder and swift make this a fast process. If you don’t have these tools, yarn can be wound into a center-pull ball by hand or by using a simple hand-tool called a nostepinne. The following shows you how to make a center-pull ball by hand.

Untie the hank and drape the coil over the back of a chair, a person can stretch the hank between their hands, or you can use a swift, like I did.

Find one of the ends of the hank, and pull some of the yarn carefully so it doesn’t tangle. Yarn can simply be wound into a ball by continually wrapping the yarn over and around, however these will roll around on you. 

Better yet is making a center-pull ball by hand. To make a center-pull ball, open your hand so it faces you. Lay the yarn across your palm, leaving a long tail hanging free.

Lay yarn across palm of hand.

Wind yarn in a figure 8 around your thumb and index finger about 15 times. Remove the figure 8 from your hand and fold in half, holding the long tail that now hangs from the center.

Wind all the yarn into a ball while holding your thumb over the center tail.

Wrapping yarn to form ball

Now you have a center-pull ball which is easy to work with.

Do You Really Need to Learn How to Use a Row Counter?

You may be thinking, wow is she for real – of course I know how to use a row counter. I know this may seem like something not worth talking about, or an insult to your abilities. But sometimes in life it’s the small tips that make all the difference to creating the projects we desire. There are times when the pattern instructions read something like “bind off 4 sts at the beg of next 4 rows, then dec 1 st each side every other row 8 times…”. Ultimately you’ll need to develop a system to keep track of your rows, or you will have a meltdown.

I’m a perfectionist and certainly technical, when it comes to knitting my projects. It is important to me that my projects are finished professionally, and my pattern instructions are readable. I can appreciate if you are more of a free-wheeling type, but trying a new approach may make all the difference.

Firstly, what are these tools? Counters tally rows as you knit. They aren’t absolutely essential, pen and paper will suffice. But like any tool, counters make your knitting more efficient. The most common type is a circular, rotary counter that slides onto the end of the needle. The central core is designed to fit a range of needle sizes. A variation of the circular counter has an attached stitch marker, for circular knitting, also known as the universal counter. The universal counter dangles below the stitch marker, and does have a tendency to swing from your needles. I find these rather annoying. A favorite of mine is a peg board, allowing you to keep track of rows, increases, decreases, and stitch pattern repetitions. Other types available include a mini hand held clicker often called “Kacha Kacha”, pendant counters, electronic counters, and software applications.

You have to be conscious of moving the counter after each row is completed. If you have been knitting for awhile, you know simple patterns can be visibly counted. In stockinette stitch, one “V” is a row and in garter stitch one ridge equals 2 rows. But going back to the beginning and counting each time is tedious and inaccurate. As you knit more complicated pattern stitches, this is not easy to do and leads to frustration. It is not only important to count rows, but learn to understand how the pattern stitch evolves, so you can determine what row you’re on if you make a mistake and have to rip back. The following is my system of keeping track of rows.

When beginning a project, I think of odd rows as the right side and even rows as the wrong side of the knitted fabric. For most pattern instructions, the first row is the right side, therefore my reasoning behind odd numbers for right side and even numbers for wrong side. Knitting garments or any project requiring pieces, such as back, front, and sleeves, I count rows for each section of the piece. Most garment patterns begin with the back, so I begin by counting the number of rows to complete the border. I write this number in the instructions, and at the same time I measure the border and record this number. If the border is knit on smaller needles, it will be a different measurement from the gauge. I subtract the border measurement from the total measurement for the piece, to calculate approximately how many rows I need to knit to reach the armhole. I move the counter back to zero and count the number of rows knitted to the armhole, and again write down this number. I repeat this process for the armhole to shoulders. Now, when I go to knit the front, I know how many rows to knit for each section of the piece – the border, border to armhole, and armhole to shoulder. By keeping track of rows, the garment pieces match up row for row, and seaming is much easier.

The project I’m working on now, is knit in simple stockinette stitch, so I’m using a circular counter on my needle. But there is also shaping with decreases and increases along the side edges. In addition to using the counter, I made a chart on paper so I know which row to decrease or increase. If you look at my chart below, when I reach row 15 on the circular counter, I decrease one stitch on both side edges of the back piece. You’ll also notice I use my own shorthand.

Chart to use when counting decreases and increases.

Chart to use when counting decreases and increases.

 

When working multiple charts, or pattern stitches, writing on paper helps to keep track of all the different rows for each pattern stitch, and in addition I use a counter for total rows.

The most important message to take from this, is to count your rows, whatever system you devise. But when the frustration sets in, I guarantee that you won’t get lost and all your pieces will fit together with ease. So toss a counter, along with your pen and paper in your toolbox!

What Needles Can Do For You

 

Just as a painter uses brushes to achieve strokes and textures, a knitter uses needles. As your knitting years go by, your needle collection will grow. My collection is huge, from trying many different types in search of the best needle for the job. Needles are manufactured in a variety of materials, range of diameters and lengths. They also come as straight needles, circular and double pointed needles, and interchangeable sets.

Choosing needles, for the most part is personal preference and comfort, but the best needle, is the one that meets the needs of a particular project. It’s like when you buy the new kitchen tool, and you wonder how you ever managed without it. These are some basic considerations to keep in mind when choosing the right needles for your project: type or style of needle, material used to make the needle, the tips of the needle, and the type of yarn you are using.

Single pointed straight needles are readily available in 10”(25cm), 12”(30cm), 14”(35cm), and 16”(40cm) lengths. A 14″(35cm) needle is the most popular length. Single pointed needles come with knobs or decorative heads, and the longer lengths fit comfortably under your arm (not in your armpit) when knitting. My favorite are the 14″ or standard straights. You also have to consider the number of stitches that are on the needle, too many and you will struggle to keep them on the needle. Too few stitches on the needle, may require you to use a shorter length for comfort sake. Manufacturers are making shorter lengths at around 7”(18cm) marketed to children for easier manipulation. Straight needles are used for flat knitting, working back and forth to create pieces that are later sewn together.

Double pointed needles can range between 4″ and 9″, but are typically found in 6”(15cm) and 8”(20cm) lengths; sold in groups of 4 or 5. Points are at both ends, and are used to knit in the round, for items such as socks and gloves. I like the shorter ones for socks, glove fingers, and i-cord; making it easier to knit, than with a longer needle flailing in the air. For comfort, I like to hold the right needle in the crook of the thumb and forefinger when knitting with dpn’s. This position works very well with a small number of stitches, making the knitting less awkward.

Fixed circular needles are two short straight needles connected with thin nylon or plastic wire, and are found in the same materials as for straights. The common lengths are 16”(40cm), 24”(60cm), 32”(80cm). Shorter and longer circulars are available. They are used to knit in the round, creating tubular pieces that require no seaming. They are also used for flat knitting, simply knitting back and forth like straight needles; particularly useful for large numbers of stitches such as blankets, as the weight of the project rests in your lap. There are super short circulars for sock knitting, or other small projects. I find these very difficult to manipulate, and they cause pain in my hands. Two long circulars can also be used to knit socks, or a solo circular using the Magic Loop method. Sets of interchangeable circulars are popular these days. They include a variety of needle tip sizes paired with different cable lengths. Since the tips are not secured to the cable (screw on types or a “click” system), the joint may not always be smooth, and the yarn can catch or drag, especially with lace knitting, so purchasing high quality sets is important.

The common metals used for needles are aluminum, stainless steel, nickel and nickel plated. Aluminum needles are inexpensive and readily available. Stitches slide smoothly across metal needles, and the yarn slips easily off the tips for speedier knitting. Generally, as straight, metal needles get larger than 5mm in diameter, they are made of plastic or a plastic coated metal core, as they become too heavy to manipulate. High quality stainless steel, nickel, and nickel plated needles are more expensive, but the stitches slide even more smoothly than aluminum and are almost indestructible. They are less easily scratched and less prone to pitting than aluminum. Metal needles hold up best for the smallest of knitting needles used for making lace, as bamboo, wood, or plastic cannot be made thin enough without breaking.

Plastic needles are readily found, inexpensive, and come in a range of colors. They are the lightest of all needles, particularly in the jumbo sizes. Plastic needles of 4mm or smaller may bend and break with heavier fabrics. They are smooth, flexible, not as slippery as metal, and may warp. They are made solid or hollow. Some high end plastic needles have a steel metal core for reinforcement. Good quality plastic needles should be smooth and flexible. Cheaper plastic needles can be brittle and break. I like to use plastic needles with chunky yarns, as long as the tips are not too dull or blunt.

Bamboo needles appeared first in the marketplace followed by specialty woods such as birch, rosewood, and ebony. Bamboo needles are warm to touch and develop a patina over time from the natural oils in the hands and are quiet to knit. Knitting with bamboo and other wood needles is slower than with aluminum or plastic. Generally, slippage is less with bamboo and woods, but is desirable for certain pattern stitches, very slippery yarns, and individual comfort. The tips may break more easily with cheaper brands of bamboo needles. ChiaoGoo makes a great bamboo needle. Knitter’s Pride laminated birch needles are my favorite of the wood needles, as the stitches glide smoothly.

Casein and glass are two other materials used to make needles. Casein needles have an artificial look to them and are damaged by heat. Glass needles are often purchased as decorative items, and if dropped are likely to break. I think these are best sitting in decorative containers.

The majority of needles are round, but now there are square shaped ergonomic needles, relieving stress on the hands for carpal tunnel and arthritis sufferers.

The most important part of the needle is the tip, which varies with the material used and the manufacturer. The tips should be smooth, blunt, but pointy. Very dull and blunt needles make it difficult to insert the needle into a stitch. Never knit with damaged tips; they slow you down, snag the yarn, and work may be uneven. With intricate pattern stitches, the needles must insert easily into the loops without snagging or splitting.

You will also become aware of which needles are more suited to the variety of yarns available. Cotton doesn’t move as smoothly across a plastic or bamboo needle, as with a teflon coated aluminum or a stainless steel needle. Loosely twisted yarn will split unless the tip is smooth and pointy. Thicker, plied yarns work better with more blunt tips, as pointier types increase the chance of catching the plies. Smooth, twisted light weight yarns glide quickly and smoothly over metal needles. Thin or lace weight yarns are best knit with large needles, which must not be blunt; the needles must insert easily into the tiny loops.

Experienced knitters inevitably build up an extensive collection of needles. Not only think of comfort, but also choose the right needle by type, material, tips, yarn, and the project you are knitting. Try to move a little outside your comfort zone, and you may discover some amazing benefits for your next knitting project.

My Favorite Knitting Books

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I think in this world filled with tech devices, there is still room for a knitting book. I find it much easier to pull a reference book from my shelf to use as I am designing, than to power up the ipad or computer and navigate a digital copy. Here are my favorite go to knitting books, and not all are reference books.

Reference books are necessary, sometimes to refresh your memory about a technique you haven’t tried for awhile, or for those confusing pattern instructions that don’t describe the steps in detail. Vogue Knitting handbook by the authors of Vogue Knitting Magazine (a magazine favorite of mine) is the reference book I use most often. Vogue publications have been around since the 1900s, and if you are a fan of their sewing patterns, you know that Vogue is all about the details. They cover everything from the supplies, basic techniques to designing your own projects.

Every knitter also needs a library of pattern stitches, and Barbara Walker’s, “A Treasury Of Knitting Patterns” and “A Second Treasury Of Knitting Patterns” are comprehensive collections with detailed directions. These are the first books I pick up when I start looking for a pattern stitch in the design process. These two books were published in 1968 and 1970, and are still available. The thing about knitting is old books and patterns are just as relevant today as they were at the time of publication. The technical information doesn’t really change.

Another reference book that you may think is kind of a strange choice, I certainly did, is the “Reader’s Digest Complete Guide To Needlework“.  I happened across this book, when I had to purchase “Reader’s Digest Complete Guide To Sewing” (this one is also highly recommended) for a university sewing class. It is amazing the number of detail oriented things I learned from these two books, such as how to sew on buttons.

A good second choice for knitting pattern stitches is the Harmony Guide series, “The Harmony Guide To Knitting Stitches“. I also have the crochet edition. I’m not a prolific crocheter, but sometimes I like to add edgings to my knit projects, or crochet a toy.

For pure inspiration, you can’t beat the infamous book “Glorious Knits” by Kaffe Fassett. Kaffe Fassett revolutionized knitting in the early 1980’s, along with a group of British knitwear designers. His use of color is his trademark. He has evolved over the years, and produced many other books, not just knitting books, and designs for textile companies. If you ever get the chance to see him in person or view his work, you will be inspired as I was. He is also the first knitter to have his work displayed in the Victoria Albert Museum in London.

And finally, other inspirational books are from Kim Hargreaves and Alice Starmore. I love the designs by Kim Hargreaves, who began her career in the infamous Rowan yarn mill. Her designs are very fashion forward and full of structural details. My favorite book by Alice Starmore is “Aran Knitting“. She has modernized the tradition of aran knitting.

All of the books described above are available at Amazon.ca. There are many publications out there, and I hope I have helped you to think about finding the right ones for your bookshelf. Good books will help you address what it is you want to learn, and provide the knowledge, inspiration, and motivation to get there.

Happy Reading!

 

The Knitters Toolbox

When you are beginning to learn a new craft, it’s always exciting to gather the essential materials and tools needed for your new venture. There are so many fabulous knitting needles and accessories available today, it’s hard to resist making a purchase. But sometimes we purchase things that are not really necessary or required until we are more experienced. So, I’m going to discuss the essential items required for the basic knitter’s toolbox.

Essential Items:

  • Knitting Needles. These go without saying, however, I don’t keep all my needles in my working toolbox, simply because I have so many. They are stored elsewhere in glass vases, teapots, etc. As you become an experienced knitter, you will also acquire a collection of needles.
  • Needle and Stitch Gauges. Needle gauges have a range of holes with both metric and US sizes; used for measuring needles. Some gauges are combined with a stitch gauge; a 4″ square window with a ruler to measure the number of stitches and rows per inch of knitted fabric.
  • Tape Measure. As with sewing, this is an absolute necessity.
  • Scissors. Folding types are great when transporting projects.
  • Sewing Needles (finishing needle). The needles used to sew hand knits are different from the needles used to sew regular fabric – they do not have a sharp end. Blunt tipped needles are what you need for sewing knitted projects. Some other names for these needles include tapestry needles, darning needles, or knitters needles.
  • Row Counters. These tools keep track of the rows as you knit. They are not absolutely essential, as you can simply keep track by writing on a paper. I highly recommend using counters, particularly when knitting garments. Your pieces will match row for row, making for easier seaming.
  • Stitch Holders. Holders come in a variety of styles and sizes; they hold stitches to be worked later. With experience you will find your favorites.
  • Pins. Knitters pins are blunt tipped, used to pin pieces together while seaming. T-pins are used for blocking, since they are easily inserted into a blocking board, easily removed, and hold pieces firmly while they dry. Safety pins are useful to hold small numbers of stitches, to hold a dropped stitch, and mark the beginning of rounds in circular knitting.
  • Markers. There are so many different types of markers these days; jewelry for knitting. My favorite are simple, metal rings. Markers are placed between stitches on your knitting needle, and are great for complex stitch patterns.
  • Cable Needles. These are used to hold stitches while knitting cables. My favorite are the ones with a U-shape in the middle.
  • Notepad/pen/pencil. I’m a paper person and these are indispensable to me. You will most likely need to make notes or keep track of rows; so use whatever works for you (maybe your ipad).

Optional Items:

  • Point Protectors. I haven’t used these for years. These are caps placed on the tips of the needles to prevent stitches from sliding off your needles.
  • Crochet Hook. I know how to crochet, so I have a small case with a variety of hook sizes. Some knitters like to use a crochet hook to fix dropped stitches. I would suggest the smaller sizes, up to 4mm for fixing mistakes.
  • Bobbins. Small amounts of yarn are wrapped around bobbins when color knitting. I’m not a fan; working with many colors on bobbins can be cumbersome. It is often easier to leave lengths of yarn down the back of the work to pick up as you knit.

What you use for the actual toolbox can be whatever you like. I love baskets, and at home I use a small basket to hold the above items. I also have a larger basket to hold my ongoing projects (usually too many) with the necessary accessories for these projects, plus a zippered pouch for scissors, tape measure, pins and sewing needles for quick access.

It is popular to transport projects; knitting on the bus or during the lunch hour. So you want a bag that’s not too big, including just the essentials for one of your projects.

For all you beginner knitters, I hope this helps you in putting together your toolbox.  Happy Knitting!

P.S. Some of my favorite needles and accessories come from these companies: Lantern Moon, Knitter’s Pride, and ChiaoGoo.