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!

Nothing Nicer Than Even Edges

It has always been important for me to professionally finish my projects, particularly garments – where the difference between “handmade” and “homemade” is obvious. Finishing not only comes at the end of knitting, but happens throughout the knitting process. I love even edges, not only because they are visually pleasing, but are easier to sew, or left exposed. The following tips will help you even your edges and improve your finishing process.

  1. Increasing and Decreasing Within Edges
  2. Evenly Spacing Your Stitches When Decreasing or Increasing Along a Row
  3. Consecutive Bind Offs
  4. Thoughts on Slipping Stitches
  5. Blocking
  1. Increasing adds stitches to a row of knitting, and decreasing reduces the number of stitches to narrow a piece. Most often these techniques are worked on the right side of a knitted fabric. To avoid uneven side edges, increase or decrease a few stitches in from the edge. For example, when I’m shaping a waist, I like to decrease or increase 2 or 3 stitches in from the edge on the right side of the fabric, creating “fashion marks”. You can decide on the placement, but maintain consistency throughout the garment shaping. Good pattern instructions will specify the type of increase or decrease used and placement.
  2. Working multiple increases is often done on the last row of ribbed borders. The increases are the extra stitches needed to obtain the correct measurement for the body of the piece. It is important to increase as evenly as possible across a row. If the instructions do not indicate the placement of the increased stitches, use this simple calculation to figure out the number of stitches between the increases. Subtract one from the number of stitches to be increased. Divide this number into the total number of stitches on the needle. For example, if there are 34 stitches on the needle and you need to increase 5 stitches, 5 – 1= 4, therefore 34 divided by 4 = 8 with 2 stitches left over. The increase row would be worked as follows if using a make one (M1) increase: work 1 stitch, (M1, work 8 stitches)4 times, M1, work 1 stitch. There should be 39 stitches on the needle. If you are using a bar increase (making an increase in one stitch) in our example above, there are 7 stitches between each increase, as one of the 8 stitches is being used for the increase. The increase row is worked as follows: work 1 stitch, (increase 1 stitch in next stitch, work 7 stitches)4 times, increase 1 stitch in next stitch, work 1 stitch. Again you should have 39 stitches. Decreasing evenly across a row uses similar math calculations.
  3. When shaping shoulders or armholes using consecutive bind offs, the following method creates an even slope. Pattern instructions may read like this: “with the right side facing, bind off 5 stitches at the beginning of next 2 rows, then bind off 2 stitches on following 4 rows”. Proceed as follows: on the first right side row, bind off 5 stitches and work to end of row. Turn and bind off 5 stitches on wrong side, and work across to the last stitch. Slip the last stitch onto the right needle. On the next right side row (bind off 2 stitches), slip the last stitch again instead of working it, and work next stitch binding off by lifting the slipped stitch over. Bind off next stitch as normal and work across to last stitch and slip it. Repeat this process, slipping the last stitch till the rest of the bind offs are completed on both side edges.
  4. Beginners are often taught to slip the first stitch of every row, if they find their edges to be loose and uneven. I would suggest not slipping edge stitches for every project, but practice this simple tip to create an even side edge. Simply make sure when you knit or purl the first stitch, that you pull the yarn tighter than for the rest of the row. Edge stitches are referred to as the selvages of the knit fabric and are often 1 or 2 stitches at each end. Selvage stitches are added to the total stitch count, and are used to stabilize the knit and prepare it for seaming, or as a finish for an exposed edge. If you can’t seem to create an even edge without slipping stitches, the following method works well, creating a chain along the edge of stockinette stitch and a great way to finish exposed edges. Row 1 (right side): Slip first stitch knitwise, work to last stitch, knit 1. Row 2: Slip first stitch purlwise, work to last stitch, purl 1. This method is one of many variations to create a selvage edge, and remember if you want to include a selvage in a project, add these extra stitches to the total stitch count.
  5. I have written several posts on blocking, and you can search my archive for these. Like knitting a gauge swatch, blocking is an essential step that knitters often dismiss. Blocking is the process of wetting or steaming knitted pieces to even stitches and fibers, and smooth the edges. For the best results, it should be done prior to sewing. Grab yourself some blocking materials, and you will be amazed by the results.

I hope you will begin to incorporate these tips to professionally finish your projects.

How To Put Your Cardigan Or Sweater Together

Putting Together Sweater With Set-in Sleeves

Putting Together Sweater With Set-in Sleeves

Assembling a hand knit garment is often the step in the finishing process that makes the garment look “homemade” or “handmade”. Make sure you have all the necessary tools: blocking board, spray bottle, tape measure, knitters pins and tapestry needles (these should be blunt tipped), scissors, and thread for sewing on buttons and attaching zippers. Any stitching should be done by hand, and not by a sewing machine. If you left a length of yarn after casting on, use this to seam. Do not use too long a strand of yarn, as continued friction from pulling through the seam will cause the yarn to twist and break. Yarns with a very low twist, novelty yarns such as boucle, chenille, mohair, and other textured yarns should not be used for seaming. Instead use a yarn that is firm, compatible in color and fiber content, and requires the same cleaning technique as the yarn used to knit the item.

Finishing Steps:

  1. Blocking is the first step in finishing a project. It is often considered tedious, just like making a gauge swatch, but it really is magic. Blocking is the process of wetting or steaming individual knit pieces to even stitches and fibers, and flatten the edges. Block all pieces prior to seaming. I like to block each piece immediately after I’ve completed knitting it.
  2. If the project requires any applied details such as embroidery, beads, duplicate stitch, pockets or applique, these should be done prior to seaming. It is easier to work details on pieces rather than a whole garment. Applied pockets should be attached using an overcast seam.
  3. Garment assembly often begins with seaming the shoulders. One or both shoulders are seamed, depending on the style of neckline. I prefer the Invisible Horizontal Seam for shoulders, perfect for joining two bound off edges.
  4. Necklines are typically finished after the shoulders are seamed. Stitches are picked up around the neck opening, and the edging is worked from the picked up stitches. Some designs knit the collar separately, and then it is sewn in place. The front borders of cardigans are also worked at this point. Collars and borders should be sewn with a whipstitch or overcast seam to form a neat join with no bulk.
  5. If a zipper is to be attached, now is a good time. Zippers should be sewn in by hand rather than by machine.
  6. It’s best to sew in sleeves after the neck and front borders are finished. Pin the right side of the sleeve cap to the right side of armhole. The first pin should be inserted at the shoulder seam, then pin to the cast off edges at the beginning of armhole shaping, easing the rest of the cap in so it is even on both the front and back of armhole. I prefer the Backstitch Seam for setting in the sleeve. It is worked on the wrong side, adding stability for a sturdy seam.
  7. Next the side and sleeve seams are sewn. I don’t like to sew the sleeve and side seams as one continuous seam. I sew the side seams first, then the sleeve seams. My seam of choice here is the Mattress Stitch worked from the right side of the fabric.
  8. At this point, I like to hand wash the project, laying it flat to dry, so it is clean before wearing. You can sew on buttons prior to washing or after. For sewing on buttons, use topstitching thread, thicker than regular sewing thread or embroidery floss. Note: My preferred buttonhole is the self-reinforcing One Row Buttonhole.

I hope these steps help you approach finishing with confidence.

Blocking is Magic!

Blocking a sleeve

Blocking a sleeve

I’ve professed the benefits of blocking in previous posts and I came across a post from Fringe Association “yarn + water = magic” that is so apropos. Yarn really does come to life in water, and will reveal its good or bad properties. By blocking all those swatches prior to beginning your projects helps to determine the appropriateness of the yarn for them. I think it deserves mentioning again, because blocking is really the first step in finishing your projects.

Blocking is the process of wetting or steaming knitted pieces to even stitches and fibers, and flatten the edges. Some pattern instructions inaccurately describe stretching the pieces to the correct size. If you have not obtained an accurate gauge, no amount of stretching will change its size, and may damage the knitting. For the best results and easier seaming, blocking should be done prior to sewing. The best way to see how a fiber reacts to blocking is to experiment with the swatch. I always block the swatch prior to measuring the gauge.

Wool fibers and specialty hair fibers respond best to blocking because of their high resiliency and water absorption. Synthetic yarns are heat sensitive and should not be pressed. Wet blocking doesn’t change the nature of a synthetic yarn because it doesn’t absorb water. Novelty yarns such as lurex (metallic fiber) should not be blocked. Long haired yarns such as mohair and angora, and highly textured stitch patterns become matted or flattened when pressed, so wet blocking is the preferred method. Ribbed borders should not be blocked, as these areas are meant to be elastic. Colorfastness or dye bleeding may be a concern, and is another reason to block the swatch, particularly with high contrast yarns.

I prefer wet blocking; spraying the pinned pieces with water. I’m not a fan of pressing with steam, as it flattens the knitting and may damage the piece. If you must, press with steam and a pressing cloth, and do not touch the fabric surface with the iron. Pressing works best on stockinette stitch fabric and inside seams.

I block each piece as it is finished by pinning the dry piece right side up to the blocking board or a flat, padded surface with T-pins. For garment pieces, I usually begin by pinning the bust/chest measurement working up to the shoulders, then to the bottom edge. Use the schematic measurements as a guide for pinning. Space the pins no more than one inch apart, and smooth the piece. Your edges should be even, not scalloped. Do not pin ribbed areas, unless the whole piece is ribbed. Pin according to the shape of the piece, allowing for curves. If your gauge is accurate, you should not have to stretch the piece very much. When finished pinning, spray the piece with water, and let dry completely. After the pins are removed, the piece will lie flat and have an even surface. With items like hats, scarves, mitts, and socks, I finish the piece, hand wash, and lay flat to dry without pinning out.

Blocking really is magic, and will make all the difference in the world to the quality of your projects.

How I Do It!

Source - Debbie Bliss Magazine, Fall/Winter 2014, Design 26

Source – Debbie Bliss Magazine, Fall/Winter 2014, Design 26

If you’ve been reading my posts for a time, you’ll find I take a professional approach to knitting, and I love every step of the process, even finishing.

A pattern catches my eye and I really want to make it. How do I knit it so it looks exactly like the one in the pattern instructions? There are certain steps I follow when I begin a project in which I already have the pattern instructions. Following these steps will help to create a project that looks like the one in the instructions. There is the rare moment when I have found pattern instructions so incomprehensible, that the project doesn’t turn out or happen. This could be for many reasons; pattern errors, so poorly written I just can’t be bothered to figure it out, I feel it won’t work, or I don’t feel like rewriting it.

Steps to Knitting Almost Any Project

Read through the instructions to familiarize yourself. 

Reading will let you know if it suits your skill level. Notice the degree of difficulty, techniques, and stitch patterns. Don’t get too bogged down with reading. Sometimes the pattern makes sense when you are actually knitting. However, if you’re unsure of a technique, practice with some scrap yarn first rather than struggling midway through a project. Choose the size by the finished measurements.

What materials do you need? 

You may be able to buy the brand of yarn and type used in the instructions. If not a substitute is necessary. Check out my e-book “It’s All About The Yarn” for further information on substituting. If you have experience, you’ll be familiar with the classic yarn types; fingering, DK, and worsted. Novelty or highly textured yarns are difficult to substitute. Purchase yarn amounts all at once and it’s a good idea to purchase an extra ball or two. If you are not sure if the substitute will work buy a ball to make the swatch, and then purchase the amount required. 

Needle sizes may change depending on what your gauge is. Make sure you have any other accessories on hand for the project. My absolute essentials are a tape measure, scissors, tapestry needles, paper and pen, calculator, and row counters. Other items that may be necessary include stitch markers and holders.

I usually purchase buttons when the project is complete, when I know the size of the buttonhole.

Knitting Accessories

Knitting Accessories

Gauge Swatch

This is the most important step. Obtaining an accurate gauge ensures achieving the correct measurements and proper fit. Don’t skip it or hours of knitting will be wasted.

Before measuring the swatch, I block it. Pin it out on a blocking board, spray with water and let dry. Now it is easier to measure.

Collect Your Tools and Yarn

I’m a little bit of a basket freak and I use a basket to hold my yarn and work in progress. I also have a pouch holding scissors, tape measure, tins with pins and tapestry needles, stitch holders, markers, row counters, pad of paper and pencil. I find a calculator to be a must. You may want another bag for carrying your projects with you on the go.

I often photocopy instructions so I don’t mess up the book or magazine, then I can mark this copy. I sometimes use a magnetic board to attach the copy, particularly if there are charts. If charts are small, you may want to enlarge them. Definitely keep the original magazine or book handy to refer to the image.

Knitting Time

It is best to knit the pieces in the order given, because there is probably a reason for this. As an example, pocket linings are often made before knitting the front because you will have to knit them into the front. Most sweaters begin with the back, followed by the front, and sleeves.

I’m a precise row counter for projects that require seaming, particularly garments. By keeping track of rows, pieces will line up exactly. For some items, like a scarf it may only be necessary to keep track of chart rows or other complex stitch pattern rows. My routine typically goes like this: I write down the number of rows to knit the border, turn the counter back to zero and count rows for the body of the piece to the armhole, and then repeat from armhole to shoulder. In addition to the row counter for total rows, I may have to use paper and pen to keep track of chart rows or when I need to do decreases or increases. You can quickly calculate the number of rows needed for the length using the gauge. Let’s say you have to knit an  8 inch armhole; the row gauge is 6 rows/inch; so 6 x 8 = 48 rows required to knit armhole. I often quickly calculate the number of rows I need before I knit, and to see if I’m on gauge.

Blocking

Block each piece as it comes off the needles. With projects like hats, socks, gloves, and scarves, they are pretty much complete off the needles and require minimal seaming and weaving in ends. I then wash these items and lay flat to dry, smoothing into shape to block.

Blocking slipper pieces.

Blocking slipper pieces.

Finishing

The difference between “homemade” and “handmade” is in the finishing. This is often the point where knitters tuck the pieces away, never to complete their project. I know to some finishing is tedious, but if you follow through with the appropriate seaming method and weaving in yarn ends, you will be pleased.

These are some tips to help complete your projects:

  • Blocked pieces make for easier seaming.
  • Do not machine sew seams because the fabric will stretch and pucker. Hand sew.
  • Use blunt tipped tapestry needles with a large enough eye to accommodate the yarn. Do not use standard straight pins for pinning; you can purchase blunt tipped knitters pins for pinning pieces together. Sharp points will split the yarn or snag the fabric.
  • Sew the item with the same yarn it was knitted with. However, yarns with a very low twist, novelty yarns such as boucle, chenille, mohair, and other textured yarns should not be used for seaming. Instead use a yarn that is firm, compatible in color, fiber content, and requires the same cleaning method as the yarn used to knit the project.
  • Any details such as embroidery and pockets should be added prior to seaming.
  • Most instructions give an assembly order that should be followed. For garments, join one or both shoulders depending on the neckline style, join sleeves to armholes, join sleeve seam from cuff to armhole, and join side seams from hem to armhole.
  • Mattress stitch (invisible weaving) is the best method for the majority of seams. I like the backstitch for attaching the sleeves to the armhole, and the overcast for attaching borders.
  • Check your work as you sew to make sure the seam is even and neat.
  • Weave yarn ends into seams where possible. Colorwork knitting will have yarn ends that need to be worked into the body of the piece.
  • Sew on buttons with thread not yarn.
  • This may seem strange, but I always do a quick wash of completed items. I just feel like wearing something new that is clean or when giving a gift it is nice to receive it clean. There are hand oils on the project, and if it has been sitting around for awhile, washing seems the right thing to do.

Knitting should be a joyful process, but sometimes you have to get down and dirty and complete that project. There is no better reward.

I Want You to Love Blocking – Well at Least Make it a Habit

I know this may sound weird, but I love to block; to see my pinned pieces and small items drying to perfection. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, finishing projects is very important to me. Blocking is an essential, and often neglected step in the finishing process. It is a process of wetting or steaming knitted pieces to even stitches and fibers, and flatten the edges. Check my previous post on how to block pieces.

I want to describe how I block small projects such as hats, gloves, mitts, socks and scarves. Because these items are usually knit in one piece, you can’t block the same way as you would for items knit in pieces, such as sweaters. After I’ve completed knitting the project, including any seaming, and weaving in yarn ends, I wet block or wash the item. I soak it in a fine wash soap and cool water; not for long, as the item probably isn’t dirty. Then I rinse, roll it in a towel, or quickly spin in the washing machine to remove excess moisture, with the item in a laundry bag or pillowcase. Lay flat to dry, smoothing it out to its dimensions.

For garments, in addition to blocking each piece, and after seaming, I wash the finished item as described above. I feel it’s a nice touch to receive a clean, professionally finished item as a gift or even if it’s for yourself. You wouldn’t purchase an unclean item, and doing so shows the love and care you have put into the project. Make blocking a habit, and you will notice a difference.

Details Do Matter: Secrets To Better Knitting

You should knit how you like, but one of the secrets about the knitting journey is details do matter, if what you desire is a project that looks like it was knit in a skillful manner.

From my experience this list includes my top secrets to better knitting:

  • Gauge is key. If you want a project to look like the one in the pattern book, you must obtain the same gauge as stated in the instructions. Making a test swatch is well worth the effort. Keep your swatches as a reminder of what does and doesn’t work.
  • Needles make a difference. Needles are personal, but the various materials used and the tips of the needles affect your knitting. As an example, wood and plastic used with cotton slow you down, as the stitches don’t slip easily. Too blunt tips make the needles difficult to insert into the stitches; too sharp and the yarn splits.
  • Count rows, either with a paper, pen, or a row counter. For complex patterns, I often use paper/pen, as well as a row counter. You won’t forget which pattern row to knit, and garment pieces will match row for row.
  • Work increases and decreases inside the edges (1-3 stitches in from the edge), rather than working the last edge stitches. The side edges will be even and easier to seam, as well as looking professional.
  • Slip the first stitch on sequential bind offs for shoulder and armhole shaping, creating an even slope that is easier to sew and reduces a bulky seam.
  • Block your pieces! I even block my tension swatches for ease in measuring. Block each piece as you finish. Blocking should be done prior to sewing the garment pieces together. For scarves, and other items that don’t require much in the way of seaming, weave in all ends, then give a quick hand wash, and lay flat to dry.
  • Don’t put your knitting away until you complete a row. It is possible to stretch your knitting if you leave it part way into a row, particularly if you don’t resume knitting for awhile.
  • Make the right yarn choices for your projects. Choose cotton in place of the recommended wool in a pattern, and your sweater will sag and not wear as well.
  • Bind off too tightly and that turtleneck will be a struggle to put on. If this is a problem, try binding off with a larger needle. However, some edges like a scarf are better bound off the same tension as the rest of the scarf.
  • When knitting baby garments, remember they have big heads in proportion to their bodies. They need large neck openings or buttoned shoulders if the garment slips over the head.
  • You won’t learn technique all at once. I even come across new ways of doing things.

Learning anything is a process and requires lots of practice. Don’t ever be afraid to try something new. Remember “knitting is forgiving”; the beauty of this craft is the ease with which one can start over. And that’s okay.