May 19, 2006


That cabled bind-off is easy as pie:

All it is is a fat i-cord bindoff, with a cable twist and a purled edge stitch to provide the necessary recess for the cable to pop. It has a little bit of a tendency to curl forward, but only enough for the twist of the cable to show properly. Because of this, it won't add much length, but it does fall nicely in line with the body of the work.

To my eye, a six stitch round cable looks more or less equivalent to a four stitch flat cable. Be aware, too, that the difference between row gauge and stitch gauge will create a softly gathered effect along the cable, unless you compensate with a larger needle for the bindoff, or by attaching only three out of four rows (or whatever works). Or just block it out. Or plan to use it in a way that takes advantage of the slight ruching.

If, like me, you're going to pick up stitches and keep working vertically, just pick up the never-quite-perfectly-tight strands where the yarn was brought around to close the i-cord. Knit from those, twisting each strand as you work to tighten them up and force the cable to straddle the two sections of knitting evenly. For some reason, it's enormously satisfying to me that the neat, tidy back of the work hardly hints at all at what's going on in front:

I can think of lots and lots and lots of ways to use this - as an edging along lapels and hems (use a provisional cast-on and work this bind-off later), lying in heavy bracelets around a cuff, combined with short rows to spiral up a sleeve, as an edge for a structured, felted baguette...endless! (In all this, I guess I'll be pretty embarassed if this is already in, like, Knitting on the Edge or something. For the record, though the idea's probably not new, I did think through this version myself).

Unraveling will be up over the weekend. I have some really interesting questions, and am totally absorbed in writing my answer - a treatise on How To Personalize Knitting, with notes on choosing a pattern, making sure it will fit, adjusting for gauge, choosing a yarn, all kinds of interesting things. It's taking longer than I expected, though (I want to do the subject matter justice), and besides, there is a ballgame beckoning me. See you tomorrow!

March 23, 2006

Majoring in Lace - Part IV

Introduction; Shawl ConstructionYarn Choices; Needle Choices; Gauge: Chart Reading 101The Structure of Lace; Role of the YO; Role of the Decrease; Movements in Lace Knitting • Provisional and Invisible Cast Ons; Hard Cast Ons; Circular Beginnings

Casting On For Lace

One of the most curious things about lace is the goal of having no real beginning and no real end. There might be a handy little parable lurking in there somewhere - shawl as ancestral blood, shawl as distinguished lifetime - but we're here to talk about knitting, not self-indulgent flights of metaphorical fancy. Onward!

The main problem with casting on for lace is the difference in elasiticity between the cast on edge and the rest of the fabric. Stitches worked with any openwork pattern will always stretch more than the same number worked in stockinette or garter, and the traditional long-tail cast on is too firm to accomodate the extra stretch during blocking. One way or another, the issue needs to be addressed for any lace project that will undergo a serious dressing.

**Note: The movment(s) of each technique are presented as a simple graphic and as a series of photos. The diagram should show you exactly how the yarn should sit and the directions of the movements - the photos a sense of the process. In the diagrams, working yarns are purple and the waste yarns pink, while in the photos the working yarns are blue and the waste yarns white. For clarity, I'm showing the techniques with a smooth cotton that shows the stitches well**

Invisible Cast Ons

Many traditional Shetland and Orenburg shawls are cleverly constructed to avoid a cast-on row altogether. An invisible, or provisional, cast on method is used to begin a given section of knitting, and the live stitches held to later be picked up or grafted.

All invisible cast ons are comparable in finished effect - basically, they all expose the purl bumps of a row and make them live stitches. The first and third methods shown here use the working yarn itself for the first row on the needles (what would ordinarily be the cast on row), while the second method works into waste yarn stitches on the needle. For the second method, I usually work that first row as a wrong side foundation row, turn, and then start the pattern.

Otherwise, the method you choose will depend only on personal preference.

Invisible Cast On

My favorite invisible cast-on is ridiculously simple - it amounts to making a series of yarn overs in a figure-eight around both the needle and a "holder," usually a bit of waste string. Using a smooth, fairly thick waste yarn for the foundation will go a long way towards keeping the stitches from twisting around the needle, and eventually make picking up the stitches much easier.

    1) Anchor your working yarn to the needle by making a slip knot. Hold the needle in your right hand, anchoring the tail of the working yarn and one end of the waste yarn out of the way. Tension and spread the yarns with your left hand, with the waste yarn nearer you than the working yarn - you might find it convenient to tension the waste around your thumb and the working yarn around your index finger. Dip the needle under the waste yarn...

    2) Grab the working yarn from the back, bring it under the waste yarn in front, and bring the needle back to position to make one stitch.

    3) Now, tilt the needle back, pick up the working yarn from over the waste yarn, and bring the needle back to position to make the second stitch.

    Repeat these steps until the required number of stitches, including the slip knot, have been cast on (when casting on an odd number of stitches, give the working yarn a twist around the waste yarn before turning and working the first row). Pull the waste yarn straight, and arrange the stitches on the needle carefully - as you knit, take care to straighten out and arrange any YOs that have started to twist around each other.

    When it comes time to pick up the stitches from the cast on row, transfer the stitches on the waste yarn, one by one, to a spare needle. Undo the slip knot at the beginning of the row.

Invisible Crochet Cast On I

Crochet cast on methods are very popular, though I generally find them a little too demanding for my absent-minded ways - I nearly always have a bit of waste string in a pocket or buried in my purse, but I hardly ever remember to carry a crochet hook with me. Work crochet cast-ons with a hook similar in size to the diameter of your knitting needle (though size isn't crucial), and use a smooth cotton or other slippery yarn (this is crucial, unless you're a glutton for tinking punishment).

Version I is chained directly onto the knitting needle, creating a foundation row of waste yarn. The work is knitted onto this foundation row, leaving live stitches when the row is later unraveled.

    1) Make a slip knot with the waste yarn and place it on a crochet hook held in your right hand, with the working end of the waste yarn running behind the knitting needle in your left.

    2) Catch the yarn with the hook from in front of the needle, and pull it through the loop on the hook to cast on one stitch.

    3) Move the working end of the waste yarn back behind the needle, and repeat steps 2-3 to cast on the required number of stitches.

    4) When all the stitches have been chained onto the knitting needle, cut your waste yarn, pass the end through the last loop on the hook, and pull closed (not too tightly - you'll need to undo it later). Tie a knot in that end of the yarn to mark the end you will unravel from, and start working the knitting, treating the loops of waste yarn on the needle as your cast on row

    Pick up the stitches by undoing the last loop of the crochet (marked by the knotted tail) and tugging on the tail to pop the chain open, one stitch at a time. Transfer the live stitches to a knitting needle as they are freed.

    The crochet chain will only "unzip" in one direction - from the last chain worked to the first.

Invisible Crochet Cast On II

Version II should also be worked with a smooth, clean waste yarn and a hook about the same diameter as the knitting needle. You may wish to use waste yarn of fingering or heavier weight to show the loops clearly - picking up the wrong loop will keep the chain from unzipping later.

Despite its slight fiddliness, this is my preferred crochet cast con - the method is simple and sensible, without the awkwardness of manipulating the yarn around too much. From a seperate crocheted chain, the working yarn is pulled through the reverse-side bumps. The chain is later unzipped to expose live stitches.

    1) Crochet a waste yarn chain of as many or more stitches as you want to cast on (more is better). Cut your yarn, pull it through the last loop, and knot that tail to mark the end you'll start unraveling from later. Consider the front and back of the chain - the front presents the familiar nested V shapes, while the back shows a series of bumps straddling the loops.

    2) Starting from the knotted end, pass the tip of a knitting needle through the first bump (and only that strand - take care not to grab any other strand or ply of the chain with the needle). Catch a strand of working yarn with it, and pull it through the bump to cast on one stitch.

    3) Pick up a second stitch in the same way.

    4) And continue until all the stitches have been cast on. If the bumps become too tight to work into, it's fine to skip one or two chains - you'll be glad to have worked more chains than strictly necessary.

    Expose the live stitches in the same way as in Crochet Method I - undo the last loop of the crochet, and tug to expose the stitches one by one. Tranfer them to a needle as they are freed.

Regular Cast Ons

Sometimes, of course, a hard cast on edge is unavoidable. Many stoles and rectangular shawls are knit in one piece, starting at one cast on short edge and worked toward the other. Triangular shawls, too, are occasionally worked from the outer (long) edges towards the top center, starting from a very long cast on edge and decreasing steadily towards the endpoint.

A long-tail cast on may be used, but it should be cast on very loosely - around two or three needles, even. However, I tend to think the sturdiness of the edge (no matter how loose) can be jarring in a very delicate piece. One of the following is probably a better bet.

Backwards Loop Cast On

This is the very simplest cast on a knitter can do. It works beautifully in lace, because there are hardly any extra loops or twists - the edge is as delicate as a single thickness of yarn, and will even stretch farther than the fabric. This can be a disadvantage - an edge made in this way should be pinned carefully to avoid flare.

The twisted loop may be placed onto the needle with either a forward or backwards twist.

    It is simply a matter of how the loop lies around the creepy disembodied thumb, and how it's placed on the needle. I tend to think that version A looks better when the next row is a knit row, and version B when the first row is a purl row.

Lace Cast On

This is a peculiar cast on, not overly popular or well-known, but very useful. It forms a loopy, open edge, sturdier than a backwards loop, but far more elastic than the long-tail. Worked loosely, this cast on is suitable for any lace project that requires a real beginning row.

The movements are basically that of a cable cast on, except the new stitches are drawn through the last stitch, rather than between the last two stitches.

    1) Make a slip knot, and place it on the left needle. Pass the right needle through the back of the slip knot, catch the working end of the yarn, and pull it through. Without twisting the loop, place it on the left-hand needle.

    2) Continue in this way, working into the front of each loop (for next row knit) or the back of each loop (for next row purled). The finished edge is appropriately lacey, but sturdy and firm.

Circular Beginnings

Many square and circular shawls, of course, are knit entirely in the round. They start from a tiny center point of less than ten stitches joined in a circle, and rapidly grow (increased throughout for circular shawls, and increased only at corners for square shawls).

There are a couple problems with the usual methods of casting on and joining circular rounds with such small numbers: for one thing, it would be impossible to close the center hole perfectly; for another, it's very very hard to cast on only one or two stitches onto four DPNs and avoid twisting something. The popular methods of starting circular shawls try to address these issues.

The surest sign that the apocolypse is here? After casting on, I heartily reccommend Magic Loop for dealing with those first 4, 6, 8 stitches. Though I hate the feel of Magic Loop, it's infinitely easier to keep those stitches from slipping and twisting when there are only two needles to worry about.

Emily Ocker's Circular Beginning

Very popular, this method produces a very strong, very sturdy center with a distinct "bellybutton." Basically stitches of single crochet worked over double thickness of looped yarn, the foundation stitches are somewhat raised - when blocked, it's hardly noticeable, but I don't especially care for the final effect.

    1) Make a loop of yarn with the working end in front, pass the crochet hook through it from front to back (under the tail), grab the working end of the yarn, and pull it through the loop.

    2) Grab the yarn once more, and pull it through the loop on the hook. This makes one stitch of single crochet, and one stitch casted on.

    3) Leaving the last loop on the hook, repeat until the right number of stitches have been made, always passing the hook through the loop and under the tail.

    4) Transfer the stitches on the crochet hook to DPNs or to a circular, pull the tail of the loop to close it, and join.

Lighter Circular Beginning

While the last beginning's heaviness comes from working the foundation stitches over a double strand of yarn, this circular beginning is much lighter. It's actually an invisible cast on (the first thing this post went over) worked over the looped tail of the working yarn rather than a waste strand.

    1) Form a large loop of the yarn with the working end on top. Keep the loop open with the fingers of the left hand; tension the working end of the yarn with the left index finger or thumb.

    2) Put the knitting needle through the loop, catch the working end, and pull it through (under) the loop. Return the needle to position for one stitch casted on.

    Continue to cast on stitches exactly as you would in an invisible cast on, first grabbing the working end from under the "waste yarn" loop and then over. If you are casting on an even number of stitches, stop one short of the total.

    Pull the loop snug by tugging on the free tail and distribute the stitches. If an even number of stitches is required, YO before joining and knitting the first round.


Did I miss anything?

All posts in this series:

March 14, 2006

Majoring in Lace - Part III

Introduction; Shawl ConstructionYarn Choices; Needle Choices; Gauge: Chart Reading 101 • The Structure of Lace; Role of the YO; Role of the Decrease; Movements in Lace Knitting • Provisional and Invisible Cast Ons; Hard Cast Ons; Circular Beginnings

The Structure of Lace

Simply put, lace combines fields of positive space and negative space to create an image, whether a literal representation, a suggestion of an image, or an abstract pattern. Knitted lace uses the open area of a yarn over as negative space, and solid fabric as the positive.

In dense, firm fabrics, YOs and decreases can create interesting sculptural effects:

Image courtesy of the lovely Yahaira

but most knitted lace is knitted at a very floppy gauge and then blocked perfectly flat and taut. It follows, then, that traditional knitted lace must be made of two-dimensional silhouettes, right? Not so. Carefully placed decreases create a double- or triple-thick area in an airy, transparent ground, adding another tone to the available "palette". Even the simplest geometric patterns take advantage of this effect, using decreases to suggest

the vein of a leaf;

the foam of a breaking wave;

the iris of a bird's eye.

A lace motif may be as open (with as many yarn overs) or as solid (with as much plain stockinette or garter) as the creator likes. There is only one rule, almost always observed, when it comes to the structure of lace: within a single motif, every new stitch (formed by a yarn over) must have a compensating decrease. This ensures that the resulting fabric maintains an even width throughout.

The wonderful pliability and flexibilty of knitted lace means that the rule need not apply to individual rows, but only of the pattern repeat as a whole. There are lace motifs that introduce two, six, eighteen new stitches in one row, and only correct the number of stitches several rows up in the pattern. While this would create a distinct bulge in other knitting, blocking draws the lace fabric flat and square, making an infinite number of unusual effects possible.

The Basics

The yarn over and the decrease are the building blocks of every lace pattern. A yarn over (sometimes called a yarn forward, and abbreviated as yfwd) is formed by bringing the working yarn forward (as if to purl) and taking it over the needle to the back of the work again.

When working in a purl row, continue the YO by bringing the working yarn under the needle and back to the front again.

Every kind of decrease is used. When knitting stockinette-stitch based lace, you might use decreases that slant to the right when viewed from the knit side:

Or decreases that slant to the left when viewed from the knit side:

In these diagrams, it should be clear that "slant" is often a matter of stitch precedence more than the actual slope of a single decrease. It's only when several decreases are chained that the slope becomes clear.

Some lace patterns, usually those patterned on both sides over a garter stitch ground, do not discriminate between decreases and instead use only one type throughout. The decreases (usually k2togs) of the even-numbered rows slant in opposition to the those of the odd-numbered rows and in effect create a neutral decrease over the entire repeat.

Building a lace fabric

For clarity, I'm using three different representations of the same thing: as a chart, as a line drawing, and as a knitted swatch. The line drawing should show you the relationship between the stitches very clearly - try comparing it to the chart and seeing how they match up. All swatches are shown in stockinette lace, patterned on one side only. Symbols used in the charts include:

The very simplest openwork fabric is a lineup of YOs and corresponding decreases, whether arranged horizontally, vertically or diagonally. Take, for example, a simple horizontal eyelet row, alternating k2togs or ssks and YOs:

The number of stitches stays constant - two stitches of the row below become one in a decrease, and a YO creates a new stitch. You will notice that the stitch immediately above a YO is somewhat larger than the other knit stitches around it - while stitches pulled through a lower stitch are gathered together at the bottom by the top loop of the base, stitches pulled through a YO spread as far as they can.

Now look what happens when eyelet rows are stacked, directly on top of one another:

The result is vertical columns of YOs. Looking more closely, you see that the decrease lines are "feathered", or "broken" - the topmost stitches do not form continuous vertical lines.

But, if the rows are offset by one stitch, the decreases line up and form continuous chains, slanted in the direction of the decrease.

Knowing this, geometric designs become possible, running columns of trellises to one side and then another, or using single YOs and complementary decreases to outline a shape.

And intricate, pictorial patterns emerge when YOs and decreases are detached from each other and simply arranged in the right ways.

Mary Thomas, in her absolutely invaluable Mary Thomas's Book of Knitting Patterns, draws a distinction between eyelet motifs, faggot stitch motifs, bias fabric motifs, and lace motifs, depending on the interaction between YO units and decrease units:

    The same units are employed for Eyelets, Faggot, and Bias Fabrics. For Eyelets the two units are used adjacently to make one small Motif, an Eyelet. In Faggot Patterns they are also used adjacently, but in vertical and diagonal arrangement. For Bias Fabrics the two units are still related but divided. In Lace designs they are independent but complementary. This is the difference."

Her point is clearly illustrated here - it is obvious that YO and the decrease are independent units in lace fabric. They need not be next to each other, or even near each other, so long as the total number of YOs and decreases match over the entire pattern repeat. Distinctions between specific types of eyelets (for an excellent graphic explanation, check out pieKnits' post) don't matter in lace since YOs and decreases are only occasionally adjacent (the definition of an eyelet), and nuances of faggoting stitch and bias fabric matter little when n the context of a large, complex pattern.

There are a few other common occurrences in lace knitting - often, along the centerline of a symmetrical motif you might see a double decrease with no slant at all:

And you might see double or triple YOs used to make two or three stitches out of one very open YO stitch.

The yarn is simply wrapped around the needle the required number of times, and a knit and purl (for a double) or a knit, purl, knit (for a triple) are worked into the first loop on the next row, dropping the extra loops.

Just a handful of movements and relationships to get used to - and infinite, incredible ways of applying them.

Next: Provisional and Invisible Cast Ons; Hard Cast Ons; Circular Beginnings

All posts in this series:

March 10, 2006

Majoring in Lace - Part II

Introduction; Shawl Construction • Yarn Choices; Needle Choices; Gauge: Chart Reading 101 • The Structure of Lace; Role of the YO; Role of the Decrease; Movements in Lace KnittingProvisional and Invisible Cast Ons; Hard Cast Ons; Circular Beginnings

Yarn choices

There is some well-deserved mystique around the yarns used for lace. Even the very weight classifications - in other knitting, unromantic terms like "worsted" and "sport" - seem to hint at lurking possibility: Gossamer! Cobweb! "Bulky" sounds just ugly by comparison.

From left to right (penny included for scale):

  • Fingering weight wool (shown yarn is 190 yards per 50 gram ball);
  • Lace weight silk (a catch-all category between fingering and cobweb, with a wide range of weights. Helen's Laces, Lorna's Laces, Knitpicks lace yarns, and Jaggerspun Zephyr all fall in this category. The shown yarn is approximately 500 yards per 50 gram ball);
  • Cobweb weight Merino (shown yarn is approximately 775 yards per 50 grams);
  • Gossamer weight Merino (shown yarn is approximately 1,300 yards per 50 grams).
Lace knitting is wonderfully flexible in terms of yarn weight, since a precise fit is rarely required - the exact same circular shawl pattern could be rendered in fingering wool on large needles for a large wrap, or in gossamer weight yarn and tiny needles for a doily.

Fiber content, though, is a different story. Most lace needs substantial stretching to look its best - yarns with natural elasticity, such as wools and other animal fibers, tend to grow the most gracefully during the blocking process. Inelastic fibers like silk, linen and cotton, on the other hand, must be knitted with care to avoid the slightest gauge inconsistency. Even then, they will not stretch and flatten to the degree that wools will, and the pattern will not bloom as fully. This might be an asset in some applications - the crisp, structural quality of lace knitted with, for example, cotton, might work beautifully in a fitted garment.

Needle choices

For me, the single most important factor when choosing a lace needle is the sharpness and taper of the tip. A lot of manipulation has to be done - single decreases, double decreases, through front loops and back - with yarn much thinner than what that needle is typically used for. A sharp, long tip goes a long way towards the easy catching of, say, three stitches to purl through the back.

Next, consider the surface of the needle. The aforementioned manipulations are difficult to perform on a very slick, very slippery needle without stitches occasionally jumping ship, but a needle reluctant to slide the stitches smoothly as they are worked will drive a knitter crazy.

At right is a blunt, polished metal needle with a very slippery surface (Addi Turbo); in the center, a coated bamboo needle with a tolerably sharp tip but a rather sticky surface (Crystal Palace circular); and at the left a coated aluminum needle with a blessedly sharp, fearfully pointy tip and a not-too-grabby, not-too-slick shaft (Inox Grey circular). No prizes for guessing which one I like best.

Then comes the next question - double points or circulars? Many patterns, even for pieces worked entirely flat, call for circular needles to distribute the bulk of the (usually mind-bogglingly numerous) stitches. For pieces worked in the round, some method of knitting circularly is required, of course - the knitter might choose very long Shetland lace double-points, but most often a circular needle is used. The smoothness of the join between cable and shaft becomes hugely important when working with very fine yarns - the slightest bump or gap will snag delicate yarns. Weeping and hair-rending will ensue - save yourself the trouble and choose a needle with a very smooth join.


Don't let the knitting police know, but...I never check gauge for lace. I consider the gauge notes given with patterns to be almost completely useless - it is impossible to take an accurate count of stitches over a complicated pattern (it would be more useful for patterns to include a gauge for stockinette using the same yarn and needle). Since finished measurements are rarely crucial in a lace project, it is easier to just start knitting and check size as you go to confirm that the finished size will be tolerable.

This doesn't mean, though, that swatching isn't important, particularly when substituting yarns or developing your own pattern.

The overall look, size, and effect of lace can vary dramatically with the slightest difference in needle sizes. Yarn overs in particular, because they lack the stabilizing influence of being drawn through the last row's stitch, can get out of control. The swatches above were done with a standard laceweight, on (clockwise from left top row) US0 (2.00mm), US2 (2.75mm), US4 (3.5mm) and US6 (4.0mm) needles. The swatches are all the same, a very simple faggoted trellis (alternated YOs and decreases on every right-side row) broken by a two-stitch column of stockinette in the center.

The needle size I most often see called for with laceweight yarn (in itself a problem because laceweights vary so widely) is a US6. I don't find the resulting fabric appealing at all - the whole stitches are sloppy and loose, and the YOs are enormous. In a motif patterned every row, the size of the YOs would be even more exaggerated. While this could be taken advantage of for very airy, very open patterns, pictorial lace loses all impact when the "solid" portions are almost as open as the YO areas.

I still find the same true for the swatch knitted on US4s, and US0 is too dense for most tastes, but the US2 strikes me as finding the right balance between crisp and lacy.

This is a really personal thing - as a rule, I like lace knit on smaller needles, but the vast majority of people prefer something airier. Then, too, different motifs look better at different gauges - some patterns really need crisp, clear definition to make the image pop, but more abstract motifs often look better at a more open gauge. The only way to know is to experiment. Swatching for lace is easy - use an invisible caston, knit a couple rows in garter stitch, work a repeat or two of the motif with a two or three stitch frame of garter stitch on either side, and finish with one or two more rows of garter stitch. Leave the stitches on a holder or on a piece of string (cast-on and bound-off edges should be avoided to allow for maximum stretch), wash the swatch, and pin it out to get a clear idea of the finished effect. Go up or down in needle size until you find something that looks good, in that particular yarn, in that particular pattern.

Chart reading 101

Charts are simply a handy form of shorthand for knitted directions. Complex, expansive motifs - ones that would take pages to write out line-by-line - can be presented succinctly in a clear, universal format that can be read by anyone in any language. The absolute best thing about knitting from charts?

The knitter can see exactly what the pattern will look like before ever reaching for the needles.

Everything you need to know about reading and following charts can be summed up in two basic rules:

1) Charts are read in the direction of the knitting
2) Charts are presented from the right side

Take the chart for the simple swatch in the last section:

The backwards slash represents a ssk (left-leaning) decrease, while the open circles represent YOs. The white spaces are stitches that are knit on the right side. Each grid square represents one stitch.

Assuming that this piece would be worked flat, the chart would be read in the direction of the knitting. Flat knitting grows from the bottom up, and the first row moves from right to left (stitches start on the left needle and are transferred, one by one, to the right needle). So, starting at the bottom right corner, you would read across the chart to the left. After turning the work, you are working from the left edge of the piece to the right edge - so read in that direction.

Now, the second rule is that charts are always presented from the front, or "right", side of the work. You've turned the piece, and are working on the wrong side - so you must do the reverse of what the chart says for each stitch. A blank white square is a knit stitch on the right side - so it must be a purl stitch on the wrong side. Each wrong side, or even, row is a line of plain purl stitches. So you know two things about this motif now: it's patterned on one side only, and since it alternates knit and purl rows, it's stockinette-based lace.

Reading a chart is much more intuitive than what I just described - the symbol key will usually do the reversing for you, noting that certain symbols mean "k2tog on right side; p2togtbl on wrong side" or "k on right side; p on wrong side". Reversing each stitch on the wrong side is done to maintain the slope of the decreases, since the double-thick area of a continuous decrease line becomes a design element in many patterns. For the record, on a stockinette ground:

--k2tog on the right side corresponds to a p2tog on the wrong side;
--ssk or skpo on the right side corresponds to a p2togtbl on the wrong side.

There are only a few other things to know about chart reading:

1) For lace patterned every other row, most charts will omit the plain rows and simply make a note to "work all wrong side rows plain purl" or "work all wrong side rows plain knit". The resulting chart looks something like this:

2) Some charts for lace patterned every row do not require reversing the slant of the decreases on the right side row. This happens in garter-ground lace, where sloped decreases are not used for shaping, but rather, a plain k2tog is used for every decrease. The k2togs in any given row slope in opposition to the decreases in the rows directly above and below, canceling any slope and in effect creating a neutral decrease.

3) Any decent chart will line up the rows properly, and provide a literal representation of how the pattern is constructed. Start trying to really read your chart, rather than just make the movements dictated square by square. Notice things like a decrease, for example, takes up two of the stitches from the row below and turns them into one - the second stitch in the decrease should be the one directly below it on the chart. Knowing this, you can keep yourself on track by looking and seeing that the second stitch incorporated into the first decrease of row 5 should be the stitch directly above the first YO of row 3, that the 6th stitch of row 3 should be directly above the third decrease of row 1, etc.

Next: The Structure of Lace; Role of the YO; Role of the Decrease; Movements in Lace Knitting

All posts in this series:

March 09, 2006

Majoring in Lace: Introduction

Introduction; Shawl Construction • Yarn Choices; Needle Choices; Gauge: Chart Reading 101The Structure of Lace; Role of the YO; Role of the Decrease; Movements in Lace KnittingProvisional and Invisible Cast Ons; Hard Cast Ons; Circular Beginnings

. . . we have had the satisfaction of estimating her Lace & her Muslin; & she said too little to afford us much other amusement.

--Jane Austin to her sister, 1801

There is nothing mysterious about the movements and gestures of knitting lace. Anyone able to form a yarn over, make decreases, and read a chart is able to produce the sort of beautifully patterned cloud that shivers under a breath and sets the eyes dizzy. Anyone. There is no elusive, secret talent to it - just time and experience and acclimation.

The magic is in the long-ago motif creator's instinct for combining negative and positive space to express an idea of flowers, rocks, foaming waves; in the act of blocking and dressing, like nothing so much as watching a flower bloom; in the contradictory nature of lace itself - airy but warm; time-consuming but fragile; worn for modesty but in itself ostentatiously showy. What could be better than a project so generous with its rewards?

I should emphasize here that I am by no means an expert. I am only trying to put visuals of common techniques in one place, supplemented by my tips derived from my own experience and background information from my own reading and research. If you see an error or if I've omitted something important, by all means let me know - maybe this could, through collaboration, become an authoritative compendium on lace knitting.

Brief historical notes

There are several great traditions of lace knitting, (arguably) the most well-known of which come from northernmost Shetland (Unst) and Orenburg in Russia, with beautiful lace coming out of Estonia and Iceland as well. They all borrow motifs and techniques from each other, but the strongest and most suprising thread is the knitters themselves and their motives - knitting lace is a relatively new occupation, scarcely two hundred years old, developed in rural and poor areas as a commercial enterprise. The oldest, most famous motifs and patterns, astonishing in their delicacy and beauty, are the invention of rough fishermen's and farmers' wives - how strange, to work endless hours for the adornment of their wealthier, idler counterparts! The patterns are elegant in their economy and cleverness and expression, the products of truly artistic eyes and minds.

Kinds of Lace

Most lace may be described succinctly with two attributes:

1) the ground on which it is worked, whether

  • garter stitch (knitted every row) -

  • or stockinette stitch (knit and purl rows alternated) -

  • 2) the freqency of patterned rows (rows that contain decreases and YOs), whether

  • every row -

  • or every right side row (with plain purl or knit rows in between)

  • Garter stitch lace looks the same from both sides (as long as the decreases are not paired, but that's for another day), while stockinette lace has a definite right (knit) and wrong (purl) side. Lace patterned every row is significantly more open than lace patterned every other row - both motifs shown use YO/dec/YO/dec mesh-type openwork patterns, but because lace patterned every row actually incorporates the last row's YO into the next row's decrease, the effect is much airier.

    **Many people call lace by different names based on how often patterning occurs - "lace knitting" for every other row, "knitted lace" for every row - but I don't care to do so. I can't find any historical basis for it beyond an offhand reference by Margeret Stove, and as many complete pieces (shawls, scarves, robes) combine the two, there doesn't seem to be much point other than to declare that one is more authentic or difficult than the other. For the record, "knitted lace" isn't any harder to do than "lace knitting"; it's just a tiny bit more awkward at first to catch a YO loop in a decrease.

    Shawl Construction

    Most lace projects are wraps - that is, shawls, stoles and scarves. A simple, flat shape shows the play between motifs and patterns to the best advantage, while the wearing takes advantage of the wonderful draping qualities of well-blocked lace. Most stoles and scarves are long rectangles, of course, while shawls are usually square

    or circular

    (photo courtesy of the very talented Melissa)

    or triangular.

    Most shawls are composed of a main section, surrounded by a border with a different pattern and finally finished with a narrow edging all around. There are variations on this, of course - you might have several different border sections or none; a beautiful stole may be made with no edging at all, but a frame of garter stitch simply worked along with a large block of the central pattern.

    For shawls with centers, borders and edgings, construction becomes an interesting issue. Because lace needs substantial stretching to look its best, inflexible cast-on and bound-off edges are avoided as much as possible, as are any kind of backstitched or mattress-stitched seams. As a result, the knitting might move in several directions within one piece.

    The traditional Shetland square shawl is worked in flat pieces and then grafted together, matching the knitting tension carefully. The process is represented here:

    First, one edging side (represented in red) is worked from short side to short side, starting with an invisible caston and ending by holding the stitches. One border section (represented in blue) is then picked up along the flat side of the edging and worked from long side to long side. Finally, a center square is worked from the inside edge of the border. Three other edging/border pieces are worked in the same way, and everything is grafted together.

    There are several variations on this (some shawls are worked corner-to-corner; some knit the whole edging and pick up sections from it; etc), but the most popular modern interpretation does away with pieces and grafting. Rather, the entire shawl is knit in one piece, with one continuous thread:

    First, the center square (in red) is knitted flat from an invisible cast-on. Without breaking the thread, stitches for the border (in blue) are picked up around the entire perimeter of the center square, joined, and knitted in the round, working a mitered corner at each angle. Finally, starting at a corner, one short side of the edging is cast on invisibly, and the edging is worked flat, joining the live stitches of the shawl, one by one, with the edging rows. The last edging row is grafted to the first for a completely seamless shawl without a single cast-on or cast-off edge.

    Circular shawls are knit entirely in the round:

    Beginning at the center point with a circular cast-on, the center section (in red) is worked in the round, increasing throughout to maintain a circle, then any borders (in blue), and finally an edging is attached in the same way as for a square shawl. There are square shawls, too, worked in this way from a center starting point. Increases are made at the corners to form a sharp miter and maintain the square shape.

    Though triangular shawls are worked flat, it's worth noting that they're actually half a circularly-knit square shawl:

    That is, they generally start from a tiny center point (the red star) and, working back and forth with increases done at each edge and on either side of the center line (mimicking the mitered increases at each corner of a circularly-knit square shawl), they grow until the border is finished. Then, an edging is attached as for a square or circular shawl.

    Next: Yarn Choices; Needle Choices; Gauge: Chart Reading 101

    All posts in this series:

    February 06, 2006

    The Difference

    I'd noticed in comments and emails that there's some confusion over the difference between Norwegian-style and Fair Isle-style steeks. The Steek Series (now edited and re-organized for your coherent reading pleasure!) focused on Fair Isle steeks exclusively, though the principles of decreasing and placement are useful when working with Norwegian steeks, too.

    I kept meaning to do a little piece on the difference, but kept putting it off - last night, I noticed that the steek series was getting fairly frequently referenced and linked-to (which rocks! Woot!), but occasionally in the wrong context. I'd really hate for anyone to try to follow it and have their project fail, so, without further ado - Scottish v Norwegian Steeks

    While Fair Isle steeks use extra stitches cast on mid-row to form a bridge of waste stitches at armhole and neck, Norwegian-style sweaters knit in the round are formed as one continuous tube from ribbing to shoulder. The traditional drop-shoulder shape means no decreases are done at along the armscyes, and no stitches are held at the armpit. When the body is completed and the shoulder stitches bound off or held, it looks something like the diagram on the top left:

    If the tube is flattened to put the side "seams" at the center, it would look like the diagram at top right. The center stitch is marked as the location of the armhole (thick dotted line).

    A machine, set for a small stitch, is used to sew all around three sides of the center stitch (thin dotted line), taking care to completely surround the cutting line (bottom left). Finally, as at bottom right, the armhole is carefully cut open, keeping clear of the machine stitching on all sides.

    The sleeves of a Norwegian sweater aren't picked up and worked from the body; rather, they're knitted seperately with a little extra length at the top and sewn in, with the extra length forming a facing to cover the machine stitching on the inside.

    The main difference between Norwegian and Scottish steeks lies in that the body off the sweater itself is cut for Norwegian sweaters, while a flap of waste stitches seperates the cut edge and the body of the Fair Isle jumper. While Fair Isle steeks done in traditional Shetland wool need no reinforcement (the minimal fray doesn't matter, since the fray is well away from the knitting that matters), Norwegian steeks absolutely need machine sewing to create a sturdy edge.

    It seems like an inelegant, sort of awkward system to me. I've voiced before my opinion on sewing machines and handknits - that is, they don't mix, period. To my mind, the wonderfully fluid, cushiony, drapey quality of handknit colored knitting is spoiled when the edges are squashed and stiffened by the one, two three lines of polyester-threaded machine sewing people put in to guard against fray. There's no reason why someone knitting Norwegian-patterned sweater couldn't put in some extra stitches at the armpit and use a hand-sewn or crocheted steek instead.

    (I haven't discussed neck steeks in Norwegian sweaters because, frankly, I don't know how they were done traditionally. If the armholes are going to be steeked to allow circular knitting, of course you'd steek the necks to. But then, why do all the Norwegian sweater directions I've seen direct one to cast off center neck stitches and work flat, reattaching the yarn at the beginning of the knit row to maintain pattern continuity? In fact, I have my suspicions that the steek in drop-shouldered Norwegian knitting is a recent innovation borrowed/adapted from truly circular Fair Isle knitting, mostly because of its reliance on the sewing machine - anyone care to educate me? I love learning about this stuff).

    Anyway. Look what I got!

    Ironically, this picture sucks because the Ott Light is still in the box and not yet brightening my room with its "clear, accurate, comfortable" light, the one that'll let me see "with amazing clarity". It might have to perch on top of my printer because my desk is tiny and I don't see me suddenly becoming an organizational wonder anytime soon, but I'm glad to have it.

    So-Called Argyle Socks

    Thanks for all the nice comments! The pattern is a lot of fun to knit, though it grows pretty slowly.

    Laura said:

    The yarn is great -- do they make Baby Ull in that gorgeous red?

    Which totally cracked me up - boy, do you guys have my number. Yes, I love Baby Ull (and it actually does come in a bunch of vivid, grown-up colors and not just insipid pastels), but I wanted something tightly spun, with a little more stitch definition for these. Which brings me to what Jess said:

    What yarn are you using? It's got great stitch definition

    It's Meilenweit Cotton, a cotton blend sock yarn from Lana Grossa. I bought it ages ago for the Austrian Knee Socks, but cannibalized them for this project. I might get back to those someday; we'll see.

    For everyone who asked whether this is from a chart or my own - I did chart this out for myself, though I'm sure the idea's not very new. I started with plain purl blocks and moss stitch blocks, but the rhythm of the cable crosses meant that some blocks are odd-numbered and others even, which is very noticable in moss stitch. I like the twisted lines even better - and, to answer the topic Purly brought up, they pretty much act like 1x1 rib, drawing the sock in. I'm hoping this means a supportive, hugging fit, with no droop.

    Yes, there will be a pattern. Yes, it will be free. It might wait until after the Olympics, but I'd be delighted to share this with you guys.

    Speaking of patterns, the larger sizes for the Deep V Vest are on the way - very, very soon, I promise. I'm just double-checking the math now, and should have them up tomorrow night - thank you so much for your patience.

    January 20, 2006

    The Steeking Chronicles: Putting it all together

    Introduction; Setting Up Steeks; Handling Color ChangesPlanning and Placing Steeks; Handling Decreases in Fair Isle KnittingThe Traditional, Unreinforced SteekThe Hand-Sewn SteekThe Crocheted Steek • Putting It All Together; Working Sleeves; Blocking; Finishing • A Word On Norwegian Steeks

    So, maybe you know all the reasons why you might use a steek. You know when to use one, how to use one, all the different methods you might use to keep it from turning your whole sweater into a pile of limp, crinkly threads. You definitely know how to scissor into knit fabric - in fact, the image is burned indelibly on your brain :)

    But what comes next?

    On the needles, the body of a sweater (this is a scale model, of course; it's about 80 stitches in circumference and 70 rows tall) will look funny and misshapen, drawn in at the top by the neck steeks at back and front. Get ready to cut your steeks by putting the shoulder stitches on four seperate holders and anchoring all your steek stitches in some way.

    Steeks capitalize on the reluctance of a knit stitch to run sideways, but even Shetland wool will ladder merrily from top to bottom. For this reason, steek stitches must always be bound off or held before cutting. Since the neck steeks will be folded away from each other and under the the fabric of their respective shoulders, they can be bound off.

    Shoulder steeks, too, can be bound off, or can be held (seperately from the shoulder stitches!) and grafted or bound off together to form a continuous facing all the way around the shoulder.

    You'll notice that for both neck and shoulder steeks, the border or edge stitch (the stitch worked with background yarn on either side of the bridge stitches) is held together with its shoulder stitches. For all intents and purposes, those stitches, which will be used to pick up and work bands and sleeves, are now part of the garment body, rather than part of the waste stitches.

    Apply the reinforcement of your choice, and open the garment up.

    Close the live shoulder stitches however you like - I use a three needle bindoff, but grafting works well, too. Close the front and back sides of the armhole steeks along with the shoulder "seam".

    The edge stitch, which we've made such a big to-do over, finally comes into play here. Worked all in the background color, it creates a distinct line along which button bands, neck bands and sleeves can be picked up and knit.

    Work all bands and sleeves, incorporating the held stitches at armpit and center necks. Now, before final finishing, is the time to wash and block the garment for the first time - soak it in cool water with mild soap, rinse carefully with water of the same temperature, and roll it in a towel to get as much water out as possible. Pin it out carefully, and let it dry completely.

    I wetblock everything, and find that I am very pleased with the way Shetland wool blooms and softens with a gentle washing. The women of Fair Isle generally dressed their finished garments with a washing, too, and a ride on the wooly board for a completely smooth, flat fabric - today's knitters, of the gauge angst and macro fright, tend to forget that the first Fair Isle colorwork was necessarily done very quickly and without excessive attention to the appearance of the fabric before dressing. I've read that knitting with four long pins held at in a knitting belt created a rather corrugated piece, particularly where the jumper started bunching up on a too-full needle - they knew that a serious blocking on the rack would fix almost any perceived inconsistency.

    Some people steam with a hot iron passed over (not touching) the fabric; I find that the yarn doesn't bloom as fully and the garment doesn't drape as well as with a real washing. Steam does come in handy, though, for ribbing that may have been stretched out by a proper blocking - after the garment dries, thoroughly steam the stretched ribbing and pull it vertically to encourage it back into shape.

    Finishing the steeks is the absolute last step of the traditional Fair Isle jumper - the washing and blocking will have slightly felted and strengthened the waste stitches. Turning the garment to the inside will show that the cut stitches naturally fold back and lay flat, but badly need neatening. There are a few options here:

    1) Do nothing. Trim the steeks as close as you dare to the reinforcement (or to the fold line for an unreinforced steek) - one or two or three stitches is about right. Call the garment done then; continued washing and wear will, over time, marry the steek and body together.

    2) Tack the trimmed edge down. Use a simple whipstitch:

    Or a crossed stitch:

    Or a blanket stitch:

    in a single strand of the knitting wool.

    And there you have it - a whole garment, made quickly, and without a single seam. Maybe we don't count on finishing a jumper a week to pay the grocer; but aren't we lucky that the women who did, working by daylight and fireside with no pause for cramped fingers or strained eyesight, did it with such attention to craft and workmanship, and with such endless ingenuity?

    Next: A Word On Norwegian Steeks

    All posts in this series:

    January 14, 2006

    The Steeking Chronicles: The Crocheted Steek

    Introduction; Setting Up Steeks; Handling Color ChangesPlanning and Placing Steeks; Handling Decreases in Fair Isle KnittingThe Traditional, Unreinforced SteekThe Hand-Sewn Steek • The Crocheted Steek • Putting It All Together; Working Sleeves; Blocking; FinishingA Word On Norwegian Steeks

    Oil and water. Seafood and cheese. Poprocks and Coke. Crochet and I - yeah, we shouldn't really be mixed, except with full knowledge of the high probability of disaster. Isn't it peculiar, then, that the crocheted steek (described further in Meg Swansen's Sweaters From Camp) is my favorite one?

    (That's the swatch o' the day, and the most successful one so far, I think. If I just reverse the gradient of the background to make it run from light to dark to light again, and fuss with the edge treatments a little to make the border bleed into the white background, I think we might have a winner. That's the last you'll be seeing of it today, incidentally - wave! It was, indeed, worked with crochet finishing, but it proved impossible to get a picture that showed the stitches under all that hairy fuzziness. Little swatch, we hardly knew ye.)

    For the sake of all our eyeballs and my (rapidly diminishing and therefore increasingly precious) sanity, I'm going to show you the crocheted steek in a smooth, DK-weight Merino that shows stitches clearly. The crochet method, in fact, is eminently suitable for smooth animal fibers like this one - as with the hand-sewn steek, the real work is done by the natural cling of the yarn, but extra security is provided by the applied binding. Again, this isn't particularly appropriate for superwash wools, plant yarns, or synthetics, or for anything at a large gauge. Without tightly woven floats or a firm base fabric, the tightest crochet won't guarantee hold.

    This is one of those very intuitive processes that take a thousand words to describe properly. In an attempt to keep this post pithy, I'm going to rely on poorly-drawn graphics and color-coding to clarify where my words fall short (everything's a tradeoff these days, you know. Take it up with management).

    A crochet steek is worked over the center three stitches of the bridge - meaning that, for the first time, we'll be using an odd number of steek stitches, and the cutting will be done up the centerline of a whole stitch, rather than between two stitches. The basic idea here is to bind the right half of the first of three stitches together with the left half of the center stitch, and the right half of the center stitch to the left half of the third stitch, all before cutting up the middle of the center stitch.

    Oh, dear. See what I mean about the wordiness thing? This graphic explains it a lot better.


    The blue stitch in the center of both drawings represents the center stitch of your steek, and the black line up its middle the line along which you'll cut. The pink represents the stitches on either side. Every knit stitch forms a distinct "V" shape, with a right side and a left side - the second drawing shows, in red, the pairs that need to be joined with a single crochet chain - the first pair is made up of the adjoining parts of the leftmost and center stitch, and the second pair is made up of the adjoining parts of the center and rightmost stitch.

    I've heard about people working a steek of the three stitches needed - and only those three stitches, plus one border stitch on either side for picking up. Since I'm not as brave as that (I hate the idea of putting that stress directly on the cut edge), I've allowed a generous bridge of seven stitches, plus the two border stitches (meaning the whole thing takes up the first five and last four stitches of the round). You can see them here, with the center stitch marked in blue, the two adjoining stitches marked with big pink arrows, and the border stitches marked with smaller pink arrows. I've worked the steek in stripes again, to guide me in crocheting.

    As long as we're here, it would be worthwile to address the issue of changing colors in an odd-numbered steek. While an even-numbered steek allows for a convenient switch smack in the middle, right along the cutting line, that's clearly not possible when the centerline falls in the middle of a stitch. I've worked the sample with only two colors for simplicity, but it's important to understand that colors need to be changed in this steek in a way that keeps ends and knots away from the center three stitches. This is most easily accomplished with a spit-spliced or felted join, or by introducing new colors at the beginning of the steek, weaving them until the beginning of the round, and then weaving the old color behind the work for a few stitches. The hanging tails will, of course, need to be darned in or otherwise dealt with later - better to just spit on them, already.

    One more variation would be to work an even numbered steek, change colors as usual in the center, and work the crochet reinforcements at least one stitch away on either side of the centerline (that is, the new or last stitch with any color should NOT be incorporated into the crochet). This works fine, too, but the resulting edge will need to be trimmed carefully after cutting.

    Phew! Okay, down to the actual method. This is written so a knitter with no crochet experience can follow it - huzzah for exhaustive detail! You'll want a crochet hook smaller in diameter than the knitting needles you were using, and a working yarn of matching or finer weight wool to create a tight, hard-wearing edge that felts together over time. Use the smallest hook you can without actually distorting the gauge of the knit stitches - I'm using a 3mm hook for work done on 3.5mm needles.

    Turn your work so what would be the left side of the steek is closest to you. You'll be working this side first - the center stitch is marked again with blue, and the adjoining stitch marked with pink.

    Starting at the far right side (the bottom of your steek), pick up the far side of the adjoining stitch and the near near of the center stitch with your crochet hook. If things were right side up, you'd be picking up the right half of the first stitch and the left half of the center stitch, just as in the diagram. Be careful to pick up only those two loops and not the floats behind the work.

    Lay your crochet yarn over the hook so the working (skein) side runs to the left and the short tail to the right. Catch it with the hook, and pull it through the two loops on the needle.

    Catch the working yarn with the hook once more...

    And pull it through the loop on your needle. That's one stitch of single crochet.

    Keep going by picking up the pair of stitch halves directly to the left (the next row, were things oriented - which stitch is which is noted, again, with blue for center and pink for adjoining):

    Pull a new loop of yarn through the picked-up stitches, but not the loop of working yarn. You should have two loops of working yarn on the hook.

    Catch the yarn with the hook one more time:

    And pull it through both loops of working yarn on the needle to end with one loop.

    Continue this way until you reach the last stitch pair on the left (the top row of the steek). Work those stitches as described, cut the yarn, and pull it through the last stitch on the needle to end.

    Turn the work 180 degrees, so the right side of the steek is nearest you. Starting from the far right side again (the top of the steek), work just as you did before until you reach the far left, or bottom. Cut the yarn and pull it through.

    The finished crochet should look something like this - the visible loops should slant neatly away from the center, rather like a book laid open. It's important to note that the tension should be firm, but should not pucker the knitting - go up or down in hook size or adjust the yarn weight if the crochet looks too loose or is gathering the steek in.

    If you gently pull the two lines of crochet apart, you'll see a ladder of the base knitting. These are the purl bumps of the center stitch - what you'll be cutting in a couple seconds.

    More cutting trauma for everyone:

    Don't be like me - buy some small, sharp scissors for this endeavor. It's very, very easy to snip the crochet by accident - for this reason, it's smart to 1) do the crochet in a highly contrasting color (it'll be folded under and hidden, anyway); and 2) cut very carefully, one ladder and the accompanying float at a time.

    Believe it or not, this is a straight-on photo of the cut edge. Hopefully, you can see the neat, tidy criscross of threads that holds the thing together.

    This is why I love this method - the edge is so clean it needs practically no finishing, but it still matches the knitted fabric itself in flexibility and stretch. It works beautifully on smooth yarns, without the sloppiness of hand-sewing; sure, it's a bit fiddly, but it's worth it. I plan to use it on all the openings of the argyle vest - you should be seeing it in action in the next week or so.

    Next: Putting It All Together; Working Sleeves; Blocking; Finishing

    All posts in this series:

    January 13, 2006

    The Steeking Chronicles: The Hand-Sewn Steek

    Introduction; Setting Up Steeks; Handling Color ChangesPlanning and Placing Steeks; Handling Decreases in Fair Isle KnittingThe Traditional, Unreinforced Steek • The Hand-Sewn Steek • The Crocheted SteekPutting It All Together; Working Sleeves; Blocking; FinishingA Word On Norwegian Steeks

    After the horror of the naked, unstabilized steek, every other kind should appear to be slightly less insane. Today, I'll show you my method for a steek stabilized on either side of the cut with hand-stitching.


    While the unreinforced steek is really suitable only for Shetland wool or other very hairy, very "sticky" yarns, hand-sewing works to stabilize smoother animal yarns - think Merino or other wools that feel soft against the skin, but would still be candidates for felting. The hand-sewing provides some hold, but isn't a complete guarantee: the real work is still done by tight gauge, closely woven floats, and the natural tendency of animal hairs to cling together. Superwash wools and plant yarns aren't great prospects for hand-sewing - the possibility of a slippery yarn popping out of its thread binding is too real for my tastes.

    For this steek, I've used eight bridge stitches and two edge stitches, and worked the color changes with vertical lines rather than checks. The two methods are interchangeable, though some people prefer lines for the guidance they give when sewing and cutting. The edge stitches, worked in the background color (shades of gray) are marked again with pink arrows, and the end-of-round jog (between the fourth and fifth bridge stitches) is marked with a blue arrow. Once again, that end-of-round point will be our cutting line.


    I sew as close to the cutting line as possible - that is, exactly half a stitch away on either side, or down the centerlines of the fourth and fifth stitches. If cutting into the sewing by accident is a concern, there's no reason why sewing can't take place a whole stitch or stitch and a half away from the cutting line, but the longer unraveled ends will have to be trimmed as part of garment finishing. The stitching lines are shown here in green, on either side of the blue cutting line.


    Plain polyester sewing thread works fine, as would cotton or linen thread. Thread a sharp needle, and run the thread all the way down and back up the steek, catching as many floats as you can. The goal is to split the plies of the yarn (hence the sharp needle used) to create a secure hold.


    Backstitch along the running stitch foundation you've laid, taking very narrow stitches that split the yarn itself. The finished stitching should be strong and firm - making tiny stitches allows you to create a firm seam without pulling or puckering or otherwise distorting the gauge of the steek itself. The smaller your stitches are, the tighter they'll hold the floats once cut.



    Repeat along the other sewing line. Begin and end each line of sewing by taking two or three stitches very close together to secure the thread.



    On the wrong side, the stitching is more obvious, since it isn't buried in the valley of a knit stitch - some people prefer to cut from this side, to ensure that the stitching isn't inadvertently cut.


    I know you love these pictures!


    Seriously, cut very slowly, snipping just a float at a time. Slipping and cutting into the backstitching will spoil the whole thing, and you'll curse the Shetland archipelago and Scotland and knitting and every other damn thing you can think of. Patience, patience.

    The cut steek, ready to be turned under and tacked down. Done correctly on the proper wool, this method should give you a secure, stable edge without stiffness.


    (for those who are interested in such things, the swatch here uses the same pattern as yesterday's, but the background and pattern colors have been reversed. Neither is really a success - but that's what swatching's for, right?)

    Next: The Crocheted Steek

    All posts in this series:

    January 12, 2006

    The Steeking Chronicles: The Unreinforced Steek

    Introduction; Setting Up Steeks; Handling Color ChangesPlanning and Placing Steeks; Handling Decreases in Fair Isle Knitting • The Traditional, Unreinforced Steek • The Hand-Sewn SteekThe Crocheted SteekPutting It All Together; Working Sleeves; Blocking; FinishingA Word On Norwegian Steeks

    Today, I'll show you the scariest steek - the one with nothing to stabilize it. No sewing, no crochet, nothing to keep the whole sweater from unraveling but some peculiar properties of Shetland wool. This method won't work for any superwash, manmade, plant fiber, or otherwise smooth yarn, or yarn much thicker than DK weight - hairy, prickly wool fibers and tight gauge are what promote the slight felting that holds the cut steek together.

    For a no-sew steek, the bridge can be formed by any even number of stitches, depending on habit and comfort. I have read of production knitters in Shetland working with as little as two steek stitches, for speed and reduction of waste, but I like to use between six (shown below) and ten stitches, depending on the stress the stitches will receive after being cut - more along a high-stress area like a button band or armhole; fewer along a less-manipulated area.

    The steek proper is flanked by two edge or border stitches (marked with pink arrows here), usually worked in the background color, which become the stitches for picking up and working sleeves, neckbands and button bands.

    There are several ways of working the steek itself. For an unsewn steek, the arrangement of stitches isn't particularly important - the main requirement is frequent color changes (usually every stitch) to create a tightly woven fabric. A steek with long floats of color will not hold together well, while a steek made of yarns that alternate every stitch has a firmness that promotes cling. I follow Alice Starmore's advice and alternate colors every row, creating a checked or seeded effect, while others stack colors, creating vertical columns that can be easily followed for stitching and cutting.

    The end-of-round is marked with a blue arrow in the picture above, clearly showing the jog where each row ends and the next begins. The end of round, whenever possible, should take place in the center of a steek, as the jog is hidden and color-change ends become a non-issue once cut. When casting on, the steek stitches should comprise the first and last few stitches of the round.

    I simply knot new strands at each color change, though a felted join or no join at all works just as well. If the change takes place outside a steek, I'd later unknot the ends, pull up the tensions, and weave them in. I'll just leave these as is, and trim the knots away with any other hanging ends once the bridge has been cut.

    Remember to bind off your steek, or put it on a holder if you prefer to graft or bind off the two sides together. Now, there's nothing left to do but cut.

    Elizabeth Zimmerman gave some famous advice about retreating to a dark room with a stiff drink after making the cut. I don't know if it's necessary to go quite that far - though it certainly couldn't hurt. Just cut slowly, snipping a few threads at a time, with a pair of very sharp scissors. Since we have an even number of stitches, we're cutting between the third and fourth stitches of this six-stitch bridge.

    Here's the edge formed. As you can see, hardly anything has unraveled at all.

    It stands up fine to washing and blocking, too. Further handling will only strengthen the edge - those suckers aren't going anywhere.

    Next: The Hand-Sewn Steek

    All posts in this series:

    After the whole debacle of the baby sweater, I needed something to cheer me up - I started last night on an argyle vest for me in the Korean Merino. If you can make out the "lazybones" scribbled at the top, it's because my construction for this takes the easy way out - no intarsia, knit entirely in the round in stranded Fair Isle (shoulder shaping, too! Walk, do not run, to read this), with the pattern plotted with double lines to ensure that there are no floats longer than 5 stitches.

    I'm hoping the final product will be a good union of a very traditional pattern, modern (that is, easy-way-out) construction, and up-to-date shaping, all in an old-school garment (I mean, who wears a vest anymore?). It's going to be a long-line kind of thing, with wide ribbing and a rather deep (below the bust) v-neck. I picture wearing it with a pink oxford, white wide-leg pants, brown slingbacks, and my hands in my pockets - we'll see.

    January 11, 2006

    The Steeking Chronicles: Planning and Setting Steeks, and Handling Decreases

    Introduction; Setting Up Steeks; Handling Color Changes • Planning and Placing Steeks; Handling Decreases in Fair Isle Knitting • The Traditional, Unreinforced SteekThe Hand-Sewn SteekThe Crocheted SteekPutting It All Together; Working Sleeves; Blocking; FinishingA Word On Norwegian Steeks

    While I've been overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response to this series, I have also received two or three emails that basically told me this stuff is boring, or inaccessible for the "average" knitter (whatever that may be). I certainly don't want to alienate anyone, but I think the technical whys and hows of traditional Scottish Fair Isle knitting (the unending work of baby-hampered women, beautiful yarns twitching with marvelous speed through calloused fingers to make fine things for the wealthy - how strange it must have been for them, the growing jumper a vibrant spot against the drab of the patched skirt!) - is an enormously interesting subject. Even if garter stitch scarves are more your bag, the science and craft and ingenuity that went into those garments are compelling things - I think the trendy knitters, the luxury knitters, the old-school knitters, the avant-garde knitters all owe respect, at least, to the ones who didn't do it for fun.

    Not to suggest that some latent schoolmarm tendency prompted these posts - just trying to explain why I think it's so fascinating.

    Planning and placing a steek

    I talked a little bit yesterday about the importance of beginning and ending your rounds within a steek. The reason is simple - the less visible the join, the less obtrusive it is. Circular knitting is, in effect, knitting in a giant spiral that grows by one whole stitch every round. Though there are lots of methods for a "jogless join" floating about, I've found that there is no absolutely flawless way to create a seamless meeting of pattern - the end of the row will always appear to be one row higher than the beginning. Hiding the join within a steek (whenever possible) eliminates that annoying jog, and does away with color change ends, to boot.

    If you are knitting a cardigan, the first steek will, of course, extend all the way up and down the front of the sweater. The steek should be cast on with the body of the sweater, as the first few stitches cast on and the last few stitches cast on. Work the steek as usual, right through the ribbing, right into the body of the sweater.

    Keep your end-of-round in the same place for the whole sweater - once cut and trimmed and folded under, the body of the garment will have perfect pattern symmetry from bottom to top and hundreds of ends will have been done away with.

    A pullover doesn't offer the same advantage, of course. Work your end-of-round at one side or the other, where the seam on a flat-knitted garment would run. Knit until you reach the point at which you wish to start the armhole on that side, and put the armpit stitches on a holder.

    It's worth noting here that traditional FI garments, with their dropped sleeves and square shaping, place just one armpit stitch on a holder to be picked up with the sleeve stitches later. Picking up and circularly knitting a sleeve down from a shaped armhole is tricky and requires lots of short row math to handle the sleeve cap - nevertheless, if shaped armscyes are on the menu, the armscye stitches bound off in flat knitting would be put on the holder now. Both sides of that armhole - that is, the front side and back side - should have their armpit stitches held now: you would knit to, say, the sixth or seventh-to-last stitch of the round, hold those plus the first six or seven stitches of the next round, and then proceed.

    With the armpit stitch(es) on a holder, cast on one border stitch, the bridge stitches, and the last border stitch.

    The end-of-round will now fall in the center of the steek - you can now continue knitting the body of the sweater, set the steek on the opposite armhole, and go on your merry way.

    When it comes to casting on steek stitches, I use the plain old long-tail caston, treating one color as the tail and one as the working yarn. Backwards loop and cable caston all work fine, as long as both strands make it all the way across the steek (whether held double-stranded or worked in alternating stitches).

    Steeks set within one row (as opposed to straddling the end-of-round), like a neck steek or the opposing armhole steek, are handled much the same way. When setting your neck steeks, knit to the point at which you'd normally start binding off stitches for the center neck (or the point at which you'd stop and turn to work the first side of the neck), put the center neck stitches on a holder

    cast on your border, bridge, and border stitches as usual

    and knit on. The steek stitches lie between the stitch markers in this photo.

    Because steeks are often narrower than the number of stitches they replace, the held stitches pouch out a bit. This is a good time to get out that ziploc of scrap yarn, since those fancy stitch holders in your notions bag are too rigid and will distort the stitches.

    Handling decreases in Fair Isle

    Steeks afford the knitter the freedom to shape the garment however she likes within the fabric of the body. Decreasing in a patterned fabric, though, can present some problems when done the usual way.

    In plain knitting, most of us decrease like this:

    The decreases are made two or three stitches in from the edge, and they are worked such that they slant away from the shaped edge and toward the center of the garment. A smooth, continuous line is created where a series of decreases runs. To create the edge above, a ssk is used, while the opposite slant would be created with a k2tog.

    It's all very well and good, but it presents problems when done in patterned knitting:

    Even the simplest seeded pattern (a 1x1 check) is disrupted by the decreases. The two stitches between the decrease and the edge, though worked in pattern, are thrown out of alignment with the stitches above and below them.

    The very simple solution: in Fair Isle and other colored knitting, always (1) decrease in the first or last two stitches possible (right up against the edge or steek); and (2) reverse the decreases, meaning each decrease should slant towrads the edge and away from the center of the garment.

    An edge that slants from right to left as it grows is made of k2togs:

    while the edge that slants from left to right as it groes is made of ssks.

    Next: The Traditional, Unreinforced Steek

    All posts in this series:

    January 10, 2006

    Steeking Chronicles: Introduction

    Introduction; Setting Up Steeks; Handling Color Changes • Planning and Placing Steeks; Handling Decreases in Fair Isle KnittingThe Traditional, Unreinforced SteekThe Hand-Sewn SteekThe Crocheted SteekPutting It All Together; Working Sleeves; Blocking; FinishingA Word On Norwegian Steeks

    To begin at the proper beginning -

    Why bother with a steek in the first place?

    To quote, uh, myself: "In practice, setting, knitting, and slicing a steek is just a handy way to knit an entire sweater in the round by creating a bridge of waste stitches wherever a separation would be, i.e. between front and back for an armhole, or between the right and left sides of the neck, or all the way up the front of a cardigan.

    Pictures are worth a thousand words. On the left is a stylized image of a pullover body. As you can see, the body could be knitted as a tube up to the armpits, but the front and back would have to be worked back and forth, as would each side of the neck. On the right, you see what a steek allows you to do - by filling in all those openings with a bridge of waste stitches, the entire garment may be knit as a tube, in the round, with all your armscye and neck shapings done in the sweater body.

    Why should we care about knitting in the round? For a variety of reasons, stranded colorwork is easier and faster in the round: the knit stitch is quicker to form than the purl stitch; the pattern is always visible, allowing the knitter to read his work; seams are minimized or eliminated altogether. Production knitters favored the method for its speed and ease - as do hobby knitters now.

    Is steeking only for Fair Isle or other colored knitting? No. The basic principles may be applied to any knitting that can normally be done in the round. There are a few things to consider, though: first, the frequent interweaving of two strands within the steek itself is an important part of what makes the traditional, unreinforced steek work. Careful thought should be given to the stabilizing method used to compensate for the single thickness of plain knitting. Second, not all sweaters are better for being worked seamlessly - a traditional Fair Isle sweater, with its frequent color changes, is a sturdy, firm piece, but plain and textured sweaters may need seams for structure and shape.

    Which steek should be used when?

    The infinite possible combinations of stabilizing technique, finishing method, stitch number and stitch arrangement can seem sort of overwhelming. Knowing that different steeks are appropriate for different yarns makes things much simpler.

    From top to bottom, this picture shows a strand of jumperweight (fingering) Shetland wool; a strand of fingering weight wool; a strand of DK weight Merino; and a strand of fingering weight cotton. You can see that the Shetland wool is coarse and fuzzy, with hairs sticking out in random places. The regular wool and Merino are still fairly hairy looking, but the cotton is almost perfectly smooth. For the purposes of our discussion, all the fibers in the world can be split into two groups - hairy fibers that felt, and smooth fibers that don't. The first group includes natural wool and other animal hair yarns - anything you wouldn't machine-wash - while the second includes all plant yarns, synthetics, and superwash wools.

    Steeks are useless, of course, if they unravel into the body of a sweater - different methods need to be applied to different yarns to ensure that this doesn't happen. To wit:

    • The traditional, unreinforced steek relies on slight as-you-work felting to hold the cut edge together. Along with tight gauge and frequent color changes, extremely "sticky" yarn is needed to make it happen. Shetland wool, with all its little fuzzy bits and scaly, wiry hairs, works beautifully. Other extremely grabby yarns may work, too.
    • Hand-sewn and crocheted steeks have some extra sturdiness from the applied reinforcement, but the real work is still done by the natural hold of the yarn - the reinforcement merely holds the strands in the close alignment needed. All yarns that felt are good candidates.
    • Machine-sewn steeks are very firm, with the machine stitching providing all the hold needed to stabilize the cut edge. Since the stitching does all the work, smooth, slippery yarns can be used. Beware, though - machine sewing and handknits don't get along particularly well; I often find that machine-stitched knits have an unpleasant stiffness that interrupts the fluidity and drape that are the chief pleasures of knitted fabric.
    • Wound steeks, which are purposely unraveled to the edge and darned in, end by end, don't need to stay together and are therefore suitable for any type of yarn.

    Setting up the different steeks

    All steeks are worked with a bridge of stitches flanked by two border stitches, worked in the background color (marked with pink arrows), which will later become the site for picking up and working sleeves, neckbands and button bands. Unreinforced and sewn steeks are typically worked with an even number of bridge stitches and cut between the center two stitches (shown on the left), while crocheted steeks are typically worked with an odd number of bridge stitches and cut through the center stitch (shown on the right).

    Either type may be worked either in stripes or in a basic seeded pattern - the main requirement is frequent color changes, usually as often as every stitch, to create a tightly woven, coherent fabric. A steek with long floats of color will not hold together.

    Within the basic distinctions of even and odd, a steek may be worked with as few or as many stitches as preference and comfort allow. I have read of people working with only two or three bridge stitches for speed and reduction of waste - my heart's not strong enough for such a narrow margin. In general, I work with a nine or ten stitch steek in an area destined for lots of stress (button bands and the like), while a six or seven stitch steek feels comfortable for lower-stress areas.

    The reinforcing can be applied at different points on the steek, too, as preference dictates:

    The even numbered, sewn steeks shown on the left are usually sewn through the centerlines of two stitches on either side of the cutting line. They may be sewn very close to the cutting site (red dotted line), or further away (green dotted lines), or anywhere in between. Sewing closer to the cut creates a wide strip of fabric that may be folded back to form a proper facing and puts the stress of picking up stitches as far away as possible from the cut edge. Sewing closer to the border stitches creates a narrower facing and reduces the possibility of cutting into the sewing by mistake.

    The odd numbered steeks shown at right usually have their crochet worked over the center three stitches of the steek (shown in red), creating a wide facing. Alternately, the crochet may be worked over any other stitch pairs in the steek for a narrower facing.

    For all types of facing-forming steeks, the final finishing of the garment will include trimming all ends back as close as possible to the reinforcing (or as close as desired to the body of the sweater, for an unreinforced steek), and tacking the folded portion down.

    Changing colors in Fair Isle

    Though steeking has several attractions, the non-issue it can make of hundreds of color-change ends is mighty appealing. Try to plan your garments to put the end-of-round within the first steek - the steek stitches should be cast on as the first and last few stitches of a round. In a cardigan, this means that your end-of-round will lie at the front of the garment, while pullovers should be planned so the end-of-round lies along one side, and can continue into the first armhole steek. In an even-numbered steek, the end-of-round should fall in the direct center, between the two middle stitches, while an odd-numbered steek should make the center stitch the first stitch of the round.

    In an unreinforced or sewn steek, colors may be changed by simply knotting in each new color to the old with a granny knot:

    The knots can be trimmed away after cutting. Caution needs to be exercised to avoid catching hanging ends or knots as the reinforcing stitches are applied. When colors are changed in this way outside of a steek, each end will have to be unknotted, its tension adjusted, and woven in or otherwise dealt with.

    A crocheted steek must not have knots or ends within the stitch pairs to be joined - this can be accomplished either by weaving new colors for several stitches before and old colors for several stitches after the change:

    or by using a felted or spliced join to change colors. This is a handy way to change colors outside of a steek, as well - though the blended colors create a bit of pattern ambiguity for the first few stitches, the properly executed join is smooth, sturdy and more or less invisible.

    This join will work only with yarns that can be felted, of course. For those unfamiliar with it, the strands to be joined should both be broken (never cut!). A 1.5-2" tail is about right for a join that blends colors for four or five stitches.

    Tease out half the thickness of the yarn on both strands, and break it off.

    Laying the two half-thickness strands together, hold the yarn in your palm.

    Wet the strands (spit and water both work fine, though we could write a whole 'nother post on the raging debate there), and rub your hands together vigorously to felt the strands together.

    The biggest advantage of the spliced join, of course, can speak for itself:

    (no ends, except the caston and castoff tails. Wheee!)

    Next: Planning and placing steeks, and handling decreases in Fair Isle knitting

    All posts in this series:

    December 16, 2005

    Techniques: Self-striping yarn

    As a novitiate in the Order of Kool-Aid Dyeing, I've been having a lot of fun making self-striping yarn. My method (which, I should warn you, is fraught with shortcuts and awkward work-arounds) follows. I can't stress enough that I'm new at this - all this is old-hat to many of you, I'm sure, but I thought it would be interesting to document it.

    Step 1

    Pick a yarn. All my dyeing thus far has been superwash wool (Dale Baby Ull, to be precise), which takes dye thirstily. I'm told that Merino, like Knitpicks Color Your Own works very well, too, but any animal fiber should be fun to experiment with. This sloppy, low-maintenance girl just can't bear the thought of handwash-only socks, is all.

    Step 2

    Once you've got a yarn, you need to determine how much yarn will go into each row of your piece. I've been working with a pattern in mind - Grumperina's Jaywalkers, which show off stripes beautifully - but you could also use an all-purpose number derived from a basic pattern to make stash yarn.

    Cast on, mark the starting point of your working yarn (don't include the caston row) with permanent marker, and knit a few rows. The most accurate measure, I think, comes from working several rows and then taking the average length, particularly with a patterned fabric. Mark your end point, and frog.

    Fold the frogged length into the number of rows you knit, and measure:

    Don't worry too much about pulling the kinky yarn perfectly straight - just lay it out and take the measurement. With this pattern, I got about 32" of yarn in each row.

    Step 3

    Now, you need to do a little math.


    Come up with the stripe sequence you want - I'm going with six rows of dark red, two of dark pink, three of light pink (undyed), and two more of dark pink, for a total of 13 rows in each stripe repeat. Multiplying by the number of inches per row, each stripe repeat will take up 416" (13 x 32"), broken into a 192" (6 x 32") run of deep red, a 64" (2 x 32") run of dark pink, a 96" (3 x 32") run of light pink, and one more 64" (2 x 32") run of dark pink.

    Note: I think stripes of at least two rows are the most visually coherent - a stripe of just one row is impossible to match joglessly, and any overlap is immediately obvious. Overlaps or gaps in stripes are harder to see when the stripe is a little wider.

    Step 4

    Now, you need to wind off a skein 416" in circumference. Each 416" loop will create one stripe repeat. You could use a warping board, or go the low-tech route with two lamps set 208" apart.

    Step 5

    Tie the skein with some waste acrylic or cotton every 18-24" or so to keep the loop intact and prevent tangling, and then mark your color divisions. Measure out the sections you came up with earlier, and tie them off with a different color of waste yarn.

    Step 6

    Now, soak the skein in cool water with a dribble of wool wash:

    while you mix the pots of color. I'm going with a deep red (4 packets Black Cherry, sprinkle Cherry), a deep pink (2 packets Cherry), and a light pink (the starting color of the yarn).

    Step 7

    Now, dye your yarn as usual - I mix the color with cold water, add the yarn sections, and then turn on the heat. The magic seems to happen faster that way - and if you were working with non-superwash yarn, there wouldn't be any concerns about temperature shock and resulting felting.

    Superwash provides one more benefit - you can stir without fear. Let the placenta - I mean wool - sit just under a boil until the solution is exhausted.

    Step 8

    Let the pots cool, rinse your yarn

    and hang it to dry.

    Step 9

    Now, wind off your dyed, dry yarn into a more manageable hank (I don't have a niddy noddy, so I wind around my arm).

    You can make a pretty skein by holding the hank stretched on your index fingers, twisting the right end, and tucking the two end loops together. The twisted hank should double back on itself to form a neat, compact little smugworthy spiral:

    Step 9

    Enjoy your delicious stripey goodness. If I were the kind of person who named her craft supplies, I don't think I could help but dub this "Let Me Call You Sweet Tart." Not that I'm the kind of person who would do that. Or would secretly think it. Or anything like that.

    Extra reading:

    Diana's great tutorial
    Knitty's Kool-Aid dyeing guide

    November 08, 2005

    Technickety: How to unvent a simple cable

    I had a heap of messages asking where the cable for Jeff's glove came from. It's a fairly generic multi-strand cable; called a "Saxon Braid" (thanks, Purly White!). I see Wendy at wendyknits has used it for a sweater, and I'm sure it's to be found in stitch dictionaries.

    That said, being able to read an existing cable and knowing how to reconstruct it is a very useful skill. I'm not suggesting, of course, that the following be used in any way that takes credit away from a designer of a garment - rather, this is a reference for understanding how a simple cable works and how to write a chart. The actual process is far more intuitive than what follows, but I've written each step out, just for documentation's sake.

    ***I should say my intention here isn't to be patronizing at all; I'm sure most of you have been doing this for a long time without this kind of manic detail. I'd just never seen this particular technique spelled out and recorded, and thought it might be useful to someone out there to have it as a reference***

    According to my definition, a "simple cable":

    • is composed of individual "strands" of stockinette on a reverse stockinette background
    • is composed of strands that travel, meet, and cross (never more than two at a time)
    • has strands that may be composed of any number of stockinette stitches, but stitches within a strand always act as one; that is, they travel together and cross together. The strand never splits.
    • has a vertical line of symmetry
    • may not have a strand that meets with itself
    • may have any number of strands

    A simple cable can be quite complex looking; I only call it that to exclude knotwork designs that use infinite line techniques and asymmetrical textures, which can be a little more complicated to chart.

    Step by step

    1) Understand where your vertical line of symmetry is (the right half and the left half should be mirror images of each other, not including cross directions), and choose a logical beginning and ending to one pattern repeat:

    2) Identify how many "strands" make up the cable - it might be helpful to draw a line diagram showing the relationships between the strands. Using one color for each strand is a good way to know exactly what you're working with at any given time. The different colors won't matter, of course, when you're charting and knitting, but for now, it's a useful tool to seeing the mechanics of the cable at a glance.

    3) Figure out how many stitches across each strand will be, and how many background stitches (reverse stockinette) will separate strand groups. A good place to start is with each strand two stitches wide (making one cross four stitches wide), and two purl stitches separating groups. The proportions generally look good, and when two strands need to travel toward each other in preparation for a cross, the movement can be completed within one right-side row (each strand travels over one purl stitch). In a simple cable, each pocket of background within the cable is the same width.

    4) Set up a placeholder row with each strand in the right place to start the pattern. Strands that will cross in the first pattern row are right next to each other; each group is separated by two background stitches.

    5) For any simple cable, all wrong side rows are worked as the stitches appear (knit stitches are knit, and purl stitches are purled). Add a duplicate WS row.

    6) All crosses within the same row should move in the same direction (right over left or left over right). The two two-stitch strands will make up a four-stitch cross.

    7) Add your WS row with strands in the new postions established in the row before.

    8) In a travelling row, strands will move one background stitch to the right or left in preparation for new crossings. Background pockets will close (zero stitches) or stay the same (two stitches), and new ones will appear (two stitches).

    9) Add your WS row with strands as established.

    10) In the next cross row, crosses will generally move in opposition to the preceding cross row. Again, all crosses within the same row should move in the same direction. Maintain your background pocket widths - don't move anything that would change the number of background stitches.

    11) Continue in this manner until strands are positioned to start over from the beginning of the pattern repeat. It's easy from this point - fill in any completely plain block with a notation for background - this symbol will mean "purl this stitch on the RS and knit on WS"

    12) Simply clear any grid block that contains solid color to indicate a strand stitch. This blank stitch will mean "knit this stitch on the RS and purl on the WS".

    13) Now, replace anything that looks like this (where two strands cross, with the left strand moving OVER the right one:

    with something like this (slip 2 stitches to a cable needle, hold in back, knit 2 from left needle, knit 2 from cable needle):

    and everything that looks like this (right strand moving over the left one):

    with something like this (slip 2 stitches to a cable needle, hold in front, knit 2 from left needle, knit 2 from cable needle):


    14) Everything that looks like this (two strand stitches moving over one background stitch from left to right):

    should be replaced with this (slip 1 to cable needle, hold in back, knit 2 from left needle, purl 1 from cable needle):

    And these (two strand stitches moving over one background stitch from right to left):

    get replaced with this (slip 2 to cable needle, hold in front, purl 1 from left needle, knit 2 from cn):

    Clean up your chart, number it, and reposition grid markers if you need to.

    And there you have it.

    Consider this the extreme longhand version. Once you understand how cables work, you'll skip the color exercise. Once you've done a few that way, you'll be able to knit a swatch without a chart at all.

    Please feel free to leave questions or suggestions in the comments, or drop me an email. Was this interesting? Helpful? Really confusing and pointless? Opinions always welcome!

    TO BUY