Yarn Preparation

Between my website, this blog and my two Craftsy classes, I get a lot of email from machine knitters – especially new knitters who have nobody else to answer their questions. Probably the majority of beginners’ problems and questions are due to the way the yarn is delivered to the needles or the way the fabric is weighted (or not). So, I thought I would address this blog to yarn preparation and some future blogs to top tension, stitch size and weights. While not every problem can be traced to these factors, they are the culprits for the majority of beginner angst and many knitters do not realize how important these details are.

In a perfect world, all of the yarns we want to use would be available on cones. Truth is, however, that a very narrow range of yarns is available on cones and we need to rely on skeins and balls for the rest. The majority of the yarn on cones is for standard gauge machines, fewer for mid-gauge and bulky.

Cones are terrific for two reasons: the yarn reels off evenly and smoothly and you have fewer ends to finish off later. Every interruption in the yarn can result in skipped, tight or dropped stitches so it is really important to make sure the yarn flows smoothly.

Ideally, cones should be placed on the floor directly below the tension mast. If your table is very wide, however, the yarn will rub against the back edge of the table and then angle forward, towards the yarn guide, which can add extra drag or tension on the yarn. You might want to consider drilling (yes!) a couple of holes in the table to eliminate that possibility. Just make sure you sand them smooth or insert a nice metal grommet to finish the hole properly. This is why knitting machine stands and tables tend to be quite narrow.

Yarns that are sold in balls, skeins or hanks must be re-wound onto cones or into balls that pull smoothly from the center. Some ball winders can also wind the yarn onto plastic cones and if you run short of cones you might be able to use saved cardboard cones from a previous coned-yarn purchase or even the cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper. The advantage to re-winding onto cones is that the yarn will pull smoothly and the cone will stay put on the floor.

Make sure the base is wide enough not to tip over.
Make sure the base is wide enough not to tip over.

For cones or narrow tubes that don’t stay put, you can easily make a cone holder by drilling some holes into a piece of flat scrap lumber and inserting a short length of dowel for the cone to sit on. Remember to sand smooth!

I own a number of winders, including some that wind onto cones and others that have a convoluted threading to ply two yarns together. I also have a Simet electric winder that I have had for about 30 years. Sadly, Simets are no longer available but I know there are still electric winders to be had. I have no personal experience with any of the newer ones so am hesitant to make recommendations, but search the web and put out a question on Ravelry.com for endorsements.

I use a wooden umbrella swift to hold skeins open so I can wind them into balls. When I use the Simet, I often find that I need to re-wind a second time because the swift exerts enough tension to produce a fairly tight ball. It is simpler to re-wind a second time, more loosely, than to continually interrupt my knitting to pull out more yarn from a tight ball. Good prep is everything! I prefer wooden swifts because they can be repaired if (necessary) and they also manage large skeins better than the less expensive metal swifts. Either one is better than a grumpy husband with arms extended!

I usually place balls of yarn right on the table, underneath the yarn guide. The yarn pulls smoothly straight up from the center of the ball, unlike yarn that whips around as it reels off a cone and, therefore, needs more space to do so. The only problem you might have with balls on the table is static electricity and a can of Static Guard spray often helps with that.

If the yarn is already wound in an old fashion, roll-around ball, you can pout it inside a coffee can with a hole in the lid to keep it in lace as you rewind.

Use an inverted wire basket or a metal or plastic "milk crate" to separate the two cones.
Use an inverted wire basket or a metal or plastic “milk crate” to separate the two cones.

 

If you want to work with a doubled yarn – to increase the size or to blend colors – the best way to do this is with a simple doubling stand. I find I am most apt to double finer yarns, which usually come on cones. You can build a fancy doubling stand, but I just invert a tall wire basket (or an empty “milk crate”) over one of the cones. Then I thread the end of that yarn through the wire mesh and through the center of the second cone, which I place on top of the inverted basket. The yarn on the upper cone will wind around the yarn feeding through its center. You still need to keep and eye on the tension so that neither yarn forms extra loops, but I find that this method works like a charm.

Make sure edges are sanded smoothly - especially the hole in the second shelf. To be sure, glue a metal grommet in place.
Make sure edges are sanded smoothly – especially the hole in the second shelf. To be sure, glue a metal grommet in place.

Alas, I have no answer better than a closed door to prevent Buster your cat from attacking the yarn as it reels off so temptingly. I just wish the soulful mewing outside the door wasn’t so sad and couldn’t be heard above the noise of the machine!

Next time, I’ll share some thoughts on tenioning that yarn you have so perfectly wound!

 

 

The following are sources I know and trust for umbrella swifts and ball winders:
Craftsy
Stanwood
The Woolery
Schacht Spindle Company

Craftsy Class #2 is Up and Running!

I’m delighted to tell you that my second Craftsy.com class has launched! I’ve known the date for weeks, but was sworn to secrecy until the launch was official. You can watch the trailer for the class here and the link below will bring you right to the class page on Craftsy where you can purchase the class with a 50% discount – my thanks to you for following my blog and/or web site.

50% Class Discount

I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the folks at Craftsy. They are professionals who are committed to producing the very best on-line learning experiences. It’s a lot of work – to be sure! – but the end results are so well worth it. You’ll feel like you are sitting right next to me at the machine because there won’t be anybody else blocking your view or asking all the questions. You might be wearing your pajamas and it might even be 3:00 AM, but I won’t mind a bit! That is the beauty of on-line learning! If you have questions, just click and type and I’ll get right back to you…..though probably not until my day begins.

While the first class was aimed at new (or returning) machine knitters (almost 4,000 of them so far!), the new class is focused on three very specific areas: using the garter bar, knitting intarsia and working entrelac with holding position. They are all skills that will help move you forward with your machine and instill new confidence in what it – and YOU – can do!

Over the weekend I drew the names of five lucky blog subscribers who have each won a free class. (One from the U.K., 1 from Scandinavia, 1 Canadian and 2 from the U.S. Quite the diverse group of machine knitters!)

I plan to do more drawings this year as a thank you to those of you who have subscribed to my blog. In fact, on May 30th I will be drawing three more names. Those winners will each receive a free copy of my book, Handmade for the Garden. So, if you haven’t actually subscribed to this blog, make sure you subscribe (over on the right where it says “subscribe”) before the next drawing so you will be eligible to win!I won’t share your information with anyone else, but you will get an email telling you whenever I post a new video or blog.

Hope you all enjoy the new class!

Hand Sewn Bind Off for 1 X 1 Rib: The Gourmet Bind Off!

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This hand sewn bind off is my method of choice for binding off 1 x 1 ribbing. It exactly matches the circular cast on edge, holds its shape and never binds. What’s not to like?

Hand knitters often struggle with this method for binding off because they usually work it directly off their hand knitting needles. When worked off properly knitted scrap knitting, it couldn’t be easier to do. In fact, even when I hand knit a ribbed neckband, I transfer the stitches from the hand needles to the machine and scrap off as I will describe below. It makes all the difference.

First of all, the stitches need to present as two separate rows of stitches that you can think of as upper and lower rows. This is the factor that makes it easier to see what you are doing and enables you to distinguish which stitch to work and how. The work is scrapped off in a way that creates those two visual rows for you.

This bind off is worked the same for latched up ribbing as it is for double bed ribs. Let’s assume you have worked your ribbing on a double bed machine. End with the carriage on the right. Transfer all the ribber stitches to the main bed, pulling each needle out to Holding Position (HP) as you deposit the stitches. Cut the yarn, leaving a tail about 3 times the width of the knitting. Drop the ribber bed out of the way and, if necessary, switch to the single bed arm/sinker plate.

Set the carriage to Slip all needles in Working Position (WP) and to knit needles back from HP. The stitch size should be set for stockinette. You can use ravel cord for the first two rows or, for practice, just knit with waste yarn that contrasts well with the rib. Knit 1 row. The needles in WP should have slipped; the needles in HP should have knitted. For the example in the video, I knitted a second row with ravel cord and then switched to waste yarn.

Set the carriage to knit in both directions. Knit 8-10 rows of waste, cut the yarn and then drop the work from the machine. I usually press the waste yarn (not the rib) to assure that it lies flat and is less likely to ravel.

Please refer to the video included in this post for the visuals to accompany these directions. The numbers below also appear in the video as I work each step. Thread the main yarn tail through a blunt yarn needle and hold the work as shown in the video, beginning on the right edge. You should be able to clearly distinguish between an upper and a lower row of stitches held by the pink ravel cord. For most of the video, I held the fabric flat to avoid confusion, but it is actually easier to work the stitches with the waste knitting folded back – the two rows of stitches pop right up. Make sure you stitch through the actual stitches – not the ravel cord stitches.

1. Insert the needle down through the first stitch in the top row and then down through the first stitch in the bottom row. Pull the yarn through the stitches, pulling just snuggly enough to eliminate any excess length, but do not tighten the stitches.

2. Insert the needle back down through the first (upper) stitch and then up through the next upper stitch (down and up). Pull the yarn through the stitches just enough to eliminate excess length – not too snuggly. [The same goes for all following stitching whether or not I keep saying it].

3. Now, insert the needle up through the bottom row stitch you worked before and down through the next bottom row stitch (up and then down). It is important to notice how the yarn passed over the work when I switched from working the upper row to the lower row. That is actually what forms the edge itself.

4. Pass the yarn over the work and insert the needle down through the last stitch you worked on the upper row and then up through a new stitch (down and then up).

Each stitch is worked – twice – first as the second (new) stitch in each sequence and then as the “old stitch” in the next sequence. This is essential. Also, notice that whenever you work the upper row of stitches, the needle always enters down the old stitch and up through the new stitch. When working the lower row of stitches, the needle passes up through the old stitch and down through the new one. So, the upper row of stitches end with an “up” stitches and the lower row ends with a “down” stitch. This alternation, to, is essential.

5. This is the next bottom row sequence so the needle works up and then down. Continue to alternately work a pair (1 old and 1 new) of upper row stitches with a pair of lower row stitches until you reach the left edge of the fabric. You might be able to work both stitches with a single needle motion or it might be necessary to fully insert the needle through the first stitch and then through the second. It usually depends on the size of the stitches.

6. When you reach the left edge, work the last upper row stitch and then insert the needle up through the last lower row stitch and down through the last upper row stitch to end.

Pull out the ravel cord – or ravel the rows of waste knitting and behold your perfect edge! I usually run a thin knitting needle or blocking wire through the edge and give a strong tug to help set the stitches. You could also thread a yarn needle with some ravel cord, thread it through then pull against it to set the stitches. You will notice that the bind off tends to roll to one side, the side that faced you as you worked. Therefore, it is a good idea to always work with the wrong side of the sweater facing you.

This bind off can be worked from left to right just as easily if you are left handed or your yarn ended on the left side to begin with. For neckbands, I usually join one shoulder seam, work the entire neckband, scrapping it off as I described above and then I join the second shoulder seam. When I work the bind off, I try to make the ending stitches as blend as smoothly as possible with the beginning stitches so the edge is continuous and smooth.

This method – and lots of other great techniques are shown with excellent illustrations in The Guide to Knitting Techniques, a paperback book from Silver Reed that is still available. The book sells for $36 and you can purchase it from The Knit Knack Shop.

This book was originally one of a hard-bound set. The other book deals with specific knitting directions for the garment patterns that came with the charting attachment that used to be built into the machines (or available as an accessory). I don’t think the garment book has been available for a very long time and, although the knitting directions might be helpful for a novice, they are very specific to the old patterns – which have very little ease and even less style. If you happen upon an inexpensive copy, don’t pass it up, but don’t pay a lot of money for it either!

 

Remember – only a couple more weeks till the new Craftsy class launches and I am giving away FIVE FREE CLASSES to blog subscribers! Sign up so you have a chance to win!

Backstitched Bind Off

I love using a backstitched bind off to finish sweaters for children because it allows the neckline to stretch easily over their heads and then the edge returns to shape. This is important because I almost always knit my neckline ribs by picking up the short-rowed neckline and then work the rib from there. This means that the bind off needs to be especially stretchy and this method is much easier to control than any of the other bind offs you could choose. I use this for adult sweaters too – but especially for kids.

The backstitched bind off allows the fabric to stretch - and then return to shape.
The backstitched bind off allows the fabric to stretch – and then return to shape.

To make sure the edge is kid-friendly, I follow the ribbing with 8-10 rows of stockinette (usually 1 stitch size smaller than regular stockinette), leaving a tail about 2-3 times the width of the piece to use for the backstitched bind off. The stockinette rolls and hides the bind off completely.The fabric will roll towards the machine so work this edge with the wrong side of the garment facing you.

The backstitched bind off looks a lot like an e-wrap cast on so you might want to pair the two in a garment. You could also start the lower edge on waste and go back later to work the rib and rolled stockinette. Check out the two series of children’s sweaters that I did for Family Circle Easy Knitting to see how these edges look in a garment. All of those patterns are now available as free downloads on my web site, www.guagliumi.com.

You can work this bind off directly from the needles, in hold or working position, or you can scrap off and work it later if you prefer. Pull the yarn through each stitch just enough to eliminate any sloppy loops – no tighter and you won’t have any problems controlling the stretchiness.

Remember that each stitch is worked twice – first from back to front and lastly from front to back.

Have you subscribed to this blog yet? Do it soon because I will be giving away 5 free Craftsy classes later this month!!

Doing it Double!

If your machine has a ribber, you probably don’t have a lot of use for a double latch tool. However, if you use a single bed machine, you’ll find a double latch tool can save you lots of time. Initially, it might feel a little clumsy to use, but, like anything else, once you get going a double latch tool is a wonderful thing to have!

Double latch tools make it much faster to re-form stitches for 1×1 or 2×2 rib, whether you want a ribbed band or just some columns or blocks of rib stitches in the body of a garment. The latch hooks need to be spaced for the gauge of your machine and they all work pretty much the same way.  Here are some tips for success:

First of all, Insert the tool at the bottom of the columns of stitches you plan to drop and then drop the stitches from the needles above, rather than dropping the stitches and then fishing around for the stitches. It is much safer and a lot less frustrating, but you also have greater control over how far down the stitches drop.

Keep plenty of downward tension on the ladder of stitches you are reforming so that the individual bars do not split as you work them.

Push the tool just far enough away from you to make sure the “old” stitches open the latches and slide back over them. Catch the next bars of the ladder in the hooks of the tool and pull just hard enough to make sure the old stitches are pulled over the latches to form the new stitches. If you look at the video carefully, you will see that the surrounding stitches move very little, which is how it should be. You don’t want to start distorting adjacent stitches.

When you work with a single latch tool, the last stitch is transferred from the tool to a needle on the bed by hooking the tool onto the needle. This isn’t possible (at least not easily!) when using a double latch tool. Instead, when you reach the top of the column, hold the tool above the edge of the bed and just poke the needles through the back of each stitch. Make sure you keep some tension on the tool so that the stitches are easier to see and easier for the needles to enter. Once you poke the needles through the back of the stitches, you can just remove the tool.

Back in the day (as they say), many knitting machines came with double latch tools, although they were usually standard gauge machines – both European and Japanese. The hooks projected straight out from the end of the handle. At www.guagliumi.com I have double latch tools for 2×2 rib for 4.5, 6.5 and 9 mm machines, tools for 1×1 rib for 6.5 and 9mm machines.  I designed these tools with the metal perpendicular to the wooden handle because I find the much easier to work with – I hope you do too!