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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Episode 9: Needle Snobbery

This past Sunday, Hurricane Irene (my middle name, by the way), made her appearance causing widespread power outages. What perfect time to get some knitting done, right?

In this podcast episode:
1) We discuss finishing techniques that make a difference.
2) Methods to combat biasing fabric.
3) Making your interchangeable needle tips work for you.

I like to multitask. So when the power went out last Sunday during the hurricane, I picked up my book and kept on working on my current knitting project: an upcoming design using soon-to-be-released DungarEase, a spring yarn in a soft cotton/acrylic easycare blend. Usually, if I mix knitting and reading, I stick to basic stockinette stitch. But this particular project features an eyelet basketweave stitch pattern, one that requires me to either watch what I am doing (which I can't do if I'm reading), or count my stitches as I go. So, although it was challenging, I managed to count and read at the same time. They say you should keep your mind active to keep sharp. Now, there's a knitter's exercise for the noggin!

The swatch above shows how I inserted eyelets within the pattern, and how the ribs turn into mini lace cables. Below is the sweater in progress (back and left front). The pattern and yarn will be available in December. Cute, isn't it?
You can see the button band already added to the left front. Just couldn't help myself. I had to work it out of sequence (although, really, is there a knitting law that says in what sequence to knit sweater pieces?). Since I often design as I go, I like to see NOW how things will look in the end. Even after knitting for umpteen years, I am still refining my skills: I now pick up over one whole stitch instead of over half a stitch (which I've always done up to now). It really makes a neater finish. Old dog, new trick.

In the following swatch, each section shows a new version/progression of a burgeoning idea. The swatch, changing from right to left, is explained in the podcast. Note how the lace sections at the top are biasing. After experimenting, we found a way to counteract this: Row 1: * K2 tog, yo. Row 2: Purl. Row 3: * Yo, ssk. Alternating both the slant of the decrease and the position of the yo did the trick. Another lesson to be retained for future designs, and solving pesky biasing.
Joyce mentioned a designer who integrates biasing yarns in her beautiful knitwear: Kathryn Alexander. Check out her site. I love her use of color, and how she utilizes the 3-dimensional yarns as design elements.

I find that using steam helps in slapping a biasing fabric back into place, so to speak. You can't use steam on acrylic (it will kill it dead or turn it into plastic—not a good look for knitwear), but you can use it on natural fibers. I place a wet dish towel over the knitted piece, and apply a hot iron in a "lift and press" motion. You want to hear that baby hiss!

Check out the little t-shirt below—another upcoming design for spring 2012. The yarn used is Pediwick (66% bamboo/34% nylon) which was introduced last year as a sock yarn (392 yards per 100-gr ball). With a little experimentation I discovered that this yarn can also be knitted on a size 7 needles at a gauge of 6.5 sts per inch. Knit at that gauge, this yarn drapes beautifully. A bit of slinky-ness. Me like it!

Back in the mid-80's I co-wrote "Sweaters by Hand" (from Interweave Press) featuring a collection of designs for handspun yarns. My friend Rachael Emmons, spinner extraordinaire, spun the yarns and I designed the projects. A fun and educational process. I had never spun yarn before and I got to learn at that time.
One of the interesting things when you design with a yarn that never existed before is discovering it's best gauge. And depending on the project, there could be more than one answer. By experimenting, you may find that some yarns in your stash can create a variety of fabric weights.

So next time you find yourself in a hurricane, with extra knitting time on your hands, grab yarn and assorted needle sizes, and start experimenting :-)

The tip of the week (instead of an actual mini lesson) is this: when using circular needles with interchangeable tips, use the correct size tip on your right-hand needle (the working needle) and a smaller tip on the left-hand needle. Your stitches will slide smoothly into position ready to be knitted, and there will be no more fighting to get them over the point where the cord attaches to the needle.



  1. I love listening to your podcast! I was late on the scene but had fun listening to them all. Can't wait until the next one. I know you're busy (that's a good thing in business).

  2. I would keep both the podcast and the blog the way they are. It is really helpful to have the blog up while listening to the podcast so we can see the samples and garments you are chatting about.

  3. So I'm definitely keeping the blog, albeit maybe trying to shorten the posts a bit. Right now, the process of recording and editing the podcast, then writing, editing, taking photos for the blog is an entire day process. Fun, though!

  4. Does that mean you need an assistant....LOL. Just kidding, but I do love your posts and podcast as well as the beautiful work and useful information. Thank you for sharing your joy.