Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Slip stitch surface decoration: Fake Latvian Braid (Applied color knitting, part 1)

Fake Latvian Braid:

Today's post: a form of horizontal surface decoration added with a crochet hook, a trick I call Fake Latvian Braid (FLB). Here is a photo of an easy little 3-row high teaser, but this barely scratches the surface: FLB can be used for many far more intricate braid patterns as shown lower in this post.

Background: Real Latvian Braid
Real Latvian Braid is a distinctive decorative element instantly associated with the famous and intricate Latvian mittens.  (Want to see 4500 pairs of Latvian mittens in an on-line gallery? For a 2006 NATO conference held in Latvia, 250+ knitters made all these as gifts for the delegates.  Funny to think a military conference would inspire such a resource.)

Real Latvian Braid looks like a bar of knitting worked at 90 degrees to the rest of the fabric--a sort of horizontal trim.  It can be worked in a single color, or in two colors, as on this mitten from the gallery, with its two lines of handsome black-and-yellow braid.

Real Latvian braid is a form of surface decoration created by a yarn stranded onto the fabric surface as the yarn travels from one stitch to another. It isn't difficult to do, here's a good video. Yet, whenever I see it, it reminds me of a similar-looking stranding you get from the slip stitch.  So, with a bow to tradition, here's a TECHknitting version of Fake Latvian Braid (FLB) based on slip stitch.

Just like real Latvian Braid,  FLB can be located anywhere in the fabric--so close to the cast-on that it look like it is the cast on, or in the middle of the fabric. Also like the real thing, FLB's can point right (tip of each stitch at the right) or point left. Unlike real Latvian Braid, which is knitted-in, FLB is a form of surface decoration done after the knitting is complete, making it easy to install, easy to remove, easy to re-locate.

Fake Latvian Braid (FLB) How-to
FLB nothing more than a crocheted slip stitch worked through a knitted fabric so that the two arms of the chain appear on "public" face of the garment.

Fake Latvian Braid (front)--chained appearance

The back part of the slip stitch anchors the chain, creating a dotted or "stitched" appearance on the fabric back

Fake Latvian Braid (back)--dotted or "stitched" appearance

The one-color version of this is the simplest.  It is done just as you would use a slip stitch to stabilize a knitted fabric with the exception that it is always worked from the front face of the fabric, the point of the exercise being the chain decoration.

In the step-by-steps below,
  • red dots show where the crochet hook is inserted
  • green dots show the base of each pulled-up loop
  • cc means the contrasting color yarn used to make the FLB (yellow yarn on the blue background)
Step 1: Holding the cc yarn at the knitted fabric back, insert the crochet hook into the very middle of your target stitch--right between its two arms.  Catch the cc yarn on the hook and draw the loop to the fabric surface, as shown below. This creates a loop.

FLB step 1

Step 2: keeping the loop around the barrel of the hook, insert the hook between the arms of the next stitch in the same row.  Again catch the cc yarn, again draw a loop to the fabric surface, as shown below.  This creates a new loop.

FLB step 2

Step 3: draw the new loop through the old loop.

FLB step 3

Step 4: repeat steps 2 and 3--as you draw up a new loop, the loop further down the barrel becomes the old loop.

First chain made. Repeat steps 2 and 3 for additional chains

FLB can be made rather flat, by using the same yarn for the FLB as for the garment fabric (thinner top braid). Or, you could make the FLB an almost structural element by using a heavier yarn than the one used for the background fabric, or even a doubled yarn (thicker bottom braid).

Single-yarn FLB above, doubled yarn FLB below: note these braids point left

As you see, the narrow end of the stitches the above photo point left. There's no mystery to this: the narrow end of the stitch always points at the insertion point.  To get right-pointing FLB's, work from R to L, as illustrated in the step by step instructions.  Yet, to change the direction in which the FLB stitches point, there is no reason to awkwardly change the direction of your slip-stitching.  Instead, rotate the fabric 180 degrees, which turns the fabric upside-down, then work the FLB in whatever direction is easiest for your handedness.  When you turn the fabric right-side up, the braid will point the other way. (See pro tip 5 for more about how to make fabric rotation easier.)

FLB can also be worked along the top of ribbing.  The great thing is, when worked along the ribbing/stockinette transition line, FLB combats flip!  In truth, I rarely PLAN to work FLB along a ribbing, mostly I trot this trick out to combat band-flip when it shows up--a true "afterthought" use.

Fake Latvian braid combats flip at the ribbing/stockinette transition line (not sure why the color turned so lurid?)

Pro tips part 1
1) If you want to combat flip at the ribbing/stockinette transition, but don't want the decorative effect, make the FLB in the same color and no one except another knitter will ever notice. 

2) This anti-flip trick is also adaptable for stockinette roll, see "uses," below.  It also has a first cousin you can use to control flipping vertical garter stitch bands.

Two color FLB
So far, all the FLB's shown have been worked in a single color. The two-color version is not a lot more complicated. It is achieved by holding two different-color yarns on the fabric back, then alternately drawing a loop of one color through a loop of the other color. Below is a single line of alternate-color FLB at the top of a ribbing.

Two color Fake Latvian Braid at ribbing transition zone

To avoid having the running yarns twist and tangle around one another (as they always do with real Latvian Braid), hold each yarn in a consistent location (one above and one below) and draw the yarns alternately and directly.

Working a three- or more color FLB is certainly possible, also, but with each color added, the amount of bulk at the braid-line increases substantially.

Stacked FLB: Multiple-row braid trims
Here's the ultimate expression of this trick, the big payoff: intricate braid patterns made by stacking multiple rows of FLB worked in opposite directions or the same direction, in the same colors or different. All sorts of woven-looking "trim" effects are possible from stacking, below are schematics and photos.  The dark box in each schematic shows the minimum stitch and row repeat.

First up is one of the simplest--the post opened with this trim, and here is is again, this time with its schematic. This is a simple 3-row stacked design composed of alternating rows of solid color (so it's called "alternating-color-row" trim) with the middle FLB made in the opposite direction from the top and bottom FLB's (it's called a "2-way trim" because the FLB's go in two different directions).

Three row alternating-color-row trim (2-way)

Three row alternating-color-row trim (2-way)--schematic

This trim is composed of 3 FLB's, each of which is worked in the same direction (which is why this is a "1-way trim"). Each FLB is made of single stitches of alternating color (which is why each FLB is called 1/1).  The FLB's are stacked so that the colors line up in the columns (which is why this one is called "alternating column" trim).

Three row 1/1 alternating column trim (1-way)

Three row 1/1 alternating column trim (1-way)--schematic

This trim is like the one just above with two exceptions:  There are 5 rows of 1/1 FLB instead of 3, and the FLB's are stacked so the colors alternate in the columns to create a checkerboard.

Five row 1/1 checkerboard trim (1-way)
Five row 1/1 checkerboard trim (1-way)--schematic

2/2 checkerboard trim is just like 1/1 checkerboard, except that there are 2 stitches of each color, and each square is two rows high.

Six row 2/2 checkerboard trim (1-way)
Six row 2/2 checkerboard trim (1-way)--schematic

This trim is the two-way version of 1/1 checkerboard trim: in this trim, the second and fourth rows go in a different direction than the first, third and fifth. In other words, the same distribution of stitches either makes a checkerboard or a zig zag, depending whether the design is 1- or 2-way.  You'll notice a little red-colorized tail of yarn at the bottom of the trim, the explanation is in pro-tip 3, below.

Five row 1/1 zig-zag trim (2-way).  Note the red colorized tail at middle  bottom.

Five row 1/1 zig-zag trim (2-way)--schematic

This trim is the 2-way version of 2/2 checkerboard.

Five row 2/2 zig-zag trim (2-way)
Five row 2/2 zig-zag trim (2-way)--schematic
These examples are only a tiny sample.  For one thing, these are all simple two-color geometric repeats. Changing colors between rows or adapting irregular patterns opens more possibilities. Sources of inspiration: handwoven inkle trims, friendship bracelet designs, Norwegian-style trims. Experimentation is low-cost. If you try a pattern and don't like it, FLB--stacked or single row--is easy to pull out.

Pro tips part 2
3) To keep the columns of stacked FLB trim from spreading, or to prevent show-through of the background color, you can use a blunt-tipped yarn needle to draw a matching-color sock yarn back and forth under both arm of the chains. To avoid puckering, watch your tension as you draw the yarn under the chains.  
Stabilizing FLB by drawing a yarn under the chains.  This particular FLB trim is the 1/1 zig zag, so the yarn is drawn under offset yarns of the same color.  For non-zig zag trims, the yarn is drawn under straight (not offset) columns.
When you do this on a zig-zag trim, as shown above, the different colors are offset in different columns. Nevertheless, the trick here is to draw the yarn through these offset columns of the same color, because that sets the zig-zag.  As an example, the needle is inserted through all the green stitches, despite the fact that the green stitches are offset one column.  The resulting track of the yarn is shown by the zig-zag dotted red line. Does it work? See for yourself: in the beauty-shot of this 1/1 zig zag above, the zig zag to the left of the colored red tail has been "set" in this way, the fabric to the right has not. 

4) It is also possible to stabilize stacked FLB from the back, as shown below.
Stabilizing FLB from the back--this is the back of alternating-color-row FLB
5) Two-way FLB is easiest to work by rotating the fabric between rows going in opposite directions. Yet, when working on rotated fabric, it's easy to mistake where to insert the hook, since stockinette fabric upside-down looks to be half-a-stitch off the way it looks right side-up. 

See for yourself: The right side-up fabric is to the L in each of the below photo-series has a little green dot in the lower R corner.  When the fabric is rotated 180 degrees (upside-down) the green dot rotates to the upper L corner.  On both orientations, stockinette fabric appears as a "V," although on the upside down fabric (green dot at upper L) the V appears a half-column over. If you were to work an FLB on rotated fabric based on the appearance of the V, the FLB would also be a half-stitch off an FLB worked on un-rotated fabric.  In other words, the stitches of adjacent FLB's would not align in the columns. 
Right side up vs. upside down (180 degree rotated) fabric: both look to be composed of V's although the V on the rotated fabric (dotted line) is half-a-column over

You can solve this problem without having to mentally turn each V upside down if you use a quilter's magic marker (color fades in an hour) to mark the center of the stitches.  When you turn a marked fabric upside down, it's easy to see where to insert the needles: the V's upside down (^'s) are easy to pick out via the dots. 

When marked, it's much easier to see the correct insertion point: the now- upside-down v's (^'s)

  • Refresh a tired sweater without unpicking a single stitch. 
  • Correct sagging: single-line or stacked FLB trim is quite firm, so any amount of sagging in cuffs, bands or facings can be quickly, beautifully and permanently corrected.  New items decorated with FLB simply won't sag in the first place.
  • Firm up too-loose garments: add a waistband to a saggy sweater, tighten a stretched mitten.
  • Combat stretched-out seams and bands: Stretching hat bands, sagging shoulder seams and stretched out neck-backs are all gone with FLB.
  • Make a matching belt to your sweater: stacked FLB will stabilize even a narrow fabric from rolling or stretching, especially if you stabilize the fabric per pro tip 3, above, then hide the back with a facing. Alternatively, you could make FLB reversible, by working some rows on the fabric front, and some on the fabric back--when the back of a chain shows, it makes a "stitched pattern" as shown in the third photo from the top, and this could be adapted as part of your design. 
  • Combat stockinette roll: as stated above in pro tip 3, a line of FLB worked along a ribbing/stockinette boundary combats band flip.   It is also possible to tame stockinette roll with a multi-row trim right along the fabric bottom where the flip is.  How many rows/rounds you have to work depends on how bad the flip is, but a 5- or 7-row trim usually flattens out even the most determined flip. 
  • Glitz it up: Add gold and silver yarn (or even metallised embroidery yarn) on a black mohair sweater=evening wear from an otherwise plain knit. 
  • Add a trim of school colors to a solid-color store bought sweater...
* * *
Good knitting--TK

Guest Editor note: This entry is the first in a proposed book on color knitting, for which I need your help. Per a helpful comment from Gisella, each post relating to the proposed book is tagged as such (post label).

I can't thank enough, those who have written in the comments, via e-mail or Ravelry PM, offering to add your brain to the crowd-sourced editing effort (as Florapie called it).

If you're seeing clumsy phrasing, typos, mistaken illustrations or any other thing which troubles you, please let me know via the comments, Ravelry PM, or e-mail: TECHknittingAThotmail.com

The very next post will be bringing you the first actual organizational question, here in this guest editor space at post-bottom.  In the meanwhile,


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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Color knitting project: status report and request for help

So far...
For some time now,  I've been trying to work on a book about color knitting.  A lot got done. New ideas have been chased down and reduced to writing, projects have been done, instructions written, photos taken, illustrations drawn. Progress has been made!

Despite the progress, it feels like the book is as far away as ever. Content takes a long time to reduce to writing, and illustration takes forever, but, that's not the problem: it's the same as writing blog posts.  Books, however, are not just content, but have a lot more moving parts.

It's partly these--organization, indexing, layout--which are dragging me down, down, down. Yet far worse: self-editing is impossible. If I wrote it wrong the first time, it'll stay wrong: I know what I meant, communicating is the challenge.

The real publishing world is no solace either. Deadlines rule.  For a person of such untidy habits as myself, that would be fantasy.

Meanwhile bad things are happening...
In the meanwhile, all these darned color knitting tricks are flapping around, increasingly anxious to get out.  Worse, I'm already starting to forget some of the stuff worked out oh-so-carefully over the past year+. When I caught sight of a sample a couple of days ago and couldn't quite remember the trick of it, the real worry started.
(Not to mention that new and shiny tricks are distracting me, like new and positively thrilling methods for making cabled fabric.)

So here's the compromise...
What's been worked out so far is going to be released as blog posts.  Maybe after the CONTENT gets out there, the ORGANIZATION could be a separate project.  In other words, maybe someday, somehow, the book will follow after the blog posts.

And here's the request...
You, my lovely readers, absolutely never hesitate to point out when instructions are unclear, or when a stitch is illustrated backwards.  The comments fill up pretty quick when I make a mistake!  Although embarrassing (HOW, I ask myself, could I have overlooked THAT?) your comments are tremendously valuable. Many posts have been corrected, edited and re-illustrated over the years, many thanks.*

If the book content comes out as blog posts first, mistakes will be less likely to survive into book form, especially if you'll keep sending corrections. Please? If I've missed something, if something is not making sense, if a stitch is illustrated mismounted, consider writing a comment or e-mail (techknittingAThotmail.com). Book errata are a terrible thing.

even if I do get fatally off track and distracted, and no book ever comes out, at least some of the tricks will have escaped my head where they are currently batting around and driving me crazy. Plus all that effort so far, you know...

No guarantee this project is going to come out in any particular order or with any particular regularity. There's a backlog of other knitting posts, so it's not going to be all-color all the time, either.

However, at least some color-knitting stuff ought to come out in some way. Maybe together,  we'll all see where this is going?

See you soon, with some color knitting posts. Warm regards and thanks,

*Note: Sometimes (rarely) Blogger eats stuff--sometimes posts, sometimes edits, and, sadly, sometimes comments (especially, for some reason, duplicate comments).  If this has happened to a past comment by you, please accept my apologies. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

"Dry blocking" uneven ribbing: a quick little trick

TECHkntting blog has a post offering several cures for uneven ribbing.  All of these work, but they have a limitation: you pretty much have to work them as you go.  If the sweater is already off the needles, these tips won't help. Today's post shows a new little trick which does. Nothing earth-shaking, you understand, but a handy little trick in the right situation.

The back story/other alternatives
Some time ago, a new knitter asked how to fix a sweater with wonky ribbing which she wanted to wear NOW! Four alternatives jumped to mind.

1) Remove the ribbing via the "snip" method and reknit the ribbing "down." This would have removed the wonky ribbing, alright, but is a sort of heavy-handed cure, best reserved for serious situations like length changes, I think.  Further, given that the ribbing had been knit wonky due to inexperience, there was no reason to think a re-knit ribbing would be any improvement. Plus, reknitting takes time, especially as there were seams to release. So, no go for this trick.

2) Let out the purl columns and latch them back up. (Scroll at link to Solution 2) However, this would have required obtaining live stitches, another time-consuming fix. Again, no go.

3) Try to block the wonkiness out by re-blocking.  The sweater had already been blocked, but I did not think the ribbing had been blocked the best way. Blocking ribbing is different than blocking stockinette fabrics: When thoroughly wetted, the ribbing (and only the ribbing!) is pulled down--tugged sharply and repeatedly--until it is as long and narrow as you can get it, then left to dry in that position. This was probably the best choice, but it would have taken maybe a day or so to dry. Strike 3.

4) Do nothing, wear the garment as-is and wait for time to cure the problem. This is not as odd a cure as one might think. On page 6 of her great classic, Knitting Without Tears, Elizabeth Zimmermann wrote:
I used to think that people in the Olden Days were marvelously even knitters, because all really ancient sweaters are so smooth and regular.  Now I realize that they probably knitted just as I do, rather erratically, and that it is Time, the Great leveller, which has wrought the change--Time, and many washings.
However, the knitter was not willing to wear the sweater as it was, so another no-go for her situation.

So, I got to thinking: what is it about Time or blocking ("washing") that makes knitting turn out more even? Well, knitting is a series of interconnected loops.  Each loop is connected in the rows and the columns.  (More info here, scroll to heading "soap opera.") Repeated stretching through wear or blocking re-settles the yarn more evenly across the fabric, so that each stitch in any given patch contains an average amount of yarn.  As-you-knit tricks work by controlling the amount of yarn in the fabric. With resettlement, the amount of yarn in the fabric does not change, but prior uneven distribution is smoothed out. When each stitch looks pretty much like the one next to it, wonkiness disappears.

What if there was a way to duplicate this resettling action? Maybe by tugging columns of ribbing with a needle or crochet hook? Yes! That trick worked.  Later experimentation on several purpose-knit swatches has confirmed the method. I privately have come to think of this trick as "dry blocking ribbing." Actual wet blocking is probably better and quicker overall, but requires drying time.  By contrast, this method requires working over each column of stitches, but no drying time: when you're done, you're done = pretty quick overall.

The trick
I want to stress: wet blocking is the premier method. However, this "dry blocking" trick is a good one to use when instant redistribution in ribbed fabric is what you need.

Before: wonky ribbing

After dry blocking: for contrast, the rightmost columns have not yet been worked

Easy to show, hard to illustrate, the method involves tensioning the fabric, then dragging the point of a slim needle down the purl column of the ribbing.  Work the front first (the fabric face which shows when the garment is worn). Flip the fabric and do the same trick on the back. Here's a one minute video.

If you are having trouble viewing the video, here is the http address: http://youtu.be/Hkt70fslOzc  You can cut and paste the address into your browser window if the link does not work.

One final thought: do you wonder whether this works on stockinette fabric? It works only mildly.  Further, the amount of stockinette in the average sweater is vast compared to the amount of ribbing, so this would be tedious. Bottom line: imho, with stockinette, wet blocking is your best bet.

Good knitting!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Basic crocheting for knitters: chain stitch (ch. st.), slip stitch (sl. st.) and single crochet (sc)

(Here's another post, half-written for years, which has kicked around my hard drive long enough.)
* * *
This post tackles the three most basic crochet stitches: chain stitch (ch. st), slip stitch (sl. st) and single crochet (sc).  All of these are of good use to knitters for edgings, drawstrings, fabric stabilization, seaming, attaching patch pockets and so on. If this subject interests you, sit tight, we're going for a ride--it's a long post with lots of illustrations.

Crocheted chain (chain stitch, abbreviated as "ch. st.")
A crocheted chain forms the basis of much crocheting.  On its own, it's useful too: crocheting the chain stitch is wonderful way to make a strong little cord, very good for drawstrings in knitted garments.  From the front, chain stitch looks just like a column of knitting.

What a crocheted chain looks like, as seen from the front

Chains traditionally begin with a slip knot. The easiest way to form one is to create a pretzel of yarn by lifting the ball end of the yarn over the tail end forming a loop, then draw the ball end under the entire loop just made, leaving the whole assembly very soft and loose, as shown below. Next, insert the crochet hook into the pretzel from upper R to lower L, so only the inner right leg of the pretzel is over the barrel of the hook.

set up to make a slip knot

Next, hold the yarn ends in one hand and the crochet hook in the other, then pull in opposite directions.  The left loop of the pretzel will snug up into a granny-knot made out of the tail end, and this knot will freely slide up and down the ball end of the yarn--voilà: a knot which slips, a slip-knot.  Leave the loop of the slip knot over the barrel of the hook.

finished slip knot over the barrel of the hook

Once you have a slip knot on your hook, trap the nub of the knot between your left thumb and left middle finger, then use your left forefinger to tension the running yarn in position above the loop (running yarn=yarn running out of the ball, ball end of the yarn) as shown below. Holding the hook in your right hand, reach up and grab the running yarn from UNDERNEATH, so that the running yarn winds around the crochet hook in the clockwise direction. With the lip of the hook facing you, slide the hook down along the running yarn until the lip of the hook is over the running yarn, then draw the loaded hook down, out of the slip knit, in the direction of the arrow, as shown.

set up to make the first chain

You will now find that the yarn you drew down out of the first loop has formed a new, second loop around your hook, as shown below.

first chain stitch made

Repeat the same yarn-winding action again and you will find a new loop is created each time you draw the hook through the loop.  This creates a chain of stitches--the chain stitch, shown below.  Note that when just about to work the chain stitch, there are two yarns over the hook: the just-made loop through which the hook is inserted (arrow #1) while the running yarn caught under the lip of the hook waiting to be drawn through (arrow #2) creates a second yarn over the hook-barrel.

crocheted chain closeup

The chain shown here is very loose.  In real life, however, you would snug up the loops as you make them, just as you would tension your yarn in knitting.

Slip stitch (sl.st.)
For knitters, chain stitch is handy for making cords.  However, its first cousin, slip stitch is much more versatile: imho it's the most useful crochet stitch a knitter can know. So useful and fundamental in fact, that even knitters who never held a crochet hook have almost certainly done the slip stitch. You see, structurally, the crocheted slip stitch is identical to the chain bind off. Yes, despite slip stitch being done with a hook and the chain bind off with knitting needle, they are the same exact stitch.

The slip stitch in crocheting differs from chain stitch in only one regard.  Whereas the chain is free-standing, slip stitch is worked attached to a previously created fabric. Like the chain stitch, slip stitch confers no particular height to the work. For height, more complicated crochet stitches such as single crochet, double crochet etc. must be used. Stated otherwise, although it is attached to a previously-made fabric, slip stitch more in the nature of a utility stitch: useful as an edging, fastening, or stabilizer.

Slip stitch always starts with a loop over the hook. In the illustration below, slip stitch is being made in a traditional manner: on a foundation row of chain stitch, and the existing loop comes from the last stitch of the previously-made chain (arrow #1). The hook is then inserted from front to back under the arm of the second chain from the end (arrow #2).  Once you have these two yarns laying over over the barrel of the crochet hook, use the hook to catch the running yarn "up from under," so it lays as shown below (arrow #3).

set up for first slip stitch
From the above set up, the slip stitch is worked by pulling the third yarn, which is the running yarn, through both other loops on the hook.  This starts the cycle over again, as shown below: one loop remains on the hook (arrow #1) The hook is again inserted from front to back through the arm of the next chain (arrow #2) then again catches the running yarn (arrow #3).  The second slip stitch is performed like the first, by pulling loop 3 through the other two.

first slip stitch made, set up for second one

After a making several stitches, you can see that the slip stitch looks very much like the chain stitch.  Aaaand, that's because it IS the chain stitch, with the added extra step of catching that attachment arm out of the fabric, before the running yarn is drawn through.  The "chainy" part is colored red.

slip stitch closeup
Here's the proof that the chain bind off and the slip stitch are identical: a closeup of the chain bind off at the top of a knitted fabric, also colored red, shows same structure as the slip stitch, above.  So, one immediate use of a crochet hook could be to speed up chain cast off by working with a crochet hook rather than knitting needles--the hook is substantially faster (so much faster that it's easy to get moving too fast and get too tight:  you have to really watch the tension). 

knitted chain bind off, closeup

Another common use for slip stitch is to stabilize a crocheted chain.   When you slip stitch into a chain as shown in the slip stitch closeup, you get a double-sided, double thick chain (a good trick to thicken and strengthen a chain-stitch for high-use drawstrings).

Slip stitch can stabilize knit fabric, too. When used on knit fabric, slip stitch does not required a foundation row.  In  other words, no need to make a chain, just start right in slip stitching through the knit fabric.  Below is a closeup of the slip stitch through the middle of a fabric--in this case, used to stabilize the neckline of a garment which would otherwise sag.

slip stitching through knit fabric to stabilize a sweater neck

When working the slip stitch through the middle of a fabric, begin by deciding on which fabric face of the garment you want the pretty-looking "chained" part of the slip stitch to appear.  We'll call this fabric face the "front," because it will be facing you when working the slip stitch.  Note, however, that sometimes the pretty side might be what you normally think of as the back or inside fabric face of the garment.

In the example above, the fabric being stabilized is the back of a stockinette sweater with a fold-over collar. The outside of the neck is hidden under the collar, so the purled fabric inside of the sweater neck (which you might see at certain angles if the sweater is worn unbuttoned) is the pretty ("front") fabric face in this example.

To start the slip stitching, hold the yarn on the not-pretty side--the back side.  Insert the hook from the front to the back and draw up a loop.  Keeping the loop over the barrel of the hook, move the hook one stitch over, then insert the hook through the fabric again and draw up a second loop from the back.  Finish the slip stitch by drawing this second loop through the first.  For each slip stitch wanted, repeat the process. Finish by cutting the running yarn then pull the resulting tail through the last loop. Work this tail in as you would for a cut-end in knitting--skim it in (with a sewing needle or with a knit-picker on the fabric-back, or weave it in).

Slip stitch can also be used to stabilize the long edge of a fabric. Because there is already a TECHknitting post on this, the instructions are not repeated here, but here's a photo to show the idea. (Both the post and the below photo show a stabilizing slip stitch on a garter stitch edge--the long edge of garter stitch is especially prone to flaring--but slip stitching can be worked through any sort of knit fabric.)
slip stitching to stabilize a garter stitch edge*

Yet another common use for slip stitch is in seaming, to attach two pieces of knitting together.  This is done exactly the same as slip stitching to stabilize a long edge, the only difference being that you would hold the two pieces of knitting one behind the other and slip stitch through both at the same time, matching stitch for stitch.  The below schematic shows the idea, however, you must decide for yourself which column edge to work along: the schematic shows the hook inserted 1/2 column in from the edge, yet a loose fabric might require an entire column.

Inserting the hook for slip stitch seaming (note that, in this diagram, the purl fabric faces are intended to be the "public" side of the garment, as would be the case with a cable sweater worked on a reverse stockinette background, for example.  If the smooth stockinette side of the garment is to be the public side, then the fabrics would be held smooth-face-to-smooth-face in seaming.)

If you have a slipped selvedge, a very pretty effect can be obtained if you insert the hook through the inner loops on each fabric edge.  Where the outer loops are forced to the fabric surface, you get a very pretty line of V's down the seam line.

a slip-stitched seam on a slipped knitted selvedge. The photo shows how very pretty this seam is, but not the equally pretty "valley" which opens in the middle of this seam when the seam is stretched. It's a subtle touch, very professional looking, but impossible (for me, anyhow!) to photograph.*

When used for seaming, slip stitch can be easily removed if you find you've gotten off your stitch-for-stitch count, or if you find your tension is wrong. This is a huge advantage over picking out sewing, especially easier than picking out mattress stitch. On the downside, a slip-stitched seam is bulkier than a sewn one, yet even this disadvantage can be minimized by working the seam in a color-matched thin (sock) yarn, instead of the bulkier main garment yarn.

Attaching patch pockets on sweater fronts is another great use of slip stitch. Worked vertically, the "knit column" look of the slip stitch makes this blend right in, worked horizontally, the slip stitch looks like a particularly lovely stitch pick up and bind off.

Eliminating gaps on cables is a good trick too. You know that gap that forms behind a giant cable where the cable arms twist over one another? A line of discreet slip stitching right between the arms of the outermost cable columns will seal that gap forever.  The stitching will show on the inside, sure, but on the outside the addition of an extra column will never show, the little V's of the slip stitch simply disappear amongst the stockinette columns of the cables themselves.  Here's a link to a project on Ravelry  which shows this trick used to close the gaps on a super-wide cable. (Link used by permission, thanks to Raveler HelloKnitty6).

Single crochet (sc)
In terms of progression and complication, slip stitch was "chain stitch plus:" chain stitch + attachment to fabric edge = slip stitch.  In this same way, single crochet is "slip stitch plus."  This time, the extra step involves making an extra loop with the hook before the final draw through: slip stitch + extra loop = single crochet. This extra loop adds height to the stitch. So, unlike (the very flat) slip stitch, it is perfectly possible to make a fabric in  single crochet.

Like slip stitch, single crochet traditionally begins on a chain foundation row. So, if this illustration looks familiar, that's because it's the exact same set up as for the slip stitch. However, this time, instead of pulling the running yarn (gray) through BOTH loops on the needle as for slip stitch, STOP when you've pulled the running yarn through only the FIRST loop, as shown below.
Set up for the sc.  This looks just like the set up for slip stitch, but to work the first step of the sc, STOP after pulling the running yarn through the first loop on the hook-barrel: the running yarn is not pulled through the second loop until the next step

The loop just made (gray) is over the barrel of the hook. Reload the hook: wrap the running yarn (which I've now colored red) around the barrel of the hook, slide the hook down along the running yarn until the running yarn is caught under the hook lip.  There will again be three yarns over the needle as shown below--the now-red running yarn, the gray loop previously made, and last on the needle, the loop from the original chain. Draw the red running yarn through both loops, in the direction of the blue arrow to make the first sc.

step 2 of the sc

The result (first finished sc) is as below.

first finished sc, worked on a chain stitch foundation

The cycle begins again by inserting the hook under the arm of the next foundation stitch and pulling a single loop through the arm only.

Work a several sc's and the structure becomes apparent--the top (red) loop looks just like a slip stitch (or a chain bind off, since those are the same thing) but the blue bar highlights the additional layer of (gray) loops.  These are the "extra step" loops--one per stitch--which make single crochet a taller (higher) fabric than slip stitch.

single crochet on a chain stitch foundation, closeup

Knitters commonly use single crochet as an edging on baby blankets, scarves and the like.   Below is a close-up of the look.

sc border worked on knitted (garter st) fabric

For this use, no need to have a foundation chain.  In other words, just as slip stitch can be worked directly through a knit fabric, so too with single crochet edging.  Begin by pulling the first loop through the knit fabric from back to front. * Retaining the loop on the hook, insert the hook into the next knit stitch and pull up a second loop. On these two loops, work the single crochet as shown above, second-to-last illustration. Repeat from * all the way around the blanket. A very neat finish can be worked the same way you'd bind off circular knits (the first method at the link would be the best one to use for sc).

Until the next post, good knitting (or should I say, crocheting?)

* The two photos with the asterisks (seam and stabilization photos) come from a TECHknitting Ravelry pattern for the Elizabeth Cap-- the slip stitch seam and edging help stabilize the cap's very stretchy garter stitch fabric.  If you go to the link, you'll see it works: some of caps shown with the pattern at the link had been regularly worn by the time they were photographed, but the slip stitching prevented stretching or sagging and kept them looking new.

This has been aTECHknitting blog post about crocheting for knitters, featuring chain stitch (ch. st.) slip stitch (sl st) and single crochet (sc).  Thanks for reading! 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Invisible afterthought smocking: a useful (and mysterious!) trick

Looking through the TECHknitting list of posts, I've found some which were finished but never posted. Here's one on smocking.

Pretty, and useful, too
Smocking on knitting is very pretty. It also has the wonderful property of narrowing fabric without having to use decreases or any shaping at all.  So, not only can you make very pretty sweaters with smocking, but you can use smocking to narrow a too-wide fabric without having to alter the underlying knitting pattern.  Two examples.*

First, a sweater too wide across the top of the body (actually, this is a very common problem for women, because the bust typically requires a larger width of fabric than the overbust area).  Adding bust-shaping is one solution, but adding smocking above the bust requires less pattern-alteration. 

narrowing a sweater in the overbust area via smocking

A second example: a sweater too wide in the waist. (As with the first example, this common problem in women's sweaters caused by the necessity to fit the bust, which can be significantly wider than the waist.) Adding waist shaping would have solved this problem in the first place, but smocking is a simple way to solve the problem, because it can be added to a pattern which has no waist shaping, without much pattern-alteration.

narrowing a sweater in the waist area via smocking

Invisible afterthought smocking
This post is about a kind of smocking which is done using a threaded blunt-tipped sewing needle, after all the knitting is done--it's called afterthought smocking, and it is a combination of knitting and sewing.

As the below illustration shows,  the yarn inserted by the sewing needle is pretty-near invisible: I used purple for the sewing yarn, and even though this is purple-on-white, the purple yarn shows only at very sides the pinch-pleat. If the pleating yarn had been the same color as the underlying fabric, it would be completely invisible.

Another invisible aspect is that the pleats are formed with no outward clue as to how they were made--no yarn travels over the top of the pleats, leaving their formation quite mysterious.

For both these reasons, I call this trick "invisible afterthought smocking."

The purple yarn is for illustration purposes only, normally the pleating yarn would be the same color as the underlying fabric

When smocking is worked on woven fabric, the fabric must first be painstakingly pleated.  The smocking then hold the pleats in place.  As knitters, we have the privilege of creating our own fabric, and therefore can make a "pre-pleated" fabric by working ribs: as you see in the above illustration, the ribs form the basis of the pleats.  Stated otherwise, smocking in knitting is worked on knitted ribs. The sewing acts to pinch the ribs together in an alternating high-low pattern, forming the "pinch-pleats" characteristic of smocking.

If you are planning a garment for smocking, working every fourth column in knit on a purl (reverse stockinette) background is a good standard of spacing. This type of ribbing, called 1/3, is shown above.

If you have a too-wide item you'd like to tighten, it is possible to re-work (convert into ribbing) an already-finished reverse stockinette fabric into 1/3 ribs--here is a link to a post about re-working stockinette scarves into ribbing, and the idea is identical with sweaters (the fabric shown above was converted from a reverse stockinette fabric---> ribbing in this manner).

If you are starting with a stockinette fabric made smooth side out, it's a bit more complicated.  Instead of converting a single column of reverse stockinette---> knit rib every fourth column, the three in-between columns have to be converted from stockinette
---> reverse stockinette, making three times as much work.   However, even at three times the work, converting is still a whole lot less work than knitting a whole new garment.  Further, if the item is a sweater, the area of actual smocking need not be very wide--the effects of smocking reach down considerably below (and, for waist-shaping, also reach above) where the actual smocking starts.

Once you have your ribbed fabric, the work is quite simple. Smocked pleats are usually made in sets of two at a time, a high pleat followed by a low pleat as shown on the illustrations. As you can see, the stockinette ribs are colored pink/red.  There are three columns of purl between the ribs. Each pair of red stitches represents the pinched end-points of a smocked pleat, and these pleat-pinches are joined by a loop of yarn worked through the fabric, which draws them together.  In other words, the pinch-pleats are formed over the four red stitches and the columns are pinched alternately, giving the unique smocked look. 

The sewing needle is used to put the smocking yarn into the fabric (each pleat-pinch is shown a different color).  Once the loop is threaded into the fabric, it is tightened to draw the four red stitches together.  Note that you actually tighten each loop as you make it: the schematic shows the loops untightened just so you can see what's going on.

This is an color-coded overview, each pleat shown in a different color. Below are closeups of the line taken by the pleating-yarn as it travels from pinch-pleat 2 to pinch-pleat 3 along the on the fabric-back, as well as a closeup of the looped path which the pleating-yarn takes as it forms a pinch-pleat

Specifically, these pleats are 4 stitches apart, the pinch-pleat takes two stitches, so each repeat is 6 stitches long (ie: high).  However, you can make your own pleats longer or shorter, the only important thing is consistency. This diagram shows one set of high-low pleats.  To add a second set, use the same spacing between sets of pleats as within a set of pleats.

The above diagram shows the path of the smocking-yarn as seen from the front.  However, the yarn travels from pleat-pinch to pleat-pinch (in our example, from pleat-pinch 2 to pleat-pinch 3) through the fabric back. When the fabric is flipped to the back, the stitch columns are reversed.  Specifically, the rib on which the smocking is performed shows as a purl column while the three intervening reverse stockinette columns now show as knit columns.

The below illustrations shows the path of the needle as it travels from pinch-pleat 2 (green) to pinch pleat 3 (blue), along the back face of the fabric. The stitches are colorized in accordance with the arrows on the above chart.  As shown, the needles travels in the half-stitch bordering the purl column.

beginning the travel from pinch-pleat 2 to 3, through the fabric back

Showing the position of the sewing needle just before drawing the pleating yarn through to travel from pinch-pleat 2 to 3. Secured into this half-column, the traveling yarn will not show from the front.

The final illustration, below, is a closeup of the path of the needle as it creates the pinch-pleat.  As you see, the pleating yarn goes in and out THROUGH THE SIDES of the pleat-stitches (highlighted in red), NOT over the top.

It is this path--not over the top--which distinguishes this form of smocking from any other. Further, it is this through-the-sides maneuver which keeps the pleating yarn invisible.

In fact, when your pleating yarn is the same color as the background yarn, the pleating yarn does not show at the pleats on the front nor as it travels on the back, making this a truly "invisible" form of afterthought smocking.  So invisible, in fact, that it is quite mysterious--suitable for mystifying your eagle-eyed knitting friends.

to create each pinch-pleat, the yarn travels in  loop through the sides of the four highlighted rib stitches, NOT over the stitch-tops

* * *
One last thing:  Not only can you smock on a 1/3 ribbing as shown in this post, but it is also possible to smock on any 1/X ribbing, such as 1/2 (k1, p2) , 1/1 (k1, p1), etc. The important thing is a single row of knit rib on a background of reverse stockinette.
 * * *
Good knitting!
* * *

* A third example of where afterthought smocking is useful: 1/1 ribbing is fairly common, and commonly stretches out.  Stretched-out 1/1 ribbing on a sweater- or mitten-cuff or on a hat brim can be tightened the back into usefulness via this trick.  The actual pleating is done the same way, with one difference: when pleating 1/1 ribbing, best to use a thinner yarn--a color-matched sock yarn, perhaps--or the amount of pleating yarn might make the fabric stiff.

This is a TECHknitting blog post on invisible afterthought smocking, which is about smocking handknits, also know as smocking knitting or smocking knits.  This trick is an invisible replacement for the smocking stitch on knits. Thanks for being a TECHknitter reader!