Archive for the ‘didacticism’ Category

One of the problem projects I mentioned last post was particularly disappointing to me, because I loved the yarn, I love berets, I was excited about my idea for the pattern, yet when all the pieces were put together… yikes. I’m calling it the Ridiculous Rasta Hat (or the Bob Marley Beret– what do you think?).

It all started so innocently, with two skeins of Plymouth Boku (95% wool, 5% silk), purchased at Yarns Etc… on a whim.


See, I really like purple, green and gold. And I adore tweedy yarns, though because tweed yarns tend to be pricier, you won’t see them much here. So a tweedy yarn in purple, green and gold seemed tailor-made for my fantasies. I bought two skeins and dreamed about a hat for a while.

Finally, last week, I decided to go for it! I cast on for a beret. I’ve been trying to engineer a good-looking, nicely shaped beret pattern for almost as long as I’ve been knitting. The first few tries were disaster– I increased too much, too fast, and was left with a crumpled acrylic monstrosity that looked more like a shower cap than a beret. My next try ended up as a skullcap, go figure. But now…

Shape-wise, third time was the charm!


That looks pretty beret-like to me. (Size 6 dpns, then size 6 circs, in seed stitch.) But…

Well, that color’s looking pretty stripey. And is that… rose, in the middle of the gold sections?

Uh oh. Despite being attractively shaped:


And fitting perfectly:


It’s just not good. We’re definitely in Rasta territory:


My elegant purple, green and gold beret has become a four-colored, striped, clown-like monstrosity. I was hoping for a gentle, sophisticated gradation of colors, and instead I got stripes.

How could I have avoided this problem?

Well, with two balls, I could have alternated drawing from each ball as I knit. This would have at least made the stripes thicker. I could also have cut out the rose-tinged sections of the gold color and knit only with the colors I liked. I had enough yarn to do this.

I could also have checked online before I bought the yarn and seen a swatch of it knitted up in that colorway (#4). I would have seen the striping AND the hidden rose, and I could have prepared.

What do I plan to do with the hat?

I’m really not sure. The yarn has a great rustic feel that I like, and it fits me quite well. On the other hand… rasta stripes.

I might give it away when I travel home to the Frozen North for Christmas. I’m sure someone I know has a personal aesthetic that embraces brightly colored stripes.

Or I might overdye it. If I were very careful and mixed a dye color that was about the same as the shade of green in the hat, I might be able to overdye the gold and rose without reducing the green and purple all that much. In a perfect world, I’d end up with a purely green and purple hat, with colors muted enough that the striping isn’t obvious. In an imperfect world, there’s a large risk of ending up with a solid brown mess.

Or I might frog it and try one of the techniques I listed above to improve things. I’m not inclined to do that, however– this yarn doesn’t frog well. Also, I’m enough of a process knitter that, having figured out how to knit a good beret, I don’t feel any particular need to do so again.


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Storing Circular Needles

I think just about everybody agrees that needle rolls are the best way to store straight needles and DPNS, but when it comes to circs, it seems nobody can agree. Personally, I’m a fan of the hanging storage method, which prevents the flexible parts of the needles from getting kinked up and keeps me from having to do any untangling to get what I want.

I made my own holder, and it hangs on the wall in my office-slash-craft-room. It’s not fantastically pretty, but it is ridiculously useful. The only drawback of this storage method is that it’s not very portable.

I made up whatever lace, cable or textured patterns I felt like using for each of the “spaces,” and the numbers are intarsia. I started at the top, with a horizontally-worked cable to make the “handle” a bit stiffer and less prone to sagging. I then picked up stitches all along the bottom of the cable, leaving a space in the center to become the handle opening, and knitted down from there until I’d made enough sections for all my needle sizes. As a final step, I crocheted around the edge of the whole thing for additional stability.

Hanging, the fabric does want to curl around on itself a bit. I keep it straight using two of my thicker straight needles (size 15, hollow aluminum) threaded through the top and bottom, but that’s not really important.

I just poke my needles through the fabric in the right space for their size, and they’re ready and waiting for me when I need them. No need to use size tags or my needle gauge, though I do have one.

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Note: If you wanted to make a needle roll for your dpns, follow the exact same instructions but make the inner pocket piece straight instead of slanted and make all your pieces of cloth smaller to fit the length of your dpns instead of the length of your straights.

Final Dimensions: 21″ width by 16″ height

You will need:

  1. 5 fat quarters of fabric. Fat quarters are pieces of fabric that are 22″ by 18″. They can be found at almost any crafting or quilting store, and are generally pretty cheap– look for them in the scrap bin, since they’re often leftovers from a larger bolt of cloth. If you don’t want to work with fat quarters, you could also make the roll using one 52″ by 22″ piece of fabric, one 32″ by 18″ piece of fabric and some scraps to create the two notions pockets, if desired.
  2. Sew-on snaps, one for each notion pocket you decide to make.
  3. Two thin wooden towels, each approximately 15.5″ long.
  4. Needle and thread, or thread and a sewing machine.
  5. Straight pins.

Basically, you’re making a rectangular pouch with very narrow, tall pockets and an overhanging flap. The dowels keep the holder from being too floppy. If you don’t want to use dowels, you can make one of your fat quarters out of denim, courduroy or some other stiff fabric, and use that as the back.

To begin, take two of the fat quarters and pin them together using straight pins and with the patterned sides facing outward, folding the cut edges together on the inside on all sides. Pin all sides EXCEPT the side you have decided will be the top of the needle roll. If you start with two 22″ by 18″ fat quarters, you should end up with a piece that’s about 21″ by 16″ after pinning. This will be the back of your needle holder.

Next, take the two dowels and slide one into each side of the pinned-together back, aligning them with the two shorter sides. Think of the fabric as one of those horizontal scrolls people read in movies, and your dowels are the handles on the side. Once the dowels are slid in and you’ve made sure they’re flush with the sides of the back, add additional pins on the inward side of the dowels to keep them from sliding.

Next, make the flap. Take your third fat quarter and fold it in half. Pin the short sides together, but do not pin the long raw edge. Again, make sure to fold the cut edges inside before you pin. Make the flap as wide across as your needle holder body– in this case, 21″. The height of the flap is less important. If you want to make a notions pocket for your needle holder, use only about 14″ of the height of the fat quarter to create your flap, and cut off the other 4″ to make a pocket with, later.

At this point, you can sew the short edges of the flap together, if you want. Or you can go ahead and pin the entire needle holder together before sewing. It’s really your choice.

Next, insert the raw, cut edge of the flap you just made into the unpinned top of the needle holder back you’ve just assembled. Remember to fold under the raw edges of the top of the needle holder back. Pin the flap and needle holder back together– you’ll be pinning six layers of cloth (the first layer of the needle holder back and its folded-over edge, the two layers of the flap, and the second layer of the needle holder back and its folded-over edge), so keep the cloth used for the flap light, especially if the fabric for the needle holder back is heavier.

At this point, you have a needle holder back with dowels pinned inside the short edges, and a flap attached to the top, all with pins. At this point, sew the edges of the flap together if you haven’t already, and sew the flap to the top of the needle holder back. Use two rows of stitches about 1/4th of an inch apart, to anchor the flap most sturdily. In addition, sew the INSIDE STITCHES of the sides of the needle holder back, along the dowels. Not the outside edges, but the line of pins along the inside of each dowel that keep the dowel from slipping and sliding around inside the needle holder back. Keep the sides of the needle holder back pinned and do not sew them for now. Similarly, do not sew the bottom of the needle holder back.

Now you have a half-sewn back (inner dowel edges sewn, top sewn) with an attached flap to keep your needles from falling out. Next, you need to make the pocket you’ll keep your needles in. To do this, take two more fat quarters and pin them together on the bottom and sides, again making sure to fold the raw edges in as you pin. The pocket piece should be 21″ wide and approximately 16″ tall. Do not pin the top edge of the pocket piece.

To create the slant of the pocket piece, you will now cut a diagonal line across the two pieces of you have just pinned together. Start your line 8″ from the bottom on one side of the pocket piece (I started the pocket low on the left, but it’s your choice), and end 14.5″ from the bottom on the other side. If you have mostly short straight needles, you may choose to make the pocket shallower by choosing a shorter ending height (12″ instead of 14.5″, for example).

Once you’ve cut your pocket piece, fold under the raw edges of the diagonal, pin them and sew them together, creating a pocket that goes from 7″ high on one side to 13.5″ high on the other. You now have a pocket piece that is sewn on the diagonal edge and pinned the other three sides.

If you don’t want any external pockets to keep notions or dpns, then keep going here. If you do, now is the time to attach those pockets. Head to the “External Pockets” instructions at the bottom of this post before you go on to the next step.

The next task is to attach the pocket piece to the needle holder back. Align the bottom of the pocket piece with the bottom of the needle holder back, and align the sides of the pocket piece with the sides of the needle holder back. Pin into place. You will have eight layers of fabric all the way around– the first layer of the pocket piece and its turned under edge, the second layer and its edge, and the two layers of the needle holder back with their turned-under edges. Once you have the pocket pinned in place, sew all the way around the three pinned sides of the needle holder back, securing the pocket in place and sewing up any remaining open edges on the needle holder back.

You now have a needle holder back with a pocket and flap and dowels securely sewed in to the two short sides to keep the holder straight. Excellent! The next task is to divide the pocket into the many long, narrow pockets required to hold knitting needles. Here you can use your judgment concerning how many pockets you want to use. I included one 3.5″ wide pocket on the shallow side of the needle holder to hold circular needles (back when this was my all-purpose needle holder). All in all, I divided the 16″ of pocket into 12 separate pockets, each about 1″ across (with the exception of the large pocket).

To divide the pockets, again use pins to mark the divisions from pocket to pocket. These pins will help you sew straight. You can either pin out all your pockets and then sew them individually, or pin and sew one pocket at a time. Make sure to keep your pockets straight, as a crooked pocket can’t hold as many needles.

Once you’ve sewn your pockets, congratulations! You have a basic needle holder. Attach a tie of your choice to one end to keep the roll closed up when you aren’t using it, and you’re in good shape. Tassels are optional, but strongly recommended!

Making External Pockets

If you want to store needles, stitch markers or dpns in your needle holder, you will want some smaller pockets. I attach my smaller pockets to the outside of the larger, straight-needle-holding pocket. You will need fabric scraps that are at least 2.5 times as wide or tall as you want your pocket to be.

I have two pockets attached to this needle holder: a 2.5″ by 4″ pocket for darning needles and stitch markers, and a 2″ by 7″ vertical pocket for DPNS. The thing to remember is to never plan to store anything in your external pockets that is wider than 1″, because then your needle roll won’t roll up properly. Your objects can be as tall as your pocket is, but should never be wider than 1″.

To make a 2.5″ by 4″ pocket with a snap-closing flap, take a piece of fabric that measures approximately 5.5″ by 4.5.” Fold it in half lengthwise and fold the cut edges under so that you have a two-sided piece of fabric about 2.5″ by 4″. Sew across the top of the fabric. Sew a snap onto the side of the fabric that will become the outside of the pocket.

Pin this two-sided fabric to your as-yet-unattached large pocket, attaching the fabric on the bottom and two sides, but not the top. Sew the fabric to the pocket along the pinned sides, making your external pocket. Make sure to keep the snap on the outside of the pocket.

To attach the flap, take another piece of fabric that is about 1/2″ wider than your pocket and twice as long as you want the flap to be. Fold the fabric over, fold under the cut edges and pin, pinning the top edge of the flap to the large pocket directly above where the external pocket is attached. Sew down the flap and sew across the pinned sides of the flap. Sew the other side of the snap to the inside of the pocket flap so that it will connect with the inside of the snap when the flap lies flat.

Congratulations, you have made an external pocket! You may notice that you won’t be able to stitch all the way down the straight needle pocket if an external pocket is placed in the way. Fortunately, since straight needles don’t bend, all you really need to do is to stitch the first two inches of the vertical straight needle pockets– even if the rest of the larger pocket isn’t divided by your stitching, the needles will still stay straight and vertical in their pockets.

To make a pocket for your DPNs, follow the same instructions but make the pocket much taller.

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Sock Blocking

It does a sock good. Blocking in this case adds the “Surprise!” to the Surprise! Socks, not to mention making them look much more visually appealing, adding crispness to the lace and, most importantly, making the socks cling to the legs and stay up instead of scrunching down.

Both Surprise! Socks are now knitted and blocked, just in time for the weather around here to finally get Fall-worthy.

How to block these socks? You may notice a total lack of sock blockers. In this case, that’s because the ultimate goal here is to make the circumference of the sock cuff very narrow. That way the lace ribbing will have to streeeeeetch (and being lace, and ribbing, it has stretch!) to fit over the ankle and lower calf. In this case, I soaked the socks in water-and-shampoo (I use Suave for Curly Hair with leave-in Conditioner, for no real reason other than it’s what’s around), then took them out and squeezed (no rubbing or wringing, just squeezed) the water out. Since these socks are superwash, I didn’t have to be this nice with them, but it never hurts.

To block, I grabbed the toe in one hand and the top of the cuff in the other and stretched the sock. Not too strenuously, but definitely pulling on each end. This straightened out the ribbing and helped flatten the decreases in the yo,k2tog pairs used to make the lace ribbing effect (you can see in the picture above that the ribs unblocked are somewhat bumpy– all the bumps are k2togs). I then hung the sock, foot down, over a nearby edge (in one case a drum kit bar, in the other a lampshade) so that the weight of the foot would pull on the leg ribbing even more, keeping things straight and taut as the sock dried.

Note: This sort of blocking makes the cuff seem really long. In reality, wearing the sock will stretch the cuff horizontally and shrink it vertically, so that so-long cuff when blocked will be at just the right height when worn. My perception is that the cuff height pre-blocking is about equal to the cuff height when the socks are worn, so it shouldn’t be hard to get the cuffs the right length when knitting. Just don’t second-guess yourself when you start to block and things stretch out.

All this fuss probably isn’t necessary– my guess is that, if I were to simply wash them in the washer and dry them in the dryer, they’d turn out about the same as the sock on the left, above. But you can’t be too careful! If the socks do deform in the dryer after being worn, I’ll take more photos and talk about it.

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I know my previous post on set-in sleeves, though intended to be simple, was still a welter of lots of words and formulas and scary things.  For your (and my) immediate sleeve-designing needs, here’s a cheat-sheet with just the formulas for calculating a basic set-in sleeve.

For expanded detail or information about how to get measurements A – D, refer to Jenna Wilson’s Knitty article or this KnittingHarpy post or both.

Shaping a Set-In Sleeve Cap Using Armscye Measurements 

Numbers to Measure
Your gauge.
A: The inches of your initial armpit bindoff in the sweater body ______
B: Half the perimeter of your armscye, in inches ______
C: The final bindoff of the sleeve cap, which is typically between 2″ and 2.5″ ______
D: Half the width of your sleeve at its widest point ______
Numbers to Calculate
F: Armscye perimeter unaccounted for after initial and final bind offs: F = B – (A + C) ______
G: Half sleeve width minus initial bind off: G = DA ______
X: Height of sleeve cap: X2 = F2G2 ______
H: Width to decrease away: H = GC ______
Convert H to stitch gauge: H* ______
Convert X to row gauge: X* ______

Your Sleeve Cap Instructions

Decrease H* stitches evenly on each side across X* rows, in addition to initial bind off A and final bindoffs 1/2 C and 1/2 C, to create your sleeve cap. Never decrease more than one stitch per side per row. If you have too few rows, add some additional rows to the sleeve cap, and remember: Too big is better than too small.

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ETA: Check out the worksheet I’ve put together as a quick-and-easy alternative to this text.

I love set-in sleeves in a ridiculous way. I think they’re stylish and flattering. They’re also, as we’ve all been told, the hardest sleeve to design and the hardest sleeve to attach to the sweater body. Here, I’ll be talking about how to design a set-in sleeve in a way that’s reasonably easy and involves very little trigonometry.

I had a terrible time with the sleeves on the SSS. I ended up knitting the sleeve caps three times, and seaming them onto the sweater three times. Ugh! I think the problem is that everyone is always telling me how complicated set-in sleeves are. I questioned my judgment, and as a result, had an awful time getting things right. What I’d like to do here is explain the mistakes I made and how I fixed them, and in the process explain the simplest way to design a good-fitting set-in sleeve cap.

My personal set-in sleeve guide is Jenna Wilson’s Knitty article. It is fantastic, and I recommend it unreservedly. In case you’re feeling a bit lost in it, however, here’s my simplified breakdown of what you need to know to design a sleeve cap:

FYI: Armscye == the armhole you shape in the body of your knitted garment, and to which you attach the sleeve.

  1. The inches of your initial armpit bindoff in the sweater body, A.
  2. Half the perimeter of your armscye, in inches, B
  3. The final bindoff of the sleeve cap, which is typically 2.25″, C
  4. Half the width of your sleeve at its widest point, D.
  5. Your gauge.

A, C and D:

A, C and D are relatively easy to get. It’s #B that seems to be the killer. Jenna recommends heavy doses of trigonometry, and it’s definitely a method that works, if you do the math right and don’t forget any numbers. But you can also do it a simpler, if less precise, way.

1. You’ll need a piece of string, and your blocked sweater with the armhole.
2. Lay the sweater down flat on the ground. Without stretching the string, lay it down on the knitting so that it follows the curve of the armhole from side seam to shoulder seam, as shown in this picture:


3. Pick up the string, careful to keep track of the length you’ve just determined. Maybe you could just cut the string at that point?

The length of that string is approximately half the perimeter of your armscye. It is important to lay the string down on the knitting and not on the ground beside the knitting on the inside of the armscye, since laying it along the inside of the armhole curve will cause you to underestimate the armscye perimeter.

So now you have A,B, C and D, plus your gauge. Here’s how you figure out your sleeve cap math:

Your goal is to get a sleeve cap whose perimeter is equal to the perimeter of your armscye, or B * 2. Since you’ll be doing the same shaping on each side of the sleeve cap, we’ll just figure out the math for one half of the sleeve cap, and you can do the exact same thing on the other side.

First, we have to take care of the lengths of the perimeter already accounted for by your initial and final bind offs. We’ll call that leftover perimeter F.

F = B (total perimeter) – (A (stitches you bound off right away) + 1/2 * C (remember, we’re only doing half the sleeve) + 1/2 * C)

So far, you know you’ve bound off A inches to start, which takes care of a certain number of inches of your perimeter. And you know that at the END of the sleeve, you’re going to bind off 1/2 * C stitches and in the row before that, another 1/2 * C stitches. Together, these form the flattish top of the sleeve cap. That takes care of some of your perimeter, but you still have all the space between the beginning and the end of the sleeve cap to deal with.

Now the trigonometry comes in. The Pythagorean Theorem states that, if the two shorter sides of a triangle are called x and y, then the third side, z, can be attained through this formula:

x2 + y2 = z2

Why do we care? Well, the perimeter you have left, F, represents z, the long side of the triangle. The base of the triangle y is G, calculated as D – A, or half your sleeve width minus the armpit stitches you already bound off. The height of the triangle, x, will be the height of your sleeve cap, and it’s what we need to know.

So to get it, you plug in the numbers:

x2 + G2 = F2

Which, if you rearrange it to put all the things you know on one side and the things you don’t know on the other side, is the same as:

x2 = F2G2

Solve for x by taking the square root of F2G2. x is the height of your sleeve!

So now you know that you have a sleeve cap that is x inches high, not counting the rows you used to cast off in the beginning (A) and at the end (C). And you are left with H = D (half sleeve width) – A (inches bound off at start) – C (inches bound off at end) , the number of inches of width you need to decrease on each side of the sleeve as you get to that height.

Now it’s time to bring stitches back into the equation. If you convert H from inches to stitches using your stitch gauge, you know how many stitches you need to decrease away. If you convert x from inches to stitches using your row gauge, you know how many rows you have to do those decreases in.

You can choose to do your decreases regularly, or to do more decreases at the beginning and end of the sleeve cap and fewer in the middle, which will get you closer to the classic bell shape. For what it’s worth, I did the SSS sleeve cap with regularly-spaced decreases.

If you have so many stitches to decrease that you would need to decrease more than one stitch per side per row, you can add a few rows more to the sleeve cap to keep things smooth. Better a sleeve cap that’s a bit big (up to one additional inch in the perimeter) than too small.

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Knitting a sweater sideways is an excellent way to get vertical stripes without doing any stranding.  I’ve also found through wearing the sweater that sideways knitted fabric doesn’t wrinkle as readily as vertically-knitted fabric, so at the end of the day the body of the sweater is much less rumpled than the regularly-knit sleeves.

Unfortunately, there are also downsides to sideways knitting that I failed to account for when I was planning the sweater.  See Exhibit A:

For a set-in sleeve, the sleeve seam should lie directly on the edge of the shoulder: the white line in the photo.  And originally, the sweater did sit there.  Over time, however, the sideways-knit body stretched horizontally, so my sweater tends to look more like a hybrid of drop-sleeves and set-in sleeves.  The next time I knit a body horizontally, I will either use cables to reduce the stretchability of the fabric or make the whole sweater a bit narrower than I typically do, since I now know it will stretch with wearing.  Estimating from the picture, I think I gain about half an inch in width on each side (my row gauge here was 7.7 sts per inch), so in the future I’d substract an inch from the width of this kind of sweater.

Just a note, this may not be a problem that occurs with other yarns.  The Jaeger Extra Fine Merino DK is unusually drapey for a wool yarn, which makes it gorgeous and comfortable but also more likely to stretch out over time.  The stretching problem would probably occur for any yarn, and be particularly extreme in dense fibers like cotton.

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