Wednesday, May 30, 2012

More on gauge & knitting another size: a very good question for a commenter

Following up on my last post about gauge and the perils of knitting another size...

In response to my points about the danger of having to add more increases to the sleeve, that it might make the sleeve too long, a commenter asks a reasonable question:
'With a few calculations, though, surely you could just knit the number of rows that would give you the correct length for the size you actually want?'
Absolutely, of course you can adjust the length of the sleeve. It's not that hard, relatively speaking, and knitters who are comfortable with the math do this all the time!

But my point was this: knitters often believe (hope?) that they can just work another size and have it magically work out, with no math at all. And as my example illustrates, and your question supports, this just isn't true.

Another reader has asked for some more basic guidance on checking gauge and counting - I'll post on this in the next day or two. Any other questions I can answer?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"So just knit a larger size"

When a knitter can't match gauge for a garment pattern, it's often suggested that they compensate by simply knitting a smaller or larger size of the garment.

I hate to burst your bubble, but I do NOT advise this strategy.

Here's why: your garment will be the wrong length and your sleeves won't fit into your armholes.

Let's use an example: Cheesy Puffs from an early issue of Knitty. There are four sizes - M, L, XL, XXL.

Let's say I want to make the L size, with a finished chest of 48 inches. And I can't get the called-for gauge of 13 sts in 4 inches, I'm getting 14 sts instead. This means that my fabric is smaller than it should be.

So, I think to myself: I'll just knit the larger size.... that will work out ok, won't it? It's only one stitch and one size, how much trouble could it be?

You'd be surprised.

Problem #1) If you knit the XL you'll get the XL length. The vast majority of garment patterns are written by distance...  (not numbers of rows); that is, it's totally independent of gauge. So for this specific pattern, if I'm following the XL instructions, I'll work the back until it measures 18 inches before the armholes because that's what it tells me to do. But if it's the size L that I was aiming for, I'm an inch over - that size needs only 17 inches before the armhole.

This one is pretty easy to fix, but it does require some thinking and planning  ahead. It requires you to read through your pattern and check all the various lengths, compare them for the two sizes, and adjust the XL sizes to use the L lengths.

Problem #2) Your sleeves won't fit into the armholes.

Again, the armholes are given by distance: for the size L, you have to work 11 inches after the armhole shaping. And the top of the sleeve is calculated carefully to be 22 inches across - twice the depth of the armhole. For size L, the sleeve is 73 sts at the top, at 13 sts/4 inches. (And 13 sts/4 inches = 3.25 sts/inch.) Since the sleeve is worked flat, take off the 2 sts you'll lose in your seam, so that gives you 71 sts. And 71 sts/3.25 sts per inch = 21.9 inches.

But if I work the size larger, I've got 75 sts at the top of the sleeve, at my gauge of 14 sts/4 inches. (And 14 sts/4 inches = 3.5 sts/inch.) Take off 2 for the seam, which gives me 73 sts. And 73 sts/3.5 sts per inch = 21.4 inches.

But if I've been following the instructions for XL, then I've been told to work 12 inches before the armhole shaping, so now I'm trying to fit a 21.4 inch sleeve into a 24 inch armhole.

Can you fix it? Sure, but at that point you're basically redesigning the garment. You'd need to adjust the depth you work for the armhole (11 inches instead of 12, that's not too hard), but then you'd still need recalculate the number of sts you need for the top of the sleeve so that it fits that depth, since the 75 I'd been working with is still too small for the 22 inches. I'd want 22 inches * 3.5 sts/inch =  77 sts. Which means that I'd need to recalculate the increases for the sleeve - since working an extra repeat of the 4-row increase pattern on the sleeve may well make the sleeve too long... and so it goes.

And this is for a straight armhole. The situation only gets messier for a shaped armhole and a set-in sleeve.

Surely just knitting another swatch is easier?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sometimes I may seem unsympathetic and unforgiving...

I've had a couple of conversations about gauge in classes in the last few days, and it seemed pretty clear from the reactions of my students that they felt that I was being strict and unsympathetic.

The truth?

I am. On the topic of gauge, I am unyielding.

I'm entirely sympathetic to those who don't understand what it's all about. I'm very sympathetic to those to who don't understand why it's important. And I'm happy to spend as much as needed addressing questions on how to do it.

I took me years to wrap my head around the issue of gauge and how it related to why my hats were too small. And then a bit longer than that to figure out how to use that knowledge to ensure that my hats were no longer too small.

But I am entirely unsympathetic to those who do know what's what - and then tell me that they find it too much work to swatch. I have to tell you, I don't find it particularly cute or funny when a knitter tells me that they don't bother swatching. (More often than not, this 'confession' is delivered with a giggle, like it's a cheeky and harmless transgression.) Why? Because I know that next year I'm going to hear a story about a garment that took months to knit but didn't fit, and how unhappy it made the knitter. Often I have these two conversations in the same class - (different knitters, obviously).

The longer I teach knitting, the sharper my reply: "Do you care how it fits?".

Because it's as simple as that. If you don't swatch for a garment you simply cannot know if it's going to be the right size. 

Now: the corollary to this is that if it's not a garment - or not an item where a particular size matters, for example a scarf or a shawl - gauge doesn't matter.  I don't mind if my scarf is an inch wider than the pattern says it should be. (It doesn't mean I don't still knit a test piece to assess the fabric, to make sure I like how it looks; and sometimes that test piece is just the first few inches of the scarf. But I don't swatch for gauge. But that's a topic for another day.)

I had a related conversation this weekend with knitters about working a project from a kit. The kit is for a certain size baby garment. One of the two knitters, S., had already made this garment from the same brand of kit, and remarked that she had a fair bit of yarn left over. Indeed, according to threads on Rav, this particular kit in this particular size had enough left over to make one size larger.  Excellent news!  B. and I joked a little about her needing to swatch - of course, I said. We were in a group, and there were several conversations going on. A few minutes later, S. and B. were chatting and S. told B. she really didn't need to swatch - it's only a baby sweater, after all, and it doesn't matter if it's the wrong size... if it's too big then all the better, and if it's too small it would be ok because she was making the larger size anyway.  (I general, I would agree - there's a bit of room for fudge with sizing a baby sweater.)

I think they were both a bit shocked when I stopped my conversation, interrupted theirs and very firmly said no. B. had to swatch. No question.

Here's the other thing about not knitting to gauge: knitting looser uses up more yarn.  Since B. was already pushing the limits of her kit by working the larger size, if she wasn't on gauge (or smaller), she was risking running out of yarn. To me, the equation is simple: spend less than an hour swatching to make sure you're on gauge, or spend 10 or 15 hours (or more) knitting a sweater you can't finish because you've run out of yarn.

So yes, if my delivery was sharp or harsh, I apologize. If I came across as unyielding - I'm not sorry one bit.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Intrepid Knitter is Intrepid

Sallie took my "War & Peace" socks class at The Needle Emporium in the spring. She came back today for my Continental class so she could speed up her production.

Unsurprisingly, Sallie took to Combination knitting like a duck to water.  And she bought Principles of Knitting at my insistence.

I do love an Intrepid Knitter.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

California Revival Knits

One of the great things about being a Cooperative Press Author is the opportunity to meet and collaborate with my peers - other wonderful knitters with fabulous visions for changing the knitting world.

One of those wonderful knitters is Stephannie Tallent, also known as StephCat.

We met for the first time at Rhinebeck last year, and we immediately bonded over a mutual love of animals. Like many of us in this business, StephCat has another life: her other identify is as a vet. She nodded her head sagely when I told her about the escapades of our hound-dog Dexter - the look in her eyes said "well, he is a hound, what did you expect?" but she was too polite to say it out loud.

Steph and her husband have an English Cocker Spaniel, Rigel, who has also been known to indulge in a little mischief once in a while. And they have three beautiful Tonkinese cats, one of whom is featured in her book, California Revival Knits.

Yes, Stephannie just published her first book, California Revival Knits.

The book contains 14 designs, all inspired by California Revival style of architecture and design.

The designs are stunning.... these Peacock fingerless mitts are haunting my dreams....

but I think the best part of the book is Steph's discussion of the California Revival style and the inspirations for her designs. You can see all 14 designs on Ravelry.

Another thing we have in common is that we both work as tech editors for other designers - and we have the same trepidation of being tech edited ourselves.. After all, says the little voice in the back of your head, we should know better. In Steph's words: "...mostly I feel really stupid when someone else finds my mistakes. Invariably some are found. But then, I catch mistakes in other tech editor's patterns (I often swap tech editing with other designer/tech editors). I'm really leery of the quality of a pattern when someone blithely announces they don't bother using tech editors.m It just can be so hard to see your own mistakes, especially when you've totally immersed yourself in your pattern." I couldn't have said it better myself.

Also, this makes me feel better since Steph edited my own book, and I know she found mistakes.

I asked Steph about what she learned while writing the book, and I found something else we have in common: when we want to learn a new technique, we challenge ourselves to design with it... in particular, she mentioned that her intarsia skills are much better than the used to be. And with those Peacock Mitts, I can see why!

Did I mention how much I love the Peacock Mitts?

It's not all colourwork (phew!), there's some beaded knits, some fabulous twisted stitches and some really great lace. And you know that being a tech editor, Steph's patterns are well written and easy to follow.

Buy a digital or physical copy here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Repurposing non-knitting things to be knitting things

Part 2 in a casual series...

I use a toothbrush holder to carry DPNs, crochet hooks and a set of short straight knitting needles. Notice the very glamorous duct tape I have used to close up the drainage holes.

It protects the needles and hooks, keeps them all together, and stops them from falling to the bottom of my knitting bag.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Taiyo Sock scarf

Last year, I published a scarf pattern using Noro Sekku.

I do love how the scarf looks, but I will be honest: the Sekku is about the thickness of thread, and the fabric only really looked good on 2.5mm needles. More sensible knitters than I pointed out that I was probably the only person in the world who would enjoy knitting a scarf on sock needles. And the resulting scarf was a little smaller than I wanted, too.

The stitch pattern is a very simple Shetland Razor Shell, with only one easy-to-work, easy-to-read lace pattern now.

I'd been meaning to knit another one, in a thicker yarn so as not to drive myself crazy, and the moment I saw color 23 of the Taiyo Sock, I knew I had found the right yarn.

And worked in the Taiyo, it's larger and not-so-crazy-making.

The pattern stitch causes the rows to zig-zag, making this fabulous 1970s-style chevron stripe - and worked in a vibrant 1970s autumnal palette (yet so modern, with a bit of Pantone's favourite Tangerine Tango), it's a fun summer accent. How good does it look with denim?

Pattern available for sale on Ravelry, for $4. It's an ideal first lace project, and I've included lots of tips on how to work it, and blocking to help out the first-time lace knitter.

It's worked with a single ball of Taiyo Sock yarn, on 3.5mm needles, and results in a scarf 11 inches wide and 60 inches long. Substitute any sock yarn you like, of course! One with long color runs like the Noro would work best.  I'm thinking it would look pretty tremendous in that Turtle Purl self-striping sock yarn... But yes, if you've got a skein of lovely sock yarn you want to show off, this may well be your pattern.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Knitting Doctor is In: WWKIP Day at Shall We Knit

June 9th, Shall We Knit in Waterloo is celebrating World World Knit in Public Day, and I'm thrilled to be part of the celebration. We are raising funds for breast cancer research - thinking of Sue and others in the SWK family who have been affected - and I'm for rent!

The Knitting Doctor will be in.... Have a tricky problem with your knitting? A technique you’ve always wanted to learn? A pattern puzzle you need help with? Come see Wisehilda Kate, The Knitting Doctor. Put your money in the jar and let the Dr. help!

I'm curious to see what questions people have. Will you be able to stump me? Should I be studying my copy of Principles of Knitting to prepare? Will I need to do tricky math? I'm looking forward to this!

Perhaps I should issue a challenge back.... ? How about this: if I can't answer your question, I will refund your donation and I will put the money in the jar myself.

There will also be food and merriment and perhaps even some knitting.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A New Project, A New Page

More later, but I've bought myself a proper camera, and have embarked on a project to learn how to use it.

I've created a Photo of the Day Page, (link also in the nav bar at left) and I will be posting a photo every day, as I experiment.  Yesterday, I played with shutter speed as Dexter and Daisy romped in our yard.

Expect lots of pictures of dogs and coffee.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Substituting Yarns, Willy-Nilly

That's one of the many reasons I love lace knitting: so much scope for yarn substitution.

Here's a version of my Herringbone semi-circle shawl in Noro Ayatori - how fabulous is this? And only 3 balls! The colours are just perfect for me - I may have to make myself a third.

And another Miss Otis, this time in one skein of Handmaiden 4-ply cashmere. 170yds of this sport-weight yarn gives a piece about 13 inches long and nearly 60 inches wide.

Both gamely modeled by Lisa, the newest team member at The Purple Purl.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Upcoming Events: Needle Emporium, Shall We Knit

On the road again...

Back to Needle Emporium in Ancaster May 26th! (Julie bought a kettle just for me, she may as well get her money's worth out of it... ) Seriously, it's a great shop, and the "bay area" knitters are wonderful.  By popular request, I'm teaching my Finishing Class, and Continental Knitting.

Here's the thing with Finishing: it can be make or break with a project. It's often said that good finishing is the difference between a project looking home-made and hand-made - and I agree completely. I'm pretty passionate about finishing techniques... They are often given short shrift in the books and pattern instructions. You'll get something like "Sew up." or "Assemble." which isn't much help if you're not confident about how.  And many knitters avoid seamed projects entirely for this reason. But seaming is fun and easy and wonderful if you're doing it right. (See this blog post on one type of seam and how amazingly wonderful it is.)  And seams can add to the garment - they provide structure to stop it stretching, and can help you create a better fitting and better looking garment.

And if I may be so bold - you know me, I can be pretty bold - many knitters who think they know how to finish don't know everything they need. If you're seaming knits with the right sides help together like you do for fabric, I can tell you right now you're doing it wrong.

And even if your project doesn't need sewing up, there's things to learn. Weaving in ends.  Joining new yarn when working a project so that they're easy to weave in and hide. Casting off loosely and tidily. (Indeed, casting on well is important in finishing and we talk about that, too.) Oh, and that blocking thing? I explain that and make it easy-peasy! Even if you don't think you need this class, I promise you will learn something!

As for Continental: this class is a hoot! Skip your yoga class and come and stretch and exercise a little with me. It's pretty low impact (just your hands), but like yoga, it can be pretty life-changing. Expand your knitting repertoire a little, add some speed, pick up the skills you need to be a happy Fair Isle knitter. Learn to love seed stitch! And for knitters who are experiencing wrist pain or arthritis, learning to knit continental style helps you manage the strain and keep both your wrists limber and relaxed, without undue stress on them.

More details on both classes here.

And I'll be in Waterloo June 9th and 10th. For World-Wide Knit in Public Day Saturday June 9th, ll be on the front porch of Shall We Knit, knitting. In public. Chances are I'll also be drinking coffee. (The coffee is very good there.) And maybe even some other fun stuff, too.  You never know what shenanigans the SWK girls can get up to... Come, hang out and knit with us, and enjoy the shenanigans.

On the 10th, I've got two classes - Continental (see above), and my Herringbone Shawl.

My Herringbone Lace Shawl is an ideal first lace project, it introduces you to safe, easy and fun lace knitting. I teach you about the magical top-down shawl works. And it's great way to use up those single skeins of sock yarn....

Monday, May 07, 2012

KnitLab San Mateo

I am absolutely thrilled and honoured to announce that I'm on the teaching roster at Knit Lab in San Mateo California this coming November.

The workshop list is amazing - and there's little old me, right in the thick of it.

I'm teaching a full-day "Design Your Own Fair Isle Wristwarmers" session, which is an ideal introduction to colorwork. I provide an introduction to the methods and techniques of Fair Isle, and we create customized, personal, unique wristwarmers using classic Shetland patterning.

I'm teaching my "Two Socks War & Peace Method"... one inside the other.  You know, the Sock Knitter's Party Trick. Bored of making socks the usual way? Looking for a way to show off to your jaded friends? This never fails to impress - and teach you some important things about sock knitting along the way...

and my classic "Designing Custom-Fit Socks" - because 'one size fits all' never does. Learn how to create top-down and toe-up socks for any yarn, for any foot, no matter what the fit challenge. Skinny ankles? Easy! Not-so-skinny ankles? Even easier! High arches? Low arches? Odd feet? Funny toes? We can deal with it all!

Registration opens May 8th.

More info here.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Chart Reading Tutorial

I've heard from a few knitters that they're hesitant about knitting the Doctor Who shawl because of the charts. It occurs to me that this might be a good time for a small chart reading tutorial.

Some pattern stitches are charted – lace and cables, most commonly. Charts are simply another way of representing a stitch pattern, nothing more. Any written instructions can be represented in a chart, any chart can be written out. As to which you prefer, it’s not about your talent or experience as a knitter, or your level of intelligence – it’s all about your learning style. Visual learners or those who are good at pattern recognition tend to prefer charts; auditory learners tend to prefer written instructions. One isn’t better or more proper than the other, they are just different.

Sometimes you’ll get both in a pattern, sometimes, only one. And often, the one that the pattern uses is a reflection of which one the designer herself prefers – nothing more! (It's also true that charts are easier to check than written instructions, and can take up less space.)

First things first, locate the legend. That’s the key – pun intended. Every chart will have a legend – whether on the same page, or at the end of the book or magazine. Always make sure you find it – not all symbols are standardized. Don’t worry, though, you’ll never have to guess.

Look at the numbers at the bottom – that tells you that this is worked over 7 stitches. And the numbers on the sides are the row numbers – there are 16 rows in total.
The row numbers are the clues to how the chart is read. Row 1, which is a RS row, is read from right to left. All RS rows are read from right to left. Row 2 (and all following even-numbered rows ) are WS rows, and they are read from left to right.

Think about a row of 7 stitches. You knit them in order: stitch 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. When you turn around to work back, you start with stitch 7, and work back to stitch 1. So charts are read in the direction you knit - from right to left on the RS rows and from left to right (stitches 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1) on the WS rows.

Let’s take a look at the Legend. The last three symbols are easy, but there’s something funny going on with the first two. A blank square  has two definitions: knit on the RS and purl on the WS.

Row 1 is a RS row, so it goes like this: P1, ssk, k3, yo, p1.
Row 2 is a WS row, so it goes like this: K1, p5, k1.

Why change the meaning? It’s because a chart is a picture of the front (the right side) of your knitting. Really, a blank square  means “do whatever you need to do so that the stitch shows as a knit on the RS”. And a knit on the RS is a purl on the WS. And the dot also has two definitions - purl on the RS and knit on the Ws - really just "do whatever you need to do so the stitch shows as a purl on the RS."

The other three symbols only have one definition since they are only worked on the RS.

This way, you can easily look at your knitting and compare it with the chart, and you’ll see they have a certain resemblance.

Some charts only show the RS rows – the row numbers will be the clue here: if a chart only has rows 1, 3, 5, ... and so forth. Look for some text near the chart -- or in the instructions where it first mentions the chart -- that describes what to do on the WS rows. This is sometimes done to make the charts smaller and easier to read – and you can assume that the WS rows are all going to be the same; in this case, it's most likely just a plain purl row. (In the case of Bigger on the Inside, there are some increased worked on the WS, so they need to be shown.)

For a project worked in the round, every row of the chart is read from right to left, because that's the direction in which you knit. And the symbols will never change meaning! After all, when you're working in the round, you're always on the RS, so that's how you read the chart - always on the RS.

No matter which you are more comfortable with, chances are you’re going to encounter a pattern that doesn’t have the one you like. If you find you prefer written instructions, feel free to write the rows out before you begin; if you prefer charts, you may want to draw charts for the written instructions. Use whichever you find easiest.

Now, for Bigger on the Inside, we've added something else - red boxes! These are repeat boxes.

On every 4th row (4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24), a WS row, there's an increase. Which means that the number of sts increases. You can see this: the chart gets wider. The first time through the chart, work it exactly as written, ignore the red lines. After you're worked the 24 rows, you keep working them again and again (until you have 52 sts, specifically)... but you've got more stitches. 6 more, in fact. Enough to work the pattern in the red box once more. So the second time you work through the chart - rows 25-48, you start the chart as written, work the 6 stitches in the red box twice (until 2 sts are left in the row), and then finish with those 2 sts. And so forth.

And with the Decrease chart, you're taking away a repeat of the red box every 24 rows.

Excerpted and adapted from "Beyond Knit & Purl". If you liked this, find much more like it in my book!

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Friday, May 04, 2012

Recycling: Conference Badge Holders

As a refugee from the tech industry, I have had more than my share of conference badges - you know, those  little plastic pockets that hang around your neck, holding a card with your name and company affiliation.

Hubby gets them too, at the various film festival he attends.

A  couple of years ago I was working on a lace project, and I needed a way to carry around a small chart, to keep it protected. A full letter-sized sheet protector would have been overkill - and they don't fit neatly into my knitting bag.

I had a brainwave: I could keep the relevant portion of my chart in a conference badge holder. They're clear, they're plastic (i.e. impervious to coffee spills), and they're small enough to fit in a little knitting bag.  Perfect.

I use them all the time.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

On Gremlins & Errata, or: Stuff Happens

The term "gremlins", used to describe michievous imps that sabotage or cause damage, dates back to the 1920s. It was first used by Royal Airforce pilots, describing mythological figures that were sabotaging aircraft. Otherwise inexplicable mechanical problems with aircraft were blamed on the gremlins.

There are gremlins in all industries, in all lines of work.  Even in knitting.

I like to imagine that it's yarn gremlins sneaking about mills at night with a pair of scissors, snipping the odd strand in a skein and tying them back together, that cause those pesky knots you find once in a while.  (The gremlins at the Noro factory are particularly clever, not just snipping a strand, but rearranging colors in the skeins.)

And there are well-known gremlins in publishing. Gremlins can be damaging or hurtful - or in my case, just frustrating.

Gremlins have been at my book. We had a few photo captions go missing, and a couple of headings shift around.

But we also had a few other things go wrong, and although I'd love to blame it on mythical pixies, it was definitely human error. If you bought the digital version of the book, you should have received a link to the new version in Ravelry. If you haven't, email me at kate at wisehildaknits dot com and I'll make sure we get it to you.

And if you bought the physical edition, download the errata sheet here. In one of those good news/bad news sorts of stories, the first print run has sold out, and so the new edition going to print has all the corrections and tweaks.

Sadly, some of the same pixie- and/or human-attributable errors crept into Bigger on the Inside, too. We corrected them as soon as we found them, but please do make sure you get the latest version.

As a tech editor, I find this sort of thing totally mortifying... if I spend half of my time checking other patterns for correctness, it seems doubly awful that my patterns have mistakes in them. But yes, as a wise man once said "sh*t happens". This is the great thing about the internet, that we can distribute corrections broadly and quickly. And I am grateful for that.

It's hardest of all to check your own work, I know that. But that's no excuse. I am working every day to get better at checking my own work. I appreciate knitters' patience as we make things right.