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


Set-up
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.


How-to
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!
--TK
* * *

* 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!

Monday, March 24, 2014

A faster, easier way to tink

Unraveling, tinking, ripping-out, frogging*: these are all names for un-knitting already-knit fabric, and there is a range of methods for doing it, from slow-but-sure to fast-and-bold. Today's post shows a combo method--fast, yet sure.

BACKGROUND:
At the slow end of unraveling, there is tinking. "Tink" ("knit" spelled backwards) means to unpick knitting, working backwards down the row to transfer each stitch from needle to needle, while pulling the running yarn out of each stitch in turn, during the transfer process. Worked over a long stretch, this stitch-by-stitch approach is dull work, yet many knitters do it patiently, preferring to be slow but sure.

At the bold end of unraveling, there are the knitters who slide the work off the needles, yank out arms-lengths of yarn until the target row is reached, then pick the bare naked loops onto a needle. The upside of the bold approach is speed. The downside is the necessity to grab the naked loops without a lot of manipulation so as not to start ladders or draw the yarn out of nearby stitches. In practical terms, this leads to ply-splitting and stitch mis-mounting during the pick-up process.

If correcting split, mismounted stitches on the fly is not a problem for you, just keep on doing as you are doing now, no need to read further, you expert, you! However, if you're a tink-er wishing for more speed, today's post shows a combo method.

COMBO METHOD
It is possible to slide the work off the needles, yank out yarn with abandon, yet slow down as you near the target row and catch the underlying loops perfectly: no ply-splitting, no mis-mounting, and here's how.

  • Slide the work off the needles
  • Unravel by pulling out yarn, as fast as you like
  • STOP one row (or if you are cautious, two rows) short of the target row.
  • take a very thin knitting needle in your active (knitting) hand, and unravel the last row(s) as shown in the below you-tube video. 



Note that you ARE splitting the plies of the EXISTING stitch (the one you're removing).  However, once that stitch has been pulled out, the underlying stitch (the one you want on the needle) is correctly mounted and unsplit.

Using a very thin needle speeds pick of the stitches of the target row. Further, you do not need to slide the stitches onto the original size needle to begin the re-knitting process, you can knit them right off the thin needle.  This is because the stitches you're catching onto the thin needle were originally formed over a needle of the correct size.  The thin needle is simply a holder.  As long as you work the new row with a needle of the correct size, no fabric-distortion will result. For further reading on this subject, here is a link to a whole post about it.

CAVEAT:  As neat as this trick is, I myself wouldn't do it on lace, or on anything knit with silk.

OBLIGATORY update on the color-knitting book I am supposed to be writing: yes, I am working my little tail off, but MAN oh MAN is it S-L-O-W.  Still no target date...

Good knitting! TK

*frogs say "ribbit-ribbit," sounds like "rip-it, rip-it," yeah?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Steeks, beta version, part 3: real world tricks and tips

Today's post, third in a series, shows how to adapt the new faced steek method to the real world. (The first post, an introduction, can be found here, the second post, showing the basic method, is found here.) Today's post shows adaptations for a full length steek in a one-color or striped garment.  In future posts, we will get to partial steeks (such as for sleeves or 1/4 neck or henleys) as well as stranded color knitting.

Adapting this steek to real life--tricks and tips

converting a purl column
to be a knit column on
the reverse stockinette
(purl) face of the fabric
A TRICK FOR TIGHTER ANCHOR COLUMNS: COLUMN CONVERSION
The facings are anchored into the garment though a purl column (purl as seen from the smooth side of stockinette fabric). To get the tightest possible purl column, initially work the entire fabric in stockinette. Afterwards, locate, then drop (run out) the correct column, making a ladder (ladder shown in dark green).

Next, flip the fabric so you're looking at the reverse stockinette (bumpy) side. With a crochet needle, hook the ladder back up on this reverse side as a knit column (illustrated in darker green). The opposite of a knit column is a purl, so on the front (smooth side) of the fabric, this trick creates a purl column.

This trick of running out a column and hooking it back up from the reverse is called "converting" a column.  The purl columns in the samples of the previous post were converted using this trick.  Have a look. Just remember to keep a sharp eye that you don't drop the ladder so far that the foundation stitch(es) come loose.

If converting a column on an existing garment, then once you have live loops at the top or bottom of the column to be run out,  (more on this below) you can convert the purl column either working bottom-up, or from the neck down, whichever is most convenient.  In stockinette, working against the direction of the original work (i.e.: bottom-up in a top-down knit or top-down in a bottom-up knit) amounts only to a half-stitch difference, a difference very nearly undetectable by even the most eagle-eyed.*

ADDING A FACED STEEK to an EXISTING GARMENT
 If using this method to add a faced steek to an already-created garment, the first issue is to get live stitches, and the second issue is whether you want the top and bottom bands to cover the steeked front bands (called a "discontinuous front band") or whether you prefer to have the front bands run all the way from top to bottom ("continuous front band").  (Of course, a hybrid front band is also possible--different at the top than the bottom.)

For a discontinuous front band, remove the existing neck and bottom band, thus exposing live stitches along the garment edge.  Next, the purl (anchor) column would be converted from an existing knit column, as discussed above.  The front bands (i.e.: the faced steek) would be added next.  After the front bands have been added, the bottom and neck bands would be re-knit, picking up stitches right through the bottom and top edges of the steek, thus sealing the steek-tube shut and laying the neck and bottom bands over the front bands. In the illustration to the left, the top- and bottom-band stitches picked up through the facings are indicated by the red lines. 

For a continuous front band, you would steek right through the existing bottom and neck band.  Best would be to undo the bind off at both top and bottom bands and put these on holders--this gives you the necessary live loops for the purl column conversion, as well as setting the stage for prettier bind off.  Once the original band stitches are on a holder, the next step is to convert the purl column (either from the top or the bottom, makes no difference).  After the steek and its facings are completed, the top and the bottom of the steek would be open, as indicated by the red stars on the illustration to the right. To close them, you'd pick up stitches through the ends of the steek--in other words, through both layers of the facing, both top and bottom, then bind off these newly-picked up stitches in one continuous line with the band bind-off. This creates one uniform line of bind-off at bottom and top edge, while at the same time closing the top and bottom of the open steek tube. 

What if your garment is made in a textured pattern?  Let's look at the original chart from the previous post (click to enlarge).


In addition to converting the purl column, you might want to consider converting the columns in your garment which correspond to columns 18 and 5, as well as the 14/15/16 set and the 7/8/9 set.  This will yield a smooth front band.  It also surrounds the (converted) purl columns (17 and 6) with stockinette fabric, thus assuring that these columns recede into the surrounding stockinette fabric, the better to hide the anchor anchored-in facing stitches. There is no reason to convert the 12/13 columns, nor the 10/11 columns, they will be hidden inside the steek-tube.

WIDTH
In my analysis, this faced steek is the narrowest which will remain structurally stable in use (but again, this is a new trick, so if your experience is different, let me know.)  However, there is nothing to stop you from making the outer facing wider.  Referring back to the original chart, this would mean adding additional columns between columns 7/8 as well as between 15/16. There is no need to add additional columns between 10/11 and 12/13, two columns to curl under on either side of the cut is sufficient.  However, you would need to knit more rows on the inner facing to match the width of the now-wider outer facing.


BUTTONS, BUTTONHOLES and ALTERNATE CLOSURES
If you use faced steeks to make the front bands on a cardigan, you can simply sew buttons on one side, no problem. Buttonholes are a bit more complicated.  One option is to consider machine-made buttonholes.  Commercially-knit Norwegian-type sweaters often employ this trick. Most sewing machines with a button-hole function can handle knitwear, especially if you use a ball-pointed machine needle meant for knits and loosen up the tension so the feed dogs don't catch the yarn.  HOWEVER, TRY THIS ON A SWATCH FIRST (or get an experienced seamstress to do it for you!) 

If you do choose to add machine-made buttonholes, you might like to make the bands wider as discussed above, so that the buttonholes need go through only two layers (the inner and outer facings) thus avoiding the curled ends caught inside. In other words, with a two-column turn-under and a wider band, the cut edges would be located nearer the stabilized edge than the spot where the buttonhole is, so the buttonhole would miss that layer of fabric. 

If you want the button look but don't want to use a sewing machine for the buttonholes, all is not lost--if you think about it, the situation of a blind buttonhole band (blind band = buttonhole band with no holes in it) is the same situation as if you had forgotten a buttonhole in an ordinary (non-blind) band and had to add one afterwards.  Therefore, have a look at this post, which shows several different ways of adding buttonholes after the fact such as slip-stitch loop buttonholes, or attached I-cord loop buttonholes. The post also shows alternatives to buttonholes such as buttons with snaps underneath--you still get the button look, but no need for button holes

Yet another option is alternate closures. Here is a post which shows all kinds of alternatives to buttonholes: toggles, clasps, etc. In fact, ornamented pewter or even silver clasps are the traditional method for closing blind-banded sweaters in the northern climes where steeked sweaters are made.

If the look you want is real knit-in buttonholes, there is absolutely nothing to stop you from making the standard narrow facing, then extending the facing PAST the steek and knitting real buttonholes into this extension--see below.

FRONT BAND EXTENSIONS
Suppose, on the grand finale step for making faced steeks, you did not bind off the inner facing loops through the stabilized edge.  Suppose, instead, that as you withdrew the waste yarn, stitch by stitch, you pulled one live loop from the inner facing through the corresponding stitch in the stabilized edge as the waste yarn came out. Your result would look like this:
What the facing stitches look like when pulled through
the stabilized edge, including a close-up of the live loops
Now you have a series of live loops, and, wow--whenever you have live loops in knitting, these can serve as the taking-off point for all sorts of creativity. In this case, those live loops would make a lovely base for a front band extension. In other words, once you've drawn the live loops of the facing through the stabilized edge, you would then continue knitting the front band on these loops, each row running the entire length of the front band, using the same yarn as you used for the facing. If you used a non-curling stitch like garter stitch, and a one-row buttonhole like the Tulips buttonhole, the below illustration shows the result.  Note that in the following series of illustrations, the garment is turned sideways.  IRL, these buttonholes would be oriented vertically when the garment is worn.

A Tulips buttonhole on a front band extension--note
that the extension is bound off in the mc--or it could have been
bound off in the cc of the extension
If you'd like to get very fancy, there's nothing stopping you from knitting a fold-over facing extension, with or without the mc for the fold-line.  Into the resulting double-layer buttonhole band, you can make really pretty buttonholes by lining up waste-yarn buttonholes on both fabric faces of the extension, as below.

 Remove the waste yarn to get live stitches as below.


 If you work the two buttonholes closed together, the final result would be as below.**

 

Naturally, with front band extensions, you'd want to make the garment fronts narrower to allow for this wider band. Conversely, if your garment had somehow come out too narrow, you could widen it via a front band extension, one on each garment front, which is a heck of a good trick to know.***

ZIPPERS
If you consider inserting a zipper the no-sew TECHknitting way, you'll see that the zipper flange fits very very neatly between the inner and outer facings.  It would be best to attach the zipper flange to the inside of the facing first, then cut the steek, then trap when attaching the zipper/facing combo to the stabilized edge.  You can use the zipper live-loop method, or the zipper chain-loop method, as explained in the zipper post. For live loops, draw the facing loops through the zipper edge, then continue the 3-in-1-trick as usual. With the chain-loop trick shown at the zipper post, you would draw the final slip stitch of the 3-in-1 steek trick through the chain made on the zipper, rather than through a live loop, inserting the crochet hook sideways--as soon as you go to try this (on a swatch!!) you'll see what I mean.


COLOR and YARN
If you really want a matching-color facing but can't find a matching color in a thinner yarn, one option is to simply use the same yarn (the mc yarn) for the facing, as long as you use the smaller needles--it is surprising how knitting certain wools with a smaller needle successfully compresses them to a smaller gauge.  This trick works best on the lofty, soft and fluffy "Germantown" type wool yarns so popular in the US--such yarns as Cascade 220, Patton's Classic Wool, Ella Rae Classic.  

Tighter spun Norwegian-type long-fiber yarn such as Dalegarn, or thicker premium yarns such as Madelinetosh Vintage Worsted do not compress as successfully, and will become stiff if you try to knit them on smaller needles at the rate of 1:1 (one column of facing fabric to 1 row of  garment fabric). If truly at a loss for a color match on these type of yarns, consider needlepoint yarns.  

Needlepoint yarns are very long staple pure wools which wear like iron.  This yarn is sold in little skeins or in cut lengths--get the skeins.  These come in hundreds of colors, making a color match is more likely.  Even in skein put-up, needlepoint yarns have very limited yardage, but for a facing, you don't need much yarn--get a couple or three skeins and ask if you can return any unused ones. Plus, being pure wool, needlepoint yarns take very kindly to being felted together (spit-spliced) end-to-end. Further, needlepoint yarns come packaged three strands together.  These strands are easy to separate, so you can choose to knit with only two of the stands, or even just one strand, making for a thinner facing as well as greater usable yardage/skein. 

If you want a contrast color (cc) facing, it's easy--choose a thinner yarn in a contrasting color--sock yarns are a good choice, or needlepoint yarns.  The purl row through which the facing anchors recedes amazingly, it's almost like a little canyon in the fabric. The cc color anchors at the bottom of this tight little canyon in an almost invisible manner. You'd have to grab the fabric and stretch it to see the cc dots at all.  If you absolutely do not want to take any chance of having the cc to show on the garment front, pick up the stitches through the anchor column using the original mc yarn, then switch to the thinner cc in the first row of knitting. For the final step (the three-in-one trick from the previous post) you'd switch back to the he mc yarn.

...and, the final trick of this post:
A METHOD for IMPROVING the TOP and BOTTOM of the STEEK
The top and bottom of the steek is the area with the most chance for cut ends to show, wear and eventually unravel in a potentially calamitous way. This is because the attachment of the facing and the outer fabric leave a gap at the top and bottom, and therefore provide the least amount of support for the cut ends in these areas.

If you want to put a steek into an already-knit garment, then you will have to resort to needle and thread to sew down the top and bottom right over the edge of the fabric.  Then, either sew the bottom of the facing-fabric sandwich closed, or pick up stitches for the bands right through both layers (but not the cut edges) thus knitting the opening shut, as discussed above (continuous bands).

However, if you are knitting a garment with the purpose to steek it later, you can substantially improve the top and bottom of the steek if you are willing to do just a few rows of flat knitting before and after the circular (tube) knitting into which you will cut the steek.  These few rows of flat knitting (back and forth) create a little notch at the top and bottom of the steek.  Because the sides of this notch are ordinary knit edges (i.e.: not cut-edges) they will not (in fact, they cannot) unravel, and the problem is solved. When you do this trick, you still run the anchor columns all the way to the top and bottom, it's just the top and bottom of the steek itself which is notched. 

Preview 
Stay tuned to TECHknitting blog.  Next up--steeks on sleeves or quarter-necks (partial steeks), followed by (drum roll please...) color knitting. Regretfully, however, those posts are pretty far into the future, maybe even next year.  Life's little obligations just keep getting in the way of knitting, if you can imagine that.  

Until next time, good knitting! --TK
_____
*The main giveaway showing which direction a column of knitting was latched up is the direction the stitches are pointing, a very subtle indicator, indeed.

**These buttonholes were made by simply pulling the live stitches through one another, each through the next, all the way around, then tacking off the last loop. You could also Kitchener-stitch the buttonholes closed, the front one to the back one. 

**When making a steeked garment, try the tube on BEFORE you get to the height of the armholes.  If it turns out that it is going to be a bit tight, work your design so that the steeks for the armholes are placed in the right location to make the garment BACK wide enough. In other words, the armhole slits will not be situated 180 degrees apart from one another, because the back will be wider than the front.  Then, you widen the front by steeking up the front, then adding front band extensions. You can, of course, make the front even wider than the back with this front-band-extension trick. (This is also a good trick for saving any too-narrow pullover you might find yourself knitting, regardless of whether you were originally planning to steek it!) 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Steeks! BETA, part 2: the basic method for a faced steek

Overview
The first post of this series laid out background considerations about 3 things: what steeks are, what a facing is, and what yarn is best to use.
Later posts will show further variations--steeking sleeve openings and color knitting, how to add buttonholes and zippers, etc.

But for today, this (LONG!!) post shows the basic method.  It is step-by step tutorial for a faced steek. There is no sewing machine or hand-sewing involved.  Instead the garment edges are stabilized with a crocheted slip-stitch, then cut, then covered with a previously-prepared knitted facing.

The basic version of this steek--the version shown today--is the sort of steek you might put into a striped or one-color sweater.  If you choose to try this method on a garment, proceed with the warning that this is a new trick, not yet fully garment-tested.

 Intro
Everything about this trick--from the order of operations to the final result--is driven by this truth: once a piece of knitted fabric is cut, the cut-edge is liable to disintegrate. Although long-fiber and "rustic-type" wools can take a certain amount of handling after cutting, the more common soft and lofty "Germantown-type" wools are more delicate.  And with any kind of yarn, over-handling or pulling can turn that cut-edge into a truly terrifying mess of loose ends.

Preventing any chance of a mess means minimizing the amount of time during which the cut-edge is exposed. Therefore, a lot of this method involves steps to set the stage BEFORE doing the cut, followed by steps to quickly seal the cut-edge under the facing AFTERWARD.

Once you've run through the entire  process, it'll be obvious how the operations fit together. Yet, the preparation steps might be mysterious: confusing on first try. To tame confusion, this post features a lot of color-coding, schematics, diagrams and photos--as stated above, this is a LONG post! So, if you' are willing, here we go with a step-by-step tutorial for creating a faced steek on a swatch.

 Materials
  • Main color (mc): a half-ounce of a soft and lofty multiple-ply wool yarn in worsted weight--the kind of yarn usually knit at 5st/inch.  Some common brand names of this type of yarn are: Ella Rae Classic, Cascade 220, Pattons Classic Wool.* The sample swatch is knit in an mc of Cascade 220 in green.........
  • Contrast color (cc): a quarter ounce of a lighter weight yarn in a contrasting color for the facing. The sample cc is a sport-weight lavender ........ wool of unknown origin.
  • knitting needles correctly sized for the mc yarn
  • another set of knitting needles three sizes smaller than the one used for the mc, as well as a small crochet hook
  • bright-colored waste yarn, a few yards, in a color unlike mc or cc. The sample uses a single strand of blue ........ needlepoint wool.
  • scissors
Order of the work 
  • Using mc and larger needles, knit the fabric swatch, color coded in this post in green ........
  • Using crochet hook and smaller knitting needles, locate the purl columns (also color-coded green ........)  which act as an anchor for the facing.  Use that column to pick up the stitches for one long edge of the facing ........ then knit the facing, but do not bind off.  Repeat for the second facing.
  • Using the crochet hook and the waste yarn ........ we'll fold and stabilize the garment edge.  Once the garment edge has been created by the folding, it is shown in bright green ........ 
  • Cut the steek--the scissors!  In the illustrations the cut is signified in red ........
  • With the crochet hook, immediately attach the unbound long edge of the facing ........ to the garment edge ......... This step--the grand finale--is a nifty three-in one trick which  binds off the facing ........ PLUS permanently stabilizes the garment edge ........  PLUS hides way forever, the cut edge. Note that the two columns either side of the cut are called the "cut-edges" and are symbolized in light gray .........
One last thing before we start:  If you click any chart, schematic, diagram or photo, it will become a lot bigger.

Knit a swatch
Rather than make you take the time to knit a tube, this tutorial shows the steek on an ordinary square of flat-knit fabric.  Once steeked, this swatch winds up in two separate pieces.   I think you can imagine that steeking a tube by the same method would leave the slit tube opened flat into a single rectangle featuring two faced edges.

We'll set up the square swatch like this:
Using the green mc, cast on 22 sts.
Row 1: k5, p1, k10, p1, k 5, turn work.
Row 2: p5, k1, p10, k1, p5, (Row 2 is actually just another way of saying "purl the purls and knit the knits.")

Below is a chart for those who prefer one. (If the color coding and column numbering on the chart is distracting, just ignore it: we'll come back to them later.)  Below the chart is a schematic of the fabric, showing the concept of the swatch.

As seen from the smooth side of the stockinette fabric, columns 6 and 17 are purl columns.  From the reverse side, these are knit columns, per photos below.
Below are photos which translate the concept into the real world--photos of an actual sample swatch "in the wool," showing front (left photo) and back (right photo).  This swatch is around 30 rows high.  The green arrows point to the purl columns.  As you see, although purl columns are practically invisible from the front, they're quite prominent on the back, where they appear as knit columns on a reverse stockinette (purl fabric) background.



Knit the facings
The next step is to knit the two facings. Here is an entire post about how to pick up fabric for a facing through a purl column.  I'll wait here while you read that.

Back again?  Good!

The below photo shows the direction of picking up the stitches for the facing ........ through one of the purl columns ........ (either column 6 or column 17). Note that the swatch has been turned sideways, so that the outer edge of the swatch (either column 1 or 22) is at the top of the photo.  Stated otherwise, the stitches for the facing are picked up so that the live loops point towards the center, where the cut will soon be made.  The facing is worked on these loops.

The method of the work is to draw a lavender-colored loop through the purl column with a crochet hook, then immediately transfer it to the waiting smaller knitting needle.  In the below photo,  the crochet hook is in the act of grabbing the running yarn to draw a new loop though the purl column, while the previously-drawn through loops are parked on the smaller knitting needle stationed under the purl column.



Once you have the anchor loops for the facing drawn through along the entire length of the purl column, work 4 rows of stockinette, then transfer the live loops to a holder.  ("Work 4 rows" means four rows of knitting above pick-up loops, with the fourth row remaining on the stitch holder to await further action later.)  Repeat the entire pick-up-and-knit procedure on the second purl column.

The below schematic conceptualizes what the fabric looks like once both facings have been picked up and knit.
 Note how the facings are picked up through the purl columns.
The below photo translates the conceptualization to reality. In this photo, you can see the smooth stockinette side of each facing against the bumpy reverse stockinette of the swatch.
Back view of swatch, both facings finished and pointing towards the center

Again, in the schematic, as well as the photo of the sample, the facings point towards the center, and are not bound off.

Fold the garment edge and stabilize with waste yarn
By the bright green color-coding ........, the stitch chart at the beginning of this post shows columns 9 and 14 are going to become the garment edges once the steek is completed. Before we go further, let's figure out why these particular columns will be the garment edges. For simplicity, we'll only look at the right side of the eventual cut, but, of course, the identical situation applies on the left.

If you look at the chart, the cut ....... is made in the trough between columns 11 and 12. Counting center-wards from purl column 6  ........  you can see that after the cut, 5 columns of fabric will remain: columns 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11.  Column 9 will therefore be the center column of the remaining fabric between the cut and the purl column.

Once the cut is made, it will run alongside column 11.  We will therefore call columns 11 and 10 the "cut-edge."  ........   Due to a happy accident of knitting (called "stockinette curl") this two-column-wide cut-edge is going to flip right under columns 8 and 7.   Stated otherwise, columns 8 and 7 are going to become the outer fabric, column 9 is going to become the edge of the garment, and the cut-edge columns 11 and 10 are going to become the stuffing in the sandwich, trapped between the outer fabric and the facing .........  

By isolating the garment edge (column 9) two whole columns away from the cut-edge,** and by covering up the isolated cut-edge with the facing, that cut-edge is never going to come under tension (that's the theory, anyhow!)

There is another factor, too, which works to isolate the cut-edge.  You see, Col. 9 runs along the top of a vertical fold.  That fold is going to be permanently locked shut via a line of crocheted slip stitch. Result?  Even if the cut edge could somehow come undone while sandwiched between the facing and the outer fabric, the resulting loose end of yarn would have to somehow wiggle through a locked-shut 180 degree fold.

The fold is the heart of the trick, and here's how it's done.  If you fold your swatch vertically, with column 9 (or 14) as a single column of knitting along the edge, it will resemble the bright green ........ single column in the diagram below.


Once you've got the fabric folded at the correct column, you want to slip stitch this fold into place, using the waste yarn, as shown in blue, below.


(For more information about how to slip stitch, go to this post, which shows how.  Although that post is about slip stitching along a garter-stitch edge, the actual slip-stitching is the identical process to that here.)

Here is a photo, showing the slip-stitch process in the real world.

the column of stitches along the folded edge has been colorized bright green in this photo

This slip stitching is temporary, and will be replaced in the grand finale--the last step, right after the cut.

The below schematic  conceptualizes what the fabric will look like once both folds are locked down with waste yarn ......... Note the edge column of the bright green fold ......... Note also that the loop of fabric caught under/between the two lines of slip stitch is now colored light gray ........ showing that this will become the cut-edges of the fabric.


The below photo translates the conceptualization, showing what the actual swatch will look like at the end of this step. The bright green arrow points to the the folded edge ........ which has been colorized to be a brighter green than the surrounding columns. The blue arrow points to the line along which the waste yarn has been slip stitched ......... The fabric to become the cut-edges is visible through the slit, colorized gray.

top view of swatch showing both waste yarn folds 

Cut
The stage has been set: the facings are knit, live loops a-waiting.  The edge has been temporarily stabilized with waste yarn.  It's time for the cut .......  (the "eek" part of the steeking process).

As stated above, stockinette fabric wants to curl under. Our job in cutting is to preserve the stockinette structure as much as possible, so that the cut edge will curl the heck out of the way, to stay forever trapped in the facing-sandwich.

Therefore, the cut is made right up the trough between columns 11 and 12.  In other words, don't cut through the stitches in the columns, but rather, carefully separate the columns of stitches by putting the cut right up the middle.

Here's the schematic of the cut being made



Here's the photo:  you can see the curl is so strong that it actually follows the scissors: the instant you cut, the cut-edge wants to curl under.  On this photo, as well as the schematic above, the folded edge is colorized bright green and the cut-edge fabric colorized gray.



The natural curl of the cut-edge is reinforced by the waste-yarn fold.  That fold pins the curl tightly against the underside of columns 8 and 9.  In fact, this is one of the reasons the waste yarn is inserted in the first place--to control the location and tightness of the curl exhibited by the cut-edge.

Here's one more look at the cut edge curling under--a schematic side-view showing the sandwich surrounding the curled-under cut-edge.  The cut-edge is the stuffing, the facing is the bottom layer and the upper fabric (columns 8-9/15-16 on the chart) is the top layer.



The 3-in-1 trick:
trap the cut edge/bind off the facing/permanently stabilize the garment edge
We're now at the grand finale stage.  If you think about it, everything is done, except for sealing up the remaining long edge of the facing, thus forever trapping the cut edge inside the sandwich. This final seal is created using a crochet hook and a running yarn, creating a line of slip stitch right through the edge column, almost exactly the same way we did previously with the waste yarn.  This time, however, we're not only going to stabilize the folded garment-edge, but also catch the live loops of the facing at the same time, thus binding them off. Of course, the edge is already stabilized with waste yarn.  So, we have to remove the waste yarn, stitch by stitch, to make room for the permanent slip stitch along the same edge.  This is where the other purpose of the waste yarn appears:  removing the waste yarn stitch-by-stitch serves as an exact guide for which column to follow in this grand finale step.

As to how the work proceeds, if you look at the below schematic, you'll see the 3-in-1 trick in action.



On the both schematic and photo, you can see the waste yarn ........ (A on the schematic) coming out one stitch before the permanent yarn (B) goes in through the garment edge ........ and the facing .........



In both the schematic and the photo, the live loops of the facing are colorized red.  As the crochet hook passes by the knitting needle holding the waiting live (red) facing-loops, the hook catches the next loop in line.  It is then inserted upward through the folded edge column, there to catch the lavender running yarn. The photo shows a red loop already caught around the barrel of the hook and the hook already inserted through the edge, ready to draw down a new loop from the running yarn. When the running yarn is drawn down through both loops on the barrel of the crochet hook, the red loop simply disappears under the resulting slip-stitch at the edge. This attaches the facing to the edge, and binds off the facing at the same time, thus trapping the cut ends in between--a real 3-in-1 trick. A single stitch is left around the barrel of the crochet hook, and the whole process begins again by catching the next red loop from the waiting line.

Final result
Last but not least, here are photos of the finished result--a faced steek, with the cut edges forever tucked out of harm's way.

The back, showing the completed facing (Hmmm--looking at this photo, it seems the lavender wool was splittier than I thought!)
Above: back.  Below: front

The front. If you enlarge, you can see the "stitched" appearance of the lavender yarn along the garment edge. However, the purl anchor-column remains hidden, almost invisible.

In real life, you might make a facing a different color than the sweater: a scarlet facing on a plain gray sweater would be a fantastic design element, for example.  However, it would probably be more common to use a thinner yarn in the same color.  The lavender-on-green theme of this post was more for demonstration purposes.
* * *
Whew.  Such a long post. Buttonholes, zippers, sleeve openings, color knitting and other real world adaptations of this basic steek must await further postings.   Until then, good knitting!
--TK

* IMHO, of the three common brand names of wool listed, the Patton's Classic Wool is the grabbiest, the Ella Rae Classic the least grabby and the Cascade 220--the green mc yarn used for the sample swatch--of intermediate grabbiness.  The cc I used, the lavender sports weight wool of unknown origin, was both grabby and splitty (sports weight = a weight of yarn, thinner than DK weight, which is normally knit up at 6 or 6.5 st/inch).

** Separating the fabric edge from the garment edge--as we are doing here--is a long-time theme here at TECHknitting blog.   This series explains further (link goes to part 1).

You have been reading TECHknitting blog about steeks.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Steeks--BETA version, part 1: background

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This post is the first in a series, showing a new way of creating and facing a steek to secure the edges and hide the cut ends.

Because it's new, it hasn't been time-tested.  However, at a recent teaching event* the participants indicated real interest, so I'm writing it up. If you choose to try this trick, heads up! You're a guinea pig in the real-life test lab of knitting.

I believe it will work. I'm pretty sure it won't come out. Further, it's less bulky than many other methods for hiding a cut edge. Yet, I want to stress one more time that, unlike most tricks on this blog, this one is a beta version (beta=testing version). 

If I haven't scared you away, here's some background about steeks.  The actual method starts in the next post after this one.

WHAT'S A STEEK, ANYHOW?
* A STEEK is a trick for slitting an opening (usually a front opening or armholes) into a garment which was knit circularly.  In other words, a sweater might be knit in a tube right to the top, with the front and armhole openings being slit open afterwards with a pair of scissors.  As you can imagine, the main trick with a steek is to prevent the knitting adjoining the cut from coming loose, while at the same time hiding the cut ends forever.  In the trick to be shown in the next post, these important functions are performed by a strip of fabric added alongside the steek-cut, a strip called a FACING.


* A FACING is a LINING along a VERTICAL opening.  In this series of posts, we're assuming a facing on the inside of the front band.  The illustrations shows the inside edges of a steeked garment turned outward, showing the facing (in red) which runs up both inside edges of the steek. As stated above, this facing is the part which prevents the knitting from unraveling along the cut steek line, while also hiding the cut edges of the steek-cut.

ADVANTAGES of STEEKING
Why would any sane person take a scissors to a project as labor-intensive as a hand-made sweater? Why not just knit pieces in the first place?

Steeking is a traditional method, and the old-time knitters were no fools: they couldn't go out and buy sweaters at the mall. They had to have had good reason for everything they did. In fact, there are several good reasons to steek.

Knitting on circular needles (making a tube) means you never have to purl. So, if your flat knitting "rows out," working a tube will solve that issue.

Stranded color knitting and circular knitting go together really well, also.  You're always working on the front face of the fabric: easy to see the pretty patterns developing correctly.  Further, you never have to purl back in stranded knitting, and stranded purling is worth avoiding.

STEEKING HAS SOME DOWNSIDES, TOO
While steeking has many advantages, there are disadvantages, too.  In the comments, reader Uehltje points out that cutting is permanent.  While there are other ways to restyle a poorly-fitting garment, it is unquestionably true that you cannot restyle a steeked garment by pulling out the yarn and re-knitting it.

Another disadvantage is that any steek, no matter how cleverly constructed, is going to be bulkier than an ordinary knit edge.  This is because the cut ends of the yarn simply must go somewhere, and there's no place for them to go other than the vicinity of the cut edge itself.

Further, some steeked sweaters are going to wind up bulkier than others. Specifically, a faced steek on a one color garment is going to be less bulky than on two-color knitting.  This is because, in stranded knitting, two strands have to be hidden for each row knit (one strand of each color in that row), whereas only one end has to be hidden per row in a one-color garment.

While some bulk at the front opening of a garment might not be too troublesome, an armhole steek puts bulk in the underarm area, an uncomfortable drawback with no really good solution.

Because of the bulk issue, it's best to try out a steek in the yarn you want to use for the garment, before knitting an entire garment and then discovering the steek is too bulky for your taste. The next post is a tutorial showing the steek worked up on just such a swatch.

BEST YARN TO USE
Steeks are traditional to knitting cultures where wool is used, most famously northern climates, such as Norway.  The reason is twofold.  First, at that time and place, almost all yarn was wool, so when this technique was invented, wool was it.  Second, wool actually works best for this trick, and by "wool," I mean plain ordinary non-superwash sheep's wool.  This is because wool is, well, woolly.  Each strand is essentially a stack of scales.  When bumped or rubbed, you could see how such scales would hook together.

Fig. 10.
Wool fibers**

Contrast this to polyester, acrylic and all other oil-based yarns: oil is slippery, and so are its babies.  Further, oil-based fiber is extruded (squirted out) through shower-nozzle type devices, in a single smooth scale-less strand. Even if artificially crimped, as some newer synthetic yarns are, this stuff is slick at the most fundamental level.

Silk is just as slippery as oil-based yarns, being also completely scale-less.  Further, just like extruded oil-based yarn, silk, too, is an extruded yarn. (Warning: the extruding silk worms on this link are kinda gross!) 

Plant-derived yarns, such as cotton and linen aren't as smooth as silk and oil-based yarns, because they do have growth rings, twists and other natural irregularities.  However, these don't compare to the irregular scales of sheep's wool, so these yarns, too, are slippery.

Bottom line: if you're planning to steek, the inherent grabbiness of ordinary sheep's wool is your ally in the fight against unraveling, whereas the inherent slippery-ness of the other fibers would be one more thing to fight against: if you haven't clicked any other link, click this one to check out a side-by-side close-up photo of the various fibers.

PREVIEW of the TECH-METHOD
The TECH experimental method shown in the next post is based on the crocheted slip stitch.  The finished product includes a facing which hides the cut edges, and prevents any stress being transmitted to the fragile cut edge. The next post is a tutorial of the new method, as worked on a swatch.  See you then!

Until next time, good knitting --TK
________________________________

* I recently taught at  The Unraveled Sheep Shop, in Sandy, Utah; Verla Younker, proprietor.  A large, fully-stocked shop with a cozy knit-corner; a truly lovely group of participants, a world-class view of a beautiful mountain range right out the front window, check it out if you're ever near Salt Lake City. To the ladies at the class: the method I showed in class was a little different than this one, so when you see the next post, it's me doing it different, not you remembering it wrong. 

** The illustration of wool fibers is from the copyright-free book "The Chemistry of Hat Manufacturing" by Watson Smith, available through Project Gutenberg

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A new trick for fixing errors in color knitting--"controlled drop"

Hello again! I didn't want you to think I'd given up knitting, or dropped dead, or forgotten about the TECHknitting blog.  So, although I'm still working away on my color knitting book/let (who knows when/if it'll ever be ready??) here's a little preview of a color knitting "unvention" to remind you that TECHknitting isn't dead, just on hold for now.

The problem
Suppose you're working stranded two-color knitting,* and notice a mistake somewhere several rows down.  Theoretically, you could drop (run out) the column of stitches in which the mistake lies, fix the error, then latch the column back up.

However, when you try this trick with color knitting, suddenly, there's a problem. The stitches you've dropped form a ladder, yes, but the strands of the other color running behind also form a ladder.  Trying to re-latch the correct strands in the correct order is like playing cat's cradle.

Today's post offers a way to drop columns in stranded knitting with confidence, easily keeping track of which strand goes where.  I call this new trick "controlled drop." It is a variant on the ordinary drop-column method of fixing fabric. In fact, the two methods are so close, it makes to start with a review of column-dropping in ordinary knitted fabric.

Background: the drop column method
on regular (one color) knitted fabric
 As the illustration shows, any one knitted stitch (red) lays along a column (dark purple).

Columns in knitting
In fact, if you've ever had a ladder in a nylon stocking, you already know about columns in knitting.  When one stitch comes undone, the stitches below it are released from their interlocked state, and return to being simple lengths of yarn, the "rungs" of the ladder, we might say.  These rungs are shown in red below. You can fix errors made several rows earlier by purposely running out a ladder and fixing the error. You then re-latch the ladder, using a crochet hook, as shown.

Latching up ladder rungs (red) to re-form knit stitches
There's more stuff you can do with the drop column method** but this little review is all that's needed to set the stage for the color knitting trick.

Fixing mistakes in color (stranded) knitting
Below is an illustration of an error--a (red) inadvertent purl--in color knitting.

An error in color knitting, several rows down--
more complicated to fix than in plain knitting
because of the more complicated nature of the fabric

As you see, if you were to freely drop a ladder, you'd have two sets of strands going.

When the stitches are freely released, it's easy to get confused
between the back strands and the strands formed by
the newly released stitches

Which the heck strand should you pick up?  Sometimes the back strands are above the stitch strands, sometimes below.  This illustration is bad enough, but in real life, the strands are far more bunched together, often behind one another, making them invisible unless you flip the fabric. So, what's the cure?

The way I think about it, the confusion in picking up happens because, when you freely run out a column, what you're really losing is information. Before the drop, the column contained important information: the stitch-stack order--that is to say the color and position of each stitch in the column. Behind the column lay an ordered set of strands. Once the stitches are freely dropped, not only is the stitch-order information lost, but so is info about the relationship between the stitch yarn and the strand yarn.

Recapturing that information means you have to remember/look up the order of the original stitch-stack.  However, simply knowing which stitch ought to come next isn't enough--you'll also need to grab the correct length of yarn from the tangle of released stitches and back strands. X-ray vision would also be handy, so you could see both fabric faces at once.

In a nutshell, the problem is that you have to drop the column to fix the mistake, yet by so doing, you lose the information the column encodes. As is evident, what's needed is a way to drop the column, yet retain the information. That's where today's unvention comes in, a trick I called "controlled drop."

Controlled drop
A ladder in stockinette fabric is capable of being latched in either direction. So, what if, as soon as you released a stitch at the top of a column, you took a crochet hook in hand and instantly re-latched it into a new, upside-down column? With this trick, each stitch is loosened only for the amount of time it takes to unpick it from the original column.  It's then instantly latched up again, this time going the other way. Also, with this trick, the strands are never involved, so they can lay quietly undisturbed on the fabric back.

Instantly re-latching lets you drop, yet saves the information.  Stated otherwise, when re-latched upside-down, the stitches are reversed, yet each stitch's order (relationship to other stitches) remains undisturbed, as does the relationship of the stitch to the back strands.

The process is called "controlled drop" because the dropping process is controlled: the column is let out stitch-by-stitch, rather than a freely dropped column of the kind you would use in plain (non-color) knitting.

How-to
Start at the top.  Once two stitches have been released, insert the crochet hook under the second "ladder rung" and draw the second rung though the first.  This maneuver creates the foundation for the upside-down re-latch column you'll be making.

The first step in creating the upside-down
"controlled drop" column

Continue in this manner, drawing each stitch released from the original column into the new upside-down column.  As you can see, it's possible to unlatch and re-latch in a single motion.  The red circle shows how this is done--the crochet hook unlatches the stitch from the original column by grabbing it where it arises out of the fabric (the side of the stitch).  When this part of the stitch is yanked, the stitch-loop pops free, turning into a single strand of yarn (a "ladder rung") which can be instantly re-latched into the new upside-down column of the controlled drop.

A single stitch being drawn from the original
(right-side up) column into the (upside-down)
"controlled drop" column

Using this method, you keep un-and-re-latching until you get to where the problem stitch lies, and can fix the error.

With the problem solved, you reverse the process.  In other words, insert the crochet hook into the loop of the newly-corrected stitch--the hook will now be be the bottom stitch in the original, right-side up column.  You then loosen and re-latch the upside-down stitches, one by one, from their portion of the column.  This restores the original direction of all the stitches in the column.  At the top, the last loop is returned to the knitting needles.

Once your column is safely corrected with the top loop secured, stretch the fabric around the fixed column several times. The fabric will settle down to look exactly like it did before you released the column: the stitches will be in the correct order, the strands remain undisturbed.  The only difference is, the error is gone, fixed by you at the interface between the controlled drop and the original column.

Good knitting, TK

* For more on the basics of stranded color knitting, here are some links:
Color knitting how to, part 1--background 
Color knitting how to, part 2--two colors, one in each hand
Color knitting how-to, part 3--knitting with two colors on one hand AND three color knitting 
Color knitting how-to, part 4--multi-color knitting, one color at a time, also called multiple-pass knitting 
Color knitting how-to, one color at a time: slipped stitch knitting 

**If you do find that you want to know more about fixing knitted fabric via the drop column method, here are some links:
Correcting errors in the rows below, part 1: moving a decrease
Correcting errors in the rows below, part 2: moving an increase
Correcting errors in the rows below, part 3: adding an increase
Correcting errors at the side edges of your knitting 
Fixing a run in garter or seed stitch 

PS:  The whole idea of knitting encoding information is not original with me.  The best-known example of encoding comes from the Tricoteuses of the French Revolution, among whom the fictional Madame Defarge  was the most famous.  True, these knitters were encoding a different kind of information (spoken words in a sort of a morse code vs. the order inherent in the fabric itself) but the concept is similar: stitch order encoding information.
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