Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Binding Off

Now that we've thoroughly covered foundation rows in crochet, it's the knitters' turn. Cast on edges usually do not pose problems in knitting. Usually, they are sufficiently loose or elastic for any project. What does pose problems, however, is binding off.

Binding off involves pulling the current stitch through the previous stitch, and doing that with every stitch across the row. With every stitch tangled with the ones next to it, rather than "borrowing" slack from each other, the bind off edge has very little elasticity. To get around that, one is always well served by trying to bind off loosely (NOT while angry). But sometimes, a little help can go a long way. This is especially true of cotton and other plant fibers, chenille, and some synthetic fibers.

Beyond that, your bind off row will be looser (and even) if you use a larger needle to bind off. I prefer to use a needle two sizes larger. With smaller gauges especially, you can also use two needles at once, although that can be awckward.

Another thing you can do, especially in larger projects, is increase in the bind off row. You can do this with whatever kind of increase you prefer. The idea is that before you pull the previous stitch over the current one, you increase in your current stitch. If you prefer the yarn over or make one increase, you increase, and then bind off the increase. It works best if you increase every few stitches (say, 6), but it can take a little trial and error to avoid increasing too much and making a ruffled edge.

A Note About FDC

Thank you, Practical Crocheter. I think that was a really good explanation. I just wanted to make two comments about my experiences learning foundation double crochet.

1. Until I got really used to using it, my foundation stitch row came out with a larger gauge than the rest of my project. So when you practice it, practice until your fdc's have the same gauge as your normal double crochet in the same yarn.

2. At first it can be difficult to keep track of that chain stitch you make in the beginning of the stitch. Until you learn to see it (and to help with learning to see it), hold on to that chain from the time you make it until you insert the hook into it to start the next stitch.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Oh! The beauty of Foundation Stitches!

Foundation stitch is one of the coolest, most practical concepts for crocheters. I learned Foundation Double Crochet from the Green Learn How booklet ten million years ago -- it's a way of adding double crochets at the end of a row in filet crochet to match increases made at the beginning of the row. But then I realized I could use it as the base row, that it is good for any kind of yarn, and that it can work with all kinds of stitches, including pattern stitches.

Interweave Crochet had a little article about the concept in their last issue, but they explained it differently than I do, so here's my take on it.

First, you have a chain row to start a project. Then you have the first row that you work into that chain row. Would it not be wonderful if you could combine the two rows and work them all in one swell foop? That is the foundation concept.

Foundation double crochet (fdc) looks the most like a row of double crochet, so it is easiest to start with. Here's how: Chain 3 to turn.

- yarnover/yo (because you're doing a double crochet)
- insert hook in last chain from the hook, yo, draw up a loop (3 loops on hook)
- yo, pull through ONE loop to make the chain stitch. (3 loops are still on the hook)
- look at the base chain stitch you just made -- see where it is
- finish the double crochet just like normal: (yo, pull through 2 lps) twice

That is one foundation double crochet. To make more fdc's, *yarnover, and insert the hook under two strands of the base chain you just made. Yarnover, draw up a loop, yarnover and pull through one loop (to make a new base chain), look to see where that base chain is, and finish off the double crochet. Repeat from * as much as you want.

You may want to stretch or ease how the stitches line up so they look straight.

Incorporating the base chain into the first row makes a wonderful, much better edge. PLUS, you are spared the torture of working into the initial chain row.

I'd love to hear how other people like this technique. It is really adaptable to other stitches, too. Do you have a pattern stitch you'd like to see worked as a foundation row? Let me know.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tight chain edges

One of the ongoing difficulties in the crochet world is the nature of the foundation chain. Knitters don't have this problem. Casting on usually creates a nice elastic (if sometimes floppy) starting edge. Knitters instead have difficulty with tight bind off edges. Since every crochet stitch is self contained, final rows pose no problems for crocheters.

Because of this problem, crocheting garments can be problematic. Keeping the foundation chain loose is really important for a good fit. Some crocheters, especially newer ones, also have trouble creating blankets and other four sided items, because the foundation chain cinches in that side of the piece, making it uneven. Here are some tips for working around this common problem:

1. The patterns always say to chain loosely. You can help this along by doing the chain with a larger hook. I use a hook two sizes larger (starting with an I and switching to a G, for example) and then switch to the hook the pattern calls for in the first row.

2. Try to find patterns that are worked in the round from the center or on the diagonal.

3. With garments, try patterns worked from the top down, have a shirttail edge (in other words, the side seams are open on the bottom inch (about) of the sweater, or orient the pieces so the chain edge is on the top, and partially consumed by the shoulder seams.

4. Never start a project when you are angry or stressed.

For more help with this problem, maybe Practical Crocheter will do a post about foundation stitches.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Blog Action Day...Belatedly

I signed up a week ago to post for Blog Action Day. That means that, on the fifteenth, I ought to have posted about something green. Leave it to me to think it was on the nineteenth instead! So, here we go.

Knitting/Crocheting Green

Needlework is a pretty environmentally friendly activity in the first place. Doing it requires no electricity and very little equipment. None of the equipment should contain any heavy metals or other toxins (unlike computers and other electronics). Of course making something yourself is also socially responsible, since, if you made it, you know for certain that no slave or child labor was involved. But going green can go further.

Over the past few years, the textile industry (which includes yarn companies and manufacturers) have developed a wide array of natural fibers from renewable resources. Of course, organic wool and cotton are a nice start, but both depend on large preexisting industries developed around hybridization. The sheep breeds that today are used for wool are not necessarily well treated, and many sheep today would die under the weight of the wool they produce if left unshorn. The breeds of cotton farmed today require vast quantities of water and are extremely vulnerable to insects and other pests, making organic farming both expensive and intensive. While I do not know about the care involved in raising the following fibers, they were developed specifically as renewable sources of fiber.

Bamboo. Bamboo is an Asian grass that most think of as a tree. Because it is a grass, each sprout is connected to the same root system as all the other sprouts in the area. This means that cutting down one sprout of many can not kill the entire organism. It is fast growing. Some species can grow up to a foot a day! And anyone who has had bamboo growing on their property knows that controlling the growth of the stuff is nearly impossible. Bamboo fiber is like rayon in that it is the viscose of the bamboo (made from its insides), so converting it from grass to yarn is intensive. Unlike rayon, their is no danger of driving bamboo to the brink of extinction, and unlike modern rayon, it is not a petroleum biproduct. Bamboo, when processed and spun, makes a fiber that is very soft, but heavy (kind of like cotton is heavy).

Soy. Soy silk is a truly green material. It is extruded from the liquid waste left from the tofu making process. In my experience soy silk can range in texture from feeling like cotton to feeling almost like bamboo.

Recycled silk and rayon. These yarns are produced by a company which hires poor women in Nepal (many of whom are trying to get out of prostitution) to weave saris. When the fabric is cut from the loom, the thread and fabric remnants fall to the floor. Rather than waste this material, they are swept up and spun into this yarn. Each skein is unique. I personally, do not like this yarn very much because it is difficult to work with and has a fairly harsh texture. It is beautiful, though.

Palm. This fiber is still fairly difficult to find. It is made from fiber contained in the leaves of a certain species of palm after they fall to the ground and dry. It has been used as a fiber by people native to the same area as that palm for many years, so production of this fiber uses, not only a natural waste product, but brings funding to an otherwise poor group of people. I bought a skein of it from Habu, and I think it feels kind of like linen.

Corn. I'm not exactly sure where the corn for this yarn comes from. It feels like cotton.

Milk fiber. This is a fiber extruded from milk. I think it is a little wasteful, considering the number of hungry people on the planet who could benefit from the milk (or from corn for that matter), but it is a truly renewable fiber. It feels like a cross between cotton and rayon.

Buying locally is also green, because less fuel is required to deliver it to your local yarn store. And there are lots of small mills around the country (the US, in my case, but this is true of many countries). So whether you decide to buy local yarns and help your local farmer or buy something exotic and help groups of underprivileged people in poor countries, knitting green is increasingly possible and economical. There are also yarn companies that specialize in carrying the exotic and green, South West Trading Co. and Habu, for example.

But really, anything that moves you away from synthetic fibers is a move towards green knitting. If it is synthetic, it is a petroleum biproduct (read plastic). If it is plastic, it isn't renewable, it isn't Earth friendly, it won't allow your skin to breath, and it took a lot of energy in the factory to turn it into something you would want to touch.

By the same token, though, it was once noted at a CGOA conference that there are too many people on the Earth to go without synthetics. If all we had were natural fibers, no single person on the face of the Earth could have more than one garment. In the end, it is probably not realistic to avoid all synthetic fibers, but buying green yarns sends a message to the industry that we want more of it. It can't replace synthetics, but it can decrease our use of them, and it can lead to new sources of natural fibers. Let's keep them researching.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Literacy...It's a good thing

For the most part, I don't follow patterns. It's not that I can't, rather, I usually just have a pretty good idea of what I want to make and how to get there from here. Often, when other needleworkers learn this about my work, they think that it's pretty impressive and a sign of being highly skilled. More accurately, however, it just makes me more prone to "brain farts."

So, a couple of weeks ago, I started crocheting a vest from a pattern written by Practical Crocheter. I was careful in selecting the yarn, choosing the size to make, and making a gauge swatch (yes, I do swatch--designing your own patterns will do that to you). My gauge was dead on, the size I had chosen looked perfect, and I know that my gauge usually does not change over the course of the project. So, on an evening when I was feeling particularly productive, I made the back. The next day I measured it and, saw that it was NOT good. I puzzled about it for over an hour. I had done everything right: my gauge, my number of stitches. What could possibly have gone so wrong that the vest was over three inches too small around?!

Eventually, my tired eyes got their second wind, and I finally saw that I had used the numbers, not for the size medium (which I had sooo carefully chosen), but for the size small instead. The evening was consumed by frogging.

The next day, I made the back again, this time following the correct size. The following day, I made the left front. On the day after that, I completed the right front. On the fourth day, I sewed the seams, tried it on, and saw that it was STILL not good. "What now?" I thought, as I told myself that the three inch gap between the fronts had nothing to do with weight gain (a reasonable assumption, I later learned, as there had been none).

As it turned out, I had relied too much on the pattern. I failed to calculate the measurements of the individual pieces, and simply relied on the total measurements given. The size I chose had the perfect measurement across the shoulders, but not around the bust. Out come both fronts. I used my guage to figure out how many more stitches I would need on each front to make the vest work, and remade the fronts according to my new numbers. So now, I'm a little burnt out on this project. I did finish remaking the fronts, and I completed the collar, I just can't quite muster the energy to do the plackets and edging.

The moral of the Twice Made Vest? Being careful in following a pattern exactly is all well and good, but relying on one blindly doesn't work very well. When you find the size you want to make, and figure out what hook or needle will make gauge, use the gauge to figure out how big the various pieces are by themselves. Use those numbers to compare specific pieces to specific parts of your body. In other words, blind faith doesn't work.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Purse Design

So there's two skeins of worsted weight wool. I'm thinking about a size I crochet hook (5.5 mm).

One way to go is to make a rectangle for the outside, fold and sew it, and add pockets and straps. That sounds too boxy and too much sewing.

I'm more in the mood for making a big piece that I fold and stitch and then add gusset/straps in one fell swoop. The one big piece would be fairly mindless to stitch, so I could do it while walking my dog (he walks slowly and stops to sniff). Then the other parts wouldn't take much time at all.

So -- for the big piece. An Octagon would be fun. That's 8 sides, or increase points. Crochet lies flat at 6 increase points in single crochet or about 12 increase points in double crochet. This is great because I want to use crocheted seed stitch, increasing 16 stitches every two rounds.

Crocheted seed stitch: (sc, dc) across, then in the next row/round, sc into the dc and dc into the sc. I'll start in the center with (ch3, slip stitch to form a ring), then (ch1, sc1 into the ring) 8 times to start a coil in the next round. It makes a fabric that is more solid than double crochet and doesn't stretch out of shape like single crochet.

Now I need to get started!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Stash Management

There's good news and there's bad news.

Bad news: I used to work in a yarn store...with a really good employee discount. Not only did it have a really good employee discount (well over 25%), but when an employee made a store sample, she received as compensation the full retail value of the yarn used in the sample in store credit. That combined with a really good discount spells trouble. On the bright side, the owner and I had very different taste in yarn, which helped curb my enthusiasm.

Curbed enthusiasm or no, however, I live in an apartment, and my stash lives in one of the cabinets in my pantry. In the beginning, that arrangement went very badly. We thought of calling in the Red Cross for help with the disaster area, but there seemed to be no solution. Aid is of little use in the absence of a solution.

Good news: I used to work in a yarn store! The owner bought for the store compulsively! A lot of the yarns she purchased were those higher end yarns that come in cardboard boxes of ten, fifty gram balls. The boxes are long and skinny, with little cellophane windows in the front. And when they were from a company called OnLine, the lids were actually attached to the bottoms, so the lids could fold down into the box. The quality of the cardboard was pretty nice, and they were always glossy and white. The yarn companies wanted their yarns to look fluffy and poofy straight out of the box, so the boxes fit ten pretty loosely. Best of all they stack and the store simply recycled them when they were empty.

Best news: I knew all about it, because I did most of the restocking, organizing, and putting away of new shipments. One day, I loaded my teeny tiny little car full of boxes in reasonably good condition, and took them home. I stuffed them full of my yarn (organized according to fiber content), stacked them up in my pantry cabinet, and suddenly had room for more yarn. It also turned out that these boxes are shallow enough to allow one to find specific yarn easily. Best of all, the Yarn Riots ended, and the Red Cross was taken off alert. And they all lived happily ever after.

So how does all of this help anyone else? Most people do not work in yarn stores (no matter how much they would like to), but most yarn stores Do buy yarn that comes in these little boxes, and those boxes are eventually empty. Sooooo, head on down to your favorite yarn store. They will have the boxes I'm talking about if they carry:

Adrienne Vittadini
various flavors of Plymouth, KFI, or JCA

Do any of you have favorite stash management ideas? Let's compare notes.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Purse Crisis

This is serious.

A simple purse.

You'd think this would be fairly easy: All I need is a simple purse. Bigger than a wallet. Small enough to carry my essentials in a professional, ladylike way. Fits into my tote bag that carries the rest of my life support system (binder, project(s), cell phone charger, address book, and whatnot). Easy to get into and pull things out of. A couple of pockets for small stuff. Strap(s) long enough to go over my shoulder but short enough to carry in my hand. Secure closure so things don't fall out. Classic style in a black-ish color to go with everything. No bells and whistles that will be out of style in a few months. Oh, yeah, and not expensive.

Can't find it anywhere.

Well, I do have lots of yarn. Maybe I could whip up a little prototype in worsted weight, see how I like it -- then I could make a nicer one in a thinner yarn (takes longer to make). It would have to be felted so it wouldn't need a lining. I don't do linings. I have a couple of skeins of Galway in off-black just calling me from the shelf. That's a start.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Space, and other frontiers

Here are a few comments in response to Practical Crocheter’s post below.

One way of understanding the fundamental complexity of crochet, if you are a knitter, is to think of each stitch being bound off before moving to the next. Such a view explains a lot about the characteristics of crochet. Anyone who knits knows that the bind off edge is inflexible, so if binding off is part of every stitch, it’s not surprising that the resulting fabric will lack the elasticity found in knitted fabrics.

Most knitters will also know that picking up a stitch creates a seam behind the new stitch. Every crochet stitch is “picked up” in the row below. While crocheted stitches do enclose the naturally resulting seam, they do not eliminate them, explaining the thickness of many crocheted fabrics.

Here’s an example. One of the simpler crochet stitches is called single crochet (sc). It is familiar to knitters as a nice option for edging knitted fabrics. If one were to accomplish an sc with knitting needles, the instructions might be as follows:

With one loop on your right hand needle, pick up one stitch in a swatch, turn. In the next row, knit two together.

In knitese: Row 1: CO1, pu1. Row 2: k2tog

Now, imagine following that instruction all the way across a row. With knitting needles it would be pretty awkward. Each of the basic crochet stitches is a variation on that concept, but with varying numbers of “rows” and “knit two togethers.”

In order for a knitted fabric to mimic the texture of a crocheted fabric, it must mimic (to varying degrees) the construction. Pattern stitches in knitting that look like they are crocheted often involve complicated increases and decreases in bizarre combinations because they are going through the process of “crocheting” with knitting needles.

Space. In knitting, all of the stitches are interconnected. If one stitch is dropped or the thread of one stitch cut, the stability of the entire fabric is jeopardized. In some knitting techniques, this fact is even exploited. Because every crochet stitch is bound off by itself, and is therefore its own fabric, there is space between the stitches. That space determines the drape and elasticity of the fabric--not to mention its potential uses--just as much as the stitches themselves. It is why crocheted lace looks crisp, even like cut work, and knitted lace looks mesh-like, almost like cobwebs.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Crochet and Knit

It's amazing that crocheting and knitting both come from the same set of basic movements. Everying in both crafts is some combination of Insert, Yarnover, and Pull Through. But from there, the paths are really different.

Knitting is binary: There is only one stitch, and it is just a loop that is pulled through another loop. Looking at it one way is called a knit stitch. From the other side, it's called a purl stitch. Then, there is the yarnover, which is a loop.

Because it is all just loops, and binary, it is easy to mechanize knitting, so we have knitting machines. Knitting makes a fabric that is lightweight and elastic, for the most part.

Crocheting is not binary at all, not in any way. Using the basic units of yarnover, pull through, and insert, crochet has five basic stitches -- and none of them is just the backside of another one. All that complexity at the basic level means that it doesn't make sense to try to make a crochet machine -- there are too many choices about where and how to insert the hook, how many yarnovers to do, and how to pull through the loops. It also means that crochet makes a fabric that is sturdy and textured.

For years, people who are used to knitting thought that crochet makes a fabric that is thick and heavy (as if that were a bad thing!). But those same people sometimes worked really hard to knit a fabric that would be sturdy and textured! They could have done it quickly and easily in simple crochet stitches instead.

Understanding the basic nature of the two fabrics helps me choose the right yarn and stitch for whatever I want to make. If I want to crochet a sweater, I choose a yarn that is thinner than I would use to knit the same type of sweater. I would also check the sizing and drape of the fabric to make sure it will fit.

Sometimes it is fun to follow a pattern or just play with the yarn and see where it takes you. But lots of times, understanding how the structure of the fabric works can free up your creativity to soar in new directions.

Hi Harper

Hi Harper,

It's great to see a new voice. It will be fun to read (and write) about the technique side of knitting and crocheting. Understanding the nuts and bolts of how they work (along with the numbers) makes it a real pleasure to make things that fit reality -- and to try new ideas just to see where they lead.

Your comment about making plain things in crochet is intriguing. As a practical crocheter, I'm always looking to make things that aren't screaming for attention. Crochet, being more basically complex than knitting, automatically makes a richer textured fabric. (Knitting has the advantage in making a simpler fabric.) So the simpler the basic design, the more the focus can be on the understated richness of the fabric. That way, the finished project -- whether it is a garment, a throw, a toy, a purse, or whatever -- can fit into the bigger world more nicely.

Your notes about different increases are so true! If I am confused about what kind of increase to use in a pattern, I look for clues: Even though 'm1' and 'inc1' are both increases, the first usually means 'make one' which is between the stitches (like you say) and the second one is 'knit into the front and back of the next stitch.' Sometimes, with older British patterns, they say something like 'yf (yarn forward)' or 'yrn (yarn round needle)' -- and that means 'yarn over'. They make distinctions depending on whether the next stitch is a knit or a purl! It can be confusing. Also, if the picture shows a lacy fabric, it's probably a yarnover type increase.

With any pattern that calls for increases and decreases, it can be handy to use markers on the needles to keep track of the stitches, too.

I look forward to more of the conversation --
Practical Crocheter

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Knitting: When Increasing One Isn't

So, you're knitting along, following the pattern, just minding your own business. Somewhere in the row, the pattern tells you to increase, you do, you work to the end of the row, and somehow you're one stitch off! You have the right number of stitches, you followed the pattern exactly, you even rip it out and do it over again...twice. Before you toss that disobedient project into the black hole of your stash closet, you may want to take a second look at your pattern. More specifically, at the glossary.

You probably know that, in knitting, there are many kinds of increases, and that they all look different from each other. The complicated part is that the seemingly self-explanatory instruction "inc 1" can refer to any one of those increases. Fortunately, most patterns will specify which increase the designer intends in the glossary. Unfortunatley, vintage patterns and European patterns often expect a level of expertise or improvisational abilities above that expected by most modern American designers, and so leave out such life saving information. Now, to the heart of the matter:

  • If "inc1" is defined as yarn over (yo) or make 1 (m1), the increase is made between two stitches, where no stitch previously existed. The yarn over is used primarily in lace patterns, because it leaves a large hole. The make 1 creates a much smaller eyelet, and is used in pieces where it is important for the shaping to be unobtrusive.
  • When "inc1" is defined as knitting into the front and back of the stitch (also known as a bar increase), the increase is made in an existing stitch. This kind of increase leaves no eyelet in the fabric, but it does create a bump, kind of like a purl.

The point? If you increase with a make 1 when the pattern intends you to knit in the front and back, your pattern will be off as though you have one stitch too many. If a yarn over is intended and you knit in the front and back of the stitch, your pattern will seem to have one stitch too few. The devil is in the details.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Let me introduce myself. I'm Harper, and it's a pleasure to meet all of you--well, maybe not meet, but open the conversation.

Between enjoying time with my husband and family, playing the harp, working, and working on my degree in psychology, I enjoy both knitting and crocheting. While I do work from patterns on occasion, I mostly use my own designs, many of which I have self-published. My mother (a fellow designer) taught me to crochet in childhood, and I taught myself to knit at thirteen. Since I get bored easily, I rarely make plain things in knitting. Usually, my plain things are crocheted, and I reserve knitting for lace and cables.

In any case, this blog is meant to be interactive. I worked in a yarn store for several years, and was active in local guilds for even longer, so I have lots of experience answering needlework and fiber questions. While I will select topics to write about on my own, I am extremely eager to hear from others and help you mull over the things you are interested in or about which you have questions. I also want to make this blog a forum for you, dear readers, to sing the praises of your favorite yarns stores, magazines, websites, blogs, and of course-yarns!

I hope to hear from you soon. You'll certainly be hearing from me!