Sunday, April 20, 2008

In praise of the Feather & Fan -- and Stitch Markers

This traditional knitting pattern is probably my favorite afghan pattern. It looks good in thin or thick yarn, makes a good scarf, stole, or throw. It's the simplest complicated-looking pattern ever. For all its wavy, lacy effects, every row has the same number of stitches. The pattern is only a 4-row repeat, and 3 of those rows are simply knitting or purling across! Doing the pattern in a single yarn focuses on the contrast between lacy and solid sections. If you change colors after each repeat, the focus is on the wavy texture (good for an ocean/water theme).

Even the one thinking row isn't hard at all, just increasing and decreasing across. It is good to have a row where you have to think: this is the row where you can tell quickly if there are any problems. If things aren’t lining up properly, you will see it on the pattern row.

This is also the introduction to the miracle of stitch markers for many new knitters. If you haven’t used markers in your knitting, you may think they are just one more silly gadget the yarn shop folks are trying to foist on you to get your money. Considering that markers cost only a buck or two (or a whopping 5 dollars for more sturdy ones), that is hardly an effective tool for yarn shops to get more of your money, but I know it may feel that way.

If you feel you don’t need markers and just start working a feather and fan blanket, you will spend more time counting (up to 150 or however many stitches) than enjoying your knitting. And it's really easy for the pattern not to work. The pattern won't look like the picture... and how come the circular needle isn't long enough -- and how did you get 500 stitches on there? It happens.

Out of exasperation, you may break down and buy some markers. Then, once you start placing a marker after each repeat of the pattern, you will know the joy of having to count only to 18 (or 17 if you are using some variations of the pattern) -- a much, much smaller number. More experienced knitters may count to 3 (for the first set of decreases), to 6 (for the increases), and then look ahead to make sure there are 6 stitches to the next marker for the last set of decreases. Life becomes so much simpler and pleasant that you laugh out loud! And you will appreciate the order and joy that these little rings bring to your life when they aren’t busy disappearing into the sofa cushions.

And on the rows where you just knit or purl across, simply slip each marker to the other needle when you come to it. That way, they're waiting for you when it matters.

Just a satisfying pattern.

Friday, April 18, 2008

And Finally...

So, about those foundation stitches, I thought I'd provide some photos. For trying out foundation double crochet, I would recommend opening the link to the instructions (below) in a new window, and then adjusting both that window and this so that they may be viewed side by side. That way, you can use this page as a reference as you work.

If you want to start a project with foundation double crochet, start with 3 chain stitches, and begin with step two on this page, except that you insert your hook in the third chain from the hook:

Following these instructions, your work should look like this at the end of step four:

The loop right above the head of the hook (that the double crochet seems to be coming out of) is the chain stitch made in step three. It is where you will insert your hook to make the next stitch. It's hard to keep an eye on if you aren't used to it, so stretch it out a little and hold on to it while you finish the double crochet.

After step six, your work will look like this:

Again, the top of the hook is touching the loop where you insert the hook for the next stitch. Once you have these first couple stitches done, it gets much easier to see what you are doing. After several stitches, your work will look like this:

As you can see, it looks exactly like a row of double crochet, and that's how you treat it. And you treat the initial three chains like a turning chain.
I hope that helps. Next up for harper (that's me): color work.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Getting Stranded can be a good thing

Just noticed that all the color stuff I wrote before was about using only one strand of yarn at a time. Holding multiple strands can also be a powerful way to use color, especially since thin yarns are often much more cost-effective than thick ones.

If you hold two strands together, the relative colors of the strands matters. If the two colors are similar, you end up with a fabric of a third color that is not quite one color or the other color -- so holding a pink and an orange of similar intensity will give you a peach colored fabric. If the two colors contrast a lot, you end up with a tweed fabric, like holding an off-white with brown or navy. Either way, the fabric is more interesting than just using a single color by itself.

If one of the strands is multi-colored, even better.

Then there are also thin strands of texture: thin mohairs, boucle yarns, and furry things. These kinds of yarns may not show up in normal yarn shops (because they don't sell very well), but they do sometimes show up in thrift stores, as well as in stores for weaving supplies.

If you have a number of yarns that almost go together, but not quite, holding a single strand of a coordinating textured yarn (like mohair) can really help pull it all together. A single strand of mohair is also really useful because it lets you stitch with a much bigger needle/hook. The fuzziness of the mohair likes a looser gauge to make a fabric with a softer drape. The yarn you hold with the mohair gives it more body, another good thing.