Saturday, June 28, 2008

Continuous Granny, part 2

The beginning of the continuous granny looked like a weird mutation in the last blog, but that was just a beginning. As you can see from the picture on the right, it still looks a bit weird after a few rounds.

An asymmetric version of something that is normally symmetrical always takes a bit of getting used to.

Now, the point of this exercise is to make a whole afghan from one granny square, so I would normally be going around and around for a really long time -- about an afghan's worth. So stopping after just a few rounds to show what it looks like rather defeats the purpose. But I wanted to address how to end the thing. What I do is finish off after turning a corner and making a few slip stitches to blend the end into the current row line.

Then, to finish the edge, work a round of some edging -- like a shell stitch, as shown above.

Now, I've known some people who really liked this idea, but at the same time, it may seem really strange to other people. It seemed worth sharing.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

In praise of coils and afghans

There are lots of very clever and fancy afghan and throw patterns out there, but sometimes I want a throw (or a blanket for my bed) that is simple, brainless to make, and focusing more on the yarn than on fancy stitchwork. One easy solution is to cast on or chain as many stitches as appropriate, choose a stitch, and just work back and forth until the piece is either big enough or I run out of yarn, whichever comes first.

This can be a problem if I have a set amount of yarn and don't want to end up with something too short for how wide it is. In this case, it feels better to start small and make a big square. I could work in rounds, where each layer of stitches has a beginning and an end, but there may be two minor disadvantages: (1) there is a visual line where the row ends line up, and (2) I have to remember when I get to the end of the round. Case in point is the granny square in crochet. The nice thing about the traditional granny square is that you are always working into spaces, never into an actual stitch. That means you don’t have to watch things so carefully.

Rather than fussing with lots of little squares and having to join them all together, why not just make one big granny square for the whole afghan? It can work out very nicely. If, however, your brain is watching a fun movie while your hands are zipping along on the square, you may find at some point that you are going in a coil -- the end of the round has disappeared. Not necessarily a bad thing.

In fact, you could start out in a coil as if you did it on purpose. Here’s one way: Chain 5, slip stitch in the last chain from the hook to make a ring. Chain 4. Double crochet 3 in the chain-5 ring. (Chain 3, double crochet 3 in the same ring) 3 more times to make the 4 sides. Then start the coil: Chain 1. Make a corner (double crochet 3, chain 3, double crochet 3) -- all in the chain 4 space. *Chain 1. Make another corner in the next chain 3 space. Repeat from * around until you hit a chain-1 space. From here on, there are only 3 things to do: make 3 double crochets into a chain-1 space, chain 1 as you skip over a 3 double crochet group, or make a corner.

As you can see from the picture above, it looks like a mutation at first. But after a few rounds, it smooths out and is just like a granny square -- only without that place where the round ends.

Rules: Always make a corner into the chain-3 space of a previous corner. Always make 3 double crochets into a chain-1 space. Always chain 1 as you skip over a 3 double crochet group. And if it turns out that you skipped a chain 1, pretend that you didn’t. And if it turns out that you chained 1 when you should have chained 3, pretend that the 3 chains are there and work accordingly.
Once you get the hang of the thing, it is really remarkably satisfying -- unless you were really looking for a pattern that involved lots of counting and colors and thinking..

Friday, June 6, 2008

More Notes on Gauge

Gauge can be a difficult subject for the beginning needle worker.  First of all, it is counter intuitive:  the smaller the gauge the more stitches per inch, and the larger the gauge the fewer stitches per inch.  For many, this sounds backwards, because more is usually, well, more.  But if you look at a swatch with a ruler, it quickly makes more sense--if the stitches are smaller, more of them will fit into an inch (or centimeter, if you go by the metric system).  The same applies to rows per inch.

The other thing that can be difficult about gauge is how to make the swatch.  Until you have a real feel for how your knitting or crocheting is, it's important to make a nice, big gauge swatch.  Often people work more loosely or tightly at the very beginning of a project than they do further in, sort of like how hand writing becomes a little sloppy after the first page or so.  If your gauge swatch is of your starting gauge, it may not give any good information about how your project is going to work.

If your project is going to be worked in the round, make your gauge swatch in the round; and if it is going to be made of flat pieces, make the gauge swatch in flat pieces.  In knitting, most people purl at a different gauge than they knit, and working in the round or flat will usually determine how frequently you do each.    Some people have such different gauges in knitting than in purling that they use different needle sizes to make their knitting look even.  In crochet, all the stitches lean in one direction, so working in rows corrects for that slant.  Working in rounds, however, makes all the stitches face the same direction, not only does this give the stitch a different look, but it reinforces the slant of the stitches.  While this may not seem relevant to gauge, it does change the drape of the fabric, which is the point of finding a good gauge.

Finally, new needle workers are often very careful about following patterns to the letter, not realizing that every person handles the yarn and needles a little differently.  The gauge and needle size recommended in any given pattern are suggestions.  If the gauge cannot be achieved by using the suggested needle size, do not choose the recommended needle size over the prescribed gauge.  Play around with needle size until you get the right gauge.  It might not be exactly what the pattern says, but it will make the pattern work.

In the end, the purpose of measuring gauge and making a gauge swatch is to make the best possible fabric in your project and to make sure that project fits whatever dimensions it needs to.  And how you knit or crochet is just as unique as your fingerprint.  Happy knitting!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Vagaries of gauge

The first most important thing about a project is that it come out right in the end. In order for this to happen, gauge can be really important or completely irrelevant.

Harper’s situation shows how funny gauge can be. Even though almost all of her project makes a nice fabric on one needle, the little bit that is the important design detail insisted on a larger needle. This is not a democracy. In order for that part to work out, the whole thing should be done on the larger needle, and the rest of the fabric would come out just fine.

In another situation where gauge made a difference, a large woman wanted to knit a simple sweater on large needles. She had a pattern she liked, but it was too small for her and worked at a smaller gauge (about 3 or 3½ stitches per inch). She wanted to work on 15’s at about 2 stitches per inch. So she picked out some yarn (a double strand of worsted weight), and we figured out that the pattern should work for her if she followed the instructions for the petite size and kept an eye on how long she wanted the pieces to be. By golly, it worked. So gauge information can be useful for something.