Saturday, August 16, 2008

Books and Big Gauges, Part 2

While bulky yarns are great for learning how to see your stitches, that is a double edged sword in and of itself. If you could see your mistakes in these yarns when you first learned to knit, so can everyone else now. Moreover, if every stitch or two makes up a whole inch, it quickly becomes very important that you make no mistakes in your shaping. On a size 19 (15mm) needle, being off by one stitch on one shoulder will be noticeable in the finished product.

Ultimately, variety is a good thing. Knitting involves very repetitive movements in the hands, wrists, and arms. In the post-industrial work environment, most of us have enough of that just from work, so its really important for knitters to keep their habits healthy to avoid injury. More so than smaller needles, big needles require a lot of movement to manipulate successfully, just because of their size. If you don’t believe me, write something with a standard Bic pen and then switch to a jumbo sized permanent marker. It takes a lot more effort to achieve a similar degree of control.

In all fairness, it’s good for knitters who prefer smaller gauges to work on large ones from time to time. I know that when I spend a lot of time on smaller needles, I tend to concentrate all of my movement into my hands and away from my wrists and arms. Using a large needle reminds me and retrains me to make knitting closer to a whole body experience.

If you learned to knit on large needles and always felt a little intimidated by needles smaller than an 11 or 13 (7 and 9 mm respectively), it’s great if you are learning new techniques and have found a way to do so on familiar territory. But let me encourage you, if you want longer lasting more forgiving garments, to experiment with a slightly smaller gauge from time to time. You may very well impress yourself.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

In the Thick -- and Thin -- of it

Harper and I seem to be on a track about thick and thin yarns -- she working from the thick yarn angle, and I, from the thin yarn side. Like she says, there’s been a lot of interest in really thick yarn and working up projects quickly. It can be a good thing if you’re a beginner and want to see quick results. It is tempting to be satisfied with that.

But that isn’t always the best way to go. Big yarn makes big, clunky stitches and big, clunky fabrics that may not drape well. Thick yarns are more expensive than thin yarns, per ounce or gram. It also gets used up much faster, so it doesn’t give you as much play time for the buck. After a while, you may get bored with big yarns because, in the long run, it may not be that satisfying. If you try exploring different pattern stitches in thicker yarns, you may be dissatisfied with how the fabric turns out because the focus is on the yarn, not on the stitches.

Thin yarns keep you busy a lot longer for much less cost. Thin yarns are much more portable, so you’re not carrying around a big project. Pattern stitches usually come out much more classy-looking and exciting in a thin yarn or thread than in a thick one because you see the pattern that it makes rather than just the yarn.

You may need a path to get from using big stuff to little stuff. Number 10 cotton is a good thread to play with to explore thin stuff. There’s a lot of thinner stuff out there, but #10 is a great place to start. It comes in a lot of colors. It also comes in different qualities, with some very nice stuff and some that is really inexpensive. You can knit with it (just plain knit on 4mm needles makes a nice lacy fabric) or crochet with it (a much more common idea). You can start with a big needle/hook and make a really open fabric (think about big rectangles to make lacy window curtains or table coverings). And then you can work your way down to smaller needles/hooks and really appreciate the elegant, crisp fabric that comes from a firm gauge. Doilies and other table coverings can be a lot of fun to make, and their patterns can be anything from really simple to really complicated.

Looking at a simple rectangle in double crochet using a size G hook isn't so exciting (see right side of picture). But a small net stitch can look much better. One example I call Single Crochet Lite is a chain-1 net stitch: over a base of an even number of stitches, chain 2 to turn. (Skip 1 st, sc1 in next st) across, ending with sc1 in the last stitch. Repeating this row, you end up making sc1 in each ch-space, and chain over each sc. For a more open look, do ch-2 instead of chain 1. The neat thing about the chain stitches is that they keep the single crochets from stretching out of shape.

You can knit the same idea using a #6 or larger needle and just knit back and forth. In the sample above, half is just garter stitch, the other half is seed stitch. They look so much alike, I'm not sure it's worth the effort to do anything more than just straight knit.
The trick to using yarn that is much thinner than the hook/needle is that you need to let the tool define the shape of the stitch -- don’t tighten it because it feels too loose. It IS too loose -- that is the point of the exercise -- and it can come out very nicely. Notice that the stitches aren’t all uniform. Some are bigger, some are smaller. That’s just fine.
I think I will use the garter stitch on 6's to make some sheer curtains for my apartment.