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A crochet hook is your pal!

After knitting half the back of the sweater, I've got the diagram of the pattern memorized. Which is very good, because I can tell when I've mucked up. A crochet hook is your friend! When you realize that the stitch in which you're about to knit should be a purl one, but is actually a knit one because that's the way you [incorrectly] knit it in a previous row, there's no need to unravel the whole row to correct the mistake. Why lie? When I first started knitting that's what I'd do to fix a stitch that had been knit the wrong way because I didn't know any better. Instead of unraveling it all, simply pull the stitch off the needle, pull on it slightly so that it comes undone, use the crochet hook to redo the stitch as it should have been done and then place the stitch back on the left needle. Yay!

Sleeves on one needle.

The front of the sweater is finished. That is, it was finished. Until I was looking at it with my always critical eye and spotted [gasp!] an error on the lower left side. A stitch that should have been purled but was knit. Why yes, I did let fly a zinger of a word when I saw it, because if there is one thing I hate is spotting an error in a piece of a garment that is ready for blocking. I could have left it, and more likely than not it would have gone unnoticed by others. But I suffer from a severe case of perfectionist syndrome (I always have, and not just with my knitting), and in a fit of mad frenzy undid the whole thing up to where the error was. I had no patience to fix it with a crochet hook this time. The yarn has already been gently wound up into skeins and steamed to let the crinkles out. As soon as it's dry I'll redo it. Ugh.

Before I spotted the blasted error in the front of the sweater, I had started both of the sleeves and am a quarter through. Following a tip I once read, I decided to knit them both at the same time using separate skeins of yarn for each sleeve and a 29" circular needle so it won't be so heavy. It's working great. Much better and less boring than doing one sleeve after the other.

Ode to Rounded Necklines.

I'm having so much fun knitting this sweater that I am flying on these needles. I finished the front of the sweater, and learned a new way to create a nicely rounded neckline that is being shaped by binding off stitches by groups (my preferred method of shaping necklines), yet avoiding entirely that dreaded "steps" effect:

First row: Bind off your first group of stitches. Continue knitting to the end of the row.

Second row: Knit the second row as required by the pattern. When you reach the last stitch that comes before the row of stitches you bound off in the previous row, leave that stitch on the left needle. Turn your work.

Third row: The stitch you didn't knit should be on your right needle. Slip the next stitch (the one that has the working yarn) onto the right needle, and then slip the first stitch (the one you didn't knit) over it. Finish binding off the second group of stitches.

Continue knitting the following rows in this manner until all your groups of stitches are bound off to shape the neckline. And it works! It really makes for a perfectly rounded neckline! Pardon my exclamation points, but I got excited when I saw how nicely rounded my neckline came out. I deserve a toy surprise.

...but why bind off the neckline at all?

I never place my stitches on a stitch holder, and then pick up stitches to knit on the neckline ribbing. To shape my necklines, I bind off stitches by groups every two rows. Then, after the garment has been sewn together, I knit the neckband ribbing as separate piece. When I reach the last row of the neckband ribbing, I'll knit one last knit row (all knit stitches, not ribbing) on the right side and then knit a few rows of stockinette stitch using a contrast yarn. Then I sew the neckband to the garment stitch by stitch, unravelling the different colored yarn as I go along, and using my knit row stitches as the "foundation" to sew neckband onto the garment.

I learned this method from Phildar's patterns, and it may not be the quickest way to finish a neckband, but I find it useful in lots of cases.

At least I know how to achieve slanted knitting.

Had to ditch the idea of knitting my little tube top in the round. And I learned something new in the process! When attempting to knit something in the round while using a circular needle that is just a wee bit too long, your knitting is gonna look...well, like crap. My garment is supposed to measure about 28 inches all around, and because I temporarily misplaced my brain I thought "Hey! I don't have a 3.5mm circular needle that's shorter than the 30 inch ones I already have, but why go all the way to the store for another 3.5mm circular needle just because it's a few inches shorter? A couple of inches won't make a difference." Guess what! It does make a difference. In a big way. Don't ever attempt to knit in the round on a circular needle that isn't at least two or three inches shorter (from point to point) than what the garment is supposed to measure. Unless, of course, you want your knitting to look all stretched out and slant to the left. Which is what mine was doing, so I unraveled the six rows I knit. All 180 stitches. Someone, hand me a tissue.

Cold water does yarn good.

My grubby little fingers have unravelled this project so many times (why, I do believe it's the project I've most ripped out, ever! Let's eat many brownies to console ourselves) that a part of one of my skeins became stretched out and crinkled beyond words. It was impossible to work with - most of the stitches knitted from it were so loose I could have poked my fingers through them. So I frogged all the rows (yes, all twenty-two of them; let's eat some more brownies to console ourselves) I had knitted with the crinkly yarn and did them over with another skein. The ugly skein has been reconditioned via mega doses of cold water sprays and is now looking quite peppy. When it dries I'll be using it to knit up the neckline, which I'll be doing soon as I'm more than three-quarters through on the second side. [Does cowboy whoops to celebrate.]

Going starchy for blocking cables!

Woo hoo! I finished knitting both sides on Saturday! [Runs madly around the room in circles.] Sunday was a rainy day, so I took some time in the morning to shape and block it all. With a toddler and small dog running around the house, properly blocking a garment is hard. But! I got a brainstorm. I got our old, ugly-ass picnic table out of the hall closet, unfolded it in the spare room, and placed our winter bed comforter (folded in thirds) on top of it. I then covered it with the plastic covering used by the dry cleaner to cover our dry cleaning, and on top of that I put a thin towel. Then I placed both sides of my knitting on it and pinned them down with no trouble. Not only was I able to sit down while I did all that, the kid and dog can't get to it. I deserve a prize. The husband, too. He took care of the kid while I played with my knitting.

Although I don't usually pin garments to block, I decided to pin this one because of the excessive curling of the sides and slight pulling of the cable design. After carefully pinning it to measurements (without stretching), I liberally doused the whole thing with cold water sprays. After it was wet, I used my fingers to mold the cables even more, and to shape them so they all matched up perfectly. Then I got brave, picked up a can of the best starch I could find in the French market, stood back about two meters, and sprayed a tiny bit of starch on the cables. I did that once to some embroidery I placed on a sweater I knit for my brother's baby daughter, and it "set" the embroidery without making it stiff. Let's hope it works for this top as well, because although I want nice looking cables, I don't think I'd like walking around wearing a top that's as stiff as a cardboard cutout.

Viva experimenting! Tubular cast-on and sloped shoulders with three-needle bindoff.

I finished the back of my pink and orange sweater in cotton while trying out some things I've never done before:

1) The first rows of the sweater are in 1/1 ribbing, so I cast on my stitches using the tubular cast-on method in the main yarn. It's so neat! It's invisible, and blends in perfectly with the ribbing. (And doesn't the word "tubular" bring back memories of big hair bands and neon-pink pants? I remember the word "tubular" being used to describe something as "cool" back in the 80s when I was in highschool. Yes, I'm that old. Yikes!)

2) The shoulders on this sweater are sloped, but I didn't want to do a diagonal bind-off and then sew the shoulder seams together. I wanted to leave the stitches on holders so I could do a seam bind-off, like I do for sweaters with straight shoulders. To achieve this, I decided to work darts for the shoulders, turning my work at certain points every two rows. It worked! The shoulders are gradually slanted, and there are no steps or holes to show for it. I left the stitches on stitch holders, and I'll bind them off together with the shoulder stitches of the other side of the sweater to make a nice-looking seam. I've never created sloped shoulders this way before, so let's see how it looks when the shoulder seams are joined together.

Offing on a tangent, I visited my local Phildar yarn store (er, again) and bought some beautiful new yarn called "Giboulees" so I can make myself a sweater for fall. The yarn has just been debuted by Phildar and I can't wait to work with it! Can you stand the suspense?

* For reference purposes, the tubular cast-on method using the main yarn for 1/1 ribbing is described in Katharina Buss' Big Book Knitting.

Backstitch collars on the brain.

My son's tweedy jacket is seamed and almost ready to go! All I have to do is embroider the pocket and sew it on. The collar was finished last weekend, and was sewn onto the jacket using free-loop backstitch. I bet you're thinking, "but for heaven's sake, why would you do a fool thing like sew on a collar when you can just pick up stitches and knit on the collar in the round?"

When I first learned to knit, most of my garments were finished using backstitch because that's the way I was instructed to do it by the patterns I was using. I later saw the technique described in Katharina Buss' Big Book of Knitting (pages 70-71), but I had taught myself how to do it just by following the dinky little illustration that comes in all Phildar catalogs. Now that I've attached neckbands, buttonbands and other facings onto garments using various methods - including knitting-on, grafting and backstitch - I've discovered that sewing on neckbands using backstitch is good for several things:

1) When you want the edge of the neckband to match perfectly with the cast-on rows of sleeves and hems. For example, did you do a tubular cast-on for double rib, but don't know how to bind it off using kitchener stitch for double rib? You can make the edge of your collar match with the hem of your sweater by doing the same cast-on for the collar, leaving a row of open stitches after you've worked the double rib, and then sewing these open stitches onto the garment using backstitch.

2) Stretchy collars! Collars are usually stretchier when sewn on this way because the edge of the neckband is the cast-on edge, not the binding-off edge, and this is good for children's sweaters. That's why I still sew on all the collars to my son's sweaters using backstitch. (You can take a look, if you like. Many of them are featured in the gallery of this site.)

3) Did your neckline edge come out like crap? Sewing on a collar covers it up, and we all know that knit-on collars don't usually do this.

4) When you don't have an appropriately-sized circular needle to knit on a collar in the round. The bulky sweater I did last fall on size 5mm's has a turtleneck collar that was sewn on using backstitch because I didn't have a circular needle short enough to knit on a collar.

Most of all, it's a neat thing to do! Here are some snapshots of me sewing the collar (with its row of open stitches) onto my son's tweedy jacket using backstitch. Doesn't that look like fun?

Swatch City.

During my first year of knitting, I never swatched. Never measured, either. [What? Waste all that yarn? Pfffft.] Moreover, I was the type of knitter who - gasp! - never read through or studied a pattern before beginning to knit. I just gave the pattern a quick skim-through, cast on the required number of stitches, and giddy-ap, pardner! Let's get knittin'! Which resulted in too large garments. Too small garments. Garments of the right size but with sleeves long enough for an ape's arms. Thankfully, my first year of knitting was dedicated solely to making things for my baby so swatching didn't seem necessary because I figured he could grow into his knitted garments (lazy girl reasoning, I know). Then I came up with a raglan cotton sweater pattern for myself and surprise! My first attempt came out a tad short in the tummy. I blocked the dickens so much out of that garment the cotton nearly slapped me back. Lesson learned: When coming up with a pattern, don't go with the gauge on the yarn label, brainy act. Knit. A. Swatch.

So these past few days have been swatch city for my new projects. Don't believe me? Take a look at how my table looked this morning. When my husband saw all those swatches, he said, "Making waffles?" Funny guy. I guess they do look like waffles. But waffles that saved me from possible badly-sized garments. The swatches in beige cotton were knit using metal needles of varying sizes, and the swatches in cream-colored cotton were knit using bamboo needles of varying sizes. The swatch in straight stockinette stitch is for my husband's raglan sweater, and the swatches in box stitch are for my pretty cotton jacket. Please note that all swatches are done in the same yarn (Aviso, by Phildar), but it took me two swatches to get to the pattern's gauge of 16 sts per 10 cm of stockinette stitch for my husband's raglan sweater (prize goes to addi turbo's, size 4.5mm) and it took me four swatches (there are two swatches missing from the picture) to get to the pattern's gauge of 17 sts per 10 cm of box stitch for my pretty cotton jacket (prize goes to crystal palace bamboo's, size 4mm). Yarn gauge is 17 sts per 10 cm on 5mm needles. Imagine how my knitting would have looked if I hadn't swatched? And that, my friends, is why swatching is my pal.

Speaking of pals (and on an entirely unrelated note), look what's on the needles for you, Carolyn:

That sure is a purdy color!

Chain selvedges for crochet edgings.

Oh, just finish me already.

Doesn't that look tiny? It's the beginnings of the right front piece of my pretty cotton jacket. The right end looks a bit tighter than the left end, but that's because the right end is a free edge, so I decided to do a chain selvedge on that end by slipping the first stitch knitwise and then purling it on the WS (the left end is just a stockinette stitch selvedge, because I'll be hiding it in a seam). I'll be doing a row of single crochet on the free edges of the front of the jacket and I think that a chain selvedge looks neater for doing crochet edgings.

Double chain selvedge, baaaaay-bee!

We. Are. Smoochin'! With photographic proof, because yesterday Monsieur Le Hubby fixed my digital pencam in about two minutes flat. (I don't know how he does it. Really. He's like Inspector Gadget meets Mr. Fixit in a cuter package.) So we have pictures until my blasted digital camera gets here, already. Which has me wondering: Did everyone order a Coolpix 3100, too? I'm beginning to think so because it's taking forever to get here. Anyway, here's the back of my Smooch tank:

Pardon me, my sides are curling.

After one gets passed the lace cast-on, it's really quick and smooth knitting. Then it comes time for the armhole decreases plus double chain selvedge, which may cause confusion for some people doing this tank. The armholes are free edges, so the pattern [cleverly] instructs us to do a double chain selvedge (the slipping stitches and picking up horizontal strand at the end of rows), which provides a smooth edge (slipping stitches) AND tightens up (picking up horizontal strand) at the same time. It is ideal for free edges but is not, in my opinion, a good selvedge for edges that will be joined with ladder stitch, because it may cause holes in the seam. It's good for backstitch, though. And crochet edgings, too. Anyway, the pattern doesn't specify how to pick up the horizontal strands when doing the double chain selvedge (and I haven't found it in any of my books, either), but I do this: Pick up from the front on purl rows and pick up from the back on knit rows. That way it looks the same on both ends. And don't I sound fancy with my knitting lingo?

P.S. The double chain selvedge is one of the many types of selvedges illustrated in Montse Stanley's The Knitter's Handbook. Do you have this book already? I've mentioned it countless times here and can't imagine being without it; it's an excellent reference of knitting techniques for all levels of knitters.

Corky point protectors.

Quick tip: If you have no point protectors, use corks. When I went on a trip once I forgot to slip one of my knits-in-progress in my suitcase, so I asked my husband to bring it over as he was going to be joining us at a later date. He couldn't find my point protectors so he stuck wine bottle corks at the end of my needles before putting the project in his suitcase. It worked! Ah, the benefits of having a French husband whose grandmother was an avid knitter.

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