Monday, January 7, 2013

tips & tricks: stranded

No, not that kind of stranded.  Today some general stranded knitting tips for your perusal, consideration, and general cogitation.

1. Keep the stitches on the right needle spread out like this:

Not scrunched up like this:

This'll help keep your floats nice and even.  When you aren't using a strand of yarn it's carried behind the stitches and makes a float.  The hardest thing for me when I first tried colorwork was keeping my floats loose enough.  Tight floats make your fabric pull in and pucker like crazy so this is pretty important.

2. Weave/catch/wrap long floats.  I recently saw someone imply that this isn't really necessary, and perhaps if you live in a world without watches, buttons, knobs, and wardrobe malfunctions it isn't.  For those of you who live in my world however, I recommend wrapping every 3 or 4 stitches.  Floats can easily get snagged and snagged floats leads to tears and curses.  They can also mess with your tension.  How do you weave your floats?  Like this:

Top left: two strands coming out of the work.  Top right: cross the strands
Bottom left: twist the strands around each other.  Bottom right: you can (kinda) see how the grey strand is coming out of the middle of the long run of beige stitches and that's how it's done.

3. Pick an easy pattern for your first go.  I don't mean pick a scarf or gloves (although fingerless gloves are an excellent starter pattern to practice your tension).  Pick a stitch pattern that's intuitive.  It will help you learn to read your knitting and you won't have to constantly refer to the chart (thus giving you more concentration to bestow upon maintaining your tension).

A simple chevron pattern is easy to remember and predict.
Endpaper mitts are a popular choice for beginner fairislers
How do you know if it's simple?  One way is to look at the size of one repeat.  4 stitches by 8 rows?  Easy. 10 stitches by 10 rows?  All right...  50 stitches by 100 rows?  Maybe not for your first go.

4. Work it in the round.  This is optional but highly recommended.  Why?  You can't read the pattern from the wrong side which makes purling across pretty much interminable.  Plus it's pretty hard to keep your tension nice on those edges (at least that's what I've found).  

5. Work it inside out.  Especially if you're working on DPNs or magic looping.  Otherwise the floats where you change needles are liable to be way tight.  As a matter of fact, as long as you're working inside out you don't need to worry too much about tight floats.  It helps keep your floats nice and long.  That's a good thing.  Remember tight floats mean tight sleeves/gloves/whatever and puckered stitches.

That being said, be sure to pull your yarns tight at the beginning of each needle.  Too long and loose floats can be unattractive.  I find I get the best results by pulling tight when I'm knitting the second stitch not the first.  If I pull the first stitch tight the yarn always ends up loosening back up.  This brings me to...

6. Blocking works wonders.  I don't have a good before and after, but trust me.  Blocking will smooth out most tension issues as long as they're not pervasive (think lots of too tight floats).  Be aggressive (just be sure to block your swatch so you know if everything's gonna get crazy big).

7. Work your gauge swatch in the round.  I know, I know.  But do it anyway.  If you don't believe me, try it both ways.  I think you'll be surprised.

8. The purl faux seam.  Sounds crazy right?  Why would I work something in the round and go to the trouble of including a fake seam???  Because it will hide the jogs between rows and that's a good thing.  Plus it gives you a good place for increases/decreases.  All my decreases are worked on either side of that purl stitch.  I've tried using a knit stitch instead, and while it looks all right it doesn't really hide the jog as well.  Not that anyone but you is ever going to look that closely at your non-seams.

9. Find what works for you when it comes to weaving in ends, but remember that you've already got some extra yarnz to hang on to.  Do yourself a favor and try the braided or Russian join.  They're both pretty great but I think the braided join is easier.

10. Use a nice cast on.  Seriously.  Use a tubular cast on.  Just do it.  Techknitter's tutorials are generally brilliant.  She doesn't seem to have one for casting on 2x2 ribbing but now that I've done it I might put up a tutorial on how it works.   Seriously, though, why waste all that time and effort and not use the nicest looking cast on you can find???  I promise, it's not that hard.  I don't even need to look at the tutorial any more (I use tubular cast ons always).

See how pretty and stretchy?  Tubular cast on for 2x2 rib

11. Steek it.  Seriously, it isn't that bad.  If you have any sewing experience at all and a sewing machine I can highly recommend that option.  Block your piece, sew your reinforcements, cut, turn, sew.  No big D.  Even with superwash wool it's unlikely to all unravel as soon as you cut (after sewing your reinforcements of course).

12. Don't be afraid.  Tackle this one step at a time.  First try knitting in the round, then the tubular cast on, then a small stranded project, then a whole stranded steeked sweater or blanket or whatever.  Just remember people were doing this before you ever started knitting and they'll be doing it long after you've been buried in your favorite knit cardigan.

13. Finally, and this one may seem obvious, but do not put two different stranded WIPs in the same bag together and then knit.  Tragedy will ensue.

I hope that the wisdom gained from my abject failures (I jest; most of them weren't that bad... but some of them were pretty bad) can help someone just starting out.  If the internet had been then what it is now it would have definitely saved me some bitter tears.

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