Tips and Tricks: Penance Knitting

Almost every knitter I’ve ever talked to has a project that they love, but can’t bring themselves to work on.  Sometimes it’s because there is a long stretch of “boring” knitting, like the endless stockinette in my Arctic Faery Ring Cardigan.  First there was the skirt (ENDLESS), which I powered through because at least there was decreasing every so often, plus cables to look forward to.  I did the sleeves two-at-a-time to avoid SSS (Second Sleeve Syndrome), but stalled out on the hood.  Seriously — I had the entire body done, the sleeves done and set in, but I couldn’t get myself to work on the hood. It was killing me.

1241 Arctic Faery Ring

Conversely, the other end of the spectrum of knitting difficulty can stall a knitter just as bad as doldrum knitting. I have a certain blanket that has languished since July because the border is tricky and requires my full attention. I can’t quit halfway through a repeat without paying (and paying) later on.  I don’t dare pick it up unless I know I have enough time and attention to finish a full repeat.  So my pretty, soft lap blanket sits with two borders done, and two still waiting.

0471 Yggdrasil blanket

The cardigan and the blanket both suffered further, because they were both for ME — no deadline, nobody waiting, no guilt to spur me on.  And, in the end, guilt is KEY for finishing this type of project.  I call the work “penance knitting” for a reason.  My technique is simple: I choose a very appealing project with pretty yarn and a fun pattern, and set it in front of myself.  Then, I require myself to knit a certain number of rows of my penance project, before I allow myself to work on the reward project.

I hate to say it, but right now my penance knitting project is my third (yes, third) Harry Potter scarf.  It seems like it’s taking forever, which is kind of true … because I keep looking at it and groaning.  Time to bump it up in the priority queue and get it done!  Here are the first two scarves, to further inspire and castigate me :).

9896 J models Harry Potter scarf

0381 HP Hufflepuff scarf

What project do you have, languishing in mostly-done state on the needles, that could be finished with a little penance knitting?

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Tips and Tricks: Old Norwegian Cast On

Recently, I’ve been teaching my friend Susie to knit.  She’s a great student, in large part because she’s knit before, not to mention she crochets already (including teeny tiny crocheted bracelets made with quilting thread and #11 seed beads).  As I do with most new knitters, I first taught her the knitted-on cast on, because it uses the knit stitch.  This means the new knitter doesn’t have to learn some bizarro two-strand loopy thing in order to have a nice, firm cast-on row. (I never teach the backwards-loop cast on as a first cast on, because new knitters invariably stretch it out and get very discouraged.)

Susie, having finished her first project (legwarmers for her little girl), wanted to learn a stretchier cast on for the second pair.  Enter the Old Norwegian Long Tail Cast On, aka the Twisted German Cast On!  (The latter name always makes me think the Germans are kinky… ) I showed Susie how to do it, and made up a little set of words to say while doing it.  She said it made sense to her, and wished there were a video … so without further ado, this video is for you Susie!

Tips and Tricks: Steam-blocking a Ruffle

The Problem: Ruffled Edges

Recently I was finishing up a sample knit for a girl’s tank top.  I designed the shoulder straps with a ruffled edging … which is a little challenging to block, as it turns out.  Today I’ll share the method I used to get the ruffle to be “pretty” without flattening it into submission. Here’s a quick “before and after” shot, using both straps.  The lower strap hasn’t been blocked at all, while the upper strap has — observe the nice square ends of the blocked strap, and the pleasing curves of the blocked ruffle:

1465 ruffled strap (steam-blocked and un-blocked)

Step #1: Pin it out

You didn’t think you’d be able to get away without pins, did you? I used pins to hold the strap squarely on the proper measurements (in this case, 1″ x 7″).  Leave the ruffled edge un-pinned.  The strap is NOT washed beforehand — it’s dry.  Angle the pins away from the piece, to make it easier to get the iron in on the next step.  I’m using a sewer’s ironing board, with padding over a cardboard base (at least I think that’s what it is).

1455 ruffled strap (pinned)

Step #2: Steam it up

With a full iron on steam, hover over the pinned piece, flooding the entire strap with heat and moisture.  Move the iron slowly back and forth over the strap, without touching it. 

1457 ruffled strap (steaming)

Note the space between the iron and the knitting! Don’t let the iron touch the knitting.

1459 ruffled strap (iron clearance)

Step #3: Mold the ruffle

After steaming, the ruffled edge opens up considerably.  It’s no longer curled it a tight roll.  However, it still isn’t exactly right.

1460 ruffled strap (steamed)

Use your fingers to pinch the ruffled edge, molding it into a sinuous curve while it is warm and moist from the steaming.

1462 ruffled strap (shape ruffles)

Step #4: Cool it

Allow the strap to cool completely.  Keep the pins in place and do not disturb the ruffle.  Cooling will “set” the curve you’ve made.  Unsatisfied?  Fire up the iron and give it another go.

1463 ruffled strap (cooled)

Tips and Tricks: Interchangeable Cables as Blocking Wires

Early this week I finished work on a lace scarf — it’s a sample knit that I need to photograph and send off to Knit Picks for their Independent Designer Program.  Assuming all goes well, the pattern for my “Aviator Scarf” will be live later this month.  The pattern has two versions: one for lace-weight yarn, and another for fingering-weight yarn.  I made the lace-weight sample first, out of Alpaca Cloud in Oyster Heather.  It’s lovely, but I got lazy in the blocking and didn’t use enough pins, which created an unintentional “scalloped” edge, as you can see in this photo:

1306 aviator scarf (lace weight)

If that’s what I were going for, all would be fine and good.  However, I really wanted the scarf to have a smooth, straight edge.  I was able to fix the “scallops” with a little judicious steam blocking, but when I finished the fingering-weight sample scarf (Gloss Fingering in Robot — how cool a colorway name is that?), I wanted to block it right the first time. Now, of course this would all be easier if I owned some proper blocking wires, but I don’t.  However, I did listen attentively when my friend Heather talked about her plan to block her recently completed pi shawl using the cables from her interchangeable needle set.  Brilliant, I thought!

(Let us pause for a moment to admire her gorgeous shawl!)

Without any further information, I decided to give it a go with my scarf.  I had two 40-inch cables available, which was enough for one side.  My other 40-inch cables were in use (ahem, WIPs, ahem), so I had to make do with four 24-inch cables on the other side.  I put my smallest needle tip (US 4) on one of the cable, and threaded it through each purl bump on the garter-stitch edge.  After this, I put cable end-caps on for safety, although I don’t think I’ll bother to do that in the future.

1326 blocking with KP cables

Pinning out the cables was a breeze:

1325 blocking with KP Cables

Here’s the whole thing, all pinned out:

IMG_1327

The results were fantastic — the cables came out smooth and easy.  The edge was great — just as smooth and straight as I could wish.  I was a little worried about some of the places where two cables met, but it turned out better than I expected. I still need to get pattern-quality photos taken of both versions of the scarf.  I’m hoping to steal away my photographer friend at this weekend’s agility trial for a few outdoor photos.  Failing that, I can take reasonably good photos on my own.  One way or another, the samples and the pattern PDF will be headed for Knit Picks early next week.