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    Entries in techniques (6)


    Learning crochet

    Crochet took me forever to get the hang of. Seriously, it took me about a year. I just couldn't 'see' it. I was a good knitter when I tried to learn and was used to being able to see the patterns in knitting. I was knitting a lot of fairly complex lace, and could see where I made a mistake and could generally work out a way to fix it without having to rip out hundreds of stitches to do it. So crochet should have been a doddle, right? Wrong! I couldn't see where the stiches should go, couldn't work out how many stitches I'd even done.

    I went on a workshop, and kind of managed it while the teacher was there. She was charming, a very skilled crocheter and did a good job of showing the different basic stitches and what they could be used for. But it didn't really stick. I could form the stitches but couldn't see where I should put them. It also taught me about the importance of having handouts that people can refer to after the class, and also about having a project to make so that you can continue after the class & not forget what you've learned. So I always try to design a project that will teach the key skills involved, at the skill level that the workshop is targeted for. 

    But even if it's basic, it doesn't need to be boring! So given the challenge of a beginner crochet evening class of only 2 hours, I knew that I wanted to teach chains, double crochet & treble crochet as they are the most commonly used stitches, the building blocks of all the other stitch patterns. And that whatever I made should be consistent so that as long as the students could get the first few rows done in class, they'd be able to continue at home. And so that it doesn't get too repetitive, we can take a break and make a contrast colour flower. 

    There's plenty of opportunity to customise and try things out. I'm hoping this will be a really good class project  - fingers crossed that the students like it as much as I do!


    Swatching for jumpers in the round & Alafoss discount

    Do you remember my post about the Icelandic jumper kit I bought? Thought I would post a wee reminder that the 15% discount voucher for Alafoss runs out on June 1st. So if you want to buy some Icelandic yarn or one of their fantastic value kits - now is the time to do it!! Enter the code 'Happymaking' at the checkout to get your discount.

    I did a first rough swatch for the jumper a little while back & thought I'd share how I did it. As the wool & the pattern writer are both new to me, I wanted to try some different types & sizes of needle to see what would be closest to the given tension.

    The jumper is worked in the round from the bottom up. This poses a challenge for checking tension (gauge). Most people will find that there is a difference in their tension between stocking stitch worked flat & in the round. The purl row tends to be a slightly different height than the knit row. Luckily there is an easy way to work a swatch on the circular needles you want to use without having to cast on a sweater's worth of stitches, or having to play around with magic loop. 

    This swatching method needs circular needles (any length) or double pointed needles

    Cast on at least 4 sts more than the tension given. Knit 1 row. DO NOT TURN.

    Slide the sts along to the other end of the circ needle. Bring the yarn loosely around the back of the knitting.

    Knit the next row, starting at the same side that you started at on the first row.

    Repeat. After a few rows your swatch should look like this: 

    You have loose loops behind your swatch. 

    I tried wood & metal needles in a couple of different sizes and got the right tension with wood knit pros. This was right before soaking. Everything can change when you soak your swatch!

    When your swatch is big enough (this one isn't, I was just playing around with different needles), cast off. You should always wash/steam your swatch. Treat it as you would the finished item. The change in tension can be quite dramatic.

    Before (or after if you are using silk/bamboo/something really slippy), cut through the strands of yarn. Cut in the middle of their length, and don't panic. It won't unravel!. 

    Wash and lay flat to dry. I pinned my swatch because I put it outside on a windy day. 

    The purl bumps on the right hand side tell me where I changed needle & what I changed to. 

    The part of the swatch that hit 18 sts to 4" before washing? It now gets a little bit under 17sts to 4". That translates to a 3" increase on a L size jumper, taking it from 42" to 45". Lucky I didn't cast straight on!! However, I now know that I hit tension with the 4.5mm Chiagoo metal needle, which seemed too tight before washing.

    I know swatching can seem like a waste of time & yarn. But when you are putting the time & effort into making a jumper, it can be heartbreaking when it comes out a different size to the one you intended. Or if it comes out perfect and then grows the second you wash it! So learning to swatch in the round for a jumper knit in the round is actually a timesaver!

    Is this how you swatch for jumpers in the round? Let me know if you do it differently xx



    Cast on for toe up socks

    I'm putting the finishing touches on the Tendril sock pattern.

    As it is a toe up sock, and a lot of people are uncertain about how to go about casting on, I have done a video that I can link in the pattern.

    It's ridiculously simple, and perfectly effective. It's not my invention, and I have used several other techniques, but this is the one that I find easiest to remember.

    Let me know if it's helpful for you!


    Techniques: Blocking

    Blocking is a subject close to my heart, and one that I can do a lot of techniques posts about! 

    Blocking is the act of arranging your knitting into the shape you want it to be and making it stay that way! To do this you generally use water - soaked, sprayed or steamed, depending on the yarn, the thing you are blocking & what you want to do. Generally I wet block most things. 

    Not everybody blocks their knitting or crochet. I don't block my socks every time I wash them. I do if there are going to be pictures taken, but otherwise, they dry and go onto my feet. Simple gloves & mitts don't get blocked. But pretty much everything else does. Hats - always. Jumpers/Cardigans - every time they get washed. Anything with lace - OMG yes! Lace looks like a crumpled rag until it gets blocked. 

    Blocking lasts a long time too - most of the time it will set the shape until the next time you wash. On some acrylic yarns, you can 'kill' the yarn with steam so that it stays blocked essentially for ever.

    A week or so ago, I needed to check a line of instructions in my Twinkle Twinkle pattern. There was a small error in round 5. I reckoned it was probably worth making a star quickly to check the rest of the pattern (no more errors).

    I made the star in lovely fingering weight yarn from Sam at Stocking Stitch Studios, with 2.5mm needles.

    This is it straight after knitting:

    Not very inspiring really. More of a jellyfish than a star, about 5ish cm diameter. I soaked it in warm water, squeezed the excess water out in a towel and pinned it on a blocking board. My blocking boards are exercise mats that jigsaw together - they were on offer a few years ago in Tesco and I bought them as soon as I saw them!

    Leave the pinned thing to dry. Blocking wires are really useful if you do a lot of wet blocking, especially of lace shawls,but they are also useful for garments. Not really necessary for one little star though!

    And when it's dry, with the ends sewn in, it has grown to 9.5cm across and looks considerably more star-like

    Much better, no? It's a lovely size for a christmas tree decoration too, using smaller needles & finer yarn than the magazine pattern. If you wanted to make these as tree decorations, it would be a good idea to use starch or sugar water to stiffen them. If, like me, you don't have starch in the house, dissolve a large spoon of sugar in 1-2 spoons of water in a small pan untill the sugar is fully dissolved but not caramellising (going yellow-brown). Soak your star in the sugar solution, and block as described.

    I will come back to this subject - but for now I'm going to put my star somewhere safe so when we put the christmas tree up, it can add to our eclectic bauble collection :)


    Techniques: Swatching. Why bother?

    I thought I would start a series of posts about different techniques/useful tools.

    Swatching is something that a surprising amount of people never do. I can understand why. You have a new project ready to go, why waste time mucking about knitting a boring square?

    Why Swatch?

    There are good reasons to swatch. The most obvious one is to check that you can match the tension required for your pattern. This is an important one, and if you choose to knit on without knitting a swatch, then go ahead & live dangerously! I have been guilty of this - remember the stranded hat? Luckily, the difference in tension there was not massive, and I knew I could adjust it if I needed to with blocking/shrinking. I would never live this dangerously with a garment!

    Another reason to swatch is to find out how a new-to-you yarn behaves. In these pictures you can see two different 4 ply wools from the Island Wool Company. The rather lovely silver grey is Navia, and the beautiful sunshiney yellow is Snaeldan.


    Both were knit on 3.5mm Chiagoo needles in stocking stitch. The fabric was more dense than I would have expected for 4ply on these needles, and I would prefer a looser fabric. So I know that I would be better off trying 4mm needles. I checked tension before washing so I could tell if there were any changes.


    After knitting, I soaked them in warm water with a little bit of Navia wool wash that they were kind enough to send me. Smells lovely. I left them to soak until I remembered they were there, then I rolled them in a towel to squeeze the water out and left them to dry on a flat surface.


    What happened?

    As you can see, the soak has evened up the stiches noticeably, and both of the swatches lay more or less flat. I didn't pin these to block, and I deliberately didn't put a garter border around to help them lie flat. The wool bloomed a lot. You can clearly see the difference in the loose ends of wool. As I thought before washing, I would have been better off using a larger needle to allow for that. Both wools softened, the grey Navia more than the Snaeldan. 

    The other thing that changed was the tension. Both stitch and row gauge changed. Half a stitch, or a quarter of a stitch per inch may not seem like a significant difference. For some things it wouldn't matter. If I were using these to make a scarf or shawl, half a stitch per inch would probably have an impact on how much yarn I needed, but a scarf being a little bit bigger or smaller is not too critical.

    Why does it matter?

    What if I was making a jumper. Assuming I want a finished 40" bust circumference, based on the unsoaked Snaeldan swatch I would want 280sts. However, after a soak, those 280 sts would now measure 43". But that's not all. If I had knit this imaginary jumper to a length of 26" the change in row tension from 9 per inch to 10 per inch would shrink the jumper to 23.4". So the jumper would be noticeably shorter and wider than I had intended.

    Even with the tiny difference of 0.25" for the Navia would have an impact. The 40" jumper would be 41.6", and the length would shrink to 23.4". 

    And so, to please any science teachers reading this...... 


    If you go to the trouble of knitting a swatch, make sure you treat it in the way that the finished item will be treated. In this case, there is a fair chance that the length difference would be mitigated by the weight of the jumper - but I would be tempted to knit a much bigger swatch and dry it weighted with clothes pegs to find out! 

    The Island Wool Company were kind enough to send me these yarns to play with. Swatching them has shown me that the first idea I had would work better in another yarn. But these colours together are delicious, and it's some of the nicest pure wool I've ever worked with. Unsurprisingly, another idea has come to mind as a result of knitting these swatches. I have a lot more swatching to do!