Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Introducing One of our New Teachers

While I take some time off of regular classes at Kiwi to attempt to write a book, Lynn has brought in a new teacher to join the roster. I have known Kathy Costello for some time now, both through Old Pueblo Knitting Guild and my days of working at another yarn shop, and she is someone that I really like. The great thing about new teachers is that they bring new perspectives and new energy into the shop. Take a moment next time you stop in to Kiwi to look at Kathy's class samples. Her steeked Noro vest is really beautiful, and I don't think any picture could possibly do it justice!

I asked Kathy if she would like to share something about herself here on the blog to introduce her to our customers. Here is what she had to say...

"Thanks Lynda, for a chance to share a bit about myself for the Kiwi Blog.

Color has always been my touchstone in whatever craft I have been involved with. I learned to knit from my grandma when I was very small, and I learned beginning crochet from my neighbor probably at the same time. I enjoyed all kinds of artistic pursuits as a girl, especially paint by number horses and mice!

My mom also crocheted and I still have two of her afghans. In my early twenties I wanted to learn more about knitting, so my grandma and I took classes at the local yarn store. That is where I learned to knit continental style, as the teacher was very opinionated that it was the only proper way to knit. Grandma tried, but didn’t make the change, as her knitted slippers were just fine the way she knit them!

I continued to crochet and learned to quilt when my kids where small. I taught quilting while living in Seattle. When I moved to Tucson in 1995, I took up beading and began doing lampwork at the rec. center.

One day in 2002, my beading friend showed me some felted bags at Back Door Bead and Yarn. I loved the look; and the colors of the yarn, oooo! I hadn’t knit in a while and she convinced me to try, using circular needles. Well, I was off and running. I got up the courage to attend the Friday Fun Knitters and then joined OPK. I discovered sock knitting, which to me, is the perfect project for learning nearly all the things a knitter needs to know. Now I have begun knitting vests and sweaters that will be good for our Tucson weather.

Last year, I learned to spin and have been having a blast spinning and knitting with my very own yarn! I have even dyed some of my own roving. My enthusiasm always brings me the most joy when I can share it, thus my love of teaching.

I hope you will join me in one of my classes this spring: Felted Clogs, Noro Vest or Knitting and Crocheting with your own handspun.


Lynn has been getting TONS of new yarns in the shop for spring. Every time I go in there I see several boxes that have just come in that are waiting to be priced and put out onto the shelves. On Saturday, Jackie and Bridget were pricing a shipment of Frog Tree Alpace DK weight that had just come in, in lots of gorgeous colors. I have been fascinated by socks lately, and a couple that have caught my eye are the Pagewood Farms sock yarns in either a merino/nylon superwash blend, or a merino/bamboo/nylon superwash, in gorgeous colors. I am working on my second pair of socks with this yarn (DH gazed longingly at the first sock as I was just casting on, so that pair went to him for Valentine's Day, this pair is mine, all mine!) and I love this stuff. Very squishy and bouncy, and extremely soft. The other sock yarn that is new to the shop is the Online Supersocke 100 in knock-your-eyes-out, bright, fun spring colors. You have to see this stuff, it's beautiful!

Major rearranging seemed to be happening in the Veggie Room, too, so I'll be excited to see what has gone up on the shelves while I've been gone.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Toe-up Cast-ons

Well, yesterday was the first day I felt like myself again, and it sure is great to be on the other side of my cold. As I've mentioned before, with asthma a cold or flu can be a very dangerous thing, so I spend those days living through a cold with one eye waiting for the other shoe to drop - the asthma crisis that lands me in the ER. So again I urge you, if you find yourself with a cold or flu, think of all those people out there - more than you suspect - who have a compromised immune system due to things like chronic respiratory disease, chemo, etc. and stay home if you are sick. We have several such clients at the shop, and each time I say something like this is the blog, I get thank yous from them.

Friday, after posting on heels here in place of teaching them at the shop, I had every intention of posting my final part of the Socks Boot Camp - Toe-up Cast-Ons - here on Saturday. But if anyone's road to hell is paved with good intentions, surely mine is. So let's talk about Toe-up Cast-ons!

There is one cast-on that is used quite often for toe-up patterns called the Figure Eight or Turkish Cast-on. I have used this for things other than socks, such as knitted bags that I prefer to work in the round instead of knitting a flat piece and then seaming it later. One thing I notice with this cast-on is that you really want to do the cast-on itself with needles a size or two smaller than you will be working with. Because of how the cast-on is done, the sts of the CO are always going to be just a pinch larger than your knitted sts, causing a bit of looseness or a gap. This is easily solved with smaller needles.

Hold your two needles parallel, one above the other like this- _____

Leaving a 6-8" tail which you will weave or knit in later, hold your working yarn behind the needles with the tail to the top, and working end hanging down. *Bring the working end of the yarn between the two needles, and down in front of the bottom needle. Bring the yarn under the bottom needle and behind, then between the two needles again to the right of where the previous pass-through was, and in front of the top needle. Over the top needle and behind the needles, then between the two needles.* Repeat between * & * for the number of sts required.

As you can see, this makes a figure 8 of yarn between your two needles. You begin to work your sts by pulling the lower needle through the sts so that the lower sts rest on the cable of the lower needle. Using the upper needle, work the upper sts and then pull those sts onto the cable of the upper needle. Keeping your working yarn in place, simply turn the two needles clockwise like a steering wheel so that the lower needle is now on top, the upper needle is on the bottom. Pull the sts on the now upper needle so that they move from the cable onto the needle, and work them, making sure to tug that first st tight just as you do when knitting in the round in other situations, to avoid getting a ladder between sts. Continue in that manner. You will soon have a bit of knitting on there and feel as though you are knitting in the round in the normal way, just in circles, rather than turning the needles top and bottom as you do when first beginning to work the cast-on sts. Fluffy Knitter Deb does a great photo tutorial here to help you with the visuals.

The next cast-on, Judy's Magic Cast-on, is my absolute favorite. There is honestly no way that I can do it justice with words, but Cat Bordhi does an excellent tutorial about it on YouTube. Click here to go to her main page, and the tutorial is the first one on the list. Cat has a lot of good demos here. Personally I find her teaching style a bit tedious (I always hate having something explained to me 8 times when I got it on the first try. I kept saying, 'Move ON, woman!' to the computer.). BUT... having said that, her info is excellent, and well worth the wait.

Finally, I want to talk a bit about increases. Obviously, if you are starting at the toe of a sock, you need to increase to get to the full stitch count of your sock. Most patterns will to tell you to use either a k1f&b increase, or a M1 increase. Personally, I think both are uglier than all get-out. With the k1f&b you end up with a purl bump on your knit side, and with the M1 - no matter now neatly your work it and twist the st - there is still a foot print that shows where the new stitch came from. I'm sorry, but that won't do. It is well worth your while to learn my favorite - that most elegant of increases, the Lifted Increase. Not the Raised Increase, mind you, and there is a good excuse for some confusion there because of the terms. Again, take yarn and needles in hand, and go to Cat Bordhi's tutorial page, and look at 'LA-link and LA-Rink, the paired increases'. Once you do these, you'll never want to go back to the old way on doing your increases. I have been subbing these two increases for all increases in patterns for years now. They are by far my favorites, and the ones I teach in all my classes and Knit Dr. sessions.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Short Row Heels and Afterthought Heels

Look, Ma! No holes!

My second project when I got back into knitting (after the world's largest sweater) was a pair of socks. I had the advantage of not having someone to tell me that socks are difficult and tricky and are best left for more advanced knitters. Consequently, I didn't find socks to be difficult, tricky or better left to more advanced knitters. I thought they were great fun! My husband and I were on vacation, we popped into what was my favorite yarn shop and I picked up a sock kit and needles. Later in Barnes & Noble I picked up a book on knitting, and went back to my sister's house to sit cross-legged on the bed that night, knitting my first pair of socks on double-pointed needles. And I've never looked back.

That original pair of socks was designed with the traditional flap-and-turn heel, and I really thought that my first heel turn was a little knitting miracle. I still feel that way about heels. To think that you can shape knitting to go around corners is pretty darned cool. And so for years, that was the way all the socks I knitted were made, with the heel flap, then the heel turn, and then the gusset. About a year ago, though, I discovered short-row heels, and baby, let me tell you, THAT is the way to go!

What I like about short-row heels is that they are quicker to work, and for me - even with my high instep - they fit better, more snugly, than a flap-and-turn does. To me, they are also the perfect way to show hand-painted or self-patterning yarns to their best advantage. I've now worked several pairs of short-row heel socks, with several variations of the technique.

If you haven't worked a short-row heel before now, you are probably reading this and thinking, But Lynda, ALL heels are worked with short-rows! And you would not be wrong. With a flap-and-turn heel you work a long heel flap, work a short-row pocket for the heel, then pick up sts along both sides of the heel flap and incorporate these with the heel and the instep sts, gradually decreasing sts from the gusset sides until you are back at your original number of sts. The short-rows in that type of heel are worked from the narrower center of the heel, out towards the side edges, like this: <

With a short-row heel you work the sock to the point where it is time to throw a heel in, and begin working your short rows by starting at the outer edges of your heel sts, working towards a narrow center of the heel, and then back out to reincorporate those outer heel sts back into the knitting. Once that is done, you simply begin working in the round, with your instep sts and heel sts all reunited in sock happiness once more. >< Picture bringing the two legs of the top V together, and doing the same with the bottom V. No flaps, no gussets. Simple, easy, makes me happy.

The first short-row heel I ever worked was one called The Sherman Heel, and I talked about it in detail here on my own blog, Luna Knits. This heel can be adopted to any sock pattern.

Other short-row heels that I have worked have all used some manner of YOs that are worked along with the regular sts in the second half of the heel, at the time when you are bringing all your held side sts back into the knitting. Some examples you might want to look at are in the William Street Socks from Interweave Knits, and the Snicket Socks, from Magknits. I've made a both pairs of these socks, and they each use a different method of accomplishing the short-row heel, both very nice.

Another heel variation is the Afterthought Heel. Think of a cross between either a mitten thumb set-up and then a sock toe; or an afterthought pocket set-up, followed by a sock toe.

If you know exactly where you want to put your heel, your work the sock to that point, knit across all of your heel sts (normally 1/2 of your total sts, though I have seen suggested 2/3) with a piece of waste yarn. Then slip the waste yarn sts back to your left needle, and with your working yarn, knit across these same sts again. Continue with the rest of your sock leaving the heel for later.

When it is time to work the heel, slip the working yarn sts on either side of the waste yarn - top and bottom - onto dpns or two circs. Pull out the waste yarn, leaving live sts on both your top and bottom needles. Using your working yarn, begin knitting an classic sock toe - *K to last 3 sts on your first needle, K2tog, K1. Next needle, K1, SSK.* Repeat to the end of the round. Knit one round, repeat those two rounds until you are left with the same # of sts you ended your toe with, Kitchener the remaining sts together.

Since Yarn Harlot did such a great job of explaining the Afterthought Heel done from working yarn rather than waste yarn (and using my Afterthought Pocket post as a reference) I will refer to her post here on how to make that happen.

Keep in mind that there are as many ways to knit a pair of socks as there are knitters. It means that no one is wrong, and everybody is happy. Experiment with new ways to make the same old thing - new techniques, new stitch patterns - and see what an inspiration that is in all of your projects.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Boot Camp For Socks, Contest and Yipeeee!

Mermaid Mitts - Made with Araucania Ranco using an Italian Tubular Cast-On on the cuff edge, with a sewn Kitchener BO on the finger edge. Click on photo to enlarge it and see detail.

Well, right now I am supposed to be getting ready for my day at work, and especially to take part in the Boot Camp For Socks that Kiwi is putting on over the next three days - today, Friday and Saturday. In conjunction with Southwest Trading Company - which will be holding a trunk show at the shop - the teachers you know and love at Kiwi will be teaching various sock techniques in a round-robin manner - come when you want to during the Boot Camp hours, and learn whichever techniques you choose.

Today the camp is going on from 1-3 pm, and is entitled Beginnings. Techniques will include DPNs, 2 circs & magic loop needle set-ups and two socks at one time. It would also include me teaching my favorite tubular cast-on, but unfortunately on Monday I sat in a Dr.'s office waiting room two chairs down from a woman who seemed to have a cold, and guess what? Now I have one, too!

Friday's camp is from 10-12 and will is called, Heels. It will include regular heels and reinforced heels, but not me teaching short-row and afterthought heels.

Saturday's camp, Toes, is from 1-3 pm and will include regular toes, Kitchener stitch grafting, but not me teaching toe-up cast-on's.

So I thought this morning I would talk about my favorite tubular cast-on from the warmth and comfort of my home, and then you won't even notice that my hair looks like an explosion took place on my head, that my nose looks like a buoy light, or that liquids are flowing freely from various openings in my head. Or catch my cold.

The Italian Tubular Cast-on is by far the easiest tubular cast-on I have ever used. I love the look of tubular cast-on's because they make the knitting seem to wrap around the edge of the garment - knit sts travel up over the rounded edge to transform into purl sts on the inside. I used to live in dread of using the other TCOs because they are so darned fiddly to do, and all the "Do this with waste yarn for X number of rows, and then switch to your working yarn, and do Y for this number of rows, and then stand on your left heel and spin around 3 times, and only then will this work."

Like most other TCOs, the ITCO works only for 1x1 rib, but if you think about it, that shows up more often than you think in socks, hats, and sweater ribbing. Perfect time to whip out the ITCO. The chief advantage of the ITCO being that there is no waste yarn used, and with three simple steps you are done and on your way. It looks great paired with a sewn Kitchener BO, and I am a fiend for matching COs and BOs.

Step One - I prefer to do this with a single DPN, casting all sts onto this one needle and working the two set-up rows on a pair of DPNs until I am ready to work it onto the needle(s) of choice with the third row. If I am going to be working in the round, I always cast on one more st than specified in the pattern, to be used for joining in the round later.

Get a long tail such as you would use in a Long-Tail Cast-on. Work with the tail held in your right hand as though you are going to knit, and the working yarn held in your left hand as though ready to knit. Don't worry - you won't be knitting with both hands, just doing the CO with both hands. Have about 4-6 inches of yarn separating your two hands, and the yarn laying under your needle. I hold my needle in my Left hand. You will alternate with your two hands, first left, then right, and each hand has a specific task. Left hand ALWAYS just passes the yarn over the needle from left to right and comes back to the starting position. Right hand moves after left hand, and stays under the needle at all times. It just goes back and forth like the hand on a metronome, from right to left, then from left to right, underneath the needle.

SO - Left hand passes the yarn over top of the needle from left to right, comes under the needle and ends up back on the left side. Right hand sweeps under the needle from right to left, and waits there. Left thumb holds the new stitch, and left hand moves over the needle from left to right (see, it always makes the same movement, Lefty does) and passes under the needle back to it's starting position. Right hand sweeps under the needle, now moving from left, over to right, back where it started. Keep repeating the above steps for the number of sts you need, and trust me, it is easier to count as you go.

Step Two - All of your sts are cast-on, and holding that last cross of the right yarn in place, begin to work your first row by *K1, sl 1 wyif*. Repeat across all of your CO sts, ending with a sl 1 wyif if you have an even # of sts, or a K1 if you have cast on an odd # of sts.

Turn, and with an even # of sts you will work this row just the same as the previous row starting with a K1. Or if you have an odd # of sts, you will start the row with sl 1 wyif, and then work the rest of the row as above.

Step Three - Begin working your 1x1 rib, working the sts onto your working needles, and if you are joining to work in the round, I do this by working the last st of this row in a K2tog with the first st of the row to join the circle. After your work a row of the K1, P1 rib, take the dangling tail of the right hand yarn and stretching the very edge of your cast-on, see where the tail yarn runs freely and loosely through your edge. Pull it out of the edge of all the sts. I then work it with my working yarn for about 8 sts, and cut off about a 1/2 inch from the knitting, and Voila! Your end is already worked in.

Step Four - Knit on, sister.

There is a great visual tutorial here. She holds the needle between her knees to do the CO but I found this close to impossible for myself. It is far easier to just hold it in your hand.

Contest... Last week when I went into the shop and looked at our latest newsletter, I realized that I made a HUGE typo in the Tips From the (ha!) Expert. The first person to spot it and reply in the comments here wins a free copy of their choice of one of my patterns. Next week I'll tell you what that mistake was, and why it should be the way it should be.

Yipeeee! And after too long an absence, our beloved Marianne is back in the shop starting today. Welcome back, Marianne, you have been dearly missed.

Have fun at the Boot Camp this weekend!