Sunday, December 23, 2012

Once Upon a Time in the Knitting World

Once upon a time when yarn was plain and simple, there was a dearth of local knit shops and magazines about knitting were few. Knitters did not knit in public. They were solitary and suffered from the lack of inspiration and community.

The bright stars of this era were Elizabeth Zimmerman and Barbara Walker and one magazine from France – Mon Tricot.
I am a fan of all three. Sadly Mon Tricot stopped printing in the early 1980s but I learned so many things from these three. They were my knitting lifeline and teachers. Among the many wonderful patterns  I learned how much fun it is to make little dolls and toys.
Yes, these are all crocheted.
I loved making them...

...following the patterns at first then I started changing little things – slightly different colors, hairstyles then creating my own little person...

.... like this little spinner. Note she is knitted. She was inspired by an entire tableau of a miniature Arizona ranch made by the Spinning Study Group of the Tucson Handweavers and Spinners. She was my contribution. Some say she is my avatar.

Knitting or crocheting little things like these dolls, the cat and dove on the ramada above, even the knit adobe houses on the side of the ramada can be addicting and incredibly fun. Luckily now there are lots of pattern books for toys of all sizes. Here are a few tips for making them:
Ø  Use a smaller knitting needle or hook then normally used for that the weight of yarn.  A firm fabric is needed in items that will be stuffed.

Ø  Polyester stuffing is usually the best as it does not matt. Use enough stuffing to give shape to the toy and not so much as to make it too firm.

Ø  Have lots of small amounts of yarn available. It only takes bits to sew in the mouth or eyes. It only takes small amounts to make tiny clothes, little bodies and decorations.

Ø  Beads and tiny buttons can be all kinds of things - jewelry, flowers, eyes if you like. Imagination is a good thing.

Ø  Metallic threads and yarns add sparkle and bling.

Ø  Have patience with the faces. Start with the eyes – they are usually slightly above the middle of the face. Often the eyes are all that is needed for a figure to come to life.

Ø  Various needles for sewing are needed – a sewing needle and thread and a large and small tapestry needle at least.

Ø  Start with a written pattern. There are some really wonderful patterns and pattern books now. Many of them give directions on how to do the faces and hair. It is a good starting place – and then you can create your own!
Have fun!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Yeek! Steeks!

As promised this blog is about steeks. The above book is my go-to book for all things Fair Isle.
Why steek? The main reason is so you can keep working in the round – just knitting, no purls and you get to watch the pattern develop as you work. . The problem comes up when you come to the armholes. If you change to working flat (i.e, back and forth knitting and purling) your gauge will change as will the look of the stitches. They really will be less even.


So steeks were invented to make a holding place for the armholes, the front of a cardigan and even the neck shaping. The steek is a bridge of stitches that will later be cut, folded back and stitches picked up to work the arms of the sweater or in the case of a cardigan or neck shaping - the bands.
Maybe not used traditionally but stitch markers are great to mark where the steek starts and ends. Notice the placement of these on this swatch - the chili pepper is the start. The little silver one is hard to see. It marks the end of the steek and the beginning of the Fair Isle pattern.
There are lots of ways to make the steek. I am giving you my favorite as it provides:
·        A pair of stitches that outline the cutting line – the pink thread shows where the cut will be. I don’t need this when I cut the steek as I can usually follow the center lines. Some people do baste in a contrasting thread so they are sure they are cutting in the right spot.
·         A row of stitches that mark the fold line – the green thread marks this. Again this is just to show where the line is.
·         Even stitches in the garment next to the steek. Some steeks are made by winding yarn around the needle. I like the knitted steek as the garment stitches maintain their evenness.
·         Extra stitches that will not unravel after the central stitches are cut
Steeks can be added anywhere.  In the first photo the steek was started at the very beginning as if for a cardigan. The steek above is for a sleeve.
·         One stitch was removed and held in place by a locking stitch marker.
·         Then ten stitches were cast-on for the steek. Any cast on will do even the “e” or half hitch cast-on.
·         I kept the same formula – the background  color for the stitches at the beginning and end of the steek and for the two stitches in the center where the cut will be. The ones in between can be alternated in the pattern color.
I know cutting is the hardest part but it gets easier with practice. In this photo the steek is folded back to the inside of the garment and tacked with a cross stitch according to Fair Isle tradition. The cross stitching is done in white near the center of the photo.
This sweater is cotton. I did stay stitch on either side of the cutting line with the sewing machine because it was cotton. I have not done that with any of my wool sweaters that were steeked and cut and they have not unraveled a bit. Wool likes to hold on to itself. I needed a little extra sense of security with cotton.
Amazing, isn’t it? Fair Isle is great fun and steeking is not scary once you have done it.