Sunday, December 15, 2013

A few words on needle size, gauge, and all those other things

I was asked in a comment about needle size for patterns, and in particular, for the ribbed mitten pattern I posted about a month ago.

The simple answer is that for a yarn (or yarn combo) that knits up to a gauge of about 3 st/in, a needle size of 9-11 (5.5 mm to 8 mm) is the usual recommendation.

The longer answer is that it depends.

I am a very loose knitter, especially compare to the standard charts of recommended needle sizes.  So a size that works for me won't work for everyone else.  Thus I hesitate to recommend a needle size when I write out my patterns.

Also, I don't usually specify a yarn.  I might use handspun, or some ancient stuff from the leftovers bin, or something where the ball band was lost years ago.  I might strand two or more yarns together.  And so on.  I do try to give a general gauge and/or a finished item size that you might want to keep in mind.  Where possible, I try to work in measurements (knit until item is X inches long) rather than gauge (work X rows).  I also try to give a sense of how accurate your gauge needs to be.

Most of my patterns are more in the nature of concepts and methods, basic generic plans that work for a range of yarns and that can easily be customized to be larger or smaller based on gauge and personal preference.

For myself, I usually try out a chosen yarn with a likely-looking needle.  If I like the fabric, it's good to go.  I do a rough gauge check, a few simple calculations, and then cast on.

For small items, the item itself is the full gauge swatch.  Evaluate after an inch or two.  Do you still like the fabric?  Does the item fit?  If yes, keep going.  If not, you haven't lost much time, and you've learned something that will make the next attempt better.

For small items, small differences in gauge do not matter much.  For large items, they matter a lot.  For larger items, say a sweater, I might start with a sleeve instead of the body.  Or I'll go top-down.  That way, I can evaluate fairly quickly and make adjustments if necessary without always having to unravel and start over.

I don't know if that helps any.

If you are a new knitter, try the ribbed mittens (or the wristers) with a yarn or yarn combo that falls in the chunky/bulky range and a #10.5 needle.  If you don't have a #10.5 needle, try a #11 or a #9.  Evaluate after an inch or two and change needle size if you don't like how it looks or fit.  With 24 stitches per round, this goes fast.  You're not losing a lot of time if your first attempt isn't working out.

If you are a somewhat more experienced knitter, eyeball the yarn or yarn combo and pick a likely-looking needle size to start out with.

My approach to gauge and swatching is somewhat more relaxed than some people's approach.  Sometimes one really does need to be excruciatingly careful about making gauge swatches, washing them, and then evaluating before committing to the actual project. Sometimes one can be more cavalier, casting on and then seeing what happens, knowing that minor variations aren't going to change the outcome all that much.  With experience, one learns which approach is best suited to which projects and yarns.  Even then, mistakes sometimes get made.  Which, of course, is how one gains experience.  What's that old saying?  "Good judgment comes from experience.  Experience comes from bad judgment."  Live and learn.  And have fun knitting your way to wisdom.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Very Vintage Bias Ribbed Hat

A long time ago, back before there was much in the way of the internet, let alone a rich online knitting community, I came across an interesting hat in the shop of an alpaca ranch.  The owner told me that it was an old pattern.  She graciously shared it with me.  I scribbled the directions as fast as I could while she described how the hat was made.  I ended up with a quickly drawn schematic on a torn scrap of paper, with two or three sentences to clarify small details.

Eventually, I shared the pattern in private e-mails with friends.  Somehow, my pattern description ended up on the internet, or at least on one of the knitting-related mailing lists that were in their heyday over a decade ago.

Here it is again, preserved for posterity.  Well, posterity by internet standards, whatever that might mean.

This is a vintage pattern.  I do not know its origins, only that it was considered an old pattern at least twenty years ago.  I've formalized the schematic from my quick sketch of long ago so that it looks prettier for the blog.

I re-knit it quickly to get some photos and also to make sure that the directions were adequate.  Yep.  They're adequate.  I didn't pay much attention to details and variations.  I'll discuss a few ideas after the basics.

Classic Bias Ribbed Hat

One of the nice things about this pattern is that gauge does not matter as long as you get a fabric you like.

Here is the schematic:

That's all you need, really.

Here is the pattern in words:

Cast on 3 stitches.  You'll be working in a k2p2 rib, so always stay in pattern.

Start by increasing 1 stitch at the beginning of each row.

When the sides are 12" long (the already knitted sides, not the side of active stitches on your needle), you'll be alternating increase rows with decrease rows.  On one side, you'll continue to increase one stitch at the beginning of the row.  On the other side, you'll decrease one stitch at the beginning of the row.

When the long side (the side with only increases) is 22" long, stop doing any increases.  Instead, decrease one stitch at the beginning of every row.

When you are down to 3 stitches, cast off.

Sew the short ends together.  Gather one of the long sides to close the top of the hat.  Hide the ends.  That's all there is to it.

You can wear it with the brim up or down.  If your finishing is relatively neat, it is quite reversible.

I used worsted-weight alpaca for the hat in the photos above.  It can be done in any yarn and any gauge, of course.

I didn't pay any attention to selvages or increase/decrease methods.  I increased/decreased in the first stitch of each row.  It looks OK.  I'm sure one could play around with different methods if desired.  Although I left the edges plain, I could have added a row of crocheting to the bottom of the hat, or otherwise decorated it up a bit.

If you want to make this hat seamless, the easiest way I know is to cast on the full number of stitches using a provisional cast-on.  Increase at one side and decrease at the other until the hat goes around your head (22").  Then graft the end to the beginning.  The advantage of this is that it is seamless.  The disadvantage is that you need to know your gauge and also need to know how deep you want the hat.  You also need to know how to do provisional cast-ons and grafting in pattern, both of which are quite common now, but which were considered somewhat more esoteric several decades ago.

Enjoy this vintage pattern!  If anyone knows more about its history, please feel free to add some details in the comments.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Wribbit (Easy Ribbed Mittens)

A while back, as in several years ago, I posted my House Pattern for quickly-knitted fingerless mitts, aka Wrapid Wristers.  In that post, I alluded to a mitten variation.  Here is the more formal pattern for those mittens.

These are 24-stitch mittens.  They are made from bulky yarn, or two or more strand of thinner yarn, at a gauge of about 3.5 stitches per inch in 1x1 ribbing.  Actually, anything from about 3-4 stitches per inch ought to work.  Don't worry too much about gauge or swatching.  Use the first few inches of these mittens as your gauge swatch.  If they don't fit right or you don't like the fabric you're getting, unravel and try again.  If you do like it, then you're good to go -- keep on knitting!

Since k1p1 ribbing is very stretchy, these mittens need no shaping.  They fit a variety of hand sizes.  If you need them to be a bit bigger or smaller, you can either change your gauge or you can add/subtract a few stitches (a multiple of 2 stitches, so the ribbing pattern remains the same).

I'm not sure about yarn requirements.  100g ought to be about right, give or take a bit.  I often use leftovers and oddballs and bits of handspun, combining 2 strands to get a nice thick mitten fabric.

Wribbits (easy ribbed mittens)

Cast on 24 stitches.  Join, and *k1, p1* for approximately 5 to 5.5".  (this is a 1x1 ribbing pattern)  This gets you to the web of the thumb.  So, if you like longer cuffs for your mittens or you have long hands, knit for longer than 5.5"

On the next round, put 3 stitches on a holder.  I usually put stitches #13-15 on the holder.  These stitches are a (k,p,k).  However, you can put any 3 stitches on a holder.  Cast on 3 stitches over the gap and continue in the k1p1 rib for another 5" or so, or however long your hand is.

Now it is time for a quick decrease to finish the mitten tops.  On each of the next two rounds, *SSK* around.  This gets you down to 6 stitches.  Cut the yarn, run it through the stitches, pull it snug and finish off.  (You are doing SSK instead of K2tog to keep the knit stitches on top of the purl stitches for the first round of decreases.  If you have a strong preference for the k2tog decrease, then knit the first stitch of that first round before starting all the k2tog decreases.  That first stitch will end up getting incorporated into the last decrease of the round.)

For the thumb, pick up stitches from the 3-stitch cast-on, the 3 stitches on the holder, plus one stitch on each side at the gap.  Keep it in the k1p1 rib pattern.  (the stitches at the gap help you stay in pattern)  You should have 8 stitches on your needle.  Do *k1,p1* rib until the thumb is about 2.5-3" long, or however long your thumb is.  On the next round, *SSK*.  This leaves you with 4 stitches.  Finish them off as above.

Make another mitten for your other hand.  Both mittens are the same and can be worn on either hand.  The ribbing stretches and clings as necessary to go around the curves of your wrist and your palm.  If you are careful about how you hide the yarn ends, these mittens are also reversible, should you care.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Checking in for 2013

It's been a while since I last put up a post on this blog.  Over a year, in fact.

A comment on my previous post asked me to add the pattern for the Oregon Chillwarmer vest to Ravelry's database.  So I did.

I will add the rest of the patterns to Ravelry's database over the next few weeks or months.  I'll also try to corral older designs posted elsewhere on the 'net that have made it into Ravelry and elsewhere.  If and when I get sufficiently ambitious, I'll try to make pdf files and upload them as free Ravelry downloads to make it easier for people to find them.  I know my designs are fairly simple and not awesomely gorgeous or innovative.  But I find it gratifying that some people find them useful or interesting.  Thank you.

Here is where you will find the designs listed in Ravelry's pattern database: