Socks with Long-tail Cast On

Let me tell you one of my favorite stories, one that only a knitter will truly appreciate, about socks with Long-tail Cast on.

Once up on a time, in  yarn store far, far away, my Mum and I were browsing the shelves and inhaling the fumes. You know, as you do.  This was not long after I had finally convinced my mother that knitting with a needle smaller than a size 7 US was not going to kill her, and her subsequent addiction to sock knitting.

It was also a week after I had had spend HOURS doing researching on sock cast ons. I was tired of my sock tops being too tight.  I had found an article (no link, this was YEARS ago, back when we used books  and I have NO idea where, sorry!) that said that hands down the best method to cast on for a sock was the Old Norwegian Method. Which I then learned and fell in love with!  I didn’t see my Mum as often back then so I had yet to share this revelation with her.

Favorite Cast On

Socks with Long-tail Cast OnSo there we were ogling yarn and Mum suddenly asks me, totally out of the blue  “What is your favorite cast on for socks?” Her question had been in a normal tone of voice, but it was a small shop,  a nice lady behind the counter and maybe three or four other patrons, and so everyone heard it.

You have to admit that that is a fairly sensible question. There are LOTS of ways to cast on, and some are better than others for socks.  It was a great question.

I have no idea what sort of an answer she expected, but my casual response “Oh, my favorite cast on for socks is the Old Norwegian.” Just about knocked her down.  We stared at each other in numb amazement – me that she would ask me that question so randomly (she had never asked my opinion on technique before to be sure) and she that I would answer with a cast on she had never heard of.

We both looked a bit stunned and then we guffawed!  Just about rolled in the isles. You know when something is terribly funny, but you can’t define why? Yes, that.

Of course, then we had to stop laughing as we had a little in-shop mini-lesson as I taught everyone in the shop this “new” cast on called Old Norwegian.

I should probably say here that while I do sometimes knit toe up, my preferred direction is top down, so cast on method is CRUCIAL!

New Socks

Socks with Long-tail Cast OnI thought of this story the other day when I was casting on a pair of socks at Knit Night at my LYS. (Local Yarn Store) Anyway, after I had cast on and was starting to knit someone gently touched my shoulder.  “Oh dear, you have started knitting with yarn end, not the skein.” She was quite surprised when I told her that was on purpose.  She was very interested in why, and I thought you might be too.

SHOPPING!

When I was in Baltimore recently I did some yarn shopping. Well, I tried.  Of the five shops I found on Google before I left, and only two of them were viable. One had shut down, and two were “by appointment only.” Not conducive to a good yarn crawl!, for sure!

Lovely Yarns is inside Baltimore (in Hampden) and that was were I got the sock yarn.  The color is called Blue Jay, it was from a local dyer and I am really in love with knitting with it.

Cloverhill (just outside the city, in Cantonsville) was even better!  At Cloverhill I was so comfortable I sat and knit for a while and then bought THREE braids of fiber to take home and spin!!

Long Tail Cast Ons

One of the problems with Long Tail cast ons is that one often finds that they have either not enough of a tail to cast on the number they need, or too much of a long tail left over at the end.  I know that there are methods to figure out exactly how much you need (1/2 an inch for every stitch you cast on) but honestly, that’s too much like hard work. I generally cast on about 60 stitches for a sock and so I usually measure out about a yard and a half for my tail.  (If you do the math, that’s too long)

And, big surprise, it’s always more than I need. I am OK with that.  I would much rather have more than I need than less than I need. What I am NOT OK with is wasting that extra yarn.  I am a bit of a miser when it comes to most things, and anything more than 6 inches is a waste in my book.

But here is what I do – rather than cut off that end I USE it.  Here is my process.

Start right

Normally if I used a non-long-tail cast on I don’t worry about the join.  When I sew my end in I will be able to massage the jog at the join. I can make it invisible when I sew in the end.  But as you will see, I do not have an end at the edge of my sock. I must do something else to make sure the join is solid. (There is a yarn end to sew in, it just won’t be on the edge.

To make my join more solid I cast on an extra stitch.  If the pattern calls for 60, I cast on 61.  Then when I get to the end of first round of ribbing I knit together the first and the last stitches that I cast on.  This reduces or eliminates the “jog” in the join.

Knit with the end

The is one other thing I do.  When I finish casting on I work my first round with my yarn end.

When you are a new knitter they say “Make sure you don’t use your yarn end!”  And that is absolutely correct.  However, I am rather fond of breaking the odd rule now and then, and I am NOT fond of wasting yarn.

I start ribbing with the yarn end.

If I get a whole round done with the yarn end then I continue knitting with  it.  However I knit the first stitch of the second round with both yarns.  One stitch with both the yarn end and the skein yarn together  will not be noticeable.  Then continue working with just the yarn end.  This is so that the skein yarn “keeps up” with the yarn end.

Eventually I will run out of yarn end.  And by “run out” I mean I will only have 6 or 7 inches left.  Then I stop. Slip my stitches around on the needle as necessary and restart that round with my skein yarn.

Wait, What?

Yes, I just stop in the middle of the round, slip my stitches so I am back to the beginning of the round, and start with the skein yarn as if nothing had happened.

I know what you are thinking.  First, you are thinking “you can’t just stop in the middle of the round!” and in fact, yes you can.  The ribbing for your sock is anywhere from 1.5 inches to 4 inches long depending on the pattern.  You are knitting with sock weight yarn – so pretty small yarn – and I promise you it won’t be enough to make your socks “lopsided.”

I have been doing this for years.  Frugal I cal it. Cheap others call it.  And now that I am on the cusp of knitting socks with my own handspun, you can be absolutely certain sure I will continue to be frugal with yarn when I knit socks.

This not only eliminates yarn waste, it also eliminates the slight bump on the edge where you weave in your yarn.  You still have a slight bump, of course. But it’s further down the ribbing and not right on the edge. This makes it harder to see and impossible to feel when you wear the socks. Or when you grab the opening to put them on.

Is this a bit unnecessary? Absolutely.  It’s just my inner OCD kicking in, and totally not something that will work for everyone.  But it works for me, and now you have the option to find out if it works for you!  Have fun! KNIT SOCKS!!!!

 

 

Garter and Stockinette

This is part of a sometime series called Anatomy of a Knitted Stitch. This part is about Garter and Stockinette.

Garter and Stockinette

To long time knitters garter and stockinette are obvious and so ubiquitous.  We don’t even think about how confusing they can be to new knitters. Patterns will say “work 20 rows in garter” or “work 20 rounds in stockinette.”  Well, that’s great if you know what that means, but garter and stockinette rarely explained in patterns.  If garter and stockinette are new terms then you must look it up online. New knitters often ask me why the designer didn’t just tell them what to do!

The thing is, they have told you what to do!  And once you have been knitting for a while you don’t even think about it. You just KNOW.  But I think it’s good to review what we “KNOW” once in awhile to see if anything has changed or if there is more we can learn. So let’s talk about the old standbys – Garter and Stockinette.

Garter

Garter and Stockinette

Generally students learn the knit stitch first.

Most people learn to knit on straight needles.

This means they knit a row, then they turn their work and knit back, and so on.

This type of fabric is called garter stitch.

When you DO garter stitch you knit every row.

When you SEE garter stitch you see a knit row then a purl row, then a knit row.

Remember that every stitch is like a coin and has two sides.  If you work a knit stitch it shows up as a purl stitch on the back of your work. And vice versa.

Garter stitch is funny because from a distance it can look like all purl rows.  The purl stitch is kind of a bully. It will take over how your fabric looks and feels.

In Knits and Purls  I said “PURL stitches are a tiny, itsy bit larger than knit stitches.” That tiny bit of bigness is the purl bump hanging out the back of the stitch. When you knit in garter stitch you see a whole row of those bully bumps, then a row of the sedate and lessy bully-ish knit stitches, then back to the big bully purls – obviously the purls are going to show up more.

This isn’t really a bad thing because it makes garter stitch into a flat fabric.  Garter is alternate rows of knits and purls which balance each other out.  This balance allows the fabric you create to lay flat and not curl up or wrinkle.

Stockinette

Garter and Stockinette

If you only know how to knit you can only make Garter stitch.

However, once you learn how to purl you have a million more options.

The first and most common option is to create stockinette stitch.

As a beginner on straight needles, this means you knit a row, turn, and purl a row.

When you DO stockinette stitch you knit a row, then purl a row.

When you SEE stockinette stitch  you see rows and rows of knitted stitches only.

Stockinette stitch is probably the most common stitch fabric.  Stockinette has has two distinct sides.  The knit side is smooth and you only see knit stitches.  The purl side is only purl stitches.

Fashions Change

When I was growing up we thought the knit-only side was more “attractive” than the purl side.  Back then we thought the purl-only side, or “reverse stockinette” was less sophisticated.   Nowadays people are a bit less purl-prejudiced.  You can find whole sweaters made in reverse stockinette stitch!

Reverse stockinette stitch makes a great background for cables since the rougher texture of a solid purl background makes the smooth knitted cables stand out more.

I am a bit “knit-centric.”  I don’t like the look of reverse stockinette stitch on sweaters.  They make me itch to turn the garments “right side out.”  I guess I am old fashioned. I think the reverse stockinette fad has been brought about by people trying to innovate by putting the “wrong side” on the outside. It’s good to push the envelope, of course, but I prefer in general the “right side” of smooth knits, and the “wrong side” of purls for large swathes of fabric.

Stockinette is the stitch of choice for most color work, not all certainly, but most. Color work gets muddy on the purl side.  When you start using a different color the purl side of the stitch is half the old color and half the new color.  The knit side is generally more simplistic – one stitch, one color.

CURLING

No, I am not talking about the grand Canadian sport.  Stockinette may be ubiquitous but it has one really big draw back.  It is NOT a balanced fabric.  By that I mean that because all the knits are on one side, and all the purls are on the other then the thuggish purls force the fabric to curl up at the bottom.

And, to make matters worse there is another type of curl in stockinette fabric.  You already know that PURL stitches are a tiny bit larger (meaning longer) than knit stitches, but additionally, KNIT stitches are a tiny bit WIDER than purl stitches. Which mean that at the side of the fabric it curls THE OTHER WAY! (Stockinette curls UP at the bottom, and curls BACK at the sides.)

This is why at the bottom of large swathes of stockinette (like a sweater for example) you will find a border – ribbing, seed, garter, etc. That is a balanced fabric so it lies flat and can act as an anchor.

Knitting in the Round

Keep in mind that your perspective changes when you are knitting in the round. To get the same look you have to DO different things.

 

  • When you SEE garter stitch you see a knit row then a purl row, then a knit row.
  • IN THE ROUND when you do garter stitch you must knit a round, then purl a round.
Garter and Stockinette

Garter

  • When you SEE stockinette stitch you see rows and rows of knitted stitches only.
  • IN THE ROUND when you DO stockinette stitch you knit every round.

 

Garter and Stockinette

Stockinette

It used to be that every students learned to knit on straight needles. This meant that they learned garter stitch right off the bat.  Then they learned purl stitches so they could create stockinette.  Nowadays some shops teach students to knit in the round. The students are told that all they need is the knit stitch.  I have met knitters who have been knitting for months, and never knew how to make a purl stitch.  These new knitters are often frustrated and annoyed.  They wonder what all the fuss is about because they find knitting boring. So sad!

Garter and Stockinette are easy and useful fabric types to use in your knitting.  And reverse stockinette is much more popular now for whole garments than it used to be.  Knowing how the stitches make the fabric work can help you make your project come out the way you want it to, or help you design something you can’t find a pattern for.

Click here to learn more about the Anatomy of Knitted Stitches!

Measuring Yarn Length

Knowing how to measure yarn length is pretty important to spinners. It’s not a bad skill to have for a knitter either.

Of course, this is just one way of doing it.  Big companies have machines that measure yarn length, we at home can do it using the grist method.  Here are two excellent posts by lovely women who GET IT. Jillian Moreno  and Rachel Welford totally understand it and make it sound almost easy on their blogs.  I tried to explain in myself a few years ago to my Spinzilla team and I muffed it big time.  In fact it kind of scarred me. So I am staying away from it. Good luck to those who delve in and love math.

Why do I care?

Spinners need to know how much yarn they have created so they know what they can do with it.  If I only end up with 200 yards of DK then I can make a hat, or mitts, or a cowl, but when it gets to 400 yards then we are talking a shawl, or a number of hat/mitt sets…more yarn means more options.

This can also be useful to knitters.  Every knitter worth their salt ends up with yarn ends.  And sometimes, depending on the knitter and/or the project, they can end up with LOTS of length left over.  Knowing how much, again, gives them options on what to do with the scraps.

What do I need?

In a perfect world you need a niddy noddy, some scrap yarn, a measuring tape, and a calculator.  But not everyone has a niddy noddy, so there are other options.  The back of a chair works,  or even your forearm and your thumb.

The point is you want to create a skein of yarn.  Skeins are basically just yarn coiled up into a big loop and secured together with yarn or string.  The purpose of a skein is to keep the yarn from tangling.

Please, people, say this word correctly.  I know if you have been brought up in the south you might pronounce it skeeeen (rhymes with bean)  but I promise you it’s skAYn (rhymes with plane).  Pronouncing it like it rhymes with bean is not a cultural or regional difference, it’s just inaccurate.  It’s one of those things that puts my teeth on edge, I beg of you, please say it correctly.  AND for extra points did you know that in addition to being used with yarn it also means a flock of wild geese or swans in flight, typically in a V-shaped formation? I know, cool right? You’re welcome.

There are obviously other ways to keep yarn from tangling but this is the easiest way to wash, dye, or dry out yarn so it’s the most often used.

How do I start?

Once you figure out whether you are going to use a niddy noddy, a chair or your forearm/thumb you wrap the yarn until it’s all used up.  Then you need to secure the yarn by tying the two ends of the yarn together and cutting off the excess yarn.  Now I know, if you are a spinner, you are going to cavil because if you tie the two ends together it is quite likely that you will lose some of the yarn you have so carefully spun.

And it’s a class A tragedy. I totally agree.

But harness a little perspective.  It’s going to average less than a yard.  It’s going to be either the beginning or the end where your yarn is going to be a little less than perfect anyway!  And if you are playing yarn chicken so close to the vest that 1 yard is going to make a difference then you are wild and crazy enough to work around running out. Go for it!  I admit that it took me some time to get pas this.  I HATE wasting yarn, let along handspun.

Now, cut that end off and let’s keep going. But when you cut off those ends cut them off with about 2 or 3 inches left.  It’s much easier to find the ends after you wash the yarn if the ends are longer.

Tie it up

Now you need to tie that yarn together in such a way that it won’t “escape.”  The classic way to do this is to create a figure eight tie.  Take a look at a professionally make skein of yarn sometime and you will see that figure eights are pretty easy, and very secure.  Keeping the yarn ON THE NIDDY NODDY (I sometimes get excited at this stage and yank the yarn off the niddy noddy without the ties. You don’t even want to know how ugly that is.) I divide the yarn in my fingers into roughly three equal bunches then weave a piece of yarn in and out, around the end and back in and out then tie it together on the side I started. (If that makes no sense look here or here.) To be honest, now that I look at those pages I realize that I do a figure eight and a half…it’s the way I was taught. I don’t think it matters much. Either one works.

I do this four times per skein. Once for each side of the niddy noddy. Less than that opens up the door for tangles, more than that is overkill, in my opinion.  Using a contrasting color yarn will help.  I use crochet cotton in either white or purple.  Also, you can cut the ends on these ties pretty tight like 1/4 inch.

So now you have a bit loop of tied up yarn. That’s a skein.  Well done!

Measure the Skein

SPinzilla Math

Counting the total number of strands in the skein.

To measure yarn length in the skein you need two numbers.

First, count the number of strands of yarn that have gone around the niddy noddy.  You can do this on the niddy noddy or off, it doesn’t matter.  You can see in the picture the white yarn that I tied the skein together with, and counting each strand of yarn.

Just pick a point somewhere along the skein and count how many strands pass that point. (Thanks to my lovely Mum for playing Vanna for me!) I write this number down.

 

Spinzilla Math

Measuring the length of the skein.

To get the next number  you need to hold up the skein and measure how long it is.   Do this from about the middle of the skein to the middle of the skein.  By middle I mean this: you have a lot of strands of yarn in that skein, hold it as a unit and count from the middle of the bunch at the top to the middle of the bunch at the bottom.  Remember, this is spinning, not rocket science, it doesn’t have to be correct to the millimeter.  I write this number down.

Confession Time:

So I write ALL these numbers down because I am a bear of VERY little brain.  I can’t hold numbers in my head for very long.  I use the brains I do have for WORDS not NUMBERS.  So I write it down.  Every.   Time.   I recommend you do the same.  There is nothing more annoying than having to recount. Results may vary in your world.

Do the Math

Hold onto your hat, this where the real “math” part starts.  Take the length of the skein as it hangs and multiply it by 2 – this gives you the total “length” of one strand as it goes all the way around the skein.

 Let’s call this number L in our equation. Don’t assume.  Even if your niddy noddy calls itself a “2 yard niddy noddy” you still need to measure.  (more on that later)

Now find that number you wrote down that tells you how many strands you counted that go around the skein. Call that number S in our equation.

Finally, multiply that the number of strands (S) by the length of the skein (L) and divide by 36 if you want your answer to be in yards, which is what TNNA is looking for.  This is the length of the yarn in your skein.


EXAMPLE:

Here is a quick example. When I count the strands in that green skein I get 235 so that is S.Then I measure the length at 32, which when multiplied by 2 gets me 64, which would be L in our equation.

(S x L) / 36

or

(235 x 64 =15,040) divided by 36 =417.777778

So the total length of my skein of yarn is 417 yards

 


Caveat

You should always do your measuring on  finished yarn.  If you have yarn straight off the niddy noddy then finish it and THEN measure it. When we talk about finishing yarn we mean yarn that has had it’s twist “set.”  To set the yarn twist the easiest and most effective thing to do it to get it wet.  You can wash it if you like, but you don’t have to.  I usually do because by the time I have spun it and skeined it and messed with it, I feel like it has a lot of dirt and grease in it from my hands, my equipment, and just from life!  I also want to wash out any oil left from the mill when it was processed, or any lanolin left if I processed it.

Using water as HOT as you can stand let the yarn soak a bit until it’s totally saturated.  Then take it out.  You do NOT want to scrub it, wring it, or agitate it any way.  I do, in actuality wring my skeins out but I do it very gently, so if you can’t do it gently, don’t do it!

Then I snap it.  I grab one end of the yarn I snap it like a whip.  This tends to shock the fibers into settling into their places. Then I hang it to dry.  After one day I take if off the hanger and rehang it the other way up. This helps it dry faster.

That being said, there is no reason why you can’t measure your yarn any time you want.  But, if you want an accurate measurement of the length of your skein, measuring a finished skein it the way to go.

Niddy Noddys

Another caveat is to not assume about the size of your niddy noddy.  Students often ask me “I have a two-yard niddy noddy. Can’t I just multiply the number of strands by 2 yards and leave it at that?”

No. You can’t.

Here is the answer I got from Nancy Shroyer of Nancy’s Knit Knacks when I asked her that very question. (Nancy is the purveyor of the most excellent niddy noddy that I use on a weekly basis and have for over 20 years!  I trust Nancy’s information!  She said:

“When you take a tape measure and wrap it correctly around all 4 sides it will measure 72 inches. When you wrap your handspun that has been under tension on the bobbin around the 4 sides it is also under tension. While it is on the niddy noddy it measures 72 inches. As soon as you release it from the noddy noddy it relaxes and shrinks. Depending on the amount of “bounce” or elasticity of your fiber that could be a lot or a bit. Then you wash it and depending on how long it was on the bobbin (under tension and stretched) there will be more shrinkage.

It is a 2 yard niddy noddy but the total number of finished yards in any skein will vary. The more you put on will also affect the final outcome because as the subsequent layers pile up the last wraps will be longer than the first. Also some people wrap very tightly and they will have more shrinkage than those who wrap loosely.

There is no way for a Niddy Noddy manufacturer to design in a factor that would allow the spinner to wind enough yarn to end up with a 72″ skein after they release the skein from the Niddy and after washing the yarn. There are just too many other factors that we are not in control of.”

So, no matter what length your niddy noddy is you MUST measure the hanging length of your skein of yarn in order to get accurate numbers.