First Stitch Syndrome

Have your heard of First Stitch Syndrome?

It’s a dreadful affliction that sometimes affects new knitters!

Symptoms include: fear of being an inferior knitter, disliking what you have knit, sighing and feeling inept, and very often ripping out perfectly good pieces of knitting.

And all because the edge of their knitting looks sloppy

The good news is that there is a VERY SIMPLE CURE!

I am going to share it with you today, and hopefully you can help me spread it and we can end the terrible affliction of First Stitch Syndrome.

The Symptom

The problem is that when you knit flat (not in the round) you have an edge to your knitting, and therefore, an edge stitch.

This edge stitch often ends up being larger than it’s next door neighbor. This results in a whole line of big, sloppy stitches.  Sloppy edge stitches make sewing up a chore because you have big holes and it just looks MESSY.

The really frustrating thing for some new knitters is that they can see the problem – and they have a solution!

At the next edge they knit the first stitch and they pull, and pull and pull so the stitch is SOOOO tight there is no WAY it can end up sloppy, but four or five stitches in they look back and there it is – sloppy again!

But knowing that they DID pull it tight they do it again on the next edge, and on the next and end up frustrated and depressed and exclaiming things like “I just can’t get it right” or ” I will never learn to knit correctly!”  There is often gnashing of teeth  and can sometimes even be wailing!

The Problem

First Stitch Syndrome is a devilishly annoying.  Let’s break the problem down.

You want the first stitch you knit in the row to be the same size as the others, so you pull really tight on that stitch to “tame” it, and FORCE it to be tight.  In effect you are asking the stitch to be SMALLER than it wants to be, smaller in fact that the needle size you are using.

But unfortunately as soon as you go onto the second stitch the first stitch relaxes and before you know it you have a stitch that is slouching in the corner like a angst filled teenager.

It doesn’t matter how hard you pull on that yarn as you make the stitch, it always relaxes as you move on.

This doesn’t happen very often with other stitches, it’s only edge one that causes so much trouble.

The problem is that the edge stitches are only supported on ONE SIDE.  All the other stitches in your row have stitches on BOTH sides, so they are supported and sustained and keep their shape.

But it’s the very nature of an edge stitch to be ON THE EDGE. So what’s a poor knitter to do?

The Solution

There is a cure to First Stitch Syndrome. Think about these things first.

Think RELAX

Pulling, yanking, forcing or otherwise getting violent with your yarn will do nothing to solve the problem and much to raise your blood pressure. So the first step to a cure is to relax. Let go of your frustration, it is only adding to the problem.

Think TAUT

When you knit the size of your stitches is determined by your needle. Not by you, not by your muscle strength, but by the needle.  Every stitch should be the same size because the NEEDLE makes that decision.  A good knitter develops a habit of not knitting too loosely or too tightly, but so that each stitch fits snug and taut (not sloppy or tight) around the needle.

Hopefully you have already developed this habit with the “inner” stitches, so now let’s make sure your edge stitches work the same way.

Think ALIGNMENT

This is important: Your edge stitches are not alone. They DO have stitches on either side of them.  They have the second stitch, obviously. But they also have the last stitch of the last row. It’s sitting below the edge stitch, you just finished it! And you know what? You thought you were done with it and have cavalierly just abandoned it to it’s fate and moved onto the next row. Big mistake.

You need to have both the last stitch of the last row, and the first stitch of this row in alignment. Then they are both supported on both sides, and they won’t go all loosey-goosey on you.

  1. Knit the fist stitch in the row as usual – do not go crazy trying to pull it tight, let the needle with do the work. Relax.
  2. Put your needle into the next stitch (the second stitch in the row), wind your yarn around the needle AS IF to make the stitch, but pause.
  3. Pull the yarn TAUT (don’t make the stitch yet), not tight.
  4. Watch your yarn as you slowly pull it taut, make sure that it is pulling from the LAST stitch of the last row, THROUGH the first stitch so that they are BOTH the right size.
  5. Let that size be determined by your needle, not by your frustration.
  6. When the previous two stitches are in ALIGNMENT, complete the second stitch.

Now go on about your business, worry free.

The second stitch will hold the tautness of the first stitch (which is holding the tautness of the last stitch) and you can move on with confidence.

Ahhhhhhh.

Now, doesn’t that feel better?

Practice that a few times, and then make it a part of your knitting repertoire so that you never have to worry about sloppy first stitches again…ever!

 

Don’t forget that even though the Tour de Fleece doesn’t start until July we are starting to warm up NOW! If you are a spinner,  consider joining us (it’s free!) and learn about how much FUN we have!!

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!!!!

 

 

Yarn Cakes

When I was growing up we had “balls” of yarn, not cakes.  Mum would come home from the yarn shop with hanks of beautiful yarn.  I would stand with my arms outstretched and she would wind off the yarn into a ball. Yarn cakes were only something you bought in a store.

But nowadays around our house we have lots of yarn cakes. We have a swift (2 actually) and a ball winder (4 actually) and we make our own cakes. Big, small, handspun, commercial – all yarns are great in cakes.

Of course, I have met some knitters who don’t like cakes.  They say they get tangled and so they don’t like to use them. But that is a story for another day.

Today I want to talk about cakes that are wound in your local yarn store.

Buy a hank

I know I am lucky.  It’s just my Mum and I in the house, we don’t have any non-knitters messing up our yarn vibe.  Everyone around our house GETS the whole fiber addiction, and might even (dare I say it?) SUPPORT it!  The corollary of that is that we have lots of fiber toys. We have the toys, and we know how to use them.  Which means when I go into a yarn store and the wool or silk fumes overwhelm me I don’t have to worry about the put up of the yarn. (“Put up” is what they call the way the yarn is packaged: a skein, a ball, a hank, etc.)

No matter how they put up the yarn, I can deal with it.  But that isn’t always the case for everyone who works with yarn.  Some people don’t have ball winders, or swifts, or even adolescent children willing to stand with outstretched arms for ages and ages.

That means that many yarn stores are kind and generous enough to wind hanks of yarn that people have bought into cakes. This is a great value added to their purchase, and frankly the right thing to do.

Get a Cake

Yarn CakesHowever, here is where the cheese gets binding.  Sometimes, those lovely, kind, and generous yarn enablers who work in yarn stores don’t do what they should.  It’s not always their fault, maybe they don’t know, or maybe they are in a rush – they are doing a good thing by helping you – now you need to ask them to do one thing more.

When you buy a hank of yarn in a shop and they wind it into a cake for you, ask them to do it twice.

Now, I know that sounds like you are being a bit obnoxious, but I promise you it’s worth it – both for you and for them.

Wool

Let’s be clear here.  I am not talking about hanks of silk or cotton, or even alpaca or mohair (not as much, anyway). I am talking about WOOL.

Here’s the thing: wool stretches.  We like that about wool.  It’s part of what makes our socks fit so well, and our sweaters so warm and cozy.  We want wool to stretch, but we need to control that stretch.

When you make a cake from yarn on a swift there is tension.  When you turn the handle on the ball winder it pulls the yarn you have attached and the tension of the pull makes the swift go around. It’s a pretty simple mechanism.

However, when you wind that cake onto the ball winder it is being wound under strong tension.  Ball winders need some tension in order to create a cohesive and compact cake.  But when the ball winder has to pull enough to make the swift go around, and it does, then you have a LOT of tension.  And when wool, specifically, is wound under that MUCH tension it stretches.

One of the joys of wool is that when it stretches it will bounce back to it’s original shape.  But that happens when you get it wet – it doesn’t bounce back on it’s own. This can create problems.

Create a Treasure

Yarn CakesSo there you are – you get home with your lovely cake of yarn. You know exactly what you want to do with it, maybe it’s a shawl – no problem. Minor variations in size is relatively unimportant in a shawl.  But let’s say you want to knit socks or a baby jacket.

Your plan was to start that baby jacket RIGHT AWAY! That very day, but then things happened…you know, LIFE.  It sometimes gets in the way of our knitting!

You find yourself 3 months later finally able to cast on for the baby jacket.  That beautiful yarn has been sitting there wound into a tight firm cake for a while now and the 100 % wool yarn has stretched.  Imperceptibly maybe, but it has stretched.  And when you start knitting you are knitting with elongated yarn.

You create your little treasure and then you wash it and block it – and suddenly it’s not the right size! It’s a full inch smaller than you planned for.  You had your gauge right, you used the right needles, and the right stitch count! What went wrong?

What happened is that your lovely yarn got in your nice hot (or lukewarm, or cold) water bath and it relaxed.  Ahhhhhh…  No longer under the tension of the tightly wound cake, it relaxed and your 16 inch hem suddenly became a 15.

Or those amazing socks you knit with a really intricate pattern that you can’t wait to wear? They won’t go on over your heel.

Preventative Medicine

Yarn CakesOK, so I might have dramatized a bit.  (who? ME?) It might not be a full inch. And honestly, sometimes you don’t even notice it.

Maybe you think “Oh I am just a tight knitter.”  But stretched yarn DOES bounce back when you block it, and yarn in a tightly wound cake WILL stretch your yarn.

Yarn cakes MUST have some tension in order for the ball winder to work, but the tension created by the pull on a skein winder is TOO MUCH tension.

This is what I do with all my yarns. I wind them twice. And the GOOD yarn stores will do it for you, too!

I put the hank on the swift, and I wind the cake onto the ball winder.  Then I take the cake off the ball winder, put it on the floor and let it run through my hand (tension, but not too much tension) into the ball winder again.

Benefits

This actually does a few things.

First I feel all those knots or tangles and can deal with them before they get embedded in the cake.

Second I can feel if there are joins in the yarn.

Can I just say that almost nothing annoys me more about commercial yarn than getting a skein that has 2 or more joins in it?

I know, things happen.  I can always sew the ends in, it won’t kill me.  But more than two “things happening” in  a single skein of yarn seems just plain incompetent to me. I am a lot more understanding in handspun. Although if I have ANY joins in my handspun you get a discount or I don’t put it up for sale at all!)

My feeling is that if you have chosen to do this commercially and your yarn sells all over the world (Malabrigo, Noro, Skacel: I am talking to you!) you should have the skill and the common decency to create a proper yarn.  OK. Got that off my chest. Thanks.

If I feel a join, I can break the yarn right then, rather than find it later as a surprise.  That way if there is a part of the project that only needs a smaller amount of yarn I can use one of the partial cakes. Then I don’t have to make a break where I don’t need to in a larger cake.

And finally, winding the cake again, with a steady, but not hard tension will create a beautiful cake that is NOT under so much tension that the yarn with stretch.  I recently wound two hanks of this beautiful Cascade Heritage Paints to knit a shawl with.  You can see in the pictures that one is bigger than the other.  The smaller cake was wound once, the larger was rewound.

With a correctly tensioned cake it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get to work on it – the yarn is happy.  We all want happy yarn!

Just Ask

The next time you are in a yarn store and they kindly wind the yarn for you, stop and think.

Are you SURE you are going to start immediately?  The yarn won’t have time to stretch if you start immediately.  Well, as long as you pull from the middle of the cake it won’t.  Pulling from the middle not only means your cake or ball sits still, but it also makes your yarn happy!  As you pull the middle of the cake out you leave room for the  rest of the yarn to relax. Relaxed yarn is happy yarn.

Is there a line in the shop? If there are lots of other people waiting to have their yarn caked, then maybe asking them to do it twice (if they are doing it out of kindness) might be inconsiderate.  I have heard (although I am not sure I actually believe it) that there are yarn stores that actually CHARGE people for this service. If that is the case then you DEFINITELY want them to wind it twice, and it should not cost extra because it’s part of winding the yarn correctly.  Honestly, the really GOOD yarn stores will already do this for you automatically, but if they don’t and there isn’t a line, then just ask.

If you have a ball winder at home you can always take it home and do it, so you don’t need to ask.  But don’t forget to rewind it!

If you don’t have a ball winder, you might want to consider making a hand wound ball.  You paid a lot for that bundle of woolly goodness, wouldn’t you want to make it happy yarn?

 

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