January 13, 2009

Drummy Carder, you're the one!

Batts of Afternoon Delight!

I don't believe I ever mentioned I got a drum carder. It was quite a while ago, back in summer. I've been playing with it ever since, experimenting, waffling between Rock and Suck on a seemingly random basis. Those things have quite a learning curve.

The drum carder is deceptive, in a way. Anyone can throw some fiber in the feed tray and turn the crank. But being able to control your results takes a lotta lotta practice. I've wondered before why the batts for sale on Etsy are so often random, chunky, carnival spasms of incompatible fibers; does everyone but me love to spin yarn you can't use for anything but elongated-stitch skinny-scarves that will never ever touch water? But after cranking away for a few months, I think I understand: 'kitchen sink' batts are easy to make. Smooth, heathered sock blends, which is what I most love to spin, are hard.

It takes more than knowlege; no one can tell you how to do it. You have to get a feel for it, teach your hands, make mistakes and learn from them. Teach your eyes, know what you're seeing and what it means. You have to spin your mistakes, spin your successes... spin a batt that's half-mistake and half-success, and just about burst into tears because you love the good part so much but it's inextricably attached to the yucky part.

I think I've put about a hundred bucks of fiber through that carder since my birthday, and I'm just finally starting to trust that the batt I plan is the batt I'll get. But if I've made it sound frustrating -- well, okay, sometimes it was. But so worth it. Because being able to make exactly the blend I want, fibers and colors distributed just so, is like the ultimate spinning dream. Softness and color streaking off the drum in a sheet of pure joy... mmmmm. It's like painting with hugs.

Behold a few of my latest hug-paintings, then! These are the ones I put up in my shop; hopefully I'll soon remember to take pics of the cinnamon heathered alpaca/wool/merino I made for myself, but the shop ones are pretty good. Only reason I'm selling them is because I haven't yet learned to spin in my sleep.

December 13, 2008

I aten't dead!

I've been too busy to count to ten, let alone update my knitting blog. Sorry, my loves. I think the pressure will ease up after Xmas. In any case, I haven't forgotten my password, and I sure as hell haven't stopped knitting. :)

July 27, 2008

Knitting FAQ: Ergonomics and Posture

Knitting FAQ index

"How should I hold my knitting? What about posture?"

Like any activity where you use your hands for long periods of time, knitting can give you repetitive stress injuries if you do it wrong. It's important that you not let that happen. Here are some tips to help you avoid it:

Try lighter or shorter needles. The heavier your needles, the more work your hands have to do with every stitch. Longer needles apply more leverage to your hands; once again, your hands have to work harder to make that stitch. If you're using long metal needles, switching to wood or plastic needles a few inches shorter might make all the difference.

Support the weight of the fabric in your lap. The more fabric you've knitted, the heavier it is. If it's long enough to reach your lap when you're sitting down, take that extra second to arrange it so it's supported whenever you turn the work. The more weight you can take off your hands, the longer you can knit.

Put both feet flat on the ground. I confess, I don't always do this myself; I like to put my feet up. But even so, I pause to put my feet flat from time to time to check that I'm not off balance. You want to make sure you're not listing to one side or the other. Leaning puts a strain on your whole body; you can end up with a sore back, sore neck, and sore hands.

Sit up straight. Just like leaning to the side, curling forward puts a strain on your body. If you can't see your work without bending over it, go where the light is better, or get your glasses prescription updated. Hunching like a cobbler elf means you'll eventually look like one.

Keep warm. Cold weather makes you feel like knitting, it's true. But do the actual knitting somewhere warm. Cold joints are already under stress; putting them under further stress will make them sore.

Let both hands share the work. If you find that one hand gets sore faster than the other, take a good look at your knitting style. There are several different methods for holding the working yarn and moving the stitches, and while they're fairly balanced in their ideal forms, it's possible to pick up habits that leave one hand doing all the work; you might want to consider switching to a different method.

Keep your arms relaxed. You don't want your elbows out and flapping. Not only does it look goofy, it wastes energy and makes you tired. The strain on your upper arms travels all the way to your hands, and the next thing you know you're too sore to knit.

Look at experienced knitters. It's easy enough to find pictures of people knitting; have a look at their hands and arms. Everyone's a little different in the details, but the general posture is the same.

Most importantly: if it hurts, stop! Tendonitis and carpal tunnel are no joke! If you don't take the time to let your hands and wrists heal, you can do permanent damage. Better to lay off the knitting for a day or two now than to end up unable to knit ever again.

To discuss this question and answer, please comment on this post. To ask other questions, please comment on the FAQ index post. Hope it's helpful, and have fun knitting!

Knitting FAQ: Stitch Markers

Knitting FAQ index

"What are stitch markers and how do you use them?"

Stitch markers are a way to mark a point in your work for future reference. There are lots of things you can use for this. In a pinch, you can even use a piece of contrasting yarn, but markers made for the purpose are pretty cheap and a lot easier to use, so you may as well go ahead and get some.

There are two basic types of stitch markers -- open and closed. Open stitch markers have an opening, so you can hook them through a stitch to mark a point in your knitted fabric, or around your needle without moving the stitches that are on the needle. There are plastic loops, and coilless safety pins:

Then there are the closed type, which are simply a ring. These go around your needle, not around a stitch in the fabric. If you were to put them around a stitch, then once you knit past them, they'd be a permanent decoration. Which is pretty creative if you do it on purpose, I guess, but not much use as a marker. So the closed type is useful for marking a point in your knitting that recurs with each row. You can get cheap plastic ones, or fancy beaded metal ones:

There's one difference between the plastic circles and the beaded markers other than the fact that one is prettier (and more expensive) than the other: the bead hangs on one side of your fabric. This means that you can use the bead to keep track of which side is the right side on a reversible fabric like garter stitch, for instance. It also means that you have to keep an eye on which side your working yarn is on when you scoop the marker from one needle to the other, or you can end up tangling it around the bead.

Closed stitch markers can only be placed on your needle when there are no stitches in the way. That means that to use one, you need to knit to the place where you want it, slide it onto the needle, and then keep going. When you reach that point in the next row, you scoop the marker from one needle to the other, just like slipping a stitch.

Open markers are commonly used for things like marking the beginning of an increase or decrease, the turning point in a short row, or anything else that's hard to spot at a glance and which you'll want to find later. They mark a stationary point in your fabric. Of course, you can also use them like you'd use closed markers, by hooking them on your needle.

Closed markers are used to mark things like pattern repeats, the point where an increase or decrease happens on each row, the beginning of the row in a circular piece, or anything else that happens repeatedly as your knitting continues. Patterns will often instruct you where to place markers, and describe these repeating elements in terms of the markers. For instance, in my hat template, I tell you to place a marker at the center of each needle, and decrease right after it. You could do that hat well enough just by counting the stitches instead of using a marker, but the marker's just that little bit easier -- and when you're making a lace tablecloth with thirty repeats of a pattern that looks like ramen until you block it, stitch markers make the difference between ending up with a gorgeous heirloom, and ending up wearing a huggy coat in a padded room.

Since I make and sell beaded stitch markers, I'm sort of biased in their favor, so take my preference for them with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, I do think they're the nicest. The metal rings with a slight extra weight slide cleanly from one needle to the other, the dangling bead lets you keep track of the right side of the fabric (as long as you don't let it flip over when you set your knitting down for a second), and they're just plain nice to look at. Experiment with different kinds and find out what you like best.

To discuss this question and answer, please comment on this post. To ask other questions, please comment on the FAQ index post. Hope it's helpful, and have fun knitting!

July 20, 2008

Knitting FAQ: Beginner Materials

Knitting FAQ index

"What materials are recommended for a beginner to get?"

The simple, albeit somewhat flippant answer, is that all you need are sticks and string. If you're stranded on a desert island, you can knit with grass and twigs. As long as you have something to make loops out of and something to make them on, you can start knitting. That said, some materials are easier for a beginner to work with than others.

Obviously there will be differences of opinion from one person to another about what it's best to start with. This is my own advice:

- Material: I recommend wood or bamboo. It's lightweight and not too slippery. Some prefer plastic needles for beginners because they're cheaper, which allows you to try out more sizes with less initial expense. Metal needles are your worst bet; they're heavier, which is hard on hands that haven't built up their knitting muscles yet, and the stitches are prone to slipping off.
- Type: Straight, single-point needles, not too long. Eleven inches is a good length. That's short enough to be portable, but long enough to make a nice wide scarf or a knit-flat hat. These will serve you well in beginner projects, and remain useful even when you're comfortable with other types.
- Size: Somewhere between 7 (4.5 mm) and 10 (6.0 mm). That's large enough that you can easily see and manipulate your stitches, but not so big that you end up with weird elongated knitting that doesn't look like the pictures on instruction sites.

- Fiber: Start out with something that has a bit of stretch to it. Wool is a very good bet; if wool is no good for you, test whatever fiber you choose by stretching out a length of it and see if it has some give. Non-stretchy fibers like cotton can be hard to work with and make your hands sore. On the other hand, a very stretchy yarn, like elastic-core sock yarn, is frustrating when you don't have a feel for your stitches yet. Avoid mohair; it sticks to itself, and gets threadbare fast if you unravel and reknit it.
- Weight: Worsted, also known as Aran -- around 12 wpi (wraps per inch) -- is a comfortable weight to work with on needles in the 7-10 range. It's a useful weight for scarves, hats, mittens, etc.
- Type: Choose a smooth, structurally solid yarn for your first few projects. Trust me on this. No novelty yarns; no fluff, fuzz, sparkles, dangles, loops, or lumps. You need to know what your stitches look like as you're learning, and that's just about impossible if your stitches look like a feather boa. Also, you'll probably be ripping back and starting over a few times, doing experiments and then unraveling them; a smooth yarn stands up to this treatment much better than a fuzzy or uneven one.
- Color: Yes, this matters. It's much easier to see what you're doing on light colors. I found this out the hard way. I was quite the goth when I was learning to knit, and my first few projects were all dark red, dark purple, or black; I got some spectacular headaches from this. No matter how deep your gloom, you can surely make a case for cobweb gray.
- Price: Do not get cheapo crap just because you're a beginner. I can't emphasize this enough. Pay the extra couple bucks and get something that looks and feels wonderful. Remember, this yarn will be in your hands and in front of your eyes for hours at a time. If you don't like to look at it or touch it, learning will be a chore instead of a pleasure.

Other items:
- Something to cut with: You don't need special knitting scissors, just normal ones. In a pinch I've used nail clippers, my pocketknife, or my teeth. You won't be doing a whole lot of cutting and it doesn't need to be fancy.
- Something to measure with: Again, nothing special, just something that will measure inches. (Patterns which give gauge in only one or the other invariably give it in inches; the rest give both inches and centimeters.) Since you'll be using this mostly for measuring gauge at first, one of those little plastic school rulers would be fine. Clear plastic quilting templates with a grid marked on them are especially useful and quite portable.
- Large-eye needles: Yarn needles or tapestry needles with a blunt point and an eye big enough to get your yarn through. You'll use this for weaving in the ends of the yarn. The blunt point is so you don't split your stitches.
- Crochet hook: Useful for a lot of things, like picking up dropped stitches, adding edgings, making provisional cast-ons, and weaving in your ends when you inevitably lose your yarn needle.
- Attitude: Easy does it. Everybody sucks at first. Everybody was a beginner once. Give yourself time to make mistakes and do experiments. Even when it doesn't feel like it, you're getting a little better with every stitch, I promise. :)


To discuss this question and answer, please comment on this post. To ask other questions, please comment on the FAQ index post. Hope it's helpful, and have fun knitting!

Knitting FAQ Index

This is the index post for the Knitting FAQ. I'll be adding links to the answers as I post them. If you have any questions you'd like to see answered, please comment on this post! Don't be shy, ain't no such thing as a stupid question.


Getting Started
Q: What materials are recommended for a beginner to get?
A: Beginner Materials

Q: How should I hold my knitting? What about posture?
A: Ergonomics and Posture

Tools and Materials
Q: What are stitch markers and how do you use them?
A: Stitch Markers

July 19, 2008

Knitting FAQ

After a bit of Googling, I've discovered everything that claims to be a FAQ on the topic of knitting is either very specific ("What gauge is most traditional for Fair Isle?") or is actually a sprawling instructional site rather than a list of Q&A's. Now, I've been known to ask some pretty specific questions myself (I just stumped the 'Tips & Techniques' group on Ravelry for like a week by asking how you do plaited basket stitch in the round), and I love those instructional sites as if they are delicious candy (just look at my sidebar links), but I feel there's a need for a sort of quick-reference to basic, general questions. Questions like, "My scarf is fifteen feet long; how do I stop?"

I'm going to need your help for this. I know there aren't a lot of people reading right now, but I also know y'all are smart and curious folks, and you have friends. You see where I'm going with this. Would you darlings be so kind as to ask me questions, and see if other people you know have questions? Anything you've always wondered about? Problems you've come up against?

Especially useful:
- Questions so basic you feel silly for asking them.
- Questions to which you've found multiple conflicting answers.
- Meta-questions; that is, not about the actual knitting or its materials, but about how to find out things, why information is given in a certain format, etc.
- Goofy, funny questions.

Peripherally related questions on other topics, like spinning, crochet, felting, or weaving, are also worth asking, though my answer might well be "Durr, I dunno!"

I'm still working on how best to format this for accessibility, so if there's a particular format you like to see FAQ's presented in, I'd love to know.