Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Storing circular needles

After much frustration with circular needle storage, I discovered an excellent, and most convenient system: zippered three ring binders and heavy duty page protectors. I keep the binders on my book shelf where they are always handy--no fishing through drawers. So far my needles fit into four binders, which are labeled with adhesive address labels. They tend to peel at the edges, but can be changed easily if the acquisition of more needles necessitate rearrangement.

At first I sealed the page protectors in the center to create two slots for needles (lower left picture), but later discovered that it is better to keep each needle in its own page protector to keep it loose and not tightly wound (lower right picture). They come out ready to use--no need to warm and unkink the needle before casting on a project.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Double knit felted hot pads

I had a lot of fun making these hot pads. They were a little like eating potato chips. I made one and then wanted to do another one. But I guess that is true for knitting in general. It’s addictive.
However, if you are interested, go ahead and makes lots of them. They make nice hostess and house warming gifts. We find them most useful on our table. They slide easy. If the dish is too heavy and hot to pick up, just give it a little push to pass it to the person next to you or across the table (I wouldn’t try this on a tablecloth)

This is a great learning project. Stuff I learned include:

· Double-knitting
· New cast on techniques
· Felting
· Designing with Fibonacci numbers (see previous blog)
· Manipulating an Excel spreadsheet to create a design grid.
Below is information on how to make these hot pads. I do not describe the knitting techniques in too much detail since they are easier to learn with video demonstrations (see the cited YouTube videos, which are linked in the side frame of this blog) or better described in knitting books (some of which are cited).

Steps for making the hot pads

Gather materials
· Brown Sheep Burly Spun yarn—two skeins in two different colors for a two color pattern will make about four hot pads

· Size 13 needles—circular and one straight for casting on

Make a design chart for a double knit pattern

Use a knitting grid – I used an Excel file with rows and columns sized as a knitting grid. Fill cells with colors. After several cells are filled you can cut and paste to speed up the process. Put borders on the cells to make the grid visible.

It may be easiest to follow the design if you create design charts for both sides of the double knitting.
For the flip side simply reverse the colors. (See the two charts to the right)

The rows on the design charts will have one half of your cast on stitches, since the other half will be on the flip side of the double-knit.

For a hot pad that is about 7½ inches square, plan a design that is about 20 (40 cast on) stitches by 30 rows. The felting result may vary depending on your design.

Don’t worry too much about dimensions. The felting process will compress the rows more than the stitches, especially with a strongly vertical design, making planning for a pure square difficult. You can tug on the wet piece right after felting, but it will be nearly impossible to change the dimensions. Mainly you will be pulling on the wet hot pad to straighten and fine-tune the shape, not change the dimensions. However, a rectangular hot pad is just as useful as a square one, sometimes more so if you have an oblong dish to put on the table.
If you have not done double knitting before, start with a simple two-color design with no cross-over color/pattern changes on the first row or two.
Fibonacci numbers are fun and useful for creating designs (see my previous blog entry for more about Fibonacci and the golden ratio).
Cast on techniques:
With a regular long-tail cast on the first rows will be solid and the same color on both sides.
In general, I prefer the tubular cast on, especially the two-color tubular cast on, with which you will get two different colors on the first rows of each side. There are some excellent YouTube videos demonstrating this technique. (See links to the left under “YouTube knitting demos”)

If your design calls for a cross-over color change on the first row, do the two color tubular cast on and give the two yarns a twist before the intended color change, so that the yarn that was closest to you will now be the yarn farthest from you. When you knit the first row you can easily spot where the color change is. The stitches will alternate colors except at the spot of the color change where two stitches of the same color will sit side by side.

Beginning the project with the tubular cast on:
Use straight needles (not circular) for the tubular cast on; it makes it much easier to keep the stitches in place. Switch to the circular needle for the following rows.
The tubular cast on will be the first row of both sides of your double knit design.
Before knitting the first row, look closely at the stitches cast on with the tubular technique. You should see that they lie in a knit one, purl one ribbing-like fashion. Also, note that the knit stitches will be sitting with an ‘open orientation,’ that is, the right side of the stitch lies to the back of the needle. For the first row you need to work into the back of the cast-on stitches so that they are not twisted. (The YouTube demo “Italian cast on” shows this well.)  
Follow the design chart by understanding how double knitting is constructed
Basically you are knitting two pieces of fabric at the same time by working every other stitch with one yarn and the remaining in-between stitches with your second contrast color yarn. You move the yarn forward or back of the needle before or after working a stitch in order to run the yarns inside the two layers.
You can knit across the row one yarn at a time or both yarns at the same time. Using one yarn at a time may be a little easier with the fingers; using both yarns can make it easier to keep track of the design.
To knit with one yarn at a time:
· For the first row and using whichever color matches the ‘knit’ stitches on the cast on row, knit those stitches (without twisting as described above), and slip the (contrasting color) purl stitches, but bring the yarn forward before slipping the purl stitch in order to keep the running yarn inside the two faces of the double-knit. At the end of the row do not turn your knitting, but return to the beginning of the row and, picking up the contrasting color, purl the slipped stitches and slip the knit stitches, this time taking the yarn to back of the needle before slipping the knit stitches to keep the running yarn inside.
· For the second row of the design continue with the contrasting color to knit the knit stitches, then use the first color to purl the purl stitches, slipping the unworked (every other) stitches and moving the yarn back and forward to keep the running yard inside as described above.
· If you would be more comfortable with a stitch-by-stitch instruction for this technique you can find one in The Harmony Guides 440 more Knitting Stitches, Vol. 3. p. 90-91.
To use both yarns at the same time:
· Pick up both yarns and alternately work the knit stitches with the matching color yarn and the purl stitches with the yarn matching the color of the purl stitches, and as above, bringing the yarn forward or back as necessary to carry the strand inside the two sides of the double knit. (This is also demonstrated in the YouTube demos on double knitting.)
To create a two-color design the yarns cross over from one side to the other. It is sort of like stranded knitting but instead of your yarn stretching unknitted across the back it is knitted into the other side.
Keeping track of your design
Note that when both sides of the double knit design are solid colors the colors of the stitches on your needle alternate every other stitch. When the colors cross over to create a design there should be two stitches of the same color sitting side by side where the color change begins.
Since these hot pads are made with a large yarn on large needles, the stitches are easy to see and count, making it easy to check your work. Look it over frequently to be sure that you:
· Carried the running yarn inside
· Do not have more than one extra row of one color, which indicates that you need to switch to the other color—this problem does not arise when knitting both yarns at the same time.
You can see double-knitting demonstrated on YouTube demos “Double-knitting parts 1 and 2,” which are listed in the side frame of this blog. YouTube is rich with knitting videos; there may be many others on double-knitting and other techniques being discussed here. Also an excellent PDF published on the Internet by Ann Kingstone describes the technique.
At the ends of the rows the two colors should be crossed over each other to bind the two sides together. I made one hot pad without doing this to see if the sides would felt together – they did not.
Alternatively, you can use one stitch on both edges as a selvedge stitch. When working the rows one yarn at a time those stitches would be worked on every row preferably with a slip-stitch selvedge. When knitting with two yarns at a time the end stitches could be worked with both yarns together. This latter method is described in Ann Kingstone's PDF cited above. I have not yet tried this.
Best bind off technique for this project is Kitchener
Knit only one side of the last two double knit rows (i.e. work only one face of the last design row). The last row will be the bind off.
Take the stitches off of the needle and put the front and back stitches onto two separate needles.
Using the color you need for the last row of the shorted side (the one that needs one more row) do a Kitchener’s bind off. (See the YouTube demo “Double-knitting: fixing mistake and bind-off” for a demonstration of the Kitchener bind off. You can no doubt fine some other excellent videos for this on YouTube).

Using a finishing needle pull the yarn ends to the inside for a couple of inches. Cut off what is left over.

If you did not knit a selvedge or cross over the yarns at the sides during the double knitting you could run a crochet stitch along the side to bind the two sides of the double knit together and provide a nice even finishing touch.


For felting I follow the process described in Beverly Galeskas ‘s book Felted Knits but here is are brief instructions:
·      Before throwing your piece into the washing machine measure it, and for future reference, take notes on felting times and measurements before, during, and after.
·      Set the washing machine with low water level and hot wash.
·      Add a couple of teaspoons of dishwashing liquid or rinse-free cleaning agent like Soak.
·      Put the items to be felted in a zippered pillow case or fine mesh lingerie bag (to keep the lint generated from gumming up the washing machine).
·      Extra stuff in the washing machine is often recommended, but is not really necessary.
·      Start the cycle and check the felting after 10 minutes of agitation. Reset the machine to agitate if you want it to felt it longer.  Felting the hotpads takes from 20 to 50 minutes depending on how dense you want them. The felting effect diminishes after 30 min.
·      Before the machine spins and empties to enter the rinse cycle, remove the hot pad(s), dunk into cold water and rinse.
·      Pat dry with a towel and tug into a nice shape
·      Leave it to dry on a towel.  If it’s winter and you have radiator heat you can put the hot pad on a cookie sheet atop a radiator to speed up drying.  In any case it will take a few days to dry fully.

Stuff that happens with felting

·     Generally the row height compresses more than the stitch width.
·     Felting varies with the design used. With patterns having  a lot or vertical striping, the row height compresses much more than the stitch width.
·     Open sides (yarn not looped together) do not felt closed.
·     Colors run. This can be either undesirable or desirable depending on whether you prefer bright or muted colors.
Your hot pad is done. If you like the result and enjoyed the process make another one! Try a more complicated design. Use more than two colors. Try color changes on the first row. Create a more vertical pattern (which felts quite differently—you will need more rows or fewer stitches to approximate a square). Play with Fibonacci numbers. You will probably learn something new with each design.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Golden numbers

Leonardo of Pisa, aka Fibonacci, was a late medieval Italian mathematician whose writings helped bring Arabic numbers, the digit ‘zero,’ and decimals to Europe along with the famed number sequence, which carries his name.
The Fibonacci sequence starts with 1 and the following number is the sum of the previous two, hence: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 21, 34, 55….
“Arabic” numerals actually originated in ancient India, where the Fibonacci sequence was also already well known, although not by that name, of course. Supposedly the sequence had something to do with Sanskrit poetry, but since it appears repeatedly in nature, from the spiral of a nautilus shell to the patterns of petals on a flower, my guess is that it probably was ‘discovered’ rather than invented for linguistic purposes.
The sequence has all sorts of interesting mathematical properties and quirks, which I will not go into here but which can be found on the following Internet sites:

Design applications and the golden ratio

My interest in the Fibonacci sequence for knitting is its design applications. The numbers can be used for both striping patterns and proportions. The ratio of two consecutive Fibonacci numbers, especially the larger numbers, generate the golden ratio (aka golden mean) and using two consecutive Fibonacci numbers for the dimensions of a rectangle creates the golden rectangle. The golden ratio (which is 1.610833… an irrational number like pi) and the golden rectangle are believed to have universally aesthetically pleasing proportions and have been used in classic art from painting to architecture.
I like doing my own designs in knitting projects, whether by modifying an existing pattern or creating my own. Fibonacci numbers provide both a good starting point and lots of fun in experimentation.
Some examples

The tea cozy shown here is Fibonacci-striped both with the larger reverse stockinette "welts" and in the stockinette "troughs."
The Fibonacci numbers (in bold) are from the base up-- 1 dark green stripe, 1 blue, 2 more dark green, 3 light green, 5 gold. The trough striping is the same but offset by one (just for fun).

The double-knit, felted hot pad below right was designed using Fibonacci numbers and "golden" proportions. The chart below left shows the design in a grid. The "golden" proportions come automatically from using Fibonacci numbers. Note the following Fibonacci numbers (in bold below) in the design:
  • The top turquoise squares constitute 1 design row (as opposed to knitting rows) and are 5 knitting rows deep.
  • The next 2 design rows comprise 3 knitting rows each.
  • The middle 5 design rows comprise 2 knitting rows each.
  • The pattern is then reversed for symmetry.
  • The vertical pattern comprises 5 design columns.
  • The only place where a Fibonacci number is not used is in the number of vertical stitch columns for each design column, but as the design columns are all the same size, that does not matter.

  • I could have left 3 turquoise squares in the top and bottom design rows, but thought that taking the middle ones out to form an "x"-shaped pattern created a more interesting design. However, since that resulted in a void of 8 knit rows next to space of 5 knit rows (not counting the base row) the proportions are pleasing.
Fibonacci numbers present so many possibilities. I haven't even talked about the golden spiral (except for mentioning nautilus shells), which is generated by breaking the golden rectangle into a square and another golden rectangle. But no more of that--I'll save that discussion for a project applying the golden spiral, which I have not yet done.

Other knitting projects using Fibonacci numbers (including the golden spiral), as well as other "geeky" knitting or crochet ideas can be found:
  • On Ravelry at groups: "Geekcraft" and "Woolly Thoughts"
  • And on the Woolly Thoughts Web site: www.woollythoughts.com/
Moral: Make numbers fun, go Fibonacci.