Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bringing us back to Earth for a second...

As I was chugging along, Wood sent me an e-mail asking me a question, which brought us back a few steps (that's a good thing, sometimes):

"When you measure the 4 inches, what stitch is it? Does it matter? Knit/purl (what is the technical name for that? stockinette?) or knit/knit (is that garter)?
More soon. . . I have knitted a few inches but now need to know if I'm measuring it correctly."

My (short and sweet - HAH!) response was this:

"Hello! I was just logging on to put together Phase II, but I may as well start with this (I'll try to explain it as well as Sally Melville does). Here goes:

When you knit up your 6" x 6" square (like the one you took a photo of and sent me), you are to measure the stockinette stitch. If you look at the sweater pattern, under the heading "GAUGE", you'll see that she has written "21 stitches and 32 rows = 4" (10 cm) in Stockinette Stitch". Very important to check this every time you start a new project!

Stockinette stitch (SS) is made by knitting one row (the "right" side of the fabric), flipping the work around, and purling the next row (on the "back" or "wrong" side of the fabric). The knit side is always knitted and the purl side is always purled. It tends to curl at the edges (which is why you're knitting up a little border on your squares - so it sits flat). It looks like a bunch of v's:


Reverse stockinette stitch (RSS) is made exactly the same way, but you call it by this special name when you want the use the "back" side to be a visible part of the pattern (the "background" of this pillow - the parts on either side of the cables - is RSS). The green part of this blanket is knit up in alternating strips of SS and RSS - if you flipped it over, you'd still get the same "ribbed" effect. RSS is tight - no gaps between the purl "bumps". It looks like a bunch of n's (ok, not really, but it helps to understand it, visually):


Garter stitch is kind of a combination of both. To make this, you knit every single row (knit, flip, knit, flip, knit, flip, knzzzzzzzz). Yes, it's really tedious, but nice to do while watching movies, 'cause you never get lost in the pattern. It creates a really springy, stretchy, stable, flat fabric (unlike those other two, above). The reason I say it's like a combo of both, is that when you just look at it, it looks like RSS, but when you grab it and stretch it out, you'll see that there are rows of SS hiding in there, between its purl bump rows:


You'll also see that garter's purl bumps are spaced further apart than RSS. You likely made many scarves while you were just learning and they were likely all made up of garter stitch. You'll recognize the difference when you grab it, but it IS very easy to mix it up with RSS when you see it from a distance. Those purl bumps kinds swallow up the knit rows.

This gauge swatch is made up of SS and garter stitches - the borders are garter (see the little gaps between rows in the border, where the SS is hiding?), the body is SS. IF, however, you were to flip it over and call that side the "front" or "right" side, you would say that it is made up of REVERSE SS and garter stitch. Get it? Clear as mud?

I'm going to take a plunge and hope this doesn't throw you off:

When you knit "in the round", meaning you are using a circular or double-pointed needles, you are creating a tube (or a big spiral, if you prefer). Because you are not flipping the work front to back, you don't need to use the purl stitch to get stockinette stitch. (I'm cringing right now, 'cause I don't want you to throw your hands up in confusion.) You'll see what I mean - you're ALWAYS facing the "right" side of the fabric, so you're always knitting. And instead of calling rows "rows", they're called "rounds".

There is another stitch you need to understand before you start:

Seed stitch is a pattern made by alternating knitting and purling (would you look at that, it looks like a pile of seeds - who knew?). You knit 1, purl 1, knit 1, purl 1 (and so on). On the next round, you purl the previous round's knit stitches and vice versa. Don't worry - Joelle's pattern is set up so that you don't have to figure it out - you just keep alternating like it tells you to and it will stitch itself up before you know it. I'm going to send you another e-mail in a few minutes, explaining how to to switch from knitting to purling and back again.

Just so you don't feel all novice-y and green:

I learned to knit when I was 5 and spent the next 12 years asking my mother to cast on and bind off for me, 'cause I could never remember how. I had to ask my grandmother to teach me how to purl about 16 times ('cause my mom was getting impatient that I could never remember). I literally spent those 12 years knitting garter stitch scarves. When I was in grade 11, I had read all the books in the library that interested me (gee, I like words, can you tell?) and I had to do a book report. I went to the local library and took out a knitting book and taught myself how to knit ribs, cables, increase, decreases, intricate patterns, knitting in the round, and all sorts of neat stuff. It took me 2 days (I was knitting hats before the week was up). Seriously. Two days. Oh, and did I mention that the book was in French? Yup, I'm French-Canadian, but when it comes to knitting, all the books around here are in English and we all use English patterns, so I had no idea what any of it meant. But, I figured it out (and no, I'm not a prodigy, before you ask) and you'll see what I mean - EUREKA! before you know it.

Ok, I'll be back with some progress photos and instructions."

She responded (concisely and without blathering on, like I do) with:

"Well, I can't claim to understand all of that, but I think I get most of it. Or at least kind of. I had noticed how the garter stitch looked different than the knit side of the stockinette (what I mean is that the RSS looked different from the garter). Wow, it is hard to write about this stuff. You did a great job. Thanks for taking the time to explain all of this to me!
I am 90% sure that my size 7 needles are getting the right gauge, but I'm not completely done with the square. I still need to take my list to the store to get the rest of the stuff. It has proven harder than I thought just to make it across town during business hours without a child. Normally I bring the kids on errands, but I need to be able to focus at that store and actually get the right stuff, so maybe tomorrow while Gram naps? I say that every day."

After which, I sent:

"I'm totally un-shocked that all that information was a bit much. If you had figured it all out, I would have been a bit stunned. Don't worry, it'll come.

Little note: make sure you finish and bind off the gauge swatch before you take final measurements. The fact that it's on the needles is going to affect things. You're also *technically* supposed to wash it and pin it out on a towel to air dry (called "blocking") before you measure. To hell with that, I always say. 'Cause I'm impatient.

It also helps to stick a straight pin (like you use to pin fabrics together when you're sewing) into the knitting near one edge and stick another one at the 21 stitch mark. That way, those points are more visible when you put a ruler up against them. Does that make sense? "

She then responded with:

"Oooh, the pin thing totally makes sense. I was wondering about the best way to measure --- that is a good tip.

I'll finish the square tonight, and will forgo the wash/dry, because I am also lazy.

However, I knitted the square with straight needles b/c that's what I had in a 7. We'll be using circular needles though, right? (and by circular I mean the ones that are short and attached by that clear plastic -- that's what they are called, right?) Do I do the square over after I buy the circular 7s?"

And then me again:

Re: re-swatching...weeeeellllll, *technically*, you probably should make another swatch when you get the circular needle (yes, your description is correct), but I look at it this way: if your gauge is a little off, is it really going to matter? If the sweater turns out big, it will fit your little guy at SOME point, and if it's a little small, you can always gift it to someone. There are always babies around. And you can always knit some of it, measure it, and (god forbid) if it's really off, you can start over (it's really not that scary, don't cry).

When you go to buy the circular, remember: getting a shorter one than she asks for in the pattern is ok (24"), longer is NOT. Don't forget - you will also need a set of 5 double-pointed needles (bamboo are good to start with - they aren't slippery like the metal ones).

Here are the instructions for Phase II, by the way. Don't look at them until you're ready to start. You'll probably start hyperventilating - there are a lot of words on there. I wasn't sure what type of cast-on you've been taught (I went 19 years thinking there was only one kind), so I'm showing you how to do the one she specifies (cable cast-on). If you haven't already learned it, you're about to find a new favourite, I promise.

Holy crap, this is fun!"

And THEN she wrote back:

"I have everything I need, I think. I finally made it to Detroit's only yarn store, and it was awesome. Got my double pointed needles, got my circular 7, got yarn needles, a proper gauge measurer (ruler?), and the Sally Melville book! It was only $20, and paperback -- yay!
I am going to try casting on right now. I just printed off your instructions. wish me luck!"

...which I thought was so cute (she seems so excited!), so I sent her:

"Oh my god, you are so excited and it is so contagious! Yarn stores are amazing, even if it means you need to take 3 buses and walk 15 blocks in the rain to get there. I think they pump cocaine into the air.

Good luck! And don't be afraid to follow the instructions in the book, instead of mine, if you want. She is really great and her photos are a LOT better than mine (and $20, huh? you rock!)."


  1. oh god i love all of this...
    i'm foaming at the mouth.
    or drooling?
    either way.
    i want some nice yarn- not this weird crap that i have. and to start practicing again!

    ..i never ever thought i might be able to make a sweater. oh some day... :)

  2. Haha! Drool OR foam, it's all good!