theraineysisters knitting and so much more

July 30, 2007

From Sally — Finishing Steeks

Filed under: Knitting Tips,Widdicombe Fair — surly @ 3:31 pm

My baby blanket, Widdicombe Fair, is finished. Baby X has not yet made his way into the world and so I can now tell my husband “I told you so.” (He was a bit nervous about my finishing this in time.) I have a few in-progress photos to show you before I get briefly into steek finishing. There is no video, alas, because my videographer was on her way to Colorado before I got to that point. (More on that later.)

Here is the blanket as I finished the last row before binding off. I’m including this just to show how it makes a nice little corner even on the needles.

Instead of a regular bind off, I did a two-stitch I-cord bind off. It gives a little more firmness to the edge and makes a nice miniature welt that matches the garter stitch in my opinion. While working on it, I had a bit of help from my assistant. If you look carefully, you can see his favorite toy — a chewed up rattan coaster — tucked up into the knitting in the upper left-hand corner.

Here is a close up of the border with the I-cord bind off.

I know you all want to see how I finished the steek, which is kind of embarrassing actually. I’m not the expert finisher that my sister is. Moreover, I had a lot of trouble taking photographs of what I was doing with one hand while still trying to do something with the other. So please take a moment to lower your expectations and then we may proceed.

First of all, steeks are wonderful things. They do add a tiny bit of bulk or thickness; that’s usually not a problem but just something to keep in mind. I think the yarn from Virtual Yarns is a bit heavier than other fair isle weight yarns, and so there is a bit more thickness to my blanket steeks than there are with some of the fair isle garments I’ve knitted. I try to keep that in mind when I figure out what I’m going to do with the finished product.

There are a lot of different ways to finish steeks. Truth be told, if they are not going to show you probably don’t have to finish them at all. (This only applies, of course, to items knitted out of Shetland wool which sticks to itself.) For example, I never bothered to finish off the armhole steeks to a child’s sweater I knitted at least ten years ago. My son wore it and then my niece. The steeks are still fine. They haven’t unraveled. Nothing was done to these steeks — no hand or machine knitting of any kind.

The traditional way I learned to finish steeks is the cross-stitch method. After you cut the steek, you trim it down to two stitches or so and then trap the raw steek edges with Xs of yarn. I did that when I first started out with fair isle. Here is what it looks like. *Covers eyes in embarrassment.*

Maybe it’s just my crappy technique, but I’ve never thought this method looks all that great. Its advantage is that it is really simple and requires absolutely no machine sewing.

I’ve now switched to doing a crocheted edge along the steek because it makes it flatter (thus reducing that little bit of bulk) and I think it looks more finished.

I know of two ways to do a crocheted edge to finish a steek. One way is to crochet on either side of the center stitch of the steek before you cut it. To be able to do that, the center of the steek has to be stable enough to “hold” the crocheting and therefore it’s recommended that you spit splice your color changes instead of just adding in new yarn. (I think you could do a variation on this in which you do the crocheting close to the edge stitch on each side and then cut but I’ve been afraid to try it.) To me, doing all that spit splicing at the center of your steek sort of ruins the benefit of the steek. As a result, I’ve never tried this method. I suppose it would always work at the armhole steeks of a cardigan because you don’t use those steeks to change color. It would also work if you were only using two colors. (Examples: Jade Starmore’s Persian Tiles or the Kauni Cardigan.) If you are interested in a better explanation of this method, it’s described in great details with lots of photographs on Eunny Jang’s blog here.

The method I use requires a sewing machine. You don’t need to machine stitch the steek to keep it from unraveling — the reason you do it is to stabilize the edge so that you can crochet along it. Here is where the bad photographs start. I don’t do anything to the cut edges of the steek until I have finished the border. As that child’s cardigan demonstrates, those steek stitches are perfectly happy to just sit there. Once the border is finished, I sew a line of stitches between the edge stitch and the cut edge. I use the edge stitch, which has folded in nicely, as a guide for stitching. I try to stitch through the middle of the third stitch from the edge stitch. You could do it closer to the edge, especially if you are a better seamstress than I am. You want to make sure you don’t sew through anything but the steek. Susan could probably give some great tips here; I just muddle through.

Once I stitched the steek, I trimmed it close to the stitch line.

Then I began to crochet along the edge, inserting the crochet hook into the middle of the second stitch from the edge stitch. (That is, I did that except in those places where my sewing line wasn’t as straight as I would have liked.)

A close up of the crocheted edge:

Close up of the crocheted edge of one my sweaters:

For a blanket, it would probably also look nice to knit a facing to cover the steek (although you would have more bulk) or cover the steek with a matching gros grain ribbon. I didn’t do that because I’m lazy. Here is the baby blanket blocking.

For those persistent few still reading, here it is off the blocking wires:

Sadly, my little assistant who so loved this blanket, is gone. He and my daughter left yesterday for Colorado. I cried like a baby when they left.

She’s happy; that’s what counts. (She may not be as happy when she sees I posted her picture.)

July 24, 2007

From Sally — Cutting a Steek: the Sequel

Filed under: Knitting Tips,Widdicombe Fair — surly @ 9:41 am

Thanks for all of the comments on my amateur film. I wasn’t sure whether I should leave it on the cutting room floor (I know. Bad pun.) Several of you asked how I pick up the stitches and finish off the steek. Fortunately, I only need to pick up stitches along each of the blanket sides (where the edge stitches for the steek are) because I have live stitches on the bottom (where the provisional cast on was) and the top (where the stitches were left live). Because row and stitch gauge are different, you can’t pick up as many stitches along the edge as you have rows. This is a Jade Starmore pattern and she tells you how many stitches you need to pick up and when you should “skip” a row as you do. If you are working a pattern that isn’t as explicit, you need to work out the ratio for yourself.

Here is another amateur video showing how I pick up the stitches.

Ooh. That was painful. I hate hearing my own voice. Anyway, you might have noticed I was slipping my needle under both “legs” of the edge stitches as I picked up the new stitch. As a reminder, I was doing this:

That’s my personal preference. You don’t have to slip it under both legs. It’s actually a bit faster to slip it under just the first leg (like this):

The reason I do it under both legs is that I think the new stitches lay closer and more tightly against the fabric. I prefer how it looks when all is said and done. It’s just a matter of personal preference.

PainterWoman asked why I knit this in the round. This kind of color knitting — fair isle — is done in the round because it is faster. You never have to twist the yarns to prevent a hole (as you would with intarsia). You always have the right side facing so that you can see the pattern as you work, which makes it much easier to spot a mistake (and therefore prevent it).

July 22, 2007

From Sally — Cutting a Steek

Filed under: Knitting Tips,Widdicombe Fair — surly @ 12:45 pm

My eyes are still glazed over from reading the 700+ pages of the last Harry Potter book. Even so, I’m going to attempt to return to the real world and to my knitting.

I finished knitting the body of my carousel baby blanket, aka Widdicombe Fair. I may finish the entire thing before the baby is born, which would be nice. Here is a photograph of it mere moments after it was finished.

Here is a bit of a close up of the top. It is still “on the needles.” As is typical with fair isle knitting, you bind off the steek stitches as you knit the last row. Although the steek stitches have been bound off, I have live stitches at the top and I will have live stitches at the bottom when I undo the provisional cast on.

The fun part, though, which I always look forward to, is cutting the steek. The first time you try it, you might want to make sure you’re relaxed — or at least make sure you won’t care if you make some horrible, irrevocable mistake.

Alrighty then. There’s really nothing to it so I decided to enlist my personal videographer and let you see the cutting of the steek. Please don’t laugh. I know I have a weird farmer’s tan (it’s because I bicycle a lot and I wear bicycling gloves; I just hadn’t realized how white my hands look in comparison with my arms until I watched this in horror). The cutting also seems to go on forever because this is such a long steek — the blanket is almost three feet long. Finally, the video is a little blurry because I had to compress it in order to upload it.

Now I’m off to undo the provisional cast on and pick up all the stitches for the border: 900 and then some.

July 14, 2007

From Sally — The Four Carousel Horses of the Apocalypse

Filed under: Widdicombe Fair — surly @ 2:46 pm

Yes, I am finally knitting on Widdicombe Fair, aka the Carousel Baby Blanket. I’ve put it off as long as I dare: there is a baby shower happening as I write. (It’s not actually a show-her; it’s a show-he put on by friends of the father. I know. I’m rolling my eyes, too.)

I have finished four of the five repeats of the pattern so surely this will be ready by the time Baby X is born and able to receive visitors. One reason I have been a little slow on this project is that I’ve already knit one exactly like it in the same colorway (see Gallery at right). My husband, one of the show-he hosts, just loved that particular blanket and so when I offered to knit a blanket for this baby, he stated a strong preference for this pattern. Alrighty then. But it’s not quite as fun as knitting a new one.

Here are some progress pictures (do you detect a blue and gold theme? this is my husband’s favorite room in our house):

Here’s a close up, which shows both the steek and the miniature carousels:

Finally, for those of you who like to peek at the inside, here’s a close up of the raw side, which also includes the wrong side of the steek:

April 29, 2007

From Sally — Inside of Widdicombe Fair

Filed under: Knitting Tips,Widdicombe Fair — Sally @ 5:55 pm

I won’t steal Susan’s clever “skirt lifting” title, but Lisa asked me to show the inside of Widdicombe Fair. She was also wondering about some of the floats, which she thought looked as if they could be quite long. As a quick refresher, here is what the blanket looks like. (I’ve now finished the third out of five horse repeats.)

Some of the floats are quite long for fair isle. I think the longest is 17 stitches, but there are numerous others in the 10-13 range. My rule of thumb is to do nothing for any float up to 8 stitches. Eight is my cut off. At that point, I will “catch” the other color at some convenient point. For example, if I have a 9-stitch float, I will:

1. Try to convince myself that I should stretch my 8-stitch rule to include 9. I’m never successful.

2. Knit 4 or 5 stitches, catch the unused color, knit the remaining stitches.

What I try to be careful of is where I catch it. I don’t want to “stack up” those catch points on top of one another. So, if in the row below I also had a long float, I try to make sure I catch the next float one or two stitches apart from the first. I also don’t want that caught color to ever peek through, so I try to not catch it right above a color change. I’m probably thinking too much, but that is my nature.

If I have a really long float — such as the 17-stitch one in this blanket — I’ll catch the unused color twice.

Here is the inside of the blanket:

Someone asked about wedding shawls. I’ve been thinking a lot about that question, but I don’t have a great answer. I think it so depends upon what level of difficulty you would want to tackle and what shape shawl you want. For example, the Forest Path Stole that was published in Interweave Knits would make a beautiful wedding shawl if you wanted a rectangle. Heritage Knitting and Fiddlesticks both have some lovely patterns — but there are so many shawl patterns out there. I’m no expert.

What does everyone else think?

April 25, 2007

From Sally — Widdicombe Fair Update

Filed under: Widdicombe Fair — Sally @ 3:36 pm

I’m a procastinator by nature, so it’s gratifying to be this far along on a baby blanket when said baby is not due to appear until sometime in July. I’m not going to have much time to knit for the next few weeks, so I plan to focus on this blanket and therefore not feel panicked and behind when I suddenly realize it’s the end of June. I’ve finished two full pattern repeats (out of five) and have just started on the third.

Here are two photos of the work so far. (Am I the only knitter who doesn’t like to let others see unblocked fair isle?) The first photo is of the side with the steek. I alternate my steek colors in a “speckled” way; I know some knitters alternate them as stripes.

Here’s the non-steek side, which shows a bit more of the pattern.

I don’t repeat myself as a knitter that often, especially with something like fair isle. It is interesting (at least to me) how quickly my brain and fingers remembered this pattern, even though it’s been several years since I knit it. It makes the knitting go fairly quickly; I’m hoping I don’t get bored even more quickly than usual.

I’m knitting this on a 24″ circular needle — a 32″ would definitely be too long. I decided to use my 3.25 mm Addi Lace needles out of curiosity. They work very well; I was afraid the yarn would feel too sticky on the tips but it doesn’t seem to.

April 18, 2007

From Sally — Quick Answers to Some Questions

Filed under: Knitting Tips,Widdicombe Fair — surly @ 1:37 pm

Toby asked a few questions in the comments to my last post, and I thought I would answer them here to make sure she saw the answers.

1. I have never knit Fair Isle, but given your comments I think that I might try one of these one day. Would you recommend a class or is it possible to learn Fair Isle from a book?

That’s a hard one. If you want to try to learn how to knit fair isle two-handed (holding one color in one hand and the other color in your other hand), then you might want a class. True confession time: that’s not how I knit fair isle. I never got comfortable doing it that way and didn’t feel like taking the time to practice. (Thank goodness there are no knitting police.) When I did try it, I found that my gauge wasn’t as consistent as I’d like. I know that practice would greatly improve that, but — well — then I’d have to be practicing instead of knitting. So I drop one color and pick up the next; I’ve gotten very fast at doing that. I keep the dark color always hanging to my right and the lighter color to my left. It’s just how I do it.

Anyway, back to your question. The only tricky parts are cutting and finishing the steek. You might be able to find someone to give you a private lesson on that if you can’t find a class.

2. Do you order the kit from Virtual Yarns or purchse the yarn from your LYS?
Is the yarn in the kit a wool that is soft enough for a baby? Is the pattern available separately from the kit?

You can’t purchase these blanket patterns separately; they are only available as a kit from Virtual Yarns. Although it’s not the softest yarn in the world, it is much softer than other fair isle yarns in my opinion, especially after having been washed (by hand of course). Moreover, if you used a different yarn, you’d probably have to do some sewing in order to keep the yarn from unraveling after you cut the steek.

3. One thing I wasn’t clear on is where there would be steeks in a straight piece of knitting. I’ve read about them. I thought steeks were normally inserted in a sweater where the piece was knit in the round. Is the blanket knit in the round and then cut?

Yes. The blanket is knit in the round and then cut. It fits nicely on a 24″ circular needle. As I said in my first post, I started with a provisional cast on. When I finish all of the repeats, I’ll leave the live stitches on the needle. Then I’ll cut the steek, pick up stitches along one side, pick up the stitches from the provisional cast on, and then pick up the stitches from the remaining side. The border is then knit in the round as well. There will have be a LOT of stitches on the needle, at that point but I’ve done this before and the border is slow but not difficult.

From Sally — Widdicombe Fair

Filed under: Widdicombe Fair — Sally @ 11:03 am

I made the mistake of looking at the calendar, and realized it’s mid-April. I decided that I better knit the baby blanket I promised my husband I’d make for some dear friends who are expecting their first baby. I love making fair isle baby blankets. I’ve knit three or four of them. They’re fun, they’re quick, and they make a wonderful gift because they will never be outgrown.

I told my husband he could choose the one I knit from among several Jade/Alice Starmore patterns. He chose one I’ve already knit: Widdicombe Fair (which I often call the Carousel Baby blanket because the pattern is carousel horses). It’s available as a kit from Virtual Yarns in both a red and blue colorway. I’d already done the blue one for my niece’s baby so I was tempted by the red. My husband really really really wanted me to do the blue one again. So I am. Here’s a photograph of the finished one I’ve already made:

It’s kind of anti-climactic to post pics in progress once you’ve knit the whole thing, right?

Even though I just started it yesterday, I’m almost finished with the first repeat (out of five). One of the advantages of these baby blankets is that they’re only a little over two feet wide, which means that you have fewer than 200 stitches on the needle. That’s a lot fewer than I would have if I were knitting a fair isle sweater; it’s one reason the project goes quickly. Moreover, because these are, after all, baby blankets, the patterns are very obviously pictorial. It makes the pattern quite easy to see and follow without needing to consult the chart every few stitches. Finally, there is no shaping and only one steek. Therefore, I think that a baby blanket like this would be a good first project for someone thinking about doing fair isle. Just my opinion.

For this particular blanket, the directions tell you to knit two rows with one color before starting on the actual chart patterning. You are then supposed to pick those rows out later, when you want to have live stitches for the border. ???? I did not do that. Instead, I used a provisional cast on. I’m not sure what the advantage could possibly be of the other method.

I don’t do any finishing to the stranded back on these blankets, other than the finishing I do to the cut steek edges. The strands lightly felt and stick to each other anyway; I don’t foresee a problem with a baby’s fingers catching in them. I suppose you could sew a complementary fabric backing to it and if someone I give a blanket to wants to do that — that’s fine with me. I’m not going to do it, though. I knit them. That’s it.

While perusing the Virtual Yarns site to get the link for the blanket kit, I came across something else I’d like to knit: this Rheingold Wrap. It comes in a gold colorway, too. I’m intrigued by it. I’ve always wanted to knit the Persian Tiles one as well.

So many projects, so little time.

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