Thursday, September 29, 2011

Helpful Hint #19: Lifelines...not just for lace

I discovered the "life" saving value of a lifeline the time I was knitting the Estonian Lullaby Baby Blanket (pattern here: It's a beautiful pattern, but I was fairly new to knitting, so I was just mortified when I had to rip back several rows because I had made a major mistake further down the blanket. It was even MORE mortifying when I had to then put all those stitches back onto the needle. It wasn't very long after this that my yearly eye exam revealed that I needed reading glasses. Coincidence?

Anyway, a friend suggested that I use a lifeline for the rest of the project. For those who do not know, a lifeline in knitting is a long piece of yarn that you thread through the live stitches on your needle for a row. It doesn't affect the gauge (I usually use a much thinner piece of yarn than the working yarn). The beautiful thing is that if you make a mistake, you can just rip out the knitting down to that row, and then easily thread those stitches off the lifeline back onto your needle. After you've completed your project, you can then gently pull the lifeline out. No more picking through the knitting, using a crochet hook to pick up all the stitches that you're trying to get back onto the needle, because of course they've dropped--cursing and swearing the entire time.

People usually associate a lifeline with lace, but you can use it for any complicated knitting pattern. In choosing a row for your lifeline, it's best to pick one from which it's easy to start over, say Row 1 of an 18-row repeating pattern. For instance, if you have to rip back any cable pattern, it's almost impossible to figure out how far down "Row 1" is, I don't care how easy the repeat. Ditto for any "holey" pattern or any complicated repeating pattern.

Happy Knitting!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Helpful Hint #18: It's not a mystery the pattern through!

Stop me if you've read this before:


Then the next row:

"k2, p3, p2tog..."

THEN you read:

"At the SAME TIME" or "Concurrently"...

...and then you throw the pattern across the room and scream a bunch of bad words that would have gotten your mouth washed out with soap, once upon a time (some of us are older knitters than others).

We knitters and crocheters have all, at one time or another, been zapped by "simultaneous instructions." A very common place for this is in a pattern where you are making a sweater or a vest with a V-neck, where you are supposed to be decreasing for the set-in sleeve and for the neck at the same time.

This is why it is always best to read a pattern from beginning to end before you start. Some crafters are of the mindset that this will only overwhelm you and make you less apt to persevere. My feeling is that if you read ahead you can be alerted to:

a) Those pesky concurrent instructions.

b) Any stitch patterns you are unfamiliar with.

c) Where you are supposed to change yarns, if applicable. In other words, do you need to buy ALL the yarn at the beginning of the project, or is the pattern going to go on and on with the "MC" for 14 inches? This may necessitate multiple trips to the yarn store, but this is only to the good...

d) Any other odd instructions. Now is probably the time to know if you are going to need to felt the item (some of us would need further instruction on this).

Now, get reading!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Helpful Hint #17: Wearables—aim for complimentary over complex

You know how it is. Some book, magazine, or on-line pattern comes out, touting some new knitting or crocheting technique. You get excited, thinking “WOW! I can make an entire sweater using Bavarian crochet!” Sometimes it’s a tried-and-true older technique.

Before you get too crazy, you need to step back from the yarn and implements. You need to THINK.

I found out a while back that it’s possible to knit an adult-sized “Baby Surprise Jacket.” Upon an honest, searching, and fearless appraisal, I decided that—while I thought the IDEA of an adult-sized “Baby Surprise Jacket” was really awesome and would probably be fun to knit—there was no way I’d look well in multi-directional stripes, especially seeing as the horizontal stripes fall at the hips. I don’t think I know anyone who would look well in multi-directional stripes, except maybe a Size 4 model, or the baby for whom the sweater was originally designed.

Ditto with any other unusual sweater design. I fell in love with the “Spoke” sweater from Knitty when it came out. I’m sure it would be a wonderful and challenging pattern to knit, but really, I’d look like a moose. I also have a granny square sweater in my Ravelry queue that I’m probably never going to make, for the same reason. I think the idea of Elizabeth Zimmermann’s “Hurry-Up Last Minute Sweater” is a cool concept, but again, I’m guessing that a man would look better in this than a woman—probably a male model.

So, the next time you see some fascinating wearable design—THINK before you cast or chain on!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Helpful Hint #16: When it comes to any handmade presents, adhere to the K.I.S.S. principle

I’ve recently had a spiritual awakening about all the yarn-related items I’ve gifted over the years…less appears to be more.

For instance, I’ve noticed that there is an inverse relationship between the complexity of a baby afghan and the frequency of its use. When I first began crocheting, a dear friend became pregnant. I wasn’t very proficient yet, so the most I could churn out was a shell-stitch baby blanket with alternating sea foam green and white stripes. Heirloom quality, it was not—if anything, it was one of my worst designs. However, when I went to see my friend a few months later, I was pleased to see she was using my blanket. You could tell it was actually being used and not just hastily thrown over the baby at the last minute before I came to the door. It was crumpled up, well worn, and the baby appeared to love it!

On the other hand, any time I knit or crochet anything more complex, the item—while people ooh and aah over it at the baby shower—doesn’t seem to be used on a daily basis. If anything, people tend to use larger, simpler blankets for their babies, ones that you just know are going to graduate into the baby’s “binkie” years from now when they are toddlers.

I’ve found that this is also the case with adult-sized items. My partner adores my first afghan and still uses it, even though it’s hands-down the WORST thing I’ve ever made. It’s cobbled together with Lion Brand Homespun. The squares are sewn together very badly, and I didn’t understand back then about leaving long tails to weave in, which means the squares are coming apart and ends are popping out all over the place. But this afghan gets way more use than my other efforts—like the one that my friends were keeping in a big garbage bag, stowed away somewhere, because they were “afraid of getting it dirty.”

So, the next time I need to make someone an afghan, I’m going with either a log cabin design (knitted) or plain old half-double crochet stitches—I’m going to aim for comfort over flash. I’d rather have my stuff crumpled up and much loved, rather than stored away somewhere. (A HEFTY garbage bag? HEFTY???)