Saturday, June 7, 2014

Right Side Decreases a Complete Guide

The more we knit the more we become introduced to new stitches, including new combinations of those stitches.  As a left handed knitter versatility is one of the most beneficial traits in the knitting bag.  Once we have left the world of single stitch knitting, using only knit and purl stitches, and enter the world of decreases so many amazing aspect open up to us and can also quickly become frustrating and confusing.

In the prior blog posts "Which Way Do They Go" the concept of "lean" was introduced and in "What's the Difference between a Knit and a Knit Through the Back Loop" crossed and neutral stitches were covered. By combining these two elements various types of right side decreases evolved which show how both lean and twist/untwisted combine.

Let's start out with a quick review.  There are basically two categories decreases will fall into: 1.) left ( \ ) or right ( / ) leaning and 2.) untwisted, such as how a standard knit stitch falls with the two legs parallel to each other, the way your legs do when you have both feet flat on the floor side by side, or twisted, where the legs at the base of the stitch cross as if you were crossing your ankles.

Decreases do exactly what the name implies.  They decrease, or reduce, the number of stitches in the fabric.  For example a K2tog will decrease the stitch count by one stitch each time it is used, a K3tog will decrease the stitch count by two stitches, a K4tog will decrease the stitch count by three stitches, and so on.  The number indicated in the stitch name tells us the total number of stitches involved in making the decrease happen and the number of stitches that will be decreased in total is one less than the number.

Every decrease has it's spouse that does the the opposite.  As you can see there really is a decrease for every occasion:
Copyright William Souza 2014

If you have a piece of standard Western style Stockinette (knit on the right side, purl on the wrong side) the k2tog (knit two together)/SSK (Slip, Slip, Knit), KSP (Knit, Slip, Pass - where the slipped stitch is slipped as if to purl)/SKP (Slip, Knit, Pass - where the slipped stitch is slipped as if to knit) would be great choices for maintaining uniform appearance to the fabric. If you have an Eastern style stockinette (knit in the back loop on the right side and purl in the back loop on the wrong side) then the ssk2tog(tfl) (Slip, Slip, Knit the two slipped stitches together through the front loop) /k2togtbl (knit two stitches together through the back loop) , KSP (where the slipped stitch is slipped as if to knit)/SKP (where the slipped stitch is slipped as if to purl) would provide you with decreases that are twisted thereby allowing them to blend into the fabric.

Even though the blog "Which Way Do They Go!" touched on equivalents and substitutions taking some time and really dive into these subject a bit more in depth would be prudent since this is titled a complete guide.

What are equivalents and Substitutions?

Equivalents are, by definitions, two things that are equal to each other.  In math (back away from clicking the x button on your browser not all math is bad or determined to torture us) we often see equivalents expressed as simply as 1 = 2/2 or more complexly as 2+2 = 4 = 8-4.  In the first example 1 = 2/2 boils down to 1=1.  In the second example 2+2 = 4 = 8 - 4 boils down to 4 = 4 = 4.  Each aspect was equivalent to the other.  As much as we hate to admit it knitting does share many similarities to math.  Fortunately the aspects they share are the simple ones.  There will be no calculus involved I promise.  Some minor algebra at times when you get into designing garments but definitely NO calculus.

In knitting an equivalent is nothing more than two stitches that produce the same result.  For example a k2tog = KSP (providing you do the "slip" part as if to purl).  Both of these decreases result in a left slanting decrease on the right side of the fabric with both legs of the stitch falling parallel to each other for left handed knitters.  There is a purl side decrease that also produces the same result as both of these however I will save that for the Purl Side Decreases a Complete Guide.)

A substitutions is nothing more than what you think.  It is where you swap one thing for another.  We can substitute for two reasons as a left handed knitter.  First because we prefer to make a left slanting decrease one way more than another such as if a pattern calls for a KSP we could choose to substitute a k2tog.  The other reason is because we want to make a pattern that is written for a right handed knitter and we want to have the result come out EXACTLY like the original.  In this instance we would need to substitute to ensure our decreases go the exact same way as the decreases do in the pattern.  If the pattern says to do a k2tog in a specific place we would substitute an SSK.  In this instance we are substituting to get a desired result.  A chart illustrating the various decreases, how they lean and if they are open or twisted can be found on the page Decrease Reference Chart.

Now that you have had your mind filled will all sorts of information to ponder I hope the one thing you get from this is to view your knitting with a keen eye.  Always look and see what each stitch looks like, notice the character they have and the visual dimension each and every one expresses.  Knitting is so much more than going through the motions.  It is all about expression and joy.  The more you look the more you will see it!

Copyright William Souza 2014 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Which way do they go!

As a knitter move along from using the knit and purl stitches they enter the world of decreases (and increases but that will be for another article) and the distinctive element of them called "lean" or slant.

Lean is nothing more than what direction a stitch slants.  Knit and purl stitches are neutral, meaning they do not slant.  When we look at a section of  fabric made purely of knit and purls everything is in nice neat parallel columns of stitches.  

Notice how, in the image to the left, each knit stitch builds from the one below and is essentially stacking into a straight line?  This is basically our "neutral".  It doesn't matter whether it is stockinette (as shown), garter, seed stitch, basket weave, etc., Since they are crafted from our foundation of knit and purl stitches only each column remains neutral.

Now I am sure you are asking yourself why are we talking about neutral when this article is about decreases?  To appreciate and truly read your knitting we have to be able to know what neutral looks like in order to see what the lean of a decrease looks like.  Some are very blatant while at other times they are quite subtle and will blend in quite nicely.

When it comes to decreases we have many types.  The most common decreases encountered are the basics which take two stitches and combine them into one as when using Knit Two Together (K2Tog), Purl Two Together (P2Tog), Slip-Slip-Knit (SSK), Slip-Knit-Pass (SKP), Knit-Slip-Pass (KSP), Knit Two Together Through the Back Loop (K2Togtbl), Purl Two Together Through the Back Loop (P2Togtbl), Slip-Slip-Purl Two Together Through the Back Loop).  Keep in the back of your mind you can also encounter Knit Three Together (K3Tog), Knit Four Together (K4Tog) etc.  Essentially when you see K#Together, with # being the actual number of stitches you will be combing you are performing a decrease.  With any of these decreases the number can be increased and that is what you will use.  Enough about the technical side and let's get to the good stuff... lean!

Lean has only two options, left or right.  As a left handed knitter it is important to keep in mind that knitting patterns, unless otherwise states, are written from a right handed knitters perspective to lean.  This means when a stitch leans to the right for them it will lean to the left for us.  Many left handed knitters, myself included, mirror knit.  We are perfectly happy with our knitting being a mirror image of what a right handed knitter would make.  Sometimes that works well.  Other times not so much.  There are times when decreases are used with the purpose of blending in the decreases or making them stand out as a design element.  Because of this it is important to not only know which direction your decreases lean but also what decreases need to be swapped out when you do wish to create a fabric as pictured.

Let's start with the two most basic decreases the K2Tog and the SSK.

In the image below is a piece of fabric knitted right handed.  On the left side of the fabric is an SSK.  For a right handed knitter an SSK is a left leaning decrease ( \ ).  On the right side of the fabric is a K2Tog.  The K2Tog for a right handed knitter is a right leaning increase ( / ). Notice how, because of their placement on their respective sides, they appear to flare outward while the fabric is decreasing inward.  This effect is also known as full fashioned.

            In the image below is a piece of fabric knitted left handed (boy was I glad to go back to knitting leftie!  It is just so much more comfortable for me.)  The fabric is set up exactly the same.  On the left hand side of the fabric is an SSK.  The SSK for a left handed knitter is a right leaning increase ( / ).  On the right side of the fabric is a K2Tog.  The K2Tog for a left handed knitter is a left leaning increase ( \ ).  Notice how even with the exact same placement as the right handed version we get a much more symmetrical result known as, you guessed it, blended.

To set them up comparatively we end up with: 

Set side by side the mirroring effect is clear.

Taking the comparison chart one step farther we can easily determine which decrease we need to swap for the other.  If the pattern calls for a K2Tog  right handed ( \ ) we can substitute an SSK left handed ( \ ) to create the desired left leaning result.  The more frequently substitutions are done the more habitual it becomes.  I started out with a notebook with everything written in it and referred to it constantly.  Now I see a K2Tog and simply work an SSK and vice versa when I do not wish to have a mirroring effect.  As you work various decreases write them down in your notebook and designate them as left or right leaning.   From this you will build yourself a reference you can utilize and find the right decrease to substitute when you need to!  The basic rule you can count  on is if a stitch leans to the left for a leftie it will lean to the right for a rightie and if a stitch leans to the right for a leftie it will lean to the left for a rightie.  Just by working a decrease for yourself and identifying the lean you will know how it leans when worked by a right handed knitter.  This then tells you which decrease you will need to substitute for the other.

For those who learned with a strong English Knitting background the Slip-Knit-Pass (SKP) and the Knit-Slip-Pass (KSP) are the decreases encountered more commonly than the K2Tog and the SSK.  These decreases are equivalents regarding their lean. The K2TOG leans the same as the KSP and the SSK leans the same as the SKP (see below).  Now that we know what is equivalent to what we can then look to see if a pattern has SKP and KSP in it we can then see we simply swap the two for their placement, just like we did with the K2Tog and the SSK, to end up with the desired lean or we can substitute a different decrease with the appropriate lean.

This may all sound a bit confusing and that is perfectly alright.  Equivalents and substitutions are things that come in time and through experience.  As I always say use your scrap yarn to play and practice.  Make a swatch and make a K2Tog and then a few stitches later make a KSP.  Take a look at them and see what direction they both lean.  Then do the same with the SSK and the SKP.  The little bit of time that it takes to make a swatch and compare the stitches will be worth the education you will gain from doing so!

Lastly, a few words on purl side decreases.  These are exactly as they sound; decreases made on the purl side of the fabric however the resulting lean is visible on the KNIT side of the fabric.  The three a knitter is most likely to encountered are the Purl Two Together (P2Tog) , the Slip-Slip-Purl (SSP) and the Purl Two Together Through the Back Loop (P2Togtbl)  The P2Tog is a quite common general use decrease. The SSP and the P2Togtbl not as common and are most likely to come up in lace patterns.  Purl side decreases, aside from P2Tog, are not used anywhere near as often as knit side decreases, so I am not going to go into too much detail.  I will leave the detail for a future blog.  Just keep in mind that they do exist AND produce lean on the right side of the fabric.

When it comes to decreases the best advice I can give you is to take some time and experiment.  Pick a decrease, make a stockinette swatch and make the decreases.  Look at the right side of your work and observe how the decrease leans, flip your work over and see the wrong side looks like and make a note of both.  The more frequently you examine your work, how the stitches are formed and how the completed stitch looks the more you will understand what you have created and how to use them in various ways.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

So many needles so little time...

There are so many different types of needles in the world of knitting; circular, straight, double pointed.  Not to mention materials that they're made out of.  It can be so daunting figuring out what to buy never mind what you should use.

When it comes to material that part is pretty simple.  There's really two things to consider there:

1.) Weight - metals tend to be heavier than the traditional bamboo.
2.) Drag - meaning does the yarn move quickly over the needle or does the needle's material cause friction as it passes along the shaft thereby slowing down the movement of the yarn.

As a general rule of thumb, metals tend to not have much drag.  Therefore your yarn move over them much quicker.  This is great when you are like me and like to knit quickly.  It's not so great if you can't control what's going on so well.  Woods, i.e. bamboo, tend to have some drag to them.  This can be a good thing.  Since it slows down the movement of the yarn along the shaft you decrease the chance of the next stitch jumping off the tip of your needle.  Thus resulting in your making a mad dash to try and grab it before it ladders it's way down your work.  Plastics are the other type of material that you can come across.  They tend to have drag as well and if they're poorly constructed can snag your yarn unpleasantly.  Personally, if I see plastic I skip right over that needle and move on.  

As far as weight goes, plastic tends to be quite light but as I said earlier not really worth it.  Bamboo needles are a comfortable weight but you do have that trade off that you lose some speed.  I should mention if you see that the bamboo needle is "carbonized" make sure you check how the yarn moves.  Carbonized needles tend to have a lot more drag because of the process they go through.  For the bamboo needles I have; I prefer the natural bamboo needles that are that lovely light tan color.  If you're in a Local Yarn Shop, don't be afraid to ask if they have a set that you can try out.  Lastly, we have metals.  The type of metal can make a difference as well as manufacturer.  Best advice I can give here is to again try them out.  If you pick them up and right away think "Wow, these are heavy." You most likely will find them not so great to work with.  I have some nickle plated needles nice, fairly light and the yarn just moves right along on them.  I also have my personal favorites the HiyaHiya Sharps.  They are stainless steel, incredibly light and super fast making them ideal for my personal preferences.

As far as the type of needle you need you really need to consider the project you are looking to make.  I find that if it can be done on a straight needle I can do it on a circular set of needles so I don't bother with straight needles.  If the project requires you to use circular needles you CAN NOT use straight needles so again, why am I bothering with having straight needles if they aren't multipurpose?  I'm sure by now you're seeing that I'm a fan of circular needles.  Even with my love of them there are times when they don't fit the bill 100% of the time.  When that's the case we move onto our double pointed needles (DPN).  If you're like me when you first saw them you thought "OOOO pick up sticks!"  DPNs allow you to span spaces in circular knitting that are just too small for your circulars to go such as the crest of a cap or fingers on glove or some points in making socks.  DPN's and circular both allow you to knit flat or in the round.  The difference between them is circulars can go into the bigger places where DPNs can't and DPNs can go to the tiny places where the circulars can't.  There is a helping hand relationship between the two in my view.  

Lastly, a note on circular needles... they come in different cord lengths so make sure you take into account the project you are making if you are buying ones that are a fixed length.  I just buy interchangeable circulars  and then I only had to purchase the appropriate length cords as the extra which was a lot cheaper than buying multiple sets of circulars in varying lengths.  This in turn gave me more money to spend on yarn!!  Let's face it we can never have a big enough stash of yarn!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What's the difference between a Knit and a Knit through the Back Loop?

To me, one of the greatest things about knitting is the subtle variations you create through simply changing the approach to a stitch.  We can see this when we look at a regular Knit Stitch and a Knit Through the Back Loop (KTBL).

Here are images of a knit stitch (bottom) and a ktbl (top):

As you can see the knit stitch (where the arrow marked "A") forms a nice neat horseshoe shape (or an upside down U).  The Ktbl (where tje arrow marked "B") actually has right leg oof the stitch crossing in front of the left leg giving it a twisted appearance.  Utilizing a Ktbl can provide some visual contrast to your work while also creating a slightly denser fabric.  It's a simple easy way to change things up without having to step too far outside of the box.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

What do you mean Continental or English Style? Isn't Knitting, Knitting??

Writer's note: This blog post is written with the left handed knitter in mind.  To make it viable for a right handed knitter simply substitute the word right where you see left and left where you see right.

While there are many different forms of knitting from various regions around the world this article speaks from the Western Continental and English style perspective.

The first style we will talk about is English Style.  English Style, also known as "throwing" is where the knitting needle and the working yarn are held by the left hand while the right hand simply holds the knitting needle that has all of the stitches waiting to be worked.  In the English style of knitting the left hand will insert the tip of the left hand needle as appropriate for the stitch, wrap the yarn around the left hand needle in a clockwise manner, draw the yarn through the existing loop and then slide the old stitch off of the right hand needle.  The right hand is simply providing stability to the right hand needle.  This method is extremely useful for those who find using their right hand in any manner requiring fine motor control awkward or have limited dexterity in their right hand.  The drawback to this method is you are having to stop and start each time you are wrapping the yarn.

The second style, Continental, has the work being divided between the left and right hands.  The left hand is responsible for inserting the tip of the left hand needle into the stitch on the right hand needle; the right hand, which holds the right hand needle and the working yarn, then wraps the yarn as needed around the tip of the left hand needle in a clockwise manner.  Now, the left hand needle draws the loop through the existing stitch and slides the old stitch off of the right hand needle.  The benefit to having the right hand holding the working yarn is that you never have to have a break in your movements and provide an increase in overall knitting speed.  The draw back to this method is you do need to coordinate the movements between the two hands.

Here are video's showing making a knit stitch in both styles side by side:


I predominantly utilize the Continental method of knitting.  In part that is because I have a background in crochet so the distribution of work between the two hands feel natural to me.  That does not mean Continental is the way for everyone.  There are times when I do utilize the English Style of knitting, such as when I am doing color work.  

My advice to any knitter is to try both and see which one works best for you and keep your mind open to the possibility that there may come a time when each would be useful.  As I say, they're your hands so go with what feels right for you!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Learning to Knit Left Handed! It CAN be Done!

     Being a life long lefty I have always had to search out how to convert any hand craft to a left handed perspective.  Whether it's embroidery, cross-stitch, crochet or knitting you can learn to do anything left handed no matter what the naysayers say.  Many people will tell you "Just learn how to do it right handed.  It'll be easier."  They're right, it will be easier.  FOR THEM.  Mind you, most of those individuals would never consider trying to do something left handed.  It just wouldn't feel natural to them; but project the assumption it would feel natural to us.  When you hear the do it right handed advice, I recommend that you smile and say "I'll consider that" and in your mind bank shot it right into the waste basket knowing, while they mean well, they are not taking into account the issues of: dexterity, visual perception, and cognitive processing.  They are also not realizing that it is the teacher who must learn adaptability to their student's learning needs and not the student who must adapt to the teacher's limitations.  I have learned to knit left and right handed in both Continental and English styles of knitting.  As a teacher it is my job to adapt to the students needs.  Not make them contort to my limitations.  Am I slower knitting right handed?  I sure am.  I'm not right handed.  I'm also slower when I knit English style left handed as I prefer Continental.  As a left handed person we become accustomed to automatically flipping things around in our mind since we live in a world that is customized for right handedness.  Personally, I think this makes us much more adaptive.  This adaptability makes us well suited to learning hand crafts and the subtleties within them.  Let's face it, the education field realized decades ago forcing a left handed child to learn to write right handed had no actual benefit.  Why do we keep on with that myth in crafting?  

     Learning to knit left handed has several benefits over forcing yourself to learn to knit right handed. First off, as a left handed knitter, you will come to understand the construction of your knitting much quicker than a right handed knitter.  Right handed knitters will, for the most part, simply recreate a pattern exactly as written.  Where as a left handed knitter very quickly learns when we knit a pattern exactly as written we do not get a reproduction of the pattern but a mirror image (and in some cases an inverse image.)  This makes us notice how certain stitches slant to the left or right for us but for a right handed knitter they slant in the opposite direction.  Why this happens is not important right now.  Just realizing that it does and which stitches go in that direction or the other sits in our minds.  We then realize in order to reproduce the pattern we will need to substitute certain stitches to do so.  This is something right handed knitters do not consider unless they begin to make their own patterns.  Who'd have thought being a lefty in a right handed world would be so educational?

          I realize this can sound a bit overwhelming at first.  The truth is, whether you're a left-handed or a right-handed we all start at the same place.  We learn a basic cast on, then the knit stitch followed by the purl stitch and then a cast off.  After that we learn the amazing variation in the textures we can create from alternating knit and purl stitches.  My advice is take your time learning in the manner that is comfortable for YOU.  Try both styles of knitting (Continental and English) from the left handed perspective.  See which one feels right for you and go from there.  Remember, in the end the hands are attached to your body not anyone else's.