I talked about yarn in the first part of this How To in the Materials section. However, there will come a time when you will not have or be able to get the yarn that is called for in a pattern. Not to fear! There are substitutions that can be made. Thankfully yarn substitutions are much easier than baking substitutions. hehe
So, where to start. When you get your pattern you will find that there is a section of important details such as gauge, needles, and a yarn section. Those yarn details is what you need. It will likely list the name, weight, fiber details and amount you need of that particular yarn. The first step to take is to do a search for that yarn. You can do this through a site like Ravelry, which I mentioned in the last post, or you can just do a general search online to find it. The important thing to look for is the Knitting Gauge. This will give you all the important information on exactly what that yarn weighs. You see, the problem with yarn designations like Fingering or Worsted is that all of these are ranges. That means they will vary in actually weight (the width of the yarn) by potentially a lot, which will make your project not work as you would have hoped.
As you can see from the above photo from the Knit Picks website, I have circled the yarn weight. This happens to be their Wool of the Andes Tweed, which is a worsted weight. They give you the details on how many stitches you should get per inch if you on a particular range of needles. So, in this yarn you should get 4.5 stitches per inch if you knit on size US 6 needles. This range is the important detail that you want. You can now go through your options for worsted weight yarns to find something with a similar range listed.
Another important detail is the fiber content that is listed. This yarn has a high wool content, which will mean that when you block it (which I will cover in a later post) it will grow. That means the yarn will expand in size. Your pattern will tell you what gauge is needed to get the desired look they have listed, and that is almost always after blocking. If you chose a yarn that is not the same fiber content, which is most likely to be the case, you will want to knit a swatch and then wet block it. You can take your measurements of how many stitches and rows per 4 inches you have to make sure you match the pattern.
The next detail to look at is the number of yards/meters. The yarn listed on your pattern will tell you how many skeins you need of the yarn they suggest. Simply multiply the number of skeins for your size by the yards/meters listed for the suggested yarn. Then you can divide that by the number of yarns in your chosen yarn to get the number of skeins you need of that yarn.
As you work through a few things, you will begin to notice the differences that come up with the different yarns. Some yarns just don’t bounce back like other yarns. Wools definitely bounce back nicely after washing. Yarns like cotton will tend to stretch and won’t really shrink back up when you wash it (making sure to wash it based on the directions the yarn gives you). That is why fibers like cotton, silk and linen are not recommended for socks. They will just end up droopy and saggy.
I really hope that this helps you with coming up with yarn substitutions. It does require a bit of research as you are looking for a yarn you like, but it’s very worth it. I skipped this when I was starting out and just went by the weight, thinking all worsted weights were the same. I was very wrong. It wasn’t the end of the world, but trying to figure out gauge does get more complicated. If you do find a yarn you just love, that doesn’t match the yarn gauge, you do have the option of doing swatches to get to the gauge your pattern calls for. It could mean you go up or down a few needle sizes, but you can still achieve the desired look. The next post in this series will be all about gauge, so you’ll be able to do those calculations for yourself. 😀
Now that you know a lot of stitches and techniques, you will want to figure out how to find a pattern. There are many many places to purchase patterns. My number one recommendation to new knitters is always Ravelry. This is a knitting community that has forums with groups you can join and chat with other knitters. But, you don’t have to use that at all if you don’t want to. The great thing about Ravelry is its search feature. You can search for anything and everything. You can choose to look at knitting or crochet patterns. You can choose to search for only free patterns. You can search by item type like a sweater or scarf. You can search by yarn weight or amount. And you can combine any number of things to really refine your search. There are so many amazing pattern there and it’s a great resource.
Buying individual patterns usually means that you will be downloading a PDF file. You will need something that will allow you to see and print that pattern. If you prefer to have it on a handheld device of some sort, you can consider a program like Knit Companion, which is an app that allows you to save, see and mark your downloaded patterns. It also has counters to help you track where you are. Downloading patterns means you always want to make sure that your source is reputable. Just doing a search for some kind of pattern doesn’t always work out well. It’s tough to find what you want, and you don’t want to download something that isn’t what it says it is.
Another location for patterns is LoveCrafts. They have lots of patterns, but also sell yarn, which can be handy if you can buy what the pattern tells you to all in one place. Knit Picks is another place the sells yarn and supplies, but also has patterns on their website that is usually made with yarn they stock. I recently bought a pattern from them for a lovely sweater, and was able to choose which size I was planning to make and built my own kit. It was super helpful. Now, of course you don’t have to buy the yarn from them, and can absolutely just buy the pattern and be done.
You will notice that I usually say ‘buy’ the pattern. This is because the majority of patterns are not free. And you might be asking why not. Well, when a design gets to the point of publishing a pattern they have spent weeks if not months on developing this pattern. It’s not fair to expect them to give their work to you for free, regardless of how simple you might think it is. For example, I just finished a cowl pattern that I’m about to send to an editor. First off, the editor charges me for their time, which can run me anywhere from $30 to $300 or more depending on the complexity of the pattern. At this point though I have about 80 hours invested into this pattern. If I was lucky to make $15 an hour, that’s $1,200 already. I would need to sell about 72 copies of this pattern just to break even on my time, and I’m not done yet. I don’t just write up a pattern and go. I also knit the item to make sure the pattern works and that I get the look I envisioned. I also have to spend a month or two supervising a test knit. That is where others knit the pattern to make sure it works. Most patterns are in development for a good 6 months for even simple projects. One of the sweaters I am working on has been on the go for 2 years now. So, as you can see it really is a steal to get a pattern for even $15, but most are somewhere around the $5-10 range. Now that being said, places like Ravelry and LoveCrafts do have a lot of free patterns available.
Now that you have some resources on where to find patterns, feel free to go and browse. Oh, and you do need to sign up for Ravelry, but it’s absolutely free to do so. Happy searching!!
Making your own design isn’t as difficult as it seems. Sure you can get all kinds of fancy with charts and what not, but if you are doing it just for you, then you can just whip out some graph paper and get going. One thing I should mention about graph paper, though, is that your graph paper design will not look the same as what you knit from it. The reason is that stitches and rows are not the same height/length, but your graph paper is perfect squares. For the best result find yourself some Knitting Graph Paper. You can do a quick google search and there are a few places that will offer it for free, and you can just print it out yourself and get to work. The knitting graph paper has rectangles instead of squares, and will translate much better for knitting patterns.
Google is very much your friend for finding knitting stitch patterns. There are hundreds and hundreds of stitch variations that have already been designed that you can incorporate into your pattern. Knitting stitches like the “waffle stitch” are not copyrighted. While a full knitting pattern is copyrighted in terms of reproduction of the printed product, the stitch designs are not. You just can’t copyright a knit or purl stitch. So you can either search for ones that already exist and incorporate them, or use that graph paper to try different things to get a look you want. Also, Pinterest is also a great place to find stitch patterns. If you are really really into doing your own design making, I would also recommend buying books like “750 Knitting Stitches” (this is an Amazon link, but I am not set up as an affiliate and don’t get anything for you clicking on this link) that have a plethora of stitches in all different types, like cables, or lace, or color work. There are numerous other stitch books as well, but this is one of my personal favorites. I do still resort to searching online a lot though. I also find a lot of stitch designs on Pinterest. It can be great to have free sources when this is something you might only look at once in a while and isn’t something you need for your daily knitting life.
Design making, does not have to equate to design selling. If you are not interested in selling your designs, then simply keep a book/binder/etc with your design notes in them in case you want to recreate them. You don’t have to go crazy with writing up a full proper pattern if you don’t want to. I would recommend also keeping notes on what needles you used, what the gauge was that you got at that time, the yarn you used, etc. These will be very helpful later.
When it comes to gauge, you will want to calculate that. I will have a post later that goes more in depth with the gauge and things, but you will want to know what that is before you start your new design. The biggest reason is so that you know how many stiches you will need to cast on. This means you will need to swatch. A swatch is simply a 4″ x 4″ piece that you work up before hand. You can do this in two ways. Many people will do a plain stockinette, which is knit one row, purl the next. To cast on for a swatch, you can be very generic about it, and cast on until it looks like you have approximately 4″, with the stitches spread out. Don’t bunch them all up before you measure, but don’t pull them out tight. Make it look like just a smooth symmetrical stretch. Then work for about 4″ and do a full cast off. Next, which is very important, and you won’t want to skip this…wash and dry your swatch. You want to know how the yarn acts. Some yarns will stretch when washed, and will change the who size of your project. Swatching is actually good for any project, and I highly recommend it. It’s really more about the yarn than about the project when it comes to swatching. Also, if you have chosen a design for your pattern, you might want to consider doing your swatch in the pattern you have chosen. The big reason is that the kind of stitch makes a huge impact on your swatch size. If you have chosen a lace pattern, it will be much larger than a stockinette because of all the open parts. If you have chosen a cable, it will be smaller than stockinette because it pulls the fabric in more. When you dry your swatch, you will also want to block it. I will go into more detail on blocking in a future post, but it is just a way of stretching the piece out on to foam times, or your bed, or whatever you have that you can stick pins into, pinning it down into shape and then leaving it to dry. This is very useful in opening up the lacework and smoothing out your piece.
Here is a before and after picture of a lace project I did. This is my Hexagonal Shawl:
Before in its bunched up glory:
After it is dry when all the lace is opened up and can shine:
I know swatching seems like a lot of work, but it’s worth it. I mean, what if you knit a lovely scarf for yourself, washed it, and now it hangs down to the floor and is twice the size it was when you started. You’ve wasted a ton of yarn and your time on something you might not wear. So, it’s definitely worth it, especially when your yarn is a natural fiber. Those will bloom (stretch) and grow like crazy.
Once your piece is dry you can measure it. I have a handy tool that is a Knitting Gauge Calculator (this is an Amazon link, but I am not set up as an affiliate and don’t get anything for you clicking on this link). You lay this tool down on your swatch, and you can easily count your rows and stitches. You will count every row/stitch in the open spaces on the ruler to calculate the stitches per inch. This tool only goes to 3″, and I normally will do 4″, but it will give you a good idea of where your work is. I prefer to do more than 1″ of stitch and row counting, because your stitches could easily have partial stitches that are not accounted for. Now you take the stitches/rows for 3″ and divide it by 3 to get the number per inch and you can work from that. If you are making a scarf, you’ll be able cast on the number of stitches in that inch times the number of inches wide you want it to be. The same if you are making a blanket. The width you want your blanket to by times that number of stitches per inch. It’s as easy as that!
Another great thing to do is to keep your notes written somewhere. This can be whatever works for you, but keeping notes on everything you have done is very important. You’ll want to write down the yarn you used, and it’s details of weight, fiber contents, etc, along with the size needles you used, gauge you had on your swatch, and all the important parts of cast on and pattern you decided to put into your design. Even if this is just for your purposes, and you don’t intend on designing professionally, you’ll still want all of this. If you really like what you have come up with and want to make it again, or if you set it down for a bit and need to remember what you were doing, these notes will be very helpful. I will even take a little clipping of the yarn to staple to my page, and even staple the ball band to my page. Honestly, I am terrible at organizing everything like this. I just purchased some notebooks today to be able to start organizing my notes better. I have a terrible habit of losing ball bands and then forgetting what I used. So, now every design will be getting a page or two in my notebook with all the basics of the pattern for the yarn and such. I have a separate notebook where I write all the hen scratch notes of the pattern math and such.
Working up your own design doesn’t have to be super complicated. When you hear that there is math involved it can make it seem daunting. A lot of the math you will come across for scarves and blankets and such are simply division or multiplication. For example, if you want to add a stitch design into your project, how many stitches do you have to work with, how many are in the stitch pattern you want to work with. Do these divide evenly, or will you have stitches left over? Do you want to have stitches left over for an edge? Once you know those things, you can make the numbers work as you want them to.
Example: I have a stitch pattern that is 8 stitches, and I have a scarf I am working on that has a gauge of 20 stitches per 4″ (5 stitches per inch), and I want my scarf to be 10″ wide. To make a scarf that is 10″ wide, I need to have it be 10 x 5 = 50 stitches. Now, 50 divided by the 8 stitch pattern is 6.25. If 6 x 8 is 48, I have 2 stitches remaining. Now I have a decision to make. Do I just go close to 10″ and cast on the 48 stitches and not have any edge stitches, or do I do 5 repeats of the stitch pattern, which will be 8 x 5 = 40 stitches, and will give me 10 stitches left over (or 5 stitches per side) for an edge. I would most likely cast on 50 stitches, and have 5 edge stitches on each side with 5 repeats of the pattern in the center. That gives me everything I want in a scarf. The importance of edge stitches is that they help to prevent your project from rolling at the edges. If you have ever made a project that didn’t have a large enough edge or an edge that was stockinette, you’ll notice that it rolls in on itself. My edges are usually done in garter (knit on the right and wrong side), and it holds up against rolling much better. And of course, if you are looking for something that will roll on the edges, then stockinette edges or taking the pattern right to the edge would be exactly what you are looking for.
I hope these tips will help you to make something that is your own. A lot of these tips will transfer to almost any project you want to try making. They will hopefully allow you to have a better understanding of why a designer made a particular decision in the project you are working on. Sometimes it’s just a matter of having to force the math to work as closely to what they wanted to achieve as possible.
Oh Cables. Those delightful details that look so scary and complicated. I remember as a kid when I was learning to knit that cables were far too complicated for me. It really put me off for a long time, because I really wanted to make those cables and felt very discouraged. When I started knitting again, I was determined to figure them out. I did some looking online for videos, found out that I needed a special needle, which I promptly bought, and set to work. You know what I realized? They really are not that complicated. Honestly. They look difficult, but you don’t even need that special cable needle. Although, for starting out it definitely helps, and I highly recommend having it. I do still use mine when doing larger or more complicated cables. However, if all you have a small double pointed needle, it will work just as well. I was so happy that I was able to conquer cables. I have been improving on them ever since, and for many of my cables, I don’t need a needle at all. What I would like to do in this post is to alleviate any fears you might have for cables, and make them as straight forward as I can make them.
So, before we get started on making cables, you are probably asking what a cable needle is. It’s simply a small double pointed needle, that typically has a little bend in the middle to hold your stitches a little better.
As you can see in this picture, I have a short little double pointed needle with a small bend in it. That allows me to slip the stitches off the left needle, position the cable needle and still have a pointed end to knit/purl the stitches off. If you find that it is a bit fiddly, or the stitches don’t hold, you can stick an end into your piece just to hold it in place.
Now for those cables. 😀 First, what are cables? Cables are created by simply rearranging the stitches on your needle. You will slip some stitches on to your cable needle, then work some stitches, and then work those stitches that are still on your cable needle. This gives you a twist in your work that is your cable. How it is formed changes only by whether those stitches you put on your cable needle are brought to the front or the back of your work. This creates the lean to your cable, which means the stitches that are in front of the other stitches are leaning to the left or the right. Cables create a very pronounced and visible lean.
I want to start out with some simple cables. I’m going to start with 1/1 cables. That means we will only have two stitches involved in the cable. Lets start with the 1/1 RC. This abbreviation means that you are going to make a Right Cross (right leaning). To accomplish this, we will use our cable needle and slip the first stitch of the left needle onto it as if to purl (which means you slip the cable needle into the next stitch in the same direction as you would purl, but just slipping it off the needle instead of working that stitch), and let that cable needle hang at the back of your work (away from you). The cable needle will keep this stitch from unravelling as you then knit the next stitch on your left needle. Once that is worked, pick up the cable needle, and knit the stitch that is on it, as if it were a regular needle. You now have a stitch in front that has moved from the left position on your needle to the right, which makes it lean to the right. Next is the 1/1 LC. This one means we will create a Left Cross (left leaning stitch). This time, slip that first stitch onto the cable needle as if to purl, and this time let the cable needle hang at the front of your work (towards you). Knit the stitch that is on your left needle, and then knit the stitch from your cable needle. You will now have a stitch in the front that has moved from the right to the left.
The other notations you will see that make variations on the cables is when you introduce purls into them. For example, the 1/1 RPC. This means it’s a Right Purl Cross. You will begin the same way as the RC above, but instead of knitting off the cable needle, you will purl the stitch. You will have a knit stitch that cross over to the right, in front, and then your cable stitch will be purled and will now be on the left. In the 1/1 LPC it’s similar. Your cable needle will be hanging in the front, and you will purl the next stitch from your left needle, and knit the cable needle stitch. As you can see, both of these variations keep the knit stitch as the one that is in front and visible. The purl is tucked in the back of your work and hidden just a little.
One of the things that will come with time is the is the tension you need when working cables. You will find that you can get a bit of a gap because of how the yarn is pulled when working those cables. A great way to work on tidying this up as you go, is that when you are on the next row, you can pull your stitches a little bit as you are working them to even them out just a little. Unfortunately, depending on the size yarn you are using, just pulling the yarn tight when you work the cables isn’t always enough to tighten up the cables, and can lead to puckering in other areas of your work. I find that giving the stitches a little pull with your needle as you are working them in the next row helps even them out just enough.
And that’s it for the explanations. Now it’s time for the demonstration. From here it is just variations on how many stitches you have on your cable needle and that you work from your left. To allow you to practice I have created a dish cloth pattern. This will help you learn some larger cables, and on larger needles, but also teach you the way this looks on a chart, not just written directions.
I will include the pattern at the end of this post for you to follow, but I want to give you some visuals on how these cables will look as you work them and when they are finished. I have chosen to use 3/3 LC and 3/3 RC. That means you will be crossing 3 stitches across the front of 3 other stitches, either going right or left. These are also all knit versions. Let’s start with the 3/3 RC.
Your first step is to work your pattern until you get to the symbol in the chart, or the notation of ‘3/3 RC’ in the written directions. Then you will work it as instructed. The 3/3 RC means you are going to slip the next 3 stitches on to your cable needle as if to purl, and hold it at the back of your work.
Next, you will knit 3 stitches from your left needle. Be sure to snug up that first stitch just a bit to close up the gap that is left where those stitches on your cable needle had been. Next, grab your cable needle, and use it like another knitting needle. You will knit 3 stitches off that cable needle as normal. You now have your 3/3 RC. As you can see your front 3 stitches lean to the right, giving you that right cross.
The next cable you will find in this pattern is a 3/3 LC. As with the RC cable, work until you reach this part of your instructions. Slip the next 3 stitches on to your cable needle as if to purl, and hold the cable needle at the front of your work.
Knit the next 3 stitches from your left needle as normal. As you can see from this next picture, you have knit the 3 from the left needle, but still have that cable hanging out in front. This will give you a good idea of what the cable looks like half way through, and how it closes up and twists.
Now we can finish up the cable, and knit 3 stitches from the cable needle. You will now have a completed 3/3 LC. As you can see, the stitches from the cable needle make up the front stitches, and have a visible lean to the left.
As an extra note on this pattern: I have included both written and charted directions. Take a look at the chart and look at the symbols used for the cables as you work them. The image used will actually look like the stitch you are working. So, for the 3/3 RC, you can see that the first 3 stitches of the image end up going behind the second 3 stitches, to create the cross. That gives you the indication that your cable needle will go to the back of your work, and the front stitches should have that right lean. The 3/3 LC has the first 3 stiches being in the front, so your cable needle goes to the front, and they will become your left leaning stitches. It’s a great extra notation of where your stitches are being held.
These are the only cables used in this pattern. You can now go ahead and work through your little dishcloth. It will give you little ripples for scrubbing texture, and give you some visual interest. This also means you can use these skills in any other project you encounter without fear! As I said above, all cables are derived from the same skills. I hope this post has helped! I know that cables can look complicated, but now you will be able to give them a go, and will be able to start making projects that wow your friends and family!
Needle: US 7 / 4.5 mm Straight needles.
Notions: Cable needle
3/3 RC: Slip the next three stitches purl wise on to a cable needle and hold it to the back of your work. Knit three stitches from the left needle. Knit three stitches from the cable needle.
3/3 LC: Slip the next three stitches purl wise on to a cable needle and hold it to the front of your work. Knit three stitches from the left needle. Knit three stitches from the cable needle.