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...is the Turkish cast-on. The others (figure 8, judy's magic) are harder and do not add any additional value, IMO. The Turkish cast-on is ridiculously simple and can double as a provisional cast-on. Why use up valuable braincells on any others?

I've blogged about this one before, but it seems my favorite resources are gone off the InterWebz, so here are some photos and a little "how-to". I had to teach my local knitgroup this cast-on, which resulted in some excellent tips, which have been incorporated into this instruction set.

For first-timers, use a light coloured wool. It's easier to see what you're doing. I'll describe the process for two-at-a-time socks.

1. using one ball of the yarn, make a slipknot on one end of your circ. Hold the needles in your left hand so the tips are pointing to the right and the slipknot is on the bottom needle.  See below.

[slipknot on bottom needle]

2. Now start winding the yarn around both needles, from the back to the front ("like the sun rising over the horizon, towards you", a helpful tip from one of my knitgroup knitters!), counting as you go for each stitch thus wound - ie. cast - on. I usually do 12 to 14 stitches for a pair of grownup socks.

[start winding, up over the top, from the back to the front]

[keep going until you've wound on enough stitches]

3. When you've wound on / cast on enough, trap the yarn between the two needles to hold it while you cast on for the second sock.

[trap the yarn between the needles so you can cast on for the next sock]

4. Start with a slipknot on the bottom needle again. Note: it's a little easier to get the slipknot on if you pull the bottom needle out a little! Then wind on again, the same way as you did for the first sock, and trap the yarn between the needles again.

[slipknot on bottom needle for second sock, pull the bottom needle out a little]

[cast on complete for both socks]

5. Done, that's the cast-on. Unbelievably simple, eh? Now comes the fiddly bit, which is where you start knitting. Free the yarn from between the two needles and make sure it comes up from the bottom needle, behind both. Gently pull the bottom needle out (to the right) and use it to start knitting off the top needle. It should feel quite natural and not hard, the yarn loops should lean the correct way and it shouldn't feel like you're making twisted stitches. If it does, it means you wound on in the opposite direction ("setting sun"), so yeah, you'll need to start over.

[untrap the yarn, keep it behind the needles, and start knitting off the top needle]

6. Once you've knit both socks' worth of top-needle stitches, you'll have all the stitches on the top needle, which is now facing left, and a loop hanging on your right. Your other needle is hanging on the left, and it will shortly be the new bottom needle. Carefully and slowly push the bottom cord into the stitches and pull on the top needle, maintaining that loop on the right, until the bottom needle (rather than the cable) holds the stitches and the top needle is free. It's helpful to maintain the orientation of your knitting, don't flip it around just yet. 

[top stitches all knit, tip of needle is on the left (I'm holding it) 
and loop is on the right; 
push the bottom cable to the right, into the stitches; 
pull the top needle left, out of the stitches.]

7. Now flip everything over (swing the needle tips around 180 degrees) so that the needle holding the stitches is on top and the tip is pointing right. You'll see the slipknots on the top needle, as the first thing. Remove the slipknot. Drop it off the needle. Do not knit it. Being very careful to use the correct yarn - ie. NOT the end hanging off the slipknot! - knit the rest of the cast-on stitches. That's it. You are done, with two rows knit already, and you are ready for the cast-on part of the toe end of your sock! 

[almost ready to knit the other row; 
the slipknot is first on the top needle]

Now just continue as per usual, increasing for the toe of your socks. It's just that easy! Another tip from my knitgroup: use a YO increase every other row - it's much easier to see than a KTBL. On the plain knit rows, you can tighten them up by knitting the YO's TBL. 

Here's a photo of my socks, showing a few rows knit (and increased). You can see the cast-on is basically invisible from both front and back. 

[up close you can't see the cast-on, in the middle of this knitting]

[invisible from the back, too!]

To use this cast-on as a provisional cast-on (note: it has the same number of stitches in either direction, which is something you won't get from some other provisional cast-ons - like the crochet cast-on, for instance), cast on over a second circular needle, which you simply leave hanging. You can replace it with a holder (ex. string) later. 

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Right, so I don't usually "do" Home Dec, but I saw these tea lights on Etsy or somewhere...and I couldn't resist!

[socks for mason jars!]

[they look really nice with a tea light]

They work best if the jar has "shoulders". But they're a great way to upcycle old pasta sauce jars!

ingredients: sock yarn (3 large jars' worth in 50 g) and 2mm or 2.25mm needles

cast on 12, sts, start increasing thusly:
R1 and all odd rows: K
R2 Ktbl all sts (24 sts ttl)
R4 [K1, Ktbl] to end (36 sts ttl)
R6 [K2, Ktbl] to end
R8 [K3, Ktbl] to end
R10 [K4, Ktbl] to end for 60 sts ttl
R12 [K5, Ktbl] to end for 72 sts ttl

For large jars (1 litre size) I found 72 sts to be about right. For the small sized jar (500ml) I used 60 sts.

Now knit straight for a few rows until you round the bottom of the jar. Fit it on as you go and you'll see when you've hit a good height to start the lace.

Now for the best part, crack a stitch dictionary and pick a nice lace pattern with a 6 or 12-st repeat. For the large jar you can use 8 and 9-st repeats as well, because they divide evenly into 72!

To finish the top edge, I just knit a few rows straight stockinette, and then ran the working yarn though the live stitches on the needle, removed the needle, put the sock on the jar, and cinched up the top.

Alternatively, you could do a row of [K2tog, YO] and then more stockinette, to make an eyelet row, and then thread a ribbon through. That's fancier!

A friend suggested to me that I fill these jars with dry ingredients, tuck in a recipe, put on the lid, and BINGO, Christmas gifts!

Other suggestions: knitting covers for inflated balloons and then starching them to make covers for patio lights or lanterns...of course, these are closely related to knit lampshades, which are a class unto themselves.
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The Audax Textile Museum in Tilburg has a large display on Jacquard Looms.

These add-ons to "power looms" were invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard in the early 1800's and revolutionized weaving. It was suddenly possible to weave very intricate patterns much more quickly. Patterns were fed into the loom using a set of cards with holes - effectively punch cards. For this reason, the jacquard loom is considered a forerunner of modern computing! The systems were expensive to purchase and operate, requiring highly-skilled weavers and a lot of maintenance. But they could produce high-end damask cloth for table linens in large quantities.

Thanks to the "real" loom weaving lessons I've been taking recently, I was able to understand most of the working parts of these big devices. The patterning comes from having some threads drawn over the others for longer stretches - "overshot" - while the threads underneath continue the standard twill patterning. So the loom has two parts: the basic 4 to 8 shafts for the background twill weave, and the complex, punch-card-driven, individually-controlled string heddles behind this.

The looms were very large - with a second-storey superstructure to accomodate the punch card system:

[jacquard loom in full glory]

The operators basically stood at the loom with their bums resting on a slanted plank, so their feet could operate the levers for the shafts. In the picture above, you can see a leather apron draping down over the finished weaving (to protect it) on the lower right of the loom; the slanted wooden bum rest right in front of this. The white rope is attached to the jacquard pedal, which activates the card reader when the weaver steps on it. The holes in the cards determine which threads get lifted to make the weaving pattern, and each individual card represents one row of weaving. You can see other pedals below the loom under the weaving; these control the "background" weave.

[close up of the heddles]

In the photo above, the hundreds (thousands!) of string "heddles" hanging down with weights are the pattern heddles. Each can lift one warp thread, which runs through a small eye or loop tied in it. To the right you can see wooden frames holding more heddles; these control the background (twill) weave. There are 6 frames and each frame raises every 6th thread across the whole width of the weaving, in turn. These frames are controlled by the pedals, so that by pressing combinations of pedals, you can raise a predictable and repeating pattern of warp threads.

As you can imagine, setting up such a loom with thousands of threads is painstaking work that takes days. And if you make a mistake in threading the heddles, you'll see it in the pattern! So most looms were threaded only once, and then when the weaving was done it would be cut off carefully, leaving the heddles threaded with the remaining threads. You'd tie new threads to the remaining ones (which would still be threaded!), wind up, and start the new weaving. 

You can see how fine the linen warp threads are in the following pictures. The wooden bar across the top photo is a so-called "temple"; an adjustable cross-brace with little grippy teeth at either end, used to stretch the weaving out to a specific width.

[very fine linen warp and the temple in action]

[damask in progress]

These table linens were made using a linen warp (the threads that run through the loom and the heddles) and a cotton weft (the threads doing the actual back-and-forth weaving). The complex pattern is best visible when seen at an angle; it's subtle. That's the beauty - very understated luxury!

The factory had the ability to make new punch cards, so that new designs could be made.

[punch card machine]

Once you have seen these looms, it's much easier to understand the modern ones that were in action at the museum's Textile Lab. This is where textile artists were at work, using computer-controlled looms to create strange new textiles and patterns. That's for next time!

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I'm on vacation in Holland to see my relatives, and I just had the opportunity to visit the Audax Textile Museum in Tilburg.

This is definitely a place worth visiting, if you are a spinner or a weaver. It's located in an old wool-blanket factory, so there are some rooms dedicated to the old machinery (still all in working order!) that was used to make blankets.

There are other rooms dedicated to the history of jacquard weaving (I'll be blogging about that in a later post), but the major attraction is the Textile Lab, where modern, computer-driven weaving and knitting machines are used by artists to push the boundaries of current tech. Again, for a future post!

So, let's get started.
Quickie tour of the blanket factory:

The factory was in operation between 1900 and 1940, and produced 100% woolen blankets from bales of local wool. The blankets were woven and fulled on site and the entire production chain can be viewed.

The process starts with the "picker" (well, OK, it's called something else in Dutch). The wool shown in the pictures is pretty fantastically clean, and I'm not sure if this was actually the case when this puppy was in current use...but we'll not get picky about this.

[first stop: the picker]

Then, a couple of "carding" steps followed, to produce thin webs of fleece and finally narrow ropes of fleece. Unlike other mills I've visited, this factory didn't use a pindrafter.

[carding, step 1]

[thin fleece mat moving onto second carding step]

[second carding step, producing thin ropes of roving]

The thin rovings that come off the second carder look a lot like those wheels you get from Briggs and Little, called "country roving" - the ones you use to make Cowichan sweaters. See photo below:

[what comes off of the second carder]

These wheels were then used on the "spinner", which was a sort of automated drop-spindle. It thinned and twisted the roving into single-ply yarn.

[the spinner]

Then, weaving ensued. This step wasn't explained fully in the setup (all that was shown was how they set up a warp chain with a machine to do sectional warping - and they didn't demo it with the yarn shown above), but I understood that they produced double-woven pieces of woolen cloth (twill weave) that were then fulled and finally run through the teasel machine. The blankets were of a solid colour, with one side a lighter shade than the other.

The "fuller" took the blankets, soaked in a hot solution of ammonia and soda, and forced them through a pair of rollers, first in one direction and then 90 degrees opposed, to felt the wool fibers. Several passes were required.

[fulling machine]

After fulling, the edges were hemmed and the blanket was run through the "teaseler" a few times: basically a bunch of rollers with nasty burrs on them to raise a nice fluffy pile on the blanket.

[teasel machine]

[closeup of the nasty rollers]

Lots of factors contributed to the downward spiral and eventual death of the factories: the rising popularity of the down-filled or synthetic duvet, the fact that we have central heating in all our houses now, and the rising cost of land which makes selling the factory itself more lucrative than running it as a business. 

Wool blankets are a rarity these days. Most folks have one only as a sort of decorative throw, to cuddle under when watching TV on a winter night, or by a summer campfire. Blanket factories were once relatively common in northern Europe, England, and even in on the east coast of the US.

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