Lion Brand Notebook

News, Ideas and Information for Crafting with Yarn

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What Size Sweater/Top/Dress Should I Knit or Crochet?

July 26th, 2011

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When it comes to scarves, blankets, and even hats, sizing is pretty straightforward. But when you’re ready for your first sweater, things get a little more complicated. You see, there are really two sets of sizing on lots of sweaters: S, M, L, etc. and then there are the actual measurements.

The first type is not very useful. It will tell you what range of sizes an item comes in (e.g., a sweater that comes in XS, S, M, L, XL, and XXL has a range of six sizes, while a sweater that comes in S, M, L only has a range of three sizes), which can give you some clues about fit and patterning but these sizes really shouldn’t be used to determine which size you’re going to make.

What gets confusing is that S, M, L, etc. are relative sizes, so you can have one sweater with a small that’s got a finished measurement of 32″ and another with a finished measurement of 46″. All that means is that it is the “small” of the range of sizes offered for that particular sweater.

What’s really important are the actual finished measurements, generally given as a chest or bust measurement (I’ll talk more about this in a minute). Note that unlike sewing patterns, knit and crochet patterns give actual measurements and do not include ease. So if you want your sweater to be a big boxy cardigan, you probably want to choose one with a finished measurement 4-6″ larger than your body measurements (positive ease). Looking for a figure-hugging glam-girl sweater? Choose a measurement that’s 2-4″ smaller than your body measurements (this is called negative ease).

When we talk about “bust” or “chest” measurement, that’s because for many people, that’s the part of the body with the largest measurement. If this is not true for you — say your hips are wider than your bust and you’re making a tunic length sweater — you should consider that when choosing which size to make.

Remember that when you’re making a sweater, you’re going to be putting a lot of time and care into crafting your garment, and you want it to be just right. It’s not like grabbing a sweater off the shelf…you want to carefully consider which size will be perfect for you (or the lucky recipient of your hard work!).

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How to Evenly Space Your Increases/Decreases

July 3rd, 2011

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I’ve talked to you in the past about how to increase and decrease, but how do you know when to increase or decrease? Often a pattern will tell you very explicitly how to place your increases or decreases, for example:

Next Row (Increase Row – RS): K1 (4, 1, 4, 1), kfb, k4, p1, k5, p1, k4, kfb, (k5, p1) 1 (1, 2, 2, 3) times, k3, kfb; (p1, k1) 3 times – 37 (40, 43, 46, 49) sts.

As you can see, this pattern is telling you to work a certain number of stitches for the size you’re making, then make an increase, then work some more stitches, and so on across the row. However, sometimes what you will see instead is “Increase 3 stitches evenly spaced.” How do you figure out where to put (or take away, if you’re decreasing) the stitches then? Well, you do a little quick math.

Let’s think for a minute about why you want to space out these stitches: if you don’t, you end up with a big clump of extra fabric in one spot and a tight spot in another. What you want is a nicely balanced piece of fabric that shrinks or expands evenly, not a lopsided lump. To make this happen, you want to place these shaping stitches about the same number of stitches apart. To determine the number of stitches between your shaping stitches, divide the current number of stitches by the number to be increased or decreased.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • You have 60 stitches and you are told to increase 6 stitches evenly across. 60 ÷ 6 = increase at every 10th stitch. This one’s easy, because it works out evenly, but what if…
  • You have 99 stitches and you are told to increase 8 stitches evenly across. 99 ÷ 8 = 12.375. You obviously can’t increase every 12.375 stitches, so you need to increase mostly at every 12th stitch and add a couple of 13s in there. The math and distribution frequency starts to get a little complicated at this point, but when you see unbalanced stitch counts like this it’s usually something that’s not going to be very visible (like at the transition from ribbing to stockinette). This means you can fudge it a little and not be too terrifically concerned if you end up with a couple of extra stitches at the end of the row or have two 13st sets in a row. Focus on getting the right number of increases and relatively even spacing.
  • You have 80 stitches and you are told to decrease 10 stitches evenly across. Now we’re back to easy, right? 80 ÷ 10 = every 8th stitch decreased. Ah, but decreases are a little trickier…you actually have to think about which stitches you are using for the decrease…you are decreasing the 8th stitch, so your next stitch in the count is going to be “1”. If you use that stitch in your decrease, your count becomes unnecessarily complicated, so instead, use the stitch before the decrease stitch. This means that you would, in this case, work six and then use stitches 7 and 8 to work the decrease.

One final tip: You may find that when you are working on flat pieces you prefer to offset your beginning and ending stitches to preserve a selvage. This is a really great idea — just make your first increase or decrease in the middle of the first set of  stitches, and then the final shaping will occur in the middle of what would have been the final set of stitches. To go back to our first example, you would work your first increase at stitch 3 (because half of 6 is 3) and your final increase would be worked three stitches from the end of the row.

When in doubt, remember to think about the big picture: your end goal is a balanced piece of fabric. Don’t be afraid to do a little math to get there!

Less is More, pt. 2: Knit Decreases

June 13th, 2011

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Alright, knitters. Now that all of your crocheting friends are cranking out ripple blankets and lacy scarves thanks to last week’s blog post, it’s your turn. The good news is, your choices in decreases are pretty straight forward: k2tog, ssk (or skp) will turn two stitches into one, and for multiple decreases, you’ll either see sk2p or k3tog (or 4, or 5, etc.). Mostly, they’re worked exactly how you think they would be, so instead of covering the mechanics I’m going to just give you a link to our Learn to Knit tutorial for each stitch and then talk about when it’s appropriate to use the different decreases.

K2tog (“knit two stitches together”) and ssk (“slip, slip, knit two slipped stitches together”) are both simple decreases: you’re turning two stitches into one. The magic of these stitches is that they lean in different directions: a k2tog leans to the right, while an ssk leans to the left. Ever notice on a raglan sweater how the stitches along the seams seem to point to each other? That’s because they are what is called “paired decreases”: one left -leaning decrease and then one right-leaning decrease. You’ll see this in lace a lot, too. You will also come across variations on these decreases, such as working them through the back loop (k2togtbl and ssk tbl) or purling rather than knitting the stitches (p2tog and ssp).

A couple of notes on the ssk: in some patterns, especially older ones, you’ll see an skp (“slip one, knit one, pass slipped stitch over” called for instead of an ssk. These two decreases are interchangeable, but many people find that an ssk lies flatter and looks more like a reversed skp, which is why most modern patterns will call for the ssk. Also, when you are decreasing in knit (i.e., ssk as opposed to ssp), you slip as if to knit, leaving your yarn at the back of the work. (A quick tutorial on slipping stitches can be found here.)

For multiple decreases, the most common double decrease is the sk2p, which stands for “slip one, knit 2 together, pass slipped stitch over [the stitch you just created with the k2tog]”. You’ll also see k3tog pretty frequently, and for decreases of more than two stitches, you’ll usually see kXtog, where “X” is the number of stitches. Note that the number of stitches you’re decreasing is always one less than the number of stitches you are working. So a k5tog decreases four stitches, a k3tog decreases two stitches, etc.

Sometimes you will also see a bind-off used to decrease stitches. This is most commonly done at an armhole or neck edge, and the stitches are bound off as normal.

That’s really all there is to it. Now you’re all ready to knit a nice lacy wrap to ward off those chilly little spring breezes.

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Less is More, pt. 1: Crochet Decreases

June 10th, 2011

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Think you don’t need to know how to work increases and decreases because you only want to make blankets and scarves? Think again–lots of beautiful patterning is created with increases and decreases in both crochet and knitting. Ripple patterns, lace patterns, even some cable patterns will require you to increase and decrease. I wrote about increasing awhile back, so let’s talk about decreasing now. There are so many different ways to decrease in both crochet and knitting that I’m going to split the subject by craft. Crocheters, you’re up first.

Let’s talk about the really simple ways to decrease first: skipping stitches and slipping across stitches. Skipping stitches (usually written “sk next X stitches”) is exactly what is sounds like. Let’s call the last stitch you worked stitch A. The stitch next to that one will be stitch B, then stitch C, and so on. Now the pattern tells you to “sk next 5 stitches.” This means that you will leave stitches B, C, D, E, and F unworked, inserting your hook into stitch G to make your next stitch. Don’t worry — there won’t be a big string across all of those unworked stitches. Stitches A and G will snug right up together, gathering the other five stitches underneath them, and you have decreased 5 stitches.

Slipping across stitches (usually written “sl across next X stitches”) is similar, but you won’t be gathering the stitches. Instead, you’re leaving them where they are, either to form an edge (as in an armhole) or to be worked later. You simply slip stitch across the indicated number of stitches. On future rows, you won’t count those slips as stitches unless expressly told to by the pattern.

Now we come to the more complicated decreases, the ones I call the “tog” (together) increases, where you’re working multiple stitches together into a single stitch. Anything like sc2tog, dc3tog, etc. is a “tog”. The tricky thing to remember is that the sc/dc/tc at the beginning of the stitch only refers to the type of stitch you are working, not the stitches from the previous row that you will be combining. In other words, the written out form of “sc2tog” is “single crochet next two stitches together.” Those “two stitches” could be single crochets, double crochets, a single crochet and a double crochet–anything that counts as a stitch.

To actually make the “tog” decreases, you begin working the indicated type of stitch into the first stitch of those to be brought together. So if you’re working on a dc2tog, you wrap and insert your hook as you normally would to make a dc. Continue working the dc as normal until you reach the point where you would be pulling through the final two loops. Leave those two loops on the hook and start a new dc in the next stitch to be decreased. Now when you get to that last pull-through, you will have an extra loop to pull through, so you’ll be pulling through three loops instead of the normal two. If you were working a dc3tog, you would leave that last loop on the hook again, giving you a total of three loops on the hook as you started your next dc in the next stitch, and you would finish by pulling through four loops. The process is the same no matter what kind of stitch you’re making or how many stitches you’re decreasing: make the stitch as normal except for the last pull-through, leaving one extra loop on the hook for each stitch worked, then pull through all loops on the hook to end the last stitch.

And there you have the basics of decreasing in crochet. Knitters, you’re up next! Come back next week for my knitting decrease post.

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Tips for Joining a New Ball of Yarn to Your Work

May 30th, 2011

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Unless you are making a one-ball scarf or hat, there is going to come a point in your knitting (probably several, actually) when you will need to join a new ball of yarn. The absolute best way to do this is to join the new ball at the edge, as this avoids messy or gapped stitches. When you do this, you simply stop working with the old yarn at the end of one row and begin working with the new yarn as you begin working the next row.

However, there are sometimes that this just isn’t possible. For instance, if you’re working in the round you obviously have no edge to join at. You also might be working on a project where you’re really concerned about running short of yarn and you want to use every inch possible. There are a couple of options for those times when you can’t join at an edge:

The best thing to do, unless you are working with a very thick yarn, is work a couple of stitches while holding the old yarn and the new yarn together. Make sure to work these double-stranded stitches as single stitches on the next row–the double stranding won’t show in the finished project. This particular method gives a nice stable join with no loosening of the stitches or possible gapping between them.

If you’re working with a particularly thick yarn (category 5 or higher), you’ll need to join as usual, meaning you’ll just stop working with the old yarn and start working with the new yarn, leaving a tail of 4-6” of each. You’ll probably need to snug up these stitches as you work the first couple of rows past the join, and may even want to temporarily tie a half hitch just to stabilize the area. Then when you’re weaving in your ends, weave them across the join. In other words, weave the tail from the left over to the right and the tail from the right over to the left. This should keep that gap closed and give it the appearance of a normal stitch.

Editor’s note: When joining yarn, you also have several options to splice your old yarn’s end and new yarn’s end together before continuing to knit or crochet. Use Google (Bing, Yahoo, etc.) to search for “Russian join,” or for feltable yarns, search “felted join”. You’ll be able to find many written, illustrated, and video tutorials on these two popular yarn-splicing methods.

Are there other skills that you need tips on? Let us know in the comments!

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Small Changes, Big Results

May 13th, 2011

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How making a few easy changes to a pattern gave me exactly the finished project I wanted.

Possibly my favorite thing about Spring is finally wearing pretty skirts again. After the heavy long skirts of winter, it’s a relief to have a light little twirly skirt on. Unfortunately, the weather is not always cooperative with my idea of what a perfect Spring day should be, so I sometimes find myself either shivering in a too-cool outfit or sadly donning heavier clothes yet again. When I saw the Carnaby skirt last year on, I filed it away as a possible solution, and when this winter began to look like it would never give way to Spring, I decided it was the perfect time to cast on, but with a few little tweaks to make it exactly what I was looking for.

The first thing I changed was the yarn. The original pattern calls for a category 4 yarn, and one of the samples even uses Lion Wool. While I do like Lion Wool–and it comes in some really great colors–I knew I had enough LB Collection Organic Wool in my stash for the skirt and I love being able to do a little easy stash-busting. I worked up a quick swatch, and the gauge was on the large side but I really liked the feel and drape of the fabric I was getting. Because of the way this skirt is constructed, stitches per inch will affect the length and rows will affect the waist measurement. There’s no shaping other than the gores–you just work the panels until it’s long enough to wrap around you–so I wasn’t overly concerned about my row gauge.

Stitch gauge was another matter. With the larger gauge, my skirt was going to hit me right across the knees–not a great look for me. But since I really liked the way my fabric was draping I didn’t really want to go down a needle size or two to get gauge. Instead I decided to just work fewer repeats of the pattern than originally called for. To do this, I needed to calculate two things: how many stitches made up a pattern repeat, and about how many stitches I needed to get the length I wanted.

Determining how many stitches would give me the length I wanted was fairly simple: multiply desired inches by stitches per inch. I measured a skirt I already own that I like the length of and decided I wanted a finished length of about 18″. At an in-pattern gauge of 16sts = 4″, or 4sts = 1″, I needed to cast on about 72 stitches. Now it was time to look at the pattern repeat.

This is a fairly simple box stitch, and it tells me right in the pattern notes that it’s multiple of four stitches (you can find similar information in the Stitch Explanation section of Lion Brand patterns). 72 is actually a multiple of four, so I was done with the mathy bit. If 72 hadn’t been a multiple of the number of stitches needed for the pattern, I would have gone up or down as necessary. For instance, if I’d needed a multiple of 10, I’d’ve just rounded down to 70. One thing to note here about stitch multiples: you will often see something like “multiple of 4 +1″. What this means is that your total number of stitches needs to be a multiple of 4, plus one additional stitch. If you are just up- or down-sizing a pattern, you really don’t need to worry about the “plus” — just add or subtract the main multiple.  In other words, if this was a multiple of 4 + 1 and the original cast on was 81, I would still only subtract 8 which would leave me with 73: a multiple of 4 + 1.

The final change I made was to forgo the buttonholes and actually sew the final panel to the first panel. Using buttons to hold a knit skirt closed just seemed like it was asking for a wardrobe malfunction. I really liked the look of the buttons, though, so I kept the overlap when I sewed the flaps together and sewed the buttons on top. Because the slip stitch waistband has very little give, I fell back on a trick I learned from garment design: I sewed a smaller button underneath the top decorative button and left a bit of a flap open at the top so I can actually get the skirt on and off. Once I’ve got it on, the smaller button fastens to the lower flap and no one’s the wiser.

These few easy little changes gave me a skirt I absolutely love — I’m looking forward to wearing it all Spring and digging it back out again in the Fall when temperatures start dropping again!

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Did You Know…? All About Yardage

December 22nd, 2010

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Looking at yarn requirements for a pattern can be confusing and, especially if you need to substitute yarns, trying to decide how much yarn you will need can be overwhelming. Often a pattern will call for a number of balls of a particular yarn and may or may not include additional information about those balls, such as the number of yards per ball or the weight* of each ball. BUT did you know that the only number you really need to know is the total yardage required for the project?

The number of balls required is useful if you are using the yarn called for in the project (and for working the math to determine total yardage), but otherwise can be misleading. The weight of each ball is almost useless for determining how much yarn you will need if you are substituting as different fibers, different thicknesses and even different yarn styles of the same fiber can have wildly different yardages for the same weight.

Let’s take a look at a few different Lion Brand yarns that have the same weight per ball but widely varying yardage. Pay close attention to the differences in fiber and weight category:

Vanna’s Choice (per ball): 3.5 oz, 170yds, category 4, 100% acrylic

Baby’s First (per ball): 3.5oz, 120yds, category 5, 55% Acrylic/45% Cotton

Cotton-Ease (per ball): 3.5oz, 207yds, category 4, 50% cotton/50% acrylic

LB Collection Organic Wool (per ball): 3.5oz, 185yds, category 4, 100% organic wool

LB Collection Superwash Merino (per ball): 3.5oz, 306yds, category 3, 100% Superwash Merino

Let’s say your pattern called for 5 balls of Cotton Ease, but you’d rather use Vanna’s Choice. These are both category 4 yarns, so substituting should be pretty straightforward (though you will , of course, want to do a gauge swatch). However, even though the Vanna’s Choice balls weigh the same as the Cotton-Ease balls, if you buy the “5 balls” required by your pattern, you’ll end up being about 185yds short – that’s more than another full ball of the Vanna’s Choice!

Just remember when you’re thinking about how much yarn you need for a pattern that yardage is what it’s all about when you’re deciding how much to buy and you’ll be all set.

For more on substitution and figuring out how many balls of a different yarn you will need when substituting, see our FAQ by clicking here.

*Please note that “weight” here refers to the actual ounces per ball, not the thickness of the yarn

Suggested Size: Choosing the Right Needles or Hook to Get Gauge

August 31st, 2010

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It’s easy to get so caught up in following pattern instructions that you lose sight of what’s really important: gauge. You’ve probably already purchased the yarn for your project (or decided which of your stash yarns you’d like to use) by the time you sit down to work your gauge swatch, and you’ve probably just grabbed the needles or hook suggested by the pattern.

That’s a great place to start, BUT the important thing to remember is that the needle/hook size given in a pattern is just that: a suggestion. All it means is that the designer (or possibly the pattern tester) got the gauge specified in the pattern using that particular combination of yarn and needle. Don’t forget that everyone knits or crochets a little differently, and you may need to go up or down a hook size or two — or even more! — to get the correct gauge.

For more on how to make a gauge swatch (and why), please see this FAQ.

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Stitch Markers: A Lace Knitter’s Best Friend

August 3rd, 2010

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The very first thing I ever knitted besides a swatch was an oversized black lace mohair sweater. I was so incredibly proud that I was able to make these giant pieces of lacy fabric…until I went to put them together and discovered that one piece was almost twice as wide as the other piece. I had somehow managed to increase so many extra stitches that I had four extra repeats of the lace pattern going, and I had never noticed as I was working. Partly this was due to inexperience and a willingness to fudge (I was 15 and had an aversion to asking for help), but I’m sure it could have been largely avoided if I had used one simple little tool: stitch markers.

Placing a stitch marker between each repeat of a lace pattern not only helps you maintain the proper stitch count in each repeat across, but can help you quickly find where you made an error in a previous row. For instance, if you have a lace pattern with 14 8-st repeats, that’s 112 stitches to keep track of. If you place a marker between each repeat across, that’s 14 sets of 8 stitches. It’s much easier to notice and correct when one set’s missing a stitch, instead of realizing when you get stitch 109 that you’re not going to have enough stitches to finish the row (and also now your motifs are all out of whack) because a yo was missing way back in pattern repeat one or two.

Taking a couple of seconds to place a marker between each repeat as you work your first row can save you a lot of time and frustration down the road. Knitting should be relaxing and fun, not filled with the frustration of trying to located missed yarn overs or unworked decreases!

Do you like knitting lace? Tell us about what you’ve made!

[Pattern shown above: Island Shawl]

Learning from the Best

July 27th, 2010

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I recently had the opportunity to attend the Knit and Crochet Show in Manchester, NH. It was really great to get the chance to meet our customers in person to hear first-hand how much you enjoy our products and our service. The highlight of the week for me was the Crochet Guild of America (CGOA) Professional Development Day that Lion Brand sponsored. Hearing all of the successful designers and teachers share their knowledge with the others in the room was really wonderful, and I picked up (and shared!) quite a few great tips and tricks during the breakout sessions in the afternoon.

There were three sessions, and I really had a tough time choosing where to spend the afternoon! I sat down first in Edie Eckman’s group (Edie was the host of our Hexagon Afghan Crochet-Along), where I learned all about preparing for the pattern publication process. Since I deal with the patterns after they’ve already been chosen, edited, and published, it was very refreshing and insightful to see what designers (and publishers!) go through during this process. I followed Edie’s session up with the always fabulous Lily Chin, who gave our brains a great creative workout by having us find design inspiration in our surroundings. I finished up with Karen Klemp’s session on handling teaching challenges, which gave me some really great new ways to think about helping customers with pattern questions.

My biggest take-away, though, was seeing the camaraderie and sharing that was going on throughout the day. Kristin Omdahl and Lily Chin had started the day with an unvarnished snapshot of what it’s like to be a full-time crochet professional. It’s not easy, and this is a group of people in direct competition with each other for publisher and student dollars. In spite of that, not once did I see anyone hesitate to answer a question or give out detailed information — everyone was clearly invested in helping everyone else in whatever way they could. I know first hand how rewarding it is to pass on the knowledge I have, since I get to do that with our customers every day, and it was wonderful to see that there is a whole community of designers and teachers out there who clearly feel the same way.

Want to learn more about working in the yarn industry? Come to a future Professional Development Day, and also listen to our radio-style podcast, YarnCraft, episode 21: Sharing Your Designs with Others for more about publishing your designs or episode 70: Tips & Tricks on Teaching Beginner & Advanced Knitting & Crochet Skills for more on teaching.

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