One Thing Leads To Another

Since I’ve been spinning yarn I’ve discovered two things. One is that I don’t have enough time to knit all the yarn I’ve been spinning. That’s not really a problem; I’ll just have a stash that includes handspun yarn. The other thing I’ve learned is that roving isn’t really any cheaper than buying commercial yarn. That’s not really a problem either but I can’t buy nearly as much roving as I wish. I think we’re almost all in that boat whether it’s roving or yarn. One solution to this problem is to buy bare roving from Knitpicks and dye it myself. I’ll still be buying dyed rovings but the prices at Knitpicks are too good to pass up as usual. It’s also really fun to dye your own yarn.

Yesterday my sister-in-law and I went to a workshop through the local knitting guild. I died two skeins of sock yarn. I am told that they turned out beautiful. I used a medium brown, a forest green, and a color called deep maroon. I think the yarn is going to turn into the Multnomah shawl. You can find it on the designer’s blog. Skip through the hedings until you find the list of patterns. The shawl will be the third one down.

At the workshop we learned how to dye yarn in the microwave. It’s surprisingly easy. I had to have a little help to make sure the dye covered the entire skein but I can already think of ways to solve that issue. One idea I had is to dye the entire skein a light base color and then over dye it with darker shades of coordinating colors. I’m still working out the best way to pull that off. I’ve ordered a hot plate and I’m going to turn my canner into a dye pot soon. Then I’ll be able to compare both techniques. My thought at the moment is that both ways are going to have their advantages and disadvantages in regards to both the results you get and visual impairment issues. The bottom line is that I think it is entirely doable for a blind person to dye their own yarn. We just have to be a little more systematic about it and we’re all used to that already.

Turkish Cast on, One Way to Go Provisional

The first real provisional cast on that worked for me was the Turkish cast on. It’s simple and elegant, really just wrapping the yarn around the knitting needle. It’s best for when you have a small number of stitches, like for the toe of a sock or the middle of a scarf. You can try it for larger numbers of stitches, and it’s doable, but things can get a little messy.

Turkish Cast on with Two Needles

The usual way to do this cast on is with an extra needle. You can use 3 double pointed needles, but I think two circular needles work much better.

1. Tie a slip knot around one needle.
2. Slide the slip knot about 2 inches (5 cm) away from the tip.
3. Hold the needle with the slip knot and a second needle in your right hand as if they were a single needle.
4. Point the needles toward your left hand.
5. Grab the working yarn with the thumb and index finger of your left hand, and pull away from the needles so the yarn is lightly taut.
6. Move the needles up and in front of the working yarn, away from you and over the working yarn, down and behind the working yarn, and toward you and under the working yarn. When you finish, you have made a yarn over.
7. Repeat Step 6, using the fingers of your right hand to keep the yarn overs from bunching and to slide the growing number of wraps away from the tip of the needles. Each of these yarn overs is a stitch.
8. When you have the right number of wraps or stitches on the needles, move the needles to your left hand.
9. Gently tug on one of the needles until the wraps are in the middle of the needle. If you’re using a circular, the wraps are on the wire.
10. Knit the stitches on the other needle. This is awkward because the needle in Step 9 is in the way, but it’s not bad if you’re using circs.

The cast on is complete. If you’re working in the round, do what you normally would with dpn’s, two circs, or magic loop. If you’re working flat, put point protectors or wrap rubber bands around the tips of the needle in Step 9, and continue working with the needle in Step 10. Either way, ignore the slip knot, dropping it off the needle when it is no longer handy.

Turkish Cast on with One Needle

The same general idea can be accomplished with a single needle. The method is no longer called the Turkish cast on, but since I haven’t found any consensus about what it is called, we’ll pretend they’re variations on a theme.

It’s also much easier to do than to explain. The hand is held as for the long-tail cast on, except that the working yarn hangs over the thumb, and the tail hangs over the index finger. For these instructions, the thumb yarn is the strand that goes from the thumb to the needle, and the index yarn is the strand that goes from the needle to the index finger.

1. Tie a slip knot around the needle, leaving a tail long enough to go along the entire cast-on edge with about 6 inches (15 cm) to spare.
2. Hold the needle in your right hand, and point it left.
3. Position your left hand as for the long-tail cast on, only hang the working yarn over your thumb and the tail over your index finger.
a. The thumb and fingers of the left hand are holding an imaginary glass of water.
b. The working yarn hangs over your thumb; the tail hangs over your index finger.
c. Curl the middle, ring, and little fingers like a fist, and tuck the hanging yarn into them.
d. If this is done correctly, the yarn forms a triangle that goes up from middle finger to index finger, horizontally from index finger to needle to thumb, and down from thumb to middle finger, .
4. Move the tip of the needle down and behind the thumb yarn, under the thumb yarn and toward you, and up and in front of the thumb yarn. This puts a yarn over on the needle.
5. Relax your left hand, and with your fingers, bring the tail/index yarn forward to the right of the working yarn, then in front of the working yarn, then to the left of the working yarn. This motion is a lot smoother than it sounds.
6. Repeat Steps 3 through 5 until the right number of yarn overs is on the needle, using the fingers of your right hand to keep the yarn overs or wraps from bunching and to slide them away from the tip of the needle. Each yarn over or wrap is a stitch.
7. Examine the work. Along the bottom of the needle is a ridge. This is the yarn tail that got tucked in under the wraps.
8. Slip a safety pin through the slip knot.
9. Knit the stitches in the usual way, careful not to pick up the yarn tail by accident.
10. Continue with your project.
11. When you are ready for live stitches along the cast-on edge, carefully untie a knot that is at the point where the cast-on tail enters the work.
12. Gently tug on the safety pin at the opposite end of the cast-on edge.
13. Slip the live stitches onto the needle as the tail is pulled out of the stitches. If you can slip the stitches onto the needle without pulling out the tail, that’s fine too.

This method is for working flat, not in the round. The cast-on edge is ragged and fragile. It’s a good idea to slip a skinny needle, one with a diameter of 2 to 3 cm, into those stitches early on, then wrap rubber bands around the tips to keep it from sliding out.

The Turkish cast on is simple enough to learn, even when you’re fairly new to knitting. The hardest part is keeping the wraps tidily on the needle. Once that’s mastered, the rest is no trouble at all.

Three Easy Provisional Cast Ons

Sometimes you don’t want to start a piece of knitting at the top or bottom edge. For example, you may want to make an afghan or rectangular shawl that you will be putting an edging around, or you may want to make a sweater, mittens, or socks, but you don’t know if you have enough yarn, so you start with the essentials—the body and sleeves of the sweater, the hands of the mittens, the feet of the socks—and leave the button bands, collars, cuffs, and thumbs for a matching yarn. When this is the case, you don’t want a real, definite cast on. What you want is a provisional cast on: a cast on that lets you have live stitches to knit from along the starting edge.

There are a number of ways to cast on provisionally. This post covers 3 easy methods that are technically not provisional cast ons, but when the project is finished, no one will ever know.

Leave a needle in the work

This method doesn’t necessarily produce a row of live stitches, but it does help you find stitches to work with, and it is definitely the easiest of the three described in this post as well as my favorite at this time.

It requires the use of a very thin needle, a needle that is 2 or 3 cm in diameter. Even if you have no intention of ever knitting with such an artifact, including one in your kit is a good idea as such needles are great for lots of things, lifelines being the most practical.

1. Hold your project needle and your skinny needle together as if they were a single needle; then cast on in the usual way. Hold them in your right hand for the simple and long-tail cast on, or hold them in your left hand for most other cast ons. When you finish, you have a row of stitches with two needles inside.
2. Place rubber bands around the tips of the skinny needle so the needle doesn’t accidentally slip out of the work.
3. Work the first and subsequent rows with the project needle as you ordinarily would.
4. When you finish your project and are ready for live stitches at the cast-on edge, you can either knit or graft directly from the skinny needle or knit a preliminary row with the skinny needle in the left hand and the project needle in the right.

Cast on with Scrap Yarn

This seemed the least complicated method when I decided to learn a provisional cast on. It takes some practice, but it works.

It requires the use of a piece of scrap yarn that is smooth, like dishcloth cotton, bamboo, modal, or nylon cord. Its texture should be different from the project yarn so you can easily tell the two apart by touch, and it should be a little over 3 times longer than the cast-on edge, so if the cast-on edge will be about a foot long, then you need a piece of scrap yarn that is a little over 3 feet long.

1. Cast on with the scrap yarn in the usual way. The crochet cast on is definitely the best method; just remember to put a pin in the last cast on stitch. The cable cast on is probably the second best method. If you prefer the long-tail cast on, tie the scrap yarn to the project yarn, lay the project yarn over your index finger and the scrap yarn over your thumb, then proceed as usual.
2. Work the first and subsequent rows with the project yarn. If you have a skinny needle, hold it together with the project needle to work the first row; place rubber bands around the tips of the skinny needle; and continue working with the project needle only.
3. When you finish your project and are ready for live stitches at the cast-on edge, pull the scrap yarn out of the work. Start with the last stitch you cast on. If you used the crochet cast on, simply pull the pin out of the last cast-on stitch, and tug gently on the tail. If you used another cast on, pull the scrap yarn out of the work, using your fingers or a knitting needle.
4. As you pull the scrap yarn out of the work, put the live stitches onto a needle. Obviously, this step is not necessary if you inserted a skinny needle into the work in Step 2.

Give Yourself a False Start

When I tried this method, I found it to be easier than the previous one. It gave me a chance to settle into my gauge, but when I was anxious to get a project going, the first few rows called for in this method felt like a big waist of time.

It requires two types of yarn in addition to the project yarn.
• The starter yarn can be anything though it helps to choose a yarn of a similar gauge to the project yarn. You’ll be working 3 or 4 rows with it, so you need a not so small amount.
• The scrap yarn is a piece of smooth yarn, like dishcloth cotton, bamboo, modal, or nylon cord, and it should be a little over 3 times longer than the cast-on edge, so if the cast-on edge will be about 30 cm long, then you need a piece of scrap yarn that is a little over 90 cm.
I use yarns with different textures so I can easily tell the starter yarn, scrap yarn, and project yarn apart by touch.

1. With the starter yarn, cast on the correct number of stitches, and work 3 or 4 rows. You can work in pattern just to give your hands a chance to learn it, or you can do some basic stockinet or garter.
2. With the scrap yarn, knit one row.
3. Work the next and subsequent rows with the project yarn. If you have a skinny needle, hold it together with the project needle to work the first row; place rubber bands around the tips of the skinny needle; and continue working with the project needle only.
4. When you finish your project and are ready for live stitches at the cast-on edge, pull the scrap yarn out of the work. You can start at either end. While you can use your fingers to remove the scrap yarn, picking and lifting it with a knitting needle works very well.
5. As you pull the scrap yarn out of the work, put the live stitches onto a needle. Obviously, this step is not necessary if you inserted a skinny needle into the work in Step 3.

The next few posts will cover other provisional cast ons, which actually do produce a row of live stitches. The methods described in this ost, however, work and are especially easy to do.

Salute to Crappy Knitting

I started working on a pair of socks a few weekends ago. I wasn’t very invested in the project. There was a splitty linen-nylon yarn I wanted to get rid of, a pattern stitch I wanted to swatch, and a comparison of short-row heel techniques I’ve been too lazy to make, so I combined the three in a pair of socks that weren’t especially attractive.

The stitch I was swatching is definitely worth repeating (twist-stitch Diamond from Barbara Walker’s Second Treasury)—a reverse stockinet background, the outlines of large diamonds in stockinet with the outlines of smaller diamonds inside—but the moss stitch I added didn’t grow on me any more than it ever does, and neither did some of the tweaks I’m doing to the main pattern stitch. (Admitting I’ve never really liked moss stitch feels wildly rebellious.)

At first, I was continuously fighting the impulse to frog and try again after swatching for real and rethinking the moss stitch, but I knitted on, fearing I would get myself caught up in one of those endless knitting-frogging-knitting-frogging-knitting cycles that would give Penelope a run for her money.

Once I suppressed all good knitterly habits, however, the experience of knitting crappy socks became fabulously liberating. I could try twisting the stitches that are where the diamonds flare the most, what I think of as the elbows, or I could try starting or ending the inner diamonds with knits or twists as the spirit moved me, or I could stretch or smash the diamonds by adding or subtracting the nonpattern rounds, or I could work popcorns into the corners or centers, and I didn’t have to worry about all the time wasted, the potential stitches lost, or the resultant yucky yarn if I had to frog back. I could freely knit away as I thought about the new computer system I had to set up, the new class I had to design lesson plans for, the diet and exercise regimen I’m forever putting off, and the pile of papers and other miscellanea, dubbed Desk, which I always put off cleaning.

It was wonderfully satisfying, more so than a plain old swatch, since I could imagine, when I wasn’t planning dinner or having wicked thoughts along the lines of my last trashy read, that the thing in my hands really could be a sock I’d wear: by the time I worked my way up from the toe to the cuff, I’d have worked out the stitch, and no one would be the wiser, right? That kind of thinking, of course, put me in mind of the generations of knitters who had to crank the socks and sweaters out by winter, some pieces receiving their full attention and skill while others, only the scraps of time allowed by the stove, the crying baby, the next chore on the list, and I thought that sloppy knitting, the kind of knitting that turns mental chaos into order, certainly deserves its own tribute.

Eventually, when I was less than half a pattern repeat from binding off, I pulled the needles out and ripped away at the work, starting immediately on a sock I liked in a variation of the stitch that was just exactly what I had in mind. The experiment worked right the first time, and my hands new the stitch so well that I could do a round or two while the computer booted up or while I sat on hold, and I could get a whole pattern repeat in while in the throes of a good book. Perfection is a goal, but so is crappy knitting, and knowing when to do which is one of the greatest gifts from the fiber gods.

Knitting Small Circumferences on Double-Pointed Needles

When I came back to knitting, someone gave me several sets of double-pointed needles. They were all for medium weight yarn, and most were short enough for sock or mitten knitting. I was about to declare this to have been very prescient of the giver, but since I promptly moved on to the wonders of circular needles, leaving the double-pointed needles (dpn’s) to languish in a drawer out of the great fear that I’d never get them to work right, I can’t boast about that. What I can boast about is that I finally learned to use them though I’m still far from feeling convinced that I’ll use them very often.

Double-points are probably the most traditional way to knit tubelike shapes. Nothing more than slender dowels with a tapered pencil point at each end, they are the closest thing a modern knitter comes to working with sticks. The needles sell in a couple of shorter and longer lengths, the shorter length being for smaller items like socks and mittens; the longer, for larger projects like hats,sleeves, and pullovers.

While there’s really only one process, there is a little variation in whether knitters work with 4 needles or 5. People who use 5 needles divide the work evenly over 4 of them and use the fifth to do the actual knitting. People who use four generally place half the stitches onto one needle, divide the rest over two more, and knit with the fourth needle, but they may distribute the stitches in some other way, based on what makes sense for the project or the pattern stitch.

If, like me, you’ve been dreading dpn’s, the thing to keep in mind is that these needles aren’t like regular needles. They’re rougher. You don’t notice it from normal handling, like when you use them to put your hair up in a bun or when you bang them on a sauce pan to let the family know dinner is ready. But as you cast on and begin to work your stitches, you notice that the metal, plastic, or wooden surface of the needle shaft is actually weirdly . . . porous and, yes, rough. This causes the work to slide more slowly along than it would on an Addi or Knit Picks circ, which reduces the likelihood that stitches will drop off one of the tapered ends and gives you and me time to grab them if they slip.

To learn the process, the best approach is to start a hat, mitten, pouch, sleeve, sock, or some other tube, using one or two circs. When the tube is 2 or 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) long, remove the circular needle(s), slipping the live stitches on to double pointed needles as you go. You can use 3 or 4 needles. I used 3 to have fewer things/needles to deal with.

Now here’s where knitting with double-pointed needles becomes a lesson in trusting the process and the tools. Once the dpn’s are in place, find the working yarn, which should be at one end of a needle. Grab that neighboring needle, the one that is closest to the working yarn. Hold the neighboring needle in your left hand, and with an empty needle in the right, start knitting.

That’s right. Just grab the needle nearest the working yarn with your left hand as if it were a traditional single-pointed needle (the ones with a stop at one end), put an empty needle in your right hand, hold the working yarn as you normally do, and knit away.

The other needles hang in the work without slipping out and onto the floor. If you’re nervous about losing a needle or if you’re an especially loose knitter (hey, what we do on our own time is our own business, right?), you can put point protectors on the ends of the idle needles, or if you don’t have point protectors handy, you can wrap rubber bands around the ends.

To start a project on double-pointed needles, cast the stitches onto one needle, using a firm cast on that keeps its shape, like the long-tail cast on, or choose any other cast on and work one row. Then start redistributing stitches by slipping stitches from one end of the cast-on needle to another needle or two. For example, if you plan to divide the work over four needles, put half of the stitches onto the second needle; lay the needles on a table perpendicular to each other, forming a wedge or V; then slip half of the stitches from each needle onto two more. If you plan to divide the stitches over three needles, lay a single needle on the table; then starting at one end, slip a fourth of the stitches onto a second needle, and starting at the other end, slip another fourth of the stitches onto a third needle. Much easier than I’m making it sound.

To actually start knitting, shift the collection of dpn’s that are on the table so that the working yarn is at the left end of one of the needles. If it’s near the right end of a needle, pick up the whole structure and flip it over, as if you were turning a pancake or emptying out a purse. When the working yarn is properly positioned, rotate the structure of needles so that the one with the working yarn is near your right hand. Do not pick that needle up, Instead, pick up the one next to it, the one nearest the working yarn, the one that starts with the first stitch you cast on. That is the needle that goes in your left hand. Hold an empty needle in your right hand, and pick up the collection of needles with stitches so you can bring the working yarn close enough to your left needle to knit. This is one of those knitterly moments when you really wish you had a few extra fingers, but it really does stop feeling awkward with a little practice.

Then just knit. When you finish working the stitches on a needle, put the newly emptied needle in your right hand, and use it to work the stitches on the next needle, repeating the process with each needle until you’re done.

That’s all there is to it. To avoid laddering where the needles meet, give the working yarn an extra tug after working the first stitch of each needle. Run your hand over the work periodically to make sure you haven’t dropped any stitches. Beyond that, it’s all a matter of trusting that things will go as they should–kind of like life. Who knew?

Wool Diaper Covers

Diaper soaker that Owen was too big for at birth.

As most of you know, I have a 9 month old son. My husband and I chose to cloth diaper for a variety of reasons. Namely it’s better for the environment, better for the baby and also better on the wallet. Well, better for the wallet if your baby doesn’t go through 4 sizes in 8 months but that’s another story.

 One of the more interesting things I learned while doing endless hours of cloth diaper research involved the qualities of wool. It turns out that with the addition of natural lanolin wool is both water resistant and antibacterial. These are very useful properties when it comes to diaper covers. Lanolin comes from sheep and is a wax. It is water resistant and this combined with the fact that wool absorbs%30 of its weight before it feels wet makes it a great material for a diaper cover. Lanolin is also slightly antibacterial so the diaper covers don’t need frequent washing like you would expect. When urine touches the lanolin it creates a soap like substance. It’s almost self-cleaning. Wool diaper covers only need to be washed every 2 or 3 weeks; very convenient for busy parents. One last quality that makes wool great for diaper covers is its breathability. If you think about it, none of us walk around in plastic clothes. That sounds like it would be miserable. I would rather have wool any day so I think my baby would too.

In the midst of all my diaper research I came across commercial wool diaper covers. They were all around $30 or more. I’m sure they are wonderful but that’s way out of my price range for a diaper cover. Especially considering the fact that I would need half a dozen or so. Then it occurs to me that I am a knitter and I knit with wool. I’m sure you can see the light bulb going off in my head. I am obviously not the first person to have this idea. Not to mention all of the women throughout history, there is actually a whole Yahoo group for users and knitters of wool diaper covers. “Lucky me,” I think, “Someone has already done the work of designing a cover for me.” There are actually quite a few diaper cover patterns out there. I’ll provide links to a few at the end of this post. I could knit a whole diaper cover with yarn to spare for less than $8. This sounded like a much better deal. Plus I love knitting practical things.

For me the maternal nesting instinct took the form of knitting wool diaper covers. They didn’t take long to knit and it was very satisfying. I knit a few newborn covers and some in the small size. Owen was born at almost 10lbs so that ruled out using the newborn sizes right off the bat. Then he gained a pound a week for the first month so there went another size. To make a long and repetitive story short, he’s just now slowing his growth down to a point where it’s actually feasible to knit some covers that he might be able to wear for more than a month. There was no way I was spending what little time I had knitting covers that he was going to grow out of so fast.

Most of the diaper cover patterns I’ve tried have been pretty good.
They probably fit great on most babies but they just don’t fit right on mine. The best cover I found was the Warm Heart Woolies Wrap. It works great but it involves either sewing on Velcro or buttons. I would rather have a pull on style, especially since the baby is learning how to pull the Velcro and take his cover off. Another pattern I liked was the Snap Dragon Soaker. It’s knit from the top down in the round. It uses the Kitchener stitch to seam the crotch so it is seamless when you are done. The crotch is a bit narrow and you have to pick up stitches around the legs to make the cuffs. I crocheted cuffs so it was a lot faster. It seemed as though there was one little thing wrong with each pattern I tried and they were all different things. So I got to thinking that it would be really nice to combine elements from both of these covers into one. Now you have me designing my own diaper cover. I’m on the third incarnation and I’m hoping that the changes I make to this one will make it perfect for my baby. Unfortunately, the changes include short rows. It’s about time I figure out this wrapping thing.

One really awesome thing about the cover I’m working on at the moment is that I’m knitting it out of my own handspun yarn. I had it died a pretty blue and the places where the yarn was tied aren’t died as deeply or not at all. Even my husband commented on the really nice effect the color variations make. It goes from a blue to a lighter blue to white. This is the first thing I’ve knit from my handspun and I’m really enjoying how it’s knitting up.

Here are a few diaper cover patterns. When making these to use with cloth diapers it is important to use regular feltable wool. If you’re making a cover to go over a disposable diaper just for looks, you can use whatever yarn you would like.


Warm Heart Woollies Wrap

Snap Dragon Soaker

Down Under Diaper cover


More Information:

More than you ever wanted to know about lanolin.

How to wash wool diaper covers

Just in case you were wondering the history of diapers.

Written Charts


I am very happy to announce a new page on our blog. It’s a page where we can collect written versions of charts. We all know how frustrating it is when there is a pattern we would love to knit and it has a chart. On the page you will find a link to the original pattern along with a download link to an accessible pdf of the written out chart.


We will continue to take requests for charts to be translated so the next time you run accross a pattern with a chart that you would love to knit, just let us know.


The new page can be found at the top of the blog under the link labeled “Written Charts.”

Magic Loop: Using One Long Needle to Knit Small Circumferences

I like knitting in the round. When the circumferences are small, like when I’m making socks, gloves, mittens, sleeves, and hats, my preferred method is to use two circular needles. I do a lot of my knitting on the go, and the two-circ method is perfect for that. I can just shove whatever I’m working on into or pull it out of a bag without worrying about dropped stitches; I can quickly figure out where I am in the round; and I can use the fact that the work is evenly divided over two needles to help me keep track of the pattern. Still, there are other ways to get the job done.

One method, the one covered in this post, is to use one long needle to knit small circumferences, a method sometimes called the magic loop. It’s most obvious benefit is that you only need one needle, which is sometimes all we have. Two other benefits are that it’s good for the unpredictable cramming and grabbing of knitting on the go and that there aren’t a lot of unnecessary needle tips to keep track of, as there are with the two-circ method.

What You Need to Magic Loop

To work in the round on a single circ:
• You need one long circular needle.
• The needle needs to have a very flexible cable.
• You need one or two stitch markers to keep track of the beginning or middle of the round.

The question of length is relative. Most knitters recommend a needle that is at least 36 inches (91 cm)long, but if you’re working on something small enough, like a child’s sock or the thumb of a glove or mitten, you can do so comfortably on a needle that is 24 inches (60 cm) in length. I find I work most comfortably when the needle is 1.5 to 2 feet (45 to 60 cm) longer than the row of stitches.

Flexibility, however, is not so relative. If you hold the rigid ends of the circular needle in one hand so that the tips point in the same direction, you should be able to run your fingers down the cable to a small loop at the end where it is folded in half. If that loop is about 1.5 inches (4 cm) long, the cable is flexible enough, but if the loop is over 2 inches (5 cm) long, then the cable is probably not flexible enough. And before you spend a lot of mental energy scheming, forcing the loop to be smaller doesn’t change the fact that the cable is too firm for what you are about to do.

How You Do the Magic Loop

Knitting a small circumference on one long needle is similar to knitting it on two circs in the sense that, once you pull a loop of cable out of the work, you have two imaginary circs to work with. Here’s how it’s done:

1. Using one long circular needle and any method, cast on an even number of stitches, 20 for this example.
2. Run your index finger along the row of stitches, stopping when you are between the two center stitches, in this case between Stitch number 10 and Stitch number 11.
3. Wiggle your finger left and right to separate those two center stitches, stopping when your fingertip is on the cable between them.
4. Grab that bit of cable with your thumb and index finger.
5. Pull! Keep pulling. You want a big loop of cable to form between those two stitches.
6. As you pull on the cable, use your other hand to slide the stitches as close as you can to the rigid tips of the needles, but leave them on the cables.
7. You may want to put a stitch marker on the big loop of cable to mark the middle of the round.
8. When the stitches are next to the rigid ends of the needle and when there is a big loop of cable between the two center stitches, hold the tips of the needle in your left hand, as if they were a single needle and you were going to start knitting a row.
9. Take a moment to observe the work. The tips of the needle are in your left hand. They are pointing up or to the right. One is behind the other; in other words, one needle tip is closer to you, and the other is farther away. The row of stitches is folded in half, like a closed book, and there is a big wire loop of cable sticking out of the spine of the book.
10. Make sure the working yarn is on the needle that is farthest from you. If it isn’t, rotate the stitches on each needle so that the smooth bottom edge of the fabric is on top of the needles, then pretending the two needles are a single needle, turn them up side down.
11. On the front needle, the one that is closer to you, slide the stitches onto the actual rigid tip of the needle.
12. Grab the back needle, the one that is farthest from you, and tug gently up or to the right.
13. Stop tugging on the back needle when you can pretend the back needle is the right needle; then place a marker on it and start working in the usual way.
14. If the needle is long enough, the wire loops will always be evident in the work. If the needle is a little short, the loops will tend to disappear as you reach the beginning and middle of the round. If the loops disappear, reposition the work as in Step 9, tug on the back needle and continue working.

Troubleshooting Magic Loop

One complaint about the magic loop is that the loops magically disappear. As you knit, there are always two loops of cable sticking out of the work. One is to your right at the beginning of the round, and the other is to your left at the halfway point. I like to keep a marker in each loop so that, if I lose my loop, I can quickly recover it by finding the marker and pulling on the cable there.

Another common problem of knitters new to this method of working in the round is loose stitches or a laddering effect below the loops. To avoid this, some knitters recommend changing the position of the loops every few rounds. I find that laddering happens only when the cable isn’t flexible enough, putting unnecessary stress on the work. It also helps to give the working yarn an extra tug after the first stitch following the loop.

The oddest gripe about the use of one long circ for small circumferences is that double pointed needles are needed for the smallest of circumferences. I’m not sure why anyone would stop using magic loop at any point. It works as well for the fingers of gloves and the crowns of hats as it does for anything else. Using shorter needles is more comfortable, to be sure, but it isn’t really necessary, and there’s never any danger of losing the loop.

Two Double Knit Cast Ons

One of my knitting fantacies is to make a sock using double knitting. An even steamier sock fantacy is to make a sock within a sock using double knitting, but one step at a time, right?

Double knitting is a technique that lets knitters make a tube on a straight needle. In a nutshell, the idea is to cast on an even number of stitches then * slip one, knit one * on an even number of rows, as two rows make one round. I’ll go into more details in a future post. For now, I’ll cover two methods of casting on for double knitting: one that is suitable for the open cuff end of a sock and another that is suitable for the closed toe end.

Open Cast on for Double Knitting

This is really just the simple cast on worked with two strands of yarn.

1. Use the yarn to tie a slip knot around the needle, leaving a long tail. The tail should be a little more than three times longer than the circumference of the item you’re going to make. If the sock is 8 inches around, the tail needs to be a little over 24 inches long.
2. Hold the needle in your right hand. This is the only needle you will use.
3. Position your left hand as you do for the long-tail cast on: your thumb and fingers are holding an imaginary glass of water.
4. Hang the tail end of the yarn on your thumb so that it goes over the top and down in front (nail side). The needle is pointing left between your thumb and index finger. The free end of the tail is on the side of your thumb that is closest to your wrist.
5. Hang the ball end of the yarn on your index finger so that the yarn goes under your index finger and away from you, behind your index finger (nail side) and up toward the ceiling, over the top of your index finger and toward you, and in front of your index finger and down. The needle is pointing left between your thumb and index finger. The ball end of the tail is between your palm and the strand that goes from needle to index finger.
6. Close your middle, ring, and little fingers around both hanging strands of yarn. The needle is pointing left, resting on your left hand. The yarn in your left hand does not form the triangle of the long-tail cast on because the yarn is wrapped around the index finger differently.
7. Make a loop with your thumb.
a. Twist the needle counterclockwise so that it points to you.
b. Point the tip of the needle down, stopping when it touches the fleshy part of your left hand.
c. Slide the tip of the needle up your thumb, stopping when you reach the tip of your thumb. The yarn around your thumb has formed a loop, and the tip of the needle is inside it.
d. Pull your thumb out of the loop, and tighten the stitch by catching the yarn with your thumb and straightening it.
8. Position the needle as in Step 6.
9. Make a loop with your index finger.
a. Point the needle down so that it’s pointing into the palm of your left hand.
b. Rest the tip of the needle at the base of your middle finger.
c. Slide the tip of the needle up your index finger, stopping when you reach the tip of your finger. The yarn around your index finger has formed a loop, and the tip of the needle is inside it.
d. Pull your finger out of the loop, and tighten the stitch by catching the yarn with your index finger and straightening it.
10. Position the needle as in Step 6.
11. Repeat Steps 6-9, ending with Step 7 for an even number of stitches.
12. Twist the working yarn and cast-on tail once.
13. Hold the needle with the stitches in your left hand.
14. Work the first two rows as follows: * k1, sl1 *.

Instead of a slip knot, you can just twist the yarn around the needle in Step 1.

Closed Cast on for Double Knitting

The official double knitting goddess is Beverly Royce. I have a scan of the 1981 edition of her book Notes on Double Knitting, but I don’t have complete publication information to share though I suspect the publisher is Schoolhouse Press. The book is generally very readable and clear, but I had an incredibly difficult time with the cast on instructions, whose details I almost understand. The instructions for Invisible Cast On 1 read as follows:

Make a fist with your left hand. Then make a letter “C” with the thumb and forefinger. Hold the “C” parallel to the floor. Leave the other fingers in a closed position. Pick up the end of the yarn in the right hand and lay it over the left thumb and on over the forefinger. Let the yarn extend about 12″ beyond the forefinger, or more, depending on how many cast on stitches are required. Then, grasp the two yarns in the other three fingers. Insert the needle, from front to back, under the yarn, from left to right and turn the needle counter-clockwise half a turn. This loop, or twist, is the first cast on stitch. You now have a yarn coming from the thumb to the twist on the needle, and a yarn coming from the forefinger to the twist. The needle, then goes over the yarn toward you, picking up a loop from the yarn coming from the thumb. Then it picks up a loop from the yarn coming from the forefinger by going over the yarn away from you. Now the needle goes under the yarn coming from the thumb. Two stitches have been cast on. Then, take the needle *over the yarn of the forefinger – over the yarn of the thumb – again over the yarn of the forefinger – then under the thumb yarn.* Four stitches have been cast on. Repeat the instructions between *’s for the required number of stitches. Always end with an “under”, as this places an even number of cast on stitches on the needle. Secure the last loop by twisting the two yarns, then begin P-S [pattern stitches] in rounds.

I spent weeks trying to trace the course of the needle and figure out how it picked up loops on its way. I finally came up with an interpretation that made sense to me and produced good results, but as I compare my instructions with Royce’s, I’m not really sure we’re saying the same thing.

Nevertheless, being an optimistic soul, I offer this alternative set of instructions. Royce suggests using a smaller needle for the cast on and first 2 rows. That makes sense. The round next to the cast on is a little looser than the rest, but not too bad.

Ana’s Instructions:

As you work this cast on, keep in mind that the stitches don’t keep their shape all that well, so it helps to hold the new stitches between the thumb and index finger of the right hand.

1. Put a slip knot on the right needle, leaving a long tail. Once you get the hang of this pattern, you can just twist the yarn around the needle as the official instructions describe.
2. Position your hands as for a long-tail cast on. The fingers of your left hand are holding an invisible glass of water. The yarn is laid over your thumb and index finger. The dangly ends are tucked into your middel, ring, and little fingers, which are curled closed. You’ve got an up-side-down triangle of yarn that goes from the middle finger upt to the thumb, over to the index finger, and down to the middle finger. The needle is in your right hand. It’s lying on the horizontal top of the triangle. One stitch is on the needle.

For the remaining instructions, the thumb yarn is the strand that goes from the thumb to the needle, and the index yarn is the strand that goes from the index finger to the needle. Those are the only strands you’re concerned with. the strands that go from thumb or index to the middle finger do not figure at all:

3. Move the needle toward you, and put it under the thumb yarn. This is the starting point.
4. With the tip of the needle, describe a circle that goes around the index strand: away from you and over the strand, down and behind the strand, and toward you and under the strand. Stop when you reach the starting point.
5. Move the needle toward you, then up, and back to where it was in step 2, the top of the horizontal part of the triangle. Once you get the hang of it, you’re really just moving the yarn with your thumb to ankor the stitch.

Bravo! You’ve cast on one stitch. the next stitch will be the same process in mirror image.

6. Move the needle away from you, and put the needle under the index yarn. This is the starting point.
7. With the tip of the needle, describe a circle that goes around the thumb strand: toward you and over the strand, down and in front of the strand, and away from you and under the strand. Stop when you reach the starting point.
8. Move the needle away from you, then up, and back to where it was in step 2, the top of the horizontal part of the triangle. Once you get the hang of it, you’re really just moving the yarn with your index finger to ankor the stitch.

Bravo! Another stitch has been cast on.

9. Repeat Steps 3 through 8 until you have the desired number of stitches, ending with Step 5 for an even number of stitches. Remember to work from one strand, then the other.
10. After the last stitch has been cast on, twist the tail and the working yarn once.
11. Work the first row as follows: * sl1, k1tbl *. The stitch will be twisted, and the ktbl untwists.
12. Work second row as follows: * sl1, k1 *.

With these two cast ons, I’m one step closer to making my double knit socks happens.

Getting Through the Boring Bits

Aside from socks, my favorite knitting project is capes, groovy substitutes for sweaters or jackets. The concept is simple enough: I make a collar or neckband as I would for a sweater; then I increase at regular or irregular intervals until the garment is 2 feet (60 cm) long. I just finished one, in fact, a frothy thing in spring pinks and greens made of a tulle-like cotton-silk ribbon yarn.

There one big drawback is that rows get longer as the cape grows, so the rows in the last few inches before the bind off can take one to two hours, depending on the number of stitches and on the complexity of the stitch pattern being used. Not surprisingly then, however exciting the project was in the beginning and however high my motivation is to wear it, the last vertical third of the cape turns the Zen of knitting into a twitchy fear of boredom and an unwillingness to keep on keeping on.

So how does one plod along?

By doing something else at the same time.

I think I’ve mentioned here that my mom taught me to knit when I was in kindergarten, but beyond a few scarves, shawls, and blankets for my dolls and an anomalous blanket for myself in college, I didn’t do much with the craft until my mid thirties, When I took up the needles again.

Initially, when I returned to knitting, I could not do anything while I knit. I had to concentrate on what I was doing, especially once I started working with interesting stitch patterns. After a year or two, I found my mind wandering, so I started knitting while my favorite TV shows were on, saving the tricky needle maneuvers for commercial breaks. Over time, I realized that I was getting wild and exotic with my needles even during the most dramatic scenes, a discovery which gave me confidence to try stitches that were more involved while my shows were on.

By this point, I had wholeheartedly embraced the power of multitasking during tedious stretches of yarn craft. My first intentional use of the power was when I came to terms with the fact that I’d put off fringing a shawl for over a year, so I cranked on AC/DC, Candlebox, and GodSmack, and fringed away. That worked so well that heavy metal became my cure for every-tedious-craft-related-thing from swatching to weaving in ends.

It occurred to me that I could move from music and TV to audiobooks. There really is no end to my gratitude for MP3 players and their capacity to play hours and hours of audio books without human intervention (the victor Stream rocks). I began with the comfortingly formulaic, steamy bodice rippers and murder mysteries, genres I read frequently and know well. I noticed the same pattern with audiobooks as for television: simple stitches (like stockinet, garter, or ribbing) at first with pauses for tricky knitting or complex listening, fewer pauses over time, and eventually, steady forward movement in both activities.

Since I learned to listen to books while I knit, I’ve gotten more knitting and more reading done, two fabulous outcomes. There are still times, of course, when I need to stop one activity in order to do the other well. Just yesterday, I got so caught up in a book that I kept screwing up the knitting. But for the most part, having an interesting distraction–like TV, music, or audiobook listening—is the best way to get through a long boring stretch of yarn.

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