Random Factors

Back in 2012 I wrote a knitting pattern for a Random Factor Hat. I still wear the hat all the time, it’s an excellent way to cover bad hair mornings on the school run. Here it is in use.

random hat 1

The structure of the hat is very conventional, the fun part is the random nature of the stripes. The height of each of the stripes was chosen by a random number generator. I’m very interested in randomness and our very human desire to find patterns in everything. When I was knitting this hat, I was tempted to change the numbers to achieve a better balance, of course that’s not the point of a Random Factor Hat. So I let the stripes fall where the numbers dictated and I think it’s a pleasing combination:

random hat 2

Once you accept the power of random factor knitting, you could use it in socks or scarves too. And the best thing about it, is that no-one else will knit one quite the same as yours, because each knitter generates their own random numbers for their own stripes.

Today the lovely people at All Free Knitting have created an ebook called How to Knit a Hat Volume 2. It’s free to download and contains lots of hats by different designers, including the Random Factor Hat. Perhaps the most random thing about all of this, is how little it has to do with knitted toys.

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This is Community

Last week I received a message from Amanda at Fluff and Fuzz, you probably know her knitting patterns for toys, they are very cute and very popular, here’s one of them…

fluffandfuzzmonster

Amanda told me (super politely) that she’d spotted some funny business over on MISI. Someone else was selling my knitting patterns, without my permission. This is called reselling and it’s stealing.

Reselling a knitting pattern without the permission of the pattern’s designer is illegal.

It’s illegal everywhere in the world.

It’s illegal even if you bought the pattern.

It’s also stupid, because knitting pattern designers have a world wide community and we look out for one another. Ravelry’s pattern database runs on this premise, there are designers who actually volunteer to ensure that newly posted patterns are not being resold. So, when I looked at the reseller’s “shop” I recognized other designers’ work and it was easy for me to tell them what was going on. I contacted three other designers in the end, two of them were toy designers.

There isn’t a handmade website in the world that will put up with reselling. I contacted MISI and within 24 hours the reseller was banned. The reseller did not have a chance to sell a single stolen pattern.

This is a thank you to Fluff and Fuzz and MISI for having such wonderful community spirit. It’s also a timely reminder to anyone considering reselling a knitting pattern. Don’t.

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When to Fair Isle and When to Intarsia

side1 for pattern

Originally blogged by me in October 2009

Fair Isle and Intarsia are both techniques for knitting in more than one color. But that’s where their similarities end.

Use Fair Isle if…

The design repeats and runs along only a few rows (eg a line of Christmas trees around a hat or a celtic design around a sweater sleeve). Because Fair Isle allows you to carry the yarn along the row until it is needed, so you don’t have to rejoin a new piece of yarn every 10 stitches, which would leave a really uneven gauge with no room to adjust the tension by pulling through to neighbouring stitches in the row.

There would be a huge number of loose ends in a small space There is just no way that that 20 loose ends can be woven in neatly in a 2 inch square space.

The design calls for only a few stitches in a different colour (eg classic Fair Isle designs, like snowflakes or intricate patterns). Intarsia needs some space in which to weave in the yarn ends behind the colour of yarn used. You can’t hide two yarn ends behind a single stitch.

Use Intarsia if…

There are large blocks of colour (eg my skull and crossbones cushion cover design). There are some people who can carry the unused colour yarn behind the work, twisting every few stitches for 30/40 stitches and not have any effect show in the finished gauge. These people are brilliant and I doff my cap to them. However, most people and certainly beginners will struggle to keep the tension even enough over such a large area. This would mean that all your stitches in one colour will be one gauge and all your stitches in the other colour will be a different gauge.

You’re making anything for kids. Intarsia doesn’t leave any loops of yarn that can get stuck around small fingers.

You need to have stretch in the finished item. Intarsia work stretches just like ordinary knitting, Fair Isle does not.

Of course, in the real world, knitters very rarely restrict themselves to one technique. Within one design, you may use predominantly Intarsia technique, but switch to Fair Isle for some fiddly part of the design. The trick then is to remember which yarn is coming over and which is coming under and what happens if your Fair Isle is left leaning? But that’s a more complex discussion for another time.

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I Love Socks

sock innovationFor the last two years I have slowly been working my way through the book Sock Knitting Masterclass. I have made seven of the pairs of socks from that book and although there are still plenty more to try, I decided to move on. I moved on to Sock Innovation by Cookie A.

There are some lovely lace and cable patterns in Sock Innovation, but I also love that the designer has named each of the patterns after one of her friends and she explains how each style reflects a different personality. I’ve just started knitting Angee who likes bright colors and interesting patterns, this doesn’t sound much like me, but I love the pattern just the same and I’m using a good multi-colored yarn (Plymouth Yarn Sockotta – which is no longer available).

I love knitting socks. It means I can knit without designing, I love it when a toy pattern comes together but there are often hours of frustration and hideous unfinished objects before I get to something as cute and popular as this pig. Socks are quick and easy by comparison. I also love wearing the socks I’ve knitted, I’m wearing some right now. It’s very nice to spend some time on something that’s for me, something that doesn’t take as long to knit as a sweater.

I love socks.

 

 

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Advanced Intarsia Tips

Another blog entry from the NattyKnitter archives, this time from May 2009. I can honestly say that I am the master of most intarsia at this point. Fair Isle…now that’s a different story.

For the last few days, I’ve been working on an intarsia design and on my intarsia skills at the same time. I think I’ve finally cracked it, so here are some tips which might help you to crack that intarsia code too.

Intarsia Work

1. The yarn you’re knitting with needs wrapping together with the different color of yarn *only* if they’re in the same row. It sounds pretty obvious, but when you’re actually knitting, it can seem like a good idea to wrap the yarn around the loose end in the row below. This is not necessary. If you have a full row of one color, just knit right across, no matter what’s happening on the row below.

2. “Leave the Left Leaners”. If the line of the image is leaning left then don’t wrap the new color around the old color, of course when you turn the knitting, the left leaning line becomes a right leaning line. So you are only wrapping the yarn in every other row on a diagonal. This stops the knitting from looking pulled and pinched.

3. Avoid accidental wraps. Sometimes I find myself knowing that the yarn doesn’t need wrapping, but still reaching for the new color from underneath the old yarn. This is especially difficult to avoid when the color change is only needed for one stitch. Under these circumstances, I make a concerted effort to bring the new color over the old one.

and some other tips, reprinted from a previous blog entry

4. Learn how to make center pull bobbins, they are really easy and much more manageable than plastic bobbins or sprung wooden clothespins. Take the ball of yarn in your right hand but hold the end against your left palm with your left thumb. Now do the Vulcan salute or keep your little and ring fingers together and your middle and index fingers together (seriously this does work, just bear with me). Then wrap the yarn from the ball around these fingers in a figure of eight. When you have enough yarn on your fingers to make the bobbin, cut the yarn at the ball and slide the loops off your fingers. Fold the loops against one another and wrap the cut end tightly around the bobbin, tucking it under itself to secure. The end you knit with is the one you were holding with your thumb, it should pull out of the center of the bobbin really easily.

5. Don’t be frightened of knots. Knots are not usually a big part of knitting (ironically). Normally there should be enough tension in your work that you don’t need to knot a new ball onto an old ball, especially as you would only do this at the beginning of the row. However in intarsia, knotting in a new yarn color gives you something to pull against when you’re trying to establish tension.

6. Swallow your pride and admit that you’ll have to do some tension adjustment. I never have to do tension adjustment in ordinary stockinette stitch, but with intarsia you have to expect to be pulling on loose stitches to redistribute the excess yarn throughout the rest of the row.

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How to Make a Knitting Spool

My son came home from school last week and announced that he could knit. His teacher had taught her first grade class spool knitting, which they can do while they listen to her read stories. It’s a brilliant idea, not only does it give the kids something to do with their hands, which cuts down the fidget factor, it also helps each kid to be self contained and not flicking the back of his friend’s head. In short, it aids concentration for individuals and improves the atmosphere in the classroom.

Of course, they are not knitting with needles, no-one should arm a group of seven year olds with pointy sticks. Instead, they are learning spool knitting, otherwise known as bobbin knitting, corking or french knitting.  Spool knitting uses a spool and a number of nails or tines to produce a narrow tube of fabric, similar to i-cord.

My son wanted to make a spool knitting bobbin at home, so we did. Here’s what it looks like:

bobbin1It’s super easy to make and even easier to use, so I thought I’d share that with you today.

You Will Need

a toilet paper tube

a strip of lightweight card, the same height as the tube

4-8 popsicle sticks (or in our case a wooden dowel cut into 8 pieces of 4″ long)

tape

kitchen scissors

1. Roll up the card and put it inside the tube. Fix it in place with tape at both ends, the tape should overlap from the inside to the outside of the tube. This will strengthen the tube.

2. Arrange the popsicle sticks (or dowels) evenly around the outside of the tube with one end of the stick overlapping the top of the tube by about 1″. Secure the sticks in place with the tape at the top and bottom of the tube.

Now you’re ready to cast on and start knitting.

How to Spool Knit

1. Make a slip knot and secure it over one of the popsicle sticks. Put the short end of the yarn into the tube.

2. Take the long end of the yarn to the next popsicle stick to the right. Loop the yarn behind and around that stick. Do the same thing all the way around the popsicle sticks until you are back to your original knot.

bobbin3

3.  Loop the yarn behind and around that stick as before. Hold it firmly in place.

4. Lift the bottom loop on the popsicle stick over the top loop you just made. You have knitted a stitch.

5. Keep knitting, the tube of knitted fabric will form inside the toilet paper tube.

bobbin2

6. When your knitting is the correct length, cast off by moving the bottom loop one popsicle stitch to the right and using that as the top loop to make a stitch. When you get to the last loop, cut the yarn, feed it through the final loop and pull it tight.

Some other spool knitting tips:

Use bulky weight yarn, bigger stitches are easier to make.

Popsicle sticks, make a good big stitch but we didn’t have any. We used a length of dowel instead and I wouldn’t recommend that as it makes smaller and more fiddly stitches, although it doesn’t seem to be a problem for my son.

Most kids prefer to use their fingers to make the stitches, but they could also use a crochet hook.

When it’s time to put the spool knitting away, my son’s teacher puts a thick rubber band over the top of their popsicle sticks to stop the stitches falling off.

For more information about knitting in schools, please see this well researched curriculum guide by the knitting pattern designer Cat Bordhi (I love her sock patterns).

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Stuff about Stuffing (or how to stuff your knitted toys)


Toy knitters know how easy it is for stuffing to go wrong, you may have unevenly stuffed a lumpy llama or your dinosaur looks deflated because you couldn’t get the stuffing into the tail. If you get frustrated with fiberfill, here are some tips to help you get a soft and even finish to your stuffing.

Before You Even Start Knitting!

Check your gauge. When I make toys I always knit with needles that are a few sizes smaller than recommended for the yarn. Smaller needles means a good tight gauge that won’t stretch and look messy when it’s stuffed.

Choose the right stuffing for the job. If you’re knitting something washable,  use a polyester stuffing. Pure wool batting (just like any other kind of pure wool fiber) will shrink and felt when it gets wet which means the toy will lose it’s shape and it’s softness. Alternatively, you may want a fully woolly look, either for a Waldorf toy or to get an organic feel to your knitted holiday decorations, in either of these cases wool batting or Kapok would be a great choice.

I’ve found that if a toy is going to be wet felted, then polyester fiberfill offers great support. The natural fiber knitting will shrink, but the stuffing won’t which helps the toy to retain it’s shape.

Softly Softly

Everyone wants their toys to be soft, but if there’s too much stuffing in the toy it can get quite hard. Here’s how to avoid over stuffing.

Get a small handful of stuffing, hold it lightly and if necessary pull the fibers apart with your fingers before you put it into the toy.

As you get more stuffing into the toy, gently push what is already in there to the edges and put new stuffing into the middle. This will help to keep the stuffing even.

If you feel the stuffing getting lumpy you can always pull it out and start again. Don’t be frightened of do-overs.

Those Hard to Reach Places

Knitted toys often have long thin parts like tails or necks that are hard to reach to the bottom of, use these techniques to help you evenly distribute the stuffing.

The knitting needle is your friend. Push small amounts of stuffing in with the blunt end, then use the sharp end to break up any big clumps.

Stuff before you sew. Sometimes the only way to get the stuffing in the right place is to put it in there before you sew the toy together. The photo at the top of the page shows a ring shape, pre-stuffed and ready to sew. You might also consider stuffing as you sew, so that the stuffing is never far from the opening.

Sometimes a knitted piece is so small it can be stuffed with the Cast On or Bind Off yarn tail. Check to see if this little re-purposing trick will work before reaching for a tiny amount of stuffing.

Knitting is Shatterproof

If you’ve filled a toy with stuffing, sewn it together and it looks a little lopsided, don’t despair. Your knitted toy should be childproof, so it can definitely stand up to you pulling the stuffing around from outside the toy. This is particularly worth remembering after you’ve wet felted a toy, you can pull the stuffing fibers apart without opening any seams.

Do you have any tried or tested stuffing methods? Or a preferred type of stuffing? If you have any stuffing tips of your own, please feel free to share them.

(This post was originally blogged by me in September 2011)

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