Category Archives: Knitting Technique

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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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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How to Tell Right from Wrong (in Garter Stitch)

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I love garter stitch. I love the texture, the built in pattern and the way it hides shaping more easily than stockinette stitch. I also love that it’s not commonly used in fashion and that it’s nostalgic, remember that first scarf you knitted when you were seven, it was in garter stitch wasn’t it?

All knitted fabric has a right and I wrong side, the right side is what is seen on the outside and the wrong side is unseen, on the inside. In stockinette stitch the right side is easy to find, it’s the flat side, however in garter stitch, both sides look the same, so how do you tell right from wrong in garter stitch?

The textbook response is that your first row, and therefore every odd numbered row is knitted with right side facing. This corresponds to the right and wrong side of stockinette stitch, where your first row would be in knit stitch and your second would be in purl. To keep your right and wrong sides clear in your head, make a note of where your cast on tail is after you have knitted the first row (it will be different for different cast on methods), the cast on tail will be in that same position when the right side is facing you. This is a perfectly reasonable standard and if your garter stitch fabric is part of a garment, the pattern may rely on this standard for the piece to be the correct shape.

However, when it comes to toys, the right side standards don’t always apply. Here is a close up on the traditional right side of an owl body knitted from my pattern:

right side

and here’s the wrong side:

wrong sideI think the wrong side looks better, so I sew up this toy with the traditional wrong side on the outside.

So, if you have a garter stitch piece with a pull on the right side, or a twisted stitch or some other funky business, you can turn it inside out. And no-one will ever know. Let’s add that to the list of things I love about garter stitch, it’s reversible.

(A quick post script for those of you who write knitting patterns and are wondering why I don’t just add an extra row, so that my right side is prettier – yes, this can be done on larger toys where an extra row doesn’t make much difference, however, on this little owl, who is only 3″ tall, I choose to turn my wrong side out.)

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A Buttonhole Primer

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This week I’ve been thinking about buttonholes. Knitted toys do not usually require buttons and it’s been a long time since I’ve knitted anything with buttonholes. But I have a plan to make Big Owl into a pajama case, so he’s going to need some buttonholes and that means testing out some options.

Here’s what I’ve knitted up, with plenty of links to show you how to replicate these results and a few notes on my findings.

Eyelet Buttonholes

An eyelet button hole is the simplest small buttonhole you can knit. It’s usually used in baby garments and as you can see from the photo below, it looks pretty good in a garter stitch button band. A one-stitch eyelet buttonhole is made by knitting two stitches together and then using the yarn over technique from lace knitting to make a new stitch with a hole beneath it.

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It’s useful to have odd and even numbered buttonhole techniques at your fingertips, because if your button band has an odd number of stitches, you will want the hole to be centered, so you’ll need a buttonhole with an odd number of stitches. Of course if your button band has an even number of stitches you will need to use a button hole knitted over an even number of stitches. A two-stitch eyelet buttonhole is made the same way as the one-stitch eyelet buttonhole, but this time you knit two together, make two yarn over stitches and then ssk (slip the next two stitches knitwise, then knit them together through the back loop). When you knit the next row, you will need to knit into the back loop of those two yarn over stitches or they will be too loose and ruin the shape of your buttonhole.

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Two Row Buttonhole

I’ve always been drawn to this type of buttonhole. Very simply, the two row button hole involves binding off a certain number of stitches in one row and casting on the same number in the next row. Choose your cast on type in the second row carefully, in my experience it’s best to use a backward loop cast on. As you can see from the second photo below, if you use a cable cast on, you need to bring the yarn across the whole length of the buttonhole, which makes a long stitch and gathers the top row of the buttonhole, making a bit of a mess.

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One Row Buttonhole

You can also work a button hole over just one row, this is done with a slip stitch bind off and then a wrap and turn to allow you to cast on stitches going back in the other direction. I found this great video tutorial by JadeFletcherKnits which shows this technique very clearly. It creates a well reinforced button hole which looks better over more than three stitches.

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The Tulips Buttonhole 

This is a buttonhole invented by the amazing Techknitter. It’s a one row buttonhole with some improvements in the cast on and the wraps at the edges which make it by far the cleanest knitted buttonhole I’ve ever seen. I’m in no position to give any tutorials about this one (I only learned it yesterday), so here’s a video by Knitting Daily to show you how it’s done. It is fiddly, especially if you’re not used to handling a crochet hook, but it is really worth the effort.

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There are other buttonholes, specifically vertical buttonholes, which I haven’t discussed here. But I hope this gives you some inspiration to try a different technique next time you knit your button band.

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Mattress Stitch Tutorial

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Mattress stitch is used to sew together the sides of two stockinette stitch pieces of knitting. It creates an invisible seam and is often used to make up garments that are knitted in pieces.

“Ladder Rungs”

The most important factor in this technique is identifying the “ladder rungs” or horizontal bars of yarn. These are hiding behind the Vs of your stitches. So, before you begin to sew, gently pull your knitting until you see those “ladder rungs” they should look like the photo above.

Decide Where to Begin

There are “ladder rungs” between every stitch and behind every stitch, there are even some right on the edge of the knitting. Count in at least one stitch from the edge of both of the pieces you are seaming. You are looking for a column of stitches, close to the edge where the stitching is even.

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Lay the two pieces to be seamed side by side, with right side facing. Then secure the sewing yarn (shown above in red) in the bottom left corner of the right hand piece. Sew from back to front through the bottom stitch in the column you will be seaming. Sew through the same stitch again in the same direction to secure.

Begin the Seam

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Keep the two pieces side by side with the right side facing you. Sew from front to back, behind two “ladder rungs” and then back to front on the left hand piece. Return to the right hand piece, sew through the same hole as you attached the yarn, go behind two “ladder rungs” and from back to front. As shown in the photo above.

Sew Through the Same Hole

blog3You should pull the yarn tight as you go along, however the photo above shows how the stitches look if you don’t pull the yarn tight. As you can see you are sewing into the same hole as you have previously sewn out from.

Pull Tight as you Sew

Here’s the magic part! When you have made a few stitches, pull the sewing yarn to close the seam. It will look like the photo below.

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As you can see, the red sewing yarn is now invisible and the seam appears to be made of two halves of a column of V stitches.

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M1R or The Right Leaning Increase

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Much attention is given to left and right leaning decreases, everyone wants to get their SSKs smaller and less misshapen. But very little is said about the difference between left and right leaning increases. Often, knitting patterns do not distinguish between the two, leaving a cryptic M1 to be interpreted by the knitter in whichever way they please, alternatively, an M1 is described as a left leaning increase, or M1L.

We toy knitters need right leaning increases to balance out the left leaning ones. For example, I used both right and left leaning increases in the tail of my shark pattern to make it fully symmetrical.

Here’s how to make a M1R.

1. Pick up the bar in the knitting between your needles from front to back on the right needle.

M1R 12. Slip this loop on to the left needle without changing it’s orientation. To do this, place the left needle tip into the front leg of the loop from back to front.

M1R 2

As you can see, it looks a bit contorted, but this is correct.

3. Knit into the front leg of the loop, like an ordinary knit stitch. This is where is gets difficult, because that loop is tightly twisted. I solve the problem by rolling that new stitch around the needle using my left index finger. This stretches out the stitch, so I can knit into it.

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4. Knit the stitch as normal.

M1R 4

The finished stitch looks as though it is growing from the stitch to it’s left. Here’s a close up of those M1Rs in the Shark’s tail.

M1R5

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Purling a Short Row

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I love short row shaping and anyone who has ever knitted a Natty Knits pattern has probably noticed this. It’s a versatile and simple technique which allows a knitter to work in three dimensions on straight needles. Here on the blog, I often try to demystify short rows so that everyone can make neat and tidy 3D knitting.

A short row is made when you turn your knitting before the end of a row. This means that some sections of your work will have more rows than others. The sections with more rows will arch, creating a three-dimensional shape.

Each time you turn your knitting you create a loop of yarn under a stitch and a small hole in the fabric. So, when you knit back over a stitch that has a loop under it, you must knit into the loop at the same time as the stitch above it to close the hole.

But what happens when your wrap and turn loop is under a purl stitch, as shown in the photo above? Of course you can purl together the loop under the stitch and the stitch, but it’s a little tricky. If you find a straight purling together to be fiddly, try picking up the loop first. Pick up the back of the loop under the stitch on the right needle, from front to back, as shown below:

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Then transfer this loop to the left needle and purl it together with the original stitch.

The next few Natty Knits patterns will feature picking up a wrap and turn loop in a purl row, in fact it’s the basis of the only tricky stitch in the forthcoming Whale pattern.

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