Technical Knitting Questions Answered

Filed in Just Stitches, Skill Building by on June 11, 2015 20 Comments

A few weeks ago we sent a call out for questions from our readers. We received a number of responses all of which were awesome questions. Over the next weeks (possibly months) we will be answering these questions.

Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Compfight cc

Even though we made a special call for questions, please know that we are ALWAYS anxious for you to ask your questions. Put them in the comments below or just send us an email. Either way, we will make sure to get them addressed as soon as we can!

Several of the questions were of a technical nature which is an aspect of knitting for which both Kellie and I share a great fondness. So I thought I would tackle several of them plus a few related topics that were not specifically asked for, but I think you will find useful.

Long-Tail Cast-On

Jen asked: “Why, when I do a long tail cast on, does the tail lose twist and how do I prevent this from happening?”

The good news is this will happen to most every knitter depending on the yarn being used. The motions used to create a long-tail cast-on either add or remove twist depending upon which direction the yarn was spun. It is most common for the twist to be lost. The good news is: the fix is simple. Just let go of the strands and let them re-balance themselves. This does require the tail to be able to move freely, but that is rarely a problem unless the tail is particularly long.

The reason this happens is related to the nature of what long-tail cast-on really is. Technically the long-tail cast-on is an e-loop cast-on and knit stitch created all at the same time. The thumb yarn is making the e-loop and the finger yarn is the knit wrap. When the needle comes back through the thumb loop, that completes the knit stitch through the e-loop cast-on.

So when I am asked whether the cast-on row counts when counting rows my answer is “it depends on the cast-on being used.” Technically long-tail is a cast-on plus one row of knitting. This also means that it is possible to work long tail cast-on as if to purl. If all of this sounds intriguing and you want to learn more, click here to join our newsletter list. In our welcome series we provide a video on how to long-tail as both knit and purl!

Left Leaning Decreases (SSK)

Barbara said: “I know of 3 different ways to do an SSK. Is any one better than the others or should one be used over the others in differing patterns?”

Technically SSK stands for slip as if to knit, slip as if to knit and then knit those two stitches together. However, SSK has come to mean a left-slanting knit decrease. For better or worse, our terminology came out of time when there was “only one right way to knit.” Most of us have since become more enlightened, but the terminology remains.

The abbreviation and definition assumes new stitches are placed on the right-hand needle, and that the stitches are mounted with the leading leg in the front. If any of these things are not true, then all bets are off! As such there is only one TRUE way to do an SSK — the definition/method described above. However, there are MANY ways to create a left-slanting knit decrease.

The only one that I am aware of that results in the exact same placement of stitches when complete is SKP which stands for slip as if to knit, knit 1, pass the slipped stitch over the knit stitch. You will also see this in patterns as “sl1 k1 psso.” If your stitches are mounted with the leading leg in back, a k2tog will create the same result as an SSK does when the stitches are mounted with the leading leg in the front.

And thus the potential confusions begins! I have heard knitting professionals (designers, teachers, etc.) say statements that are generally true, about other variations being the same as an SSK, but if you look at the yarn path of all the stitches involved, they are not the same. In most of these variations – although they have a left-slant – at least one, if not both stitches used in the decrease are twisted at the base instead of being open. Now I know this is getting super technical, but I warned you that would be what I would be sharing.

So back to the original question. The real answer is, which ever version makes you most pleased with the result is probably the right one. However, be warned if you are ever putting a piece in to be judged, these technicalities could be the difference in a win or not. Not all judges will catch it, but if decreases are supposed to be mirrored, Kellie and I both look to ensure the left-slanting version does not include a twisted stitch.

Stripes in the Round

Elaine asked: “What is the best way to knit two row stripes in the round, such as for socks, that will give the best looking jog?”

Obviously Elaine has already explored working stripes in the round to understand the issue with the jog. For those of you less familiar, working in the round is not really knitting in a circle, but in a spiral. As such, the point where the next round begins creates a bit of a stair-step. This is most obvious when working in stripes, as the colors create a strong visual reference point.

The two most popular methods for minimizing the jog are both similar and neither is particularly good for two row stripes. So before I go any further, I will just state up front that your knitting style, yarn choice, etc. will cause the results to vary. Ultimately, you will have to try them out to see what works best for your particular project.

The two most common methods are either slipping the first stitch as you begin the second round of color or knitting into the stitch below (the first stitch of the new color) as you begin the second round. The problem with both of these methods is that technically there is one less row at the join every other round when working 2-row stripes. This could result in serious row gauge problems.

A variation is to use either of the techniques described above and then move the beginning of round a few stitches each time you are joining a new color. Just remove the marker, slip 2 or 3 stitches, replace the marker, join the new yarn and start fresh. This could cause challenges with socks, but the “missing” row would move around the tube of fabric, thus minimizing its effect.

Keep the questions coming

We really appreciate these three ladies taking the time to send us their questions. As I often say, the only sure way to get a question answered is to ask! If these answers spurred any related (or unrelated) questions, we are happy to answer! Just take a moment to ask!


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  1. eileen says:

    I wonder if you can help me with a problem. I knitted a pixie hat for my granddaughter – it was a lovely simple pattern (on straight needles) and looked smashing. However, she has now grown out of it and wants a new one. Unfortunately the pattern is only available in 2 sizes (I used the 2nd size) and she now needs the next size up.
    The smaller of the two sizes requires you to cast on 62 sts and the second size 72 sts – my question is – can I simply assume that (for the next size up) I can cast on 82 stitches and work from there? OR – can I use bigger needles ? (the original was knitted on 3 1/4 and 3 3/4 needles.)
    I do hope you can help, it’s such a lovely simple pattern to knit and looks so good.

    • Gwen Bortner says:

      These questions are always better addressed to the designer or publisher because they have the details, so everything following is a bit of a guess. But if you look at the difference is finished size between the 62 sts and 72 sts versions, you should get a similar jump in dimension for the next 10 sts. I don’t know how the other shaping is handled and if it will scale, but if you are willing to invest the knitting time, give it a try!

  2. Sally Parke says:

    I cannot deside what size of hat to make a grandchild and the pattern is no help. The Sweater is written as chest sizes from 22″to 34″ and the hat is in 3 circumferences, 16,18, and 20″. This hat is for a 6 year old of average size. Then am I to infer that an 18″ hat would be the corresponding size? The instructions do not say whether the measurements are for the head or the hat!!! Why do designers not give detailed information. I’ve knitted for 46 years, from snow suits to my own designed felted purses so I am not a beginner!!!

    • Kellie Nuss says:

      The measurements in the pattern should be for the hat itself, and yes, the middle hat size should correspond with the middle sweater size. Measurements are more accurate than ages or commercial sizes, so that is the general industry standard. If you can get a measurement of the recipient’s head, you are free to make whichever size hat you think will fit best. Hats are often designed with negative ease so they will stretch to a snug fit rather than be loose, so consider that fact. If you can’t get a measurement of the actual head, perhaps a friend with a handy child can be of help?

  3. kathryn says:

    I have a knitting pattern that refers to “bee” stitch,
    Can anyone tell me what this is. Thank you.

  4. Maureen Mahrlig says:

    I made a baby blanket with garter stitch borders. After finishing, I noticed I did a stockinette stitch on one set of garter stitch border. Is there any way to fix this, as the mistake is half way down the blanket. Thank you in advance!

    • Gwen Bortner says:

      Although you could drop and fix it, it sounds like the project is done so probably not the best option. I would just duplicate stitch (or over stitch) the offending area to make it look like garter stitch with a bit of the yarn from the project. Either that, or just leave it and don’t point it out…it is probably less noticeable than you think!

  5. Barbara says:

    using round needles, how do you use them as straight needles (for a few lines)to avoid twisting?

    • Gwen Bortner says:

      Just work a couple of rows flat, then you still have to make sure not to twist when you join, but the additional fabric makes that much easier to do. Then after the project is finished, you will need to use your cast on tail to seam up those first couple of rows.

  6. Laurie Altfest says:

    I’m knitting a tank top in the round (Sebring) and getting the gauge, but when taking it off the needles to check the size, it seems way too big. I have the yarn recommended in the pattern and went down a needle size to get the gauge, but I don’t understand why this is happening.

    I am an experienced knitter and everything I make fits. Except I’m perplexed with this project. Any ideas?

    • Gwen Bortner says:

      A couple of thoughts:
      1) Is the fabric of the actual project at gauge? Often gauge is different flat vs circular and if your swatch was flat this might explain it!
      2) Was your gauge checked/matched after laundering (blocking) the swatch and was that different than the pre-laundered (pre-blocked) swatch. Obviously what you are knitting is not laundered (blocked).
      3) Does it match the dimensions listed on the schematic of the pattern? Depending on how sizing is listed and selected what you deem as “way too big” might be exactly what the designer was going for. If so, do their numbers actually work to match those dimensions? There might be an error.

      Not sure if any of those help, but that is where I would start!

  7. Anna Lohning says:

    Oops – there’s was a little error in my previous post. If possible could you use this one? thanks

    I’m about to start knitting a lovely lace triangle scarf. Though a novice at designing patterns, I’ve had to do this because I only had a picture to go from. The edging is two rows of old shale (with little ladders separating each repeat) and a row of cat’s paw. There a central ladder. A friend kindly gave me the individual patterns involved but constructing it is quite a task in itself. I’ve almost got it now but at this stage it’d be a triangular scarf knitted with a large cast on forming the two sloping sides of the triangle. This method would be decreasing on the angle to the point. I’d rather do it the opposite way (since I’m abit unsure if I have enough wool for the above method).
    My question is, can I knit it the opposite way and still get the wavy edging of the old shale pattern at the bottom? Here is the old shale pattern (18 st, 4 row repeat) if working from the bottom edge up:-
    • row 1 knit
    • row 2 knit (ie purl bumps on the right side)
    • row 3 *k2tog three times, [yo, k1] six times, k2tog three times. Repeat from * as required
    • row 4 purl
    Would I just reverse it? Would anyone have any other suggestions? I can send a photo and also my spreadsheet pattern if this helps?
    Thanks to anyone for replying!

    • Gwen Bortner says:

      You will get a wavy edge if it is done first (at the cast on edge) or last (the bind off edge). There are minor changes in the look between the two, but nothing of significance when done over the whole piece only if the two variations (first and last) are combined.

  8. Brenda says:

    Hi there!

    I’m knitting a top-down cardigan & I’m having some difficulty figuring out which rows to do the increases on the Yoke. For my size, the pattern says:

    “Increase 1 st after & before 23 neckband sts as est, every 6 rows, 6 more times AND AT THE SAME TIME increase yoke as est at the 4 raglan markers every RSR 11 more times; then every other RSR 3 times; then every RSR 5 times, ending with WSR”

    So I’ve made it to Row 22. Here is what I have done so far…The neckband increases will be/have been made on Rows 1, 7, 13, 19, 25, 31 (I think). That’s every 6 rows, 6 times.

    Then the yoke increases at the 4 raglan markers are done on Rows 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21 (I think). That’s every RSR 11 times.

    Now, do I finish all neckband increases through row 31, without doing any more yoke increases after row 21?

    Or do I continue with the yoke increases on Rows 23, 27, 31 (That’s EVERY OTHER RSR 3 times)?

    Or do I not start that until row 25, making it rows 25, 29, 33? (having skipped a RSR after row 21?)

    Then would EVERY RSR 5 times, start on Row 33? And continue on with 35, 37, 39, 41? Or Rows 35, 37, 39, 41, 43? (I guess this answer depends on the answer for the question directly before this one as far as when to start the EVERY OTHER row increases.)

    As this is my first sweater, I have had several very experienced knitters try to help me with this but they are just as confused as I am. I have tried looking it up online & I can’t find an answer there either.
    Any help would be greatly appreciated! I am determined to be able to finish this sweater.

    Thank you for your time,

    • Gwen Bortner says:

      Unfortunately, there is some language in there that is a bit confusing. My best suggestion is to contact the publisher of the pattern for help or if it is self-published, contact the designer. They will have the best answers.

  9. Dianne Douglas says:

    I am knitting (on double pointed needles) a baby booties from the top down. I have just completed my cuff and the next part is: Next round (set up round): K22, M1, turn. Next row (purl short rown): slip 1 as if to purl, P8,M1,turn. Next row (knit short row): Slip 1 as to purl, K8, M1, turn. Work these two rows until there are a total of 52 stitches.

    I have a cast on of 36 stitches and I have those on 3 DPNs. My question is how do I set up round? Where do the other 14 stitches go? I am so confused and sure hope you can help! Thank you so very much.

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