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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