Saturday, January 24, 2009

How to Knit When You Can't

Well, a couple of days ago I wrote, almost in passing, that I know a method of knitting scarves (and sweaters, for that matter) that was easy to master and easy to teach to children. And I showed a picture of the scarf I was knitting for the Adrenaline Junkie.

By the way, I finished that scarf earlier today. It goes quickly when you're obsessed! And in my experience, most knitters are. ;-)

Well, my regular reader and commenter B. Durbin dropped in and left a note, saying:
I am now deeply curious and want to know how that works.

(I also have a need for a nine-foot scarf. Perhaps the two impulses are related.)

Ask and ye shall receive! I've decided that it would be a fun little exercise to try to document my process. So, here we go.


The first thing you need is the board. Here's what mine looks like:
To make mine, I used a simple 1X4. Cut it to however long you want it to be for the width of the biggest project you could ever imagine doing. As you can tell, I was pretty ambitious when I made mine.

On this board, draw two long lines, perfectly parallel, lengthwise down the board. These lines will indicate where the nails are to be driven. On my board, they are 1 and 9/16 inches apart, symmetrically balanced around the lengthwise axis of the board.

You next need to mark where exactly along these two lines your nails will go. I spaced mine 3/8 inches apart, and that works well for me. I've also seen 1/2 inch spacing, and that also works, but makes a very loose knit. For the remainder of this post, I'll assume you're using 3/8 inch as well. Get a ruler, and put marks every 3/8 inch down one of the two long lines. Then when you have made those marks, put marks exactly opposite your first set, on the second line--so that each nail will have a perfectly opposed twin on the other side.

Before you pound the nails in--which, depending on the size of your board, could take a while--you need to cut the slot down the middle. The slot on my board is exactly one inch wide, so the nails are spaced just over 1/4 inch away from the slot. When you have cut the slot--preferably with a jigsaw--sand it down so that it's smooth. We don't want yarn getting caught on any splinters! Then, pound the nails in on all the nail marks you've made previously, so that about 1/2 inch of each nail is showing.

This is a close-up of one end of my board, so you can see what it's supposed to look like.
Ok, your board is made. It's time to knit!

Pick a yarn color that doesn't make you puke. Unfortunately, I had to pick one that does, as it gives the best contrast in these pictures. Anyway, before you do anything else, cut off about a foot's length and save it. You'll need in a few minutes.

Now take the yarn from the skein, and start winding it on the nails as you see here. The end of the yarn should be toward you, to the bottom left. As you wind the yarn on, skip every other nail on each side.

For your scarf, I recommend that you pick a width that's a multiple of three stitches. The reason for this has to do with the way we'll make the tassels at the end. Bear in mind that the finished scarf will stretch in such a way that it will be narrower than the 3/8 inch gauge of the board--perhaps as much as 25% narrower--so plan accordingly.

In my project below, I'm making it 18 stitches wide, for six tassels. Note that if you go an odd number instead, like 15 or 21 stitches, that when you get to the end of the row, the yarn will be pointing down instead of up, like it is in the picture below; and that's perfectly OK.
Once you've wound to the end and you've verified that it's the right number of stitches, wind back to the beginning, winding on all the pegs you skipped earlier. It should then look like this:
Now tie a nice, tight knot (square knot works here) between the loose end, and the yarn that heads off to the skein. Then push all the yarn down to the bottom of the pegs, so it is flat against the wood.

The knot is shown below, at the very left end of the piece:
Once that knot is in place, wind on a second layer of yarn, just like the first--but at the tops of the pegs. It should look something like this:
Here's a little tip that I do, which is visible in the above picture: after winding on a layer, I need to keep tension in the yarn so that it doesn't pop off the nails by accident. So upon winding around the last nail, I wrap the yarn five or six times around the end of the board so it doesn't go slack while I'm doing the next couple of steps.

Anyway: remember that foot's length of yarn you cut off at the very beginning? You now use that piece to tie together the two layers of yarn at the very right-most point of the piece. A square knot works here as well. You can see this new knot in the picture below.
Now, each nail has two layers of yarn wound on to them--a bottom layer, and a top layer. At this point, take a crochet hook, and carefully remove the bottom stitch from each nail, by pulling it over the top stitch and to the center of the piece. I've started doing that in the picture below:
I usually work my way from left to right across the top, and then I work the opposite direction on the bottom:
By the time you're done, each nail should have only one strand of yarn looped on it, and it will be looped toward the top of the nail. The bottom layer should have been completely pulled off the nails. It should look something like this:
Congratulations! You've just completed the first row of stitching. All that remains to be done, before starting the next row, is a little tidying. First, push all the yarn down the pegs until it is flush with the wood surface. Then reach under your work, and grab all the loose loops of yarn down there, and pull them downward until the top part of the work looks flat and (mostly) even, like this:
At this point, you just keep doing what you've already done. Wind a new layer of yarn on all the pegs:
And then start pulling the bottom layer off over the top layer with your crochet hook:
Until you have completed the new layer too.
Then scrunch it down to the wood, and reach under and pull your work down through the slot to tighten and neaten everything up:
And repeat. Wind it on, pull off the bottom layer, scrunch it down, give it a tug. In not too much time, you start to see your scarf emerging through the bottom of the slot. This is what mine looked like after 10 rows or so:
And here's what it looked like when I flipped the board over:
Now, don't worry at this point at how ratty the bottom row of stitches looks. That will get cleaned up later. Just keep plugging away until you have your scarf the right length. In my case, since I was only doing a sampler, I stopped after 25 rows. (B. Durbin will want to go nine feet.)

Incidentally, I've been doing this long enough that I am able to do an 18-stitch row in just over a minute. By the time you include futzing about with the skein, and shooing off kids and cats, I probably average about a minute and a half per row. And at my gauge, seven rows gives about three inches, so I can knit a foot of scarf in about 42 minutes. I can go faster if I really get in a groove....

So lets say you've gotten to the end of your work, and it's time to finish it up. What now? Well, you should have something that looks like this, only longer:
First thing to do is tie off the thread. Cut the yarn no less than six inches from the piece, and preferably farther.
Now look at the yarn that goes to the top left peg. Since this is the first peg in the layer, you can follow the yarn on that peg down to where it comes up from the lower layer. You want to tie your loose end to that yarn coming up from below. It will then look something like this:
There are two ways that you can finish the work. One way I'll just describe here briefly: it's possible to make a nice-looking finished edge, using nothing but a crochet hook. This is not the method I'm using in this example; for scarves, you usually do the tassel thing. But if you want a finished edge, you start by lifting the yarn off the lower right peg with a crochet hook; then you lift the yarn off the upper right peg with the hook, and slip the loop from the first peg off the hook over the new loop. Then you lift the yarn off the next peg on the bottom layer, and then slip the previous loop off over it; then you do the next peg on the top layer, and so forth until you've taken everything off the pegs; then you tie off the last loop.

But we're going to do the tassel thing instead. In my example, because my work is wound on 36 pegs (18 top, 18 bottom) I cut 36 lengths of yarn, of no less than 1 foot each. For this job, long is good; think 1 foot minimum.

I loop each of these 36 lengths of yarn through the loop of yarn on each peg, being careful not to pop the stitches off the pegs (or you risk unraveling your project). It looks like this:
When you have all the lengths of yarn looped through all the top-layer stitches, it looks like some horrible creature from the briny deep:
Especially if it's that color.

But at this point it's safe to remove from the pegs. So carefully remove each top-row stitch from the board, and set the board aside. Lay out your work so it looks like this:
Now count three stitches from the right, and carefully separate the strands attached to those stitches from all the others:
Grab that entire cluster of strands, and tie a big overhand knot in it.
Congratulations, again! Your first tassel is done. Then, you count out the next three stitches, carefully separate their strands from the others, and tie them off too.
Keep doing this until all the strands (including the tied-off yarn end!) have been tied into tassels.
Finally, trim all the tassels to a consistent length.
Beautiful! Now, about that ratty looking bottom end. Flip your work top-to-bottom, so that it looks like the picture below.
Pretty much we're going to do the same thing on this end as we did on the other. We cut 36 foot-long lengths of yarn, and we're going to thread them through the bottom-row stitches.

Now, the bottom-row stitches work a little differently than the top-row stitches. For these, here's what you do. Pick the right-most column of stitches, and carefully follow it to the end of the work. You should see two stitches at the very end of the column, that are intertwined so that you can't really tell which one is supposed to be on top. Loop a strand through each one of these two stitches. Then, go to the second-from-the-right column, and do the same thing, and on, and on.
Keep doing this until you have done it for every column of stitches.
Now, just separate them and knot them into tassels, just like you did for the other end. Here's what it looks like after the first tassel is done:
And here's what they look like when they're all done:
Remember that the tassels on the ends incorporate all the loose threads.

Finally, trim these tassels to a consistent length:
And your scarf is done!

A few variations I'll mention here, for variety's sake. It is possible to make horizontal stripes, very easily: just change the yarn color at the end of a row. That is, when you get to the end of a row, cut off the yarn with about a six-inch lead. Then when you wrap on the next layer, do that with a different color, again leaving a six-inch lead. Then tie the two leads together, tuck the long lead ends inside the work, and continue with the knitting like nothing else happened.

And it's even possible to make vertical stripes, though it's a little more complicated. Basically, you pretend you're making two side-by-side works on your board, with two skeins. Whenever you wind on a new layer, you start with the color on the left, and wind it until you get to the right-most stitches; then you physically pick up the skein, and wrap it around the other one, giving a twist in the yarn between the two colors; then you finish winding on the first color, and start winding on the second. It's a little complicated, but it works--I know, because I've done it.

Well. That's it! This is a long post, but it's not that hard a craft to do, and it goes quickly once you've had a little practice. As I said in my previous post, I knocked out a 6+ foot scarf in one late-night dorm room BS session with some friends. I just got into a groove, and forgot where I was, and before I knew it, the stupid thing was longer than I am. Rather surprised me....

And my little swatch that I made earlier tonight?

Well, it's obviously too short for a scarf, so I'm thinking of giving it to my girls and telling them it's a doll-size magic carpet. I'll tell them that yes, indeed--Aladdin might well have been into pink, mightn't he? Who's going to tell them otherwise? :-)


A. Jean said...

As I remember, you've had some very lovely pieces. You could do a family project for the next snow year and identify everyone in the party by their scarves!

Nice work, Tim!

A. J.

B. Durbin said...

Thank you!

I just got the word that my high school (Loretto) is closing at the end of the year, so I'm a little upset and need these kinds of distractions.

Crimson Wife said...

I love loom knitting! I've got a set of round ones (great for making hats) and a set of the long ones. For my birthday the other day, I received a copy of the book "Loom Knitting Primer" by Isela Phelps. She's also got a bunch of free patterns on her blog.