Thursday, February 3, 2011

Virtual Knitting Lesson #3: Shaping and Knitting in the Round

{This post is part of kick-off week for our month-long Knit-for-Good Knit-a-Long. If you're just jumping in, you might want to check out the post that explains it all. }

Do you have a work in progress yet (practice swatches count for beginners)? Don't forget to upload pics to the Flickr Group and share your work!

How is that purl stitch coming along? Are you getting the hang of it? You'll probably want to practice knitting and purling for a while, but when you're ready to move on, Lesson #3 will be right here waiting for you.

Now that you've got knitting and purling down, let's move on to some more advanced techniques that will round out your knitting arsenal. These aren't called advanced techniques because they're particularly hard-- it's just that they're a step beyond basic knitting.

But first we need to talk needles. There are three variables to consider when you're ready to buy needles: style, material and size. Let's tackle style first.

When most people think of knitting needles, they're probably thinking of something like this:

Straight needles are the ones that most beginners run out and buy. They get the job done, but they've got a lot of drawbacks. Their length makes them awkward to knit with, I'm always losing one needle from a set, and you're limited to flat knitting with straight needles.

I guess they're good for pinning hair up in a pinch, chopstick-style...

Next up: Double Pointed Needles (also referred to as DPNs).DPNs allow knitters to knit small diameter tubes (think socks, sleeves, and little hats), without the need to sew any seams. This is called knitting in the round and it's a wonderful thing. Anyways, DPNs always come in a sets of 4 or 5, and when you use them to knit in the round, you'll be using two of them to knit like you learned with flat knitting, and the other 2 or 3 needles with just be holding live stitches. (Amy demonstrates this in an excellent video here: scroll down and click on the DPN video).

Knitting with DPNs looks very complicated (even though it's not really). So if you're knitting to impress people, maybe you want to try it out.

And finally, circular needles. They're my favorite for many reasons. First off, the needle part is a lot shorter than straight needles have to be, which means you don't have super long needle hanging out past your elbows and getting tangled in your yarn or caught on the arms of your chair. They're also more versatile: once you learn the right techniques, one pair of circulars can take the place of a set of straights and a set of DPNs-- which means less money spent on needles (and more for yarn!), something you'll appreciate if you're cheap like me. Also, they're connected, so you won't ever find yourself with a partial or half set of needles.

Flexible cables and smooth connections to the needles make using circulars a lot more pleasant. Addis are a wonderful brand in that respect. The brands you'll find in your typical big box craft store won't be so suave (I'm thinking Boye off the top of my head), but they'll do-- you'll just have to be prepared to ease stuck stitches up off the cable and onto the needle.

So if you want to take my advice, learn small diameter circular knitting on circular needles, and only use circulars. Buy your circs with long cables, at least 24 to 32 inches, and you'll be set for flat knitting and large and small diameter knitting in the round.

By the way, I just learned a helpful tip for relaxing the cables on your circular needles:
Your knitting life will be so much easier if you relax the cable of your circular needle before you begin knitting. I do this by microwaving a large mug of water for a couple minutes, dipping the cable into the hot water for about 30 seconds, and then straightening it out and running it under cold water for a few seconds until it's cool. You can also steam the cable, or if you're using a metal needle, you can boil a little water in a skillet and put the whole thing in. It's amazing to watch it loosen up! Be sure and use hot pads or tongs, though, because that metal gets hot!

All the needles mentioned above come in three basic materials: metal, plastic or bamboo, and the choice of these is merely up to personal preference. Needles made of plastic or bamboo can be a good choice for new knitters, since they're not as slippery as metal and not as likely to drop stitches. On the other hand, I prefer metal needles with sharp tips because the smooth metal makes it easier to knit fast.

And finally, the size of your needles will be determined by the pattern and yarn you're using. We'll talk a little bit more about that tomorrow.

Now, on to techniques!!

If you get tired of churning out rectangles and squares, you'll want to learn some shaping techniques: increasing and decreasing the number of stitches in a row. Amy at has some wonderful explanations of increases and decreases. (that's how I learned!)

And finally, let's talk about knitting in the round. I don't know about you, but I want instant gratification in my knitting. As soon as those stitches come off the needles I want it to be ready to go. Knitting a bunch of pieces that have to be seamed together is not my idea of fun. This is why knitting in the round is so fabulous-- you can knit seamless garments! Knowing how to knit in the round made knitting so much more fun for me. And the good news is that it's much easier to learn than knitting and purling!

Traditionally, knitters used double pointed needles (like I mentioned above) for their circular knitting. My favorite method, however, is called magic loop. It is seriously mind-blowing. At least I thought so.

Once again, I'll direct you to the ever-so-wonderful info at You should watch all the circular videos on this page to get a good idea of the concept, but be sure to pay special attention to the magic loop video.

Next up:

Virtual Knitting Lesson #4: Picking your Pattern (and a word on gauge)

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