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Archive for October 28th, 2008

A Chat About Stripes and Changing Colors in Knitting (long)

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

A Great Question
I got an inquiry from someone who bought my Chippy Socks for Kids pattern. She wanted to know if she could use the pattern just for the structure of a sock without changing yarns.

Of course, the answer is yes. She could choose to find a yarn with the same gauge (DK, knit at 6.25 st/inch) and knit the same structure.

In fact, one person on Ravelry has knit these with one color for the foot and cuff and another color for ribbing, heel and toe, with excellent results. If you are a member of Ravelry, you can click this link to see her project.

Changing the Look of a Pattern

The writer was wanting to use a self-striping yarn, and wondered how that would work. It would also work fine, though it’s a bit hard to find a self-striping yarn in DK weight.

However, there are all sorts of solid sweater yarns that work, including Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino, Cascade Fixation, and a number of Rowan yarns. More UK-based yarns are called DK than those from the US, and in Australia they call it 8-ply (even if it has a different number of actual plies in the yarn).

Changing Yarns

And actually, one can hold two strands of fingering-weight standard sockyarn to get a DK gauge. So holding two sockyarns together and knitting my Chippy socks without following the charts would make the right gauge. Consider one solid and one self-striping yarn.

Changing Yarns Mid-Project

I think, though, that the inquiree and many others may be intimidated about having two or more yarns going in one project. This is too bad, because color brings such fun to a project. Stripes are the easy way to start.

I find that people cut their yarn often. In so many cases, this is just not necessary! They often cut the yarn tail so short that it is nearly impossible to thread it into a needle and work it in. Or they tie knots, which would make an uncomfortable sock.

Here is the essence of what I wrote to the woman who asked (about using self-striping yarn with the Chippy Socks for Kids pattern), with a few extra paragraphs for you in blogland:

Yes, you can get nice results with the Chippy Socks pattern as a standard sock pattern for any yarn, striping or solid. The yarn specified is DK weight; the gauge I expect you will get with that is 6.25 stitches/inch.

Most self-striping yarns are either fingering (for socks) or worsted (for sweaters, not as common). Fingering is smaller yarn and will bring an associated smaller gauge. However, choosing a larger sock size from the pattern, with that smaller yarn, could get you something in the ballpark.

Customizing to Make it Fit

If you are trying to meet a specific size for a particular kid right away, you will have to figure out how many stitches per inch you are getting. You want the gauge (in the round) times the number of inches the child’s foot measures around the ball, times .9 (which is 10% smaller than the foot measurement). A sock should be a little smaller than the foot to make it stay on snugly. Sometimes adults go to .8 or 20% smaller, which I personally prefer, but for growing kids go with the conservative number.

(If he has a foot that measures 5″ around the ball, and your gauge is 7 st/inch, 5 x 7 is 35, times .9 gives you 31.5 as an ideal stitch count. Typical sock patterns require a multiple of 4 stitches, so for a standard sock pattern you would cast on 32 stitches to get that size.

Since this pattern was designed for 6.25 st/inch and I tried to match kid shoe sizes at that gauge, there is no size specified for 32 stitches… you would have to choose 28 or 36 stitches. Most times for kids, you round up so they can grow into them, so you could start with the sock requiring 36 stitches as the cast on.)

Changing Colors Can Be Simple

Even if you wanted to just change colors for heels and toes, it’s not a big deal. Just literally pick up a new color and start knitting with it, leaving maybe a 4-6″ end to work in later with a sewing needle on the inside. Stripes are really easy, just leave the yarn you don’t need hanging where you will pick it up later, pick up the new yarn color and start knitting.

Only cut yarn when you will not be knitting with it for quite a distance. Then leave a nice long tail for sewing later.

Preventing Gaps at the Color Change

When you are changing yarns, here’s what I do to keep it from gapping open a little hole at the change-over. When you are done with a color, drop it down and to the left, and then pick up your new color from the bottom and up to the right (or think counter-clockwise if that works better in your mind).

Each time you change, always drop left and pick up from right. This will twist the yarns together just a little. Make sure to keep a little tension between the two yarns when you start with a new color. That will make the change less noticeable.

If you don’t make stripes more than 3 rounds wide, you do not have to cut any yarn when you change stripe colors. Yes, there will be a slight jog where the colors change. The jog will go up a straight line, usually at the very back of the foot above the heel.

The Jog: No Big Deal

This jog does not bother me at all, though some people have tricks to make it not show as much. I figure it’s much less obvious than a sewn garment’s seams, and we accept seams as normal. It’s just part of the structure of knitting in a tube. For those who are wearing the socks, they won’t even see it!

Working in Loose Ends

I like to work my tails in on a diagonal, so that the fabric stretches well. If I’m working with a contrasting color that may show through, I use a sharp needle and actually split the yarn on the back side of the fabric as I work in the ends. That way, the contrast color is less likely to peek through.

If you work maybe 4 stitches in one direction, then make a u-turn with the yarn and head back parallel to the first diagonal, that u-turn will work like a knot. If you want a second u-turn for slippery yarn, you can do so.

The biggest thing about working in ends is to be sure you stretch the fabric a bit while you work to be sure your sewing is not going to be tight and pucker the front of the fabric. You want the fabric to always act like stretchy knitted fabric, even with those ends on the back.

Do not Let Knitting Scare You

Changing yarns need not be a big deal. However, if you want to just focus on one yarn while you learn the structure of top-down socks, Chippy Socks can be a good pattern choice.

If you ask me, this (Dutch) heel turn is a little easier to do than the one used in most top-down socks with a heel flap. I like it a lot, both for looks and ease.

I also like the four-part toe for new socknitters, it is easier to understand when you are learning. And it’s lovely to look at, not a compromise at all.

Whatever you do, dive in and have some fun with it! Make the learning process be a bit of fun and that will be worthwhile.

What About Two Colors in the Same Row?

If you want to do stranded colorwork (as in the cuffs shown here) rather than just stripes, that is a different technique. When you knit with two colors in the same row, you need to make your stitches more loose than you think is normal.

Note: There are maybe more ways to hold the yarn during this sort of knitting, than there are knitters. If you know how to hold one yarn in each hand, you may want to try it. If you only hold yarn in the right hand, just drop the yarn after each color stretch and pick up the other one.

If you only know how to hold yarn in the left hand, try both there but make sure that your yarns feed through different fingers or the yarns will tangle. I put one yarn over my first finger and one yarn over both first and second finger.

The less you worry about how to hold the yarn the better. Less worry, more fun, right? Nothing feels normal the first day!

Think Loose, Loose!

With two colors on a row, the yarn you are not using stretches taut behind the stitches you knit. That horizontal piece of yarn is called a strand, and it can not stretch as well as a knitted stitch. Many people need to go up 2-3 sizes of knitting needle to make up for this lack of stretch, and they still may need to remember to knit loosely.

Choosing a stitch pattern that has no more than 2 stitches in a row with one color, will help you achieve a stretchy fabric. In the Chippy Socks pattern, that would include leg Charts 1, 2, 4, 5 and 7.

I stop every dozen stitches or so and stretch the just-made stitches on the needle. That way, I can see if I made it stretchy enough to go over the heel of my foot.

The Reason We Knit: Fun!

Knitting is about enjoyment. We all know we can purchase socks for less. Making socks is a creative pleasure. The colors and the yarn should be a joy. So dive in, and have a wonderful time with every stitch!