Math4Knitters Crafty Living, Show 7
In this show, I'm going to talk about charting your own colorwork and creating free-form shapes using knitter's graph paper. I also reveal that I am way behind on my knitting and haven't even started the knitting for my free-form shape project.
I found this great site that has any-gauge graph paper and also paper for your specific row/stitch gauge ratio. I'm using the generic chart, though, because I don't really care how large or small my pieces turn out.
Row gauge is notoriously slippery and tricky to nail down. Be sure to double- and triple-check your work and be prepared to frog if you're relying on it heavily.
Charting Your Own Colorwork
If you restrict your colorwork to just two colors per row (and maybe some small extra color in the form of duplicate stitch or swiss darning), your life will be much simpler. There are still some points to remember.
Two-color work is not as stretchy as "regular" work. Swatch your heart out or be prepared for the consequences.
I find 2-color work to be easiest when I work with one color in each hand - and being careful not to switch hands. I am a confirmed "throwing" knitter, but for this kind of work, I manage to "pick" off my left finger for the leading color (more on that later). As an alternative, you could use pipe cleaners, instead, to hold both colors on one finger, but it is much harder than using the two-hand trick of not twisting the yarns, in my opinion.
You also want to make sure that your floats, which are the strands behind your stranded colorwork pattern, aren't too long, too tight, or too loose. A 5-stitch span is considered the traditional limit on floats. That means that, after you have made your chart, you should check that you don't have more than two colors on each row or more than 5 stitches of each color in a row.
One way to get around the 5-stitch limit is to weave in your floats as you work. The best description I have ever seen for this technique is in the Readers Digest "Complete Guide to Needlework." It was out of print for a while, but it's back now, and it's worth the investment.
If your floats are too loose, it isn't really a big deal, but it can be kind of annoying if you catch your finger whenever you put it into your mitten, for example. If your floats are too tight, your work will pucker, look awful, and have no drape at all.
This is sometimes called "carrying one color ahead" and is described very well in "Favorite Mittens: best traditional mitten patterns from fox & geese & fences..." by Robin Hansen. This is a wonderful book everyone should own, even if you're not all that into mittens, because it describes wonderful techniques terribly well, and also includes great little diagrams and drawings. Hansen also talks about some of these techniques in "Knit Mittens!: 15 Cool Patterns to Keep You Warm."
If you do work holding one color in each hand, the color on the left is carried ahead (naturally) and will stand out more than the other color. This will be most obvious to you if, like me, you forget to pay attention to this while at knitting group, and knit a two-color one-and-one sweater where it is all the same except for 4 inches worth of one round on the back. Sigh. I decided it was on the back, and not as long as my hand, so it didn't matter. I use these little tricks to get away with not frogging, sometimes. I think it would be fun to exploit this kind of change, intentionally, with one half of a pair of mittens knit with one color leading, and the other knit with the other color leading.
"Free-form" Knit Shapes - Please see Mea Culpa below, before you try this.
I know, I know. I seem really, really into Valentine's Day and hearts. However, I'm looking at hearts as a good chance to play with different slopes of decreases and increases. Nothing else seemed like it would quite do. Also, it's a good jumping-off point for a playing-card-themed coaster set. Heart, diamond, club, and spade. There. Now you can go from Valentine's Day to game night with one project.
First, draw the shape you want on your knitter's graph paper.
Use one color of highlighter to mark increases, another color to mark decreases. If you are bad at drawing, like me, only do this on half of our chart, then copy the chart in a mirror-image for the other half (everything I draw is lopsided). Cast on and follow your chart. You can mark off rows as you go with a pencil or use a row-counter to keep track of where you are. If you are making more than one object, draw the hardest-to-draw first, and then mark off how big it is in your other charts so that you can get them to approximately the same size. Remember that stockinette stitch curls, so you might want to have one border stitch to slip on the outside (when you slip that first stitch, it makes a nice, smooth edge, instead of a ridge sticking out), and three or four to keep in garter-stitch. For the upper edges of my shapes, I'm stopping just short of where they should stop and then switching to garter stitch for two ridges (four rows), while continuing whatever shaping is needed, and then casting off.
This could be more sophisticated. You could move your increases and decreases to the center of the shape. You could use short-rows to puff the tops of round things up a little more. You could work the shapes from the center. You could work in another stitch, like seed stitch, obviating the need for a garter-stitch border (Elizabeth Zimmerman taught me that word). Really, your imagination can run wild. It might take a little experimentation, but in the end, you will have something unique, fun, and a great way to use up stash yarn, too.
I tried my little theory above for free-form knit shapes, and it didn't work. I'm not going to erase that part, though, because I think we can still learn from it.
1) Never underestimate the desire of stockinette stitch to curl.
2) Never try to force yourself to knit something one way when you know another method would probably work better.
3) What on earth are you doing telling people how to do something you haven't tried, anyway?
So, instead, I bring you a blast from the past, some really large slippers I designed back in 2006. Thank goodness I scanned my notes, because who knows where that notebook is now? In theory, you could make these in any size you like, as long as you know your felted gauge and the length and width (not circumference) of the person's foot. Now, blatantly ignoring lesson 3 above, I'm going to share it with you, even though I haven't tried making them in in any other sizes or, indeed, knit them at all in over three years. I hope you enjoy them anyway.
Sweaterscapes' Graph Paper
Readers Digest Complete Guide to Needlework