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Harmless Drudge
abusing of God's patience and the King's English

I'm not a big scarf knitter. It's not that I don't relish the easy knit (I do, I do) or that I think scarves are beneath my dignity (I don't, I don't), it's that I never think to knit them until it's Deep Winter--at which point, I am already knitting two sweaters and endless socks, and those always take priority.

These, however, were lifesavers during a year fraught with peril. Without further ado:


Remember about a million years ago when I showed you a picture of the silk top I was going to spin up? Look at the top of the photo, behind the shiny coffee mug from Iceland:

That shapeless pink blob was a sweater I unceremoniously "won" at a local spinning guild's annual auction (read: no one wanted the sweater and the guild president said, "Well, why don't you just take it"). It was not my cuppa. The cardigan was terribly constructed--it reached to my knees, yet the sleeves were so skinny that even twiggy A. had trouble getting it on. (In fact, I suspect I won it because they were afraid it would fall apart if they had to get it off of me). The yarn was crunchy and pilled and the color of diseased mucous membrane. You see it in the photo above just moments before I picked it up and carried it to the trash can.


I looked at the yarn again and considered its crunchiness and tendency to pill. I looked and looked and got the sweater shaver out and depilled a few inches, and there it was: 100% handspun silk gleaming up at me underneath some knitting gone seriously wrong. I spent a full weekend depilling the knitted fabric and ripping it out. At the end of it, I had a sweater's worth of silk.

Heinously colored and badly handspun silk that I would never, ever knit with. Crap.

Nothing a little powdered flavored drink mix and a gallon or two of vinegar couldn't fix. The result was 300 yards of a nice dark rose, 300 yards of a lilac color, and 360 yards of reddish-pink with some blue shot through where the purple dye broke. I gave away the rose and lilac silk, since neither was really my color, but A. loved the reddy-blue stuff. My Wool-Averse Wonder wanted a scarf. I chose the waterfall lace pattern from the Harmony Knitting guide I had shoved into a closet. Knit up, it looks less like mucous membrane. Right? Right?


As you probably remember, I went in for foot surgery in December to have my rogue navicular bone dealt with. And I knew that recovery would be long and boring--bedridden and our TV doesn't get any channels. Scarf knitting was the answer.

So, remember that silk top in the picture above? That I spun up to this?

Oh, it was so pretty. My very own handspun silk single. Which was too unevenly spun to be able to knit up on its own and which was also going to pill like nobody bidniz. I paired it with some Jaeger Matchmaker DK Merino, put it in my recovery bag, and headed off to the surgical center for some fun.

I don't remember much about the first day of recovery because the nice nurse in surgery gave me "a moderately strong painkiller" that made me feel as if a cartoon anvil had just fallen on my head. I do, however, have a vivid recollection of being home with my foot--now the size of a soccer ball--propped up on about five pillows, the circular needle in one hand and the Matchmaker in the other. I cast on until it looked good. Knit it back and forth, garter stitch, two rows of Matchmaker color 1, three rows of the handspun, two rows of Matchmaker color 2, three rows of the handspun, etc.

I have to say, I realized during this time that I could, in fact, knit in my sleep (or a convincing simulacrum thereof). I dozed off during Day Two right after I had my painkillers in the middle of a pink row; I woke up about an hour later in the middle of a blue row. This was no cause for celebration, despite what all you knitters-under-deadline are thinking. No. It totally wigged me out. You see, when I sleep, I sleep, and there is no waking me. If I was doing something in my sleep--even something as beneficial and therapeutic as knitting--who knows when I'd take to driving to work while sleeping, or slicing onions while sleeping?

The scarf only provided amusement for three days, and by the time I cast off, I was also off the painkillers and so fully able to comprehend why the dang thing came out so skinny in spite of having somewhere close to 600 yards of yarn to work with.

Because it's 17 feet long.


This was the scarf that started it all, the scarf I made before I fell arse over teakettle, broke my foot, and permanently busted the "smart knitter" part of my brain.

As a sock knitter, I had knit more short-row heels than you could shake a full load of MDSW socks at, and each time I did, I marveled at the construction. Simply by turning the work before you finished a row, and turning with more stitches left each time would give you a 3D structure. I love short rows.

But, I thought in a flash, would you have a 3D structure if you short-rowed in the other direction a complimentary number of stitches? Could you, in fact, make a flat piece of knitting that uses short rows? I knew of a sweater in a book that used this technique, and I thought it was intriguing.

The family was heading back from a visit to NJ and I had exactly two balls of Noro Silk Garden with me. J. was driving and we took a scenic detour up I-87 through the Adirondacks to avoid nasty traffic. The colors of the Silk Garden matched the fall foliage of the mountains perfectly, and the way the color changes worked up with the design of the scarf made me think of rolling hills in October.

Is it flat? Well...sort of. As you knit it, it does tend to bump all about, and I found that mine curled a bit without a stabilizing edging knit along the sides--but with the edging and a quick steam block, yes, it lies flat.

For your early fix of fall, click here.

click here.Collapse )

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Friends, Knitters, Country-persons--lend me your Bloglines.

In our society and knitting circles, we encourage and thrive on great variety--yet even in our enlightened age, injustice will still occur. There are those among us who revile the short-row heel, those who prefer the fit of the flap and gusset. These traditional souls have suffered a slight, yet have borne it with fortitude and phlegmatic patience. In the face of a DK sock article with no flap and gusset instructions therein, they have remained quietly resolute in their heel preference.

To these courageous few, I say: today, justice has been done.

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Sweet Lord, yes, it's more knitting content. We'll get back to AL or Finland one of these days. -Ed.

Now that the weather is mellowing into the smoky sweetness of a New England autumn, replete with maple leaves, apples, and the upcoming Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY, socks are back on the needles and everyone is asking, "Why the hell did I ever agree to try this stupid DK thing out?"

Fear not: there are bunches of places to go for help and moral support. Two good places to commiserate with other insane knitters and get tips regarding what constitutes good chocolate and a source for Young's Double Chocolate Stout are the DKlist at Yahoo groups and the KnittyBoard. There are some amazing knitters hiding behind all that text-chatty goodness, and where else are you going to find the proverbial safe and open space on the internet where you can vent and make death threats against me find Zen-like calm, good humor, and guidance?

In the spirit of it never hurting to try, I'd like to highlight one knitblogger in particular who didn't just try the practice sock, but dove right in using the RPM pattern from the Summer '06 Knitty. My dear knitters, here is a woman who stood tall in the face of adversity, grabbed her pointy sticks, and drove the Devil out of town with her insane knitting skillz. Also, she is from the heart of Texas, and I have a soft spot for my Western kin.

On to a few questions that have come up in a variety of places (sorry I'm not giving mad props where due--when I have more of my wits about me, I'll dig up and post your names and links).

Someone notes that they are DKing using the combined method (holding one yarn in their right hand and "throwing," holding the other yarn in their left hand and "picking") and that their Continental picky knitting is looser than their thrown stitches. In other words, the stitches they are making with their non-dominant hand in the non-dominant way are looser.

This is one of the pitfalls of using the combined method, but practice will help you tighten up the gauge. Sure, easy for me to say, huh? If you don't like the combined method, then do what works best for you--throw both strands, for instance, or use one of those color-stranding thimbles. I use the combined method because it is easier for me to keep one yarn on the top of the other when they are in separate hands. As we all know, I'm sort of a klutz and need all the help I can get.

The proof, as they say, is in the Susan Bates vintage metal knitting gauge. On my test swatch, I manage to get 5 stitches to the shiny, enameled inch. I don't say this to stick it to you, but as proof you can do it.

Of course, this is how I have to hold the yarn in my non-dominant hand to get gauge:

But hey, whatever works, right? And my Continental knitting is good enough that the stitches on my back swatch are gorgeous. Look:

So nice and even. So beautiful. Especially in contrast with...

... the Stitches of Shame.

Oh well. You win some, you totally screw some.

And speaking of totally screwing some, let's get to the DK'd lace. Are you ready to rumble?

Holey Insanity
Lace, as we know, is knitting with intentional holes in it. (I have created much unintentional lace in my day by dropping stitches, but I find if you put on airs and tell people it's "organic lace," they just look impressed instead of sneering. But I digress.) These holes are made with combinations of some sort of decrease (usually something along the lines of the k2tog) and some sort of increase (usually a yarn over, or YO). Once you master these in your single-knit objects, you can master it in DKing, too. Really! Would I lie?

The K2Togs
I cover k2togs at the end of the article, if you want wittier and more sparkling prose, but if you want the short version, here it is.

You'll knit in pattern until you need to start the k2togs. Your stitches will lie on the needle ABAB, or 1,2,3,4 (if you like that sort of thing):

I give you complicated instructions in the article on how to do a k2tog without really dropping any stitches, but when you're contemplating doing this a lot, I suggest the easy method, which involves dropping those four stitches (that is, that pair of k2tog stitches) and reordering them as AABB, or 1,3,2,4:

From there, you'll work your k2tog as you normally would, bringing the A yarn to the back, knitting the stitches together, and then moving the yarn back to the front where it belongs:

Easy-cheesy, right?

Now for the YO

Do not fret. The very idea of a YO when we have to deal with all those strands and--the mantra! How in the name of all that is sacred does this fit into the mantra?

Mantra still works. To create the YO, you will take the A yarn from the front up over the right-hand needle and loop it around the needle away from you. Bring the yarn back under the needle towards you; when you are done, the A strand will be in the front, just where it is supposed to be.

Now, knit the B strands together like always,

...and then, bringing the B yarn forward, loop the yarn over the needle in the same direction, away from you. Don't bring the strand back towards you, but let it hang out there in the back.

This is the basic k2tog/YO combination that makes up a good chunk of the lace patterns out there.

Remember that your stitches are still out of order when you turn the work

You don't need to reorder them unless you want to. If you, do, however, I would work the stitches first and then slide them back onto the left hand needle, reorder, then back on the right hand needle. Doing a reorder before you work the stitches may result in some wacked-out looking YOs.

Does this work? I mean, this isn't just a parlor trick, right?

It works. I mean, it works!

Now, the big question: is it worth it? That's for you to decide. I wouldn't want to do something that involves k3togs or k4togs or Grumperina's googly-mooglies, which may be, what, k5togs? I don't even know. I think that rearranging that many stitches may drive you to drink or homicide, and I have a feeling it will mess with the almighty gauge. Additionally, I do not want to be a material witness at a murder trial.

Still, this whole technique is about knitting on the edge (apologies to Nicky Epstein), so why not give those monster ktogs a try?

On a swatch. Please. For my sanity and yours. On a swatch.

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Ed. -- Sorry, Finland lovers and the Drudge's family members, it's more knitting content. Sorry, knitters, it's more craptacularly dark photos.

I have to say, I was bowled over at the response to the Knitty article on knitting two socks at once using double-knitting. I am encouraged--heartened--to know there are so many absolutely insane knitters out there. I am honored to number myself among you.

On to the good stuff: your questions.

ErickaJo wants to try, but notes that she's a looper, "[s]o I'll probably have to try your method on the loop, unless you think it's a wash."

It can be done on the Magic Loop. For the record, I have nothing against Magic Loopers, just ones who make me feel like an idiot because I have to use four sticks to make a pair of socks. Also, um, I can't do the Magic Loop to save my soul. Look--I tried to Magic Loop a pair for you:

I personally think it's easier to cast all your Magic Loopy stitches onto a straight needle using the "swivel" method I outline in the article, and then transfer them to your circ. I don't know how you'd manage to swivel that monster circular needle around without hurting someone. Once you've transferred the cast-on stitches to your circ, you can proceed by following the instructions I give in the article.

Priyanka writes, "It seems like you're leaning towards having two separate yarn skeins/balls to work from. Do you think working from either end of a skein would be a bad idea?"

Only if life doesn't present enough challenges for you as it is. I would highly recommend two skeins, if for no other reason than it gets to be a nasty, tangly mess if you work from the same skein. This is A PainTM if you have a great sock yarn and one skein makes one pair of socks--really, who wants to deal with splitting a skein?--but I think it's an even bigger pain to have to stop every two rounds and untangle the ball.

Look closely at the DK'd sock doubling as a Double Chocolate Stout cozy. See all those kinky messy strands? That's because I knit those from one ball. I didn't get much further on them. The yarn drove me to drink the Double Chocolate Stout. I cut one end and spit-spliced it to a second ball. Cf. "cheating," throughout article.

Amanda writes, "One question: I have done DK before when making fingers for gloves, but it entailed slipping every other (i.e. "back") stitch and coming back to it on the second round (slipping every "front" stitch). Would that work in this case? I don't think it'd be easier (it would mean you'd have to go around your sock twice to complete one row), but is it possible?"

Sure. That's a good way to work the technique if the whole "double-stranded knitting" thing threatens to send you into an apoplectic fit. You'll need to still use the mantra: A in front, B in back. In other words, you would bring A to the back, then knit, then move it to the front, just as in the article. Then, and only then, can you slip the B stitch. Then move A to the back again, knit, move back to the front, slip B stitch. When you get to the B stitch, leave A at the front the entire time.

This probably takes about the same amount of time as doing the socks the way I outlined--you're still knitting the same number of stitches. For my own part, I figure if I'm going to have to move that B stitch onto the "done" needle, then I might as well suck it up and knit it. But we already know I like to make life harder for myself than I really need to.

Linda writes, "You aren’t a houseparent at Taft are you?"

You mean, The Taft School. The Taft likes that definite article. They'll get all in a swivet if you forget about it.

Actually, I live (but don't teach, lucky for teenagers everywhere) at another private boarding school. Won't say. Then I can't blog about it in good conscience.

The cryptically named mlj1954 writes, "Does wine work as well as chocolate?"

Absolutely. May I recommend Sebastiani Vineyard's 2003 or 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon? A thick, luscious wine with chewy tannins, well-rounded blackberry and cherry notes on finish, and a delightful oaky nose, Sebastiani's Cab Sav readily compliments yelling, swearing, and indignation at ever thinking this was a good idea in the first place.

Kimberly writes, "Can't you always get in and out of double knitting, just by either separating the stitches as you knit, or by putting all of the stitches on one needle, or am I missing something?"

No, you're not missing anything. Let's look at a few scenarios to illustrate:

Scenario A: You've been working on this stinking sweater since God was a boy and are finally on the sleeves. The prospect of knitting two of these is going to drive you to drink and your local beer/wine store doesn't carry Double Chocolate Stout or Sebastiani, so that's clearly not a viable option. You cast-on to DK the sleeves and are so pleased that you'll be done sooner that you are merrily knitting along--until you get to the sleeve cap shaping. Now this double-knit thing is looking like the 3rd concentric circle of Dante's Inferno. Gathering your wits about you, you get two straight needles and transfer the stitches to them, making sure all the A stitches are on one needle and all the B stitches on the other. You continue knitting them separately. Pitfall: Let's hope you didn't accidentally cross strands somewhere around row 10, in which case, see "Double Chocolate Stout," "Sebastiani," above.

Scenario B: You're doing toe-up socks and don't want to bother with all that fancy DKing while you are making the toes or the heels. You knit each sock separately (from separate balls of yarn, mind) until you are done with the heel. Then you slip one sock inside the other, grab another set of DPNs or another circ, and begin transferring the stitches from each set of needles to the new DKing needle, alternating between A and B. You DK the leg. Pitfall: If your socks aren't exactly the same, no biggie, but if they are really not the same--like, you have four extra stitches on one sock than on the other--that may be a problem.

A few of you ask, "Can I do this with lace/cables?"

Yes. And no. And yes. Watch for upcoming installments, where I will delve into the mysteries of DK'd lace socks and DK'd cables.

A whole bunch of you ask, "Can you do this on toe-up socks?"

You betcha. Just about an kind of toe will work using this technique--but not the Figure Eight Toe (scroll down a bit).

I'll give directions for the short-row toe and a standard French toe. Because I'm crazy, that's why.

Both the French toe and the short-row toe work the same way. To work the short-row toe, you'll need to use a provisional cast-on that has twice as many stitches as the finished width. In this case, I'm casting on 16 stitches for a toe that is 8 stitches wide. I have very small feet.

Holding A in front and B in back, go ahead and knit into the provisional cast on.

You'll know if you've done it correctly because you will only see the back of the B loops when you look at the back of your knitting.

Now work the short-row heel in the article. To get that provisional cast-on off, skip down.

For the French toe, you'll ignore the short-row heel instructions and instead turn your work and work three rows. Remember to keep A and B on separate sides of the fabric.

When you're done with this, you are going to pick up the stitches from the provisional cast on and work the toe in the round as you would a normal French toe (only you're DKing). To make one stitch, simply knit into the front and back loop of the same stitch--no needle acrobatics.

Okay, so how do we pick up the stitches? Oh, not the normal way. No, no. Just try to unzip that crocheted provisional cast on. Do you know what it will look like? This:

Never mind.

Here's what you do: turn to the back of the fabric and look at the row of B loops. If you spread the fabric apart, you'll also see little bits of A loops peeking through the provisional cast-on as well:

Taking a needle at least one size smaller than the one you're working on, pick up the back B loop first, then dig around and snag the A loop. Keep alternating until you've picked up all the loops (you may need to hunt for those last two loops--they like to stay hidden):

Once they are all on the smaller needle, snip your provisional cast on and pull it out. Really. Don't try to unzip it, as easy as it looks.

Transfer your stitches back onto the regular needle. For you French toe folks, you can tell you've done this correctly by looking at your fabric: the back should be all the B color (except for the top and bottom needles, holding both loops) and all purl stitches; the front should be A and all knit.

Go have some chocolate.

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For those of you who are here because of the Knitty article I wrote, you can see for-reals knitting content by clicking on the "Ravels" link above.

And if you have questions or comments about the article, let me know! Feedback is helpful.

Some knitting content soon. Sorry, those of you left hanging in Helsinki....

EDITED TO ADD: You can now also click on the "double-knit" link above! Technology!

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