Ask the Problem Ladies, Fall 2010
By Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne
Another batch of good questions and good solutions from the Problem Ladies!
The Value of Humans, Explained
When a project requires casting on more than a hundred stitches, it saves time and irritation if you place a marker on the needle every 50 stitches or every 100 stitches, so that you can count in chunks. This will also make it much easier to locate a dropped stitch. If you are supposed to have 400 stitches but you only have 399, and no markers, it will take a lot more looking to find the dropped stitch than if you count each of your sections of 50 and notice that one of them only has 49. (Hint: the dropped stitch is in that section.)
If you’re knitting in a color or stitch pattern that has distinctive repeats, once the repeated pattern becomes visible, counting is no longer necessary. You’ll know right away if a stitch is missing or extra, because the repeat won’t do right anymore. So never fudge a repeat that has an extra stitch by knitting two together, or making a stitch if you’re short one. Carefully examine the stitches you’ve worked in this row, and if necessary the previous row, and figure out How the @$*# Did This Happen. You will find it! And when you find it, we guarantee that it will be something boneheaded, like a spontaneous yarnover, or a stitch that got stuck to another stitch.
Andrea, Andrea, Andrea. Your innocent question is going to destroy the reputation of the Problem Ladies. We may never knit in this town again. We will be dragged bodily to the outskirts of Knitopia, with nothing but a bag of furry synthetics and a crochet hook, and left to die of heartbreak and exposure.
Our crime: we do not like most provisional cast-on methods. The classic crochet cast-on is touted as the simplest method. You chain a bunch of crochet stitches in waste yarn, and then pick up stitches in the back “bumps” of the crochet stitches in the real yarn. This works great when you only need to cast on a few stitches. But when you need to provisionally cast on a very large number of stitches (for example for a shawl that is going to be edged, later, with applied i-cord) that long chain of crochet stitches quickly becomes wormy and unpleasant. Worse, if don’t do it correctly, it’s impossible to “unzip” the crochet cast-on, and after all that futzing, you end up with a provisional cast-on that is not provisional.
Here’s what Kay does. (Kay is outing herself as the offender here, to shield Ann from a mob of wrathful knitters bearing torches.) Are you ready to hear what Kay does? Can you HANDLE hearing what Kay does?
Kay does this v.e.r.y. c.a.r.e.f.u.l.l.y. She cuts only the stitches that are in the waste yarn, and she praises heaven if the waste yarn is super-contrasty to the real yarn. It is impossible to overstate how careful Kay is when she is doing this. Kay does this with the realization that if she accidentally snips the real yarn, she is going to have an almighty mess on her hands, and that there’s not a knitter in the universe who will feel sorry for her, because it’s her own damn fault.
Kay recommends that you do as she says, and not as she does. Learn a provisional cast-on method that you can live with. Cast on provisionally when instructed to do so, and keep the embroidery scissors far away from your knitting.
Yarn is only stuff. Most novelty yarn is bad stuff. It will feel very cleansing to rid yourself of the bad mojo of novelty yarn, or any yarn that you no longer feel good about owning. Novelty yarn is a very extreme example of stuff we don’t need that is holding us back from realizing our true potential. The Problem Ladies have had good success offloading novelty yarn on school art teachers. It is fun to go to the Middle School Art Show and see your nasty old Spangle-Ishus Bulky turned into Conceptual Art.
The Problem Ladies are charmingly old-fashioned on the subject of gifts. In our view, the only way to avoid the appearance of dumping a cast-off to a friend is to gift it immediately upon receipt of the admiring comment. A person gives you a sincere compliment on your scarf. You say, “You like this? Really? Thank you!” Then take it off your neck and put it on the neck of your delighted pal. Alternatively, if you have a scarf in your collection that you know a close friend loves, tell her you’re ready to let it go and ask if she’d like it. But the instant, impulsive gift is a lovely gesture of generosity. And you know you’re going to keep knitting scarves!
Overcoming Fear of Sockweight
The physical laws of knitting are mysterious and not necessarily consistent. A knitter who has trouble getting gauge with prescribed needles in a heavier yarn may have no trouble hitting it the first time with sock yarn and small needles. You’ll never know until you try. Who knows, you may have naturally correct gauge in lighter weight yarn!
The Problem Ladies tend to ignore statements like “dry clean only” on yarn labels. Most natural fibers and blends of natural fibers with each other, or with synthetics, can be washed safely. Washing is better for the environment, the fiber, and your pocketbook than dry cleaning, and the precious garment does not leave your custody and control. We suspect that most “dry clean only” labels are there to protect the yarn maker from complaints from people who have been careless in their washing methods.
The Problem Ladies’ recipe for washing handknits is consistent across all fibers and fiber combinations: tepid water plus gentle cleanser. Products intended for washing handknits, like Soak and Eucalan, are excellent, but if you don’t have them on hand, a tiny amount of a good shampoo (half or less of what you’d use to wash your hair) works fine. (Do avoid detergents of any kind.) Put a squirt of the chosen cleanser into a clean sink, fill generously with tepid water (not hot, not even warm, but not ice-cold), and put the handknit in for a soak. Do not agitate or swish the handknit very much, especially if it is a feltable fiber like untreated wool or mohair. Just let it soak until it seems clean—this can take minutes or longer. Rinsing is not necessary unless the washing water is very sudsy. If you rinse, take the same care not to manhandle the garment. Gently squeeze out most of the water; take your time. Then roll up the item in a clean, dry towel and stand on it in your bare feet. This does wonders removing the remaining water, and leaving you with a barely damp handknit. Dry the handknit flat, out of direct sunlight. (If it’s a lace shawl, it’s going to need to be blocked all over again. Sorry.)
There are a few yarns—denim cotton and superwash sock yarns come to mind—that can tolerate, or even thrive on, rougher treatment. Some yarn makers have lines, often targeted for kids’ knits, that they advertise as being machine washable and dryable. But most handknits will last longer and look better if you give them the spa-like pampering. It might not seem fair, but your handknits should live better than you do.
Knit Strong! Keep those cards and letters coming in to