knitting 101

Knitting 101: 3 Ways to Block Hats

In preparation for the Hihiko Hat release, I've prepared a quick tutorial video on how to block hats. There are three ways you can block a hat: with a mannequin head, flat, or with a balloon.

If you want to see more of the final results, check out the images below!

Do you use another method to block your hats? What is your favourite? Share your thoughts in the comments below! And if you found this video helpful, please share it with your friends!

5 Beginner Knitter Mistakes

I don't know what is more annoying about starting up a new hobby: the lack of skill to produce something satisfactory or the fact that I have no idea if what I'm doing is correct or completely wrong.

Taking up knitting was no exception. During my first months of knitting I made all kinds of errors that would result in a less than pleasing product. Thankfully the internet was there to correct me. So if you recently discovered the magic and addiction of this wonderful craft, here are some mistakes to watch out for and how to avoid them!

1. Not Doing a Gauge Swatch

If I was going for the oversized sweater, this would have been ok.

If I was going for the oversized sweater, this would have been ok.

Ok, most likely even those just starting out in knitting have heard of doing a gauge swatch or at least have seen the word. And more advanced knitters will probably roll their eyes at this one because they have heard it time and time again. But I'm going to repeat it here: if you are going to attempt a fitted garment or accessory (such as a hat), you have to do a gauge swatch.

If this is your first time hearing this term, here's a quick rundown:

Gauge refers to the number of stitches and rows a knitter or crocheter makes per inch using a certain yarn and needles or hook. Gauge varies from person to person, so it is very important to make sure you are achieving the gauge of your pattern. Your gauge determines the size of your finished piece.
— Lionbrand.com

Take note of that last sentence. Gauge determines the size of your finished piece. 

I once took on the task of knitting a hoodie for my husband. This was my first time knitting a garment piece and I had been knitting for about five months at this point. I had seen the words gauge here and there but never really payed any attention to it. The pattern notes highlighted to make a gauge swatch but I ignored it. I started knitting.

And knitting. And knitting. I knit the large size (for my husband's small-medium frame), because I had found out over the months that I knit tighter than most (meaning I have to go up a needle size in order to achieve recommended gauge in most patterns). And not surprisingly, my sweater was much too big (even bigger than the large size). 

However I didn't learn my lesson. I frogged the entire project and started over knitting up the medium size. Without working a gauge swatch. Again. That sweater remains unfinished to this day.

2. Thinking Yarns in the Same Weight Category are the Same

Pictured: flowers and four different types of fingering weight yarn.

Pictured: flowers and four different types of fingering weight yarn.

Not all yarns are created equally. For example, Cascade Yarns 220 and Lily Sugar'n Cream are both worsted weight yarns. However Cascade 220 is 100% wool and Sugar'n Cream is 100% cotton. You would use these yarns for different projects and for different seasons. And most notably, these yarns knit up differently. If you were working a pattern where the designer used a 100% wool, worsted weight yarn with a 100% cotton yarn, your finished object will look different from the original sample. Textured, cabled and lace stitches will vary in appearance and even the drape and the "hold" of the finished projects will differ.

Look through a popular pattern's project page on Ravelry and you will see a variety of different yarns knitters used for their projects. Take note of the yarns and compare the results. 

If the recommended yarn is out of your price range and you want to find a comparable substitute check out this website, YarnSub first. They have a large database of both major and lesser known yarns that can help you get started.

3. Not Blocking

This is probably because we've heard horror stories about throwing wool sweaters in washers and dryers and discovering that they shrunk and felted. And even more frightening, this process can not be undone. So why throw your hard work into water?

It's the temperature of the water that determines the success or failure of the blocking process. Tepid water will not cause the micro fibers in the yarn to felt. In fact, it will do the opposite in some cases. In animal based fibers, it can loosen up the fibers, even out the stitches and smooth out the sides.

Blocking is highly recommended for projects with any lace in it, as the water opens up the stitches and you can pin the project to really highlight the pattern. 

4. Thinking That Blocking Will Solve Everything

On the flip side, while blocking can take your project to the next level by giving it a professional look (I've had many non-knitters and knitters alike look at my work and declare how "perfect" the finished results were), blocking can not solve everything. Any major mistakes in the pattern many actually stand out and while the gauge can change slightly (especially after aggressive blocking), you can not add or subtract inches to a piece due to a miscalculation in gauge (or failing to do so).

I was once commissioned to knit a formfitting garment. Once again, I didn't measure gauge (this was around the same time I was knitting my husband's sweater). My stitches per inch were correct, but my rows per inch were not. And up until that point, I had been blocking shawls which are blocked differently from garment pieces. Once I finished the piece according to the pattern, I figured I could aggressively block the piece to the final measurements (I did not want to have to frog the piece, as I had done so many times). This aggressive blocking was to add two inches to the body of the pullover but once the yarn dried, I encountered something that I call "snapback". For every two inches you try to aggressively block a piece, once off the needles and having been worn for a while, it will recede back about an inch. 

While I was lucky that the FO fit in the end without too much trouble (my first seaming attempts had to be re-done several times), the amount of stress of trying to get the garment to fit made me reconsider my career as a knitter for a while. Thankfully I learned my lesson and now I always knit a gauge swatch and frog my work if I'm not happy with the result. Blocking might seem like magic, but even it has its limitations. It's up to you, dear knitter, to decide whether the risk is worth it.

5. Not Attempting a Project Because You Think It Is Higher Than Your Skill Level

I think this is a mistake that everyone makes, no matter their knitting level. Don't let you hold yourself back from trying to knit a pattern that may seem to be out of your comfort level. Doing so is a disservice to yourself. The internet is full of resources and tutorials that you can look up. Practice! Ravelry has plenty of forums and references to look to if you are stuck. In some cases, you can even contact the designer directly if you are stuck! So don't not try a pattern because you think it might be out of your range. As Shia LaBeouf says...

Thank you, Mr. LaBeouf.

Knitting 101: How to Write a Pattern (Or How I Write Mine)

With the growth of my brand, I've been getting emails from knitters of all levels, mostly at the beginning stages of designing their own patterns, seeking advice on various topics: social media how-to, pattern writing basics, collaborations, etc. However the most common question I get is "Where do I start for writing a pattern?" so that will be the focus on this post today. I'm going to address this topic assuming you, aspiring knitter, already have a design or sample in hand. If you want to learn how to design a pattern, well... I guess that would be a post for much, much later. 

Please note that through out this tutorial you may seen some things listed here that sometimes I forget to follow or do (especially on measurements). It happens and I'm learning myself! ;-) 

These tips and guidelines are things I have learnt from other knitters during test knits and feedback from knitting publications.

First, let's start with the basic layout of the pattern:

  • About the Pattern
  • Stitch Abbreviations
  • Pattern Stitches or Stitch Guide
  • Pattern Instructions

About the Pattern

First things first, you want the title of the piece, your name and photo(s) of the piece.

Write the pattern romance in this section; inspiration behind the project, features of the design, and other notes that will make knitters want to knit this! I usually include pattern notes - tips that the knitter would find useful, eg. order of construction, here as well. Sometimes the pattern notes can be put right before the Pattern Instructions. 

Needle: List needles in ascending order in both US and mm sizes. Include length of circular needles and “or size needed to obtain gauge”, if gauge is crucial to the project.

Yarns Used: Yarn Company name Yarn name (common yarn weight name; fiber content; yardage/weight per put-up (skein or ball, as appropriate): number of balls/skeins, color and color number (if available). Ravelry is super awesome for already providing this format for you. Just copy and paste!

For example:

Woolfolk TYND (Fingering/4 ply; 100% Merino; 223 yards/50 grams). 3 skeins used, color 3.

Yardage: If pattern has multiple sizes, provide yardage for each size.

Gauge: Measure stitches and rows/rnds over 4 inches/10cm and specify pattern (St st, stitch pattern, color pattern, etc.) and needle size used (e.g. larger/smaller). Include multiple gauges if more than 1 pattern stitch is used in project (optional; include this if the gauge is crucial).  

For example:

Gauge: 20 sts and 28 rows per 4”/10cm in St. st. in larger needle. Save time and check gauge.

Other Notions: Stitch markers, stitch holders, cable needle? Any materials outside of yarn and needles are listed here.

Final Measurements: Include measurements after blocking the piece in inches (and centimeters). For patterns with multiple sizes, include the sizes, final bust measurements (and other measurements you deem necessary) and the amount of ease. Also note which size the sample was knit in.

For example:

  • Sizes: xs[s, m, l, xl, xxl]
  • Final Measurements: Bust 32(36, 40, 44, 48, 52] inches. Model is wearing size S with 4” of positive ease.

Stitch Abbreviations

List all of the stitches you use in the pattern here. You don’t want to write out “knit 1, yarn over, knit two together” in full through out the pattern. You can view a list of standard abbreviations here or in the pattern template download at the end of this article.

Pattern Stitches/Stitch Guide

Special stitches/stiches repeated in the pattern. These should specify Rows or Rnds. Give stitch multiples if necessary. Charts of pattern stitches may also be needed, especially lace. You can add the chart here or at the end. It helps to have all the pattern stitches listed here so you can just simply refer to it in the pattern. 

For example:

Mesh Pattern

  • Row 1 (RS): Sl wyif, p1, k1, [k2tog, yo, k2] x 7, k2tog, yo, pm, p1, pm, [yo, ssk, k2] x 7, yo, ssk, k1, p1, k1. 
  • Row 2 and all WS rows: Sl wyif, k1, p until marker, sm, k1, sm, p until last two sts, k2. 
  • Row 3: Sl wyif, p1, [k2tog, yo, k2] x 7, k2tog, yo, k1, sm, p1, sm, k1, [yo, ssk, k2] x 7, yo, ssk, p1, k1. 
  • Row 5: Sl wyif, p1, k3, [k2tog, yo, k2] x 7, sm, p1, sm, [k2, yo, ssk] x 7, k3, p1, k1. 
  • Row 7: Sl wyif, p1, [k2, k2tog, yo] x 7, k3, sm, p1, sm, k3, [yo, ssk, k2] x 7, p1, k1.

Pattern/Pattern Instructions

Now for the big stuff. I can't pretend to know everything there is to writing a perfect pattern but here are things I try to keep in mind.

  • Always start with the Cast on. If there are multiple colors or needles, note which one to start with. It's a pretty easy one to miss. Don’t forget to note when to switch needle sizes.
  • Be friendly, simple, clear and concise. However, if you feel like a lengthy explanation is needed or you think a knitter will have difficulties with a stitch, make note of it in the pattern notes or include outside links to tutorials.
  • Include stitch counts for every increase and decrease (sometimes I make a table with all of the st. counts at the end of the pattern).
  • Capitalize the first letter of the row/rnd and use periods at the end of every instruction and sentence (look at pattern stitches for an example).
  • Add section headlines to help guide the knitter.
  • Use X[X, X, X] format for stitch counts and inches knit. Sometimes I also add in how many rows such be worked, according to gauge.
  • Bind-off stitches or place on stitch holder.

Finishing

Included here would be weaving in ends, blocking pieces, sewing pieces together, adding borders, fringing, etc.

Graphics

  • Include Charts/Key for any complicated stitch patterns. I use Stitch Mastery for my charts and key.
  • Include Schematics with measurements for sizes.

I believe this may be the section that most people refer to when asking "How do you write a pattern?". I hope this guide has helped but also, don't be afraid to refer to other designers' work to see how they write. Don't copy them word for word of course, but use it to learn and understand how to use knitting jargon. 

I've included a pdf file of the pattern layout that you can download to refer to when you are writing your patterns. It may not be the most comprehensive guide on the internet, but it's a start. If you are planning on selling your patterns and are unsure about clarity and errors, get it test knit! There are always test knitters who are willing to help, such as this forum on Ravelry specifically for that task!

If you have any questions about this article or would like to request another tutorial, leave a comment or shoot me an email at fdanoy@arohaknits.com!

Moving On... The Provisional Cast-On

This video aims to how do the Provisional Cast-On using a crochet hook and scarp yarn directly onto a needle. There are other methods on how to do this technique! This video was made as a reference for the Ono cowl, which uses this cast-on method.  

Moving On... Calculating Decreases on a Hat Crown

This post is a part of my "How to Knit" series that is aimed at teaching beginner knitters the basics of knitting. Click here to view the other posts in this series.

Yup, I used this method for this hat.

Yup, I used this method for this hat.

Watch out, wordy post ahead (and math!).

Someone asked me what method I use or how I calculate decreases when it came time to shape the crown for a hat. She had to adjust the pattern for size and found that the decrease section in the original pattern wouldn't work for the decreases she needed to do in hers. While there are many ways to shape the crown of a hat (all providing different effects for the shape of the crown), there is a quick and easy way to calculate how many decreases you need to do each row evenly and keep that same rhythm in each row following it.

Get a piece of paper out and draw up two columns. Label column one "# of Stitches" and column two "Decreases". Let's say you have 60 stitches in your hat. Write that at the top... then write all the numbers that 60 can be divided by. 60 can be divided by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30. Pick any of those numbers... I'm going to choose 10 and write that under the "# of Stitches" column. 10 goes into 60 six times; so I'll write six in the "Decreases" column. So in my first decrease row, there will be six sections of ten stitches. In order to get those six decreases evenly across my row, I will need to do a k2tog in each section of 10 stitches. Subtract two from 10. 10 - 2 = 8. I end up with, k8, k2tog (started with 10 stitches, decreased 1 stitch down to 9 stitches). Working *k8, k2tog* the first row will decrease your hat 6 stitches. 60 - 6 = 54.

What next? It's very easy. Once you have your first row figured out, you just work down the line of numbers. So after the *k8, k2tog* row, the next decrease row would be *k7, k2tog* (9 stitches in each section, this still works because 9 goes into 54 six times!), then *k6, k2tog* (8 stitches), etc., all the way down to *k2tog*. You can insert a row of k sts in between each decrease row to add a bit of length to the crown (I usually stop those types of rows when I get down to smaller numbers such as *k3, k2tog*).

Let's try a different number. I want to finish my hat quickly, so I want lots of decreases. I'm going to pick the number 5. 5 goes into 60 12 times. 12 decreases. So I begin with *k3, k2tog*. Then maybe a k row, then *k2, k2tog*, *k1, k2tog* then *k2tog*. Voila!

As you can see, this method works best for simple hats suck as stockinette hats. If there is a pattern that is worked all through out the hat, including the crowning, you will have to play with numbers for a bit in order to get what you want. While lots of math is involved, it is rather simple math and taking the time to calculate and put your brain cells to work will pay off!

Knitting 101: Yarn Types and Weights

This post is a part of my "How to Knit" series that is aimed at teaching beginner knitters the basics of knitting. Click here to view the other posts in this series.

In this post I will provide a brief overview of the different yarn types and weights. Let's start with the most common yarn fibers.

Yarn Fibers

Wool: The most common type of yarn fiber out on the market. Very warm and durable, however it can be slightly itchy and is not the right yarn to use if the wearer has allergies to wool. It holds its shape well after blocking.

Merino Wool: Possibly my favourite yarn to use. Taken from the merino sheep, this yarn is super soft and doesn't cause allergic reactions as regular wool does. Blocks very nicely but can "pill" (create little fuzz balls). If you get the chance to work with merino wool, do it.

Alpaca: Taken from alpacas, this yarn is warmer than wool, so this type of yarn is best for small winter projects. Doesn't block as well as wool does but it is rather soft.

Cashmere: The softest and fluffiest yarn of them all, but is also rather expensive and not that strong.

Cotton: Not my favourite yarn to work with. While this is a strong yarn, it does not block well at all (it is a rather rigid yarn) and will highlight the irregularities in the stitches. However, it is light and breathable, so once you've gotten the hang of knitting, you can attempt to make summer garments.

Acrylic: Man-made fibers but is cheap and the best choice for beginner knitters. If you are planning on knitting something you know you have to wash regularly, this is the yarn to go for. However, once you've gotten a better hand on knitting, its best to move onto the natural fibers.

Silk: Expensive, but strong, shiny and lustrous. Its not the warmest yarn so it is best for summer projects. It is also slippery to work with, so hold off for a while before tackling a project using silk yarn.

There are many more yarn fibers that you can find at your Local Yarn Store (LYS). Additionally, there are balls of yarn that blend two or more fibers together. In general, these blends with give you the best of each fiber type, without their weaknesses. For example, one of my favourite blends is merino wool x silk, making for ridiculously soft and warm shawls.

It is important to note that using different yarn fibers with wield different results in your knitting project. If a pattern specifies what yarn to use, using the exact yarn or something similar in fiber content is best.

Yarn Weights

Yarns of different weights next to each other for comparison

Yarns of different weights next to each other for comparison

Yarn weights refer to the yarn thickness. Knitting projects will call for a certain yarn thickness that you must use if you want your project to be the same dimensions and have a similar look to the final result. Check the yarn label for the weight, gauge and recommended needle size. Again, if you are buying yarn for a pre-made pattern, it is best to follow the directions. 

Lace: (One of the) thinnest yarn you can get. This is used for light and airy shawls with lace patterns.

Fingering: Also commonly used for shawls, this weight is slightly thicker than lace. If you want your stitches to be fine, this is the weight to go for. 

Sport (and DK): Twice as thick as fingering yarn, this is the most common yarn used for knitting socks!

Worsted (and Aran): The most common yarn weight for beginners to start with and possibly the best yarn to use for almost any project. Aran is slightly heavier than worsted, but both can be used in a variety of different projects.

Bulky (and Chunky): If you want to make something quickly, this is the yarn for you. The end result is bulky and chunky but makes for a warm cowl or scarf! Not for intricate patterns though, the yarn is too thick for that.

Standard yarn labeling chart from YarnStandards.com

Standard yarn labeling chart from YarnStandards.com

This type of information will be available to you on yarn labels (though most don't include the Symbol and Weight name). The most important areas to look at are: recommended needle size, gauge (the amount of stitches fit in 4 inches) and weight. Some yarn labels will only include the first two, because with both that information combined, you will be able to figure out what weight of yarn you are holding.