Friday, February 9, 2018

Garter Tabs: Demystifying tricky stitchery

A few weeks ago I got started on a new shawl pattern. The shawl is part of a larger mixed-media healing art exploration of the psychological 'shadow', a concept introduced by Carl Jung. Throughout this work, I will be using darker color palettes and heavier weights of yarn, as to symbolize the gravid nature of the shadow (more on this later). 

This particular pattern comprises a garter tab cast on. I mentioned this cast on in a previous post and have been developing a more thorough understanding ever since. At first, the garter tab looks to be another example of tricky knitting magic, a technique I would group in with Judy's Magic Cast-On and the Magic Loop, but I have come to understand that this cast-on method is fairly simple. Further, the garter tab is a high-utility start for a triangular shawl, for it creates a seamless line across the top edge of the shawl, instead of allowing for a gap or dip in the knitting (see images here).

In the past, I have had a tendency to fixate on difficult or complicated parts of knitting patterns. Like crossword, jigsaw, and number puzzles, knitting patterns comprise a variable amount of predictability that becomes clear over time. The more one knits, the more salient the patterns-within-patterns become. In order to realize some of this predictability, I established a process of tinking - or unknitting - stitches and rows of patterns that puzzled me. 

My experience with the garter tab cast-on functions as another example of how this make-unmake-remake process functions in my greater understanding of knitting. I carried my yarn to coffee meetings and across state lines, knitting and unknitting the garter tab cast-on, with intentions to demystify how it works.

The garter tab cast-on creates a square or rectangular piece of garter stitches - a 'tab' - through the rotation of stitches on the knitting needles. To begin, cast three stitches onto the needles. This is the provisional cast-on. Then rotate the stitches 90 degrees and knit into the stitches that are already alive on the needles. Knit the same number of stitches (3) for six rows, making a series of garter stitches. 

At the seventh row, knit three garter stitches and rotate the stitches to set up the next motion. Insert the left needle into three of the stitches from the previous row. Put the stitches on the left needle and knit them. (If this is all sounding a bit complex, I understand. These types of techniques highlight the invaluable difference it makes to learn to knit with others or face-to-face with an instructor, as book and written instruction cannot provide the three-dimensional set of observations that are really needed to learn.)

Now this is where the garter tab cast on gets tricky. After knitting three stitches, there are still three stitches remaining from the provisional cast-on. Slide those three stitches, unknitted, onto the left needle. 

The tab sets up the foundation or base of the shawl without creating a seam or series of unwanted bumps. Hopefully, when I have finished the pattern, I will be able to see (or not see) the seamless way in which the cast on blends into the rest of the shawl. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Winter Knits, Dark Materials, and Patterns Within Patterns

It's knitting season, and lately I am particularly drawn to dark-colored, heavy-weighted yarns. I have been craving that safe sensation of wrapping something warm and handmade around me, so I spent some time scanning the hundreds of shawl patterns on Ravelry

After several rounds of imagining what different patterns would look like in real life - my life - I came across Martina Sommer's Costa Brava Shawl pattern and was attracted to the sprawling, expansive design of the piece, as well as the small details throughout. 

The shawl pattern includes a a series of knits and yarn-overs along the edge to create a lace border. 

This particular pattern contains a stitch pattern series within the pattern. I like this kind of design, where multiple rows repeat and one intricate pattern row comes back up every x number of rows. In a sense, it feels as though my mind can go offline into a relaxed mode for a couple of knit and purl rows and then reignite for a more-intricate, pattern row. 

Every three rows, the pattern repeats a more complex series of stitches, which I wrote out to keep in my pocket. 

While visualizing the layout of the pattern from the design file, I was drawn to the series of yarn-overs along the border of the shawl and the stitch increase up the middle of the design - a technique that makes a sort of spine or backbone alone the center of the piece. These techniques are not difficult, but they do lead to the creation of an intricate bit of flair when the piece is finished. In some ways, these details function as punctuation marks, like a comma or period in a sentence. 

The pattern includes the KYOK technique, which can be identified here as the group 3 stitches made from 1.

It took me many attempts to get into the full pattern of this design because I first had to learn a new skill: how to make the garter tab. This was difficult for me. I had to start, knit, tink out all of my stitches, and restart several times. I really didn't understand what was happening with the garter tab set up until I watched a couple of videos again and again. It turns out that the garter tab is a common way to start a triangular lace shawl. 

The mathematics of this project are still emerging for me as I knit. There is a curious pattern reflection across the middle stitch that has only become clear as I near the end of the first skein (this project call for approximately four skeins of the yarn I have chose). Soon, I will transition into a new section of the pattern that will be used for the remained of the shawl. The pattern changes slightly in this section, but uses many of the same stitch techniques. It is an interesting exercise to try to visualize how the pattern will play out with my individual knitting style and tension habits, as no two knitters are exactly the same and there will inevitably be variation in actualization of two pieces created by different knitters from the same pattern.  

A series of stitch increases - the m1R and m1L techniques - create a spine down the middle of the shawl. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Yarnbombing with 3D shapes

We have been exploring many different routes to create 3D shapes out of yarn. A recent yarnbombing experiment allowed us to see that the design process of 3D shapes can challenge the knitter to think three-dimensionally, before she evens starts to knit. 

3D shapes can be knitted flatly, folded, and stuffed.

Initially, Angela and I designed shapes that could be knitted flatly and in the round. Through conversations together and experiments with the yarn itself, we found that the way we thought through the design process for the shapes depended on the initial conceptualization of the object: Would the object be knitted in three dimensions from the get go (in the round) or would the rows of fibers need to be curved, seamed, and manipulated post-knitting to create a third dimension with the object? 

A knitted sphere can be created by increasing and decreasing symmetrically across a flat diameter.

We learned that the creation of three dimensional shapes offers the crafter multiple opportunities to explore different processes of making with knits and purls. As previously mentioned, objects can be knitted in one piece using circular needles - the process is similar to the making of a hat. However, knits can also be made using a piecewise process in which different sides of a shapes are knitted separately. 

While thinking through these design routes, we had to mentally construct and deconstruct different shapes as we created the three dimensional objects. We tested different methods individually in order to create a small collection of objects for a yarn bomb on campus. After talking through the ideas for the shapes, we decided to craft our knits independently, then come back together for the yarn bomb and evaluate some of the variation within our processes of making. 

The pattern for a sphere can be manipulated with more extreme shaping to create an ellipse.

We chose to install the yarn bomb on a tree outside of the art museum on campus, where students were bound to see the little splash of pink. Angela and I met late at night on a Wednesday and wrapped the little shapes onto the tree. Even during installation, a few students and staff who were still on campus stopped to observe what we were creating. The next day, I returned to the installation to tag the shapes with the Creativity Labs information and observe if and how students were interacting with the shapes. I watched as several students approached the tree to pause and look at the shapes. Later in the week, when Angela visited the yarnbomb spot, the shapes were still in place! 

The tree allowed for the observers to examine all sides of the multidimensional knits. 

Through these shapes experiments, we have come to realize that there are so many ways to construct 3D objects with yarn. Further, we've learned that is it interesting to approach the challenge together, but to actually make the shapes independently. This method of trying out different methods of making independently allowed us to see more of the full picture of the variation present in fiber art and craft, which led us to a new, exciting conversation about the potential for this exercise in the classroom. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Developing our three-dimensional footing: a first look at the mathematics of socks

Feet are anatomically complex. Many toes. Lots of joints. Bones and curves and odd bits that stick out. It follows only makes sense that socks are also complex. To create these little forms of feet clothing, the crafter must consider the length of the foot, the circumference of the foot at multiple points, and the features of the foot arch. In addition, there are elements of design, such as how high up the leg the socks will go, that must be considered before the cast on is initialized.  

These simple socks use a regular cast-on in the round, as opposed to a toe-up cast-on.

Though we will continue to explore yarnbombing, Angela and I have taken on the challenge of knitting socks - a fitting project for these cold-weather months. We had an idea that the process of making would be tricky, but it was not until we began to leaf through books on sock-making that we began to gain awareness of the depth of design that goes into the creation of socks. 

In the beginning, I was excited by all of the sock patterns (what better way to have cozy toes?), but soon, with some exasperation, I realized that the book I was working with was much too advanced for me. Even the cast on was complicated, let alone the sheer magic that is Judy's Magic Cast-On. Just wait until we write about Judy's Magic Loop

I crafted this sock specifically for my body dimensions. Each crafter can personalize the sock pattern for herself. 

We were not trying to find the mathematics of feet and socks, but it was impossible for us to start these knitting projects without seeing the three-dimensional features and possible variations. It was as if the sock maths found us. 

Many socks are made using a toe-up approach, meaning that the cast-on starts at the toe and the knitter knits from toe up to the ankle. To simplify the crafting practice for myself, I chose to start with a pattern that worked opposite in direction, so the cast on was more similar to a hat, a technique I was already familiar with. Angela is currently knitting toe-up socks. 

Both of us are still engaged in the processes of making for our sock projects. 

The heel for this sock pattern is created with a special heel flap, which is knitted with a series of slipped stitches.

The beginning of the socks were fairly simple, except for the series of slipped stitches and yarn-overs that led to the rugged stitch pattern along the ankle. Now, I am at the heel flap, which will eventually reconnect with the body of the heel and remainder of the sock. 

I have had to consider the length of my ankle, the desired length of the sock, and the dimensions of my heel. We have both learned that socks are highly personalizable. 

(Note: In retrospect, I do wish that I had started two socks in the beginning, instead of one, as now I will need to complete a full second sock once the first is finished before I can wear either or both.)


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

How to hold a 2D plane

People used to talk about a flat world. Two dimensions. Length and width. 

We learned about this concept of the world in elementary school. It sounded strange then and still sounds strange today. Why? How are we even able to imagine a flat world? 

When we think about a flat world we initially hold with us the image of a three-dimensional world - a sphere. Then, somehow, we unfold this shape through our mind's eye in order to examine an imagined rectangle with bits of Pacific Ocean on both sides. We move with fluidity between 2D and 3D spaces. It's fascinating that we are able to do this, and even further, it's incredibly useful. 

Angela and I recently challenged ourselves with different knitting routes that lead to the creation of 3D objects - both in the round and on flat planes. We engaged in this exercise as part of a multi-part yarnbomb installation, which we will both expound on in posts to come. One component of this yarnbomb was the installation various 3D shapes, including spheres and pyramids. 

Here, I will describe the process of knitting that emerged as I learned to knit a sphere flatly, without joining in the round. The initial attempts were oddly shaped, but over time I gained a better understanding of what happens when a 2D shape is wrapped and seamed in order to form a 3D object. 


To begin, the knitter must cast on only a few stitches, X. Larger cast ons will yield only slightly spherical objects with teardropped ends. Then the knitter should make one stitch, or increase, every X number of stitches when knitting on the right side (RS). The wrong side (WS) should be knitted or purled straight across, depending on the intended design (either garter stitch with all rows knitted or stockinette with alternations between knitted and purled rows). 

Continue to increase by X number of stitches until the piece is about twice the length across as you would like for the sphere to be. While knitting, try to engage with the knitted piece imaginatively by keeping in mind that the length of the longest row will ultimately be the circumference of the sphere at the largest (widest) point of the sphere. Once you have reached the desired length across your piece, begin to decrease by knitting two stitches together (k2tog) every X number of stitches. Make sure to decrease evenly, just as you increased, so that the sphere is symmetrical across the widest point. 

To end, bind off just as you would with a scarf, but leave a long tail to seam with. Line up the edges of the piece and use the seam to join the edges. The finished shape will need to be stuffed with something in order to look fully spherical. As we will show in forthcoming posts, Angela and I used styrofoam packaging peanuts to stuff the 3D objects.


There are many knit and purl processes that will lead to 3D objects. Angela experimented with other forms, in the round and piecewise, which she will write about later. At this stage in our yarn bomb exploration, we aim to incorporate many techniques and shapes so that we can create interesting, and potentially interactive, installations in our community. More to follow. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Teacher/Student Relationship

Much can be gleaned from knitting together, side by side with a fellow crafter.  In past posts, Kate and I have explained projects and processes of our collaborative yarn bombing efforts but have not touched on the mutual relationship that has transpired. 

Typically, our projects start with an idea, followed by a meeting then quick communications back and forth to answer questions or status updates on the work we’re creating.  Up until our most recent project, we have been quite successful working together in this manner.

We are currently working on a more complicated design for our next public install.  I created a pattern template, described it in person to Kate, sent photos and descriptions of the pattern via email and so forth.  We thought we were on the same page but variations in our work confused us.  What was happening in our knitting that was different from one another? 

The Social aspect of learning in a group

As Kate outlined in her previous post, Knitting Circles and KAL’s provide an environment with social and educational merit.  Knitters gather to show off projects, socialize and help one another with their projects.  This setting allows for advanced knitters to offer advice and encouragement to novice knitters – or to anyone who just can’t figure out what’s happening in their knitting process.  (Sometimes it takes an extra set of eyes to determine what is happening spatially when knitting.)  Kate and I determined a KAL was in order. Kate and I are colleagues but we quickly noticed that our relationship at this moment was teacher/student.  I put down my knitting, watched her work, recognized the problem and began to teach her through hands on method where the problem lay.  It was only through this shared experience were we able to solve the problem. 

By teaching and working with Kate, I gleaned a deeper understanding of the knit stitch and Kate recognized that simple maneuvers really do make a difference.  Also during this process I began to think of our re-crafting math lab in a bigger context.  Is there something to the knitting circle environment (and the social engagement) that breaks down the barriers of worry, anxiety, frustration and feelings of “not knowing” from a classroom setting and allows for a more healthy learning environment – one in which sets the stage for confident learners?  What is the thin line that creates a trusting and non-threatening relationship of the shared environment of a knitting circle – where one sometimes doesn’t even realize they’re learning? 

A knitting circle evolves and is constantly changing.  The teacher/student relationship isn’t static. Is there something to be learned from that alone?

Yarn bomb banner front, two color knitting

Back, where Kate and I realized there was a problem

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Traditional practices today

In past posts, we have unpacked descriptions of the traditional crafting practices of female crafting groups. These practices were and are inherently social and collaborative in nature and comprise countless word-of-mouth inheritances by younger crafters from older crafters with more expertise. Though the production of crafting materials has become commercialized, traditional collaborative norms have persisted in knitting circles and other fiber art craft groups. 

Social craft leads to skill development

Knitters often knit together. Groups of mostly-female crafters are in yarn shops daily, knitting together through KALs and showing each other how to fix mistakes. When newer knitters drop stitches,  a knitter with more experience is able to take the wool into her own hands and show the novice how to pick up each stitch. Much of this learning seems to happen on an unplanned and as-needed basis. 

Conversations extend far beyond the craft-chat. Through previous ethnographic work, we have observed and engaged in the more personal and emotional aspects of this so-called 'social craft'. While knitting together, crafters often open up about relationship challenges, familial issues, and disagreements with galpals. In many instances, the knitters do not know each other well or even outside of the yarn shop at all, but the outpouring of social and emotional engagement is seemingly effortless and comfortable. 

Yarn bombing - a present manifestations of past practices

For decades (maybe even centuries), crafting norms have been shared and passed through the female lineage and percolate in the communities today. Angela and I experience the continuation of these behaviors and norms in our own collaborative yarn bomb work.

Throughout the design process for the ongoing yarn bomb project, Angela and I met often to talk through the parameters of the pieces and compare knits. Angela created the final project pattern template for the knitted pieces for our bombs. We chose to delegate pieces of the bomb. Over weeks of knitting separately, we realized that our pieces looked different, even though we both referenced the same pattern. Though these variations were not undesirable, we were puzzled by what could be happening differently for each of us in our processes of making. We also realized that we had not spent much time knitting side by side, even with all of our previous observations of other women knitting together! 

We aligned our stockinette stitch patterns by knitting together.

We changed our practice with a return to traditional knitting norms: we got together to work through the pattern side by side. This type of collaborative crafting is quite different than solo knitting. Through we each had our own materials and needles, we were able to see the progress and process of the other in real time. We were also able to uncover the missing pieces to our variance mystery. 

Angela noticed that my technique for purling was not quite right. (I had recently switched to continental knitting, but had not normalized the technique for myself yet). My purl technique was essentially inside out, causing the stitch to look slightly different and take up a little less space on the needle than the correct form. 

Over time and space, this small sizing discrepancy led to a larger overall difference. Since we were together, Angela was able to use both language and motion to help me visualize my mistake and correct the technique. Similarly to the events we previously observed in yarn shops, she took my needles and yarn out of my hands and tinked then re-knitted some of my stitches herself. 

When purling continental, the working yarn must come over the top of the needle.

I am not sure how I would have unlearned and relearned this knitting technique in the absence of another knitter. Further, it seems that it was essential for Angela and I to knit together, for texted descriptions and images of our work were not allowing us to solve the puzzling case of variation across our work. The critical clue was in the spatial elements of the movement.

We intend to highlight traditional female crafts and mathematics through our yarn bombs.

There is value in crafting together. These experiences allow us to connect experientially to knitters and crafters of the past. Those women carried a deep understanding of the significance of creating together, which have transcended generational boundaries across female crafters and allow us to Make together today.