Tips: Summer knitting and crochet with cotton

At this time of year we often think about using cotton yarns to create cool, summer garments.

If you are used to working mainly with wool, cotton can behave differently so we have collect some useful tips to help you with your warm weather projects. Thank you to everyone who contributed tips on social media.

Needles

Your choice of needles can make a real difference to your experience of working with cotton. Many people prefer bamboo needles over metal to get the most accurate tension.  Metal needles can allow the cotton to slip and slide a bit too much.

The other downside of combining metal needles with cotton can be splitting. Because of how the fibres form in cotton yarn, particularly sharp needles can easily slip into the yarn rather than a whole stitch causing splits.

Crochet

Cotton yarn is very popular for crochet. It forms very crisp well defined stitches and firm fabric. So choose your crochet pattern with that in mind. 

Finished fabric

Cotton yarn behaves differently to wool, so if you decide to substitute cotton in a pattern written for wool, the finished item will look different. This can be a good thing but it is worth swatching carefully.

cotton yarn

You can see here how on the green swatch, which is in wool using the same yarn weight and needles, the rib is pulling in more than the cream cotton yarn.

Because cotton softens over time and can be heavier than wool it is a good idea to choose patterns with firm tension to avoid sagging – some people go down a needle size when working in cotton.

Swatch and then wash your swatch to get a good idea about how a particular cotton yarn behaves.

Knitting and crochet books to make you think

Here at UK Hand Knitting we’re always keen to take a look at new knitting and crochet books. Recently two arrived that have made us think about our crafting in new ways.

Knit Yourself Calm – A creative path to managing stress Lynne Rowe & Betsan Corkhill, Search Press

therapeutic knitting

Mindfulness and use creative pursuits to improve our mental well-being are hot topics at the moment and this book addresses where knitting fits into this movement.

Therapeutic knitting expert Betsan Corkhill has worked with designer Lynne Rowe to put together a set of patterns to help with different aspects of stress and benefit people’s health and wellbeing. Corkhill tells us that a study she did with Cardiff University “showed that the more frequently people knit (more than three times a week) the calmer and happier they feel – 81% felt happier after knitting.” The same study found that among those who initially “felt sad” only 1% continued to do so after therapeutic knitting.

With this in mind the projects in the book are divided into different types of projects for different situations with explanations of how they may benefit you. For example, Quick and Easy projects to give you a sense of accomplishment, and Group Projects that you could collaborate with others on.

Reading this book, the UKHK team were able to point to times we have used our knitting or crochet to help us cope with difficult situations or stress. If you think you or someone else would benefit from some therapeutic knitting this book is a useful tool.

 

In one section of Knit Yourself Calm, Corkhill says: “Learning new skills on a regular basis is essential for nurturing a healthy bran, opening new neural pathways and even encouraging the growth of new brain cells right into old age.” And for crocheters this is where our second book comes in.

 

Design Your Own Crochet Projects – Magic Formulas for Creating Custom Scarves, Cowls, Hats, Socks, Mittens & Gloves, Sara Delaney, Storey Publishing

crochet books

We have been lucky enough to get an early look at this US book coming out in the UK later this year and were surprised how useful it is for people with no interest in publishing their own patterns.

Sara Delaney shows us that designing is much wider than publishing patterns. Her book is designed to help you create lovely accessories with yarn from your stash and give you the skills to turn that skein of yarn you have fallen in love with into exactly the item you imagine.

The book gives you the formulas or recipes for 18 project types including scarves, hats, socks and gloves. Each formula takes you step-by-step through measuring stitch tension, working out what stitch patterns will work and how many stitches or pattern repeats will be needed.

This is a book that will make us be braver about our own crochet – stash yarn will certainly turn into hats and cowls in the coming months and may well feature some more adventurous stitch patterns. Look out for this book and hopefully it will inspire you too.

 

We have a copy of Knit Yourself Calm to give away. Tell us how you have used knitting or crochet in a positive way in the comments below and we will pick a winner among the commenters.

Using long colour change and self-striping yarns

As we revealed in our post about summer knitting trends, stripes are in.

One of the ways to achieve lovely striped garments is to use yarns dyed with long sections of contrasting colours that give you stripes as you work.

There are lots of these yarns about at the moment as you can see from this selection.

There are plenty of accessory patterns for these types of yarns at the moment and they do make fabulous shawls and scarves, but they are also lovely for sweaters and cardigans and especially on trend right now.

If you are going to use a self-striping yarn for a garment there are a couple of things to think about before you start. Mainly this centres around whether you want the stripes to match on the front and back of a garment and the sleeves to match.

If this is important to you, you may need to wind off some yarn at the start of some parts of the garment. For example if the front and back are to match you will need each to start at the same place in the stripe sequence, which will mean winding through the yarn to the matching spot.

You will also have to keep an eye on the stripes at each side of the front neck so they line up – otherwise if the stripes match elsewhere your garment could look lopsided.

On the other hand if you are not worried about the stripes lining up, just go for it and enjoy the effect as with this Noro top.

noro taiyo

Tips – using stitchmarkers

Stitchmarkers can be some of the most useful tools in your knitting or crochet bag but a lot of people haven’t used them or are puzzled because there seem to be so many different types as in this picture.

stitchmarker tips

You see stitchmarkers that are plain metal or plastic rings, charms hanging from rings, beads on loops of plastic coated wire, fancy ones using semi-precious stones and silver plated wire and ones that look like plastic safety pins.

In fact you use all the different types, apart from the plastic safety pins (which we will discuss below), in the same ways.

  • Start of a round. Tips – using stitchmarkersIf you are working in the round, hang a stitch marker on your needle before the first stitch of the round. Each time you start a new round, you know because you have to slip the marker from the left to the right needle tip.
  • Marking pattern repeatsusing stitchmarkers

    If you have a pattern that repeats across a row or a round, you can place a marker at the beginning of each repeat and at the end of the final one. This can help you keep track of the pattern and spot mistakes, because you can will be able to tell if there is a problem with a particular repeat rather than having to check the whole row.Here we have used a random selection of markers to show that they all serve the same purpose. However, if you need to mark the start of a round or the position of an increase or decrease, as well as pattern repeats, you might choose one type of marker for each. For example, a large marker for the start of the round, matching dangling ones for the pattern repeats and plain rings for shaping positions.

Markers are particularly useful if you are a fast knitter or someone who doesn’t look at their knitting all the time, because feeling the marker will remind you to take particular actions and you won’t have to unravel any stitches.

  • Row tally sttchmarker tipsThis is the first use of the safety pin type markers. Unlike the ones that you slide on to your knitting needle, these markers can be easily added to or removed from your work at any time.This makes them very useful for keeping track of rows on a long piece of knitting. You can clip a marker into the last stitch of every twentieth row, for example, then you only need to count every individual row from the last marker keep track of your total rows. For example three markers would mean 60 rows and 17 after the last marker would mean at total of 77 rows worked.
  • Crochet markers stitchmarkersIf, like many of us, you sometimes lose track of where a row or round of crochet starts, these removable markers are very useful.  Clip one through the first stitch of each row or round and you will know where stitches should align. This can be very helpful when crocheting in rows, in particular, because you are less likely to end up with sloping sides caused by not working to the correct last stitch on each row.
    When storing your plastic safety pin markers, leave them open because this reduces the strain on the plastic and makes them last longer.

Knitting and crochet blogs for you to enjoy

On our regular e-newsletter we choose a knitting or crochet blog of the month that we think our followers will enjoy.

In case our blog readers aren’t signed for the newsletter, here are a few of our favourites from the past year that you might enjoy browsing over the bank holiday weekend.

knitting blogs

Elsie Pop is a UK-based crochet blog written by Louise who promises “yarn, cats, a one-eyed dog, unfinished projects and a lot of colour”. Elsie (Louise) is a real crochet enthusiast who writes about patterns, reviews yarns and offers tips and advice. She is also a London commuter so is an expert on crocheting in public and on the move. The blog talks about both crochet and Tunisian crochet and features patterns for each. Elsie’s real enjoyment of her craft comes across as does her hope to help other people feel the same.

Great Balls of Wool records the activities of Una, charity knitter extraordinaire. She has been knitting for more than 50 years and says she loves “looking for wool bargains and making them into something useful”. The blog charts the progress of the items Una makes and which charities eventually receive them. She also links to the many charities she has made items for – there is no doubt the Una has committed to knit and we’re sure she will inspire others.

knitting blogs

Hand Knitted Things is the blog of Julia March who lives in the Scottish Highlands with a small flock of Shetland sheep. Julia writes about patterns and yarn that has caught her eye along with the knitting projects she is working on. All accompanied by beautiful bright photographs. This is a great blog to turn to if you are looking for ideas or inspiration because the photographs will certainly make you feel good about yarn crafts and Julia is honest about her experiences of patterns and projects. You will also find some useful tutorials.

Sometimes you just want to look at great images of knitting and to seek some inspiration, which is how we first came across The Knitting Needle and the Damage Done. On this blog Orange Swan reviews the patterns in knitting magazines by sharing pattern pictures with her comments, so it is a great place to see a wide range of patterns, assess trends and browse for ideas – rather like a very focused Pinterest.

knitting blogs

Barbara from Knitting Now and Then describes herself as fascinated by old knitting patterns and women’s magazines. Luckily for her, since 2011 she has been sorting and cataloguing the collection of publications held by the UK Knitting and Crochet Guild. This massive collection of magazines, pattern booklets, pattern leaflets and other publications is a fantastic resource and one she uses to talk about the history of knitting – for example the metrication of needles – how styles have changed and to show vintage stitches and patterns.

Mason Dixon Knitting one of the most established yarn craft blogs. It takes the form of letters between Kay who lives in Manhattan and Ann who lives in Nashville. They talk about all things knitting from new patterns and what they enjoy knitting, to knitting deadline stress and TV to binge watch while knitting. Their site is fun to get lost in, reading their friendly posts as well as exploring the tips and free patterns.

Never Not Knitting is the sort of blog where you smile or laugh in recognition. Podcaster and knitting boutique owner Alana Dakos writes about common knitting experiences such as persevering when deep down you know your knitting is coming out far too small, or falling for a supercute pattern and the joys of a spot of selfish knitting. There are also tips, patterns and book recommendations to give you new inspiration.

The Winwick Mum blog, which as the runner up for Blog of the Year at the recent British Craft Awards, is written by Cheshire-based Christine Perry who says she writes about plus what makes her happy: family, knitting, gardening, home-making and enjoying the outdoors. And knitting definitely makes her happy because there is plenty of discussion of knitting, knitting events, yarn and patterns. You will also find plenty about socks – Christine has written a sock knitting book – including a sockalong to get you started and a free pattern and tutorial for her Easy Cable Socks. Winwick Mum is a relaxing read for crafters that may also help you discover something new in terms of yarn or events.

knitting blogs

The Yarn Harlot is something of a knitting blog legend. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee has been blogging and producing very funny books about knitting for years, Her blog is perfect to drop into when you need a smile. Over the years she has introduced us to the problems of dropping your yarn when on the move, the travelling sock, and more recently the concept of stash tossing. And she is very honest about startitis and playing yarn chicken (the hope beyond reasonable expectation that you have enough yarn to complete a project). You will recognise yourself and other knitters in Stephanie’s posts and generally have a good time.

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In praise of the humble knit stitch

One thing visitors to craft show tell our volunteer teachers and our Yarn Doctors is: “I can only do the knit stitch.”

This makes the knit stitch seem rather unimportant but as we always tell people, the knit stitch is the most important thing you will learn in knitting and it is in fact the most important stitch there is.

If someone has learned the knit stitch without much else they can already make scarves, head bands, phone and tablet cases, and potentially even a skirt.

They can create items that look different depending on whether they choose plain or variegated yarns.

Or try interesting striped patterns.

Throw in some simple knit stitch based increases and decreases and they can make a variety of squares and well as a simple top.

Or do the knit stitch in the round to create a stocking stitch fabric.

Once you have mastered the knit stitch, the purl stitch can be seen as a variation on making a stitch. Then you can take on pretty much any stitch pattern.

And of course casting off would be quite difficult without the knit stitch.

 

Why teaching kids to knit will help them with maths and technology

I noticed something when I was teaching my seven-year-old niece to knit.

She isn’t that keen on sums in her homework, but if I asked her to keep track of her stitches she would happily tell me how many she had gained or lost. And if I asked questions like “You’ve knitted three rows this afternoon, how many stitches is that?”, she would be quite happy to sit and do the mental arithmetic. She didn’t notice it was sums.

teaching kids to knit

Image from UKHKA event

Like many crafters and craft teachers, I have often argued that knitting, crochet and other skills teach a range of useful extras including mental arithmetic, so along with my UK Hand Knitting colleagues I was pleased to hear this radio feature on the links between maths and crafts. It talks about how knitters think in 3D and use geometry to solve shaping problems.

What you learn from knitting can be applied elsewhere as computer scientists are showing. A scheme to interest girls in careers in coding starts by teaching them about knitting. This is because knitting and crochet patterns are “programs” – a set of step-by-step instructions that often use symbols or letter codes to replicate an action.

It is exciting to see knitting used as a way into writing computer code but it isn’t a new idea. The mother of modern computing Ada Lovelace drew inspiration from the punch cards used by weavers when she worked with Charles Babbage on their Analytical Engine .

So if you decide to teach some youngsters to knit during these school holidays, you will be doing more than just occupying them on a wet Wednesday. You will be providing them with both the skills to make lovely objects in the future but also to do well in certain school subjects and preparing them for possible future careers.