Increase Over Row

My least favorite part of making a bottom-up sweater is when I get to the end of the ribbing and the instructions say, “Increase X number of stitches evenly across the row.” How many stitches do I put in between the increase stitches?! Much as I love knitting, I am not a whiz at math. Luckily, Debbie Stoller provides the arithmetic in Stitch ’n Bitch. The math works as follows.

  • Add 1 to the number of stitches you are supposed to increase
  • Divide the stitches on your needle by that number

Example

  • I have 10 stitches on my needle
  • The instructions read, “Increase by 4 stitches distributed evenly over the row.”
  • Add 1 to 4. The result is 5.
  • Divide 10 by 5. The result is 2.
  • (Work 2 stitches, inc 1) 4 times, work 2 stitches
Picture of stitches

The result of increasing 4 stitches distributed evenly over a row of 10 stitches

However, sometimes I cannot do even that simple math. Or I forget the formula. Or the result isn’t an even number. What’s a knitter to do?! I decided to build this little app to solve the problem.




Note: The plus sign indicates the increase stitch.

My deep gratitude goes to G, who helped me figure out how to do this. Thank you, G!

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Tingey Toffee

When I was a kid, my Grandma Tingey sent us homemade English Toffee every Christmas. The small, heavy box would arrive, be opened, and its contents consumed all in one day. The problem: Grandma Tingey never sent enough toffee for a family of four. In the fall of my fifteenth year, anticipating the arrival of the toffee box, I asked my mom, “Could we ask Grandma Tingey to send more toffee?”

Mom: “No, that would be rude.”

Me: “Can we ask her to send the recipe so I could make some more for us?”

Mom: “I think that would be kind of rude, too. And besides, I always mess candy up when I try make it. It always sugars.”

Me: “Well, how about we ask her and let her decide if she wants to share the recipe? And I’ll make it. You don’t have to.”

My mother grumbled and muttered about how candy was very hard to make and she didn’t want to do it, but she dutifully requested the recipe. My grandmother replied with the recipe. The opening salvo?

Here’s how to make the candy. If I give you the recipe, should I interpret that to mean I won’t need to send you any more candy?

Nooooooo! I thought to myself. What if I mess it up? What if I can’t make candy? I was terrified. But I decided to try to make the toffee. And… it worked! I’ve been making this almost every holiday season since. I just finished this year’s batch. If I can do it, you most certainly can. I’ll post the recipe below the images, then follow with tips from both my Grandma Tingey and me.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb butter
  • 2 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 tbs Karo syrup (light)
  • 1/3 lb nuts chopped fine
  • 1 one-lb Hershey or Baker Bar milk chocolate
  • 1/2 lb nuts rolled or ground fine

Instructions

Cover bottom of a cookie sheet 10 in. x 15 in. or two 9 in. layer pans with 1/2 of the ground nuts, then grate one half of the chocolate bar over the nuts uniformly.

Cook sugar, water, syrup, and chopped nuts, and butter together stirring constantly until thermometer registers 285 degrees.

Pour cooked syrup over the nut and chocolate layers in the pan you have prepared and let set for about 10 minutes. Grate remainder of chocolate over mixture and sprinkle with remainder of ground nuts.

Let set for 5 hours. Break into pieces as desired.

Yield 5 pounds.

Tools

  • A candy thermometer
  • A fairly heavy weight, flat bottom pan with vertical sides. I use an 8 quart Chantal stock pot because I always double the recipe
  • If you use a cookie sheet, make sure it has sides. I’ve always used cake pans
  • A wooden spoon to stir. Why wooden? I guess metal spoons make the candy sugar. Here’s what my Grandma said.

See if you can get a piece of hardwood flooring about a foot long to use for stirring. Have it cut straight across the end. You can also trim the grooves off the side. That really doesn’t matter though. This is much more satisfactory even than a wooden spoon. A metal spoon is almost impossible to use. Go someplace where they are laying hard wood floors and beg a scrap. I did. It must be hardwood–soft would sliver.

Tips

  • Adjust the destination temperature to your elevation. 285 degrees is the sea level temperature. Water boils at lower temperatures at higher elevations.  To test your candy thermometer for your elevation, place it in some boiling water. When it has reacted to the heat, read it. Determine the difference between 212 (the boiling point of water at sea level) and the number you read. Subtract this number from 285 to determine the temperature you should cook to. My Grandma lived in Utah, at an elevation higher than sea level. She cooked her candy to 272 degrees.
  • Stir the candy constantly. I mean it. It’s easy to scorch, with all the butter and sugar. I stir by keeping the wooden spoon as vertical as possible with the tip on the bottom of the pan. I stir gently.
  • When the mixture comes to a boil, it will rise dramatically in the pot. This is why you need a pot with tall, vertical sides.
  • Many candy making recipes will tell you to wash down the sides of the pot as the mixture subsides. Sometimes I do this, sometimes I don’t. Today I didn’t, and my toffee didn’t go grainy. YMMV. The point is to prevent graining–when some errant crystal jumps into your bubbling joy and all the sugar grabs on to it and resumes its crystal form. This is a bad thing.
  • I always buy more than a pound of chocolate. I get a thicker layer of chocolate top and bottom that way. And plus, I don’t feel quite as guilty when I sample the chocolate while stirring.
  • Place the pans into a cool place when you’re all done. I’ve been known to hurry them along by sticking them in the refrigerator, but only when I was living in apartments where the electricity was included in the rent.
  • A food processor makes preparing the ingredients pain-free. A sturdy one can be used to grind the nuts fine for sprinkling on top, grating the chocolate, and chopping the nuts that go into the mixture. I do all the chopping and grating up front.
  • Use whatever chocolate your heart desires. I happen to love milk chocolate, friends have made it with dark with equal success. I am a bit of a chocolate snob and generally go for a higher quality brand that Hershey or Baker Bar. The point of grating it is so that it will melt and adhere to the candy.
  • I generally use walnuts. I’ve tried pecans, cashews, and, one disastrous year, black walnuts. Just say no to black walnuts. Everything else works fine.
  • To break the candy up, I pry it out of the pans and hack away at it with a knife. Don’t use your best knife, the tip can break. An ice pick would do nicely, too. This is a messy job, the sprinkled nuts tend to fly all over the place. Collect whatever nuts and chocolate and shards of toffee don’t fall on the floor and save them to sprinkle on ice cream.
  • You may have heart failure when you ponder cleaning the pan. Don’t. Set the pan in the bathtub, stick the spoon and the thermometer in it, fill it with water and walk away. Tomorrow, most of the toffee will have dissolved and whatever is left will be easy to pick off.

I recommend making toffee on a dreary day. Your home will fill with the aroma of cooked sugar and caramel; you’ll know the holidays are good.

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Lisa’s Amazing Yarn Carry

Lisa’s Amazing Yarn Carry lets you change colors and carry the non-working yarn up the side of your in flat knitting without generating endless ends. If that weren’t enough, this technique creates a beautiful braid-like edge.

Note: Always slip the first stitch of every row purl-wise.

Row 1: Slip the first stitch, knit to 1 stitch before the end of the row. Pick up your second color and hold it with the working yarn. Knit the last stitch with both strands of yarn.

Row 2: Slip the first stitch, which is composed of 2 strands of yarn, with both yarns in front. Move the working yarn to the side of the work that is away from you. Leave the non-working on the side of the work facing you.  Knit to the end of the row.

Repeat Rows 1 and 2 throughout the pattern. Note that you should always knit the last stitch of the first row with both yarns, regardless of whether or not you are changing colors in the next row.

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How Long Should the Long Tail Be?

Pull out a tail that is three times longer than the finished width of the cast on edge.

But–What if the cast on edge is a whole lot of stitches? Say, a scarf with vertical stripes that is five and a half feet long when finished. How do I pull out a tail three times THAT long? I will now share with you some Body Magic. With most humans, the distance between your sternum and the end of your arm when you stretch it out as far as you can is about a yard. A yard is three feet. This means that if you hold the end of the yarn at your sternum with the skein in your hand and extend your arm as far away from your sternum as possible, you will have pulled out about three feet of yarn.

With that in mind, here are the calculations for how I pulled out my long tail to cast on for the five and a half foot long scarf.

  1. The scarf is meant to be 5 1/2 feet long. Using my rule, I have to pull out 5.5 x 3, which is 16.5 feet, which is close enough to three yards (18 feet) that I’ll go for the three yards.
  2. I held the end of the yarn to my sternum and moved the skein to my right as far as possible. (I’m right handed.) That’s 1 yard.
  3. I pinched the yarn at the point it exited the skein and moved that point to my sternum. I moved the skein again to the right as far as I could. That’s 2 yards.
  4. I repeat that one more time to get to 3 yards. Then I pulled out a bit more, just for safety’s sake.
  5. I created my slipknot at that point and proceeded with my long tail cast on.

Will you have leftover long tail after you’re done? Absolutely. Consider the alternative, and carry on.

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I taught myself to knit late in life. One of my early projects was a gaiter for my husband. The cast on called for 175 stitches. That was more than I’d ever cast on before. (I’d only ever knit swatches and an ugly sweater for my then 8-year-old son.) I had picked out a lovely alpaca/silk for the project. I attempted to cast on while we were on a road trip. I pulled out my long tail and began. I cast on a bunch of stitches, counting as I went. My son called to me to look at something. I lost count. I looked, then, I counted again. My husband and son bickered about something. I lost count. I swore quietly. I counted again. You see where this is going, right? Ultimately, I threw down the project and decided that I’d never again try to knit in the car. I may have said a few words my son should not have heard. My husband tactfully suggested, “Why don’t you put a marker every 10 stitches?” I snarled. He returned his eyes to the road.

Later, I realized that he’d actually had a good idea. But 10 stitches were too few. Now, when I have to cast on a whole lot of stitches, I cast on a bunch, then go back and count. I place a split ring stitch marker every 20 stitches. Problem solved.

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How To Work a Loose Bind Off

If you have a tendency to knit tightly, simply work the bind off with a needle a size or two larger than what you used to knit the rest of the pattern.

For example, if you worked the pattern on a size 8 needle, when you come to the bind off, use a size 9 or 10 needle in your right hand. The working yarn will wrap around the larger needle size, making it bigger; therefore yielding a loose bind off.

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Garter Graft Seam

A garter graft seam is suitable when joining two pieces worked in garter stitch along the rows. You will work through each stitch except the first ones on each side two times. Work from right to left, starting at the bottom right. Work a row back from the edge. Keep the yarn to the right side of your hand.

  1. Align the pieces to be seamed public side up.
  2. Cut waste yarn to match the colors you are seaming together, 3 times longer than the length of the seam and thread onto tapestry needle.
  3. Working a row back from the cast on or bound off edge, insert tip of needle from front to back (or, bottom to top, depending on how you think about these things) in the bottom right loop and pull yarn, leaving a 6-inch tail.
  4. Insert tip of needle from back to front (or, top to bottom) through the next stitch on the bottom. Pull up slack yarn.
  5. Again working a row back from the cast on or bound off edge, insert tip of needle from front to back (bottom to top) in the top right loop.
  6. Insert tip of needle from back to front (top to bottom) through the next stitch on the top
  7. Return to the bottom row, insert the needle from front to back (bottom to top) in the second stitch
  8. Insert the needle from back to front (top to bottom) in the next stitch to the left.
  9. Return to the top row, insert the needle from front to back (bottom to top) in the second worked stitch.
  10. Insert the needle from back to front (top to bottom) in the next stitch to the left.

Repeat steps 7 – 10 until the seam is finished

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Joan and Dominique

photo of scarvesWhen my family relocated to Portland, Oregon ten years ago, we left our dear friends Joan and Dominique behind in New York City. Every year I send them locally produced gifts, such as pears from Harry and David. This year, I am long on stash and short on cash, so I decided to be the local producer myself.

Joan wears bright colors, which spectacularly set off her doesn’t-require-a-perm head of salt-and-pepper curls. I grabbed a skein of Crystal Palace Mini Solid Intense Red and whipped out a scarf with a lace edge on one side, a tubular edge on the other, and seed stitch in between.

Dominique will only wear black or white and sticks with simple, elegant clothing. For her scarf, I used a skein of The Fibre Company’s Canopy Fingering in Orchid worked in garter stitch. I tried to keep frills to a minimum, but couldn’t stop myself from inserting a yarn over at the borders, because I love to wrap yarn around air to create designs.

Both scarves are worked flat, end to end, and achieve a lacy effect by using needles one or two sizes larger than the ball band recommendation, then blocking hard to open up the fabric. This has the advantage of stretching a single skein into a somewhat longer-than-expected finished scarf. Gauge is not critical for these, however, you should work on a larger needle size than you usually would for your yarn.

Both patterns include charted and written instructions; you may work from whichever set of instructions you prefer.

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Going Postal … Scale

My latest favorite knitting accoutrement: A Postal Scale.

I’m a little neurotic. I worry about running out of yarn on the second sock. This worry is not without merit. My husband has big feet. I knit his first pair of socks from a lovely skein of Madelinetosh. I ran out about 1/2 inch before the toe. I bought another skein, but everything you’ve ever heard about dye lots is true. Skein 1 was slate-ish gray. Skein 2, same color name but different dye lot, was pretty darn green. Spousal sock two has a green toe. Luckily, he loves me and the socks so well that he has said that all I ever need to give him, on any gifting occasion, is a pair of socks.

Did I marry the right guy, or what?

I am currently knitting him his birthday socks. They’re toe up. This gives me a whole new arena in which to worry. How many repeats? How far should I go? Honey, would you try this on? Is it better than an anklet? No? Tough!

He tried the sock on a few minutes ago. Clearly, the sock needs another 2 inches. I agonized.

Luckily, I can count among my recent purchases: a postal scale: a device meant to measure the fine divisions of ounces that determine the price of mailing a letter or package. AND–I’d remembered to weigh the skein before I started the Birthday Socks.

The skein start weight was 4 oz. I dragged the scale out and weighed the ball from which I am knitting. The weight was [drumroll… ] 2.7 oz! I definitely can add another 2 inches to the leg of the sock!

Huzzah! Who knew such a simple device could bring such peace?

I love my postal scale.

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Ideas are free

I’m going to stick my neck out and risk being perceived as a tad cranky. Deep breath, here goes.

When I was in grad school, lo, those many years ago, I took a class about copyright law as it pertains to the development of media products. I learned the intent of the copyright law: To reserve the rights to profit from protected works to the creator of the work. Seems simple enough, right? If I make something, I get to make money from it because it’s mine. Cool.

But: Ideas are not subject to copyright protection. Why is that?

The intent of those who penned the copyright law was to allow for the development of new works inspired by existing works. The idea behind the work cannot be protected by copyright. The rationale is to foster bigger, better, evolutions of works because creators can be inspired by an idea, fiddle with it, and make their own work based on the inspiring idea.

The copyright law is a humanist law. It’s a law premised on the principle that we, as a whole, are much greater than the sum of our parts. If we share, communicate, inspire, build: we really can change the world.

What I love most about knitting is the community of knitters. Knitters who share their ideas, techniques, and stitch markers. When I became a knitter, I fell into history; became part of the collective consciousness that continues to find new ways to combine knits and purls and fiber.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be at an intensely inspiring two day knitting workshop. The whole point of the workshop was to look at existing works, build on them, and come up with brilliant new ideas. The workshop was well attended, with several of the elite Knitterati present. The workshop ended with knitters sharing what they’d learned in the last two days. By the time it was over, my brain hurt from thinking so hard.

Much joy and light, right?

Here’s the bitter pill: Towards the end of the second day, several of the Knitterati where huddled over a laptop. They were right behind my chair. I could not help but hear what they were talking about occasionally, and it fell into an area in which I have some expertise. I turned around and asked, “What are you working on?” because I thought I might be able to help them.

They fell into silence; then one said, “We can’t tell you.”

Fast on my feet, I replied with a laugh, “Ha, well, there’s stuff I can’t tell you, either!” With some chuckling, we returned to what we were doing.

I’m writing about it because the incident has been eating at my heart. In the midst of a workshop all about building on the ideas of our predecessors, a room full of knitters supporting and crowing over the achievements of their classmates, I’d wound up sitting in front of a bunch of schoolgirls whispering out of school.

I was profoundly disappointed.

Ideas cannot be stolen. Ideas are free.

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