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The Point

Reduce. Re-use. Recycle. We've all heard the mantra. And my new column will allow you to put it into action.

Frankenknits will explore some approaches -- both conventional and unconventional -- that can breathe new life into your old stuff: That sweater at the back of your closet that you somehow love but never wear. The thriftshop coat that is almost cool. The "bad idea" garment in a really great yarn.

It will involve chopping things up, ripping things out -- possibly even power tools! Creating new from old in a mad scientist way that's almost always quick, inexpensive. and lets you be the genius behind the monster. Re-purposing tired garments. Re-using yarns. Using up those terrific bits of yarn that are too short for any from-scratch project but too long to simply throw away. Some of these things may be hand knit (by you or someone else), but other projects will involve ready-made garments that need a little knitterly love before you're ready to trot them out on the runway.

Frankenknits will also give you a chance to show your evil genius. Be inspired, then send us a snapshot of your finished project. We'll share a few of our favorites.

This month's topic: Duplicate stitch. Also called Swiss darning. Also called "how to look like you've taken the master's class in intarsia when you can't even really purl unless you're in a well-lighted room with your chakras freshly aligned". Indeed, truth be told, you don't even need to know how to knit to do this project, but it will help you become a better knitter (more on that later).

So say you want to monogram your sweater. Or you want a row of duckies marching across a baby blanket. Or you want fuzzy multicolored polka-dots on your scarf. you could map it out on a chart and knit it in with intarsia as you go. True intarsia is gorgeous and lovely and knitters should be doing more of it. But it can involve having lots of daunting tangly strings and bobbins hanging off the back of your knitting. And a fair amount of forethought, patience and knitterly skill. But say you were hoping to have "I heart Knitty" emblazoned across your chest before next week. Duplicate stitch is your ticket.


Step 1: Choose your garment.

Something in stockinette stitch, which you've knit or have found in the dark recesses of your closet, works best. Choose something in a gauge that you can see. The smaller the gauge, the greater the amount of detail you'll be able to capture, but the more stitching you'll have to do. Somewhere around 4 to 5 stiches per inch is ideal. My survey of second hand shops assures me that there are many garments that meet these criteria available. Maybe not in your favorite color on the first day you go, but I have two things to say about that: Surprise yourself by wearing something you wouldn't normally. Or start assembling some Frankenstash over time and when the urge overtakes you, you'll have some things to choose from.

Step 2: Choose your contrasting yarn (or yarns).

You have a lot of choices here. Embroidery floss for the smallest gauges, ribbons, fuzz. Ribbon or tape yarns work particularly well as they lie nice and flat against the existing knitting and don't add much bulk. Each offers a different effect, but choose one that comes close to matching the gauge of the existing garment or is slightly larger. Too fine and you'll have incomplete coverage, too bulky and your text or image won't show up well and your design will develop unseemly bloating. Obviously, if you want your work to show, choose a yarn with high color contrast to the existing garment. But you might also chose a hairy or very shiny yarn with less contrast to add a textural effect in stripes, geometrics or polka-dots.

Step 3: Create your design.

If you want to put an icon or word on your garment, decide how much space you want your image to take up. You might look at t-shirts with logos on them to get an idea of what will look right on your chest (or back, or arm). Measure the space, then multiply the number of inches by your gauge per inch to get your number of available stitches. Note whether your rows (height) or your stitches (width) are the most significant restraint to your working canvas. Let's pretend that our sweater has 4.5 stitches and 6 rows per inch and I have about 12 inches in width that I want to use. That means I have 54 stitches in play widthwise.

Depending on whether you're fonder of pencils or pixels, you have two options. Pencil people can use knitter's graph paper to sketch out their designs.

The more pixelated will capture their text or picture. Or write it out with the font tool in an image manipulation program. If your image has color, or anti-aliasing, get rid of it. You want a very rudimentary drawing here, with smooth clean edges. Sharpen. Smooth. Despeckle. These are your friends. You might be able to work in 8 colors without going crazy, but not thousands or even 256. Black and white is easiest. Think dot matrix over state-of-the-art laser printer here. If your image manipulation program has a ŮposterizeÓ option -- use it. This will wipe out any extraneous color patches and give you a simpler image to work with. If you want your image to be more colorful, consider a variegated yarn to create haphazard shading. More color. Less work.


Now shrink your image so that it's within the number of pixels available to you. Crop your image very close to the edges and go into the ŮImage SizeÓ dialog box. Set your width to the number of stitches available to you (in our example, 54) with the ratio of width and height maintained. My image ends up being 54 pixels tall by 54 pixels wide. Great!


But there's one more thing: Knitting stitches are not square (pixels are exactly square either, but they are much more square than knitting stitches). If you duplicate stitch your pattern pixel for stitch, your letters will end up looking very short and squat rather than how they appear on the screen. So how do I account for that? A bit of math. Say my gauge is 18 stitches and 24 rows per 4 inches -- a ratio of 18/24. A stitch is 75% as tall as it is wide. So I can leave my height (or row count) where it is and shrink the width to 75%. But I want to keep it as wide as possible at 54 stitches, so instead, I will multiply the height by 24/18 or 133%.

Once I've done that, I've got an image that's 72 pixels tall and 54 pixels wide. It looks strangely tall, but that's what we need to correct for our stitch-pitch. Note that if you're fastidious you can go back and noodle around with it until it looks just right making some lines thicker and some thinner, maybe changing the spacing between letters a bit.

To make yourself a chart you have a few options: You can view your Frankentext at about 1200% so you can actually see the pixels and just stitch by the computer (which is fine if it's a quickie), or you can blow it up and print it at that size, or you can transfer it to graph paper (either plain or knitter's) so you can carry it with you.

Step 4: Get stitching.

Once you've got your sweater, your sketch and your yarn, get out a good yarn needle. A nice fat blunt one is what you want. Don't try to make do here, you will drive yourself crazy with some other sort of needle that is too sharp as you'll end up going through stitches rather then around them.

The stitching itself is a lot like counted cross stitch combined with weaving in ends like an ace. Because here's the thing: the same technique you will be using here is the textbook way to weave in your ends. They will be held solidly in place and would be virtually invisible if you are working with the same yarn as your project. This is why this project will make you a better knitter -- or at least a better finisher.

If you haven't read it already, go back and look at Techniques with Theresa on Weaving in Ends in the Fall 2004 issue of Knitty for a great how-to. Her photos show you what you'll be doing.

Figure out where your image fits on your garment. If you want it centered, then find the center stitch on your sweater and the center of the image. Count from there to the edge to figure out where one side is. (If this seems troublesome, go for off center and simply start your design on one edge of your sweater and work your way over... you can even wrap your text around the side of your garment if you like.) If you wish, you can baste in some lines with contrasting thread that delineate your working space and make it easier to count.

You can start your stitching at the top or the bottom of your image. Say we're stitching our @ sign onto our 54 stitch space and I want the top to hit in a certain spot, but don't care so much about where the bottom ends up. I'll start at the top. Looking at my chart, I know that I need 12 stitches in the top row, centered on the sweater. I'll count over 6 stitches to the left of center to start.

Cut a piece of yarn about a yard long and thread it onto your yarn needle. You don't want to work with longer lengths as you are more likely to get tangled up and the yarn starts to get beat up. Take a moment and really look at the architecture of the stitches. On a single row, the yarn moves in a sideways S wave interlocking with the rows above and below. With your threaded needle, you are going to mimic that shape, essentially repeating the desired shape with your contrasting yarn.

Coming up from the wrong side of the work, poke the needle up at the bottom of that 6th stitch -- at the base of the V. From here you are going to be following the path that the piece of yarn in your existing knitting takes across that row. So from the base of the V, go up the left leg of the stich and put your needle through to the back at the top of the same V. Go under the two legs of the stitch in the row above and bring the needle back out to the public side of the work at the top of the other leg of the V. Put the needle back in at the base of the V where you started. You have just duplicated that stitch, and now have one little V. Go under the two legs of the stitch in the row below to the base of the next V and repeat the process.

On a single row, your needle will always go under two legs. It will always go in where it came out the last time and it's always poking through the row above and the row below the row you're working on.

When you've completed the appropriate number of stitches for that row, move on to the next one. You've finished by poking the needle to the wrong side of the work at the base of a V. Come back out at the base of the V at the end of the next charted row. Work the next row in the opposite direction. If your pattern has breaks between stitches, simply hop over to the base of the next worked stitch. If it's only a couple of stitches, you can leave the tail and just drag it along on the underside. If it's more than a couple you might think about cutting the tail so you don't have a lot of floats on the back. Work each section separately if you need to.

It is easier to work horizontally across a row than to make duplicate stitches in vertical lines, so work as much of your design as possible horizontally. You can always come back and work the extraneous stitches later if need be.

Continue working your chart until your design is complete. If something still looks wonky, go back and add or subtract the necessary stitches. This is one advantage of duplicate stitching versus true knitted in colorwork -- it's easy to go back and monkey with, or even remove when your whims change.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kristi is delighted that she can now add thriftshopping to the list of wonderful things she gets to call "work" -- she's a mother, wife, and homemaker who spends all the time she can teaching knitting, designing things, or finding strange joy in fastidiously editing the technical aspects of knitting patterns.

She drives a station wagon; the devil drives a Buick.

See her chop things up at frankenknits.com.