Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Knitting Terminology 100 - Needles & Yarn

When reading this post please bear in mind that I am in no way an expert on these things. I'm a "newbie" who has read up a lot in the past 2 months. This knowledge comes from several of the books I mentioned in a recent post. I just thought to compile them together for you and perhaps you could copy and paste onto a sheet to print for yourself.

Here we go!


I've run across plastic, metal and wood, thus far. Here's what I've arrived at -

  • Pros - easy to manage, not too slippery
  • Cons - if you buy the shiny, clear ones be careful with the tips. The tips are easy to scratch and once scratched will pull your yarn. Weight can warp the thinner ones.
  • Pros - slippery for maximum speed
  • Cons - ditto. I always feel like I'm going to lose stitches when first casting on. However, once I get some weight going they're not too bad.


(Please note that I haven't used wood as of yet, but I have heard this from other knitters.)

  • Pros - easy to manage, not too slippery
  • Cons - can splinter after much use and easy to break in your knitting bag. Weight can warp the thinner ones.

Needle styles:

You can find basic (standard) needles with a definite end (a knob or tip of some sort), double point (a point at both ends), or circular needles (needles connected by tubing of some sort).

I prefer the definite end style so that I don't have to worry about dropping stitches from the wrong end. The double point are generally for knitting "in the round" for socks and such, but I have seen people "flat" (knitting a flat piece such as a scarf or blanket) knit with them.

The circular needles can be used for "flat" or "in the round" knitting. You simply have to choose to connect the garment ends or flip the needles as you would if you were knitting with basic needles. This seems confusing to start off with. There are too many other things going on to remember when to flip. These are great for knitting larger blankets or afghans as you have plenty of room to move around.

Needle sizing:

Sizing runs from zero to 15 (US sizes, UK is different). The needles I've seen have a US size and a Metric size. The Metric sizes are noted in millimeters.

Some needles have both sizes noted on one side, some have sizes on opposite sides. Below is an example of sizing on my favorite needles.

Why does this matter, you ask? Well, the size of the needle will make a difference in the amount of yarn you need for a project and how tight a knit you end up with. In general, the larger the needle the less yarn you'll need and the smaller the needles the more yarn you'll use.

You'll need to consider this yourself when trying to interchange a different yarn into an established pattern. Which brings us to...

Yarn types:

If you're like me, you're probably overwhelmed at the yarn choices at your local craft store(s). Trust me, there's more! You can order specialty yarns on-line and sometimes find hand spun yarns available at Farmer's Markets or through your local Arts Guild.

Here's the basic rundown from the craft store:


Natural - wool, silk, cotton, hemp, or blends of these, etc...

Synthetic - acrylic, nylon, microfiber, recycled plastic, etc...

When you're considering the fiber be sure to consider whether or not the item will be washable. You don't want a baby blanket or socks that are "dry-clean only"!

You will also find many "yarn snobs", people who don't want to use any yarn that was "store bought". When faced with bin upon bin of yarn at the craft store I can't help but believe that someone is buying all of that yarn, otherwise they wouldn't have that kind of selection. Don't feel badly when you're buying off the shelf. Just because there are large quantities of those yarns available doesn't mean that your project will end up the same as another persons. Think of all those patterns! What are the chances you will pick the same one, in the same color, knitted on the same needles???


First consider the twist direction. A "Z" runs upward and to the right and an "S" runs up and to the left. This shows how the yarn was spun together.

Textures -

  • Spiral - thin yarn spun around a thick yarn
  • Slub - a single strand that varies from thick to thin and is spun with a smooth or another slubbed yarn strand
  • Chenille - two thin threads spun around a short, velvety texture yarn
  • Nub - two yarn strands spun to create periodic bumps
  • Eyelash - threads that hang out of the spun thread at regular increments along the length of the yarn (like eyelashes flutter from your eyes)
  • Boucle - two yarn strands that are spun with different tension to create a puffy strand with a tight strand (these look like loops)

By the way, always feel your yarn when selecting it. If you don't like the way it feels on the roll, it won't feel any better against your skin after completing the project. There is a large variety of soft yarn out there. Sometimes, you just have to look for it.

Sizes -

  • 1 - Super Fine (also called sock, baby or Fingerling weight) - for socks, baby items, or close-fitting items - nice for US size 0-3 needles
  • 2 - Fine (Sportweight) - for heavier socks, lightweight clothing - US size 3-5 needles
  • 3 - Light (DK or double knitting or light worsted-weight) - for sport or worsted items - US size 5-7 needles
  • 4 - Medium (worsted-weight) - any project - US size 7-9
  • 5 - Bulky (chunky, craft or rug yarn) - outdoor sweaters/ jackets, accessories, rugs, afghans - US size 9-11 needles
  • 6 - Super Bulky (bulky or roving) - heavy sweaters, coats, afghans - US size 11 and larger needles

These are basic recommendations. Use your imagination when selecting yarn and needle sizes. Super Fine knitted with size 11 needles will give you an lace-style shawl. Super Bulky will not fit on size 1 needles due to the bulk.

Reading Labels:

Labels contain so much information that sometimes they can be confusing, especially when they only use symbols.

You'll normally see a set of crossed knitting needles or a crochet hook that give you the recommended needle or hook size along with how many sets(sts) you could have within a specified area of measurement. (Sets are stitches.) This will be helpful if you're gauging for your own design or using a different yarn than the one used in your pattern of choice.

There will be a break down of how many ounces (or pounds) are in the ball along with grams, yards and meters. Again, this can be used for gauging your pattern.

# of balls of yarn X # of yards in a skein = total yardage

The fabric content will be listed along with any special care for the yarn (ie., hand wash, no ironing, no bleach, etc...) You will find country of origin information alongside manufacturer information.

Usually appearing near the bar code will be the color number and lot number, if there is one. The lot number can be the single most important factor in your knitting project. If you don't purchase enough of the same dye lot to complete your project you run the risk of having a multicolored finished project. This occurs naturally in the dyeing process. If you've ever dyed clothes you know what I mean. Be slightly off in the soak time or in the dye mixture and you could end up several colors off.

Fortunately, some yarns have no dye lot. If this is the case, it will be noted on the label, sometimes in big letters as an advertising ploy.

Reading Patterns:

When attempting your first project you'll inevitably start with a pattern. When choosing your first pattern most people choose something very simple using only the garter, or knit stitch. This is normally the first stitch that you learn.

Here's an example of a pattern - (sorry if it's blurry)

This pattern came from a yarn label. Many labels come with free patterns ranging from easy to advanced.

Normally, a pattern will include a level guide - this one says "Easy".

Finished measurements of the pattern (based on the same material and needle usage).

How much material you'll need to complete the project. (Make sure you buy enough yarn from the same dye lot to complete the project - see the Reading Labels section for more information on this topic.)

If you use a gauge, the pattern should tell you how large it would be with a certain number of sets. I always recommend using a gauge. (A gauge is simply a ruler, but you can purchase a knitters gauge if you want.) At first I thought it a waste of time, but this helps you remain consistent on your yarn tension while knitting and should keep you from making a lopsided garment. (See my Second Knitting Project post for further information on this!)

The pattern should also include a list of the stitches to be used. If there are terms or abbreviations that you don't know or understand grab a book or check on-line for a guide. Don't let new stitches stop you once you're comfortable with the garter stitch!

Stay tuned for more knitting basics!

Chatting with a new blogging buddy tonight gave me this idea. Thanks Mrs. U!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What's in the bag...

That's the question on my mind every time I see another knitter's bag. I just know there are all kinds of goodies and treasure lurking inside. The problem is that they're always busy knitting and I don't want to interrupt their project so I never ask.

Just in case you were wondering what is in my "newbie" bag, I thought I'd share!

First, I found a tote bag with a shoulder strap AND handles. That enables me to choose how I carry the bag and helps when I have my hands full. (My knitting inspiration has a new, neat bag with her name embroidered on it. It's beautiful, but I don't have the funds or the need for a new bag. Like most people I seem to accumulate tote bags from various business functions.) This one has a separate zippered pocket on the front that is perfect to carry my trusty scissors and crochet hooks in.

Here's a complete list of my treasures found inside:
  • The Knitter's Companion - expanded and updated by Vicki Square. This is my companion when all else fails. Read more about this book in my Book Reviews post.
  • An assortment of needles - US 6/4mm (slippery little metal suckers found at Kmart on clearance for $1.00), US 10/6mm (my first - plastic and extra long), US 13/9mm and US 17/12mm (these are the plastic swirl ones, found at AC Moore on clearance for $2.00 per set)
  • Crochet hooks - D3/3.25mm, E4/3.50mm, F5/3.75mm, G6/4.25mm, H8/5.00mm, I9/5.50mm, J10/6.00mm, K10 1/2/6.50mm (these came in a pre-packaged set and are good basics to have around for edges)
  • 2 large and 2 medium holding hooks - these are wonderful when you've dropped a stitch and choose to go back and pick it up.
  • A finger yarn separator - for when I finally get up the nerve to use multiple yarns
  • Plastic place markers - again, if I have enough nerve to try a difficult pattern...
  • Various patterns collected from displays and yarn labels
  • A small pair of sharp scissors
  • Some scrap cardboard - for rolling balls of yarn
  • An ink pen - I may need it for those more difficult patterns
  • An empty, plastic shopping bag - if I carry a lot of yarn I separate it so I can pull it out easily to find what I need. It's also good to put finished works in until I get home.
  • Lastly, a crochet booklet - Don't shoot me, but it's on my list to learn. Besides, I have all of those neat hooks just hanging around waiting to be used!

Here's a close-up:

Going over my bag I realize that there are a few things that I'd like to add: a nail file (it's recommended in the book, but I've never needed one until last night), a small note pad (for counting stitches) and maybe some graphing paper (it's be nice, in case I have trouble following a complicated pattern).

If you're just starting a bag I'd recommend searching for the clearance sections of each craft store, thrift shops or yard sales. You can spend over $15 for a new set of needles and many times you can find them for a few dollars there. Also, look for gadgets and gizmos while you're there. As in my case, I don't need them now, but hopefully I'll need them in the coming year. Including my books I may have $20 in my bag and that's a price you can't beat!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Knitting book reviews...

Since I mentioned the book that brought this all about in my first post, I thought I'd tell you a little about it and some other books that I've found.

The Knitter's Companion is the one that started my journey. It's a handy little book that is compact enough to fit into your yarn bag. It contains pretty much everything you'd ever need to know to begin knitting. From basic supplies to button holes, it's all here. It may also be of use to those of us that periodically forget how to make a certain stitch or need help interpreting patterns.

This book is well written and contains great photos that help explain the verbiage. If you are a sight learner this is especially helpful!

Not Your Mama's Knitting is another book that I found helpful. I checked it out at the local library (something I definitely recommend when searching for new pattern ideas!), along with a few others.

What a cute book! It contains many tips, hints and ideas as well as some patterns to get you started. This was especially helpful to me when the verbiage in the first book confused me and things didn't click (which is apt to happen because I'm dyslexic and often need to look at things from other perspectives when trying to learn them.)

**I'll also note here that the photo says "Click to Look Inside" because I copied it from the Amazon website. You can click the link above to view it at their website.**

There are many other wonderful books out there. I recommend searching at the library or in a retail shop for the ones like you like the best. Then you can search online at Amazon or on e-Bay for a better price. I've purchased many, brand new, from e-Bay for less than $5 and most retail for $19.95 and up.

A few of my e-Bay finds include these:

"The Knitter's Bible" contains tons of information on more difficult attempts - cables, lace, knitting in the round, etc... It also has some unusual knitting ideas, such as greeting card accessories.

"Super Stitches Knitting" has over 300 stitching patterns with examples laid out neatly for each. What a better way to judge if your stitching is turning out like it should!

"The Knitter's Bible - Knitted Accessories" has over 30 templates with photos. It contains "hip" new looks that include hats and mittens. The patterns also suggest some interesting yarn choices.

I thought these book could get me started on my way to becoming an expert knitter!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

My second project...

After completing my original shawl (but before the decision to unravel that mess) I attempted something smaller. I decided that my goal would be to try something new with every new project. I continued with the same stitch, garter, as I still wasn't 100% comfortable with how I was holding the needles, the tension, etc...

My son had been watching me avidly with my first project and had inquired about something for himself. Hence, I decided on something useful and manly. This is what I arrived at...

The colors don't come through well on the photo, so I'll describe it for you. I picked Leaf Green (Moss) from Premiers' Dream line for the main body because green is my son's favorite color. The dark color is Dark Country Blue and the other accent color is Off White (cream) both from Carons' Simply Soft line. My thoughts were on some of the sweaters I've seen recently when picking these out. Additionally, green, navy and cream go with everything.

The design was my own. I couldn't find a pattern that I liked so I made one up as I went along. I simply alternated colors, always surrounding the blue with cream, as if to offset it or highlight the change. I liked the thought of a random pattern so I chose to offset the large color change and finish with a more traditional look.

I learned three valuable lessons with this scarf -

  • When you attempt a color change, always bind-on on the same side or right side. (Binding-on is tying on a new color at the edge.) If you don't you'll end up with a noticeable separation in your change. That ended up being fine with this scarf, as I was deliberately alternating colors in a mismatched way. My error turned out to work in the scheme!

  • Gauging is a good idea! I can't stand rigidity. I rebuked the idea that I should waste time making a sample and gauging my work. Even though I was working with the same weight of yarn (4) in each color, I ended up with a noticeable wave when changing colors and from start to finish on the scarf there is a difference of about 2 inches width wise. I believe that part of the problem was my tension and the other part is that there truly is a small difference in the color. (The blue was slightly thicker, because I tightened my blue stitches until I could hardly work the needles and it was still a fatter stitch than the green woven loosely.)

The wave that you see here in the center is really part of my error, not the way the scarf is laying. I think you can also see the width difference - the start is on the left and the end on the right.

  • Finally, don't waste time pulling your tail ends through with a knitting needle. (Pulling tail ends is when you weave the tail from your cast or bind-on into the finished project.) You CAN do it with needles, but you save half the time by purchasing a set of crochet hooks and hook the tail. Trust me. I'm cheap and didn't buy any. After this project I couldn't get to the craft store fast enough to pick them up!

Anyway, the great thing is that my son doesn't mind at all. He says "Mom, it's fine. No one can tell when it's wrapped around my neck. Anyway, you made it." Tear, tear, sniffle...sometimes kids are great!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Life of a knitting "newbie"...

Part 1 - We've recently made a lot of changes around our household. The biggest of which involved homeschooling my son. He's a younger teen and pretty much self-sufficient. I've found that in certain subjects all I can do is review whatever is in the book and wait on him to complete the assignment. While waiting, I've found that I have a fair amount of time sequestered close by.

Part 2 - I'm an avid thrift store shopper and I ran across this small knitting "How to" book. It was $1.50 and seemed to be very informative. How could I pass that up? Besides, I need something to keep me occupied while waiting on my son. What a wonderful way to be productive and stay busy!

Part 3 - The craft store is the enemy of anyone starting a new craft on a budget! So I come home, after 3 hours of selecting and re-selecting yarn, with a small bag full of goodies. I picked up 3 skeins of yarn (yes, that took 3 hours - there are way too many to choose from!), a set of knitting needles that were on sale and a free project sheet with a neat looking shawl on it. Mind you, the project sheet said "Beginner" in the level section.

Part 4 - Three days later, I'm still trying to cast on! I think I know why someone got rid of this book...

Part 5 - Eureka! I cast on and made progress on the first row, after dropping my stitches off the needles about 4 times. (Muttering under my breath, "I can't believe people think this is stress-reducing.") In the mean time, I've decided that perhaps this nifty book is missing a few steps and I had better stick with the one stitch I have down - garter.

Part 6 - A week later and halfway through my shawl project (that I had to dumb down, because I am a beginner and can't make that pattern), I realize that I don't have enough yarn, I've dropped or slipped so many stitches that the shawl looks lacy in places and too tight in others. Again, I mentally question the therapy side of this craft.

Part 7 - Another week down. My headache from last week has finally subsided. I unravel my shawl and start a scarf!

Welcome to my knitting world...