Saturday, May 03, 2008

You've won this time, double-knitting! But I'll be back!

A couple weeks ago I was pondering idly as I trudged along on the double-knit hat I started for Daniel last month, wondering what simple, even, repeatable pattern of contrasting colourwork I might start in another inch or so. As I thought, I realized that I had cast on 142 stitches. Divided by two, because this is double-knitting, meaning half the stitches are the outside layer and half are the inside - this gives 71 stitches in each colour: a beautiful prime number which is not evenly divisible by anything.

I sigh. So much for an even, repeatable pattern, I think. I wince a little due to my inner OCD, but whatever, I think, it’s not critical, and I’m not ripping it out. I've done too much of it, and it seemed to fit OK when he tried on the headband the day before.

I mention my little quandry to Daniel, intended (non-knitter husband) recipient of the hat. "Uh-huh," he says, eyes focussed on his computer screen, reading.

A couple minutes of companionable silence later, and he looks up at me. “Can’t you just, you know, add in like two more stitches in there or something?" he says. "That would give you 144. Then you could do an eight-stitch pattern. A couple more stitches won’t really change the size, right?”

“Er, you mean increase,” I say, blinking at my knitting stupidly and mentally smacking my forehead. “Um, yes. Right. Thanks, honey.”

Well, I’ll be. He doesn’t know knit from purl, but I guess he does listen sometimes!

Two M1s later (one in each colour), which would conveniently be hidden by the brim that folds up, my cheeks were somewhat pinker, but I now had 72 stitches in each colour, a nice, divisible number. My OCD was satisfied.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Fast forward a couple weeks. I have ripped out and restarted the double-knit hat. Once I was 6 or so inches in and had him try on the headband again with the brim flipped up (oh, but for the camera! There were balls of live yarn hanging off it and peach acrylic through the live stitches!), he reported that it was a little tighter than he liked. I was afraid of that.

I used a long-tail cast-on, and I had repeatedly started with too little yarn. With this method, you cast-on with the main colour 2x the number of stitches needed for one side of the hat, and then you divide the work into front and back by starting a second ball (of, say, the contrast colour) on the first round, purling every other stitch and keeping the yarns separate as you normally would in double-knitting.

By the third try at casting on long-tail, when I finally got 142 stitches on the needle and still ran out of yarn, frustration kicked in. I figured screw it, that should be good enough, I'll see how it goes, right? I also wasn't completely happy with how the long-tail cast on looked at the brim edge of the hat, which I plan for him to wear folded up. The cast-on edge stuck out strangely:

Using long-tail cast-on, a very visible cast-on edge

So I sucked it up and pulled it all out before I got any further. There is honour, I remind myself, in fighting valiantly but admitting defeat and readying oneself to do battle again another day. At least I now know what doesn't work.

One month on the needles, 7 inches of tube double-knit, 10 minutes to pull it all out and re-ball the yarn.

And then, three tries over five hours one evening last week to get it cast-on again the way I wanted. My brain and fingers could not work out a provisional cast-on to a spare cable, and that seemed like the best way to proceed, since I was going to pick up the stitches later, right? Bah, I finally got it on to some waste yarn. Guess I'll have to practice that.

This time, I did 84 stitches in the provisional cast-on with a needle one size larger than before. This should make it sufficiently bigger, but not monstrous, and I can come up with a 2, 6 or 12-stitch pattern to repeat.

Using provisional cast-on, the bottom edge runs smoothly into the contrast colour

The neat thing about using a provisional cast-on to start double-knit is that after a couple rows, you can fold the cast-on edge up and bring the live stitches that are on the waste yarn onto the working needle, picking up one between each stitch already on the needle. And suddenly, you have two-layer knitting and a beautifully smooth bottom edge with no obvious cast-on seam.

OK, so it's not a brand-new discovery or an Earth-shattering epiphany, but at least I'm pleased with myself, even if I did have to learn it the hard way!

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