Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sock heels; yo-yo and boomerang analyzed

When I began knitting socks last year, I learned that there were two basic heel types commonly used in hand-knit socks, heel flap and short row. Undeniably, there are other ways to knit a sock heel, but these two are the most common. Of these two I've come to prefer the short row heel. Even non-knitters will be familar with it, as it is the type of heel used for machine-knit socks.

Recently, I came across a couple of new terms applied to short row heels--yo-yo and boomerang. The yo-yo heel I found described in a blog, Tess Knits. The boomerang heel I saw described in a German publication, and have been told that instructions for this heel are offered in a pamphlet published by Regia. While knitting my last few short row heels, I figured out something about these terms and the heels they describe.

I hope that my observations here seem simple. In fact, all that I have discovered is the simplicity of short row heels. There are only two steps to such a heel--short rowing in and short rowing out. The boomerang and yo yo heels add a third step in between these two. The insight which has helped me understand this third step and its advantages came from considering the names, boomerang and yo-yo.

I have some familarity with yo-yos and boomerangs, having played with both as a child. While both of these devices can be thrown away from a person to return to the point of departure, a yo-yo returns back along the same path. There are many variations from the usual path that can be imposed on a yo-yo by the person manipulating it. However, the basic path is up and down, or to and fro, or back and forth--it's all the same. A boomerang, once properly thrown, returns to the thrower in an elipse, a more circular path. This simple difference, yo-yos--back and forth and boomerangs--around, sparked my revelation.

The difference between these two types of short row heels and the standard short row heel, regardless of how the turns of the short rows are secured, is this path. On a standard short row heel, the knitter knits ever shorter rows, securing the turns in some way (with wraps, regular or japanese style, double stitches, or yarn overs) to tighten the space between stitches at the turn. In the photo below is a standard short row heel.

The turns at the beginning of each short row are secured by backwards yarn overs so that each turn is marked by a pair of two loops on the needle. Look closely (click on the photo to make it bigger) and you will see that the middle five stitches on each needle have only one loop. The other stitches all have two loops, a yarn over and stitch pair. The plain stitches are the ten stitches I will leave in the middle of the heel. There are 10 pairs of stitches and yarn overs on each side of the plain stitches, plus one additional unworked stitch at each end. I'll explain these unworked stitches later. At this point, to knit a standard short row heel with yarn overs (a heel developed by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts), I would begin knitting increasingly longer short rows back out to the edges of the heel.

With each row, I would knit a yarn over and the next outside stitch together, thus closing the hole at the end of the short row. However, the next step would be to turn my work, requiring another yarn over or double stitch or wrap, producing three loops to knit or purl together on each subsequent short row. Both the boomerang heel and the yo-yo heel eliminate the third loop. Here's how:

After the heel is short rowed in, the next row is knit out to the end, knitting together stitches and yarn overs. This step eliminates the extra loops on one side of the heel. Below is the heel after I have knit out and turned it around so you can see the single loops on the right side as opposed to the 10 double loops (in this case, stitch and yarn over pairs) on the left side.

If this were to be a what I would call a boomerang heel, I would continue the round on the next needle (the one at the bottom right), across the third needle (the one on the bottom left), and then knit the yarn overs and stitches together across left side of the heel. My boomerang heel would have two normal rounds between the short rows in and the short rows out, just like the heel described in Tess Knits. It may not be what others call it, but it makes more sense to me that the rows between the two halves of a boomerang heel would continue around the sock, as a boomerang turns around in a circular path to return to the thrower.

Calling this type of heel a boomerang heel helped me understand it. It may be called a yo-yo heel, or a jo-jo heel, or some other name, but I think "boomerang" is much more descriptive. It is a neat trick, this third step to eliminate the difficult and bumpy k3togs and p3togs. There's just one drawback.

When using patterned yarn, these two rounds break up the pattern. I use patterned sock yarn a lot. I wanted to knit this type of heel to avoid the k3togs, but I didn't want those two odd rounds around my ankle. I began to wonder, "If this is a boomerang heel, what is a yo-yo heel?"

Once I thought about the up-down, back-forth motion of a yo-yo, I had it. A yo-yo heel must avoid this problem by just going back and forth, by knitting the extra rows back and forth rather than around the instep. I tried it, and it worked fine. I don't know if this method is the yo-yo heel that I've heard about, having never read instructions for a heel that was definitely called a yo-yo heel. However, this is the method that works for me.

After I knit across to the edge of the heel, I take another stitch from the instep before I turn the work (I prepare for this by leaving an extra unworked stitch on the end each needle). This turn is secured by whatever method has been used to secure the other short rows. In this case, I turned, made a backwards yarn over and purled the stitch. Now I can purl back across the heel, knitting the yarn overs and next stitches together, eliminating those extra loops on the left side. You see the heel afterwards in the photo below:

Again, I'll take another stitch from the instep (it's already on my needle, but could have been left on the instep needle until I reached this step), yarn over and knit it, then knit across to the point where I'll begin working short rows back out for the other half of the heel.

In summary: The only difference, which is to me an advantage, between a standard short row heel and a boomerang or a yo-yo short row heel is that knitting or purling three loops together is completely eliminated. The boomerang and yo-yo heels only require knitting two loops together at any time. To do this, these two types of heels add two rows between the short rows in and the short rows out.

Once I finished the heel and began full rounds of knitting, I found a difference between the boomerang and the yo-yo methods. With a boomerang heel, the gap between the heel and the instep is small. With a yo yo heel, since there are no matching rows on the instep, the two extra rows may increase the size of the gap between the heel and the instep when they are knit together in the first full round. I find that it is necessary to add another stitch or two between the heel and the instep to close the gap there. This isn't a big problem for me, since I like to add stitches there to provide more room for my ankle. With the heel below, I picked up three stitches on each side. I decreased these extra stitches and a couple more away later in the foot, forming a mini-gusset after the heel.

Now that I have analyzed and understood these two methods, the boomerang and the yo-yo, I can use these methods with any type of short row heel I knit to eliminate those knitting two wraps or two yarn overs and a stitch together. The resulting heels are pretty, much smoother than those with the lumpy triple stitches on the inside. (The one above will look much flatter after it is blocked.) My German friend insists that the double stitch heel is even smoother, but I don't find that using wraps, yarn overs, or double stitches makes much difference.

If you knit socks, but you've never tried a short-row heel, try one on your next pair of socks. It's only a heel--you can rip it out if you don't like it. Clicking the link above will take you to the post I wrote when I first heard of short row heels. It has basic information and links to patterns explaining that type of heel.

(Added 3/24/10) If you'd like specific instructions for a boomerang heel, I have a pattern based on this heel available for sale. Besides the boomerang heel, the pattern includes a decorative seam stitch and in interesting approach to stripes.

Burning Stripes socks, for more info, see the pattern page

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"I love to knit" mitten

I decided how to end my mitten:

It says, "II KNIT". My first choice was "2 KNIT", but I didn't like the look of the chart. I topped it off with a ball of yarn and two knitting needles. Funny? I think so.

"I love to knit." That's the truth. However, I don't know that I love it enough to knit another mitten like this one. I may come up with a different chart for the tip of the second mitten.

The pattern on the thumb is supposed to line up with the pattern on the palm. I tried. **sigh**

After I finished knitting the mitten, I lined the cuff with the goosebump yarn. It makes it very much thicker. If I do that again, I might decrease the number of stitches in the lining. Knitting it on smaller needles wasn't enough. You can see a pucker on the left.

Once I finished the lining, I had to turn it inside out to sew it down and weave in all the ends. It looks strange but interesting that way:

Blocking really helps to even out fair isle. It took me a couple of weeks to knit this mitten, what with ripping out mistakes over and over again. I never did become comfortable with knitting with two colors at the same time. I hope the fair isle class I plan to take will help. I spoke to the teacher, who agreed to reschedule it for May.

Details: Based on the Potpourri Mittens from Fall 08 Vogue Knitting. I used worsted weight yarn (Kashmira wool and Goosebump alpaca) instead of the fingering weight the pattern specified. The gold yarn is silk, stolen from a sweater yarn stash. The light blue is wool, pilfered from a hibernating scarf project. So that the mitten would not be too big, I altered the charts to reduce the stitches to 50 in the cuff and 54 in the hand. I could have used a few more stitches in the hand, especially across the base, since there is no thumb gusset. Nonetheless, this mitten blocked out to 8" around and fits pretty well.
I used 24 stitches in the thumb, putting 8 repeats of the heart pattern around it. It is a little tight where I picked up stitches for the thumb. I probably need to cast on stitches a little more loosely after the thumbhole. (Is that a word?)

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Monday, February 9, 2009

Knitting Oblique

As you look through these photos, you will not only see my latest sweater, you will also get a glimpse of the changes we see in our mountain weather. These were all taken within a 24 hour period. This first, in my backyard late Saturday afternoon. I hadn't sewn on the buttons yet, so I just fastened the front with an i-cord tie through the buttonholes. (It has a buttonhole at the top of each buttonband.)

As is obvious, I was comfortable in just the sweater. I've been so comfortable in this sweater that I've been wearing it almost nonstop since I finished it last week. I may continue to do so, if weather permits. The way things go around here, I never know what I'll wear next.

In a way, the changes in the weather are a microcosm of the passage of the seasons while I knit this sweater. I began Oblique in April of last year. I know exactly which date, because I cast on during the first episode of Grey's Anatomy after the writer's strike. It was April 24th. Oblique, by Veronik Avery, was my Grey's Anatomy KAL project. I knit on it faithfully while watching every episode and rerun of the show I could find on the regular broadcast channels. I think I averaged 2-3 hours of knitting on this project each week.

The photo above was taken just a little later the same Saturday afternoon. It was overcast as I contemplated the condition of the dried crabapples that cover our little tree. Though they are not very appetizing to me, they feed an amazing variety of wildlife--deer, squirrels, and birds of all sorts. (A dove is nesting in our tree now. She's staying close to her food source.)

Last April, I purchased 5 hanks of Berroco Ultra Alpaca to knit this sweater as part of my new yarn goals for the year. I had determined to focus on more classic knits and stay away from the wildly variegated yarns I had impulsively bought in the past. Over the subsequent months of knitting, I increasingly modified the sweater. Since I was only knitting on it a hour or two a week, there was plenty of time to change my plan. I narrowed the sleeves and meant to shorten the length to conserve yarn. Over the months of knitting, I lost track of my original plan. This sweater is longer than I thought I would make it (nearly as long as the pattern original). That and a few other modifications (especially making it slightly larger than the smallest size) meant that I used more yarn than I had planned at the outset.

In the end, I grew impatient to have my sweater. I began to work on it regularly in December and quickly realized that I wouldn't have enough yarn. I decided on the contrasting collar and button band edging in Inca Marl, an alpaca yarn. It is softer than the Ultra Alpaca, which has wool content, and therefore a bit kinder to my sensitive neck. The clerk at my lys talked me into the purple (which wasn't that difficult to do, as much as I love purple). Although it is a departure from the sedate, classic look I originally planned, it does pick up the lavender undertones of the main yarn.

My favorite part of this sweater is the part I most hated knitting--middle pattern, the textured lace. I especially like the way the single repeat of that pattern flows down the sleeve from collar to cuff. I suppose it is appropriate, then, that the photo that best captured that feature was taken by the spring just west of Monarch Pass on Hwy 50. It was a mild 31 degrees Sunday afternoon when I took this photo. The flow of water, however, was comfortable on my fingers. At least, it was warmer than the icy tapwater I usually have to tolerate when I first turn on the faucet in my kitchen.

As we drove on into Gunnison County, we found a good bit more snow. Still, my sweater kept me warm, at least during this photo shoot. Little did I know that I was looking at my immediate future. We drove west past Gunnison to check out the ice fishing at Blue Mesa Resevoir, a time-consuming trip that allowed the weather to completely change. It was snowing hard as we approached the continental divide on our trip home, making crossing Monarch Pass nerve-wracking. We saw several vehicles slip and slide, then give up and turn around. I'm glad there were no accidents.

Unbelievably, it was clear and dry at our home. So, there in these pictures, you have the sweater that began in the warmth of last spring, continued on through the summer, and saw its finish in the dead of winter, being sewn together and buttoned at winter's last gasp. In it, I'm looking forward to spring once more.

I celebrated Spring's approach by buying more sweater yarn, enough Filatura di Crosa's Zara for the Belted Wrap from IK and the Ogee Tunic from Knitting Nature.

More on that, and a look at my Valentine's mitten, coming soon. (Sweater details on Ravelry.)

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Whoa, snow! -- knitting weather

If you were observant, you noticed that I bravely had my sock-clad foot on snow in that last post. Last week, it finally snowed. We didn't get much in town, but there's plenty on the mountaintop.

K was nice enough to take a few photos for me from the lift at Monarch. This was the best. Pretty, isn't it? Perhaps it is not so pretty to those who are living with the repeated storms that have hit the northeastern U.S. Sorry about that. I'll make it up by showing my reality.

This is what it looks like where I spend most of my time, dull brown and dry. You won't see many outdoor shots of my knitting. Dead grass isn't a nice backdrop. That and the cold keeps me indoors for my project-in-progress photos.

I'm still working on the Potpourri mittens, approximating the right size by leaving out a full repeat in the cuff and a partial one in the hand. Though they are not perfect, I keep telling myself they are good practice.

Such gooood practice that I have already ripped these out. In order to reduce the width of the mitten, I omitted three stitches from the chart. After I got this far, I decided I didn't like way the motif on the hand wasn't aligned with the motif on the cuff. (I used only 50 stitches for the cuff, 5 repeats, since there are no side stitches there--the cuff is simply a round piece.

I increased to 58 stitches for the hand. It was a little loose, my stitches were loose, and the plain rows were much looser than the fair-isle sections. The frog hopped on the hand of this one.

About that time, January ended, and I was hit with February inspiration:

I created a chart that would fit into 54 stitches, made a real effort to knit the plain rows tighter (on smaller needles), and tightened up my stitching in the second chart. Now they are a bit too small. Since I can't add stitches, I'm just continuing, hoping they will be a tad larger after I block them.
The other mitten news is that I found out the fair-isle hat class was canceled and must be rescheduled. I'm going to bring my mitten (if I haven't frogged the whole thing by then) to the teacher this Friday. She can probably give me some suggestions. I hope our schedules coincide and I can take her rescheduled class soon.
In the meantime, I'm thinking about these mitten charts. The first motif looks rather like an eye; mine is obviously a heart (for Valentine's Day). Wouldn't it be fun to have a third that completed the hieroglyphic sentence, eye heart...? Guess what I would use? How would you complete the sentence? Isn't this such a fun way to waste away the winter days?