Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pick-Ups Without Hiccups

With all due respect to Mr. Aesop and his one-note tortoise, I'm not entirely convinced that "slow and steady" always wins the race. I can report, however, that it will get you through a long stretch of lace knitting. That leafy nuppy number from Nancy Bush's book reached a turning point on Saturday when I finished row 3,246,782 of the center. As Nero said after he broke a fiddle string, taa-daaaaaa.

Center, complete

Time for the edging. However, Tom and I had plans to go hear a little Rachmaninoff down at Millennium Park. And while the setting, the weather and the music were all gorgeous,

Pavilion at Night

Michigan Ave.

they were hardly conducive to the next step: evenly picking up about 800 stitches all the way around the panel. So I set it aside and–I can't believe it–sat through the entire concert without knitting. But my mind kept drifting to the task ahead.

The short ends were straightforward. One was already live stitches, the other was created with a provisional cast-on that could be easily removed to reveal live stitches. It was the long sides that would be a challenge.

Out of curiosity, I went over to Ravelry to see who else had made this shawl and how their edgings had come out. The results were telling. Among 20-odd finished examples, easily half had no edging, or kept it to the short ends. Nothing wrong with that, of course. One should knit what one wants to knit, however one wants to knit it. But me, I liked the look of the full edging and would simply have to buckle down and make it happen.

Scary

Occasionally we knitters will refer to a maneuver or technique as "scary." I know I've done so. At such a moment, it helps to step back for a fresh perspective. So I pulled out at a few photographs I made earlier this month of people in the park spinning fire.

Jam 16

Jam 15

Jam 14

Yes, spinning fire. They quite deliberately set bits of things ablaze, and then whirl twirl and toss those things around their heads and limbs. For fun.

Jam 03

Jam 01

Jam 17


Upon reflection, I decided that picking up stitches evenly is not the scariest thing a hobby can throw at you.

On the other hand, getting to the end of the long edge for the third time in two hours and finding you're supposed to have 274 stitches but you only have 236, or you've overshot to 286, could make a person consider setting himself and/or the project on fire.

Divide and Conquer

I might be typing this from a bed in the Burn Unit if I hadn't remembered a sewing technique shown to me long ago by my seamstress grandmother. She didn't invent it, nor did I, and for all I know y'all already know it. But I don't recall seeing it online recently, so here's a little demonstration.

When you're faced with picking up stitches evenly along an edge, you may get lucky and find that the ratio is (for example) 1:1, meaning that for every slipped stitch or garter bump or whatever, you need to pick up one stitch. Easy.

Often, however, you will have a number of edge stitches or bumps that bears little or no relation to the number of stitches you need. Nancy Bush, bless her, gives a clue for this project: about 3 stitches picked up for every two slipped stitches. Not all designers are so thoughtful, alas. Or it may happen that you are the designer, and have nobody but yourself to rely on.

In such cases, break your lengthy edge into smaller segments. Here's how Grandma did it, and how I do it now.

1. Clear off a flat, level work surface large enough to comfortably support your project at full length. (Hint: not your lap.)

2. Procure an ample supply of coil-less safety pins, or stitch markers (shown) that open and close like safety pins. (The pins make fantastic markers, but can be tough to find. Schoolhouse Press is a good source.)

Markers

3. Lay your project on the table and smooth it out. Then, carefully lift one end and fold it, creating a single fold line halfway down the length of the edge you'll be marking. Place a marker at the fold line.

Halves

4. Pick up the folded edge and fold the project in half again, in the same direction. Your new fold marks the quarter points. You'll see that this time there are two layers. Place a marker in each.

Quarters

5. Continue to fold and mark in this way until you've divided the length into as many sections as you deem necessary. In the case of this shawl, I did one more fold so I'd have eight equal parts.

Eighths

6. Unfold the piece to full length, smooth it out, and check your markers. They should be placed evenly along the edge. You can adjust them if you see great discrepancies, but I find that it's not necessary to be incredibly precise. Your eyeball should work as well in this instance as a ruler.

Marked

Now, instead of having to consider the whole edge at once, you can divide the number of stitches you need (in this case, 274) by the number of segments you marked off (in this case, eight).

I figured out that I needed 34 stitches in seven of my segments, and 35 in the eighth.

After that, it was easy to pick up according to Nancy's suggested ratio and check my progress every time I reached a marker. If I needed 34 stitches and had too few, I'd back up a bit and add more. If I'd picked up too eagerly, I'd back up and drop a few.

I kept track of the count for each segment on a sheet of paper, which allowed me to stop without hesitation and resume without error whenever I was interrupted by the telephone, or by Dolores falling off the sink and into the toilet. (Don't ask.)

When I was finished with the full circumference, I had exactly the proper number of stitches, and it was all done in under half an hour.

Thanks, Grandma–what do you know about spinning fire?

96 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you thank you thank you! I needed this so much right now. :)

TA said...

cool trick, btw, did you get the digits of the guy in the last pic, would it be completely amoral to pass them on to me?

Tikabelle said...

Good gracious, those nighttime photographs are lovely. What kind of lens did you use? Flickr won't say.

Also, your grandma is one smart cookie.

Mrs. Bird said...

I love it when I am entertained and educated at the same time. What a great trick and thank you for all of the beautiful photos as well . Your leafy, nuppy, number is stunning! I can't wait to see the finished product.

Eileen said...

That's the only way to go. If you had ever seen the hash I made of picking up neck edging on the first sweater vest I knitted (for DH) you'd still be laughing.

Didn't help that the pattern was wrong and suggested I use a needle 2 sizes too small.....

But it got done.

Eventually.

NeedleTart said...

I don't know much about spinning fire, but I've heard that the inside of your mouth is damp enough to make fire-eating possible. Not tasty, just possible.
Lovely lace.

Joy said...

Yay Franklin - way to go! I hope the finished opus will be making a celebratory Camp tour next month!

Allison said...

Um, is the guy in the last pic losing his trousers?

Clever gran! That one is safely filed away in my cranial Filofax. Let's hope it's retrievable when next it's needed. :^)

Dreamin Diva said...

Thanks for a nice simple and clear explanation and method. I have a large shawl waiting to have its border stitches picked up and have been avoiding it.

Beth said...

That is so clever! How I wish I'd thought of such a thing while picking up stitches on that Alphabet Blanket.

Pamela said...

Your grandma and mine must have come from the same school of 'make it easy'. My grandma taught me the same thing.

Love the fire spinners. Especially the photo where the fire looks like feathers. Amazing. Do you remember when majorettes used to use flaming batons?

Mrs. Swank said...

Franklin, this post is just another example of how cool I think you are -- what a great technique! If you ever come back to La Crosse again, please come knit with our little Thursday night group!

SallyT said...

Hence the phrase "divide and conquer."

Rudee said...

Well this was helpful. Thank you. I'm closing in on the finish of the Cap Shawl from VLT. I simply can't imagine it without a proper border.

mwknitter said...

Beautiful - there is nothing I hate more than picking up stitches all around something. So hard to do without ruffling or puckering. Great pictures of Millenium Park. The weather here i so bad for my arthritis but I don't know if I can ever leave the beauty of this city (which you have captured so well in your photos.)

mwknitter said...

Forgot to say - years ago baton twirling was very popular (back in the 50's & early 60's - persisted beyond that in beauty pageants.) Really proficient twirlers would have batons that were like gigantic cotton swabs with flff at both ends. They'd set them on fire & perform similar feats.

Beverly said...

It looks like a lovely scarf - but I hate to break it to you that you will be ONE stitch short. 34x7=238 Then, 238 + 35 = 273. You'd be better off picking up 34 stitches in 6 sections, then 35 in 2. THAT will give you your required 274. (Sorry - but I didn't want you going crazy when you started to actually KNIT the border and not have enough stitches!)

Gamba Girl said...

Oh - good tip!

Linda said...

I do the dividing then the picking up, as per MY Grandma, but I'm always having to recount after each segment. I'll use the paper and write it down, now, which will preserve my sanity. Thank you!

Franklin said...

Addendum to Beverly: there's a corner stitch at the very beginning of the long side that didn't need to be picked up, and so didn't get included in my calculations. I should have mentioned that. So all is well.

Donna Lee said...

I was a baton twirler in my teens (lo those many years ago) and had the opportunity to twirl a fire baton. I wanted one but my parents refused. I had to play with my friend's. What fun it was. As a sewer, I use that technique of division often. It's the only way to keep things even.

And your shawl is absolutely lovely.

Linda said...

So in this one blog of yours I get to see beautiful lace and learn how to face long (vague) pick-up tasks with the 'divide and conquer' tool augmented with pins, pencil and paper. Divine, PLUS photos of, um, hot bods. Franklin, you are inspirational!

Anonymous said...

Since you appear to be a kindred spirit who enjoys knitting in parks, I'm going to shamelessly pimp out an event (though you appear to be a very cultured fellow already!) A friend is directing Romeo & Juliet this summer... and it's free, which means more money left to spend on knitting!

http://purplebenchproductions.com/romeo-juliet

Knitting Linguist said...

Your grandma is brilliant. I will most definitely be remembering this trick.

Cara said...

Clever, clever.

andrea said...

Where were you 362 picked up stitches ago? I've been working on Berroco's "saige" - a poncho for my granddaughter - size 2 knitting needles made completely with sock yarn. I'm about to lose my sanity but you have ridden in on a white horse and saved me from totally losing my mind as I pick up the last 315 stitches and complete the project ... Thank you!

Heather Madrone said...

Beautiful lace and brilliant technique.

I use the divide-and-conquer technique myself with one variation that keeps me from pulling my hair out.

For each section, I go through with a small-diameter circular needle and just pick up stitches naturally -- evenly in a way that looks like it makes sense. Then I count the number of stitches I got. If I ended up with more stitches than the target, I drop the extras evenly along the picked-up section. If I have fewer, I pick up the needed stitches evenly along the picked-up section.

In this way, I have the correct number of stitches more-or-less evenly spaced across the divided segment. Instead of bunched up and stretched out spots along the picked-up edge, I have a nice smooth pick-up, which makes me happy.

Amy McWeasel said...

Thanks so much for sharing such a brilliantly simple & effective tip for picking up stitches. I never would've thought of this on my own, despite its common-sense smartness.

Hmm. Perhaps if I were to acquire more common sense, these things would come to me... :)

la takahashi said...

wow! Thanks. You explained it in such a clear and succinct way and gave us pictures too! Happiness. :O)

the Lady said...

OMG Duh, right?! Thank you for this post, I'm sure I will need this trick some time.

Kate said...

What I do is pick up as many stitches as will comfortably fit along the edge, and then knit another row plain, increasing or decreasing evenly to get the right number of stitches. I do that for necklines too.

Anna-Liza said...

(smacks head)I've used this technique before, but totally forgot about it when faced with lace knitting.
Those are terrific fire spinning photos! My husband, two of my kids, and it seems like half my friends are firespinners and getting decent photos, especially ones that actually show faces or bodies reasonable clearly, is incredibly difficult.

Anna-Liza said...

"Reasonably" not "reasonable".

And if you're ever in the Denverish area, about halfway to Loveland to be precise, my husband's an *excellent* firespinning teacher.

Chris Tolomei (alicethelma) said...

Brilliant! Freaking brilliant!

WalterKnitty said...

That is quite clever. Thanks for the tip!

walterknitty said...

That is quite clever. Thanks for the tip!

Katie said...

Great rip! Thanks to Franklin and Grandma! Hopefully I'll remember this when I next face picking up stitches...

Beverly said...

I'm so glad to hear it! The math teacher in me was twitching a little at your calculations. Now it makes sense!

lostroh said...

Clever shortcut! I will use it for sure.

Kristen said...

There's an arts center in SW PA that offers a course on spinning fire. Perhaps next time you visit relatives you can go there and learn how to spin blazing nupps.

sara said...

Thank you for this. I thought that it was just me who had so much trouble getting the right number of stitches. This has brought back my mojo. Thanks again.

Holli said...

I like the way you think - oh dear, gotta pick up 274 stitches on this, well..it can't be as bad as bursting into flame!

Grandma's are the greatest, aren't they? Great idea. Thank you, and Grandma.

Bridget said...

fyi, the fire spinners are called poi spinners. it's really fun, but i'm not good enough to do it with fire.

The Gravelcat said...

Nancy Bush's book is lovely, and a bit scary. But thanks to tips from you, and from Nancy herself (in a video with Eunny Jang), the projects are beginning to look less scary. I think I'll stick to smaller samplers first. A girl has to start somewhere!

Kathleen said...

As I read the first part of your post I thought "he should divide the long side into smaller pieces for picking up the stitches" and, lo and behold, you did. Can't wait to see the finished piece.

Seanna Lea said...

This is definitely a trick I learned from sewing, though I've never applied it to my knitting (which is stupid, because picking up stitches is a great time to use it). Thank you for the reminder!

Luise said...

Your photographic talent rivals your knitting talent. Those first two picture of Chicago are something else. If you wanted, surely you could market your skills in a truly photogenic city.

Miss B said...

I am not yet to that level of knitting but I aspire to be someday! I am happy you shared that method! Thank you!

Also..those pics of Millennium park make me miss Chicago so much I have an ache in my chest. *le sigh*

Alyssa said...

You are brilliant! Thank you for posting this!!!!

tricotchick said...

That you took the time to explain your grandma's method, and present it photographically as well, is admirable and I am very grateful! Thank you so much!! You are a true teacher, and a great knitter!

greentaraknits said...

Your Saturday night sounds divine! I love Rachmaninoff.

And I use that method of picking up stitches all the time. If I didn't, the occasional twitch under my eye would be permanent!

Ruthcrafts said...

eye candy, knitting eye candy (I *will* make time to pick an actual project from KEL, and stop being scared of it), and information! What more could a girl ask?

Anonymous said...

Dearest Franklin, You have accomplished what in The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul is referred to as a "Baader-Meinhof". See Wikipedia for the history of this phenomenon. Within 24 hours both you and the Yarn Harlot have posted tutorials on how to pick up stitches and how to pick up and knit. Congratulations. (Key the Twilight Zone music) (I've also posted this to Stephanie).

Jen aka knitstuff said...

actually, one can usually find coil-less safety pins in the jewelry section of Joann's. I would assume that Micheal's would have them in that section as well.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else out there figure it all out beforehand? I count the slipped stitches (or whatever) that I have on the edge, then calculate where the spaces need to be. Saves me time from having to stuff up, rip back, repeat - usually!

ladys said...

Thanks for the tip!

Fire twirling really isn't all that scary if you're introduced to it in a safe manner and respect the fire. I've had more accidents cutting things in the kitchen than I have twirling fire in the last 8 years. It's all about wearing appropriate clothing with your hair out the way and just respecting the fire.

String Bean said...

Your grandma is a genius. A freakin' genius. I'm going to remember this tip when I knit the Mediterranean Shawl.

Anonymous said...

The next time you're in Las Vegas (are there knitters in Vegas?) go see Cirque du Soleil's show "O". Not only does a charming fellow juggle fire, but another guy sets himself on fire. The guy who sets himself on fire has been with the show since in started 10 years ago, and has never missed a performance.

Gail said...

I see that fire-batons are adequately explained already, so I'll add agree(1) to the "wonderful lace" comments - it really is lovely, dark and mysterious. And isn't it great when techniques overcome craft boundaries?

The Knifty Knitter said...

So simple and yet so smart! Aren't grandma's a wonderful thing?

joan said...

This is the same system I use to put pleats in draperies, now why did I not think this would work with my knitting.

FiberQat said...

Excellent tutorial! Interesting though that you have had problems finding the safety pin type markers. Woodland Woolworks carries them as well as split rings that can also do the job of marking stitches.

From what I've heard you need to comb the estate sales to find the asbestos bobbins needed for spinning fire.

Alacaeriel said...

Spinning fire isn't *that* hard... Although I do recommend spinning either staff or poi that are unlit for a while first. Once you've gained some confidence, light up! Oh, and be warned that you can sometimes hit yourself with something flaming, but if you wear natural fibres, you'll be fine. I've got any number of photos of firespinners on my laptop.

Oh, and thank you for the tip! It will come in so useful!

Anonymous said...

mad for the photos Franklin, thanks for a lovely post.

Lise in NJ

Rebecca Gordon said...

Utterly brillig.

geri said...

I'm currently knitting the Leaf and Nupp Shawl as well. I completed the Lehe Square Shawl last week and picked up the stitches all around the centre square for the first time. Nancy's instructions are quite good and I was only one stitch out along the first side. Your grandmother's method is a good one and could save a lot of frogging.

Good luck!

Laura said...

Beautiful lace! If you have trouble finding coil-less safety pins, any craft store sells earring wires that close like safety pins. I think they're called kidney ear wires. They're cheap and easy to find and they work well.

Rebecca said...

'as Nero said when he broke a fiddle string, ta-daa!'

You know that's going to wake me up in the middle of the night, right? Thanks for that.

--prellys

Anonymous said...

It's lovely - and yes , that's an old trick for gathering a waistband (or whatever) evenly.
Margie in Maryland

Tsarina of Tsocks said...

I do much the same, only (don't hit me) when there's a known number of stitches to deal with on a knitted edge, I actually do it via arithmetic.

Also, I'll be interested to see how the short ends work for you. I used to make a lot of hoop-la about using live stitches and provisional cast-ons where possible to minimize picking up for an edging... and then one day I woke up and smelled the coffee and realized that for most things like this I actually PREFER to pick up in a selvedge, from a conventional cast-on or bound-off edge. YMMV, of course, and a lot depends on the nature of the specific project, but by and large I find it makes for a cleaner and more consistent transition. Plus there's that extra bit of structure that's sometimes desirable.

Beautiful work, anyway. I've been working on a tsock that uses a version of the half-drop variant of that leaf pattern; really love it.

P.S. Verification word is "desti." Considering that the project I'm working on is all about Teh Twistz of Fate, I think somebody is trying to mess with my head.

Tsarina of Tsocks said...

And the next verification word is "fritar." NOMNOMNOMNOMNOM. I am therefore fritaring away my time leaving another idle comment.

Sile said...

My friend took a class in the fire-spinning last summer. Said it wasn't that bad. Me, I'll stick to my knitting... Love your scarf. I'm pondering edgings for upcoming projects as I continue to design/knit a sweater for myself.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing the amazing & beautiful pictures of the fire artists.
Most of all the tip on lining up regular, small spaces for picking up stitches!!
Dee

Miss Knotty said...

Great hint!!! Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

Word verification: clenonva:

Roughly: the word you say when you're having to move the stitch markers in your pattern AGAIN because the pattern calls for it, you have 4 dangly markers hanging out of your mouth and you're trying to tell a friend the name of the stitch pattern.

MLJ1954 said...

Great job. It is beautiful and I love anything that does not require a ruler (which might explain why I am not good at carpentry!).

Do your hands itch when you sit at concerts and such without your knitting?

Dee said...

Love you, Love your Grandma!

Muppetfeet said...

If my grandmothers weren't my heroes already, I'd say that your grandma is my hero. This is so....simple and elegant.

Then again, neither of my grandmothers can spin fire...I wonder if it's easier to do on a wheel or a drop spindle.

Elizabeth Phantzi said...

What a great technique! I hit on the "about 3" method by trial and error, but only needed it for relatively short edges (e.g. button bands on baby sweaters). I can see how a small error in calculation would multiply itself largely on such a long edge.

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