Sunday, October 23, 2011

Yarn Guides

 The very first sweater I ever made was a multi-colored Norwegian, at the tender age of eight years old. It still fits!


My mother ordered a kit from Norway, because in those long-ago days, yarn selection was limited, and the color range was even worse. Knitters of a certain age will recall, and not fondly, that odd brick red and the peculiar pea-soup green that were all the rage back in the Fifties...

I remember being entranced when the package arrived—what lovely shades of clear blue! The yarns were a somewhat harsh worsted weight and the directions copious—lots of diagrams, pictures, charts, arrows, and paragraphs of explanation. Too bad they were all in Norwegian. 
Fortunately, a neighboring couple hailed from the Old Country. I used to spend many afternoons in their kitchen appraising traditional Norwegian cookies (Delicious!) and avoiding traditional Norwegian Lutefisk (Not Delicious!). Made from dried whitefish and lye, Lutefisk has a repulsive gelatinous texture and an indescribable odor. The only substance that can approach Lutefisk is a dried Japanese fish called Aji, whose aroma is so, um, ghastly that as soon as I saw the depressing little flatfish being removed from the freezer where we lived in Japan, I slunk out to the bus stop and had dinner in town.

Anyway, my mother and I hiked down to the Jensens’ with the pattern and yarn, and Mrs. Jensen explained, partly in Norwegian with lots of gestures, how to make the sweater. Following the directions included learning Norwegian purling and knitting with one yarn in the right hand. I found it awkward and annoying, but persevered, and after a while, the sweater was finished and I had a working knowledge of knitting English-style. I never did figure out how to purl that way. 


Over the years, when confronted with multiple colors, I defaulted to the two-handed method. I still found it awkward and annoying, so a few weeks ago, I decided it was time to master the one-handed technique, that is, knitting with two colors in my left hand. 

I dutifully watched all the YouTube videos, and was amazed at how easy it looked. However, to my great annoyance, the actual trick of winding the yarns onto the fingers for tensioning was always performed at The Speed of Light, or the camera was focused on the knitting instead of the hands, or someone smeared Vaseline on the camera lens as soon as it moved over to record the tensioning trick.

NOTE: If a Two-Color-Left-Hand video knitter is reading this, please repost the video with a slo-mo of the tensioning step. Yeah! Thanks!

I spent a week tangling the yarn around various fingers. At one point, I somehow wrapped the yarns in such a way that I created one of those Chinese Finger Trap toy thingies. Harry snickered, Laptop rolled her eyes, Rambo flipped her ears, and I said things that cannot be written in this blog because it’s G-Rated and I am not supposed to know those words, anyway. Roy was out of the house, so I was at least spared his chortling.

After snipping the yarns off my fingers, I threw in the metaphorical towel and went hunting for The Knitting Accessory of Shame, purchased years ago and never actually used beyond a brief, and unsuccessful, trial period. I finally located the thing in a cigar box full of straws (don’t ask), placed it on the index finger of my left hand, and, after a few minutes of practice, discovered that it actually worked quite well. It’s liberating!



For comparison, I bought the KnitPicks version—it’s a plastic ring with dividers—lightweight and rather cleverly designed.


The trick to using these yarn guides is to practice with a single yarn first, before adding the second one. Each guide has a sweet spot on your finger—you’ll have to experiment and find the position that suits you best. For example, the metal guide’s picture always shows it sitting straight up, with the yarns coming off the top. For me, turning the rings so that they face front worked much better. I also found that putting the yarns on the floor was a great help—the slight gravitational pull prevented the yarns from tangling.

The KnitPick’s guide is very tight and the plastic edge a bit sharp. I’m probably going to give it a coating of nail polish to smooth it out and hope that using it loosens the band a little. People with large fingers may have to pre-stretch it on something—a wooden dowel, for example-- before it fits comfortably.

I realize that Real Knitters don’t use yarn guides and that yarn guides cannot be taken to S&B’s because everyone will laugh at you or give you that pitying, condescending look implying you also use training wheels on your bike and sometimes knit with acrylic. So, the answer is to take one-color knitting to the S&B and in the privacy of your home, create lovely Fair Isle, Scandinavian, Estonian, and Bohus colorwork with perfectly even tension at a speed only slightly slower than a single color.

Pink Sago Palm Bohus from http://www.solsilke.se/















30 comments:

Cecilia said...

The blue sweater is wonderful and you must have been a skillfull alredy as a child!
I whish I could master ANY method for knitting multicoulored...

Soo said...

Ahhh - I'm already an embarrassment at any public knitting group - I'm a THROWER. Who 'drops' the needle. Imagine the ridicule.

I know I'll never get anywhere in knitting because of it...but I persevere. :)

(AMAZING sweater for anyone to have made - let alone an 8 year old!!!!!!!!)

Projektmanagerin: said...

Beautiful beautiful sweaters!
Also, I am a believer of the whatever-works creed -- as someone who right now tries to master two-handed fair-isle worked in short rows from right to left AND BACK AGAIN while learning to handle a self-made knitting sheath... (don't ask. I must be mad) I wish I was more practical in my approach. Like you are... Looking forward to the FO

Cheryl S. said...

My first sweater (at the age of 11 or so) was in two colors. But it was striped, not stranded. ;-D

But it still fits and I wear it occasionally!

As a confirmed Continental knitter, I found the joys of using the Norwegian thimble when I first started doing stranded colorwork. Nobody at my SnB snickered, fortunately. It's still my preferred method (and the only method I'll use if I have to do any purling), although I'm trying to get more proficient at two-handed knitting.

Caryn said...

Even as a child you did such stunning work! I've learned all of my knitting on my own, but the one thing my fingers and brain refuse to do is purl in the continental style, so I understand your dilemma. I found my 2 handed technique while working on Socks a la carte colorwork, and now to conquer the steeking fear!
As always, I still want to be you when I grow up. Amazing work!

Dorothy said...

Hmmm - thanks for the inspiration. I actually tried one of the yarn guides and felt as guilty as if I were cheating on my husband. I didn't have much luck with it, but will try again with the yarn on the palm side.

Kitty Kitty said...

What an amazing colourwork sweater. The new colourwork is really stunning as well.

Hope you are enjoying the days turning cooler! Been missing your post.

Sharripie said...

I haven't done much stranded knitting, but there are plenty of stranded projects in my queue. I'll get there eventually! That bohus is going to be gorgeous. I can't wait to see it finished.

Janice in GA said...

When I was learning how to do double knitting last year, I chanced on a video that showed how to wrap yarn A around your finger one way, and yarn B the opposite way. It really worked well for me, but I haven't been able to find the video again. :(

I could take pictures if that would help.

I can never find gadgets when I need them.

How was SAFF? Did you still go this year?

GailR said...

For someone who knits such awesome lace and spins amazing fibers - who cares if you use a doohickey thingy on your finger for 2-color knitting. If someone says something, sic Harry on them.

Susan (and SmokeyBlue in spirit) said...

Definitely precocious.

Before I can try the two color yarn guides I would need to master continental knitting as I knit english and do fair isle with yarn in both hands. Probably hopeless.

Love the pale pinks.

Bonny said...

Before trying the nail polish to smooth the plastic edges, try this.

Use an emery board like you use to file nails and rough skin to keep from snagging the yarn while knitting.

Use the emery board going in all directions on the sharp edge. Up and down, side to side. Then smoth the edge some more with the finer side of the emery board.

Hope this works for you. i keep an emery board in all of my knitting bags and kits.

Love the blue sweater! My first sweater at age 12-13 was an all over lace design. Wish I still had it.

caresrg said...

I love my plastic yarn guide, though it is a bit tight even after having used it for several projects. I have more luck using it for double knitting, and do the 2-handed thing for stranding. I also find it easier to weave the floats in when I'm using two hands.

Since I'm the first in my group to venture into colorwork, I think everyone thinks that's the norm. :)

yarnlot said...

A yarn guide is not prohibited by the Knitting Police anymore since you have raised the rating of it to useful+++!
That beautiful blue sweater is heirloom...

Vicki Stammer said...

What wonderful work you do...and evidently have always done. I'm absolutely amazed at the blue sweater. I save the two-color stuff for home as well, and sit with one ball of yarn just underneath me on one side and the other just underneath me on the other, using the two-handed method. It's the best way for me to minimize the tangles and foil the feline "unhelpers" in our house!

Thanks for sharing the info on the tools. They both sound perfectly reasonable to try to me!

Vicki Stammer

Diana Troldahl said...

I say use whatever works!

Manise said...

Hey you can be the cool kid with the color work gadgets! I'd so use those if it resulted in beautiful tension and a tangle free experience. Thanks for posting this. Your garment is beautiful as always!

fluffbuff said...

Thank you for this post. I tried a few times to knit with two strands of yarn in my left hands, with and without props, and failed miserably because I couldn't tension the yarn properly. After reading your notes I am going to give it another try.

Nik said...

You made that when you were 8 years old????? AND it still fits?????

aracne said...

The Norwegian sweater is a beauty, classic colours and pattern, never out of fashion.
I didn't know that there was a little thing to help knitting two colours/one hand. I will look for it, usually I use both hands and a lot of tangling occurs. Thank you!

Lola said...

I've tried these doohickeys, but never had much luck because my fingers are very, very small (I wear size 3 rings or so). I knit with both colors on my right hand and I love Fair Isle knitting.

Laritza said...

The blue sweater story is great!
I did figure out the two hand thing, always wanted to make the finger antenna work.....maybe its time for another try.

Annie said...

Gorgeous sweater ... you were clearly an accomplished child. I really do need to learn to knit Continental, in one colour let alone two!

Luisa said...

oh, that blue sweater brings back some memories! The first garment I ever knitted was a stranded 2 colour sweater, back in the good old 70's. I was not exactly a child at the time! For my shame, I must say it was acrylic.

PenCraft said...

I think you are a reincarnated being who, in a past life, knitted on some ocean-swept Brittish isle, or something like that. Clearly so, evidenced by work as a child that I would aspire to in my doting years.

gayle said...

I was doing multi-color knitting at that age, too. There was no one to tell me it was hard (Mom wasn't a knitter) so I just knit onward. No sweaters, though - I did hats and mittens and gloves, mostly.
I'm currently doing a double-knitting project, using my normal two-hand method. That guide is really tempting. Thanks for the advice about it. I'd thought that I'd never seen one in use because they didn't work...

Kathy Kathy Kathy said...

I've seen really scary ones that have like 4 rings sticking out of them. That looks as fun as threading a serger.

Carol said...

I'm not sure I could stand the device sitting on my finger. I learned how to tension yarn on both hands as I hold the yarn in my right for knitting and my left for crochet. So that means I can bring 2 colour knitting to knit night, right? WRONG, I screw it up cause I need to concentrate, not chat with everyone...

Potato said...

Jeez, you were an over achiever. I think I was knitting an all garter stitch doll sweater when I was eight!

Rosemary said...

Awesome knitting!

Have you ever tried to use both hands when two-color knitting?

As always, a wonderful post, thank you so much!