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When Magnus from Foula Wool asked me last year to design a pattern for a men’s cardigan using his Foula Wool, I did not only delight in all the natural colours it comes in, but also by its texture. After I designed the cardigan I kept playing with the wool, and decided to try out some travelling stitches (also known as twisted stitches or Bavarian cables.)

I’m pleased to say that I managed to persuade Magnus that textured knits also work well in his yarn, and that it would be shame to limit his patterns to colourwork only. And here, dear readers, is the end result of my pleading:

Crofters Mittens knitting pattern by tomofholland

Crofters Mittens, showing a Celtic knot design on the back, and a twisted garter rib on the palm

The Crofters Mittens are designed to show off the excellent stitch definition of the Foula wool, and comes in three sizes (please note: cuff not included, which measures 2″ when folded back on itself):

Small: 7.5” circumference, length from wrist to tip: 7.5”

Medium: 8” circumference, length from wrist to tip: 8”

Large: 8.5” circumference, length from wrist to tip: 8.5”

Crofters Mittens knitting pattern by tomofholland

The first half of the ribbing is knitted on a bigger needle than the second half; this means the ribbing folds over nicely at the midway line and falls right into place

This pattern assumes you know how to knit twisted stitches and how to knit in the round using the Magic Loop technique. The mittens start of with a tubular cast-on. The first half of the ribbed cuff is knitted on slightly larger needles than the second of the cuff, to ensure it folds over neatly. The wrist is knitted in stocking stitch. The hand and the thumb are knitted in twisted stitches throughout. The shaping of the top at the back of the hand is cleverly hidden within the pattern.

The following special techniques are used in making these mittens:
Tubular cast-on with waste yarn, the tutorial follows below!
Twisted stitches (sometimes known as travelling stitches or Bavarian stitches, see Donna Druchunas’s detailed explanation of a number of techniques here: http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEff12/FEATff12EK.php I prefer the technique that doesn’t require a cable needle)
Twisted decreases (see abbreviations for explanation)
Magic Loop with long circular needle (see Kristin Fraser’s explanation here: http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEss14/FEATss14VT.php)

Of course, a pattern launch by me would not be complete without a tutorial! So, today I want to show you how I did the tubular cast-on for these mittens. I used to favour what’s usually called the Italian cast-on or alternating cast-on, which is a variation of the long-tail cast-on (although the needle movements are completely different.) But after reading Catherine Lowe‘s The Ravell’d Sleeve, I tried out her method and it gives me better results, and doesn’t depend on accurately maintaining the tension of your cast-on in order to look good.

You can buy the Crofters Mittens pattern here.

Tubular Cast-On Using Waste Yarn for Knitting in the Round

Assuming you want an even number of stitches for a 1×1 ribbing, first calculate how many stitches you need to cast on. If your ribbing is X stitches in the round, then add 2 to X. Then divide this by 2. This is how many stitches you will need to cast-on (for example, if your ribbing will be 52 stitches in the round, then 52 + 2 = 54, 54 / 2 = 27, so cast on 27 stitches.) Using smooth waste yarn and a circular needle one size smaller than you want to use for your ribbing, very loosely cast on calculated number of stitches with the long-tail cast-on method. Make sure to space the stitches far apart to create lots of stretch.

Tubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 01

long-tail cast-on with stitches spread wide apart

Now knit across the first row. At the end of the row, break off the waste yarn and attach the main yarn to the tail of the waste yarn. Turn work and then purl across to the end, then turn your work again.

Tubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 02

One row knitted with waste yarn, followed by a purl row in the main yarn

Now the fun begins! * knit 1, then increase by purling into the running thread between the stitch just knitted and the next stitch *, repeat from * to * to the last two stitches, and knit 1, purl 1. You have now reached the end of the row. Turn your work one more time.

Tubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 03

The running thread between the stitch just knitted and the next stitch is clearly visible just underneath the left needle tipTubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 04

With the left needle, you can lift up the running thread so it’s easier to work

Tubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 05

The purl increase in the running thread completed

This is the last row worked flat. * Knit 1, bring yarn to front, slip the purl stitch purl-wise, then bring yarn to back * repeat from * to * to end. You have just ended on a purl stitch.

Tubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 06

The purl stitch is slipped from the left needle to the right needle without working it. Notice that the working thread has been brought to the front before slipping the stitch

You are now ready to join in the round. You can place a marker if you find this easier to find the beginning of the round. I’m using the Magic Loop technique. So, here goes: join in the round, and again * Knit 1, bring yarn to front, slip the purl stitch purl-wise, then bring yarn to back * repeat from * to * to end.. The tubular cast-on is now completed.

Now change your needle size to the one you wanted to use for your ribbing and knit the knits and purl the purls (so no more slipping of stitches.)

tubular cast on with waste yarn tutorial 07

Tubular knitting of an extremely small tube in progress

You can leave the waste yarn in place until you have finished the object you’re making.

tubular cast on with waste yarn tutorial 08

One tiny tube of knitting. The waste yarn was left in place

Once you’re ready to remove it, first unpick the knot holding the main yarn tied to the waste yarn, then very carefully cut off the cast-on row with scissors. As there’s an additional row of waste yarn, it should be quite easy to stay away from the edge of the ribbing.

tubular cast on with waste yarn tutorial 09

The cutting of the cast-on row has started

 Once the cast-on row has been cut off, it should be fairly easy to unpick the remainder of the threads. Depending on where exactly you cut, you may be left with one last row of waste yarn peaking out of the ribbing. This is easily removed by carefully pulling on the waste yarn: it will come out as one strand.

tubular cast on with waste yarn tutorial 10

As I cut close to the cast-on edge, I had a row of waste yarn remaining after I removed all the cut ends

All the is left to do, is use some judicious darning in of the yarn tail, et voila, your tubular cast-on is complete!

tubular cast on with waste yarn tutorial 11

One tube with tubular cast-on. Can you work out where the beginning of the row was?

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Yesterday I launched my new pattern: Tom of da Peathill; a fitted men’s cardigan in three sizes, inspired by the natural shades of Foula Wool it was designed for. As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, Foula Wool is a sturdy DK weight yarn, so I used the knotted steek method to avoid any bulky edges resulting from folding over, or the very elegant steek sandwich devised by Kate Davies, which usually gives a very handsome finish.

The following tutorial shows you how to create a knotted steek. You may want to use your gauge swatch to practise your knotted steek on so you become familiar with this technique.

Knotted Steek Tutorial

knitting and casting off the steek stitches

First of all, the pattern calls for six steek sts. In addition, you will also need some stitches to pick up from: these are called the edge stitches. So apart from the pattern stitches for the cardigan body, there are two edge stitches, and six steek stitches. The steek stitches are knitted with both colours held together as one. When it’s time to cast off, only cast off the edge stitches and the pattern stitches. The steek stitches will not be cast off.

tomofholland Knotted Steek Tutorial 1

pattern stitches, edge stitches, and steek stitches. Note that the steek stitches have not been cast off

unravelling the steek stitches and cutting

Now comes the fun part. The steek stitches are all dropped down to the cast-on edge, thus creating a whopping large ladder! As the Foula Wool is a bit sticky – the very reason it’s a good yarn for stranded colourwork – you might need to coax them a bit to unravel all the way down. You are now ready for the scary part: the strands forming the ladder are cut in half. Spread the cardigan out a bit so you can easily find the middle of each strand. Remember, knitted fabric doesn’t like unravelling sideways, so it will all be okay.

tomofholland Knotted Steek Tutorial 2

cutting the ladder strands to create the front opening or the armholes

knotting the strands

The name of this technique – knotted steek – will now become apparent. All the threads are knotted in pairs in an overhand knot. Make sure that you always use the two threads from one row of knitting. Also ensure you snuggle up the knot to the very edge of the fabric for a tidy finish.

KnottedSteekTutorial3

The strands are knotted into pairs using the overhand knot, shown above

tomofholland knotted steek tutorial 4

The knotted steek shown on the wrong side. Notice the tidy row of knots, all snuggled up to the edge of the fabric

picking up stitches

It’s now time to pick up your stitches. You pick up between the edge stitch and the first pattern stitch. Keep an eye out for the fringe, and try not to trap them with the yarn you are using for picking up. Now commence knitting the buttonbands or sleeves.

tomofholland knotted steek tutorial 5

Stitches are picked up between the edge stitch and the first pattern stitch

 darning in ends

This is the part that will take a bit of time. Perhaps because I love darning so much, I really enjoy it. Be prepared to set aside an afternoon, and make a cup of tea before beginning. You will soon find yourself getting into the rhythm and becoming absorbed by the task at hand. You will need a sharp wool needle with a large eye. Sometimes called yarn darners, they are basically a chunky version of a crewel needle. The ends are darned in on the wrong side by skimming the floats at the back. If you find the strands a bit on the short side, then employ a classic sewer’s hand-finishing technique: first darn in the needle, and only then thread the needle; I use the method explained in this blog post by Stitchers Needle. By threading the needle with the two yarn ends from one knot it will go quicker than you think. Once the fringe has been darned in, trim the loose ends close to the surface.

tomofholland knotted steek tutorial 6

darning in the ends. On the right the unfinished fringe. Then the needle skimmed into a float, ready to be threaded. In the middle darned in ends. At the left the loose ends have been trimmed close to the surface

tomofholland knotted steek tutorial 7

the finished knotted steek on the buttonband. Notice that the edge stitch has turned to the inside, and the neat row of knots

There you have it, a steek which is virtually without any bulk, and which doesn’t impact the stretch of knitted fabric. Over time, this finish will become neigh on invisible.

I hope this tutorial has been clear and instructive, and has demystified my favourite steek technique.

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