Not long ago, I stumbled upon a discussion of unit conversion in knitting patterns. There was some concern that converting units from imperial to metric units introduced error in a pattern so it was suggested that the pattern math for both units should be calculated separately rather than using a conversion factor. I thought the idea was a bit radical, but I started checking the math and discovered that sometimes in our efforts to be precise we can introduce error into our patterns.
In which I prove that stubbornness is sometimes a useful trait
I have been trying to learn to spin for years. Every year at Tour de Fleece time, I get the itch to learn drop spindle spinning. This trend started in 2010 when I received a Learn to Spin kit. The kit included a VHS tape on drop spindling, a cheap spindle, and a sample of practice fiber. I also received 4 ounces of hand-dyed roving. Everything I needed, or so I thought.
2010 – My first year, I managed to get a small leader made before my yarn started falling apart. I gave up in despair.
2011 – My second attempt was no better. I did learn that one of the reasons I was having trouble was that I was trying to use a top whorl spindle like the bottom whorl demonstrated in the video. Oops.
2012 – The following year I signed up for an official Tour de Fleece team. I even posted a spinning project on Ravelry. I found an Abby Franquemont video on Youtube and managed to make about a yard of fiber. But I was never able to duplicate the results of my first spin. Again, I gave up with only a yard of singles to show for my efforts.
2013-2014 – Embarrassed by my epic failure in 2012, I spent 2013 recovering from the shame. The next year, I bought a copy of Respect the Spindle by Abby Franquement and tried again. This time the fiber kept pulling apart (maybe because it had been sitting around for 4 years). I gave up in frustration again.
2015-2016 – The following years, I hid when I heard the first whispers of Tour de France. I basically avoided the internet for the entire tour so I wouldn’t feel the need to try and fail again.
Success finally within reach?
2017 – See? I told you I was stubborn.
This year, being egged on by my fellow officers of Starfleet Fiber Arts Corps, I decided to try it again. I reread Respect the Spindle. I watched the companion video. Abby assured me that 5-year-olds in the Andes could spin. Surely, a college-educated adult with a modicum of knowledge of yarn could figure this out. I purchased new fiber recommended for beginners and set out. The first week was a battle of wills – mine against the spindle’s. (
The first week was a battle of wills – mine against the spindle’s. (the spindle was winning again) I was finally making something that looked vaguely like yarn but it was inconsistent. The strand size was all over the place-bulky one minute, lace weight the next. I was ready to give up yet again. Then someone mentioned that the spindles in the beginner kits were often too heavy for thinner yarns. Lightbulb! I got some recommendations and ordered a lighter spindle. I plodded away with the boat anchor while waiting for the new spindle, just so I could say I had completed spinning for the day.
My new spindle arrived on Day 9 of the Tour and I promptly gave it a try. My spinning changed almost immediately. With the better balanced and lighter spindle, I was able to spin yarn more consistently. Naturally, I ordered another spindle to mark my second week of spinning.
After two weeks of spinning a little every day, I had gained enough confidence (and was bored enough with white fiber) that I decided to try out the pretty hand-dyed fiber I’d been hoarding since 2010.
When I tried to pre-draft the fiber, I discovered it wouldn’t draft. Abby informed me this usually means that you have your hands too close together. I moved my hands farther and farther apart, pulling on the strand of roving until my hands were at least 3 feet apart. I don’t know a lot about different breeds of sheep, but I am pretty sure that there isn’t a breed that has a 3-foot fiber length. Something was definitely wrong with my fiber. On closer inspection, I discovered that the fiber had been partially felted during dyeing.
A smart person would have pitched the fiber right then and there. But I am the stubborn type (and since I liked the color of the fiber). So, I asked around to see if there was any solution to this problem. I was told that sometimes fibers can be separated until they can be drafted again. I was so sick of undyed yarn, I decided to give it a go.
To make the yarn, I had to pull the fiber apart width-wise until I could get a piece to pull off. Then I had to go down the length of that piece of fiber pulling it apart and fluffing, turning and fluffing some more, until the fibers would draft. After that was done, the spinning part began. It required park and draft spinning because the fibers really wanted to cling together. I needed both hands just to draft it. It was a slow and tedious process but the lovely new spindle probably helped my persistence.
She Can Ply
Finally, I had enough yarn spun that I could try plying. I decided this yarn was a good candidate for my first attempt at plying simply because I probably couldn’t ruin it any further. By this time I had acquired a third spindle that was one recommended for plying because of its size. I had transferred the yarn to wooden dowels as I filled my spindle because it was easier than trying to wind balls. So when I had two dowels with close to the same amount of singles, I built myself a makeshift lazy Kate using a tissue box rather than trying to wind a double strand ball.
Armed with my new Kromski spindle, I set out to ply (without really knowing what the heck I was doing). Plying turned out to be surprisingly easy, compared to the spinning. I am sure I probably did loads of things wrong but I am happy with my first attempt. Sure, I have a lot of room for improvement but the adventure gave me a ton of knowledge about fiber that I probably wouldn’t have gained otherwise, and the result is at least something that I will be willing to knit.
I am constantly amazed at how many ways people describe and work the left leaning decrease known as ssk. I am beginning to think every knitter has her own variation of it. Being the curious sort, I have been researching the different methods you see the stitch presented. I wanted to share a few of these with you.
The wrong way
I know in knitting we say there are no “wrong” ways but with this stitch there is indeed one wrong way. Many new knitters see the definition of ssk as slip, slip knit so they slip 2 stitches, then knit one. While there is nothing wrong with working that sequence in knitting, it does not decrease a stitch so that method is wrong when you are trying to produce a left leaning decrease.
The older way
I discovered quite by accident that ssk is a relatively modern technique in knitting keeping in mind that the craft is centuries old. But if you read vintage knitting patterns you will find ssk conspicuously absent. In older publications, the most common left leaning decreases were sl1, k1, psso (also called skp) and k2tog through the back loop. Some will tell you sl1, k1, psso is the exact same decrease as ssk but that is inaccurate. While they both are left leaning, they do not look the same, nor are they worked in the same manner.
The most common way
The most common definition of ssk is:
Slip 2 stitches one at a time knitwise (this reverses the stitch orientation), place the tip of the left needle in the front of the 2 slipped stitches and knit them together (i.e. working through the back loop of the stitches).
Working the k2tog through the back loop works the stitches without changing their order or orientation.
The not quite as common way
Another fairly common definition you will see for ssk is:
Slip 2 stitches one at a time knitwise, knit the sts together through the back loop. (sometimes the instructions tell you to return the stitches to the left needle).
This produces the same results as the previous method. The only difference is that the definition makes it clearer that you are working the stitches through the back loop and is a little more concise.
The abbreviated but ambiguous way
This one appears on the Craft Yarn Council website and a couple of other websites who use that information for their stitch definitions:
Slip 2 stitches one at a time knitwise, knit these two stitches together.
The concern with this definition is that it either produces a different result or it assumes knowledge. If you work the decrease exactly as written, when you knit those stitches together, you will be reversing the order of the stitches, causing the decrease to lean more to the right than to the left. That said, to knit those 2 stitches in through the front loop takes a bit of maneuvering. They will need to be transferred back to the left needle to make the k2tog work through the front loop. The more natural way to work it would be to leave the stitches on the right needle and work them through the back loop as defined in the first method so knitters who are accustomed to doing this decrease will work through the back loop instinctively. So, this definition can produce the correct result but it leaves lacks a bit in clarity.
SSK variations – the matchy-matchy ways
There are many variant ssk techniques that are intended to better match k2tog in patterns with mirrored decreases (like the shoulders of a sweater). Some of them produce results that aren’t significantly different than a plain, old ssk so may not be worth the trouble. And others are so involved that only the most OCD knitters would be willing to go through that many steps just to have their armhole decreases neater. Here they are, in the order I discovered them.
I have seen this technique called dozens of different names but the main change between it and the common ssk is that instead of slipping both stitches knitwise, the second stitch is slipped purlwise (or not slipped at all but I will get to that in a minute). The definition becomes:
slip1 knitwise, slip 1 purlwise, knit the 2 slipped stitches together through the back loop.
Slipping that second stitch purlwise flattens out the decrease a little so it matches the k2tog a bit more.
A variation on this that I alluded to in the previous paragraph is:
slip 1 stitch knitwise, return that stitch to the left needle and then k2tog through the back loop.
This keeps the orientation of the second stitch the same as if you had slipped it purlwise but doesn’t stretch the stitch when you work it and it is a little faster because you skip a step. In my own knitting, I get a neater result this way.
Slip, yank, twist, knit
Techknitter came out with this method (that I will link rather than try to explain. This method removes the excess yarn from the second stitch so that the stitches lie flatter and look more consistent with a k2tog. Honestly, while it does beautifully match the k2tog, unless I am looking at the tutorial I can never remember what stitch I am supposed to yank so I rarely use this method. And if you will notice, I ended up getting a bit of distortion on the next stitch after the sytk.
Slip, Twist, Turn
As with Techknitter’s version, this method from YarnSub does produce beautiful results but at a time-consuming cost. At 14 steps, how many people are going to be able to work in unless they are looking at the tutorial? And how many people are going to be willing to do that many steps to have perfectly matching decreases? Not me. Turning the work and working a p2tog-tbl was a deal breaker for me. The stitches I did for this tutorial will be the last I work using this method.
YarnSub has this method of improving the ssk. This is a further attempt by YarnSub to have perfectly matching left leaning decrease. This way produces neater results, is much easier to remember than the previous method, and doesn’t take significantly longer to do than an ssk. Still, it is tricky to execute and this method is technically no longer an ssk.
Easy but effective
I found this unbelievably easy method on the Cocoknits website. The results are quite lovely. The stitch matches the k2tog nicely and it doesn’t require lots of extra steps. To work it, you work your ssk in the most common method (slipping 2 stitches knitwise and knitting them together through the back loop) or slipping the 2nd stitch purlwise. Then, on the row following the decrease, the stitch created by the decrease is worked through the back loop. In stockinette stitch, you would purl through the back loop. The only tricky part is remembering to work that back loop stitch on the next row.
There you have it. Every way on earth (or at least every way I could find) for working an ssk decrease.
Yarn: Smutzerella Yarns Fondle (100% worsted weight merino) in Dress to Arrest
Needles: Knit Pro Zing double pointed needle US 7 /4.5 mm
Photography supervisor: The Ginger Menace (aka NinjaKitty)
Arwen pattern updates
Knitting Tools shop update
You may have noticed my Etsy shop has been in vacation mode for most of the month. This is because I have decided to host my Knitting Tools shop on my website. This change will allow me improve your shopping experience in several ways. It gives me more flexibility to organize my products. And it allows me to offer some great knitting tools that weren’t an option before. You will still see my line of project bags and stitch markers, but coming soon you will also be able to purchase print versions of my patterns and books, pattern kits, and hopefully soon, yarn. And you won’t have to remember another web address when you’re ready to shop!
It will take me a few weeks to get my new shop fully operational. I have the basics set up but now I need to add the important things like products. During this time I will be making a lot of decisions about which products to keep and which to allow to lapse into obscurity. So if you have suggestions of things you would like to see in my new shop or if you’re desperate for a project bag NOW, give me a shout via the Contact tab. Look for further news on this change in the coming weeks here and on social media.
Look out Aragorn. You’re next.
So, what is a style sheet anyway?
Think of it as a map for making sure one of your patterns matches the next in wording and visual appearance. It is a collection of preferences that you use in formatting your patterns to create a cohesiveness in your brand.
Do I really have to have a style sheet?
No, it isn’t essential to have a style sheet but it is pretty important. Having one will help you create a consistent look and feel for your patterns that will become a vital part of your brand. It will speed up the procedure of writing a pattern since you will be able to reuse some of the information in every pattern. A style sheet will also make the process of tech editing easier since your editor won’t have to keep asking questions about the pesky details of pattern writing, like where you like commas.
What do you put in a style sheet?
Your style sheet will include quite a few parts of your basic pattern. It will include the elements that affect the basic look of your pattern as well as the pertinent information that the knitter will need to successfully complete the pattern. Here are the basic things that you need to include in your style sheet.
- Preferred fonts and colors (choose something easy to view in both print and electronic format).
- Where elements will be positioned on the page and within the pattern (what order do you want the size, materials, gauge, needles, etc.)
- Cover page layout (photos, title, romance text and/or essential pattern information)
- Sizing information
- Ease and/or fitting suggestions
- Materials (yarn, needles, notions)
- Gauge (including stitch pattern)
- Necessary skills or skill level
- Construction notes
- Stitch patterns
- Main pattern instructions (together or divided by section)
- Finishing notes
- Page numbering, revision date, etc.
- Copyright information
- Contact information
- About the designer
This is scary. Where do I start?
The good news is you don’t have to do everything all at once. The better news is that there is help available. A great place to start is to look at books and magazines. Though patterns in books and magazines may be terser than you like, you will still see the items that are needed and the importance of having things look alike from pattern to pattern. Online magazines, like Knitty and Knotions, are another great resource. You can find the Knitty style sheet here: [Knitty Submission information (style sheet is just under the mailing list sign up for)] and the Knotions style sheet here: [Knotions Submissions information (look for the Submissions guide link)]. Next, review pattern layouts from patterns that you like, paying special attention to the things that appeal to you. Finally, don’t be forget to ask your tech editor for assistance with the process.
The secret about writing a great style sheet is that it really isn’t difficult. A style sheet is only a collection of things you know instinctively and may be doing automatically. Writing down these things will make sure you write your patterns the same way every time. These resources will be your guide to building your own style sheet and taking your knitting and crochet patterns to the next level. Best of all, you don’t have to have a complete and perfect style sheet before you begin writing patterns. Simply start the process. Every decision you make can be put into action immediately. Then you can build on that decision with another decision and another decision until you will have your own style sheet.
PS: If you are really stumped, feel free to contact me for help putting together your style sheet. I am even working on a handy checklist.