Thursday, October 18, 2012

Strange Loop pattern

Strange Loop

This is a pattern recipe for a snug and stretchy twisted turtleneck cowl. It is more in the vein of “general directions with tips and ideas—knit it how you like to get what you want” rather than in the vein of “do exactly this to get exactly that”. A few knitters had expressed interest in my experimental project, and I thought I’d go ahead and write it up put it here on the blog rather than let it languish forever in pattern limbo with some of my other designs-in-progress. It hasn’t been test-knitted, and so far I’ve only knitted it once, but I plan on knitting it again sometime and adding photos of some of the fiddlier steps involved. I hope that if you go ahead and try this out, you’ll note what you did in your Ravelry project so that others can see and benefit!

Yarn: Laceweight, such as Malabrigo Lace. The pictured cowl used about 32 grams/300 yards.

Needles: 40" circular needles, US 4, or the size to get the fabric you want. (Recommended: two sets of circular needles in the main size for casting on with Judy’s Magic Cast-on and possibly one set in a smaller size to be used later just as a holder.)

Techniques: Provisional cast-on; knitting in the round with circular needles using magic loop; kitchener stitch/grafting.

Gauge: I didn’t knit a gauge swatch before casting on, but my finished gauge is about 7 stitches per inch after the fabric has been stretched and allowed to relax. Rather than try to get a specific gauge, I recommend knitting to get the fabric you want and to cast on the appropriate number of stitches to fit you. I give some gauge/swatching suggestions in the questions at the bottom.

Finished dimensions and fit: This cowl doesn’t lie flat and is stretchy and thus is difficult to measure with any sort of accuracy, but mine is approximately 7½ inches tall and 17½ inches in circumference when relaxed. It goes over my 22¾" head and fits comfortably and warmly around my 12¼" neck.

The pattern recipe itself is relatively straightforward, but there are some fiddly bits at the beginning and end. I recommend being very comfortable with your preferred provisional cast-on and with kitchener stitch/grafting. Due to the number of stitches and fineness of the yarn, I don’t recommend that beginners to these techniques just dive in—it would probably be much less frustrating to practice them separately, perhaps even working a practice piece with heavier yarn and fewer stitches.
I’ve included some tips and suggestions in the indented portions. They are based on my own knitting preferences and experiences, and I hope they can be helpful, but you might prefer do to things differently.

Using your preferred method, provisionally cast on 120 stitches.
  • I like to use Judy’s Magic Cast-on (JMCO) over two long circular needles for this. When using JMCO as a provisional cast-on, you need to double the number of stitches (in this case, 240).
  • If you find the number of stitches daunting, I recommend casting on 10 or 20 stitches, then pausing to mark this number on a piece of paper or a spreadsheet and then resuming and repeating. I find that I’m less likely to zone out and lose count this way.
  • When I use JMCO as a provisional cast-on for knitting in the round, instead of flipping the needles so that the top one is now on the bottom, I slide the stitches to the other ends of the needles, pulling out loops in the cables (for magic loop) on the way. This is so the working end of the yarn is at the correct place to begin knitting in the round. (This is easier to do than to explain with words, and I will try to add photos of this step.)
Join to knit the 120 stitches in the round. Be careful not to twist.
  • If you used JMCO for the provisional cast-on, the other needle will need a magic loop as well. You won’t be knitting the stitches on the other needle—it is just functioning as a holder.
Knit in stockinette for about 17 inches (unstretched) or your preferred length.
  • It might be a little unwieldy and tanglesome at first, but it gets easier as the cowl becomes longer.
  • If you are using a yarn that fuzzes and felts easily, I recommend transferring the provisional stitches to the smaller size of circular needle after knitting a few rounds. I find that after the stitches have fuzzed up, they’re harder to slide and work with when grafting. Use a needle size that is closer to the size of the cable but not so small that the needle falls out easily.
  • Feel free to add stripes or blocks of color.
  • The finished cowl will be folded in on itself to make a double layer. When thinking about whether or not it will be long enough, keep in mind that the fabric will need to stretch a bit width-wise, and this takes away some of the length. Also the half-twist takes away a little bit of the length, too.
Knit another half round (that is, on 120 stitches, knit 60 stitches.)   
  • If you want a straight, untwisted cowl, leave this step out.
Carefully fold the tube in on itself, giving the fabric half a twist so that the tips of the knitting needles are on the same side.
  • I made this with the knit side out, so if this is what you want, make sure that the knit sides are facing you and the purl sides are inside. If you want the purl side out and know how to graft purlwise, please feel free to do so.
Cut the yarn, leaving a tail about 3 times the length to be grafted shut (the unstretched circumference of the cowl).

Use kitchener stitch to graft the two ends together.
  • For this particular cowl, make sure you’ve folded the tube in on itself, something like a turtleneck. For a different cowl, you could knit a longer length and bring the ends together to meet in a circle, like a doughnut.
  • There will probably be a little gap at the end of the grafting—just use the yarn tail to carefully sew it up as invisibly as possible.
Lightly darn in the ends, being careful not to stitch through both layers of the cowl.
  • I only do a little bit of darning in and then leave the tail in between the two layers of the cowl.
If the twists are arranged at one end, this can be worn as a hat or pushed back as a wide headband with a hole to accommodate a ponytail.

I’d like to preemptively answer some questions that I imagine might be asked.

Q. Why do I have to use a provisional cast-on and kitchener stitch? Why can’t I just use my usual cast-on and bind-off and then seam the ends together? Or better yet, use the three-needle bind-off?
A. This particular pattern recipe is for a cowl that is as stretchy as it can be so that it can go over the head and still fit snugly around the neck. Most cast-ons and bind-offs and seams are significantly less stretchy than the knit fabric itself, so to incorporate those with this circumference would result in something that won’t have the intended fit and function. If you don’t want the intended fit or function, you can certainly use a different cast-on and bind-off, but then you don’t need this pattern recipe.

Q. But what about x cast-on or y bind-off? They’re very stretchy.
A. I’m not familiar with every cast-on or bind-off, and those may very well work. Please feel free to experiment!

Q. Can I make this with a heavier yarn?
A. Of course! I haven’t made one and likely will not make one because I don’t need such a thick fabric, but again, please feel free to experiment.
I have some suggestions on how to do a swatch and figure out your gauge and number of stitches to cast on. Because of the aforementioned lack of stretchiness in the usual cast-ons, I recommend using Judy’s Magic Cast-on and knitting in the round. (It will have a closed end like the toe of a sock, but that is fine.) You might have another method that would also work. Normally you don’t want to stretch your gauge swatch when measuring, but for this pattern you do want to stretch it a reasonable way, as though you are stretching a cowl over your head. I don’t even bind off (because of the lack of stretchiness) but just measure the swatch on my needles. Measure around your head in the direction you would put a cowl on. (I prefer to tuck it under my chin and raise it over my head rather than drag it down from the crown, and for me, this results in a slightly bigger measurement.) Multiply your stretched stitches-per-inch by your head measurement. You’ll want to cast on at least that number and add some more stitches for good measure and/or to make a nice round number. You may want to measure the relaxed swatch and figure out approximately how big around the cowl will be when it’s not stretched to make sure that this will be a comfortable measurement for your neck. Keep in mind that the cowl is a double layer, which adds some thickness. The half-twist will also add some thickness.

Q. Why do you want to use yarn that gets fuzzy and felted while you’re knitting?
A. Because it’s so soft and luxurious, and sometimes I don’t mind the fuzzing and felting. There are superwash laceweight yarns though.

Q. Can’t I knit this with double-pointed needles instead?
A. I don't know, but you could try. Personally, I find magic loop to be less unwieldy.

Q. Can’t I knit this with a shorter circular needle? Do I have to use magic loop?
A. I tend to favor magic loop, so I don’t know. You could try. I think that the main benefit to using magic loop for this is that there’s enough cable to allow for trying the cowl on or just stretching it to make sure it’ll fit before finishing it.

Q. What about traveling loop?
A. I find that the other circular needle acting as a holder makes traveling loop more awkward than just using magic loop, but you are of course free to do as you see fit.

Q. I don’t like having the extra circular needle just hanging there getting tangled up in everything. Why do you recommend this?
A. I don’t like transferring stitches to and from scrap yarn, especially with this number of stitches on this thin weight of yarn—I tend to drop stitches or pierce the working yarn and/or the scrap yarn, or some other thing goes wrong. I find dealing with the extra circular needle less troublesome.

Q. Why so long-winded?
A. I tried not to be, but I want to give information that I think could be helpful.

Q. Doesn’t this so-called pattern boil down to “cast on a zillion stitches, knit something more than twice as long as you need, tangle your unnecessarily long circular needles to do some twisty hocus pocus folding thing, and spend half of forever grafting the zillion stitches to each other”?
A. Pretty much, yes.

Q. Why would anybody even want to knit this?
A. I suspect that not many people will actually want to knit this, especially when there are many cowl patterns out there that are quicker and less fiddly to knit. I find that most lightweight, non-bulky cowl patterns that will fit over my head won’t go up high enough to keep my neck as warm as I would like. I don’t prefer knitting and wearing a cowl with buttons and buttonholes or zippers and enjoy having a mindless stockinette-in-the-round project around. I also enjoy knitting experimental things to see what will happen and am currently intrigued by stretchy, seamless, twisty tubes. If one or more of these apply to you, you might want to give this a try.
 I hope you enjoy this pattern recipe if you do decide to knit it!

A Russian translation has been added to the Ravelry page!


RC said...

am totally enamored with this idea, but cannot understand how you add the twist? pictures please?

m said...

thanks for the comment--I do plan to add pictures but will need to knit another one first. I can't draw well or I'd make a diagram. I think it's one of those things that is easier to do than it is to try to imagine or to describe with words. (it's not all that easy to photograph either unless you have two sets of hands.)

Heather Swan said...

Let me try... Your first row will have a marker at the beginning of the round, correct? So after you've knit a half round (60 sts) on your last row, you fold it together, knit side out. You will then graft stitch 61 to stitch 1 of the first round, st2 to st62, etc, and so on. Right?

m said...

yes! exactly that--thank you!

RC said...

ok, am becoming obsessed with this idea.
do you only turn 60 sts? or all 120?
Think I will knit with some Goth sock yarn (fun stripes) and nag you till I figure it out, k?
I'm on raverly- rabiesonmyshoe if its easier to nag u there?

RC said...

um, so like Heather says, stitch 61 will be grafted to stitch 1 at the bottom/beginning/fold up part?

m said...

yes, you turn all 120 stitches and kitchener stitch/graft stitch 61 to stitch 1 at the beginning/bottom, as Heather described. if you knit with sock yarn make sure your gauge and stitch count will give you the fit you want! good luck, and have fun!

Anonymous said...

This is just a cool pattern, thank you very much indeed. I have completed it today using leftovers of Noro SGL and baby alpaka wool. Thanks a lot!

m said...

you're very welome--I'm glad you enjoyed it! :D

Chantal Regtop said...

I think this will be one of my next projects, I really like the idea to use a cowl as a hat and the other way around.

Kori said...

This is a pretty cool idea! I tried it in worsted weight yarn... It took only a few hours (of knitting time; it took about a day of real time) and I was able to see the concept in action. As a hat, my version is a bit off - still wearable though - but I mainly made it to see how it would work. And it does that pretty well! I can see myself trying it in finer yarns in the future.

daybreak_breeze said...

Thank you very much for this snug. I'm the beginner in knitting and really want to knit such snug for my husband but I cannot understand one very important thing and could not find out on the Internet - how should I start knitting after casting-on all stitches? I tried several times to cast on stitches using Judy's Magic method and every time I receive required number of stitches and cannot understand how to start knitting on the round. "Join to knit the 120 stitches in the round. Be careful not to twist." - this is what I cannot uderstand and make myself. Maybe you could give some photos or links to master classes if you have? I've spent two days for searching and could not find anything out.

m said...

this step is rather tricky. have you knitted in the round before? if not, I would recommend learning that on its own before knitting this pattern since this has the additional complications of the provisional cast-on and magic loop. for general videos and tutorials, try searching for "knitting in the round". if you have knitted in the round before but not used the magic loop technique, try searching for "magic loop". there are a lot of different videos out there. and you already know Judy's magic cast-on, so that's good!
unfortunately, I don't know of a video or good photos of these techniques used together to make this cowl, and I don't have a good setup to make them myself. :( I have tried to take photos, but it is quite difficult for me to manage the camera and the knitting in the box that I use for photography at the same time.
the different techniques being used together is why I don't recommend this pattern to beginners--it's easy to tangle or twist the work and thus make a frustrating mistake. :\
one thing that might be easier is to use a different method of provisional cast-on. a crochet chain provisional cast-on would eliminate the extra knitting needle hanging and getting in the way.
I hope this helps and doesn't just confuse things further!

daybreak_breeze said...

Thank you very much for the answer!
It seems I understood what to do. Will try today and post later about my actions :)

daybreak_breeze said...

Well, after a 150 try I gave up :D don't have enough patience and kintting skills. I think I'll ask my sister to knit this for me.