I apologize right up front. If you are a non-knitter, then this is one of those tech things that is just going to leave you weeping with boredom. (If you already know how to reinforce knitting with crochet, then this entry will have a similar effect, although I swear to you that I have attempted to discuss this matter in as gripping a fashion as possible.) Still, If you’re bored now, or if you start getting bored, you have my sincerest apologies. Read Rick’s rant this week instead.
Here is a nice piece of knitting. Small, but nice. Knitting is, essentially a stretchy thing. It’s the reason that knitting is the fabric that we choose for clothing that we would like to be stretchy, like pantyhose, tee-shirts… socks, underwear, the list goes on and on and on. Virtually every person on the earth who owns commercial clothes owns (machine) knitted things, and mostly, this is a huge advantage of knitting. The stretchiness and give of knitting is something knitters love about it.
Here’s the same piece exhibiting that stretch, but A-HA! See the cast-off edge? See how it’s not stretching? That’s because it’s essentially a locked chain across the top of the fabric. This locked chain is less elastic than the rest of the knitting. This chain is the reason that we are often told to “cast-off loosely”, to avoid a part of the knitting that doesn’t stretch as much as the rest of the thing, or as much as it needs to. You don’t want that stable chain holding back the stretch.
This very stable chain is also the reason that designers put cast-offs in places that seem really stupid to the knitter…until you learn it the hard way. Ever see a pattern for a sweater where the designer has you cast-off the neck stitches, then in the next breath has you pick them back up again? Ever think “Well that’s dumbass. I’m smarter than that. I’ll just put the stitches on a stitch holder and keep them live. Then they’ll be sitting right there for me. HA HA! I am so much smarter than the designer.” Yeah. Did you notice what happened next? Without the stability of that chain across the back of the neck, that neck stretched out. When the neck stretched out the shoulders slid ….and, well. The whole thing got sloppy and ill-fitting. Same thing with when you first learn Kitchener stitch (Grafting). You look at the shoulder seam and think “Dude. This would be so seamless and beautiful if I just grafted these two sets of shoulder stitches together” and you do, and it is seamless and beautiful, until you put that bad-boy on, and the whole weight of the sweater is hanging on a stretchy fabric. You can imagine how that ends. Yet…. there is hope. See this?
Crochet. Crochet produces a very stable fabric. It is nowhere near as stretchy as knitting, and that stability is what makes it good (or better) for things that benefit from stability, like tablecloths or bags, where (most) knitting would succumb to it’s essential stretchiness and fall out of shape. Knitters who say they don’t care for the fabric that crochet makes are usually reacting to this stability. Crocheters who say they don’t care for the fabric that knitting makes are usually reacting to the lack of stability. We’ve all got our preferences for a textile. Knitters sometimes use the wrong word to describe this quality and say that crochet has no “drape”. Crochet can have tons of drape. (Conversely, knitting can lack drape. I just had a sock worked at the wrong gauge hit the frogpond this weekend. Its lack of drape was so profound it almost stood up by itself.) What knitters usually mean is that crochet has less give than they are used to, and this strikes them as being too stable for their taste- which it is, and denser than knitting…which it is. Even crochet in the hands of a master is always going to be those two things, more stable, and more dense, and if you don’t like these qualities, you’re not going to like crochet. Crochet has this stability because it is essentially, when we look at it’s construction, a series of chains stacked on top of each other.
One with each row. Always. That same stability we knitters get with a traditional cast off, crocheters get with each row they work. What this means is that you can use this “make a stable chain on each row” structure of crochet to stabilise knitting anywhere you want to. Shoulder seam stretching out of shape? Crochet across the seam. Got too smart for your own good and took out a bind-off where it turns out that you needed one? Crochet one in place. (This is really, really good for across the backs of hoods. You know how on some sweaters the back goes right up into the hood and it gets really sloppy and stretched out across the back of the neck? Hello, Central Park Hoodie? I’m looking right at you.) Whack a crochet chain in there and restore order. Conversely, while you can be rescued by crochet as a knitter, you can get shafted too. It’s important to remember that a crochet edging put on a knitted object needs to be done with great care and thought. The knitted object will have a different rate of stretch than a crocheted one and you don’t want a blankie that ends up looking like a jellyfish because the edges won’t stretch and the middle did. Swatch, swatch, swatch.
How to take advantage? Get a hook and some matching yarn. (I’ve used not matching yarn so you can see what I’m doing.) On the wrong side of your work, and going in through the purl bump on the back of a stitch, pull a loop through.
Poke the crochet hook through the next purl bump over (working right to left, just like knitting) and pull through another loop of the working yarn…
This time though, pull it through the purl bump, and then keep right on going, pulling it through the loop of working yarn sitting on the hook too. One chain made.
From here on, just repeat that last movement. Pull a loop through a stitch of fabric, then through the loop on the hook. Over and over.
When you’re done, you’ve put a crochet chain across your work and that line now has all the stability of a cast off edge chain, but it doesn’t have to be at an edge. (Hint. This does not need to be a straight line, nor does it need to be done on the wrong side of your work. Think decorative.)
Here’s the right side. As you can see, there’s very little disruption to the fabric, which makes it idea for a place like the back neck between the body and hood of a sweater. You can have a beautiful continuous fabric that has stability, without compromising the look by casting off and picking back up again.
If you look really, really closely you can see little peeks of the pink yarn, but if you worked the chain in the same colour it would be imperceptible. You can do this to join pieces of knitting together, you can do this to restore shape to knitted seams that have lost their mojo over the years. You can even do this to create a shir or ruffle, since there is no law that dictates you must pull a loop through every knit stitch. You could grab every third one and really contract a piece of knitting where the chain was.
In short, even if you don’t enjoy it (and nobody says you have to) being a hooker is a good way to solve some of your problems quickly and easily, especially if you happen to be loose.
(I can’t believe I just typed that sentence.)