Thursday, January 15, 2009

Steps to a Design: Drop Stitch

So while I have been confined to the little area in front of my woodstove (it's frigid cold), I have used my time to work on my Red Purl KAL afghan design. First I mapped out a design using drop stitches which stepped up and to the right from the bottom of the square to the top, with alternating sections of knit and purl. Very good in theory: simple stitches, very graph-able (to teach new skills), fun and "easy." In practice, however, it didn't work out at all. So rip, rip and I'm back to the beginning and started designing with the needles and wool instead of the computer and chart.

First thing I did was simplify even more. Instead of trying to move the drop stitch row around, I kept it running up and down. That helped. And I worked out how many stitches to decrease from the border so the square would be square. And I gave up on the alternating purl rows because a dropped stitch between knit and purl stitches just doesn't seem to work.

Once I had a basic pattern I thought was good then I addressed the details. For one, the dropped stitches were getting lost because the stitches bordering the dropped stitches were stretching out. Remembering overhearing a comment Amy [Red Purl owner] made to someone in the shop about a drop stitch scarf sample doing the same thing, and with some online research, I found my solution.

Take a look at the following picture (ignore the arrows for now; they're not yet relevant):

In the bottom third (under the lowest red line) is the first attempt. You can see the dropped stitches (the long horizontal lines forming a sort of ladder), and you can notice how the stitches on either side of the ladder are stretched out and cause the ladder to narrow. In time these stitches will kind of all even out and just look like some big loose sloppy stitches. (And that is not good, in case that's not clear.)

In the middle third, you can see where I twisted the border stitch on every other row. It's a little easier to do on the right side when you're knitting the stitch rather than on the wrong side when you're purling. I was hoping that would be enough to neaten things up. But it's really not. The stitches keep their shape a little better and we haven't lost so much of the dropped stitch ladder, but the border stitches are uneven from one row to the next and still look pretty messy.

So we had to take it one step further and twist the border stitches on every row. You can see in the top third the stitches are firm and even, and the dropped stitch ladder is wide and even. This is the best method to keep the pattern stable through wear and use.

Are you curious enough about this stitch to ask how it's done? (Hint: if not, just skip the rest of this post.)

You have to set up the drop stitch ladder by doing a K2tog, YO [knit 2 together, yarn over] in the first row. This will be the base of the ladder and will keep the dropped stitch from running all the way down to the cast on edge.

After you have that base, you can just knit above the YO until you want to let the stitch go. This pic shows some stitches that have already been "dropped" and form the ladder we're looking for. The circled stitches have been knit above them and are ready to be dropped.
And what about the twisted stitches? Well, each row, at the stitch just before the dropped stitch ladder, you insert your right needle into the back of the next stitch and then knit (or purl) like normal. It's as easy as that.
Then you get the the stitch right over the dropped stitch ladder. And guess what you do with it: (...wait for it...) you drop it! (Don't you feel smart for getting the right answer on that one.) Yup, you just lift it off the left needle and let it go. So liberating. (And yes, it feels a little naughty too.)

Now you need to make up for that dropped stitch so that you're not decreasing stitches as you go. So what you do is another YO. A simple solution that continues the dropped stitch ladder for you too. In the next pic you can see that the yarn has been brought to the front before knitting the next stitch (see arrow) and this will create the YO. And now that we've mentioned the next stitch, don't forget to knit it through the back loop (see circle) so that it will also be twisted.
After you've completed the row, you can observe your YO (red circle) and your dropped stitch starting to work its way down (white circle). Of course, if you're impatient like me, you pull at the stitches to make them unravel quicker but in general they will do that by themselves.
Really, you can drop the stitch whenever you want. If you're knitting with slippery yarn you could probably knit a whole piece and drop the stitch at the top. With just a little pulling at the edges the stitch will easily run all the way down. However, if you have a more sticky yarn (like most wools) you may want to drop the stitch more often. I love to do it more often (usually every 6 to 8 rows) because it breaks up the tedium of knitting in stocking stitch.

Another thing I've done to break up the tedium in this particular project is adding a seed stitch column in between the drop stitch ladders. (That's what the white arrows are pointing out.) I think it adds a little needed texture and emphasizes the vertical nature of the overall pattern.
In general I'm happy with the design and hope that Amy and the other knitters like it. I haven't signed up for a month yet (sign ups don't actually open til this Sunday), so I don't know when we will be doing it. I have done this half block sample in some leftover Malabrigo I had around. I will be doing an entire block in some other colour yet to be determined. (And that way I have something to knit the month that we get together to do my block!)

I have one more idea for a block that I want to do, but I am going to keep it to myself for now. I will not submit it as a group block but am thinking that I may substitute it in for some block on a month that maybe I don't like quite as much. If it works out it will be a fun little surprise for Amy too.

Ok, enough reading--now start designing something of your own!

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