Tip of the week: Casting on with double pointed needles

21 dpn cast on

Hand knit sock season is definitely on the way so the next few tips are intended to help.

Your preference for what needles you use to work on on small items in the round, like socks, will depend on your knitting style. Some people like using magic loop with a long circular, some small circulars and some like me will be more comfortable with double pointed needles. 

However, the idea of having more than two needles on the go can be off-putting.

Casting on is no different to any other piece of knitting - you cast all your stitches on to a single needle. There is no need to try to hold extra needles before you're ready to start your first round. 

Next divide your stitches evenly between three (or four) needles by slipping the stitches from one to another.

Dpn 3

Arrange your needles into a triangle (or square for four needles) so that your first cast on stitch is the first one on the left needle. The last cast on stitch is at the tip of the right needle. Slip the last cast on stitch to your left needle. Lift the first cast on stitch over the first one and slip to the right needle. Your stitches are now joined in the round. Now pick up your fourth (or fifth) needle and start knitting along the left needle from your join.

Then keep going in the round.

Dpn 6

Tip of the week: Check out your yarn labels, they are a fount of info

I'd like you to take a look at your yarn stash and read some labels. Quite often when we start a project we just discard the labels or leave then to languish in the bottom of the project bag, but they have a lot to say.

What the yarn is made of: The more you knit the more you learn about how different fibres behave so the fibre content listed can give you clues about how the yarn will be to knit with and what sort of fabric it might make.

Recommended needle size and tension: This doesn't mean that you must use these needles or that this is the tension that you will get in a particular pattern. Rather it is the average tension the manufacturer has found for that yarn on that size of needle. But this does give you clues to what range of needles this yarn will work best with.

The amount and length of the yarn in the ball or skein: Labels will often tell you how many metres there are in the ball as well as the weight. Some patterns will tell you how many metres of yarns are used in a project, so this can be very useful.

Washing instructions: Very useful - if I am giving a knitted item to a non-knitter I will often include a yarn label so they have official washing instructions.

Getting on the right side of your knitting

In the various online knitting spaces I frequent I’ve come across a couple of interesting discussions on what “right side” means in a knitting pattern.

It’s a tricky one because the phrase can be used in two separate ways – in terms of the outward facing part of your finished item or it could refer to the right hand side of a garment (which can be tricky in itself -see below).

Right and wrong sides, and front and back

In knitting patterns you will often see rows referred to as “right side” and “wrong side” rows. Usually this means the side the pattern is intended to show on and the side that would be on the inside of a garment or reverse of a scarf.

This is easy to understand if you are doing stocking stitch (the smooth side is the right side) or Fair Isle (the strands or floats are on the wrong side) but can be harder to see in other stitch patterns. And if you are doing a stitch pattern that is effectively double-sided, you may need to decide that the right side is facing you either when working the odd or the even numbered rows and put a marker in place to remind you.

Right and wrong

The right side of your knitting in not the same as the front in most patterns. Front usually refers to the side of your knitting facing you on that particular row. In other words if you are told to bring the yarn to the front, you want it to be between you and your knitting. If it should be at the back, the yarn should be behind your knitting as you hold it at that moment.

Right-hand side

Then there are the times when right side means the right hand side of the finished item. Sounds simple but it can be confusing. If you are knitting the front of a garment is stocking stitch, when you are on the knit row (ie with the smooth/right side facing), the stitches to the left of your work will be the ones forming the right hand seams of your finished piece.

Yep, now your brain is feeling the strain.

My approach to working out what the right hand and left hand parts of your piece are is to think about where sleeves will attach. Your right arm will go the right sleeve so the side where the right sleeve will attach will be the right-hand side of the body. So if you are ever feeling confused, spread your work out so you can see the shape and think about where your sleeves would go.

Right sides

These discussions have really made me think about how much I use these terms in patterns and how to make what I mean as clear as possible.

Your goldilocks cast-on and other options

Do you have a favourite cast-on? The one that’s not too tight, not too loose, with a bit of elasticity (but not too much) and gives an edge you like. Just right like Goldilocks and the bears’ porridge.

Some people’s goldilocks cast on is the first one they ever learned. It works for them and they don’t have a good reason to change it. Other knitters will have tried several or have strong views on why they use the cable cast on rather than long tail or vice versa. Personally, my cable cast on is neater than my long-tail so that’s my “just right” option. But that doesn’t mean it will be yours – we’re back to different options suiting different hands again.



While your goldilocks cast-on will be great for most of your projects there will be times when you need something a little different. With 30 to 40 cast on methods to try. It can be worth experimenting with a few specialised ones – there are plenty of resources including books and videos to help. I'm a fan of a useful little book called Cast On Bind Off by Leslie Ann Bestor

Swatching your cast on

When (if) you make a tension square or swatch a knitting idea, do you think about your cast on at all?

It’s most likely that you give the cast on little more thought than as a way to getting to the gauge test. But if you are working on a new stitch or type of project, or trying a new yarn, it can be useful to knit a few rows in the edging pattern to see if your cast on is right. For example, some cast ons could be too tight or loose for the ribbing on a sock. Or pull too tight for a lace section.

When do you need a different cast on?

Among the times you might need to test and change your cast on include the neck of a top-down sweater, the cuff or a sock or a shawl that starts with a lace section that will be blocked.

The first two examples, the neckband and the sock cuff, are times when you might need more stretch in your cast on than usual. Luckily, there are plenty of stretchier cast-ons, including “alternating” versions for both the popular long-tail and a cable cast ons. These are versions where you cast on in rib, alternating the usual “knit” version of the cast on with a purl variation.

For the lace project, it may be worth swatching your pattern with your normal cast on and with one that can come out a bit loose such as the thumb (or backward loop) method or the basic knit on cast on. I find these cast ons can be a bit loose compared to my knitting tension so on a garment they’d give me an untidy edge but for a section of lace I am going to aggressively block out, that slack could be useful.

Other cast on types

Provisional cast ons – for example the crochet cast on. These are cast ons that allow you to “release” stitches from the start of your work to be knitted later. They are useful in lace and in some top down projects.

Decorative cast ons , such as a picot cast on and the Old Norwegian cast on, can give a different look to the edge of your work.

Multicolour cast ons create braided or contrasting edgings – great options for colour work hats and gloves.

Once you start building your cast on repertoire, you will find lots of interesting options but this doesn’t mean you will abandon your original goldilocks cast on. This is workhorse choice that will still be a good choice for much of your knitting. But you’ll have more choice and more confidence about knowing when your cast on is doing what you need.

New magazine pattern: Anika yoked top


Knitting magazine issue 227 is out and it's all about texture.

I've a couple of patterns and tutorial in it but today I'm just showing you Anika.
This short-sleeved 4-ply top is worked bottom-up in the round on the body and sleeves which then join for the yoke (don't ask about working out yoke shaping for 10 sizes!).
It features a slip-stitch texture pattern which is easy to work but very effective. I used Cascade Yarns Heritage for this which means a vast range of colour combinations - and as mention above the pattern offers 10 sizes. But any nice plain 4-plys would work for this - or perhaps a variegated for the contrast.
I'll share the other design later in the week.

Tip of the week: Use your previous cables as a guide

15 cables as a guide

Once you have decoded your cable instructions and established the first few rows of your project, you have already knitted yourself a quick cheat sheet.

If you reach the next cable in your pattern and have a sudden blank about whether your cable needle needs to be held at the front or the back, look down your work at the cables below to find an equivalent one. Look at the cable you are about to knit - if you have the cable needle at the front, will your stitches cross in the same way as before? If yes, your cable needle is in the right place. For visual learners, this can be a lot more help than reading the cable instructions again.

In general, look at the patterns you cables form at you knit - they make a clear picture on your work, so it should be easy to spot a mistake like the one picture above. Also once your cable pattern is established compare it to the pictures in your pattern. 

This idea of stopping, from time to time, and looking at how any pattern is developing is a good idea for any project. If it doesn't look right, it may well not be.

Tip of the week: Decoding cable patterns

14 cable decode

When I talk to people about why they are intimidated by starting a cable project the answers is often that the terminology or abbreviations seem so complicated. They seem surprised when I say that all cables use the same basic steps:

  1. Put a given number of stitches on cable needle.
  2. Hold the cable needle to the back or front of the work as instructed.
  3. Knit or purl a given number of stitches from your main needle.
  4. Knit or purl the stitches from your cable needle.

The result is a set of stitches that cross each other.



The key to cable knitting is understanding the number of stitches that go on the cable needle, whether it goes to the back or front and what you knit or purl for each type of cable in the pattern. This can seem like a massive puzzle because there are so many different ways that cables are written in patterns.

However, whatever coding system has been used the pattern abbreviation key should tell you what to do for each one. To be honest, it there isn't a key telling you that, I would be inclined to find a new pattern.

There are lots of cable notation systems. My preferences is for the version that includes writing the abbreviations for example as C8B and Tw4F. Here the the "C" generally indicates that you are working all the stitches in your cable in the same way, the number is how many stitches in total are used in the cable and the B means the cable needle is used to the back. Tw means you will knit some stitches and purl others and F is holding the cable needle to the front.

So C8B could be written as "place 4 stitches on cable needle and hold to the back, knit 4 sts, knit 4 from cable needle". BUT even if you think it means that double check - it could mean place 5 stitches on cable needle and hold to the back, knit 3 sts, etc.

Tw3F is likely to be "place 2 stitches on cable needle and hold to the front, purl 1, knit 2 from cable needle. You can see this type of cable on the upper right of the diamond in the picture above. As you can see it slopes to the left which is why you may see it abbreviated to Tw3L.

If your pattern uses a notation you don't like, it is worth writing out a translation list where you note down how you would think of each cable so you can refer to it until you are sure you are getting your pattern right. 

Tip of the week: The rule of 3/4 and picking up stitches

28 picking up stitches
One part of finishing that seems to ambush a lot of people is picking up stitches. 

There are two issues here. Firstly, picking up the right number of stitches evenly. Even if you place markers at the halfway and quarterway points it doesn't seem to work. Sometimes this is because your row tension is slightly different from the one the pattern. In this case, picking up the number of stitches listed in the pattern may not fit the space.

The rule of 3/4 can help here - especially on stocking stitch based patterns. To get an even edging, pick up and knit three stitches for every four row ends. This makes sense because stitch tension on stocking stitch is usually three-quarters the number for row tension, for example 21 stitches and 28 rows to 10cm is common for DK yarns. Plus by sticking to the rule missing every fourth row end you avoid bunching or uneven gapping between your picked up stitches.

A second bonus picking up stitches tip - put your needle under both parts of the edge stitch. In other words, your needle tip goes into the work in the same area as where you find your ladders for mattress stitch.

This gives a firm foundation to your picked up stitches. I often see people only using the outer loop pf the edge stitch which can stretch too much making your edging look sloppy.

Below you can see the firm foundation for the edging using both loops gives.

Guess what? You can practice on a swatch.

Tip of the Week: Mattress stitch gives you a neat finish

27 mattress stitch

Sewing up can be the thing that makes knitters reluctant to try some patterns or dissatisfied with their final product.

The answer is simple and about finding the right sewing up method. For straight seams, mattress stitch is a great choice and once you get the hang of it, an easy way to create a good finish.

Surprisingly mattress stitch in worked on the right side of your work and is easiest done over a table.

Mattress stitch is worked in the gap between the first and second column of stitches on each side of the seam. If you stretch your work slightly you will see a “ladder” between each column of stitches.

Put the pieces to be seamed side by side with the right sides facing upwards.

Thread your darning needle with a long length of yarn – I’ve used contrasting yarn here to help you see. Insert the needle under the first two rungs of the ladder between the first two columns of stitches on one side and pull the yarn through leaving a long tail.

Now move your needle to the other side and go under the first two rungs on the other side. Pull the yarn through but not tight.

Now put the needle under the next two rungs up the ladder on the first side and pull some yarn through. Repeat for the second side, and then continue working under two rungs at a time, alternating sides, until 2-3cm of the seam was been worked.

Hold the tail of yarn at the beginning of the seam and gently pull your working yarn until your seam closes neatly. Don’t pull hard because this will risk puckering the seam. Stop when you have a flat join. As you can see this creates a neat flat seam and my sewing up thread has disappeared from view.

Continue to work up the seam, taking in two rungs at a time as before. Pull the seam closed every few centimetres. At the end of the seam fasten off both ends of your sewing up yarn.

 Why not practice on some swatches? 





Give the gift of warm hands

It's definitely chilly hands weather, so as well as making myself some extra fingerless mitts, I expect Mr Penguin will need some more fingerless gloves - he is very specific that they should be gloves not mitts.
Socmed grey ham 1
I designed both Hamilton (grey) and Carmicheal (green) especially to his requirements and then discovered other men who would with the "gloves not mitts" requirement. The Hamilton pattern tends to be a favourite at this time of year with people looking for a last minute gift to make for a man in their life.
Carmicheal new 2 crop
Both types are made in DK and matching hats are also available in a discounted bundle.
Plus Carmicheal includes advice on turning these into full fingered gloves should you want to give it a go.
Wishing you all warm hands.

Tip of the week: Use pins and wires to help block lace

26 laceblocking


Lace seems to be what most knitters associate with blocking. It generally requires a particular blocking method and some tools to get the best results.

A lace project rarely looks that great when it comes off the needles – it’s usually a bit scrunched up rather than looking floaty and ethereal.

To turn it into the finished item you will need something to pin your shawl out on, a lot of pins and if possible some blocking wires.

A lot of people use foam matts as the base for their blocking and I recommend T-pins – these a more robust than sewing pins and easy to see as you adjust your piece.

Collect your pins, wires, matts, measuring tape etc before you do anything else – juggling wet knitting while you look for the measuring tape isn’t that much fun.

Blocking wires are often the item that make people nervous. They are simply flexible wire rods that you can thread through your knitting. The main type are straight and unsurprisingly very helpful when you want to block one or more straight edge – thread them through your straight edge and then use a few pins to place each edge. You can also find finer wires that naturally sit in a curve.

The first step in the wet blocking process is to get your piece wet. Soak it in warm water – and no rinse wool wash if you want – for at least 15 minutes.

Once your knitting has soaked, lay a towel on a flat surface. Gently lift the knitting out of the water – let water drain off but DO NOT wring it out. Gently put your knitting on the towel keeping it as flat as possible. Roll the towel to create a knitting swiss roll and then gently squeeze it to draw the water out of your lace. You will end up with a damp but not dripping piece of knitting where the fibres have been thoroughly wetted through.

Then you are ready to lay out your knitting on your blocking surface. I generally start by threading the wires through the straight edges and pinning those in place then I work on curves, the points on edges etc.

Here I want the stocking stitch section to have straight edges,
so I’ve run a wire along at that point and then I am using pins
beyond that to open the lace border with a pin at the top
of each “leaf”.

 On this curved shawl I used wires for the straight side of the
semicircle and then pinned the curve at the halfway and then
the quarter way point, and so on, to help get the curve right.

Take your time to get the shape right and your lace opened nicely - you may move some pins several times. Then leave it to dry.
Don’t remove the pins or wires until you are sure your shawl is dry.