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Hand Knitting

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Hand Knitting

About Knitting


Knitting, like weaving or crochet, is one of several ways to turn thread or yarn into cloth. Similar to crochet, knitting consists of bights pulled through other bights; knitting differs from crochet in that multiple bights are "active". The active bights are held on a knitting needle until another bight can be passed through them.

There are two varieties of knitting, weft knitting (the usual kind) and warp knitting.

A weft-knitted fabric consists of horizontal parallel courses of yarn and requires only a single yarn. By contrast, warp knitting requires one yarn for every stitch in the row (course); these yarns make vertical parallel wales. Warp knitting is resistant to runs, and is common in lingerie fabric, e.g., tricot. Warp knitting is generally done by machine, whereas weft knitting may be done by machine or by hand. Knitting machines use a different mechanical system to produce results nearly identical to those produced by hand-knitting.

Hand-knitted fabrics are usually started by forming a base series of twisted loops of yarn on a knitting needle ("cast on"). To form a new stitch, a second knitting needle is used to reach through each loop (or stitch) in succession to pull a bight of yarn back through the loop. Work can proceed in the round (circular knitting) or by going back and forth in rows (flat knitting).

A brief history of knitting

The earliest definite examples of knitting date from Europe and Egypt in the 14th century, although some claim that the technology dates back into centuries BC. The first knitting trade guild was started in Paris in 1527, establishing the occupation as male-dominated for centuries to come.

Knitting became a household occupation with the growing popularity of knitted stockings and by the end of the 1600s, one to two million pairs of stockings were exported from Britain to other parts of Europe.

With the invention of the knitting machine, knitting "by hand" became a useful but nonessential craft, and its practitioners increasingly female. Similar to quilting, spinning, and needlepoint, knitting became a social activity, performed while the crafters converse among themselves.

Hand-knitting has gone in and out of fashion many times in the last two centuries, and at the turn of the 21st century it is enjoying a revival. The latter 1990s saw a 400% increase in the number of knitters under age 35.

Modern knitters come from all ages, walks of life, and (increasingly) genders; a social stigma against male knitters has been rapidly disappearing, and most knitting circles now sport at least a few men.

Properties of knit fabrics

The topology of a knit fabric is relatively complex. Unlike woven fabrics, where strands usually run straight horizontally and vertically, yarn that has been knit follows a loopy path along its row, as with the red strand in this diagram:

The loops of one row have all been pulled through the loops of the row below it.

Because there is no single straight line of yarn anywhere in the pattern, a knit piece will be stretchy in all directions (some more than others, depending on the yarn fiber and the specific pattern used). This stretchiness, unavailable from woven fabrics (which only stretch along the bias), is what originally made knitting so suitable for stockings. Many modern stretchy garments, even as they rely on elastic synthetic materials for some stretch, also achieve at least some of their stretch through knit patterns.

The basic knit fabric (as in the diagram, and usually called a stocking or stockinette pattern) has a definite right side and wrong side.

On the right side, the visible portions of the loops are the verticals connecting two rows, arranged in a grid of V shapes.

On the wrong side, the ends of the loops are visible, both the tops and bottoms, creating a much more bumpy texture sometimes called reverse stockinette (despite being the "wrong side," reverse stockinette is frequently used as a pattern in its own right).

Because the yarn holding rows together is all on the front, and the yarn holding side-by-side stitches together is all on the back, stockinette fabric has a strong tendency to curl toward the front on the top and bottom, and toward the back on the left and right side.

Stitches can be worked from either side, and many patterns are created by mixing regular knit stitches with the "wrong side" stitches, known as purl stitches, either in columns (ribbing), rows (garter or welting), or more complex patterns. Each such fabric has different properties: a garter stitch has much more vertical stretch, while ribbing stretches much more horizontally. Because of their front-back symmetry, these two fabrics have little curl, making them popular as edging, even when their stretch properties are not desired.

Different combinations of knit and purl stitches, along with more advanced techniques, generate fabrics of considerably variable consistency, from gauzy to very dense, from highly stretchy to relatively stiff, from flat to tightly curled, and so on.

The Knitting Process

A piece of knitting begins with the process of casting on (also known as "binding on"), which involves the initial creation of the stitches on the needle. Different methods of cast on are used for different effects; one may be stretchy enough for lace, while another provides a decorative edging. Provisional cast ons are used when the knitting will continue in both directions from the cast on.

The body of a knitted piece may include plain stitches or a number of colour and textured patterns. It is sometimes claimed that there are as many methods of knitting as there are knitters, but most Western-style knitters follow either the English style or the Continental style. The number of active stitches remains the same as when cast on unless stitches are added (an increase) or removed (a decrease) to shape the item.

Once the knitted piece is finished, the remaining live stitches are cast off. Casting (or binding) off loops the stitches across each other so they can be removed from the needle without unravelling the item. Although the mechanics are different from casting on, there are a similar variety of methods and choices to be made.

Typically, the final knitted garment will be made of several knitted pieces, with individual sections of the garment knit separately and then sewn together once all the pieces have been completed. Seamless knitting, where a whole garment is knit as a single piece is also possible. Smaller items, such as socks and hats are usually knit in one piece on double pointed needles or circular needles.


The accepted default texture for a knit garment is that generated by the flat stockinette stitch - as seen, though very small, in machine-made stockings and t-shirts - which is worked in the round as nothing but knit stitches, and worked flat as alternating rows of knit and purl. Other simple textures can be made with nothing but knit and purl stitches, including garter stitch, ribbing, and moss and seed stitches. Adding a "slip stitch" (just moving a loop from one needle to the other, without working it) allows for a wide range of textures, including heel and linen stitches, and a number of more complicated patterns.

Some more advanced knitting techniques create a surprising variety of complex textures. Combining "yarn-over" increases (which create small eyelet holes in the resulting fabric) with assorted decreases (e.g. by knitting two stitches together) is key to lace knitting, a very open fabric resembling lace. Changing the order of stitches from one row to the next, usually with the help of a cable needle or stitch holder, is key to cable knitting, producing an endless variety of cables, honeycombs, ropes, and other Aran sweater patterning. Entrelac forms a rich checkerboard texture by knitting small squares, picking up their side edges, and knitting more squares to continue the piece.


Plenty of finished knitting projects never use more than a single colour of yarn, but there are many ways to work in multiple colours. Some yarns are dyed to be either variegated (changing colour every few stitches) or self-striping (changing every few rows). When knitting with yarns whose colours change, it is best to alternate between two different skeins of yarn, usually alternating every other row. This will allow the garment to have a random colour variation. Even with solid-colour yarn, the knitter can easily create horizontal stripes by changing yarn at the end of a row. More complicated techniques permit large fields of colour (e.g. intarsia), busy small-scale patterns of colour (e.g. Fair Isle), or both (e.g. double knitting and slip-stitch colour).

Even if the pattern is all a single colour - and perhaps especially then - it is important that the dye lot numbers match. Yarn is dyed in batches, or lots, and within such a lot the colour will match nearly perfectly. Even a tightly-regulated factory dye process will not be able to exactly match the colour between dye lots, though. They may appear identical on the skein, but when knit into a solid field of colour, the subtle change when the knitter switched skeins will become much more apparent. To control this, each dye lot is assigned a unique serial number, which is generally printed somewhere on the band around the skein.

Yarn with multiple shades of the same hue are called ombre, while a yarn with multiple hues may be known as a given colorway - a green, red and yellow yarn might be dubbed the "Parrot Colorway" by its manufacturer. Heathered yarns contain small amounts of fiber of different colours, while tweed yarns may have greater amounts of different coloured fibers.


The classic knitting material is worsted-weight yarn, spun from the wool of a sheep, though goat's fibre (e.g. mohair or cashmere), rabbit fur (usually angora), and alpaca fibre are also very popular. Natural fibres such as these have the advantage of being slightly elastic and very breathable, while trapping a great deal of air, making for a fairly warm fabric. Some of the more expensive fibres, such as cashmere, are often blended with other types, merino wool being very popular for its softness and fineness.

Other natural fibres that can be used for yarn include silk, or vegetable fibers such as linen and cotton. These tend to be much less elastic than animal-fibre yarns, though they can be stronger in some cases. Given the cost of silk, it is often blended with other fibers, such as rayon, cotton and wool. Pure linen makes a poor knitting fiber, having virtually no elasticity; it is often blended with cotton, wool or acrylic. Cotton can be mercerised to increase its elasticity and its resistance to pilling. In any case, the finished product will be rather different from those made with woollen yarns.

A number of synthetic materials are also commonly made into yarn, chiefly acrylic. Acrylic yarn for a long time completely dominated the knitting market, and is still frequently the only available option at craft stores and other stores that do not specialise in knitting supplies. However, many knitters prefer the feel of natural fibers, both during the knitting process and in the final product. 100% acrylic yarns are available, as are wool-acrylic blends in various proportions. Some other synthetics are available as well; yarn designed for use in socks frequently contains a small percentage of nylon for increased durability, and numerous specialty yarns exist.

A relatively recent trend in knitting yarn is the novelty yarn. Novelty yarns have been on the market for a long time, but have enjoyed a revival as many new knitters learn to knit, and expect fun and dazzling materials to knit with. Novelty yarns, especially eyelash yarns, are also popular with new knitters because they can help cover uneven stitches and tension, and general bad knitting. There has been a dramatic increase in the amount, and in the different forms, in which novelty yarns can be found. Typically, novelty yarns arise from innovations in the spinning process. What could define a novelty yarn as opposed to "regular" yarn is the exaggeration in one or many of a regular fiber's characteristics; for example, some yarns are a bit fuzzy or hairy, but a novelty yarn might take that to an extreme, with yarns that have long hairs or metallic fuzz. Novelty yarns now come in all shapes and textures. There are also yarns that are entirely metallic.

One variety of novelty yarn is called boucle, textured or flammé. Yarns of this type involve at least one or two strands of regular yarn twisted together with something else to make an interesting texture. To make boucle, the tension on one strand, as it is being spun, must be different from the other. The extra element can be a metallic thread, or a much-thicker or much-narrower strand of yarn, or yarn that varies between thick and thin. Some companies have come to put twin yarns on the market to show off combinations of one regular yarn and a novelty yarns in assorted colours or even two different types of novelty yarns.

Another type of novelty yarn is eyelash yarn. In general, eyelash yarns will be hairy and have the general aspect of faux fur once knitted up in a garment. The texture and composition of such yarns have been explored by many companies, and there are innumerable types of eyelash yarns. The most prominent types would probably be 100% polyester with a straight and relatively short hair. The hair can be curly. The core and hair of the thread can be metallic, and the hairs can sometimes be two different lengths. Some of the drawbacks of eyelash yarns is that they tend to have poor stitch definition, and that they are not flattering to curvy figures as they add bulk to a garment, so they are mostly used for accessories such as scarves.

Another type of novelty yarn is ribbon yarn. They are not the kind of ribbons used in sewing and millinery, but are rather ribbon yarns made especially for knitting, usually in a tubular form. Ribbon yarns must have give and elasticity.

Very often, novelty yarns will involve a lot of colour change. Most often these will be obtained through the print process, in which a fiber will have different colours created through a dyeing process. Sometimes the colour will come through the sequence in which different colours are spun together. In some yarns the same process is used, but at the same time the color repeats are long enough to enable a self-striping feature. If the proper number of stitches is cast, then stripes will appear as the yarn is knitted into a garment. Sock yarn companies have evidently taken a great interest in self-striping yarn. Such yarns have a wide array of different effects that can be obtained by knitting the yarn in the round over the number of stitches normally cast for a sock.

Ultimately, there is no restriction as to what materials can be used to knit; anything that can be viewed as a long strand of something can be used as a sort of knitting yarn. Creative knitters have successfully used ribbon, plastic strips, wire, raffia, crepe paper, string threaded with beads, and rope to fashion bags, bowls, jewelry, household items, and works of art.

Industrial applications

Industrially, metal wire is also knitted into a metal fabric for a wide range of uses including the filter material in cafetieres, catalytic converters for cars and many other uses. These fabrics are usually manufactured on circular knitting machines that would be recognised by conventional knitters as sock machines.

Original Source: wikipedia

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