Figure-8 Cast On

The figure 8 cast on is similar to the Turkish cast on. It is done with two needles (circulars being ideal), and it produces an extra row of live stitches, which can be used as a top or bottom edge or as a way to work in the round. The only real difference is that, instead of wrapping the yarn around both needles at the same time in one direction (Turkish cast on), you wrap around the needles individually, moving the yarn around one needle in one direction and around the other in the opposite direction in a figure 8 (hence the name). Since the wraps aren’t anchored to anything, the stitches tend to loosen as you work across, so this cast on works better with fewer stitches, like the toes of socks and centers of scarves.

“So what is a figure 8?” you ask. It’s one circle stacked on top of another circle. Think Peeps, those odd little marshmallow chicks sold around Easter, only figure 8’s are two dimensional, so think Peep sliced vertically (Crossagital Peep. How gruesome). For a more precise sense of figure-8-ness, place two cups or cans next to each other on a table. Then wind a piece of yarn clockwise around one of them, making sure the yarn goes completely around it, and wrap the yarn counterclockwise around the other cup or can. If you trace the figure formed by the yarn, you notice two circles that touch where the yarn crosses between the cans, a little like a pair of eye glasses with a really short bridge. This is a figure-8, and if you keep alternately wrapping clockwise around the first can and counterclockwise around the second, you are making a figure-8 cast on. Here’s how you do it with needles and yarn.

1. Make a slip knot around one needle.
2. Hold both needles in your right hand, and point the tips left. The needles should be side-by-side, like the planks in a floor, and the slip knot is on the needle closest to you.
3. Grab the working yarn with the thumb and index finger of your left hand and guide it around the needles in the following way, keeping the needles more or less still.
a. Guide the yarn over the needle that is farthest from you, lead it down behind that needle, bring it under the needle and toward you, then pull it up between the needles. This puts a yarn over on the needle.
b. Guide the yarn over the needle that is closest to you, lead it down in front of that needle, bring it under the needle and away from you, then pull it up between the needles. This puts a backward yarn over on the needle.
c. Repeat A and B until the right number of stitches has been cast on to each needle. I always cast on one extra stitch so I can ignore the slip knot that is on one needle and the partial wrap that is on the other.
4. Gently tug on the tip of the needle that is closest to you, stopping when the wraps or stitches are in the center of the needle or on the cable if you’re using a circular. Then drop the tip.
5. Knit the wraps or stitches on the other needle in the usual way. The stitches are sloppy and loose so it helps to hold them in place with the fingers of your right hand.
6. Continue working back and forth on that needle, or work in the round as you normally would.

When it’s time to work the stitches on the idle needle, remember that they’re wrapped in the opposite direction (backward yarn overs), so you’ll need to knit or purl them through the back of the loop to untwist them. If that sounds too daunting, just slip each stitch to the right needle as if you were going to knit it, and then go back and knit or purl them in the usual way.

Making the figure-8 wraps is not difficult. The first few times, remembering what direction to wrap feels complicated. Then your left hand finds the rhythm, and your stitches are on the needle in no time.

Advertisements

One Thing Leads To Another

Since I’ve been spinning yarn I’ve discovered two things. One is that I don’t have enough time to knit all the yarn I’ve been spinning. That’s not really a problem; I’ll just have a stash that includes handspun yarn. The other thing I’ve learned is that roving isn’t really any cheaper than buying commercial yarn. That’s not really a problem either but I can’t buy nearly as much roving as I wish. I think we’re almost all in that boat whether it’s roving or yarn. One solution to this problem is to buy bare roving from Knitpicks and dye it myself. I’ll still be buying dyed rovings but the prices at Knitpicks are too good to pass up as usual. It’s also really fun to dye your own yarn.

Yesterday my sister-in-law and I went to a workshop through the local knitting guild. I died two skeins of sock yarn. I am told that they turned out beautiful. I used a medium brown, a forest green, and a color called deep maroon. I think the yarn is going to turn into the Multnomah shawl. You can find it on the designer’s blog. Skip through the hedings until you find the list of patterns. The shawl will be the third one down.

At the workshop we learned how to dye yarn in the microwave. It’s surprisingly easy. I had to have a little help to make sure the dye covered the entire skein but I can already think of ways to solve that issue. One idea I had is to dye the entire skein a light base color and then over dye it with darker shades of coordinating colors. I’m still working out the best way to pull that off. I’ve ordered a hot plate and I’m going to turn my canner into a dye pot soon. Then I’ll be able to compare both techniques. My thought at the moment is that both ways are going to have their advantages and disadvantages in regards to both the results you get and visual impairment issues. The bottom line is that I think it is entirely doable for a blind person to dye their own yarn. We just have to be a little more systematic about it and we’re all used to that already.

Turkish Cast on, One Way to Go Provisional

The first real provisional cast on that worked for me was the Turkish cast on. It’s simple and elegant, really just wrapping the yarn around the knitting needle. It’s best for when you have a small number of stitches, like for the toe of a sock or the middle of a scarf. You can try it for larger numbers of stitches, and it’s doable, but things can get a little messy.

Turkish Cast on with Two Needles

The usual way to do this cast on is with an extra needle. You can use 3 double pointed needles, but I think two circular needles work much better.

1. Tie a slip knot around one needle.
2. Slide the slip knot about 2 inches (5 cm) away from the tip.
3. Hold the needle with the slip knot and a second needle in your right hand as if they were a single needle.
4. Point the needles toward your left hand.
5. Grab the working yarn with the thumb and index finger of your left hand, and pull away from the needles so the yarn is lightly taut.
6. Move the needles up and in front of the working yarn, away from you and over the working yarn, down and behind the working yarn, and toward you and under the working yarn. When you finish, you have made a yarn over.
7. Repeat Step 6, using the fingers of your right hand to keep the yarn overs from bunching and to slide the growing number of wraps away from the tip of the needles. Each of these yarn overs is a stitch.
8. When you have the right number of wraps or stitches on the needles, move the needles to your left hand.
9. Gently tug on one of the needles until the wraps are in the middle of the needle. If you’re using a circular, the wraps are on the wire.
10. Knit the stitches on the other needle. This is awkward because the needle in Step 9 is in the way, but it’s not bad if you’re using circs.

The cast on is complete. If you’re working in the round, do what you normally would with dpn’s, two circs, or magic loop. If you’re working flat, put point protectors or wrap rubber bands around the tips of the needle in Step 9, and continue working with the needle in Step 10. Either way, ignore the slip knot, dropping it off the needle when it is no longer handy.

Turkish Cast on with One Needle

The same general idea can be accomplished with a single needle. The method is no longer called the Turkish cast on, but since I haven’t found any consensus about what it is called, we’ll pretend they’re variations on a theme.

It’s also much easier to do than to explain. The hand is held as for the long-tail cast on, except that the working yarn hangs over the thumb, and the tail hangs over the index finger. For these instructions, the thumb yarn is the strand that goes from the thumb to the needle, and the index yarn is the strand that goes from the needle to the index finger.

1. Tie a slip knot around the needle, leaving a tail long enough to go along the entire cast-on edge with about 6 inches (15 cm) to spare.
2. Hold the needle in your right hand, and point it left.
3. Position your left hand as for the long-tail cast on, only hang the working yarn over your thumb and the tail over your index finger.
a. The thumb and fingers of the left hand are holding an imaginary glass of water.
b. The working yarn hangs over your thumb; the tail hangs over your index finger.
c. Curl the middle, ring, and little fingers like a fist, and tuck the hanging yarn into them.
d. If this is done correctly, the yarn forms a triangle that goes up from middle finger to index finger, horizontally from index finger to needle to thumb, and down from thumb to middle finger, .
4. Move the tip of the needle down and behind the thumb yarn, under the thumb yarn and toward you, and up and in front of the thumb yarn. This puts a yarn over on the needle.
5. Relax your left hand, and with your fingers, bring the tail/index yarn forward to the right of the working yarn, then in front of the working yarn, then to the left of the working yarn. This motion is a lot smoother than it sounds.
6. Repeat Steps 3 through 5 until the right number of yarn overs is on the needle, using the fingers of your right hand to keep the yarn overs or wraps from bunching and to slide them away from the tip of the needle. Each yarn over or wrap is a stitch.
7. Examine the work. Along the bottom of the needle is a ridge. This is the yarn tail that got tucked in under the wraps.
8. Slip a safety pin through the slip knot.
9. Knit the stitches in the usual way, careful not to pick up the yarn tail by accident.
10. Continue with your project.
11. When you are ready for live stitches along the cast-on edge, carefully untie a knot that is at the point where the cast-on tail enters the work.
12. Gently tug on the safety pin at the opposite end of the cast-on edge.
13. Slip the live stitches onto the needle as the tail is pulled out of the stitches. If you can slip the stitches onto the needle without pulling out the tail, that’s fine too.

This method is for working flat, not in the round. The cast-on edge is ragged and fragile. It’s a good idea to slip a skinny needle, one with a diameter of 2 to 3 cm, into those stitches early on, then wrap rubber bands around the tips to keep it from sliding out.

The Turkish cast on is simple enough to learn, even when you’re fairly new to knitting. The hardest part is keeping the wraps tidily on the needle. Once that’s mastered, the rest is no trouble at all.

Three Easy Provisional Cast Ons

Sometimes you don’t want to start a piece of knitting at the top or bottom edge. For example, you may want to make an afghan or rectangular shawl that you will be putting an edging around, or you may want to make a sweater, mittens, or socks, but you don’t know if you have enough yarn, so you start with the essentials—the body and sleeves of the sweater, the hands of the mittens, the feet of the socks—and leave the button bands, collars, cuffs, and thumbs for a matching yarn. When this is the case, you don’t want a real, definite cast on. What you want is a provisional cast on: a cast on that lets you have live stitches to knit from along the starting edge.

There are a number of ways to cast on provisionally. This post covers 3 easy methods that are technically not provisional cast ons, but when the project is finished, no one will ever know.

Leave a needle in the work

This method doesn’t necessarily produce a row of live stitches, but it does help you find stitches to work with, and it is definitely the easiest of the three described in this post as well as my favorite at this time.

It requires the use of a very thin needle, a needle that is 2 or 3 cm in diameter. Even if you have no intention of ever knitting with such an artifact, including one in your kit is a good idea as such needles are great for lots of things, lifelines being the most practical.

1. Hold your project needle and your skinny needle together as if they were a single needle; then cast on in the usual way. Hold them in your right hand for the simple and long-tail cast on, or hold them in your left hand for most other cast ons. When you finish, you have a row of stitches with two needles inside.
2. Place rubber bands around the tips of the skinny needle so the needle doesn’t accidentally slip out of the work.
3. Work the first and subsequent rows with the project needle as you ordinarily would.
4. When you finish your project and are ready for live stitches at the cast-on edge, you can either knit or graft directly from the skinny needle or knit a preliminary row with the skinny needle in the left hand and the project needle in the right.

Cast on with Scrap Yarn

This seemed the least complicated method when I decided to learn a provisional cast on. It takes some practice, but it works.

It requires the use of a piece of scrap yarn that is smooth, like dishcloth cotton, bamboo, modal, or nylon cord. Its texture should be different from the project yarn so you can easily tell the two apart by touch, and it should be a little over 3 times longer than the cast-on edge, so if the cast-on edge will be about a foot long, then you need a piece of scrap yarn that is a little over 3 feet long.

1. Cast on with the scrap yarn in the usual way. The crochet cast on is definitely the best method; just remember to put a pin in the last cast on stitch. The cable cast on is probably the second best method. If you prefer the long-tail cast on, tie the scrap yarn to the project yarn, lay the project yarn over your index finger and the scrap yarn over your thumb, then proceed as usual.
2. Work the first and subsequent rows with the project yarn. If you have a skinny needle, hold it together with the project needle to work the first row; place rubber bands around the tips of the skinny needle; and continue working with the project needle only.
3. When you finish your project and are ready for live stitches at the cast-on edge, pull the scrap yarn out of the work. Start with the last stitch you cast on. If you used the crochet cast on, simply pull the pin out of the last cast-on stitch, and tug gently on the tail. If you used another cast on, pull the scrap yarn out of the work, using your fingers or a knitting needle.
4. As you pull the scrap yarn out of the work, put the live stitches onto a needle. Obviously, this step is not necessary if you inserted a skinny needle into the work in Step 2.

Give Yourself a False Start

When I tried this method, I found it to be easier than the previous one. It gave me a chance to settle into my gauge, but when I was anxious to get a project going, the first few rows called for in this method felt like a big waist of time.

It requires two types of yarn in addition to the project yarn.
• The starter yarn can be anything though it helps to choose a yarn of a similar gauge to the project yarn. You’ll be working 3 or 4 rows with it, so you need a not so small amount.
• The scrap yarn is a piece of smooth yarn, like dishcloth cotton, bamboo, modal, or nylon cord, and it should be a little over 3 times longer than the cast-on edge, so if the cast-on edge will be about 30 cm long, then you need a piece of scrap yarn that is a little over 90 cm.
I use yarns with different textures so I can easily tell the starter yarn, scrap yarn, and project yarn apart by touch.

1. With the starter yarn, cast on the correct number of stitches, and work 3 or 4 rows. You can work in pattern just to give your hands a chance to learn it, or you can do some basic stockinet or garter.
2. With the scrap yarn, knit one row.
3. Work the next and subsequent rows with the project yarn. If you have a skinny needle, hold it together with the project needle to work the first row; place rubber bands around the tips of the skinny needle; and continue working with the project needle only.
4. When you finish your project and are ready for live stitches at the cast-on edge, pull the scrap yarn out of the work. You can start at either end. While you can use your fingers to remove the scrap yarn, picking and lifting it with a knitting needle works very well.
5. As you pull the scrap yarn out of the work, put the live stitches onto a needle. Obviously, this step is not necessary if you inserted a skinny needle into the work in Step 3.

The next few posts will cover other provisional cast ons, which actually do produce a row of live stitches. The methods described in this ost, however, work and are especially easy to do.

Embossing Patterns Directly from the BrailleNote

Those of us who like braille love the luxury of embossing braille patterns and tutorials directly from the computer. I say “luxury” because braille embossers are expensive, two to three thousand dollars being the low-end price; they usually require the purchase of extra software–another seven hundred fifty dollars–for translation from print to standard braille codes; and they pose the challenge of keeping them in good repair, not to mention form feed card stock in standard paper sizes. So a relatively small number of people own them and tolerate their quirks, even putting off upgrades to other systems in order to continue access to quick braille.

I’ve had a Braille Blazer (now discontinued) for over ten years. It’s temperamental, and if I don’t guide the paper, it jams or does peculiar things to line spacing, but it puts a nicely brailled hard copy of a pattern or pattern stitch in my hand within minutes of my finding it on the web. And there are few things as blissful to a yarny as referring to a brailled pattern while enjoying a TV show or waiting for a ride.

During the past year, I’ve upgraded my home office (computer, printer, scanner, and telephone) but haven’t been able to finish the transition to 2011 technology because I couldn’t find a way to use my embosser on computers that no longer have parallel ports.

Then the other day, while talking to a friend, I remembered that the BrailleNote, which I also own, should be able to convert print documents into contracted braille, and it should be able to connect peaceably to an embosser, so I did some reading of the manuals of both devices, Googled around a bit, and learned that I had three options: serial connection (always a PITA), Bluetooth adaptor and connection (described as iffy), and USB converter and connection (discussed more confidently).

Since I had a USB to parallel converter lying around, I used the third method. The converter is a Cables To Go 16899 USB To DB25 IEEE-1284 Parallel Printer Adapter Cable for Windows, which I bought from Amazon for about eleven dollars. The process worked beautifully the first time, so I decided to pass along the steps for embossing directly from the BrailleNote to a device with a parallel port. I have an mPower and Braille Blazer, but the steps should work for other BrailleNote and embosser models.

Translating the Document to Braille

The first step is to make sure the pattern is a braille file, so start by saving it as a brf or KeyWord braille file. The quickest way is to open the document in KeyWord and use the save As feature:
1. Open KeyWord, then open your pattern document after locating it on the SD card or in one of your folders.
2. Press Space+S or ctrl+S to save the document.
3. Press Backspace once to change the folder, or twice to select the drive where the file will be saved.
4. Press backspace+X or ctrl+X repeatedly to change the file format to brf.
5. Write the file name and press Enter.

Take a moment to read your file to make sure abbreviations have been translated correctly.

Setting up the Embosser

The second step is to set up the embosser. This only happens once, so you shouldn’t have to do it again.

1. Connect the usual parallel cable to the braille embosser.
2. Screw the USB to Parallel cable to the free end of the cable in Step 1.
3. Turn the Braille embosser on.
4. Turn the BrailleNote on.
5. Plug the USB end of your extra long cable into the BrailleNote. the BrailleNote says, “Printer ready.”
6. Go into the Keyword main menu, select Embosser, press space+S or type S to adjust embosser settings, set the port to USB, and the page and line lengths to 25 lines and 32 characters, exit and confirm that you want to save settings.
7. It’s a good idea to restart the embosser after changing the settings, so you may want to turn the Blazer off and on at this point.
8. The BrailleNote manual strongly recommends that you test the embosser right away by brailling the two practice documents in the General folder.

If the practice docs emboss correctly, your embosser is ready to go.

Embossing the File

The third and final step is to emboss the pattern. It’s the easiest of the steps.

1. Open your braille pattern file in KeyWord.
2. Press space+dots 2346 or ctrl+read+b to Go into Formatting, and make sure the page and line lengths are consistent with the embosser (25 lines and 32 characters).
3. Go back to the KeyWord main menu, select embossing, press enter, and respond to the prompts about the folder and file name, and so on.
4. The last promt is “Embosser ready.” Press enter, and after a pause that goes on a couple of seconds longer than you expect, embossing begins.

Nothing to it. Once the USB to parallel cable is connected and the embosser is set up, making braille patterns directly from the BrailleNote is a matter of converting the document to a braille format like brf, choosing the Emboss option from the KeyWord main menu, and following the prompts. A yarn crafter’s life doesn’t get any easier.